After the decommissioning of the Fremantle prison in 1991, it became a heritage site known for its exceptional significance at the State, National, and International levels. This feat has allowed its name to be included in various heritage registers around the world.
The Fremantle prison was added to the Australian national heritage list in 2005, and it was recorded as the first Western Australia site to be registered, making it the 13th national site included in the list.
The Fremantle prison used between a period of 1852 – 1859 is an iconic example of a 19th-century establishment and the most intact of all convict sites in Australia. A major significance of the Fremantle prison is its iconic stand as evidence of the British colonization in post-1788, the prison was constructed and structured like the British convict system. The prison to a high degree demonstrates the ideology of the British concerning penal design and the change in views between the British and Australians. The construction of the Fremantle prison was based on the design of the Pentonville prison in London. The construction of the main cell block in Western Australia was an adaptation of Joshua Jebb’s design in Pentonville prison, it exhibited a change of British penal philosophy from punishment to reform.
The prison is exceptionally intact and was in continuous use as a prison for 133 years. It is a site with a lot of potential for research work due to its integrity and ability to give a detailed description and provide insights into the experience of convicts through different eras, such as the Imperial era, Colonial and state-operated era. All of these go to point out the change in phases as well, from a change in punishment philosophy to reforms, education, and welfare ideologies.
The Fremantle prison also proudly retains its painting, artefacts, photographs, architectural and archaeological records, and a rich source of historical and social findings. Besides, most development done in the early periods involve the use of convict labour, making the prison stand out as an outstanding symbol of the work done in developing Western Australia. It allows Australians to reconnect with their roots and colonial background.
According to the Heritage Council of Western Australia (HCWA), Fremantle prison has exceptional cultural heritage due to the following reasons
- Most intact complex establishment in Australia
- A symbol of the development of Western Australia through the use of convict labour
- It serves as an architectural memorial to the design of structures and the supervision of the royal engineers, such as Joshua Jebb, Edmund Henderson, etc.
- The association and interaction of individuals who had been in contact with the prison and left a mark or made an impact, including the Governors, Comptroller-Generals, and prisoners
- The monumental quality of the prison, standing out as the longest and tallest cell range in Australia.