In 1938 the bakery at Parramatta gaol was operated by ‘trusties’. These were well behaved men who had completed their initial sentence, but as habitual offenders were serving a final, indeterminate period. Freedom was not far off, conditional only on their continued adherence to prison rules. The three men are pictured below. Their crimes had not been violent, consisting mainly of breaking and entering and stealing cars.

The prisoners who escaped from the bakery at Parramatta gaol.

Perhaps the term ‘indeterminate’ was not a good choice by prison authorities. With no fixed release date and Christmas coming, the men decided to take matters into their own hands. They plotted a daring escape.

On Friday night, December 17, the three bakers were locked in overnight to produce a double quantity of dough required for the weekend. They had been preparing their breakout kit for weeks. Flour bags, twine and sections of timber had been used to create a ladder, which the men hid among bags of flour. A piece of iron was shaped into a grappling iron. This was attached to the top of a pole made from the iron handles of bakers’ shovels. It was long enough to reach the top of the prison walls. Finally, a key was fashioned from a piece of brass.

A sentry checked on the men at 6.15am on Saturday morning. At 6.25 he arrived at the tower overlooking the bakery. During that ten minute gap the the men escaped. They crawled along a tunnel beside the big oven then used their makeshift key to open a padlocked grille in the bakery wall. Once through that obstacle they tackled the 20 foot wall below the observation tower walkway The rope ladder was pushed up with the iron pole. The attached grappling iron hooked into a railing, hidden from sight by the bakery chimneys. Up and over they went. The second perimeter wall was scaled the same way.

Their absence was noted at 6.40am. It was a nasty shock for the warders, as Parramatta Gaol was lauded as being escape proof.

The bakery chimneys at Parramatta gaol.
Tower walk above the bakery at Parramatta gaol.

37 year old Eade was captured the same day at Killara, where some of his relatives lived. Williams and Bourke had been with him, but they disappeared into surrounding scrubland.

My apologies for the poor quality of the following newspaper photo, but you can just make out a police officer holding his revolver aloft.


John Williams (28) managed to spend Christmas at large, but was caught at a house in Redfern on February 2.

Joseph Bourke continued to evade police, often only by minutes. Of course his luck had to run out eventually


SYDNEY, Friday – Joseph Bourke, 35, alias Simpson, the last of the three habitual criminals who escaped from Parramatta gaol on December 17 to remain at large, was recaptured yesterday after an exciting chase at Robertson, when he jumped into a river and was pursued by a constable.

Police searched throughout Australia for Bourke, but he could not be found. One report was that he had boarded a steamer and had landed in England, but after his capture today it was learned that he had not left Sydney. He had purchased a car in one of the suburbs, registered under an assumed name, and had driven about without being recognised. He was captured following a theft of petrol at Bowral and a robbery at the Robertson Post-office. (The Age, April 8 1939)


Joseph Bourke was arrested again in August 1943 for breaking into a shop at Coogee and stealing a radio, cutlery, crockery and glassware.

John Eade lasted until 1946 before being nabbed for breaking into a house at Cremorne.

John Williams does not appear in the papers as breaking the law again. We can only hope that he used his skills as a baker and went on to live a blameless life.

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