Tuesday, 21st August.
We woke to grey skies, heavy showers and a brisk wind. Fine weather for the Fremantle Prison tour. Suitably dressed to get wet (and we did!) we headed off to the prison which although originally built by the first convicts themselves, was fully operational until 1991.
First English settlers arrived in Western Australia in 1829 – a group of would be ‘gentleman farmers’. There were no roads, bridges or labourers to build them. It was against this background that the stagnating colony applied to England to request the introduction of convicts to provide much needed labour and capital. Transportation to the Eastern Australian colonies had drawn to a close and given the continued overcrowding in British Prisons, the British Government in 1849 agreed to send selected well behaved prisoners to what was called the Swan River Colony. The first 75, all male, prisoners arrived in 1850. Over 9,000 convicts were to follow. Initially housed in a rented warehouse on the beach, the prisoners were put to work building the prison which was to hold them. Subsequently they undertook many other public works under the guidance of a regiment of Royal Sappers and Miners.
Our visit took us through a large metal gate across a broad parade ground to the main prison block. Four stories high and made of local lime stone, the prison was built to house 1,000 prisoners at any one time.
The mainly single cells were just 7 foot long and 4ft wide. A hammock was hung from an iron hook at each end of the cell. A small stool, flap up table and toilet bucket formed the only furniture. Originally there were no lights in the cells and just kerosene lamps in the outside corridor. Apart from electric lighting, little changed when the prison became an Australian penitentiary in its later years.
The Association Room and light airy chapels gave evidence of the more enlightened regime at the Fremantle Prison compared to that we saw when visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania on our last trip. The convicts invariably earned their ‘ticket of leave’ the first stage in the final release process. Shortly prior to receipt of their ‘ticket of leave’ prisoners were moved to the Association Room to enable them to integrate with others.
As they had no where to go unless they found work, the convicts were able to remain in the ‘Association Room’ until an employer was found.
One of the single rooms was recently found to have all its walls covered with paintings that had been whitewashed over. The pictures had been etched by a prisoner who had been sent to the Colony having been found guilty of forgery.
He subsequently became a recognised artist with works currently displayed in national art galleries. On the other hand, the first governor was found of defrauding the prison to fund his gambling habits- he was subsequently imprisoned in the place he used to govern………
After visiting the rather sinister punishment block and looking with some anguish at the whipping post (a sobering thought – if you received short of the number of lashes you had been given as your punishment before it was decided you had had enough for the day, those were allowed to heal and you were given the ‘balance at a later date……….)
……..we decided we were ‘prisoned out’.
The inclement weather continued, so after another foray into the supermarket, we adjourned home to close down for the evening with Jane Austen, having found an old copy of a Sense and Sensibility DVD in a cupboard. Who would have thought it!!