Fremantle Prison (1852-1859) is of heritage value to the nation as an outstanding example of a 19th century convict establishment which continued to be used as a prison until 1991. It is the most intact such complex in Australia.
Fremantle Prison is a major component of the British convict system constructed in Australia. The system is an example of a 19th century European colonial strategy of exporting prisoners and using their labour to establish a colonial economy. In Australia, this strategy had a significant impact on early colonial development and on the overall Australian psyche.
Fremantle Prison, in conjunction with other Australian convict sites, exemplifies a worldwide process of colonial settlement. The British colonial penal system, evident in post-1788 Australia and demonstrated to a high degree at Fremantle Prison, was significant in progressing 18th and 19th century European colonisation.
Transportation had ceased in the other colonies by 1853, yet due to increasing hostile opposition and immigration stimulated by the gold rushes, commenced in Western Australia in 1850. Fremantle Prison tells the national story of the last period of convict transportation to Australia, and the final expression of British convict migration. Its history reflects the changes in Australian and British views about the use of forced labour as a basis for maintaining an Empire. Following the gold rushes the Australian colonies, rather than being seen as an extension of British interests, were increasingly seen as self sufficient members of the Empire.
The Prison, with its high degree of integrity, clearly demonstrates in its fabric many aspects of penal design and reform that developed in Britain in the 19th century. It is outstanding in demonstrating aspects of the system and the conditions in which convicts lived.
Fremantle Prison, the central convict establishment in Western Australia, functioned as a public works prison, a convict distribution depot and the main Imperial convict administration and workshops. Together with Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, the sites best illustrate the national story of the contribution of convicts to public works.
The Prison contains major surviving physical evidence of an Imperial convict public works establishment and of its adaptation for subsequent colonial (1886) and state use. The fabric of the Main Cell Block, perimeter walls, the Henderson Street Warders' Cottages and three of the cottages on the Terrace are little altered from the imperial convict era.
- Criteria (b) the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Australia's natural or cultural history.
The Prison has outstanding heritage value to the nation as an exceptionally intact architectural ensemble due to 133 years of continuous use as a prison. The National Heritage values are expressed through the elements comprising the Fremantle Prison convict era complex including the 1859 Main Cell Block, chapel and wards, yards and refractory cells; perimeter walls, Gatehouse Complex and prison officer residences on the Terrace; service buildings and hospital; Eastern Workshops; Fairbairn Street ramp access tramway, and the three terraces built as Warders’ Cottages, 7-17, 19-29 and 31- 41 Henderson Street. Other elements which express the National Heritage values include the Western Workshops (1900); New Division (1907); and conversion of a service building to the Women’s Prison and the Eastern Range (1889-1909).
The British colonial penal system, evident in post-1788 Australia, is demonstrated to a high degree at Fremantle Prison. London’s Pentonville Prison, one of the first model prisons erected between 1840 and 1842, was based on changes in British penal philosophy which advocated reform rather than punishment. The design of the Main Cell Block at Fremantle Prison was adapted from Joshua Jebb’s design for Pentonville Prison.
- Criteria (c) the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Australia's natural or cultural history.
Fremantle Prison has extensive research potential because of the place’s high degree of integrity and authenticity and the ability of the material culture present to provide unique insight into the convict experience throughout the Imperial, colonial and state operated periods. The National Heritage values are expressed through the structures comprising the Fremantle Prison complex (1852-1991), including its underground engineering heritage, archaeological subsurface remains, records and collections.
In combination, the oral tradition, documentary evidence, collections, structures, engineering relics and archaeological features at Fremantle Prison have unparalleled potential for community education.
Fremantle Prison’s buildings, engineering relics and other structures contain within their fabric evidence of construction technology with available materials as well as adaptation to suit local conditions.
- Criteria (d) the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of:
(i) a class of Australia's natural or cultural places; or
(ii) a class of Australia's natural or cultural environments
Australia’s Convict Sites share patterns of both environmental and social colonial history including classification and segregation; dominance by authority and religion; the provision of accommodation for the convict, military and civil population; amenities for governance, punishment and healing, and the elements of place building and industry. Fremantle Prison is outstanding in demonstrating the principal characteristics of an Australian Convict Site because:
It presents important aspects of Australia’s convict system including changing attitudes to punishment, reform, education and welfare;
The Prison in its present form demonstrates the facilities, conditions and attitudes prevailing in a major Western Australian prison – an experience rarely available to the public and made more immediate by the retention of graffiti, murals, signs, notices and recent evidence of use;
The form and location of elements at Fremantle Prison display deliberate design and arrangement, reflecting the order and hierarchy of the place’s history and function as a Prison;
The built environment at Fremantle Prison displays a large, surviving concentration of 19th and early 20th century structures characterised by a homogeneity of form, materials, textures and colour;
Substantial parts of the site include archaeological deposits of material culture, which can be analysed to yield site information unavailable from documentary sources alone; and
Fremantle Prison, its artefacts, furnishings and fittings, written and painted graffiti and records, including published material, photographs, historical, archaeological and architectural records, and databases, provide an extensive resource for a broad range of historical and social research.
The National Heritage values are expressed through the structures comprising the Fremantle Prison complex (1852-1991), its artefacts, furnishings and fittings, written and painted graffiti, its records and collections. The National Heritage values are also expressed through the archaeological subsurface remains, including the underground engineering heritage comprising the reservoirs, the pumping station and associated water system.
- Criteria (g) the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.
Fremantle Prison has played a significant role in the social fabric of Western Australia over many generations through its continued use as a place of incarceration until 1991. The site is strongly associated with particular communities in Western Australia and for Australians more generally.
Fremantle Prison is the outstanding symbol of the period in which Western Australia was developed using convict labour. For Australians broadly, particularly those of Anglo-Celtic background, Fremantle Prison is a place to reconnect with their colonial roots and reflect on the meanings of the past. For some, the search for early family associations and identity has led to Fremantle Prison and the rediscovery of personal links with convictism.
Values from Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. S142, Monday, 1 August 2005, Published by the Commonwealth of Australia.