Pre-America's Cup days, Fremantle was a real dump. Now with a total make over it is an attractive port town offering good accommodation
and a variety of shops, restaurants and markets.
The much maligned Alan Bond played a large part in bringing the America's cup to W.A. and too many people are very quick to forget the
ongoing prosperity that this brought to Fremantle.
Bond lost millions of dollars when his financial empire collapsed, lots of it was OPM, (other people's money) but greed played a big
part in the losses, and banks, so keen now to wring their hands and shake their heads at the mention of his name, once showered him with unsecured loans.
Bondy's triumph is preserved for all to see with the Australia II exhibit at the Fremantle Maritime Museum.
Thankfully Fremantle did not follow Perth's example of knocking down heritage buildings and replacing them with soulless towers of concrete and glass.
As a result Fremanlte has retained most of the wonderful old architecture that gives the place a unique atmosphere.
Fremantle Maritime Museum
Compared to what we have seen in other states (like SA) this is the benchmark of how a Maritime Museum should be. There are all sorts of interesting displays,
interactive areas and many full sized boats including the yacht Australia II. The collection is housed in an imaginative building set right beside the harbour.
A more appropriate setting would be hard to find.
Although the museum is good in its own right, the highlight, without doubt is the HMAS Ovens submarine right next door. A tour through the sub takes around 75
minutes so to see the museum and the Ovens you need to set aside at least 3 hours.
The guided tour of the submarine is fascinating. Our tour guide was full of interesting (and very amusing) information. There are a few stairs and ladders to climb
to get in and out of the Ovens but most people won't have a problem with access unless they are very unsteady on their feet.
This tour is our pick as an absolute MUST DO if you are in Fremantle. Other nearby attractions include a car museum, arts centre and the old Fremantle prison.
Fremantle itself is a wonderful place to explore as many of the original buildings are still standing and have been well preserved.
Review Date: 2013
This is in fact two tours with the first taking around an hour and encompassing the men's section of the prison.
The second part (currently included) is the women's prison - or at least part of it.
Considering the size and scope of the buildings, the tour feels quite rushed and misses many areas I would have like to
have seen. The hospital, the 'new' wing, the kitchens and the main section of the women's prison are all skipped which is a shame.
Both our tour guides were interesting and informative and it did take around two hours to see the sections we did cover
so I can see why some areas are left out but never the less I was disappointed not to be able to go and look around on my own.
The gaol was opened in 1855 and operated until 1991. 48 executions took place there and a number of convicts died building
what remains to this day, the longest and highest convict constructed gaol in the Southern hemisphere.
Generally it was an interesting couple of hours but it did feel rushed and to my mind was a little expensive. The prison is
huge and must be expensive to maintain even now, so the price can be forgiven somewhat.
There is no comparison with either of the two other prisons we have seen at Fannie Bay (Darwin) of Burra Burra in South Australia.
The Fremantle prison is quite a spectacle and should be on the itinerary of everyone who gets a chance to come to Fremantle.
We were told the tours we did will be changing soon and new tours will include the tunnels under the prison. If we get the
chance we will check them out when they are available. (See our reviews on the Prison Night Tour and
Frematle Colonial Accommodation.)
Review Date: 1 Mar 2005
Fremantle was named after Captain Charles Howe Fremantle,
who claimed possession of the whole west coast in the name of His Britannic Majesty on the 2nd of May 1829. (Somewhat after the Frenchman with the rather
grand name, Louis Francois Marie Aleno de St. Allouram, took possession of the coast for France on March 29th 1772.) The area was known as Wolyalu ('place of crying') by the Aboriginal inhabitants.
Captain Fremantle had arrived aboard the
on April 27th 1829, shortly before the other two ships bringing the first colonists. Small boats were sent out to find a safe passage through the reefs and the task
was supervised by the ship's Master (Mr. Bradshaw) who proceeded to lay a series of marker buoys and then took the ship in ON THE WRONG SIDE of the markers he had
just finished laying! Captain Fremantle wrote some very uncomplimentary things about the ship's Master in his journal.
