Sunday, July 21, 2024

WA’s oldest building turns 190

Western Australia’s oldest public building – the Round House in Fremantle – turned 190 years old this week.

Opening on 18 January 1831, the Round House was the first permanent public building to be constructed in the Swan River Colony.

Originally built as a jail, its later uses included a police lock-up, living quarters and storage facility for Fremantle Port before being opened to the public as a tourist attraction.

The Round House accommodated both colonial and Aboriginal prisoners, including Nyoongar leader Yagan, and was the site of the colony’s first public execution of a European settler – 15-year-old John Gavin.

It was also used as a lock-up for Aboriginal prisoners from all over the state being transported to Rottnest Island.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt, who will have the honour of firing the gun deck cannon at 1pm today, said the Round House was one of Western Australia’s most significant heritage sites.

“Because of it’s role as a prison and police lock-up, some of the history of the Round House is pretty grim,” Mayor Pettitt said.

“But it still stands as an important reminder of Fremantle and Western Australia’s past, and the volunteer guides do an amazing job of bringing that history to life for the thousands of people who visit each year.

“It’s great that the state government has recently provided matching funding with the City of Fremantle to undertake much needed work to stabilise the Arthur Head cliffs that surround the Round House.

“We’ll continue to talk with the government about the conservation work required for the Round House itself, because in 10 years’ time we want it to still be here and looking great for its 200th birthday.”

The Round House was designed by the Swan River Colony’s first civil engineer Henry Willey Reveley and took just five months to build.

The prominent site at Arthur Head was chosen to emphasise the role of law and order in the colony and was intended to physically and psychologically dominate the community.

In 1837 the Fremantle Whaling Company requested a tunnel be cut through Arthur Head to connect Bathers Beach with High Street.

Following the arrival of convicts in 1851 and the completion of the Fremantle Prison in 1857, the Round House ceased to be used as a jail and was used as a police lock-up until 1900.

The building was saved from demolition in the 1920s and was managed by the state government before it was deeded to the City of Fremantle in 1982.

The Round House is open daily from 10:30am-3:30pm, with a team of friendly volunteer guides on hand to welcome visitors, answer questions and point out interesting features.

The Round House is one of the stops on the City of Fremantle’s school holiday Time Travel Adventure Trail. For more information go to

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