Fremantle Stuff > Buildings > Asylum


Finnerty St, 1865

What is now the Fremantle Arts Centre was formerly the Convict Establishment Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot (1865 - early 1900s), the Old Women's Home ( -1939), an American army base ( -1945), an annexe of the Fremantle Technical School (1946-), the WA Maritime Museum (1972- ) and the Fremantle Arts Centre from 1973.
There was an attempt by government bureaucrats in 1957 to demolish it, but it was saved from destruction by people including Professor George Seddon, Marshall Clifton, Ray Oldham, Town Clerk Noel McComb, and the Mayor, Sir Frederick Samson.


FHC photo#494, 1897, with this caption: Fremantle Asylum, Finnerty Street. Ten acres of land bounded by Skinner, Finnerty and Shuffrey Streets was selected as the site for the asylum. The building was designed by Lieutenant Colonel EYW Henderson and built with the help of convict labour. Work began in 1861. It was built of local limestone, the blocks being squared but not coursed. The windows were glazed in small diamond panes and the roof was made of hand split shingles of she-oak. W.A. hardwood jarrah was also used and imported iron oregon, redwood and cedar. This section was completed in 1865. The first patients were admitted July August 1864. In 1886-1867 an extra ward was added; designed by George Temple-Poole and built by Robert and Arthur Bunning. In 1890 a two-storey wing was added for extra ward space and accommodation for the matron. Architect G. Temple-Poole, builders Bunning Bros. In 1894 the two final sections were built, one facing south, the other east. Architect G Temple-Poole. The south section was built by Bunning Bros. and provided more ward space for women patients and a dining room. The east section was three stories: ground floor - doctors and nurses quarters: first floor - four bed wards for private patients: top floor - further nurses' accommodation. Builder John Milne. By 1908 all the lunatics were removed from the Fremantle Asylum and moved to Claremont. From 1909 to 1942 the building was used as an Old Womens Home. The building served 1942-1945 as war-time headquarters for the American Forces stationed in Fremantle (Receiving Barracks U.S.N.) Post-war, it was a temporary venue for technical education classes. 1968/9-1970/2 Restored by architect Mr R McK Campbell. Museum section opened 1970. Fremantle Arts Centre (South wing) opened October 1972. Source: Beryl Porter Fremantle Lunatic Asylum 1865-1984. See also: 362.2 and 725.53 Miscellany File


From a Council tour brochure which gives no source.


FHC image #168. Underneath the photograph is written: Built originally by convicts as an asylum in 1861, the Fremantle Museum Building has been described as the best example of Colonial Gothic in Australia today. After it ceased to be an asylum in 1909, the building was allowed to run down completely before being converted to a home for women. Then in 1958 the Fremantle City Council resolved to re-instate the building for use as a History Museum and Arts Centre. Government financial assistance was not given until 1965. Restoration of the part of the building housing the Museum began in 1968 and it was officially opened on October 17th 1970. From 1942 to 1945 the building was occupied as US Navy Receiving Barracks.


Fremantle Arts Centre is a multi-arts organisation, offering a program of exhibitions, residencies, art courses and music in a historic building in the heart of Fremantle, Western Australia. The building was built using convict labour between 1861 and 1868 and was used as a psychiatric hospital, initially called the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum, and later known as the Asylum for the Criminally Insane. It is located opposite the Fremantle Leisure and Aquatic Centre and also near two schools: John Curtin ... and CBC Fremantle.
Text and photograph (cropped) thanks to Gnangarra, Wikipedia. (Since he took the photo the finials have been restored to the gables, in the renovation shown below.)


Group of inhabitants from the period when the building served as the Old Women's Home (FHC image)

Shingle Dingle

[sic: should be Bingle]

Steve Grant, Fremantle Herald, 29 January 2016

FREMANTLE council's decision to replace faux shingles on the Fremantle Arts Centre with corrugated iron has heritage experts howling.
Long-retired council architect Rob Campbell, who in the late 1960s convinced then-mayor Sir Frederick Samson to save the centre from demolition and then worked on its restoration, says he’s sorry to see the council’s latest 'essay in maintenance'.
'The material that it replaces was, in 1970, a compromise as it was then not possible to obtain shingles in the quantities required, but the compromise did at least attempt to replicate the colour and texture of the original to maintain the architectural integrity of the whole,' Mr Campbell told the Herald.
Council heritage co-ordinator Alan Kelsall says the old roofing contained asbestos and required replacement to protect public health. The new galvanised iron sheets will also make the roof watertight.
'The use of galvanised corrugated iron sheeting is in keeping with the early practice of using it on buildings, including the arts centre, to provide additional water tightness to timber shingled roofs,' Mr Kelsall says.
'The new roof sheeting will have minimal impact on the existing timber structure and will also allow for the reinstatement of timber shingles in the future if the opportunity arises.'


The Fremantle Arts Centre’s new tin roof (on the right) hasn’t impressed some heritage advocates who say it’s too far a departure from the shingles (still seen on the left). Photo not credited by the paper, so perhaps Steve Grant.

Mr Kelsall says there’s certainty with tin the roof won’t leak, which is not the case with replications.
'It is considered that the predicted overall benefits of the use of galvanised roof sheeting will substantially outweigh any perceived loss of heritage values.'
Fremantle Society president John Dowson sides with Mr Campbell, labelling the re-roofing 'damaging'.
'The roof being replaced was put there by Rob Campbell when he did the restoration of the arts centre in 1972,' Mr Dowson says.
'He spent a year engineering a copy of the original shingles, genuine shingles then being too expensive.
'Now genuine shingles are easier to get, but if they are too expensive then facsimiles should be used, not glaring large sheets of tin, the cheap and lazy way out.
'Many people regard the Fremantle Arts Centre as their favourite building in Fremantle; it has soul, tranquility and a brooding atmosphere, despite its grim early history.'
Mr Dowson says he and former council heritage architect Agnieshka Kiera were devastated to learn this week the Turnbull government had rejected an application to have the centre included on the national heritage list. Ms Kiera had lodged the application when employed by the council.


FHC photo#1723, taken by I N Branson from the Bushells building c1940, with this caption: The Bushells Building was on the corner of Quarry and Queen Victoria Street. Quarry Street is in front to the left. The Dux Building (front) was erected in 1898 for Frederick William Ross as a bottling factory. In the left background is Skinner Street Cemetery, behind the Lunatic Asylum and its grounds. Note the fives court in the front. [Note that Quarry and QV Sts are parallel and do not meet - except of course at infinity. And is the fives court that stone edifice in the LA grounds?]

References and links

Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948]: 192-4.

Lipscombe, André 2008, Fertile Ground: Fifty Years of the Fremantle Art Collection, Fremantle Press.

Fremantle Arts Centre website: history

Wikipedia page

The second photo above is from a Council tour brochure which gives no source.

Old Lunatic Asylum during restoration (FHC photos)

Garry Gillard | New: 25 June, 2015 | Now: 16 November, 2018