(Note: HMS Challenger was the second choice as a ship to 'stand guard' off the coast of W.A. The ship originally destined for that duty was HMS Tweed. If this had
taken place, Fremantle would in all probability have been named Churchill after the Captain of HMS Tweed.)
Some early impressions of Fremantle were also less than complimentary. Lt. Breton R.N. wrote in 1829:
'Fremantle at the time of my arrival, was a mere encampment, every person being either in a tent or temporary hut: its site is a level spot, consisting of sand,
and the 'bush', or forest, extends to within a very short distance of it; If the site alone be considered, a worse spot for a town could hardly have been selected.
It holds out but little inducement for any person to fix his residence there, unless compelled by circumstances.'
Some time later T. Hungerford's book 'Fremantle' notes that:
'Grogshops and flies notwithstanding, by 1833 there was at the mouth of the Swan River a small township of some 200 "good stone houses" in regularly laid-out
streets, some of them macadamised. There were two large, well kept inns where you could get clean beds and good private rooms'
So it would appear that the early settlers were busy and productive and very keen to improve their circumstances as soon as possible.
By 1850 the first convicts were being transported to provide cheap labour for the colony. One of their number,
John Boyle O Reilly,
escaped and made his way to America. He wrote a book in which he described conditions for the convicts in Fremantle:
'The chain gang of Fremantle is the depth of the penal degradation. The convicts wear from thirty to fifty pounds of iron, according to the offence. It is
riveted on their bodies in the prison forge and when they have served their time the great rings have to be chiseled off their callused limbs.'
John Boyle O'Reilly had attempted to organise an insurrection of 15,000 British troops but was caught, sentenced and transported to W.A. He was aided in his
escape by Father Patrick McCabe and was rowed out to an American whaler Gazelle in the Bunbury area.
The transportation of convicts ended in 1868 but those still serving out their sentences continued to work on building projects until at least the 1880s.
In 1897 the north and south moles were constructed at the river mouth to prevent silting. This was one of the first projects undertaken by
who was later to devise a scheme to supply water to the goldfields.
In the early days there was a bar of rock across the entrance to the Swan River making it perilous to enter for small boats and impossible for larger vessels.
O'Connor was also involved in the project to remove the bar
and make the river mouth navigable. Prior to the removal of the rock bar, it was Albany and not Fremantle, that was the main port for the state. Mail would
arrive in Albany by ship and then be brought overland to Perth.
An American ship's Captain (D.B. Shaw) said of the port before the bar was removed:
'It is a terrible place. No place to put a vessel. No shelter whatever. It is certainly the worst place I or anyone else ever saw. And any man who would
come or send a ship a second time is a damned ass.'
Once the rock bar had been removed the harbour was officially opened in 1897 with the first ship to dock there being the
Even though the harbour was opened in 1897, it was not until 1900 that it became the official 'mail port' for Western Australia and the mail steamers stopped deliveries to Albany.
One of the oldest buildings in town (dating from 1831) is the Round House, which was originally a gaol. It was saved from demolition in 1922
by the Harbour Master who claimed that it protected his house from north westerly winds.
In April 1900 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Fremantle that was to spread around the state for the next six years. During this
time 80 people died of the disease.
Fremantle was declared a city in 1929, 100 years after it was first settled.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
Irish Rebels Escape!
(another source says McNally but seems to be incorrect),
Thomas Hassett and
were Irish patriots held in Fremantle prison as political prisoners. (at least according to them and their supporters.) Like John Boyle O'Reilly,
they had been involved in an attempted mutiny and had been sentenced to transportation for life to W.A.
In 1870 many political prisoners who had been civilians at the time of their convictions, had been released, but these men had all been members of the military
and their actions were viewed much more seriously.
