Fremantle Prison Timeline

Swan River colony founded in Perth with the landing of the first settlers at Garden Island, and later at Fremantle.

Round House built – served as place of detention, court house, & place of execution; the first public building in WA.

First duel fought in colony; Surgeon in attendance.

Henry Vincent appointed Superintendent of the Native Establishment on Rottnest Island [Rottnest Island History and Architecture (1986) – R. J. Ferguson… p. 13].

Juveniles of both sexes sent from Parkhurst Prison Reformatory on the Isle of Wight (UK) to work in Western Australia on farms and in households.

John Gavin, a 15 year-old Parkhurst boy, sentenced to hang for the murder at Murray River of 15 year old George Pollard, his employer’s son. He was hanged publicly in front of the Round House, Fremantle on 6 April, and buried without ceremony in the sand hills to the south, gaining the dubious distinction of being the first European legally executed in the colony.

Included in the dispatches sent to the Colonial Office in London by Governor Fitzgerald were "a set of resolutions…demanding the formation of a penal establishment on a large scale" delivered to him by a deputation from a public meeting held in Perth on 23 February. Secretary of State for the Colonies in London, Earl Grey, had an Order in Council passed permitting the Governor to declare the colony "a place to which convicts could be sent". This allowed ticket of leave men to be included amongst transportees, but they "had to be connected with some kind of establishment". Unwilling Emigrants (1959) – Alexandra Hasluck pp.28-29.

Captain E. Y. W. Henderson (Royal Engineers), the first Comptroller-General of Convicts in WA arrived off Fremantle with the first shipment of 75 transportees aboard the chartered Indiaman Scindian on 1 June.

Early convicts were men selected because they had almost finished their sentences and were therefore less difficult to control. There were no female convicts sent to WA. The first Convict Establishment was situated in premises leased from the Harbour Master of Fremantle, Captain Daniel Scott, consisting of a wool shed and some other buildings which occupied the land about where the Esplanade Hotel presently stands; a limestone store was added by convict labour later. All the original buildings were demolished to make way for other structures over time. Convict Depots, to handle the distribution of ticket of leave men, were gradually established in metropolitan and country areas including:

  • Fremantle
  • North Fremantle
  • Freshwater Bay (Claremont)
  • Mt Eliza (at foot of Kings Park, Perth)
  • Guildford
  • York
  • Toodyay
  • Bunbury
  • Albany
  • Champion Bay District (near Geraldton)
  • Port Gregory (coast north of Geraldton)
  • Greenough

Ticket of leave men were allowed to send for their wives provided they had the money for it.

Work began on building the first of the Warders’ cottages in Henderson Street, Fremantle (these still exist).

Lt. Henry Wray (Royal Engineers) arrived; he commanded the 20th Company of Royal Engineers working closely with Edmund Henderson.

95 sappers and miners, 20 Field Company, Royal Engineers arrived.

Construction of the 4 two storey houses lining the west boundary wall at the front of the Establishment began; these were to house the senior officers of the institution and were all completed by 1857.

A grand two-storey house, designed by Henderson (later to be known as ‘The Knowle’) was built slightly to the south of the Establishment. He moved into it with his wife and their young son when it was completed (this became the original premises of Fremantle Hospital when that institution was founded in 1897; it still stands in the Hospital grounds).

In November the building of the Main Cell Block of the Convict Establishment began.

A colonial Police Force established.

Surgeon Attfield served as medical officer to the Convict Establishment. He died at Hove, Sussex aged 101 (b. c1823 – d.c1924) [The History of Fremantle: The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929 (c1929) by J. K. Hitchcock].

Southern wing of Convict Establishment’s Main Cell Block opened for use – On June 1 first convicts transferred from temporary Establishment at Scott’s Warehouse.

Boundary walls of permanent Establishment completed.

Perth Gaol built and opened.

Clock installed in Gatehouse tower of Fremantle Prison.

Convict Establishment project at Fremantle officially completed on 31 December.

Asylum at Fremantle (now the Fremantle Arts Centre) built by convict labour.

Governorship of Dr John Stephen Hampton. He arrived from Tasmania where he was embroiled in controversy, and immediately set about establishing a stricter and harsher regime at the Establishment, increasing the construction of public works using convict labour.

The name Convict Establishment was replaced by that of the Colonial Convict Establishment.

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

Transportation of convicts from UK to Western Australia (and to Australia) officially ended.

The last ship carrying 280 convicts was the Hougoumont, which arrived on 9 January.

"It is believed that 9501 convicts stepped onto Western Australian soil alive" conveyed here on the voyages of variously named vessels [Convict Records of Western Australia (1990) by Gillian O’Mara… p. 1].

Colonial Convict Department disbanded.

Political prisoners sent to Western Australia as convicts escaped from custody in Rockingham, and with well organised outside assistance managed to evade recapture, sailing in an American whaling boat to Boston in the USA.

Fremantle Prison and Fremantle Asylum handed over to the colonial Government on 31 March.

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.

Fremantle Town Hall opened.

Last man hanged at Perth Gaol – W. Conroy.

