Napier Prison may soon have its heritage significance recognised as a Category 1 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero.
Only the main prison wall is entered on the list, with Heritage New Zealand reviewing this entry with the intention of widening the extent to encompass all the prison site.
Napier Prison, or Napier Gaol as it was known, was constructed by the Hawke's Bay Provincial Government in 1862, atop Hukarere, Bluff Hill, a site of cultural significance to Māori. Further wings were added in 1863 and 1869, the latter to serve as a lunatic asylum.
In 1875 a new, stand-alone asylum opened at the northern end of the prison site.
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Four executions were added at the prison during the period 1872 to 1889, including that of Pai Mārire leader Kereopa Te Rau in January 1872.
"In the mid-1890s prisoners started to quarry and prepare stone for the first of the prison's boundary and retaining walls from the newly opened prison quarry opposite the prison on Coote Rd," says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga senior heritage assessment adviser Joanna Barnes-Wylie.
"These walls were constructed in the early 1900s and included the striking main prison wall with heavily rusticated and inscribed stones."
Despite successive calls for closure from the early 20th century and a reputation as the worst prison in New Zealand, it remained open until December 1993 when the final prisoners transferred to Mangaroa Prison. In 2002, the former prison opened as a backpackers and tour operation.