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Walk 6: Kings Square

From Fremantle Walks by David Hutchison, 2006, pp. 165-178. (See also facsimile version.)

This walk includes elements of the Imperial Convict Establishment and premises for present day administration of the city and of the law. Allow an hour; although more  if, again, you choose to linger and contemplate.


Warders' Cottages

Architects and Builders: Imperial Convict Establishment

Groups of terraced cottages for prison warders were built in the 18505 along the Henderson and Holdsworth Street boundaries of the Convict Establishment. They all survive. There are two blocks in Henderson Street, at Nos. 7-17 and 19-29, and one on the other side of William Street next to the Police Station complex at Nos. 3l-41. The inscription ‘VR185l’ is on the central column of Nos. 19-29, the earliest of the three blocks. The cottages housed prison staff until the closure of the prison in 1990. They are now leased to tenants.

Another group of terraced houses for warders were built in 1898 opposite the Police Station. They were of a more elaborate design; unfortunately they were demolished in 1971 to make way for a supermarket which was itself demolished to make way for the Queensgate buildings and the multi-storey car park. The Salvation Army Citadel (1891), on the corner of Henderson and William Streets, was also demolished for this purpose. The street-level car park on the corner of Henderson and William Streets is the site of the William Detmold Building (1911), which was one of the tallest buildings in Fremantle at the time. It housed a printing business.


Police Station and former Court House

Architect: John Grainger and Hillson Beasley (after 1905), Chief Architects of Public Works Department.

The precinct bounded by William, Henderson, Holdsworth and Parry Streets contains a block of warders’ terraced cottages, the Police Station and the former (fourth) courthouse. The site was originally part of the Convict Establishment. In 1888, after control of convicts had been passed to the colonial government, the police moved to the Henderson and Queen Street corner. On this site, in 1857, barracks For Royal Engineers (Sappers) and warders’ quarters were built. In 1888 the police made use of one of the houses and a store as their station. The Drill Hall, on the Parry Street frontage, was built in 1895-96. A new two-storey block of police quarters replaced the original warders’ quarters. The Courthouse was built in 1898-99. This location reflected the shift in focus of the town centre from the West End to the current town centre. The design, described as Federation Academic Classic, was common for major public buildings in the state in the early 1900s. A lockup was built behind it. In 1903 a new block of two-storey police quarters was built in place of the central wing of the former Sappers’ Barracks, and a new police station was built to the north of the lockup in 1914-6. This and additional buildings towards the south of the site — designed by R J Ferguson and Associates — demonstrate how buildings of contemporary materials and design may fit into a heritage complex of this kind.

A new justice complex was built in Holdsworth Street in 2001. In 2005 consideration was being given to moving the police station to a new site. [In 2018 the police station is in a former bank building in High Street.]

-) Walk down William Street towards the Town Hall. A modern shopping mall development takes up most of the southern side. Only two early building survive in the street.



Rosie O'Grady's Hotel [now the Federal Hotel]

Architects: G C Inskip and J H Eales (1904 extensions). Builders: Jardine and Ruthven

No. 3, opposite the Town Hall, was built of local stone with stucco ornament, in 1887 for James Herbert Jr, and named the Federal Hotel. It was claimed to be ‘in advance of anything so far erected in Western Australia.’ It has stained-glass windows made by Barnett Bros. In c. 1901 the hotel was bought by the Swan Brewery and remained in its ownership until about 1974. In 1904 extensive additions were constructed, including the western wing. The hotel has operated under its new name since 1985. In 1995 the two-storey veranda was reconstructed, the facade was repaired and there were some internal alterations; this work was supervised by Maxwell Cox Architects. [In 2018 the hotel has resumed trading under its original name.]

Commercial Building

Nos. 7-11. Four cottages were on this site up until 1888. This building was built c. 1890s and appears in a photograph dated 1896. Well-known photographers, Nixon and Merrilees, occupied No. 7 from 1895 to 1900, and subsequently, for the next thirty-three years, Charles Nixon operated there as sole proprietor. Since 1933-34 it has been a barber’s shop, originally established by Mr R E W Wrightson and operated, since 1988, by his son. [In 2018, Norm Wrightson has retired, tho his name is still on the barbershop - which, however, is set to be demolished by a developer to form the entrance to a tavern.]


