Prison tours on hold

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Back in February after restoration ends

At the former Dunedin Prison, where warders once paced, the corridors have more recently been taken over by visitors led by tour guides telling stories of the historic building’s grim past.
The tours halted temporarily when restoration work on the 120-year-old prison building began in September.
The restoration is due to be completed in February, when the Dunedin Prison Trust, which owns the building, will resume guided tours.
The tours are led by an experienced team of three volunteer guides, Peter Caswell, Kevin Booth, and Gordon Broome, who have amassed a wealth of knowledge about the prison and the people who worked and lived there.
The Star joined Mr Caswell and Mr Booth recently for a wander through the labyrinth of dimly lit corridors and dank concrete cells, relieved only by a cage-like exercise yard.
Along the way, they recounted stories of famous prisoners, historic events and modern uses of the place, including as a film set.
“There is so much to learn about this place and along the way you pick up interesting stories, everything from escapes to the man who received a six-month sentence for obscene language,” Mr Caswell said.
“Visitors are often struck by the grimness of the place, which highlights the attitude of the day that prisons should be places of punishment.”
Dunedin Prison Trust chairman Owen Graham said the tours were popular with both locals and visitors.
“[This is] partly out of a fascination to see what the inside of a prison looks like and partly because it is such an unusual tourist attraction in New Zealand,” Mr Graham said.
Mr Caswell said it was “quite neat to be a guide in New Zealand’s only prison visitor attraction”.
The trust was keen to create more tour opportunities, but needed to recruit more tour guides.
“We would like to give more flexibility to when tours through the prison can be taken, and obviously there is the cruise ship passenger market to consider,” he said.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer Dunedin Prison tour guide is invited to contact Peter Caswell by email at caswellp49@gmail.com.