7th February 2021

West Australian Penal/Gaol/Prison/Correctional Services

The Swan River Colony, also known as the Swan River Settlement, was established in 1829 at the location that would soon become Perth.   The colony formally became West Australia in 1832.  Although NSW convicts were sent to King George Sound in 1826 to help establish the new colony, convicts were mostly sent to the colony from 1850-1868.


Convicts had been temporarily housed in a rented warehouse from 1850 until they built the Convict Establishment prison ( built 1850-59). The old Fremantle Prison, also known as the “Round House”, was built in 1830-31, an eight cell prison with a gaoler’s residence. It was used for local and indigenous prisoners until 1886. In that year the Convict Establishment prison, (since renamed Fremantle prison) was returned to the control of the colony, and the Round House was then used as a police lock-up.

During the wars, Fremantle prison was partially used as a military prison and internment centre.  The prison being long overcrowded, seven new prisons were opened in the State from 1960-1971, including a new women’s prison.

Fremantle Prison was closed in 1991, replaced by the new Casuarina Prison. The old buildings are now heritage listed.

State Library Victoria BIB ID 2281130: Fremantle Round House. It was nearly demolished in 1928, but saved and can still be visited.

WA Department of Environment & Heritage.  Drawing by Thomas ‘Satan’ Browne, 1864.

State Library Victoria BIB ID 1765192.  Convict Establishment, later called Freemantle Gaol,


A merchant ship that ran aground in the mouth of the Swan River in 1829 was used as a prison hulk.  In 1830 A six cell lock-up in Perth was built. It was demolished in 1855 after the ‘old’ Perth Gaol was built to replace it. 

State Library WA image # 6923B/137. Perth Gaol, 1862.

At first colonial prisoners were housed there, but they were transferred to Fremantle Prison in 1858, and this gaol used instead to house convicts until handed back to the colonial government in 1875.  In 1886 all prisoners in this goal were transferred to Fremantle; the last leaving in 1888 then it was closed. This building has been modified and used as a museum from 1891 onwards.

Management of the Prisons

The Goals Department was a sub-department of the Colonial Secrectary’s Department from 1917. It was renamed the Prison Department in 1947, the Department of Corrections from 1972-82, the Prisons Department from 1982-87, the Department of Corrective Services (1987-93), the Offender Management of the Ministry of Justice (1993-2001) and the Department of Justice (2001-2006). Since 2006 it is once again the Department of Corrective Services.  And every name change brings the expense of new stationary, buttons, etc, etc.

 Below are various warder/prison staff uniform buttons.

QV crown (pre 1902). Fremantle Prisons Collection. 


King’s Crown(1902-1953) ?Date of this button.

St Edward’s Crown (1953- ) ?Date of this button.


West Australian Department of Corrections. 1972-82. 





Western Mail (Perth), 26th May 1899 page 41. Group of Officials of the Fremantle Prison.