Constructed between 1851 and 1855 the prison replaced the Round House, the colonies original jail. First used as a convict barracks it was renamed Fremantle Prison in 1867 and remained in service as a maximum security facility until 1991. Almost 10,000 convicts were incarcerated there followed by colonial prisoners, enemy aliens, prisoners-of-war and hardened criminals. The jail has seen countless floggings, forty-four hangings, numerous riots and several escapes.
Punishment included hard labour in leg-irons, solitary confinement, flogging and reduced rations, most of which were still practised well into the 1900's.
Although attempted escape was punishable by up to 100 lashes with the cat o' nine tails, solitary confinement for up to six months and a bread & water diet for thirty days such attempts were numerous.
Barbed wire and high walls were home to WA's hardened criminals
The last flogging with the 'cat' was administered in 1943 and with the birch in 1962. All forms of corporal punishment within the prison were abolished in 1993.
In 1888 a gallows was constructed and the prison became the only place of legal execution in Western Australia. Between then and 1964 forty-three men and one woman, all convicted murderers, were hanged there. The first, Jimmy Long on March 2nd 1889 and the last, serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, on October 26th 1964.
Fremantle's gallows where 43 men and 1 woman were hanged
As you wander through the cell blocks, exercise yards, the Anglican chapel and of course the gallows, you find yourself wishing that the walls could speak and give some further insight into events here in what must surely have been an incredible pressure cooker of human emotion.
The homes of early prison officials line The Terrace immediately outside the gates
But amid the bashings, the riots and escapes some inmates spent their time developing artistic talent to combat the long hours of tedious jail time. Several cells and yards have had their stark walls turned into impressive murals depicting sailing ships, landscapes and traditional indigenous works.
One of several art works by prisoners which adorn the cell walls
A variety of tours including the 'Great Escape' and 'Doing Time' cater for all age groups but there is one in particular which is not for the faint hearted.
Unique among Australian prisons is Fremantle's maze of underground tunnels dug by prisoners and used to supply fresh water. The 'Tunnel Tour' will have you kitted out in hard-hat, overalls and boots. You'll descend twenty metres below the surface on vertical ladders, exploring the water-filled tunnels in small punts and discovering artifacts and work-sites where prisoners sweated in hard-labour. But be warned, this is a physically demanding experience and the tunnels, two metres wide and only a metre and a half high at some points, are no place for the claustrophobic.
When you're in the west don't miss an opportunity to tour Fremantle Prison, one of WA's most fascinating tourist attractions.
The Round House - Fremantle's original jail was replaced by Fremantle Prison in 1867