Visiting the Fremantle Round House - Emma Jane Explores

A guide to visiting Fremantle Round House

A Guide to Visiting Fremantle Round House

Visiting Fremantle Round House is often not as high on Fremantle tourist’s list of attractions as some of the city’s other drawcards like the infamous Fremantle Prison or sampling the tasty delights of the Fremantle Market. 

However, this small but fascinating piece of Fremantle’s history should definitely be on your Fremantle itinerary as it offers great insight into the early days of the Swan River settlement that became the cities of Fremantle and Perth. 

For those interested in prisons, the Fremantle Round House also provides a great precursor to visiting the Fremantle Prison by revealing how arrests were managed prior to the enormous gaol’s construction. 

The steps of the Fremantle Round House (image: CANVA)

Fremantle Round House History

1830 – 1850s

The Fremantle Round House is the oldest standing building in Western Australia, having been erected way back in 1831 to house prisoners from the Swan River colony. By comparison, the much larger Fremantle Prison did not exist until 1850. Until the 1886 this tiny round limestone building with only 8 cells was home to Swan River inmates.

The Fremantle Round House was designed by Henry Willy Reveley, who also supervised the later construction of the Whaler’s Tunnel in 1838.

In 1844, juvenile prisoner John Gavin became the first prisoner hanged in Western Australia and the Fremantle Round House was the site of his execution.

1860s – 1990

Once Fremantle Prison was in use, the Round House became a police lock up until around 1900. People arrested would be brought to the Round House for processing, however if they ended up incarcerated, they would be moved to the much larger Fremantle Prison (known as the Convict Establishment Prison at that time).

Indigenous prisoners were also kept here in transit before they were taken to Rottnest Island.

1900 – present

Post 1900, the Round House became the living quarters for the water police and after much debate about whether or not the building should be demolished, in 1936 the building was agreed to be preserved for heritage purposes. 

When visiting the Fremantle Round House you’ll notice the well in the centre of the courtyard

Visiting the Fremantle Round House today

Today, the Round House is an open air museum with exhibits explaining the history of the building and what life as a prisoner there was like. There are also some exhibits in the cells that provide more information about the settlement in the Swan River region and the conditions that the first colonial settlers found themselves faced with on arrival.

The Round House admission is run by Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides and the admission fee is simply a gold coin donation (they also have tap and go). So, not only is it informative, it is also a very cheap Fremantle attraction to visit.

Emma stands in the centre of the Fremantle Round House courtyard holding a sign saying "Guilty". She is making a sad face in jest.
Me visiting the Fremantle Round House

How to get to the Fremantle Round House

From Perth

Though it is well worth visiting Fremantle for a longer stay, a visit to the Fremantle Round House is entirely possible on a day trip from Perth. Simply take the Fremantle train line and ride it to the end of the line (takes about 30 mins). From there, it is an 8 minute walk to the Round House on Captains Lane. All up, the trip from Perth to the Round House takes about 45 mins. 

If you’re driving, then the trip is slightly quicker at 30 mins. Parking can be hard to find however, there is paid parking at the western end of High St. For my money, the train is much less hassle. 

From Fremantle

Getting to the Fremantle Round House is walkable from pretty much anywhere in the Fremantle town centre. A nice way to get there is to head down to the waterfront around Little Creatures Brewery and stroll along the walkway there until you reach the Round House – you can’t miss the big round building perched atop the hill!

A nice way to start your Fremantle Round House visit is strolling to the building along the waterfront

Where to stay near the Fremantle Round House?

Fremantle is blessed with lots of great accommodation options and the city is definitely worthy of at least an overnight stay (if not longer).

I loved spending my time in Freo at the Esplanade Hotel by Rydges which is a very convenient waterfront stroll away from visiting the Fremantle Round House.

For budget accommodation with a difference, check out the YHA at Fremantle Prison and for luxury accommodation in the heart of town, I’ve heard great things about the Warders Hotel. Any of these options will have you right in the thick of the city centre, walking distance from all the main attractions.

Notable things to see when visiting Fremantle Round House

The Time Ball and Cannon

The cannon at the Fremantle Round House is still fired daily at 1pm. The time ball can be spotted suspended in the air at the Round House and when it drops, the cannon shot is fired to mark the time. The time ball system has been used since 1900 to signal the correct time for seafarers.

Visiting Fremantle Round House can mean that you have the opportunity to be an honorary gunner for the day and fire the cannon – requests to do so must be sent in advance to [email protected]

Two Days in Fremantle - Emma Jane Explores
The internal yard of the Roundhouse with the time ball top centre

The Cells

The eight cells of the Round House are worth poking your head into, in particular the couple of cells that are presented to represent what life as a prisoner in the Round House would have been like.

Spoiler alert: it is pretty grim as these poky little cells would have become very crowded when the facility was full up. 

The Well & Courtyard

You can’t miss the well when visiting the Fremantle Round House as it is quite literally in the centre of the courtyard. From the courtyard, you can really see the proper shape of the Round House – in actual fact, it is a dodecagon and not round at all!

The Stocks

The Fremantle Round House has several examples of prisoner torture device, the stocks, on display. Prisoners would be forced to stick their head and arms through the holes and remain there until being freed. 

The Whalers Tunnel under the Fremantle Round House

The Whalers Tunnel

Under the Fremantle Round House is a tunnel cut through from Bathers’ Beach to High Street. This tunnel was requested by the Fremantle Whaling Company and was completed in 1837. It was even used as an air raid shelter in World War II. Now, its a picturesque way to get to the beach after visiting the Fremantle Round House.

Visiting Fremantle Round House FAQs

Is the Fremantle Round House free to visit?

Entry to the Fremantle Round House is by donation. A gold coin will usually suffice, but tap and go facilities are also available.

What are the Fremantle Round House open hours?

The Fremantle Round House is open 7 days a week from 10.30am – 3.30pm.

Are there tours of the Fremantle Round House?

The best way to see the Round House is just by exploring yourself. However, the friendly Fremantle Heritage Volunteers are on hand to provide any additional information and insight as required. 

How long should I spend at the Fremantle Round House?

A visit to the Fremantle Round House will not take any longer than an hour or two (depending on how much time you want to spend reading all the information). The building itself is not large and can be explored relatively quickly. 

What else is worth seeing while I’m in Fremantle?

The Fremantle Round House is a great precursor to a visit to the ominous Fremantle Prison complex which is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Foodies will love the Fremantle Market and the Sunshine Harvester Works where you can explore and graze from many different stalls. Museum buffs will enjoy the Shipwrecks and the Maritime Museums that detail Western Australia’s fascinating history.

Finally, sampling a tasting flight at the Little Creatures Brewery is a must for any beer-lover.

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Visiting Fremantle Round House - Emma Jane Explores
Visiting Fremantle Round House - Emma Jane Explores