The gallows (execution chamber) built at Fremantle Prison — from this time on it became the colony’s (and later the State’s) only legal place of execution.

The north-west corner of Fremantle Prison was walled off and some extra buildings added; this became Female Division (Women’s Prison).

Responsible government granted to Western Australia – first elected Government led by Sir John Forrest (no universal suffrage – electors drawn mainly from business and land owners).

The colony’s worst building disaster occurs at 12.05 on Saturday afternoon 4 March when a new brewery nearing completion in Beach Street collapsed. Two men received major injuries and were rushed by train to hospital in Perth; one of them died a short while later.

A number of major notable civic openings in Fremantle:
Fremantle Hospital
Fremantle Harbour
Fremantle Markets.

Royal Commission into the penal system of the colony.

Federation — creation of nation state of Australia — states and territories united under Federal Constitution to become Commonwealth of Australia in a federal system of government.

Prisons Act Western Australia established.

New Division at Fremantle Prison completed and occupied.

Royal Commission ‘Into the administration and conduct of the Fremantle Prison and matters incidental thereto’ established under Captain C. de F. Pennefather, Comptroller-General of Prisons in Queensland. The result of the inquiry was to initiate a number of changes and reforms at Fremantle Prison amongst which were:

Demolishing walls between alternate cells in the Main Cell Block to create more space in cells

Building of the West Workshops

Erection of walls between divisions in Main Cell Block to assist in the separation of prisoners of different classes

Portion of Fremantle Prison set aside as a Reformatory Prison under the Prisons amendment Act 1918 – in effect, first offenders were kept separate from habitual offenders and recidivists. A Reformatory Prison was established at Rottnest around this time [Votes and Proceedings Parliament of WA 1920, Vol. 2, Paper No. 12].

The Australian Army occupied the Prison during the Second World War, using it as an internment centre for enemy alien civilians, and as a detention barracks for military personnel (Western Command Detention Barracks).

Probation and Parole Act, Western Australia established.

Tried and convicted for murder, Eric Edgar Cooke was hanged at Fremantle Prison. In Western Australia, he was the last man to face capital punishment (later officially abolished by an act of State Parliament in 1984).

Cooke was a serial killer, and although he was tried for only one murder, that of John Stucke, evidence plus his own confessions suggest he killed others during his 3 or 4 year reign of terror in the suburbs of Perth.

Inmates and staff of Female Division (Women’s Prison) were transferred to Bandyup Women’s Training Centre a newly built medium security facility (about 16 km from Perth) in January 1970. Female Division space was absorbed back into Fremantle Prison operations, housing units such as the Prisoner Assessment Centre (started in 1967 in the old Mat Shop) and the Education Centre[Stewart Notes].

Title of Comptroller-General of Prisons changed to Director of the Department of Corrections on 31st August - Western Australian Statutes, Amendment No. 43 to Prisons Act 1903 [Note — Research File: Fremantle Prison — History of Its Development].

Rules and Regulations for prisons in Western Australia first issued.

An Act to abolish capital punishment in Western Australia was passed by State Parliament on 5 September 1984.

Fire and riot at Fremantle Prison — on 4th and 5th of January prisoners rebelled and rioted, setting fire to 3 Division, taking some Prison Officers hostage and making demands about conditions. Order was restored on 5th January, but not before some of the officers held hostage were injured, and extensive damage done to the part of the Main Cell Block by fire and water.

This year also saw the commencement of the Fremantle Prison Conservation and Future Use project in which extensive investigations and research into the Prison site and its history and heritage potential were carried out. At the time it was the largest such project ever undertaken in Western Australia. The project reported to the State Government during 1990, recommending the prison be conserved as a significant heritage site. The recommendation was accepted by the Government.

Inmates and staff of Fremantle Prison were transferred to the new metropolitan maximum security prison at Casuarina, about 20 kms south of Perth, and Fremantle Prison closed.

Post 1991
During 1992, after further community consultation, the prison began its development as one of the State’s major historic heritage sites..

Between 1992 and 2015 the site was vested in the portfolio of the Minister for Works. The Fremantle Prison Trust was established to consider and guide future developments at the site, and advise the Minister.

As of 01 July 2015 Fremantle Prison has been vested in the portfolio of the Minister for Heritage and is managed by The State Heritage Office on behalf of the State Government.

Between 1960 and 1986 the site and its buildings were assessed, listed and classified by the National Trust of Australia (WA), as a significant part of the State’s heritage.

In 1992 a tourist operator was granted permission to offer tours of the Prison to the paying public.

Since 1992 the Fremantle Prison management has overseen a number of other developments that have opened up the site and its buildings to further public and commercial access. Short and long term future plans will see the site used increasingly for both public and commercial activities. Such projects will also include further significant restoration work carried out, as in the past, according to well-established heritage and conservation guidelines.

In 2008 Fremantle Prison was included in a serial nomination of Australian Convict Sites for inscription on the World Heritage list. 

In August 2010 Fremantle Prison was inscribed on to the World Heritage list along with ten other Australian Convict Sites. Fremantle Prison is presently the only World Heritage listed building in Perth.