J Ward started its life as a goldfields prison in 1859.
When the gold ran out in the mid 1880s the prison buildings were acquired by the Lunacy Department as a temporary housing for the Criminally Insane. The County Gaol then became a ward (J Ward) of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum where the most depraved and most dangerous men in Victoria were housed in horrific conditions under the highest security.
The Ward was closed in 1991. J Ward is now a museum complex within the original prison structure dedicated to recording and preserving the history of the criminals imprisoned and hanged here during the life of the goldfields gaol and later as the infamous maximum security housing for Victoria's Criminally Insane men in a ward (J Ward) of the Ararat Mental Hospital.