Their compatriots in America (especially
who had recruited many of the men for rebellion in the first place) had raised $25,000 with the
purpose of rescuing the prisoners and a whaling ship Catalpa
was purchased to that end.
was recruited to take the ship to Australia and rescue the men and he alone of all the ship's crew, knew of the real purpose of the mission until he let the
First Mate, Smith, into the plan some time after they sailed. Anthony was a strange choice as he was a protestant, an American and a temperance (anti-alcohol) man.
So as not to arouse suspicion (and to help pay for the cost of the rescue), the Catalpa was fitted out for a whaling voyage and she took several whales during the passage.
After calling in at Fayal and Tenerife the ship set sail for Australia.
On the way they chanced to cross paths with the British ship, Ocean Beauty. Captain Anthony went aboard and asked about obtaining better charts of the Australian coastline.
The Beauty's Captain was happy to provide charts stating that he had used them when he was Captain of the Hougoumont transporting convicts to Australia. Anthony later
realised that by pure chance he had obtained the charts from the very ship used to transport the men he was setting out to rescue. Due to a number of delays the Catalpa
was running late but eventually she did arrive in West Australian waters.
The ship arrived off Cape Leeuwin and made its way north to Geographe Bay and then to the small port of Bunbury - 29th March 1876. Here Anthony made contact with a man named
Breslin (who was using the name James Collins while in W.A.) had arrived to organise the escape and had been posing as a wealthy investor. Breslin
was even entertained by the Governor himself while he waited for the Catalpa to arrive.
It turned out that there were three separate rescue attempts underway at the same time. One originating from America, one from Sydney and one from Ireland.
This posed great security risks. British intelligence had got wind of the rescue attempt originating in Dublin. The local authorities in Fremantle dismissed
the British warning insisting that no one could escape and survive.
Breslin had a number of men helping him to arrange the escape and some of the conspirators travelled by cart to Rockingham
to look for a suitable place for the prisoners to be picked up by a small whale boat from the Catalpa.
A site was found near Cape Peron and a date arranged for the escape. Breslin returned to Fremantle and Anthony to Bunbury. While Anthony had been away his crew
had decided to aid in the escape of a ticket-of-leave man who was found stowed away on board. Anthony, fearing this would place the rescue of the Irish prisoners
in jeopardy, notified the local authorities who came aboard and arrested the stow away.
Heavy weather set in and realising he could not set sail in time for the rescue, Anthony rushed to the telegraph office only to find if closed due to a public
holiday. He managed to locate an operator and convince her to send a telegram to Fremantle and his luck held as there was someone at the other end to receive the message.
A day late, the Catalpa set sail for Rockingham and at around 8pm on Sunday night Anthony and a few hand picked men came ashore to wait for the prisoners arrival.
The Catalpa was left outside the three mile limit and therefore outside British jurisdiction.
Meanwhile Breslin and his men had been busy organising clothes, weapons and supplies for the escape. At the appointed time the Irish prisoners simply walked away
from their assigned tasks and made their way to a waiting wagon. They had been able to do this so easily because they had known for some time about their impending
rescue and had been on their best behaviour. In return they had been granted a measure of greater freedom and were able to get away without complications.
By mid-morning on April 17th 1876 (Easter Monday) the wagon arrived at the rendezvous on the beach and the men were hurriedly taken on board the whaling boat and
told to keep down and out of sight. A local who saw the men boarding the boat rode to Fremantle to raise the alarm. Only a short time after they had taken to the
water a party of armed police arrived. The escape had been uncovered!
Breslin left the Governor a cheeky note telling him of the escape and the part he (as J. Collins) had played in it.
As the small boat got further out the weather started to deteriorate and by the time the catalpa was sighted a gale was rising and darkness was rapidly approaching.
The Catalpa failed to see the whale boat and made for open sea to ride out the storm. Anthony and the escapees were now left to ride out the storm in an open boat for the entire night.
After what seem ages the winds began to abate sometime before dawn and with the coming of daylight there was relief as the Catalpa could be seen making her way
back toward shore.
Suddenly alarm went through the boat crew and prisoners when they sighted the mail steamer Georgette steam out of Fremantle and begin making a search. Luckily
they were not spotted as Anthony instructed everyone to get down out of sight.
