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Great Escapes!

Fremantle Prison

Built in the 1850s and used as a prison up until 1991, Fremantle Prison is one of Western Australia's most significant heritage sites, so we had to go take a look.


We decided to go for the Great Escapes Tour where we would hear tales of convicts escapes whilst going around the prison.

First we were taken up to one of the guard towers. It was already baking hot in there with the sun shining through the glass so we didn't want to stay up there for long, I can't imagine what it would have been like to have had to sit up there when it was over 40 degrees! As we looked out over the prison we were told how one guy tried to make a dash for it when a ladder had been left unattended against the outer wall by a maintenance worker. As he scaled the ladder the guard in the tower sounded the alarm and fired a warning shot in the air. This didn't stop the convict who continued to climb so the guard shot at him, he wasn't the best aim though and missed. You can still make out where the bullet smashed into the wall.


Our guide told us that most escapees were picked up within a few days nearby. One of the guards that now tours the prison remembers when a colleague went into the pub for after work drinks. He was surprised when the barman gave him a drink with compliments from a gentleman in the corner of the pub. It was a convict who had escaped just days before, needless to say he ended up in a different kind of lock in! What a muppet!


One man had worked out a possible escape point after a lawyer showed a map of the prison during his trial! He managed to get work duty making prison uniforms. When the wardens weren't looking he could make fake guards uniforms and civilian clothes undetected. On the day of his escape him and another prisoner scrambled over the roof and in the second of hesitation where the guard on patrol was not sure if they were fellow guardsman or not, they had got over the wall, discarded the guard clothes and disappeared wearing the civilian clothes they had concealed underneath.

Check out this jailbird! A kestral, one of a mating pair that have chosen the prison as their home.


We were taken into the exercise yard which is overlooked by small cell windows and surrounded by razor wire.


You can still see scraps of prison uniform tangled up in the wire from where prisoners made their desperate attempt to get out. The walls even had shards of glass sticking out of them to deter escapes. Ouch!


It is hard to imagine how you would escape out of here but one man managed to with the aid of dieting and a lot of butter. Now these two things don't normally go hand in hand but it all comes together as his story unfolds. His girlfriend had smuggled in some diamond wire in her shoe laces, wearing similar boots to those worn by prisoners they managed to do a shoe swap under the table so now he had wire to cut through the bars of his cell window.


It was only on returning to his cell that he realised that he was too fat to make his escape so he went on a 5 month diet, and at the same time started to hoard small packets of butter. When he reached his target weight he smothered himself in the now gone off butter and mangaged to squeeze himself through the tiny window and climb up on to the roof. Here he made a leap to the outside wall! Now that's some motivation for losing weight.


Inside the prison it was interesting to see that the cells were now being used for small businesses. Today you can come to the prison to learn guitar or even have a massage. Although I'm not sure how relaxing that would be in an old prison cell!


We were taken through to a section of the prison which had held one of the most notorious escapees, Moondyne Joe, an Englishman who found himself sent to Australia in 1853 as part of a sentence he was serving for burglary. He was given a pardon in 1855 where he then lived in the Darling Ranges as a bushranger earning money from catching and returning escaped livestock. For over 10 years he lived free until he made the mistake of branding an unmarked horse as his own which was considered as horse stealing and so he was locked up. This is where he made his first of many escapes breaking out of his cell and stealing the horse back along with the magistrates saddle and bridle which are very expensive items. He was caught the next day and sent back to prison.


He had 3 years to serve but due to good behaviour he was released early and started to work on a farm. During this time he was accused of a crime he denied committing and found himself back in prison. Outraged at this he decided he no longer was going to play by the rules. He escaped from a work detail and was on the run for a month, he attempted to cut the lock from his cell, when he managed to escape for a third time he made a gang with some other escapees who carried out robberies around Perth but eventually they were all caught again!


Given his reputation Moondyne Joe was put in an escape-proof cell at Fremantle Prison that had been built especially for him. It was tiny and was made out of stone with railway sleepers nailed onto the walls to prevent him from getting out. He was also sentanced to hard labour breaking stones. The authorities didn't trust him to do the job outside the prison so piles of rock were brought into the yard where he would be supervised breaking it up. How ever the pile of stones that he made was not moved regularly and soon he had built up a pile that prevented the guard from seeing him from the waist down. He used this to mask the fact that every other strike of his pick axe was actually into the prison wall! And you guessed it he escaped again, though a hole in the wall! He evaded capture for 2 years and was only caught again due to his love of wine when he was found stealing wine from a cellar!

Check out this amazing artwork which was discovered during restoration. Drawing and writing was banned in the prison but James Walsh, the prisoner that had lived in this cell, had managed to take advantage of the fact that every few weeks they would be given whitewash to paint their walls to help keep their cells clean. So he would draw and then cover up his creations without getting caught! They were undiscovered for nearly 100 years, you can tell that he would have been a good forger which is what he had been imprisoned for.


We were also shown the women's section of the prison which was separate to the mens. They would be tasked with doing all the laundry and other jobs deemed for women. No men were allowed in this section so only female guards worked here.


After exploring the prison we decided to check out some more of Fremantle which would become a favourite place for us to go wander around and grab lunch, I think because it reminds us a bit of the quirky areas of Melbourne with similar architecture and cafes on the street.


Freo is home to the Dockers, who had made it into the AFL final this year so it was good to see where they train.


We continued on the historic theme and headed to check out the Round House which had been the early place to hold prisoners before the prison was built.


Dan felt at home on here...



Posted by doyledan 20:03 Archived in Australia

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