In 1829, Fremantle became the first British settlement in Western Australia. Situated at the mouth of the Swan River on the Indian Ocean, the city of 25,000 is twelve miles downriver from Perth. The city’s main attraction is the historic Fremantle Prison, which UNESCO named a World Heritage site in 2010. After 136 continuous years as a prison, the state decommissioned the maximum security facility in 1991. Public tours began in 1992 and I took one during my recent trip to Australia.
As a solution to overcrowding in British jails, the authorities sent convicts in the later stage of their sentences to Australia to help construct the Swan River Colony’s infrastructure. The first ship with convicts, guards, and their families docked at Fremantle in 1850. From 1852 to 1859, the convicts built their own prison on a ridge above the town using limestone quarried on site. Beginning in 1855, the convicts lived in the completed cell blocks while they finished the rest of the prison. Through 1868, 37 ships with over 9,500 convicts landed at Fremantle.
The inmates’ cells were incredibly small — just 4 feet wide by 7 feet long — and were lit by oil lamps. Each cell was furnished with a hammock, a stool, and a fold-down table. While water was collected in large tanks and supplied to basins in the cells, the cells did not contain toilets. Instead, the inmates had a bucket to use during the night that they emptied when the cells were unlocked in the morning. Each prisoner was allotted three, five-minute showers per week.
The cells evolved over time to address problems and changes in technology. Bug infestation was a problem from the beginning since the limestone walls provided a home for pests, so the walls were soon covered with a lime wash to remedy this issue. Poor plumbing led to puddles in which insects bred, so the wash basins were removed in the early 1860s. Later in that decade, kerosene lamps replaced the oil lamps.
In 1899, a Royal Commission recommended an increase in the size of the cells, thus walls were removed to double the size of the remaining cells. At this time, the built-in tables were replaced with free-standing tables and cupboards. Electricity was installed in 1907. It wasn’t until the 1950s that beds replaced the hammocks, and bunk beds were introduced in the 1960s.
The prison’s weekday schedule was:
- 6:45 a.m.: Wake-up bell
- 7:00 a.m.: Cells unlocked, prisoners can wash in outdoor yards then return to cells
- 7:00 to 8:00 a.m.: Roll call, muster, then breakfast in cells
- 8:30 to 11:25 a.m.: Work
- 12 noon: Roll call, muster, then lunch in outdoor yards
- 1:00 to 3:45 p.m.: Work
- 4:15 p.m.: Roll call, muster, tea, then lock-up
- 11:15 p.m.: Lights out
The weekend and holiday schedule began one hour later and did not include work details.
The prison had a whipping post where a miscreant would typically receive 25 lashes on his bare back from a cat o’ nine tails. According to my tour guide, the skin would break by the third lash and the doctor would typically stop the punishment by the 17th. At that point, the convict would be taken to the prison hospital where salt would be rubbed into his back, which increased the pain but also served as a cauterizing agent and anti-septic. Once the convict had healed, he was taken back to the post for the remainder of his lashes. The guide explained that the common sayings: “don’t let the cat out of the bag”, “not enough room to swing a cat”, and “cat got your tongue” all referred to the cat o’ nine tails. From 1888 until 1984, Western Australia’s only legal place for execution was the Fremantle Prison’s gallows.
After touring the decommissioned prison, I had a few hours to wander about the town before my return boat ride to Perth. The town has a variety of well-preserved buildings, many with ornate facades, that date back to the mid-to-late 19th century.
I was impressed by a Ford Falcon Rip Curl that I spotted on the streets. This blue specimen is powered by a 5.4 liter V8 that puts out 350 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. I have always been enchanted by the Ford Ranchero and Chevy El Camino and I really don’t know why they are no longer sold in the U.S. I think Ford would have a hit on its hands if it could adapt this Falcon to sell in the states, but perhaps there are not enough people like me that would be interested in having one.
I also came across something called an ecoPOP. This contraption takes up a full parking space; in its containers, fruit, vegetables, and herbs are planted for anyone to pick and eat; rainwater is captured and stored to irrigate the plants; and a solar collector powers the pump that irrigates the plants. I expect that these will soon be found in Cambridge and San Francisco, but probably not in Texas, at least anywhere outside of Austin.
On my way to the Fishing Boat Harbor, I stumbled upon a Ferris wheel from which I was able to get a fabulous view of the waterfront. I had an obligatory lunch of fish and chips at one of the harbor side restaurant before I continued my trek.
After a filling lunch, I walked along the waterfront where I came to Arthur’s Head, the first landing-place for the settlers of the Swan River Colony in May 1829. During 1830 and 1831, the settlers built the Round House, the first permanent building and the Colony’s first jail. The twelve-sided structure contained eight cells, which could each hold up to four people, and living quarters for the jailers. A court was added in 1835 and the Round House was used as a police lock-up until 1900.
Soi Ban Baat, Bangkok
Yesterday, I took a short trip to Soi Ban Baat (point B on map below), a small alley in which several families hand craft monk’s bowls. Every morning, Buddhist monks walk the streets of Thailand with their bowls into which people put alms, e.g., incense, candles, money, food, and other necessities. In the late 1700s, King Rama I established three village to make monk’s bowls; Soi Ban Baht is the only one that remains since most bowls are now produced in factories that can make them quicker and cheaper.
A hand-made monk’s bowl is made from eight pieces of steel that are joined together. The eight pieces symbolize the Buddha’s Eightfold Path that leads to the end of suffering and the achievement of enlightenment. The joints are brazed together with copper, the bowl is then hammered into shape, and it is ultimately coated with several layers of lacquer. Because they are handmade, each bowl is unique.
Kop Khun Krab
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.