The Georgette went out to the Catalpa and demanded permission to be allowed to search the ship but Sam Smith refused. The Georgette running low on fuel, sailed
on towards Garden Island and returned to Fremantle as the coal began to run out. Now a guard boat full of armed soldiers appeared and spotted the whale boat.
At about the same time the Catalpa also saw them and the race was on to see who got there first.
The Catalpa won the race and the men and small boat were taken aboard with only minutes to spare. The Officer commanding the guard boat knew he was beaten and
gallantly saluted and called out a greeting.
The wind that had been so strong the night before now deserted the sailing ship and as darkness closed in again her sails hung limp and lifeless.
The next morning the Georgette was seen steaming out again, this time her decks crowded with armed troops and armed with a 12 pound canon. She soon reached
the Catalpa and the commander called on the American ship to 'heave to'. Captain Anthony refused and hoisted the American flag. With the breeze freshening the
Catalpa now moved off with the Georgette following. A game of cat and mouse went on for an hour or so but finally the pursuit was abandoned and the Irishmen were free at last.
A song about the incident quickly emerged and the lyrics so enraged the police that it was banned under penalty of arrest. The lyrics were:
Come all ye police and gaolers
Remember Perth regatta day
Take care of the rest of the Fenians
Or the Yankees will take them away
Now all the Perth boats were a racing
And making short tacks for the spot
But the Yankee she tacked into Fremantle
And took the best prize of the lot
The Georgette, armed with bold warriors
Went out the poor Yanks to arrest
But she hoisted her star spangled banner
Saying you all not board me I guess
Now they've landed safe in the States of America
And there they will be able to cry
Hoist up the green and the shamrock
Hurrah for good old Ireland we die
There is some evidence that the colonial authorities, the Governor and the prison Warden all had prior knowledge of the planned escape but did nothing to prevent it.
Perhaps they were glad to be rid of the trouble makers.
A final word on the matter can be left to the London Telegraph newspaper that wrote:
'...the enterprising skipper of the Catalpa has, without meaning it, done us a good turn; he has rid us of an expensive nuisance. The United States are
welcome to any number of disloyal, turbulent, plotting conspirators...'
The full fascinating story of this daring rescue can be read in Z.W. Pease's book 'The Catalpa Expedition' or seen on the DVD The Catalpa Rescue by the ABC.
John Devoy, exiled to America for so long, was finally able to return to an independent Ireland in 1922.
Final note: The steamer Georgette was lost off the West Australian coast near Gracetown just 9 months after the Catalpa incident and
became famous for her part in the rescue of the crew and passengers.
Murder at the town hall
The Fremantle Town Hall was officially opened on the 22nd of June 1887. The following day a children's fancy dress ball was held and a group of unruly
people were denied entry.
The event progressed until about midnight and it was not long after this that the sound of a gunshot was heard.
W. Conroy, the landlord of the National Hotel in High Street had shot W.J. Snook. Snook had apparently been involved in earlier denial of entry to the
group of which Conroy was a part. Conroy had gone home, picked up a gun and returned to take revenge for being thrown out.
Snook was badly wounded but did manage to survive for about 3 months before passing away. Conroy was tried, found guilty and executed in the old Perth
Gaol. He had the dubious honour of being the last person to be executed there. A large number of people petitioned for a stay of execution but Governor
Broome decided against it and Conroy's execution went ahead although apparently not smoothly as his neck did not break when he fell and it took him some time to die.
Reported in The Western Mail July 2nd
"ANOTHER SHOOTING TRAGEDY AT FREMANTLE.
A TOWN COUNCILLOR SHOT THROUGH THE NECK.
The Jubilee festivities at Fremantle have been brought to a sad end by another of those dastardly shooting outrages, for which in the last few months
the Port has acquired so unenviable a notoriety. On Thursday week the Children's Fancy Dress Ball took place at the Town Hall, and was, as will he seen
from the account appearing in another column, a most brilliant success.
