Round House

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the Round House in Fremantle, Western Australia. For other uses, see Roundhouse (disambiguation).
Round House
The Round House
The Round House from the east
General information
Type Prison
Architectural style Panopticon
Address Arthur Head
Town or city Fremantle, Western Australia
Country Australia
Coordinates 32°3′22″S 115°44′29″E / 32.05611°S 115.74139°E / -32.05611; 115.74139
Construction started August 1830 (1830-08)
Completed 18 January 1831 (1831-01-18)
Cost £1603/10/0
Owner City of Fremantle
Technical details
Floor count 2
Design and construction
Architect Henry Willey Reveley
Main contractor Richard Lewis, W Manning and I Duffield
Other information
Number of rooms 8 cells + other rooms
Fremantle Roundhouse

The Round House was the first permanent building built in the Swan River Colony. Built in late 1830 and opened in 1831, it is the oldest building still standing in Western Australia.[1] It is located at Arthur Head in Fremantle, and recent heritage assessments and appraisals of the precinct of the Round House incorporate Arthur Head.[1]

It was used for colonial and indigenous prisoners until 1886, when control of the Convict Establishment prison (now Fremantle Prison) was transferred to the colony. After that the Round House was used as a police lockup until 1900, when it became the living quarters for the chief constable and his family.[2] In 1936 it was vested in the Fremantle Harbour Trust for preservation. A number of suggestions were put forth, including turning it into a museum, but these plans were interrupted by World War II. In 1966 the Port Authority opened the building to the public for two hours per day. Later, this attraction was run by the Western Australian Historical Society. The building was then transferred to the City of Fremantle in 1982 and has been open daily since then. It is operated by the Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides and is open from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm.

The Round House was the site of the first execution in Western Australia of a European, John Gaven.[3]

Design and construction[edit]

A photograph of The Round House in the late 19th century

It was designed by Henry Willey Reveley; construction commenced in 1830 and was completed on 18 January 1831.[4][1] Intended as a prison, it had eight cells and a jailer's residence, all of which opened onto a central courtyard. The design was based on the Panopticon, a kind of prison designed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham.[5]

The Round House was built by Richard Lewis in partnership with W Manning and I Duffield for £1840/0/0. Worked commenced in August 1830 and was complete in January 1831 for the cost of £1603/10/0 this lower cost was due to the builders' being able to source the limestone locally. In 1833 a well was dug in the central compound. Reveley calculated that the depth of the well needed to be 45 feet. The Fremantle Whaling Company in 1837 requested that a tunnel be dug through Arthur Head to High street. As part of the agreement they constructed a breakwater to protect shipping up to 150 tons. The Fremantle whaling company paid for both the construction of the tunnel and the breakwater with Reverley overseeing both.[1]

The tunnel was 57 metres long and linked the Bathers Beach Whaling Station to the High Street. The tunnel was constructed in five months and completed in January 1838. This rapid progress was possible because prisoners from the Round House were used and the rock, although load bearing and sound, was capable of being mined with a pick axe. Today the tunnel is only 45 metres long, as the cliffs were cut back some time after 1880.[6]


The Round House had a plaque placed by the Royal Western Australian Historical Society as part of commemorating historical sites in the Western Australia Centenary year of 1929.

The Fremantle City Council took over responsibility for the Round House in 1982, and it was opened to the public shortly afterwards.It is operated by the Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides. Entry is free for a gold coin donation.


  1. ^ a b c d Heritage Council. "Round house and Arthur Head reserve". Permanent register. Heritage Council of Western Australia. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Conole, Peter. and Graeme Sisson (2005) Policing in the Round House. including details of Constable Thomas Powers who lived in the building in 1898. Newsbeat (, July/Aug. 2005, p. 16.
  3. ^ Deborah Tout-Smith (1998). The Foundations of Fremantle: Exploring the early history of Western Australia's port city. Perth: Western Australian Museum. p. 34. ISBN 0 7307 3811 6. 
  4. ^ Campbell, R. McK (1973). The Round House. Report no. 2. R.M. Campbell. Retrieved 20 December 2011 
  5. ^ The Round House Gaol: Western Australia's first lunatic asylum.
  6. ^ McIlroy, Jack (1986). "Bathers Bay Whaling Station, Fremantle, Wester Australia". Australian Historical Archaeology 4. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Davidson, Dianne.(2001) The rescue of the round house. Newsletter (Fremantle History Society), Summer, 2001, p. 1-3,
  • Scott, Peter.(1989) Hiding history : The Round House. (Aboriginal imprisonment in the Round House). Murdoch ethos, p. 37-50, (essays in Australian history in honour of Foundation Professor Geoffrey Bolton edited by Rae Frances and Bruce Scates. Murdoch, W.A.: Murdoch University. - see also Litchfield, John (1998). "The Round House and its questions about community in Fremantle". Imagined Places: the Politics of Making Space: 31–38. ISBN 978-1-86446-471-9 
  • Webb, David and Warren, David (2005) Fremantle : beyond the Round House Fremantle, W.A. Longley Books.

External links[edit]