Stepping Back in Time & Behind the Towering Walls of the Fremantle Prison, Western Australia.

A visit to a prison may not be high on everyone’s travel bucket list, but when it is an old prison, full of interesting stories, beautiful architecture and colourful characters then that is enough to push prisons to the top of my ‘must do/must see’ list.

Welcome to the Fremantle Prison…

The imposing entrance gate to Fremantle Prison
The imposing entrance gate to Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison commands a prominent position on top of a small hill overlooking the very heart of Fremantle. I can imagine in the old days, when there were less trees and much smaller buildings, that the Prison positively loomed over people and provided a constant reminder of a place not to be, and additional encouragement to stay on the straight and narrow.

Construction of the Prison started in the 1850s with the arrival of 10 000 convicts. They were tasked with building a whole range of public infrastructure, including their own home. Workers, and people in general, were so scarce in the Swan River Colony that convicts were imported to provide a cheap source of labour. Western Australia (WA) was the last of our states to trade in convicts. Australia’s eastern states had seen the light a little earlier, realising that transportation of convicts was quite inhumane, but WA was desperate for labour, and was quite prepared to put aside any moral qualms just to get the job done.

Interestingly, one of the last convict groups to arrive in Fremantle were 65 Fenian rebels. Obviously England wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to get rid of troublemakers AND political opposition.

Constructed from coastal limestone quarried in the region, the convicts made good progress building their new home-away-from-home. Fortunately for them they found the limestone quite soft and easy to work with, which also meant it was quite easy to tunnel through and escape! Unfortunately for them, the limestone was so uniformly white and bright, that many convicts suffered from blindness created by the glare of the harsh Aussie sun reflecting off the stone.

Convict Rations at Fremantle Prison

The Fremantle Prison is an easy, short walk from the heart of the town. The front courtyard of the Prison is free for everyone to visit and there is a small interpretive centre, a gallery, coffee shop and gift shop open to the public.

For a more in-depth visit to the jail, consider joining one of the themed walking tours to access the inner prison and grounds. I joined the Convict Prison Tour ($22pp) and there were four other tours running on the hour or just after.

While the Prison has the usual array of flogging racks and solitary confinement cells, it is the human stories that really bring the place to life. In some cases the wardens and overseers were just as colourful as the inmates.

The Prison has the unenviable reputation as a hive of unrest and rioting. In 1988 the inmates protested the primitive living conditions by setting a wing of the prison on fire and capturing some guards. Considering the Prison was fully-operational until 1991 with a large number of prisoners still in residence, no flushing toilets or heating or cooling, it is little wonder that the prisoners were unhappy.

Amidst the hardship of the prison, there are patches of beauty. One cell in particular is covered in the most expert and delicate pencil drawings of angels and other religious iconography. The origins and author of these artworks are a mystery as they were only discovered when sections of the old plaster fell away to reveal the treasure underneath.

Operating continuously for 136 years, Fremantle Prison is the largest public building constructed by convicts in Western Australia. In 2010, it was the first heritage building in WA to be included in the World Heritage List.

While Fremantle, or Freo to the locals, is known as party-central with an abundance of watering holes, restaurants and cafes to support its hip vibe, the historic side of Freo makes it a deeply fascinating place to visit.

Imposing walls at Fremantle Prison

Just don’t step out of line while you are there. Perhaps there is a cell at the Fremantle Prison with your name on it!

What other prisons do you think are worth a visit?

The Basics

What: Curious about the Fremantle Prison? Pick a tour to satisfy your own individual curiosity – Convict Prison, Behind Bars, True Crime, Tunnels, and Torchlight.

Where: The Prison is a short walk from the centre of Fremantle and an easy 20-minute walk from Fremantle Railway Station. Find the Prison at The Terrace, Fremantle WA 6160.

When: The Prison is open daily from 9am-5pm. Tours start at 10am. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Why: For a fascinating insight into our convict, colonial and criminal history.

How: Hop on the train from Perth to Fremantle ($4.90pp one way).

Who: Children would love the ghoulishness of some of the Prison stories. For people who do not like heights, you may not enjoy the walk inside the cell blocks and climbs up to the top floors.

Related Posts: For more convict and criminal history in Australia, you cannot mention those words without including the words ‘Port Arthur’. Let’s hop across the ditch to Tasmania.

Related Blogs: And here is someone taking their love of convict history to a whole new level.

