Fremantle is a home for many things. One of these is a UNESCO World Heritage Site Prison. Today we would be exploring this establishment.
We signed up for the tour and after spending 20 minutes looking at the free galleries the hand bell was rung and we lined up with the rest of the tour. Karen was on a roll today. One Scottish teacher as we entered the prison and a family of three Scots on our tour. Our guide was called Ben and he came from Canada. He took on the persona of a harsh prison guard, which was hilarious as the three Finnish ladies were actually frightened of him as they did not understand the theatrics.
Fremantle Prison was originally built in the 1850s by convict labour and became a general prison in 1886 to be used for all prisoners. We began our tour in the processing room. After making us sit down on the long solitary bench, Ben described how thousands of naked prisoners had previously sat where we sat. We then proceeded to the Main Cell Block that could hold up to 1000 prisoners. It was divided into 4 main sections. One for Juveniles, another for Aboriginal prisoners, the third for normal convicts and the last for high security risk prisoners.
The tour was very informative and we got shown round the kitchens, exercise yards, and cells. Some of these cells reminded us of some of our hostel experiences especially the shed in Luang Prabang. Some of the cells were decorated with paintings. One of the cells used to hold a psychotic prisoner who was allowed to paint in order to keep him calm.
In the centre of the Main Cell Block is the Anglican Chapel. Ben suggested that it could be a possible Wedding Venue as they have had ex-prisoners get married here. Something about serving a long sentence made it feel right to be married there. A prisoner called Hamilton painted a huge mural of the Ten Commandments, but with one variation from the original. With the amount of prisoners that were hanged in the prison, the authorities felt that the 6th Commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”) should have been changed to “Thou shalt not do murder” to sound less hypocritical.
Another interesting feature that we learned of afterwards, is that an illusion appears on one of the prison windows which can only be seen on the outside of the window; when inside the church looking out the glass is smooth and even, with no unusual shape or texture. An example of pareidolia, urban legend has it that this illusion is the portrait of Martha Rendell, who watches over the prison. Rendell was hanged in the prison.
The last part of the tour was very eerie. The solitary confinement section and the gallows. We basically replicated the Gallows Walk. The Gallows was the only legal site of Execution in all of Western Australia and 46 men and 1 woman (Martha Rendell) were hanged here until capital punishment was abolished in 1964. Outside was a lashing post where prisoners were subjected to cruel punishment.
We highly recommend the tour as its great fun, lasts a good while and is very informative. If money or time is tight there is a wealth of free galleries to explore and it’s always worth a few pictures of the main building outside.
They also have a online database of all convicts that were sent to Western Australia. Quite a few Roses and Hamiltons were on those boats, as well as a few Finns for good measure.
Sixty-two members of the Fenian Brotherhood were incarcerated here, but a few managed to escape, including John Boyle O’Reilly and James Wilson.
Another famous inmate and someone who actually probably benefited a lot from spending some time doing porridge was Walmatjarri Aboriginal artist, Jimmy Pike. Inside he learned how to use Western art supplies and his paintings are so good that they were exhibited in major galleries before he was released.