Fremantle Prison is positioned in The Terrace of Fremantle, where tourists come to view the prison, perimeter walls, gatehouse, cottages, tunnels, and distinct prisoner art. Constructed during the 1850s as a place for convict labor, it became part of the colonial government in 1886 and was used to hold local prisoners. The site is also known for well-known paranormal phenomena.
In 1991, the prison shut its doors and then reopened as a site for the historically curious. Today, it is a public museum that is controlled under the Government of Western Australia. The prison was known for its many different sections, especially the main block, where four different divisions were created. On the first division, prisoners who relieved short sentences lived here, alongside juveniles as young as 13 years of age. Up until 1970, remand prisoners were also kept on Division One. The second division was set aside for serious offenders who did not use violence to commit their crimes. Division Three held violent offenders and Division Four houses murderers and lost souls facing long-term sentences.
About the main block, there was also a section for solitary confinement, the gallows, and two places for worship. A significant section of the prison is seen in the gallows room, which was the only legal location where execution was allowed to take place in Western Australia. This eerie legacy continued between 1888 and 1984. Throughout history, 43 men and one woman were hanged during this time. Besides hanging, other types of punishment were known to occur at the prison, which were saved for prisoners who committed lesser crimes, including lashings that took place in the exercise yard.
Over the years, the prison would see a host of characters spend time on the premises. Brenden Abbott, who was known as the “Postcard Bandit” was sentenced to the prison, where he would escape on November 24th, 1989, as he slipped into a phony prison guard uniform and fooled officials. This would not be the first and only time the bank robber was able to make his way to freedom. Currently, he is incarcerated.
The serial killer by the name of Eric Edgar Cooke was the last person to be hanged in Western Australia, which took place October 26th, 1964. The man was ruthless and is credited with eight murders, 22 attempted kills, and hundred of petty crimes, such as theft.
Moondyne Joe was a famed escape artist, who was known for his bushranging. A bushranger is the name given to outlaws, who during the early times of European settlements in Australia relied on survival skills about the bush as an effective way to hide from the law.
Fremantle Prison also saw the likes of John Boyle O’Reilly, the Fenian political prisoner; Irish Nationalist, James Wilson; and the former lead singer of the rock band, AC/DC, Bon Scott. John Button also spent time in Fremantle, who after being wrongfully convicted of manslaughter was released following five years of incarceration. Many come far and wide to see the preservation of the prison, such as the unique art and graffiti decorated the walls of some of the cells. One of the most notable former prisoners at Fremantle was that of Martha Rendell, who was the last woman hung in Western Australia in 1909.
Rendell was convicted of killing her husband’s son, Arthur Morris in 1908. She was also suspected for taking the lives of his two daughters, Annie and Olive. Although she claims she was treating the girls for diphtheria, they died of hydrochloric acid being applied to the back of their throats. Throughout the accusations, Rendall maintained her innocence. The public was disgusted and in the press, she was described as a “wicked stepmother.”
To this day, people believe that the image of Rendall regularly appears in the window of a church, which many dismiss the sight as a coincidence in the way the light catches the ripples in the glass.