Catalpa Productions

The Convict Era

The convict era can easily be referred to as the dark era, a lot of inhumane behaviour occurred during this period before the regulations and rules were promulgated. The Fremantle Prison, asides from holding convicts in confinement also served as a centre for carrying out capital punishment (hanging), flogging, and other forms of punishment.

The location of the Fremantle prison was in the heart of Western Australia’s harsh climate and unyielding vegetation, the setup of the environment made escaping from the prison a near-impossible feat, nonetheless, many convicts attempted to escape from the establishment. If a convict manages to escape from the facility, such a convict is left with three options:

  • Become a bushranger by remaining in the settlement and stealing from the settlers in a bid to survive
  • Escape from the colony by traveling through the desert
  • Or try escaping by sea.

But, of course, as a result of the landscape and location of the establishment, none of these three options were exactly favourable.

The administration of Governor Hampton

John Hampton assumed the office of the Governor of Western Australia in 1862, he had a direct interest in convict affairs as he was accused of profiting from the employment of convict labour in his former position as a Comptroller-General. The air of suspicion around John Hampton made the current Comptroller-General of Fremantle; Edmund Henderson resign from his position in the same year 1862, leaving the governor indirect management of the facility until a replacement came in 1863. The new Comptroller-General; Captain Newland soon resigned barely after three years, after constantly bumping head with the governor offer the management of the facility.

Hampton immediately appointed his son, George who as well followed his father’s footsteps in the administration of the facility. The administration of the Hamptons was a disgraceful one, and more than 90 convicts attempted escape (the highest number ever recorded within that period).

Prison Break

Some of the most prominent escape attempts from the establishment include:

  • The trio escape: The month of May 1867 saw the escape of three convicts; William Graham, Thomas Scott, and George Morris. A duplicate key was obtained by one of the convicts and was used to set his companions free, and thereafter scaling over the perimeter fencing. They were found weeks later, with the recapture of two and the death of one during a shootout.
  • Moondyne Joe: Joe was famous for his innovative escape plans, as he was able to escape the facility multiple times, although he was always caught with increased jail time.
  • Mass breakout: During the period where the trio was at large, another mass escape took place, 8 convicts escaped from the facility, they were eventually recaptured with a convict drowning after attempting to resist arrest.
  • Catalpa escape: This is arguably the most famous escape from Fremantle, involving 6 Fenian prisoners escaping through a coordinated plan in 1876.