inside the gates of fremantle prison with the garden

My Favourite Fremantle Prison Tour

There are five Fremantle prison tours: Convict Prison, Behind Bars, True Crime, Tunnels Tour, and Torchlight Tour.

Our family have taken the Fremantle Prison True Crime Tour and the Behind Bars Tour. We plan on booking the Tunnels tour soon.

When it comes to prisons, most people think of Alcatraz. However, Fremantle Prison in Perth, Western Australia, is a prison that is worth visiting. Fremantle Prison is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Perth and is the largest convict-built structure in Western Australia (and the most intact convict building in the Southern Hemisphere). The prison was used from 1851 until 1991 and is now a tourist attraction.

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The Fremantle Prison Tours

Convict Prison Tour

The Convict Prison Tour concentrates on the history from its construction to the end of the convict era in 1886. As we already knew a lot about the history, we decided to give this one a miss.

True Crime Tour

Hear the true stories told by your guide of the notorious inmates and their escapades. On this tour, you’ll see the prison cells, exercise yard, and see where prisoners escaped.

Behind Bars Tour

Behind Bars details how a convict-built prison transformed into Western Australia’s primary place of incarceration for men, women and children and served as a maximum security gaol from 1887 to 1991. See the main cell block and exercise yards as you learn about the daily life of the prisoners.

Tunnels Tour

A tour for the adventurous is the Tunnels Tour, which we hope to do soon. You need to wear a hardhat and overalls, lock into a ladder system and descend about 20 metres below the Prison to explore the tunnels built by prisoners. Guides lead you through dry sections of the tunnels on foot, before boarding replica convict punts to explore the submerged passageways accessible only by boat. You may get wet, so a spare pair of socks is recommended.

Torchlight Tour

A popular attraction is the Torchlight Tour but it’s not for the faint hearted. Your guide tells you sordid and ghastly stories in the dark with details of executions gone wrong, innocent people unjustly imprisoned and the guilty punished.

Fremantle Prison Entrance

Pay attention to the historic buildings along the Terrace with signs explaining what they were used for. As you approach the grand Gatehouse, think about all the prisoners that used this entrance at the start and end of their sentence.

The clock above was made in London in 1854 and installed at the front gate in 1856. The deputy superintendent lived on the top floor, while the gatekeeper and chief warder used the lower floor. Later in the 1900s, rooms were used as a visitor entry and search rooms.

Head to the gift shop to collect your tour tickets if you have ordered them online. You can visit the Gallery, Convict Depot, and Museum if you have time before your tour starts. The gallery features several paintings by prisoners throughout Western Australia, which are available to buy. There were some amazing artworks by indigenous Australians that stood out. The museum houses exhibits showcasing the history, conservation, and cultural significance of Fremantle Prison.

There is no entrance fee to enter the Gatehouse area. This includes access to the gift shop, Convict Café, Gallery, Convict Depot, and Museum.

china used in fremantle prison now on display in the museum

Fremantle Prison Tours: True Crime Tour Review

The tour starts through the main prison gates, where your guide will briefly explain the tour and some rules to keep everyone safe and preserve this historical landmark.

Opposite, you will see the Anglican Chapel, part of the main cell block, which was restored in 2007 to remove the rendering used to cover the limestone in the 60s. It is now back to how it looked when it was first constructed, and much nicer.

the white anglican chapel in the middle of the main cell block
The Anglican Chapel

As you walk around the perimeter of the main cell block, your guide will regale real-life stories of some of the most notorious prisoners that spent time here. It’s interesting to hear what they got up to and how some even escaped the prison.

fremantle prison gates used to escape in the rubbish truck heist
The gate used by Stephen Burnett and Peter Boyd to escape in the Rubbish Truck heist in 1989 with the gun tower above

I won’t go into detail about the stories as it will spoil your tour. However, we learned about Martha Rendell (who was the only woman to be executed here), the Postcard BanditEric Edgar Cooke (the serial killer who was the last man hung here), Sydney Sutton (the last person to be flogged), David & Catherine Birnie (also known as the Moorhouse murderers), and Stephen Burnett and Peter Boyd (The Rubbish Truck Heist). Fascinating stuff!

convict building with wrought iron gates
Here you can see the Wray Gates made out of iron scavenged from convict ships in 1855

You will see the exercise yard from above, the maximum-security cells, and the cell block during the Fremantle Prison True Crime tour.

the exercise yards of fremantle prison with main block cells behind
Fremantle Prison Exercise Area

Once the tour finishes, you can explore the Gatehouse area and read more about this historic convict prison.

