Exploring Fremantle Prison
Travelling from Padbury, just North of Perth, Western Australia, South to Fremantle was an absolute treat.
We caught the train down for a days visit without too much expectation of what to do or see.
After having a quick wander through town we saw a sign to the old prison so we decided to go and have a look.
Just on the outskirts of town we found the prison with its castle like gatehouse and barbed wire topped walls.
Our imagination and interest was sparked so we signed up for a tour of the prison.
After a short wait for the next tour we were introduced to our guide, Janine who would be taking us around the prison.
Guides can make or break tours but Janine definitely brought the tour to life with her passion, interest and of course sense of humour.
We crossed the grounds and approached the main prison block with its foreboding stone walls.
Convicts first sailed into Fremantle harbour in 1850 and in 1852 were set to work building the prison with locally quarried limestone.
1855 saw the main cell block open with prisoners moved there, but convicts carried on building until 1859.
By 1886 only 60 imperial convicts were left at the prison which was built to hold 1000 so the prison was handed over to the colonial government to use for locally sentenced prisoners.
Fremantle prison was the only prison in the colonies and with the 1890 gold rush, soon became very full.
Janine recounted stories of the inmates and the conditions of the prison as we toured the cell block.
It’s a pretty creepy place to walk around as we imagined the prison full, with men, women and juveniles.
Some of the cells are elaborately decorated with drawings that some of the inmates had done in the past.
We toured the kitchens and other parts of the prison but I suppose the part that struck us most was the Gallows room where so many prisoners were executed over the years.
In all, 44 prisoners, ( 43 men and 1 woman ) were hung in the prison between 1888 and 1984.
It’s a grim and solemn reminder of the practices of the past.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though as Janine told us amusing stories and tales of the prison and life there.
During the second world war the army division took over part of the prison and many Italian Australians were incarcerated in the prison as they were deemed a threat.
1988 saw riots within the prison and in January of that year prisoner set fire to one of the cell blocks and took prison officers hostage.
1.8 million dollars of damage was done during the riots and this was the beginning of the end for Fremantle prison.
In 1991 the prison closed and the last prisoners were transferred to a new prison South of Perth.
The prison was then handed to the State Heritage and finally in 2002 to the State Government.
There’s lots of information to take in about the prison and its inmates during the tour as well as a visitor centre.
We were enthralled by the history of the place and by the end of the tour wanted more so we booked on to another tour they run about escapes and attempted escapes from the prison.
If you book two tours, the second one is heavily discounted but if you have also done one and want to book another they give the same discount if you book on to the second one within a certain time of completing the first. ( Hope that makes sense ).
Luckily it turned out that Janine was also leading our next tour which was great as we really liked her manner and way of telling stories.
She led us to some different parts of the prison we hadn’t seen and recounted stories of daring escapes and some of the spooky goings on at the prison.
We had a great time at the prison and would definitely go back there again, Annabel would love to go on the After Dark Tour by torchlight.
Sometimes you just visit somewhere and it grabs your imagination and Fremantle Prison done that for us.
It helped that we had a really great informative tour guide but the prison is steeped in history and is a great place to learn about the convicts that travelled from Great Britain to the colonies as well as inmates from more recent times.
The tours are put together really well and we felt we’d been able to see a fair chunk of the prison although there are parts like the tunnels that you can see on other tours.
Like any tours, they are expensive but we thought it was totally worth the cost, to gain an insight into the goings-on at this infamous prison.
The Nitty Gritty
How to get there
We travelled to Fremantle by train from Padbury via Perth.
It’s a nice journey and the train takes you right into the centre of Fremantle so all the sights and the prison are within walking distance.
The prison is signposted from town and is just a short walk away.
There are several tours you can choose from each day of opening.
For more info check out the Fremantle Prison official website
What else to see
There are lots of things to see and do in Fremantle and the centre is so compact you can walk around everything very easily.
The harbour is a lovely area to see the fishing boats and get views out to sea and you can go into the fort by the waters edge.
The main street is nice to stroll along and see the old buildings and shops.
You can also visit the Fremantle market which is undercover just off the main street.
We loved just wandering around and being by the sea front.
Where to eat
We discovered a gem to eat at and loved it so much we went back another day just to go there again.
Kailis fish and chips is fantastic and right on the harbour front.
It’s not cheap but not extortionate either and we found the family special a really good amount for us and the best deal.
You get a huge plate full of chips and usually four or five pieces of battered fish on top.
Be aware that people sitting outside on the deck seemed to be getting harassed by the many huge seagulls in the area.