Welcome to Fremantle, Australia, a city steeped in history and brimming with architectural treasures. Located in Western Australia, Fremantle is renowned for its rich heritage and charming attractions that reflect its past.
With a history dating back to the early 19th century, Fremantle was initially a strategic port and the gateway to the Swan River Colony. This historical significance is evident in the city’s impressive array of preserved buildings and landmarks. From Victorian-era structures to Federation-style architecture, Fremantle boasts a diverse collection of historical buildings that transport visitors to a bygone era.
Explore the cobbled streets and wander through the Fremantle Prison, a World Heritage-listed site that once housed convicts during the colonial period. Marvel at the intricate detailing of the Fremantle Town Hall, an iconic Victorian building that has been at the heart of the city’s civic life for over a century.
As you stroll through Fremantle’s streets, you’ll encounter charming heritage-listed buildings, such as the Fremantle Arts Centre and the P&O Hotel, which offer glimpses into the city’s past. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Fremantle Markets, a bustling hub of activity since 1897, where you can explore local produce, crafts, and eclectic shops.
Join us as we embark on a journey through Fremantle’s history, uncovering its fascinating stories and uncovering the architectural gems that make this city a true historical treasure.
If you also want to read about the historical locations of nearby Perth, click here.
A brief history of Fremantle
The city of Fremantle, located on the land traditionally known as Walyalup by the Whadjuk Noongar people, holds great cultural and historical significance. For centuries, the Noongar people gathered there for ceremonies, cultural practices, and trading, feasting on fish and game during spring and autumn. The area encompassing Anglesea Point, Arthur Head, and Point Marquis served as a crucial meeting place and trading hub.
In 1697, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh visited the site and recognized its potential for settlement. However, it wasn’t until 1827 that British Captain James Stirling explored the area and recommended it as a suitable settlement location.
Captain Charles Fremantle, on HMS Challenger, was subsequently instructed to establish a settlement there. On May 2, 1829, Fremantle raised the Union Flag near Arthur Head, formally claiming the entire West Coast of New Holland for Britain’s King George IV.
The first convicts arrived in Fremantle on June 1, 1850, aboard the ship Scindian, marking the beginning of penal transportation to Western Australia. The arrival of the Hougoumont in 1868, carrying Fenian political prisoners, marked the end of this practice. During this time, infamous pirate Bully Hayes resided in Fremantle.
Engineer C. Y. O’Connor played a significant role in the late 19th century, deepening Fremantle Harbour and making it suitable for commercial shipping. The Western Australian gold rush further transformed Fremantle into a bustling trade capital and a gateway for gold miners heading to inland towns.
During World War II, Fremantle became a vital base for Allied submarines in the Southern Hemisphere. The port’s defences were fortified, and it housed a large number of American, British, and Free Dutch submarines.
In recent times, the City of Fremantle initiated urban renewal projects, encouraging mixed-use development and implementing environmental measures. In 2013, Fremantle became the first Australian council to ban non-degradable plastic bags. Today, Fremantle continues to be a vibrant city, honoring its rich heritage while embracing modern progress.
The Fremantle Round House
The Round House, located at Arthur Head in Fremantle, Western Australia, is the oldest standing building in the state. Designed by Henry Willey Reveley and completed in 1831, it was the first permanent structure in the Swan River Colony. Modeled after the Panopticon prison concept, it featured eight cells, a jailer’s residence, and a central courtyard.
Built by Richard Lewis in partnership with W Manning and J H Duffield, the Round House cost £1,840 and utilized local limestone, reducing the construction expense. In 1833, a well was dug on the premises, and in 1838, a tunnel was built to connect the Bathers Beach Whaling Station to High Street.
The Round House served as a prison for colonial and indigenous inmates until 1886, after which it became a police lockup until 1900. Over the years, there were discussions of removing the building, but in 1936, it was entrusted to the Fremantle Harbour Trust for preservation. In 1982, it was transferred to the City of Fremantle, opening as a public attraction shortly after.
Despite being used for storage in the past, the Round House is now open daily to visitors from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. It houses a plaque from the Royal Western Australian Historical Society and offers volunteer guides to provide information and assist visitors.
