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Discover the Dark Past: Fremantle Prison Tours

Get a sneak peek into an inmate's life

· 4 min read

Nestled along the picturesque coastline of Western Australia just 30 minutes away from Perth, Fremantle is a charming port city known for its maritime history, vibrant arts scene, and an abundance of cultural attractions. Among these treasures lies an eerie yet fascinating destination that draws visitors from around the world: the Fremantle Prison. This imposing structure, with its rich and often dark history, has been preserved to offer an unparalleled glimpse into Australia's penal past.

Source: Fremantle Prison

A Glimpse into Fremantle Prison's History

Fremantle Prison, built by convicts in the 1850s, served as a place of punishment and rehabilitation for nearly 140 years. Its imposing limestone walls and foreboding architecture earned it the nickname "The Big House." Initially designed to house convicts transported to Western Australia, the prison evolved over the years to accommodate both male and female prisoners.

In 1992, Fremantle Prison ceased its operations as a maximum-security facility and was decommissioned. Recognizing the immense historical and cultural value of this site, it was preserved as a World Heritage-listed building. Shortly afterward, Fremantle Prison Tours began offering guided tours to the public, allowing visitors to step back in time and explore the prison's eerie corridors and cells.

Fremantle Prison Inside
Source: Fremantle Prison

The prison's history is filled with stories of hardship, rebellion, and resilience. It housed notorious inmates, including Moondyne Joe, an infamous bushranger, and John Boyle O'Reilly, a Fenian political prisoner who later escaped. The prison's history is closely intertwined with Western Australia's early colonial history, making it a significant historical site.

Types of Tours

Fremantle Prison Tours cater to a diverse range of interests and preferences, each tour providing a different experience altogether. Should time and budget allow, consider going for more than one tour to explore the prison from different angles.

Convict Prison

If you want to learn more about the early history of Fremantle Prison and get an overview of the prison, this will be the tour for you. On this tour, you will learn more about the prison from its construction in the 1850s until the end of its convict era in 1886. Find out why almost 10,000 men were transported from Great Britain and Ireland, how they built their own prison and helped shape the future of Western Australia.

This tour runs daily from 10am to 5pm, and will last 1 hour 15 minutes.

Behind Bars

This tour focuses on the second half of the history of the Fremantle Prison, from the period 1887 to 1991. On this tour, you will find out more about the life of a convict in the prison. Learn more about the prison's history as a maximum security gaol, as well as the daily routines of the prisoners.

This tour runs daily from 10.30am to 4.30pm, and will last 1 hour 15 minutes.

True Crime

On this tour, you go into the minds and lives of the criminals. You will get to learn about some of the most notorious criminals and the crimes committed. On the tour, you will also get to hear about some of the ways they have tried to escape the prison, and what has been done to stop them from escaping. Due to the nature of the tour, it is not suitable for children below 10.

This tour runs daily from 11.45am to 4.45pm, and will last 1 hour 15 minutes.

Tunnels Tour

For the adventurous, the tunnels tour takes you beneath the prison to explore the labyrinthine tunnels dug by inmates. Descend 20 metres below the prison and discover blast holes, bores, oil lamp recesses, and artefacts as you learn about the prison's history and the challenges of tunnel construction. Due to the nature of the tour, you need to be moderately fit and able. Children below 12 are not allowed on the tour, and the tour is not recommended for pregnant ladies.

Tunnel Tours
Source: Fremantle Prison

This tour runs only on Saturdays and Sundays at 9.00am, 9.45am, 10.40am, 12.20pm, 1.40pm, 2.40pm and 3.25pm. Additional dates may be added on ad-hoc. Advanced reservation is required.

Torchlight Tours

For maximum spookiness, join the torchlight tour that takes place at night. As darkness falls, Fremantle Prison takes on an entirely different ambiance. Torchlight tours provide a more immersive and eerie experience, allowing visitors to sense the prison's chilling past. Due to the nature of the tour, it is not recommended for children below 10.

This tour runs on Wednesdays and Fridays, and will last 1 hour 30 minutes. Advanced reservation is required.

Which tour to go for?

It really depends on what you are looking out for. Of the three prison tours (Convict Prison, Behind Bars, True Crime), our personal favourite would be the True Crime tour — we found the stories shared during the tour really intriguing, though it admittedly isn't for everyone.

Wire Barbs
Source: Fremantle Prison

To get an in-depth understanding of the history of the Fremantle Prisons, we recommend getting the triple prison tour package, which includes the Convict Prison, Behind Bars and True Crime tours.

But if you only had time for two, we recommend going for Behind Bars and True Crime, though if your preference leans towards the history of the compound rather than the crimes, then Convict Prison and Behind Bars would be a better combination.

And if you are only planning to go for one tour, we recommend going for Behind Bars, as it gives you a good balance of both the history of the place and an insight of the lives of the inmates.

But if you are seeking out a more unique experience, we would recommend the Tunnels Tour or Torchlight Tour.

Pricing and Reservations

While reservations for the three prison tours are not absolutely necessary, it is recommended to make an advanced reservation especially if you have a fixed schedule to run on, or if you are visiting during the peak seasons in December and January. To make a reservation for a prison tour, you will have to call the ticket office at +61 8 9336 9200.

Reservations for special tours like the Tunnels Tour and Torchlight Tour can be done online.

Fremantle Prison Tours Prices

Fremantle Prison YHA

And if you actually want to experience 'sleeping in a prison cell', you can actually also choose to spend the night at Fremantle Prison — if you are up for it. YHA is a backpacker hostel in Australia that allows you to spend the night in the actual prison cells in Fremantle Prison.

yha cell fremantle prison
Source: YHA

Staying in the prison compound and in a prison cell could feel rather eerie to some. But it is definitely a pretty interesting experience. If you are thinking about comfort, you are not going to get hotel-level comfort; but you will be able to enjoy the comfort of a modern traveller hostel.

On the other hand, if you are seeking a true prison experience we hate to break it to you, but you aren't going to get the full experience (no, they aren't going to lock you up in the cell and treat you like a prisoner.).