On the first town plan drawn by Surveyor-General Roe, Kings Square was placed at the corner of High and Pakenham Streets. When the plan was redrafted in 1833 the square was moved eastwards to its present location. At a later date the city plan was modified by what George Seddon (1994) describes as ‘an intelligent planning device’.

This was the imposition of a second substantial city square, Queens Square, at right angles to High Street. Both in name and design intention, this formed a pair with Kings Square, set on a diagonal to High Street. Between them they had a significant role in clarifying the street pattern in a humane and intelligent way.

As outlined in the ‘Brief History’, the square and its surroundings have undergone many changes in the latter half of the twentieth century. Seddon is critical of some of the changes, claiming that the present street pattern is bewildering and that ‘early planning was forgotten and obscured excessively from 1882 to the present’. He also regrets the loss of public space in the square by the siting of the Town Hall and its later extensive additions.

The Church of England built the original St John’s Church in the middle of the square in 1843; the site is marked by special paving. In 1876 the church decided to demolish the original St John’s and build a new one, and offered part of its site for use an extension of High Street through the square. The money obtained from the sale would be used to build the new church on the northern part of the site. The transfer of title became effective in 1882; the council then owned a triangular site bounded by High, William and Newman Streets. Newman Street, later closed, ran across the present frontage of the Myer and Queensgate buildings. By then there had been moves on the council to build a Town Hall, a site in South Terrace being considered, but Kings Square was chosen. The Square was renamed St John’s Square in 1986, but council decided to revert to its original name in the 1990s.

Fremantle is the only town or city in the state to have a formal city square. It is unfortunate that some of the South Terrace development did not take place closer to it, when it might have become as lively as city squares in most European cities. One innovation, to encourage the development of a livelier square, is the Fremantle Village Market, begun in 2004. It operates on Thursday afternoons from midday to 7pm.

town hall

The Town Hall

Architect: Grainger and d’Ebro (Melbourne), Considine and Griffiths (1980s restoration). Builder: Edward Keane

At first, the council decided to build only the auditorium, supper room, kitchen and vestibule. Surprisingly, a ratepayers’ meeting urged the council to proceed with the entire building. The Town Hall was opened on 22 June 1887 to coincide with the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

The architects, Considine and Griffiths, consultants for restoration work during the lead-up to the America's Cup, describe the building thus:

The overall treatment to the elevation is a confident Victorian free style interpretation of classical architecture ... [the facades] employ a multiplicity of classical elements including pediments, a rusticated ground floor, Corinthian pilasters, pedimented windows, string courses, heavily moulded architraves and bas relief decoration — all rendered to appear stone ... at the roof level ‘classicism’ gives way to an exuberant array of towers not encountered in classical architecture

The rest of the site was occupied by shops and commercial premises. This section of High Street was closed in the 1960s. The commercial buildings on the High and William Street frontages were demolished to make way for the new Administration Building and Exhibition Hall, designed by Hobbs, Winning and Leighton, and opened in 1966. A fountain was erected at the corner of Adelaide and William Streets in 1967 but was removed in 1984, possibly because strong winds blew the spray across the street or square.

Considine and Griffiths commented that at the time of the design of the new buildings, contextual planning was frowned upon by architects and the new architecture was to have been sufficiently excellent to stand apart and to make its own visual statement with little recognition given to the immediate environment. In contrast to the Town Hall which reinforced the street pattern, the new plan ignores the pattern to begin afresh.

The ground floor was extended in 1973 and now houses the City Library. Since then all the original buildings on the site surrounded by Newman, William, Henderson and Queen Streets have been demolished to make way for the Myer and Queensgate buildings, and the multistorey car park.

The renovations leading up to the defence of the America’s Cup were funded by the commonwealth government. The work was conceived, designed and executed by the then Director of Planning and Development, Jeremy Dawkins, and the City Architect, Agnieshka Kiera, in consultation with Considine and Griffiths. The previously open, and unusable, courtyard became a foyer, gallery, meeting area and function place by the construction of a glass roof. During renovations of the main hall paint scrapes revealed, under later paint, elaborate decorations in strong colours. New stencils were cut and colours painstakingly matched by a team of craftsmen. The stage was levelled and enlarged and the original, wider proscenium arch was reinstated.

