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See also: David Hutchison's Walk 8, Fremantle Prison, in his Fremantle Walks.
See also: organisations/the Convict Establishment.

Fremantle Prison

The Fremantle Prison was constructed by convicted, transported prisoners (convicts) 1851-69, admitting its 511 first inmates on 1 June 1855. Originally called the Convict Establishment, it was officially renamed Fremantle Prison in January 1867. It was closed as a prison 1991. Now it's a tourist trap.

Fremantle Prison Gatehouse, designed by Edmund Henderson, built by Henry Wray. Photo from Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia.

Photograph of a painting by Toby Leek, courtesy of the artist.


This photo of the prison was taken by Stephen Stout in about 1865, not long after the building was completed in 1859.

The erection of the Convict Establishment was commenced in 1851. In that and the following years the Imperial Government carried out by prison labour a number of other works, among them being the Commissariat buildings in Cliff-street, the pensioners' barracks in South Terrace, the warders' quarters in Henderson Street, the Comptroller's residence, known as ”The Knowle” (now part of the hospital), the North Fremantle traffic bridge as originally constructed [1866] and numerous other works of public utility, including roads, streets and public buildings. With the exception of the old [second] court-house, which was demolished to make room for pilots' quarters, all those buildings and the North Fremantle bridge are still standing, and are monuments to the stability of the work done by the convicts. Hitchcock: 34-35.
[The 'North Fremantle bridge' still standing in 1929 was replaced by the 1939 Fremantle Traffic Bridge, which itself is about to be replaced.]

The name Convict Establishment was replaced in 1866 by Colonial Convict Establishment. The term 'Establishment' was appropriate due to the fact that it included not only the Prison buildings but also the grounds including the Warders Cottages, sappers cottages, the Commissariat, the Knowle, Government House, and the prison gardens below the hill.

The Government Gazette of 22nd January announced that the Imperial Convict Establishment was renamed Fremantle Prison in 1867.

Fremantle Prison and Fremantle Asylum were both handed over to the colonial Government on 31 March 1886. With less than 60 men imprisoned in Western Australia under the convict system, the British government negotiated to hand Fremantle Prison over to the colonial authorities.


This excellent photo, courtesy of Roel Loopers, shows the 'VR 1855' on the admin building. Luke Donegan (then 'Interpretation Manager', now 'Heritage Conservation Manager') took it down, arguing that it was not original to the 1855 building (despite the date) but was added later. My position was that it had been there long enough (most of my life) to justify its continuing to be shown. And what about the razor wire which is still all over the place? That is much later than the 'VR'. Put the VR back! It's Heritage.


Comptrollers General of Convicts

Edmund Henderson, 1859-1863

William Newland, 1863-1866

George Hampton (son of Governor John Hampton), 1866-67 (acting)

Henry Wakeford, 1867-1972, when the office was abolished

References and links

Barry, Liam 2006, Voices from the Tomb: A Biographical Dictionary of the 62 Fenians Transported to Western Australia, National Gaelic Publications, Australind. [See also: Fenians.]

Bosworth, Michal 2004, Convict Fremantle: A Place of Promise and Punishment, UWAP.

Campbell, Robin McKellar 2010, Building the Fremantle Convict Establishment, PhD, UWA (Faculty of Architecture). Available online to download (not from this site) as a 40MB PDF.

Campbell, Rob 2017, Henderson & Coy, Royal Engineers & the Convict Establishment Fremantle, WA, 1850-1872, School of Design, UWA. Book based on the preceding entry.

Culley, Stephen 2010, 'Six years without a suicide: art at Fremantle Prison', Fremantle Studies, 6: 66-87.

Cullity, Olimpia 2016, 'Reform and punishment: Fremantle Prison, 1850 to 1891', Studies in Western Australian History, 31: 63-79.

Dowson, John 2005, Fremantle: The Future is in the Past: Appreciating the Synagogue Site and its Surrounds.

Erickson, Rica ed. 1983, The Brand on His Coat: Biographies of Some Western
Australian Convicts

Errington, Steve 2022, The Round House 1831-1856, Hesperian.

Errington Steve 2023, Locked Up In Fremantle 1829-1856: Prisoners and Patients on the Marquis of Anglesea and in the Round House, Hesperian. 'A companion volume to The Round House 1831-1856'.

Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948.]

Gibbs, Martin 2001, 'The archaeology of the convict system in Western Australia', Australasian Historical Archaeology, 19.

Haebich, Anna 2011, Murdering Stepmothers: The Execution of Martha Rendell, UWAP.

Haebich, Anna 2015, 'Iconic murders: fictionalising the life of Martha Rendell', The Conversation, 17 June.

Hasluck, Alexandra 1991, Unwilling Emigrants, FACP, Fremantle (first publ. OUP, Melbourne, 1959).

Heseltine, William 2004, 'The escape of the military Fenians from Fremantle Prison: the warders' perspective', Fremantle Studies, 3: 26-45.

Hutchison, David, Walk 8, Fremantle Prison, Fremantle Walks.

Kerr, James Semple 1998, Fremantle Prison: A Policy for its Conservation, Dept of Contract and Management Services for the Fremantle Prison Trust Advisory Committee, rev. ed.

Megahey, Norman 2004, 'Adaptation and resistance: the reaction of Fremantle Prison inmates to incarceration', Fremantle Studies, 3: 14-25.

Megahey, Norman 2010, 'A community apart', Fremantle Studies, 6: 29-42. [on Fremantle Prison riot 1988]

Menzies, Isa & Jacquie Brisbout 2014, 'From the inside: the art of Fremantle Prison', Fremantle Studies, 8: 96-115.

Murray, Sandra 2007, 'Escape! Fremantle to Freedom: an exhibition on the Irish Fenian convicts and their bold escape from the Fremantle Prison to America', Fremantle Studies, 5: 74-86.

Waters, Ormonde D.P. 2011, The Fenian Wild Geese, Catalpa Publications.

Fremantle Prison website

Wikipedia page

Notes on the prison in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle SocietyJuly 1989 , February 1990April 1990October 1990March 1991April 1991.

My page for Fenians.

Fremantle Fenians website.

Video of Fremantle Prison on website Australian Convict Sites.

Personal note. While I was on the staff of the Murdoch University External Studies Unit, I visited student prisoners there twice while it was still in use, one visit in the Special Handling Unit. I also went in there in 1991 on the first occasion it was opened to Fremantle residents after being closed: Gary Burke's band Rich 'n' Famous played. It was a weird occasion; I wonder if someone has written something about it.

Garry Gillard | New: 25 June, 2015 | Now: 3 April, 2024