The WA Maritime Museum
The WA Maritime Museum is a branch of the Western Australian Museum situated on Victoria Quay in Fremantle, features various galleries exploring themes such as the Indian Ocean, Swan River, fishing, maritime trade, and naval defense. One of its notable attractions is the America’s Cup-winning yacht, Australia II, from 1983.
The museum is located within the historically significant Maritime Heritage Precinct, which includes the entrance to Fremantle Inner Harbour, Forrest Landing, the Welcome Walls memorial, and the World War II submarine slipway area.
Adjacent to the museum is HMAS Ovens, an Oberon-class submarine that served as a commemoration of the World War II Fremantle allied submarine base. It was the largest submarine base in the southern hemisphere and hosted patrols from 170 submarines of the British, Dutch, and US navies.
HMAS Ovens, built by the Scott Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, measures 89.9 meters with a submerged speed exceeding 15 knots. It was decommissioned in Western Australia in 1995 after 26 years of service and over 410,000 nautical miles traveled.
The WA Maritime Museum offers visitors a chance to explore the rich history of Western Australia’s maritime heritage through its exhibitions and the opportunity to tour the HMAS Ovens submarine.
The WA Shipwrecks Museum
The WA Shipwrecks Museum, situated in Cliff Street alongside the WA Maritime Museum, is housed in the historic Commissariat Buildings dating back to the 1850s. Renowned as the leading museum for maritime archaeology and shipwreck conservation in the southern hemisphere, it showcases relics and artifacts from shipwrecks along the Western Australian coast.
Notable exhibits include a reconstructed hull from the Batavia, wrecked in 1629, and the horizontal trunk engine recovered from the SS Xantho, which sank in 1872. The museum’s CEO oversees the historic wrecks off the coast of Western Australia, and many of these shipwrecks are featured in the exhibits.
The Maritime Archaeology department at the museum focuses on researching shipwreck archaeology along the Western Australian coast, with a particular emphasis on the famous Batavia shipwreck. Their work includes artifact management, outreach programs, site inspections, and studies of diverse maritime sites such as iron ship archaeology and underwater aviation archaeology.
Additionally, the department collaborates with the University of Western Australia to offer master’s level programs in maritime archaeology. The museum also established a “Museum-Without-Walls” initiative, featuring “wreck trails” or “wreck access” programs at various locations along the coast, starting with Rottnest Island in 1980.
The Fremantle Town Hall
Fremantle Town Hall, is a grand Victorian-style building with a majestic clock tower, ornate iron lacework, and intricate stonework. It was officially opened on June 22, 1887, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Serving as a hub for local government and community events, the town hall’s grand main hall has hosted numerous theatrical performances, concerts, and public meetings.
The building’s Victorian free-style interpretation of classical architecture is evident in its facades, featuring various classical elements such as pediments, pilasters, and bas relief decoration, all rendered to resemble stone. The roof level showcases an exuberant array of towers, deviating from classical norms.
Today, the town hall remains an integral part of Fremantle’s cultural heritage. It houses the city council chambers and continues to be a popular venue for events and functions. Visitors can marvel at its breathtaking architecture, explore the well-preserved interiors, and join guided tours to delve into its intriguing history.
The Fremantle Prison
Fremantle Prison, also known as Fremantle Gaol or Fremantle Jail, is a historic Australian prison and World Heritage Site. The prison site covers six hectares and includes cellblocks, a gatehouse, perimeter walls, cottages, and tunnels. Initially used for convicts transported from Britain, it later housed locally-sentenced prisoners. The prison underwent reform in the 19th and 20th centuries, but a riot in 1988 led to its closure in 1991.
Prison life at Fremantle was highly regulated, with meals eaten in cells and convict labor used for public infrastructure until the early 1900s. Punishments ranged from flogging to lengthened sentences and deprivation of visitors. The prison conducted over 40 hangings and saw notable escapes, including Moondyne Joe and John Boyle O’Reilly.
Since its closure, Fremantle Prison has been preserved as a heritage site and undergone restoration. It attracts tourists, former prisoners, and their descendants. Guided tours, an art gallery, a café, and a gift shop offer visitors a glimpse into prison life and its history.