[In 2018, the 1966 admin building, including the library, has been demolished in preparation for the construction of a new one.]st johns

St John's Church

Architect: Prof. William Smith. Building supervisor: W H Vincent

Church of England services were first conducted by the Colonial Chaplain, John Wittenoom, apparently in the first courthouse on Arthur Head. Wittenoom's visits stopped when the community refused to pay his travelling expenses. No Church of England services were held in Fremantle for the next seven years, but following requests from the Church of England community for a clergyman, the Reverend George King, an Irishman, was appointed; he arrived in 1841, and set about raising funds for a church. The chosen site was between the present church and the Town Hall; it is marked by special paving slabs. The church was completed in 1845. Its conservative Victorian Gothic style did not please the senior Church of England minister, Reverend Archdeacon John Wollaston, who wrote,

The new Church, or rather Chapel, at Fremantle is a substantial stone building, with a tower and dome mounted by a cross. The style, I suppose, must be called Western Australian. However, it is a House of God and thank God for it. The interior is handsome, the seats admirably arranged and all of one height, i.e., half pews, but the great elevated pulpit at the back of the altar is, to my mind, very offensive.

In the same year, Mrs Edward Millet was also dismissive:

Although the situation of the building is good it cannot lay claim to much beauty either external or within; it is of a fair size and sufficiently commodious in its arrangements, but that is all that can he said for it.

After three decades the community required a larger church, and in 1876 the Building Committee asked a London architect, William Smith — who held the chair of architecture at London University — to prepare a design. His plans needed modification to suit local conditions. The church was consecrated in July 1882, three and a half years after the laying of the foundation stone. It has a cruciform plan and is in Early English Decorated style. Limestone came from the government quarry in Cantonment Street. The roof structure is of jarrah, as is the flooring, except for tiled areas in the nave, entry and aisle.

The space around the church was enclosed with an iron fence. At that time the Moreton Bay fig trees were planted and the area became known as St John’s Reserve.

The bell turret was added in 1906-07, completing the original design. Some of the coloured glass windows came from the earlier church. In 1908 eight stained-glass windows, made by Barnett Bros., were installed. In 1922 a larger vestry was added; a tribute to those who served in World War I.

Yorkshire flagstones are in the section of paving in front of the entrance.


There are several memorials in the Square and the Fremantle Sportspersons Wall of Fame, which is actually a series slabs in the paving towards the Myer end of the square. [In 2018, all of that paving has been removed as part of the rebuilding of the City's administration building.]


Porcelli Statue

Sculptor: Greg James

Fremantle has several sculptures by the state’s first sculptor, Pietro Porcelli. It is not known if he was born in Australia, but in 1880, when he was eight years old, he was in Sydney with his Italian father, a seaman. He studied art at the New South Wales Academy of Art and at the Royal Academy of Naples, from which he graduated at the age of twenty-five with two gold and three silver medals for his student works. He returned to Sydney after graduation, but that city was hit by a depression and he moved, with his father, to Western Australia in the 1890s. They settled in Fremantle in 1898, and between then and 1929 he completed a number of commissions for memorial statues, religious statuary and war memorials in metropolitan and country centres. Opportunities for work declined, so he moved to Melbourne in 1929, where he carved twelve panels for the Inner Shrine of the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance. He returned to Perth in 1939, but lived in straitened circumstances until his death on 28 June 1943.

His works in Fremantle are: Reredos panel of ‘The Last Supper’ (plaster, 1899) now in Christian Brothers’ College Chapel; the Marmion Memorial (1900); the statue of C Y O’Connor (1907); a relief head of Christ on the Parry Street frontage of St Patrick’s Basilica; the Panter, Goldwyer and Harding Memorial on the Esplanade; the Tom Edwards’ Memorial Fountain (1919) and part of work on the Fremantle War Memorial (1927-28).

This sculpture is so lively people often stand in Front of it as though they were talking to it and occasionally children have been seen sitting on the figure’s shoulders, caressing its forehead.


