The story of Mr Bill Wallace - J Ward's oldest inmate

J Ward prison for the criminally insane housed many famous inmates. One of the most fascinating stories is that of Mr Bill Wallace, the oldest prisoner at J Ward who didn't want to leave!
Sarah Chumacero
6th June 2018.
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J ward was built in 1859 and opened in 1861 as a Goldfields prison were three men were hung and buried in the courtyard. In 1886 it was acquired by the lunacy department as a section of Aradale Lunatic Asylum remained as J Ward. It would serve as a prison to the criminally insane housing the most mentally disturbed and dangerous men in Victoria right up until 1991 when it was closed. One of these men was Mr Bill Wallace.

In 1926, Bill Wallace was suspected of murdering a man in a café in Melbourne. The man entered Waterloo Café in Kind Street and sat down to light up a cigarette. Smoking was a regular part of life back then and people could freely smoke pretty much anywhere they wanted to, if it was OK by Wallace. After he refused, Wallace waited for him outside in the street and shot him. A policeman who was nearby heard the shot and ran to the scene of the crime and arrested Wallace. He refused to answer any questions or talk about the crime. As there were no witnesses and no admission to the crime, Wallace was found unfit to plead and was declared insane by 2 Doctors. He was sentenced to be held at J Ward at the Governor’s pleasure. It means that the Governor could hold Wallace as long as he wanted to, and could release him once he was convinced that he was cured.

Wallace however refused to speak to the Doctors so was never released.. He spent the rest of his life institutionalised. 57 Years at J Ward and 7 at Aradale until his death at the age of 108. It is thought that he had a wife and family at the time and he was said to have possibly made arrangements with figures in the underworld to care for them, but Wallace never spoke of them again.

Wallace resided in Cell 1 which is the first cell on the right of the wing. Photo by Sarah @Living Life In Full Spectrum

Ironically, Wallace was reported to be one of the heaviest smokers in J Ward. He liked to smoke government issued Tobacco that came in a fifty pound block. He led his daily life in J Ward content and considered it to be his home. He preferred to be address as Mr Wallace and was said to always act like a gentleman. He always wore a suit and the staff would measure him for his annual suit fitting. He bought his suits from a local store in Ararat called 'Fosters'. Do not let looks deceive you though, if provoked, Mr Wallace was said to be ‘fully capable of kicking one’s head off’. Even at the age of 100 he was capable of becoming violent. One night in the dining hall the inmate were eating dinner. One inmate asked Mr Wallace if he wanted to eat the last slice of bread on his plate while reaching across the table. In response he picked up a fork and stabbed it into the hand of the inmate.

On his 100th birthday, the staff at J Ward gifted him a chess set as a gesture. He loved to play chess. The Chess board is still on display in the. J Ward museum. The general public soon got word that there was a 100 year old inmate at J Ward and quickly petitioned for his released. As he never went to court they wanted to prove his innocence. After 3 years the Government agreed but there was one catch. Mr Wallace didn’t want to leave. His exact words were “Don’t be f***ing silly, I live here’. Realistically, Mr Wallace had lived there for almost 60 years. Where would he go? What kind of life could he even have?

He was eventually moved to the geriatric ward at Aradale Lunatic Asylum which was J Ward’s sister where he eventually passed away at the age of 107 just one month short of his 108th birthday.

Picture from Bill Wallace's funeral courtesy of mikedashhistory.com

Information has been gathered from 'The J Ward Story' written by Graeme Burgin.

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