Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fremantle Prison

All of us headed up to the prison shown here where we got information on the available tours except Dawn and Lea who needed to get back to Perth. Due to our practice time, we could only make it back to the Great Escapes Tour. We bought our tickets before leaving so we wouldn't have to worry about it later then went to the pool.

Our tour group dwindled to Karen, Lindsay, Becky, Jenni, Natalie and me and we arrived just in time to make the tour. We were taking pictures in the souvenir shop when our surly, fast talking guide showed up. You could feel his disapproval that we'd missed the basic tour and dared skip ahead to the Great Escapes. But he got over it. I guess.

The first escapee he told us about was a guy named Moondyne Joe. This man was apparently famous for escaping places so the warder had a special cell made up for Joe that you see here:
Those things that look like holes are actually spikes nailed into the hardest wood they could find to keep ole Joe inside. The warder even made a deal with the guy. He told him if he could escape this cell, he'd give him a pardon.

As time went on, Joe started looking sicker and sicker cooped up as he was. The prison doctor advised the warder that Joe needed fresh air and exercise or he'd die.

The warder relented and gave Joe a pile of rocks and a pick ax to break out in the yard. Near the outside wall.

I'm sure you know where this going. Joe piled the rocks up as he broke them until it was taller than he was then started on the wall. The guards were used to him by this time, so they didn't bother to check the other side of the rock pile until after ole Joe was gone.

Two years later, they did recapture him by accident, but the warder didn't give him the pardon because the deal was he had to escape from his cell. Not the yard.

The best escape had to have been done by John Boyle O'Reilly. This guy nearly caused a war between the U.S. and Great Britain with his little escapade. And he's the only prisoner they were never able to recapture.

Mr. O'Reilly was a Fenian political prisoner since he was an Irish spy in the British Army. He was sent to Fremantle with six other Fenians. This guy made nice with the warder and with the help of the Prison Priest escaped on a whaling ship. He made it all the way to Boston where he joined up with other sympathizers, bought another whaling vessel, the Catalpa, and returned to Fremantle to free his fellow Fenians.

They sent a couple other Fenians ahead to pose as wealthy businessmen and open lines of communication with their imprisoned brothers. They used the chapel shown here:

to get the message to the remaining six that they were to make sure they were outside the prison walls without their guards during their work detail on Easter Monday morning because apparently they were frequently without their guards outside the prison walls while on work detail.

The six did as they were instructed and hopped on carriages sent to pick them up. They were taken to the small whaler that would row them out to the Catalpa that was waiting for them in International waters.

Of course, the British were on to them immediately, but couldn't catch them in the whaleboat. After spending the night in the open boat during a squall, the prisoners made it to the Catalpa. By this time, the British had found them again.

They demanded to board the ship and retrieve the prisoners, but the captain refused. The British prepared to fire on the Catalpa. The captain told them , "That’s the American flag. I am on the high seas; my flag protects me. If you fire on this ship you fire on the American flag." Since the British had just lost a similar case costing them 3 million pounds - that was a whole lot in 1876 - they weren't eager to repeat the situation. They had no choice, but let the Catalpa go with the prisoners on board.

Mr. O'Reilly returned to Boston where he was a newspaperman and regularly went on lecture tours. He wasn't even trying to hide out. When he died in 1890 his funeral was the second largest in American history. Only John F. Kennedy's was bigger.

Oh yeah...and they wrote a song about the Catalpa escape. Unfortunately, until insanely recently it was still illegal to sing it in Australia.

This is the side of one of the cell blocks. The round doodads are there to keep prisoners from climbing up to the roof and escaping over the outside wall. The pipe itself was kept coated with a thick grease.

The Men's Yard

One almost clever man figured out that there was a period of 3 minutes when the guards in the towers did their rounds that neither was watching the yard. So he got him some bucket handles and made himself a rope to go over the wall here:

Except, he didn't get enough handles and he was running out of time because they were going to need the buckets pretty soon. So, he decided to strip off his uniform and wrap it around the razor wire and climb from there.

It might've worked except, his handles broke before he reached the top. He tumbled back down through the the razor wire and landed in a heap on the concrete another seven feet or so below.

He spent six months in the infirmary, but his uniform is still on the razor wire - 24 years later. You can see it better here:

This is the guard tower from where they weren't watching Razor Wire Boy.

On to my favorite escapee!

Mr. Brenden Abbott, the Postcard Bandit, was assigned to work in the tailor shop of the prison with a couple other inmates. Guess what they were making. Yep. Guard uniforms. They got the bright idea to make themselves a uniform and escape.

Since the guards had rifle practice on the range right behind the tailor shop, Abbott and crew knew when they were there. Once day, when the coast was clear, they put on their guard uniforms and hustled to the roof to go over the outside wall.

To get to the wall, they had to jump a good 7 to 8 feet across the rifle range. Abbott and one guy made it. But the third was ahead of his time in fashion and didn't have enough room in his sagging britches to make the jump. He smacked into the wall and slid down it to the ground.

If that wasn't enough pain, he caught his kneecap on a water faucet and nearly ripped it out of his leg. The faucet didn't fare much better as it was dragged down through the wall leaving a nice little hole. They had to move the faucet about a foot to the left to replace it.

Needless to say, the guy wasn't exactly quiet which alerted the guards to the escape attempt. They were able to catch the 2nd guy fairly quickly, but Abbott was long gone.

The part I love...the prison was decommissioned in 1991 and opened for tours in 1992. Abbott took a tour in '92 and had the audacity to sign the guest book. Yes, he was still wanted by the authorities. For his current address, he wrote, "Nowhere you'll ever find me."

Except they did. He's back in prison, but they only recovered about a $100,000 of the $5M he stole from banks over the years. Maybe it's just me, but I think he should've hid wherever he put the money!

On to the Women's side of the prison. They didn't have it as good as the men. This was their bathroom where they were allowed one cold bath a week. It was three prisoners per tub of water.

Compared to these tiny little cages that the women had as their yard, the men were staying in a Hilton. Four women were assigned to each cage with only a bucket of water to drink and another bucket for other bodily functions. They were left outside in the sun all day unless they had a job in a small airless room.

They women rarely escaped because most of them were in for crimes like prostitution that only had a sentence of six months. Time was added if they tried to get out so it just wasn't worth the effort.

Here're more Prison pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Stairs leading up to Moondyne Joe's cell.

The cell blocks.

Up to the infirmary.

Walking across the yard.

Another gate.

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