Educational activities, exhibitions, and re-enactments are held for visitors, while the prison collection and oral histories provide valuable resources for researchers. The prison’s artwork, including that of current and former prisoners, is showcased in the Prison Gallery.
Fremantle Prison’s historical interpretation and conservation efforts have primarily focused on its convict era, and it became the first building in Western Australia to be listed on the Australian National Heritage List. However, this emphasis on the past has overshadowed its more recent history, including its use as an internment center during World War II and the imprisonment of Aboriginal prisoners.
Saint Patrick’s Basilica
The Basilica of St Patrick is a Roman Catholic church in Fremantle, one of five with minor basilica status in Australia. The parish was established in 1850 and entrusted to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1894.
Designed by Michael Cavanagh in gothic revival style, the foundation stone was laid on St Patrick’s Day, 1898, and the nave opened in 1900. The church features a wide apse, tower, and spire supported by flying buttresses. A new sanctuary of similar size was added in 1960.
In 1994, the building was elevated to minor basilica status and is a listed heritage site. In same year was installed the iconic tapestry, crafted in Galway, Ireland, which covers an area of 50 square meters and hangs above the altar.
The church’s original organ, supplied by Bishop & Son in 1895, was electrified and expanded in the 1960s by J.E. Dodd & Sons’ Gunstar Organ Works. The present organ, built from 1988 to 1990 by Bellsham Pipe Organs, incorporates elements of the original organ.
It is the largest parish church organ in Australasia, extensively rebuilt and enlarged in 1998 by the South Island Organ Company. The Grand Organ has 4 manuals and pedal, while the Transept Organ has 2 manuals and pedal.
The Basilica of St Patrick is a significant religious and architectural landmark, cherished for its historical and artistic treasures.
The Fremantle Arts Centre
The Fremantle Arts Centre, located on Ord Street in Fremantle, is a vibrant multi-arts organization housed in a historic building complex. Constructed between 1861 and 1868 using convict labor, the heritage-listed complex originally served as a psychiatric hospital known as the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum, later becoming the Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Today, the centre offers a diverse range of exhibitions, residencies, art courses, and live music events.
Situated near prominent institutions such as the Fremantle Leisure and Aquatic Centre, John Curtin College of the Arts, and Christian Brothers College, the Fremantle Arts Centre hosts cutting-edge exhibitions featuring contemporary visual art by local, national, and international artists. One of its annual highlights is the Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award, Australia’s most prestigious printmaking prize.
The centre’s comprehensive art courses cater to all ages and skill levels, with classes held on weekdays, weekends, and evenings. It also serves as a premier live music venue, hosting performances throughout the year. The Sunday Music series, offering free concerts by leading local and touring acts, takes place on the South Lawn during the summer season. Renowned artists like Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, and Elvis Costello have graced the venue’s stage.
Visitors can explore the on-site café and gift shop, FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre, which showcases an extensive collection of unique, locally made products. The centre also houses Canvas Café. Entry to the Fremantle Arts Centre is free, and the grounds provide free WiFi access.
With a program that attracts large audiences, often exceeding 3,000 attendees for outdoor concerts in summer, the Fremantle Arts Centre is a hub of artistic expression. The centre receives funding from the City of Fremantle and the Western Australian State Government’s Department of Culture and the Arts, allowing it to continue nurturing artistic endeavors and enriching the cultural landscape of Fremantle.
The Fremantle railway station
The Fremantle railway station serves as the terminus for Transperth’s Fremantle line in Western Australia. It offers frequent services to Perth, continuing to Midland via the Midland line. The station and marshalling yards were established near the former Fremantle Railway Workshops to support the newly constructed Fremantle Harbour.
Designed by William Dartnall, the station was built in 1907 at a cost of £80,000. Originally featuring three platforms and an overall roof, it underwent changes over the years. The station closed in 1979 but reopened in 1983 following public outcry.
Today, only a stabling siding and dual gauge freight line remain opposite the station. The station’s architectural style showcases Donnybrook stone construction with red face brick infill panels, reflecting Federation Free Classical design.
