Having heard about Fremantle Prison before I went to Perth it had become a must visit for me. So when we were leaving Perth to find our next free camping site, we stopped in at Fremantle Prison.
It was just something that I had to do. I knew nothing about the place, none of its history, none of the buildings were known to me, didn’t even know there were tours throughout the place.
Walking through the gates
The first thing you see when walking through the gates is the massive exercise yard and buildings. However, when you realise that there were thousands of inmates, it then becomes painfully obvious that there is not really that much space.
The really impressive part comes a bit later when you realise that what you see when you walk in is a small component of the entire prison.
Once inside the actual prison, my first instinct was to look up and then my first thought was: A long way to fall, hope those nets are strong.
This place is huge!
Even though this place is huge, I mean 4 stories of prison cells is enough, but wait there’s more! That is just one wing of the prison.
Now let’s have a look at the size of the actual cells.
The size of the cells
The size of the cells was 4 feet by 7 feet (1.2 metres by 2.1 metres) and with no electricity in the cells the inmate would have spent many hours locked up in total darkness. Each cell had a small table, hammock, a toilet bucket and a bible!
The tour guide offered us the chance to go into a cell, and have the door closed whilst he turned off the lights. There were about 6 of us who volunteered, and once the light went out there was no way I could see the person standing next to me – and I knew they were only a couple of “inches” away.
It was so eerie that a couple of the people burst into tears, and I can tell you I couldn’t blame them.
By the way the room we went into was not a “cell” it was a store room, the “cells” were so much smaller that two would only fit!
The only toilet facilities enjoyed by the inmates was a “bucket”, imagine trying to find it without knocking it over during the night.
In some cases these cells had two doors, which was apparently for the safety of the guards. The worst offenders were placed in the cells with the two doors, which, if you look closely at the image, the inner door opened outwards.
If you look to the left you may notice a steel bar from the outer door to the inner door, it stopped the inner door opening. The reason for this was when the guards would take in meals the inmates had a habit of rushing out, hoping to hit the guard with the door then bash him and obviously escaping (or at least attempting to do so).
Royal Commission in 1899
The 1899 Royal Commission into conditions at the prison recommended an increase in the size of the cells. To achieve the desired result required the removal of a wall between two cells, and with many hundreds of cells this process took a long time to complete.
The result was a cell now being 8 feet by 7 feet (2.4 by 2.1 metres) still not very big.
The turn of the century brought some more creature comforts for the inmates, with electric lighting being introduced in 1907, however its use was restricted to the period April to November for quite a while.
Around 100 years after the Royal Commission in 1899, and without the need for a new Royal Commission, inmates were allowed to purchase small televisions and other electrical items from the prison canteen.
The prison chapel
The prison chapel operated for all denominations and services were held for inmates on a regular basis. My observation is that the size of the chapel is a “dead give-a-way” to the numbers of inmates attending.
Now that the prison is officially closed, the chapel is becoming increasingly popular place for weddings. It does seem to be a good place for these activities as there is plenty of light, the ceiling is quite high and there is plenty of good photographic points for wedding photos.
My only comment would be that the wedding party and guests would need to be less than around 50 people. I may be a tad conservative in my numbers but there would need to be tables, additional pews, photographers etc oh, and a priest!
Security in the prison was taken seriously
As can be seen from other photos above the walls around the prison are quite high, with barbed wire on top. This would make it a bit difficult, but I guess not impossible to escape.
But there are some walls, with which they have taken a different approach and believe me it would be far more difficult to et over these, even though they are not as high. You might notice the difference in the photo just here.
Not a wall I would try to get over!
Also, seen above is the security in the cells, especially with the twin doors on some of these. The width of the doors, the steel bracing and locking mechanisms are simple yet effective.
In another effort to reduce the risk of escape, especially in the early 1900’s when the electricity was put into the cells, the switches were all managed from outside of the cells. As we know, when it was “lights out” the men were in total darkness, unless they were lucky to have a cell with the moon shining through the window.
The prison library
The inmates were afforded some luxuries, or benefits, because there was a library in the early days, with quite a number of books available.
During the more modern times, when VHS videos came out they were allowed to “borrow” a video to watch in the library. The list of titles was not particularly enticing (well, for us anyway) but I am sure that they may have gained some enjoyment.
Some of the worst offenders would not have been much time to enjoy these services because they were locked in their cells up to 23 hours a day. And when let out they were required to exercise in the yard!
My impressions of Fremantle Prison
The prison itself is an impressive building. We purchased a tour of the prison which gave us one hour to look through four levels of prison cells, the kitchen, library, chapel and various other features. A guide spoke to us at all times providing us with a history lesson as we went.
As someone who appreciates the wide open spaces of our country, the thought of being imprisoned in the Fremantle Prison for any reason is not something I would relish.
If you enjoyed this little tour of the prison, please leave your comments below. I will answer any questions as soon as possible. Thank you.