Dancing was kept up till midnight, after which the company began to disperse. About 1 a.m. on Friday morning, only the Mayor and Town Councillors,
Mr. W. S. Pearce, M.L.C., several ladies and gentlemen, a few children, and the Corporation officials, remained in the building.
The Mayor, some of the Councillors and their friends were in the banqueting room partaking of refreshments before dispersing to their homes after
the arduous labours of the evening. While the Mayor was engaged in proposing a toast, William Conroy, the landlord of the National Hotel at Fremantle,
came to the door and asked for Cr. Snook, The Mayor in courteous terms asked him to cease his interruptions, which request he complied with. Soon after
the gathering broke up and the party went towards the main entrance of the hall, where the cloak-rooms are situated. On coming out of the banqueting
room, Mr. W. S. Pearce, noticing Conroy, said "good evening" to him and asked him what he was doing there. He replied "I'm waiting for someone" or
used words to that effect. Mr. Pearce then passed on just behind the Mayor and Councillor Haley, while Conroy remained waiting. Almost immediately
afterwards Councillor Snook came out, and it is supposed he and Conroy walked down through the triangular courtyard to the entrance court at the
main door. Here they were seen by a spectator conversing to all appearance in an amicable manner. Their words, as far as we have been able to glean,
were not distinctly audible, but we are informed that one of them was heard to laugh just before the shot was fired. Apparently without any previous
warning, Conroy put his hand into the pocket of his overcoat, and, taking out a revolver, presented it at Cr. Snook, and immediately fired, sending a
bullet through the front of Cr. Snook's jaw, which came out at the back of his neck. The wounded man at once fell heavily forward on his side, the
blood meanwhile gushing from his month. During this time the Mayor, Cr. Haley, and Mr. Pearce were in the cloak-room. Immediately they heard the
shot they rushed oat into the entrance court. Mr. Pearce encountered Conroy, and said, "Good God, Conroy! What have you done?" Conroy replied,
"He turned me away this evening." or words to that effect. Mr. Pearce then asked him where his revolver was and he replied that it was in his
coat pocket. At the same time as Mr. Pearce took hold of him on one side, the Mayor had atso secured his other arm, and, feeling in the overcoat
pocket, produced a small pocket revolver. The two gentlemen at once placed their prisoner in the cloak-room, and, without delay, sent for the
police, on whose arrival he was given into custody and conveyed to the police-station. In the meanwhile, Cr. Haley had not been inactive.
While the Mayor and Mr. Pearce were securing Conroy, he knelt down beside Cr. Snook, and, propping him up into a sitting position, did what,
he could to staunch the wound, from which blood was flowing freely. Dr. Hope was sent for and arrived soon after. The wound having been dressed
by him, Cr. Snook was taken to his residence where he now lies. The bullet has not touched any vital part in its passage through the neck, but
grave doubts are expressed as to the wounded man's recovery on account of his advanced age and the severe shock to his system. Cr. Snook is
in his 71st year, and only a short time ago retired from active business, with the exception of that imposed on him by his duties as a Town
Councillor. He is universally respected in the town, and, as soon as the news spread throughout Fremantle yesterday forenoon, one continual
expression of sympathy passed from month to mouth, accompanied with the strongest denunciation of what the public look upon as an apparently
most dastardly outrage. The assumed reason for the attack is that Conroy had been refused admission to the Hall by Cr. Snook, at an earlier
stage in the evening's festivities, and it is supposed that on admittance being denied him, he went home to get his revolver, and then returned
to the hall to await an opportunity of effecting his design. There are, however, rumours that a family dispute is at the bottom of the matter, Mr.
Snook being a connection of his assailant. It is hardly necessary to add that these reports are little more than surmises. There were several people,
including ladies, in the entrance court when Cr, Snook fell, and the scene that ensued was most painful, several of the ladies fainting, and others
expressing the excitement of their feelings by hysterical shrieks. Throughout Friday, the. outrage was the staple topic of conversation, and much
regret was expressed, not only, for Mr. Snook, but also that the Very successful Jubilee festivities should have been marred by so sad an ending.