Recognized by the National Trust in 1974 and listed in the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register of Heritage Places in 2001, the station underwent restoration and conservation works starting in 2005. These included paint removal, refurbishment of internal areas, and electrical upgrades to meet modern standards. The project concluded in 2011 with the restoration of the station’s external facades.
The station stands as a significant historical landmark and has played a crucial role in the revitalization of the precinct. Its rich heritage and architectural beauty make it an important part of Fremantle’s cultural landscape.
The P&O Hotel
The P&O Hotel, situated at 25 High Street in Fremantle, is a heritage listed building from the gold boom era. This two-storey Federation Filigree style structure boasts a highly decorative parapet adorned with stilted arches, columns, and decorative stucco, along with balustrades and columns.
While the dome inscribed with “The P&O Hotel” remains, its top has been removed. The building features large multi-paned windows with stucco architraves and a bull nose veranda with intricate iron lacework and a truncated corner main entrance.
When it opened in 1901, the hotel spanned half a block along High Street to Henry Street, with a 110-foot frontage on Mouat Street. The ground floor accommodated two bars, a large saloon, private parlours, lavatories, a dressing room, dining rooms, and three shops.
Upstairs, there was another large saloon with billiard tables, sitting rooms, a bathroom, and 21 bedrooms. The rear of the building housed kitchens, sculleries, and pantries, while the interior yard contained stables and coach houses. Wide verandahs surrounded the entire street frontage.
In 1938, the hotel underwent significant interior renovations, including the addition of two extra bars, under the ownership of Clem Bahen. £1,600 was spent on improvements, such as installing modern lighting and refrigeration, adding leadlighting, and refreshing fittings and paintwork. The renovations were executed by Frank Rennie, with plumbing handled by A.H. Forster.
During the 1950s, the grand two-storey verandah was replaced with a box-style awning. By 2000, the building had fallen into disrepair, leading to a 21-year lease granted to the University of Notre Dame. Extensive renovations took place, with completion in early 2001, transforming the building into student accommodation. The first group of foreign students arrived in 2001.
Despite these changes, the P&O Hotel maintains its historical value and architectural charm. As a heritage listed structure, it serves as a testament to the commercial development that thrived in Fremantle during the gold boom period.
The Fremantle Markets
The Fremantle Markets, nestled on the corner of South Terrace and Henderson Street in Fremantle, is a vibrant and cherished public market. Steeped in history, this iconic establishment has been a bustling hub of activity since its construction in 1897.
The market’s unique blend of craftspeople, fashion designers, and merchants can be found in the historic Hall, while The Yard showcases the talents of fresh food producers, vegetable growers, and food retailers. Open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and most public holidays, the Fremantle Markets have become a beloved tourist destination, considered a true “Fremantle institution.”
The Fremantle Markets offer an experience that combines music, art, and culture in a captivating fusion. Here you can indulge in a wide range of offerings, including dining options, health and beauty products, jewelry, fashion accessories, home wares, books, gifts, souvenirs, music, art, antiques, photography, camping gear, costumes, toys, and puzzles. Also you can savor delectable treats like kebabs, sushi, curries, crepes, and fish and chips. Locals and visitors use to relax with a cup of coffee in the Market Cafe or sip a glass of locally brewed beer at the Market Bar.
Designed in the distinguished Federation Romanesque style by architects Joseph Herbert Eales and Charles Oldham, the Fremantle Markets boast rough washed limestone interior walls and a striking high iron roof supported by grand jarrah columns. Ornate stone arches on the Henderson Street and Market Street frontages beckon visitors to enter and explore the wonders within.
After serving as a wholesale food and produce market until the 1950s, the buildings underwent restoration by the Fremantle City Council in 1975. The introduction of permanent retail stalls, a bar, and the replacement of the verandahs revived the market’s spirit. The inclusion of Farmer’s Lane, a space dedicated to temporary fruit and vegetable stalls, further enhanced the market’s charm.
Recognized for its historical significance, the Fremantle Markets were permanently entered on the Register of Heritage Places in 1993. Today, this cultural gem continues to captivate visitors, inviting them to revel in over a century of remarkable heritage and to immerse themselves in the unique atmosphere that is distinctly Fremantle.