About Fremantle Prison
Just south of Perth, Fremantle Prison on Western Australia’s Indian Ocean coast is Australia’s (and one of the world’s) largest and best-preserved convict-built prison. It is also the state’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of Fremantle Prison
Built by convicts between 1852 and 1859 from limestone quarried from the hill on which it is built, the prison was originally intended for imperial convicts but by 1886, only about 60 were left in a jail built to house a thousand. When Perth Gaol closed in 1888 and the local population grew with the gold rush of the 1890s, Fremantle Prison got busy again.
Prison life was highly regulated with meals being eaten in cells and up until about 1911 prisoner labour was used for much of the city of Fremantle’s infrastructure. Punishment ranged from flogging, time spent in irons, lengthening of sentences, deprivation of visits or what passed for entertainment all the way up to hanging. Forty-four (43 men, one woman) were put to death at Fremantle between 1888 and 1964 – Western Australia’s only lawful place of execution. The last man led to the noose was serial killer Eric Edgar ‘Night Caller’ Cooke, convicted of eight murders and 14 attempted murders.
The decision to decommission the prison was reached in 1983 but it remained in operation until 30th November 1991 when all remaining inmates were transferred to a maximum-security prison at Casuarina, 30km south of Fremantle.
Fremantle Prison today
Today, Fremantle Prison is one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions and while entry to the gatehouse is free and includes the Convict Café, gift shop, prison gallery and an interactive visitor centre, there are a number of fascinating, interactive tours.
The Tunnel Tour which takes you on a subterranean boat ride through convict-built tunnels; the Doing Time Tour includes the solitary confinement cells, men’s cell block and kitchens; the Great Escape Tour includes fascinating tales of famous inmates, stories of escape, intrigue and the 1988 riot designed to highlight the inhumane conditions in which the prisoners were kept which led to the prison’s closure and the Torchlight Tour which focuses on the more macabre elements of prison life at Fremantle. The prison is open daily, 9am to 5pm.
For the really keen, there’s a YHA housed in a corner of the old prison.
Getting to Fremantle Prison
The prison is in central Fremantle, a 15 minute walk from the High Street and 20 minutes from The Roundhouse. Fremantle itself is a south western suburb of Perth – you’ll want a car to get here, or hop on a 30 minute train from central Perth to Fremantle station, which is a 10 minute walk away from the prison.
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