Fremantle Prison is one of WA’s premier tourist attractions and a fascinating cultural heritage site. Situated in the lively port city of Fremantle, just south of Perth, Fremantle Prison is currently the state's only world heritage-listed building and the only world heritage-listed site in the Perth metropolitan region. Built by convicts in the 1850s, the jail was used as a place of imprisonment for 136 years before being decommissioned in 1991.
Today Fremantle Prison offers a host of intriguing tours where visitors are invited to ‘step inside and do time.’ Prison guides share interesting, sobering and often amusing stories of prison life, colourful characters, and daring escapes. There is also a tour that explores on foot or by boat, the one-kilometre labyrinth of tunnels hidden 20 metres below. Fremantle Prison also features an impression Prison Gallery, café, and award-winning gift shop.
The first convicts sailed into Fremantle Harbour in 1850 and their hard labour was used to build Fremantle Prison between 1852 and 1859. The prison was built from limestone carved from a ridge overlooking Fremantle town and the Indian Ocean.
The prison was originally known as the Convict Establishment and the first prisoners were moved into the main cell block in 1855. It was renamed Fremantle Prison in 1867 and the following year, the transportation of convicts to Fremantle ended. Close to 10,000 male convicts passed through Fremantle Prison between 1850 and 1868.
Fremantle Prison is the largest convict-built structure in Australia and the most intact convict establishment in the southern hemisphere, altering little since its construction. With solitary cells, a labyrinth of underground tunnels, and gallows, the prison is a reminder of the harsh punishment system that existed in Australia up until recently.
Fremantle Prison sits on a six-hectare site that includes prison cell blocks, tunnels, a gatehouse, perimeter walls, and cottages. In the early years of the prison, convicts were sent who were of good character as they were seen as potential future colonists. Eventually, though, more ‘challenging’ convicts arrived, and Fremantle Prison tour guides have incredible stories of their antics.
The Prison was a place of hangings, floggings, time in irons, dramatic convict escapes, and prisoner riots, with a major riot causing damage in 1988. Between 1888 and 1984, Fremantle Prison was WA’s only lawful place of execution, and 40 hangings took place. The last person to be hanged at the gallows in Fremantle prison was serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke in 1964.
In the nine-month period between June 1866 and March 1867, more than 90 convicts attempted to escape – three times the number of any other nine-month period. Some escapees were successful and never found.
Fremantle Prison is the largest convict-built structure in Western Australia and the last remaining, most authentic, and intact of the British convict establishments in Australia. In 2010, Fremantle Prison became the first building in Western Australia to be included on the World Heritage list. It is also famous for its escapes, and attempted escapes and riots.
A major riot in January 1988 signalled the end of Fremantle’s prison era. A group of prisoners rebelled and rioted over poor conditions, taking Prison Officers hostage, and setting fire to a division causing extensive damage to the main cell block. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991, replaced by the new maximum-security Casuarina Prison in Perth.
Fremantle Prison opened to the public in 1992 and has become a successful and popular tourist attraction, welcoming thousands of visitors each year. As well as a wonderful array of guided tours on offer, the site includes the Convict Café, Gift Shop, Prison Gallery, Convict Depot, and Museum.
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