The action of the Mayor and Mr. Pearce in so promptly securing Conroy was the subject of universal commendation, and a feeling of thankfulness
was generally manifested that the occurrence had taken place inside the hall rather than in the dark streets, in which latter case the perpetrator
would probably bare effected his escape, and suspicion would immediately have fastened on to Thomas Hughes.
CONROY AT THE POLICE COURT.
On Friday morning William Conroy was brought up at the Fremantle Police Court before Mr. E. Fairbairn, RM. and Mr. L. W. Clifton J.P., and charged with
"feloniously and maliciously shooting one John Snook with intent to kill and murder" him. Immediately on the prisoner being placed in the dock the
information was read, and Sergeant I Peacock then requested a remand for 8 days, which was granted. The prisoner, who to all appearances, was calm and
composed, was then removed to the cells. Conroy, who is well known in Fremantle, is not a native of the colony, but has relations living here. He is of
short stature, has a round face with a shaven chin and short moustache and whiskers. The police Court was crowded with persons eager to catch a glimpse
of the prisoner. Since writing the above we learn that the revolver bullet has been found. After going through Cr. Snook's neck it grazed the corner
of the wall and passed into the right hand side cloak-room. Numbers of persons visited the Town Hall in the course of the morning to view the blood
stains on the floor, which marked the spot were Cr. Snook fell.
FREMANTLE, June 24.
Drs. Hope and Ingoldby saw Mr. Snook at half past five this evening. He is doing as well as can be expected, his pulse being fair, and fever moderate.
His condition is precarious, but it is impossible to say for a day or two what the result will be."
This is not quite what you might expect based purely on the name. The 'Freo' Doctor is a cool afternoon wind that blows in from the sea on hot summer afternoons.
The term 'Doctor' seems to have originated in South Africa.
Records show that the Freo Doctor blows on about 70% of summer days.
Duel to the Death
William Nairne Clark ran a newspaper called the Inquisitor (he is referred to as a solicitor in some sources). At some point an article he wrote seems
to have enraged one George French Johnson, who demanded satisfaction in the form of a duel with pistols. The duel was fought on 17th August 1832, on a
beach near Fremantle and Johnson was fatally wounded. Pride does indeed come before a fall in many instances. (one source says that the duel was fought
over a woman but this seems unlikely.) It was the only recorded duel ever fought in the colony.
The whole incident seems to have been over some business matter as Clark had written to Johnson:
'It is to be regretted that so much angry feeling should be mixed up with business matters, but I have to say once and for all that no threat on your part
will deter me from doing my duty to those who employ me and trust my exertions.'
The matter was examined by the local magistrate, George Leake, almost as soon as it occurred. Johnson was still alive at the time although mortally wounded.
He refused to make a complaint against anyone and died the following morning.
The surviving participants in the duel were committed for trial but in view of the (by now) deceased's decision not to make a complaint, the jury found
them not guilty and they were released.
The only other evidence of a duel we have found was at Fly Flat near Coolgardie.
Message by Albatross
In September 1887 a group of young boys were walking along a beach north of Fremantle when they found a dead albatross lying on the sand.
When they had a look at the bird they found a tin strip, 9 inches long by about and inch and a half wide. When they took the tin off and
opened it up they could see a message scratched on it and a date, August 1887. The message was in a foreign language so they took the
piece of tin to John Murphy at the post office. He recognised the language as French and took the tin to Mr. Clay who could read French.
The message read:
"13 shipwrecked sailors are taking refuge on the Corozet Islands. 4th August 1887."
The message was reported to Governor Broome who had it relayed to London by telegram and from there it was sent on to France. The warship
La Meurthe was sent to investigate and early in 1888 reported that one of the islands showed signs of where the sailors had been and a message
was found stating that the men had run out of supplies had left on September 30th 1887 to try to reach another nearby island. Sadly no
further trace of the men could be found.