The True Crime Tour at Fremantle Prison is one of the best tours in Perth.

Fremantle Prison True Crime Tour Price

The cost of this tour at June 2024 is A$22 per adult, A$19 for concessions, A$12 per child, and A$62 for a family pass.

The Family Pass is valid for two adults and up to three children (aged 4 – 15 years).

The Fremantle Prison True Crime Tour is not recommended for children under ten due to details relating to sex crimes.

Bookings are recommended in peak times to ensure the time slot you want is available.

seats outside the fremantle prison cafe
Convict Café

Fremantle Prison True Crime Tour Times

This tour runs for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

They run daily every hour from 11.45 am to 4.45 pm.

lots of small windows in fremantle prisons main cell block made of limestone
Main Cell Block

Fremantle Prison History

Originally known as The Convict Establishment, the name changed to Fremantle Prison in 1867. The site was chosen due to the closeness to the city and the harbour. It was believed that the strong sea breeze would help prevent disease.

The prison was built by convict labour between 1852 and 1859, with limestone quarried on site. The site not only included the prison but accommodation for the officers. The buildings alongside Fremantle Prison, now called The Terrace, consists of four houses and the gatehouse. They housed the superintendent, the deputy superintendent, the chaplain, and the surgeon superintendent. The Knowle, the comptroller-general’s house, is now part of Fremantle Hospital. The grandeur of these residences helped perceive the high status of the young men who lived there. They remained staff lodgings until the 1960 s when they were taken over by prison administration and are now used for commercial and educational purposes.

The Surgeon’s residence was built in 1856 and the prison’s surgeon superintendent, George Attfield, moved in the next year. He was responsible for the patient’s health, including the effects of punishment, and looked after the prison hospital and the lunatic asylum on Finnerty Street. You can see this building before you enter Fremantle Prison.

a historic building that was the old surgeons residence fremantle prison
The Surgeons Residence, Fremantle Prison

Superintendent Thomas Dixon was the first occupier of the magistrate’s building which was constructed in 1855. It was in 1886 that the resident magistrate, who was responsible for hearing prisoners’ crimes, moved in. Holding cells were built into the cellar in 1903, which held the prisoners overnight until the reception was open the next day.

a convict built residence of the magistrate of fremantle prison
Magistrate’s Building

Between 1850 and 1868, when convict transportation ceased, nearly 10,000 convicts had come here.

Fremantle Prison remained in use until 1991 and was a dark place of hangings, floggings, riots, and escapes.

By 1886, there were fewer than 60 convicts held here, so Perth Gaol closed, and this became the main prison. Men, women, and juveniles were all imprisoned here.

A Royal Commission in 1983 recommended the prison’s closure, mainly due to a series of prisoner riots and diabolical prison conditions.

Fremantle Prison was decommissioned on 8 November 1991.

Women were already being held at Bandyup, but male prisoners were sent to Casuarina Prison. This replaced Fremantle Prison as Western Australia’s main maximum-security prison.

the gatehouse entrance to fremantle prison
The Gatehouse – designed to resemble English fortification

Where is Fremantle Prison?

Fremantle is a suburb in Perth, Western Australia.

inside the gates of fremantle prison with the garden
Inside the gates of Fremantle Prison

How to get to Fremantle Prison

Besides driving, the easiest way to get to Fremantle from Perth is by train. The journey takes around 30 minutes and will cost approximately A$5 one way. Timetables can be found on Transperth’s site.

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