Hughie Edwards Statue

Sculptor: Andrew Kay

Hughie Idwal Edwards was the most decorated member of the Royal Air Force in World War II. He was born in White Gum Valley in 1914 and attended the primary school there. He left school at fourteen to help support his family and obtained work in a shipping firm, but was retrenched during the Depression. He was a skilled sportsman and played grade cricket for Fremantle and Australian Rules football with South Fremantle. He enlisted in the army when he was eighteen, but transferred to the RAAF and, after training, was offered a short service commission in the RAF and left for England in 1936. He suffered serious injury when he hit the ground heavily after bailing out of an out-of-control aircraft. He probably would have been invalided out of the RAF if World War II had not broken out in 1939. In many bombing operations he displayed excellent leadership and considerable bravery. He was the first airman in World War II to be awarded the VC, DSO and DPC. He left the RAF in 1963 to Work in the mining industry. In 1974, he became Governor of Western Australia. He died in 1982. The sculpture shows him as a young pilot.

Tom Edwards Memorial

Sculptor: Pietro Porcelli

The story of Bloody Sunday has been told in the ‘Brief History of the Port’ (see p.56). This memorial was originally placed in front of the old Trades Hall. When that building was sold by the union movement, the memorial was moved to this location in the early 1980s.

John Curtin Memorial

Sculptors: Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith

John Curtin (1885-1945) was Prime Minister of Australia for four years (1941-45) during World War II. Sadly, partly due to the strains of the heavy load of leading a country threatened by invasion, he died prematurely in July 1945, before the surrender of Japan. He was born in Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne, the eldest son of Irish-born parents. His parents moved frequently and Curtin’s education was curtailed. He married in 1917 and moved to Western Australia to start afresh as editor of the Australian Workers Union’s weekly newspaper, the Westralian Worker. He remained in this position until his election as Federal Member for Fremantle in 1928, as a member of the Australian Labor Party. He had a difficult term during the Scullin governments period 1928-32, which included the onset of the Depression. He lost his seat in 1931 but regained it three years later. His strong allegiance to Labor’s principles led him to refuse Robert Menzies’ invitation to join an all-party government after the outbreak of World War II. Labor made major gains in the 1940 election and, in October 1941, after the defection of two independents from the Fadden ministry, Labor took office with Curtin as prime minister. He is well remembered for his pronouncement, when the Japanese were advancing towards Australia with little check, ‘Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.’ He and the imperious General Douglas McArthur worked together better than might have been expected. He was accused — unfairly given the critical conditions — of betraying Labor principles when he advocated conscription and also suffered criticism for the way in which controls over the economy and workforce were introduced to maximise the war effort. However, even while the nation was under threat of invasion, he began planning for postwar reconstruction and postwar federal governments have been able to build on his economic and taxation reforms.

The statue was erected in 2005 on the north side of the Town Hall.

Chess Table and seating

Artist: Coral Lowry

Large chess pieces can be obtained from the Town Hall for a game in the square.

Bush Animals

Sculptor: Joan Walsh Smith

When Kings Square was upgraded with America’s Cup Defence funds, a series of drinking fountains were installed on some of the low limestone walls. Schoolchildren of Fremantle were asked what they would like to see on the fountains. and the most common response was ‘bush animals’. The small bronze sculptures remain. However, seagulls gathering at the fountains became a pest and the fountains were disconnected.

>> Another of J J Talbot Hobbs’s heritage building is a short way down Queen Street from Kings Square.


victoria hall

Victoria Hall

Architect: J J Talbot Hobbs

Near Kings Square at 179 High Street. This is one of the few remaining turn-of-the-nineteenth-century buildings left in this section of the street. It was built by the Anglican Church as a parish hall, a venue for church socials and Sunday school. It has an imposing facade with classical elements. It has strong visual links with St John’s Church in the square. It was sold in the 1950s and for some years was a dance studio. It was bought by the city council in 2001 and conservation and restoration work was under way in 2004-2005. In 2005 it was the headquarters of the Deckchair Theatre. [In 2018, Deckchair Theatre has been wound up, and the future of the Victoria Hall is uncertain.]

Garry Gillard | New: 10 January, 2019 | Now: 14 November, 2019