J Ward is a museum that explains the early history of the goldfield times and later, the incarceration of the criminally insane.
J Ward started its life as a goldfields prison in 1859. When the gold ran out in the mid 1880s the prison buildings were acquired by the Lunacy Department as a temporary housing for the Criminally Insane. The County Gaol then became a ward (J Ward) of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum where the most depraved and most dangerous men in Victoria were housed in horrific conditions under the highest security.
The Ward was closed in 1991. J Ward is now a museum complex within the original prison structure dedicated to recording and preserving the history of the criminals imprisoned and hung here during the life of the goldfields gaol and later as the infamous maximum security housing for Victoria's Criminally Insane men in a ward (J Ward) of the Ararat Mental Hospital.
The best way to see and understand J Ward is to join one of the regularly conducted Guided Tours.
There is so much to see that no two tours are exactly the same. Each of the Guides is knowledgable in the basic history of J Ward but each has a wealth of favourite true stories to tell.
You will see the place where murderers breathed their last. You will see where their bodies are buried in unconsecrated ground, supposedly in unmarked graves. You might hear the story of the notorious Garry Webb or of Bill Wallace who lived here for over sixty years and died in his 108th year. You might hear how the Chapel was built due to the efforts of William Watson Carr. You might hear of escapes or suicides or of twelve year olds incarcerated here.
You might hear none of these. There are so many stories in J Ward that people have been back four and even five times. Hours can be spent in the Museum reading early case histories and gazing in wonder at the equipment of the early days of the hospital and the arts and crafts of the patients.