Blockbuster hotel

IT’S not often that a Fremantle hotel is linked to an historical event that would make a great Hollywood blockbuster.

But that’s the case with the Hougoumont Hotel on Bannister street.

The hotel is named after the ship Hougoumont, built in Burma in 1852 for the lucrative Britain-India trade route.

In October 1867 the ship set sail from Portsmouth with 280 convicts aboard. Sixty two of them were “Fenians”: Irish political prisoners who had taken part in an uprising against the British.

The ship arrived in Fremantle in January 1868 with one convict, Thomas Cochrane, dying during the journey.

It would be the last shipment of convicts to Australia and the Hougoumont was decommissioned in 1885.

• Alec Prendiville with his dad Patrick, owner of the Hougoumont Hotel, and general manager Marco Batacchi. Photos by Wade Zaglas

Although many of the Fenians were pardoned, seven were given life sentences, including John Boyle O’Reilly, who made a daring escape to Boston, America, where he eventually became the editor of a local newspaper.

In 1876 the six other Fenians given life sentences escaped from Fremantle jail and fled to Rockingham, where they boarded the whale boat the Catalpa, waiting about nine miles offshore.

After news of their escape reached authorities, a shot was fired across the bows of the Catalpa and demands were made to return the convicts.

Catalpa’s captain successfully argued he was outside territorial waters and the American flag masthead protected him and the convicts from having to return.

This rich historical tale is reflected in the design of the Hougoumont Hotel, which retains elements of the original façade and has some maritime memorabilia.

• A list of convicts that were on the ship Hougoumont is displayed at the hotel.

The rooms are built in shipping containers, which are only visible when looking at the side of the building.

While the rooms are “compact”, they challenge the “preconceived thought of [shipping containers] being small rooms”, owner Patrick Prendiville says.

With Nespresso coffee, boutique teas by Rubra, bathroom toiletries by Apelles Apothecary and a pillow menu, the “concept was to build a boutique hotel,” Mr Prendiville says.

Breakfast for guests is included in the price, but they are encouraged to venture into Freo’s renowned dining precinct for lunch and dinner.

This month the hotel is helping promote the story of Jim Ryan, great grandson of Captain George Anthony of the Catalpa.

For more information email info@feniansfestival.com.au

by WADE ZAGLAS

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