Her Majesty’s Prison on Grand Turk was built in the 1830s (the exact date is not known) and was run until 1994.
During this time, there were several expansions to increase capacity. In the initial years, there were on average between two and six prisoners at any given time, mostly incarcerated for drunkenness and other petty offences. By its closure in 1994, this had increased to between 50 and 60.
The prison had both a men’s and women’s section. Prisoners were served three meals a day and given 12 hours rest.
Work was also occasionally expected of prisoners, such as cracking rocks for roads or supervised clean-up and maintenance around town.
When a hurricane was approaching, it was common for most prisoners to be released to tend to their families and livestock (if any). The disastrous hurricane of September 30, 1866, which destroyed 871 homes and severely damaged another 197, tore the roof off the prison and damaged the stone walls. All boats in the harbour were destroyed, and 16 people on Grand Turk lost their lives (along with 4 on nearby Salt Cay).
Broken glass was added to the top of the walls to prevent people climbing over. Up until the 1960s, there were few successful escapes. One of the first successful escapes occurred in the 1860s, when a prisoner called Julius Caesar escaped to the Dominican Republic with the four other inmates.
During the 1970s and 1980s, drug trafficking became a major issue for the island. Because the Turks and Caicos Islands are located roughly halfway between Columbia and Florida, and due to the relative remoteness at the time, it was commonly used as a refuelling stop. Drug planes would land to refuel, occasionally leading to firefights with the police. During these years the prison population swelled.
A large reason for the unsuccessful escapes is due to the small size of Grand Turk at only 6 sq mi. It’s not possible to swim to any other nearby island, and thus escapees had to have well-coordinated plans and a ‘man on the outside’.
A notable feature of the prison is the Bell Tower, which was rung five times each day (except Sunday). It was rung at sunrise to announce the start of the work day and at sunset to mark the end.
Admission is $7. It’s a self-guided tour with many informational signs around.
Found off the central west coast on the island of Grand Turk, Cockburn Town is the oldest still established settlement in the country and the capital of the Turks and Caicos. Many old British-Bermudian colonial architecture buildings are still in use today.