With conviction Fremantle Heritage Festival

HE didn’t live to see its publication, but the release of local architect Rob Campbell’s last book Henderson & Coy sheds a fascinating light on the little-known stories of the people who built Fremantle’s prison and now-arts centre,  and a host of other buildings now cherished for their historic value.

Captain Edmund Yeamans Walcott Henderson arrived in Fremantle in 1850 at the head of a company of royal engineers and pensioner guards, along with the colony’s first consignment of 75 convicts.

With a grit that was to earn him plaudits throughout his career, Henderson soon had the convicts working under the supervision of five sapper instructing warders and they quickly had a roof over their head.

Settlers, who’d been watching the slow pace of the colonial administration’s building works, were suitably impressed by the sappers and their charges. In fact, this soon created a problem because they were so keen to employ the skilled-up convicts when they earned a ticket of leave, that it left Henderson short-staffed.

• Captain Edmund Yeamans Walcott Henderson

The Home Office’s response was to send more boatloads of convicts; 807 the following year

The oldest of their buildings that survive today are the warders cottages in Henderson Street, which are in the process of being sold off by the state government into private hands.

Next on the list was to be the prison, but governor Charles Fitzgerald had also noticed the efficiency of Henderson’s teams and co-opted them into building a commissariat office to handle the growing list of supplies needed in the colony to feed and keep the convicts working. It still survives despite some modifications which have “confused the simplicity” according to Campbell, and these days houses the Shipwrecks Museum.

The prison was started in 1852 and continued to house prisoners until 1991, with a series of prison riots convincing the WA government that a new, modern facility was needed. It is now a world heritage-listed building because of its connection to the convict era.

Henderson & Coy was published by Uniprint WA.

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You can check out an exhibition of Rob Campbell’s restoration of the Fremantle Arts Centre and unveiling of a commemorative plaque in his honour at the centre on Friday May 25 at 5.30pm

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