Pentridge Warder’s life revealed

William James Latham, dressed in his Pentridge Prison Uniform
William James Latham, dressed in his Pentridge Prison Uniform, stands behind his wife Lily. She is hold her baby grandson Bruce in her arms. They are standing in front of a high wooden fence, at the home at 3 Lobb Street, Coburg.
Image: Melanie Meehan
Source: Museum Victoria

Media contact: Alex Dook  
adook@museum.vic.gov.au

A collection of a Pentridge Prison Warder’s uniforms, photographs and personal documents has been donated to Museum Victoria, providing an unusually detailed portrait of an ordinary life lived within an extraordinary place.

Englishman William James Latham arrived in Melbourne in 1921. Two months later, he became a Penal Warder at Pentridge Prison, where he eventually became Senior Chief Warder. He retired in the mid-1950s after raising a family on Lobb Street, Coburg.

“History is often described on a grand scale, so it’s rare to have a collection that so richly describes an ordinary person,” said Dr Charlotte Smith, Senior Curator, Museum Victoria. “We know with intimate detail the lives of Prime Ministers, but society is made of ordinary people often forgotten by history. This collection gives us an unusually vivid portrait of an average Victorian in the first half of last century.”

The collection includes Latham’s uniforms, photographs, and over two decades of performance appraisal documents. It was donated by Latham’s grandson John Searies, and Melanie Meehan, Latham’s great-granddaughter.

“William believed in hard work and contributing to his community,” said Ms Meehan. “He was proud of his family and his life, which is why he kept all these objects.”

The William Latham collection will complement the Museum’s existing Pentridge Prison Collection.

“Museum Victoria has an extensive Pentridge Prison Collection, mainly comprised of signs, cell doors and desks ,” said Dr Smith. “While those objects have stories behind them, William Latham’s collection adds a human dimension to the Pentridge Prison narrative. Rich character portraits such as William Latham’s give history authenticity.”

Objects from the William Latham collection can be viewed around the world on Museum Victoria Collections Online.

Museum Victoria Public Relations contact:
Alex Dook, 8341 7141 / 0478 348 880,  adook@museum.vic.gov.au

For all general public enquiries, contact the museum's Discovery Centre

Image Gallery

Portrait of William James Latham wearing his prison uniform Portrait of William James Latham wearing his prison uniform William's performance appraisals