Read About It: For a fabulous read about early colonial Australia and convict life, grab a copy of For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clark. Go straight to Book Depository.

No Exit to Inmates sign Fremantle Prison

#fremantle #travelinspo #westernaustralia #fremantleprison #shortwalks #history  #dayswalks #crimeandpunishment #convicts #historytours.

33 thoughts on “Stepping Back in Time & Behind the Towering Walls of the Fremantle Prison, Western Australia.

  1. Coral Waight June 16, 2021 / 11:29 am

    Very interesting. I didn’t realise the prison was still going in the 1990s. Unbelievable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure June 16, 2021 / 1:39 pm

      Yes, it is pretty unbelievable, but maybe it acted as a bit of a disincentive to play up? It certainly was an incentive to riot! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. wetanddustyroads June 16, 2021 / 5:54 pm

    I was quite impressed with that entrance gate to the prison … for a moment I thought it might be a small castle (yeah right 👀).
    And no flushing toilets (and that while the prison was still operating in 1991) – I agree with you, no wonder there were riots!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure June 20, 2021 / 1:16 pm

      I guess those old English architects were pretty used to designing castles, so a few tweaks and ‘hey presto’, no we have a jail! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. travelling_han June 16, 2021 / 6:54 pm

    Fascinating – I can’t believe it was used for so long!!! Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, Another Blogger June 16, 2021 / 9:29 pm

    Hi. I live near Philadelphia, which has an old prison also. The prison last was used as a prison circa 1950. It’s in the middle of a residential area, and is a popular tourist attraction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure June 20, 2021 / 1:19 pm

      I imagine you guys would have some pretty impressive (depending how you look at it) prisons over there. Your white history is way older and your population way bigger, Do they use the prison for anything ie cultural, or is it just a tourist attraction?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Toonsarah June 16, 2021 / 11:08 pm

    That looks like an interesting tour. I like what you say about the limestone being easy to work and therefore also easy to tunnel through!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Monkey's Tale June 17, 2021 / 2:49 am

    I’ll agree, from the outside it looks like a castle not a prison. So funny that it was built out of limestone that was easy to make tunnels. Since the prisoners were the builders I’m sure it didn’t take long to figure that out! Great tour! Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure June 20, 2021 / 1:24 pm

      Yes, any opportunity for escape…although I am not sure what they would have been escaping to. The countryside would have been pretty unforgiving back then, I imagine, but then maybe any place is better than prison.


  7. Heyjude June 18, 2021 / 9:00 am

    Freo is a lovely place, we stayed there for a couple of nights, but missed the prison. The OH has stayed in a former prison (HM Oxford) now Malmaison Oxford which was actually a castle! I suppose Alcatraz and the Tower of London qualify as ones to visit, not that I have. And we enjoyed looking around the Victorian prison inside Lincoln castle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure June 20, 2021 / 1:22 pm

      You are spoiled for choice in ol’ Blighty and your prisons are even older! You guys do history so well with your audio tours and interpretive information.


      • Heyjude June 20, 2021 / 8:29 pm

        English Heritage do some great audio tours, Whitby Abbey is fabulous, you listen to monks chanting.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Heyjude June 23, 2021 / 8:50 am

            That must have been fun. We enjoyed the film shown there and I learned a lot more about the Battle of Hastings than I had from school lessons.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Life...One Big Adventure June 23, 2021 / 4:41 pm

            They had these mock battles in the paddocks next to the Abbey and people were ‘dying’ left, right and centre until the man on the loudspeaker said “Dead arise” and all the dead people got up, walked off laughing and patting each other on the back! A great day out.

            Liked by 2 people

  8. The Travel Architect June 18, 2021 / 11:57 am

    What an interesting tour. I would definitely do that. I was going to suggest Alcatraz. I could swear I’ve been, but my mom says we only just saw it from a distance, so who the heck knows? It was 30 years ago. Lincoln Castle in England has some prison-y stuff in it, like the chapel which had box-like partitions that each prisoner had to stand in in the amphitheater-like room so that they were physically separated from every other prisoner and could only see the preacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life...One Big Adventure June 20, 2021 / 1:28 pm

      Aren’t those isolation tools harsh? At Port Arthur in Tasmania they have the same thing and the cell walls are so thick no sound penetrates – so there is no people, no sound and very little light. I think I would last about 3 hours and then I would go nuts!

      Liked by 1 person

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