The Fremantle Prison was literally built by the convicts, for the convicts. As convicts started arriving to Australia in the 1800's, they began work on the Fremantle prison in 1852, finishing it in 1859. At that time they were subject to inhumane conditions, many of which would continue on until it closed in 1991.
To get inside the grounds of the Fremantle Prison, you have to take a tour. They do offer four tours and each one delves into an even creepier existence of the Fremantle Prison.
The basic tour is the Doing Time Tour, and it goes over a basic history of the prison, from it's beginnings to its disastrous climax in the late 1980's. The prison has seen many characters walk through its doors, and getting inside of the building is a must do for anyone visiting Western Australia and Perth.
The biggest fact to remember when going on any of the Fremantle Prison Tours, is that this place closed in 1991. Considering the living conditions, the lifestyle of prisoners, lack of amenities compared to prisons today, this was not a good place to do time. They crapped in buckets. That's right, buckets.
Buckets not bigger than 5 gallons were in each cell for prisoners to use and this lasted until 1991. Imagining Perth in summer, the temperature is 40 degrees and you're cell is steamy. Your still crapping into a bucket and everyone else is too.
This charming fact of life in the Fremantle Prison is one simple thing that would eventually be its downfall.
This is a mock up of a cell from the 1850's. It was 4 x 7 feet and didn't leave room for doing anything but sleeping and crapping into a bucket. It didn't matter though as they were busy working. Remember convict labour helped build the city of Fremantle. Perhaps they should have been working on the cities plumbing instead of its buildings. Maybe then they'd have had proper toilets.
A times changed cells did get bigger and this is a more recent cell. Inmates were never allowed to draw on the prison walls until the end of the prisons operation. Doctors could recommend painting or some other artistic expression as a therapy. The man who painted this wall is still in prison after being convicted of doing some truly horrific things. His artistic abilities however, rival that of locals artists.
All of the paintings have one theme in common, the freedom and independence of the outdoors. They are all paintings of the outside world without any people. Being in the prison, surrounded by people, that is the last thing you want to be focusing on.
The four tours that operate focus on four different aspects of the Fremantle Prison. The basic tour is an introduction of the main building, from when the prisoners arrive to where they eat, sleep, live, play and for many, where they die.
The four tours are called Doing Time , Great Escapes, Tunnels, and the Torchlight Tour. Each tour presents another slice of prison life. Again, tours are a must when visiting the Fremantle Prison. If you're particularly into the prison thing, dress the part, get into character and go during Halloween.
Punishment time in Fremantle Prison went far beyond making people crap in buckets. They were flogged as well. The good old days when flogging was the norm, many a man has been flogged right in this place, with the last flogging happening in 1943. Interesting thing about floggings? When sentenced to a flogging you will see that sentence through, no matter what.
When a person was sentenced to 100 flogs, a doctor stood by to watch you receive all 100. If, after 40 floggings you were deemed in too bad of shape to keep going, they would send you to the infirmary to get better and the day you get out it's back to the flogging station for the rest of your sentence. No one gets out of a flogs.
As the only legal place of capital punishment in Western Australia, the Gallows were the last place many convicts saw. Forty four convicts were hung here, including one female.
In the late 1980's during the heat of the Australian summer, the prisoners began what would eventually lead to the end of the Fremantle Prison. On November 8, 1988 a riot happened which caused a fire inside the main block and a section of the original wooden ceiling caved in. When the riots made the news it also highlighted the inhumane conditions of the Fremantle Prison and only two years later, all the inmates were transferred to the newer maximum security prison. From that day, nothing inside the prison has changed, and it remains an important piece of Australian national history.
Visiting the convict labour prisons is a great way to see what Australia was built on: the backs of criminals from Britain . Fremantle Prison and Port Arthur Prison are two of the countries best sites I have seen thus far. While I think they both have great aspects, I think Fremantle Prison hits home a bit harder as it is a very recent account of convict life. And don't forget, they had to crap in buckets.
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