Fremantle Prison - The Convict Establishment

Location: Fremantle, Western Australia

Coordinates: 32°3′18″S - 115°45′13″E

Status Closed: heritage site

Security Class: Maximum

Opened: 1855

Closed: 30 November 1991

Managed by the Western Australia Government

Street address: 1 The Terrace


It was a great informative tour that ran for 1hour and 15 minutes, we had a Female English guide and she was fantastic in explaining the history behind the walls of the prison.

In 1850, the first of approximately 10,000 male convicts arrived as labour to help build the Swan River Colony. First they were instructed to build their own home - "The Convict Establishment" - Ultimately named Fremantle Prison.

Fremantle Prison is the largest convict structure in Western Australia and the most intact convict building of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

At the end of the convict system, only 62 convicts remained inside these walls, which was built to hold 1000 men. Fremantle prison was handed over to the local authorities and at the time of the closure of Perth Gaol in 1888, it then became the primary place for men, women and children.

Finally decommissioned in 1991 Fremantle Prison operated as a place of incarceration for 136 years.

Its now stands as Western Australia's most significant heritage attraction as hundreds of thousands of tourists pass through per year.

In 2010 Fremantle prison became the first building in Western Australia to be included in the World Heritage list, it is one of 11 sites that form the Australia Convict World Heritage list.

Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property

Fremantle Prison is Western Australia's only world heritage listed building

The Gate House -

Before it's closure as an operating gaol in 1991, Fremantle prison's Gatehouse was only seen briefly by visitors when making their way to the visitation rooms.

Today the Gatehouse is a place to explore a museum, visitor centre and convict precinct. Here you will discover old prison artefacts in the "collection store" and of course you can enjoy refreshments in the cafe.

Main Cell block -

Little changed since its construction in the 1850s by the convicts, the Main Cell Block was designed to hold up to 1000 prisoners. The central, four-storey high cell block is flanked on either end by large dormitory wards, called the Association Rooms. Here, as many as 80 men slept in hammocks, either as a reward for good behaviour or because they would soon receive their ticket of leave. In contrast, the cramped cells measured just (2.1 by 1.2 m). The main block also housed the gallows, solitary confinement cells, and two chapels – Anglican and Catholic

Fremantle Prison's New Division building was constructed between 1904 and 1907, as a response to overcrowding

Women's Prison -

The north-western complex was originally a service area with a cookhouse, bakehouse and laundry, built in the 1850s. A place for women prisoners was needed following the closure of Perth Gaol and the transfer of prisoners to Fremantle, this leading to be Western Australia's first prison for women.

Hospital -

Built between 1857 and 1859, the hospital was crucial for Fremantle Prison. Any Public works during the convict times relied on labour from convicts themselves, which could only be provided if the convicts were fit and healthy. From 1886 to 1903, medical services were relocated to the main cell block, with the former building used to keep invalids and female prisoners. The hospital was then refurbished and reopened in 1904. It therefor remained in continuous operation until the prison's closure in 1991.

Prison life at Fremantle Prison was extremely regulated, Meals were an important part of the day which were eaten in the cells throughout the operational life of the prison and Convict or prisoner labour was used on public infrastructure works until around 1911.

Punishments varied over the years, with flogging which was eventually replaced by lengthening of sentences and deprivation of visitors or entertainment. More than 40 hangings were carried out at Fremantle Prison, which was Western Australia's only lawful place of execution, between 1888 and 1984. Prominent escapees included Moondyne Joe, as well as John Boyle O'Reilly and six other Fenians in the 19th century, and Brenden Abbott in 1989. There have been various riots and other disturbances, with major riots causing damage in 1968 and 1988.

The Swan River Colony Pre 1850

The Swan River Colony was a new chapter in Britain’s colonisation to Australia. The two main colonies of New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land had already been populated by convicts. So the Swan River Colony, which was founded in 1829, was to be something different, a colony for free settlers.

During the first year of settlement the Swan River Colony struggled as Initially too many people arrived too quickly, and then there were too few. Soon the population began to decline as disheartened settlers left for the eastern colonies. Between 1833 and 1834, twelve ships carried 1358 passengers away from the colony, leaving a total population in the Swan River settlements of less than 1400.

The settlement suffered for many years. During 1843 and 1844 as major depression hit the colony. Hampered by the lack of administrative and communications infrastructure, plus a severe shortage or workers, the growth of the colony’s pastoral and agricultural industries came to a halt. At this point the future of the Swan River Colony looked bleak.

In 1847 the York Agricultural Society, a group of wealthy pastoralists, petitioned the colony’s Legislative Council to consider the introduction of convict labour. They argued that convict labour would stimulate the economy and open up the state to farming and development.

Many of the settlers believed that the introduction of convicts went against the principles of free settlement under which the colony had been first established. In particular the settlers who lived close to or in the main settlements feared the ‘convict stain’, the crime and violence they felt convicts would bring to the colony.

The British Government however were keen to find a solution to the overcrowding of English prisons. Britain quickly agreed to send 100 prisoners in the last stages of their punishment to the colony. A dispatch was sent to the governor and on 6 November 1849 the West Australian Government Gazette published the official announcement that the Swan River Colony had been ‘constituted a penal settlement’.

Source - Fremantle Prison -

Fremantle prison is open daily, except Good Friday and Christmas Day


Norman Herfurth

Indigo Photography

Yours In Adventure

"This Blog is of the Opinion of my own Personal Experiences and are not necessarily Fact.. and is written to the best of my knowledge, but there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. This blog is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as any kind of advice."

#Fremantle #perth #WesternaAustralia #worldHeritage #convictsites #convict #History #AustralianHistory #prison #oldarchitecture #architecture #travelblog #Travelphotography #TravelBlogger

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