Fremantle Stuff > Fremantle Walks > Walk 9

Walk 9: Memorial Park, Monument Hill

From Fremantle Walks by David Hutchison, 2006, pp. 189-194. (See also facsimile version.)

walk9mapMonument Hill, in High Street west of the city, is the highest point in the city. It is an 'A' Class, heritage-listed reserve of 4.45 hectares. From it there are extensive views of the city and over the sea towards the islands — Rottnest, Carnac, the Stragglers and Garden — as well as northwards and southwards along the coast and inland towards Perth, several of whose tall buildings are on the eastern horizon. It has been a popular lookout since the earliest days of European settlement. In the mid-nineteenth century an obelisk was erected on the summit as a trig point for surveyors and navigators. At this time it was known as Obelisk Hill.

George Seddon (2000) provides a detailed walking guide to the precinct north of Memorial Hill. The precinct is a microcosm of Fremantle domestic architectural styles from the 1890s until recent times. Only three buildings will be described here.


Fallen Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Memorial

Architects: Allen and Nicholas. Sculptor: Pietro Porcelli

In 1919, J W Bateman, with other prominent citizens, initiated a movement to erect a suitable memorial to the city's fallen servicemen and women. The Town Council supported the proposal warmly, and it was suggested that the obelisk on Monument Hill should be replaced by a suitable memorial and the whole area beautified. Fund-raising was slow and the memorial was not commissioned until 1927. On Anzac Day 1928 the governor, Sir William Campion, dedicated the tablet on the memorial, then in the course of construction. The lieutenant governor, Sir Robert McMillan, unveiled the completed memorial on Armistice Day of the same year.

During the 1950s Depression workers on sustenance laid out the lawns and flowerbeds on Monument Hill, transforming the former limestone waste into a pleasant park.

Since World War II other memorials have been placed around the main memorial and plaques have been paced on pillars around it to commemorate Australian and Allied seamen and submariners, Australian airmen, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women, and those who served in the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

Former Fremantle Grammar School

The small church-like building opposite the Memorial in High Street was formerly a school. Henry Briggs opened the Fremantle Grammar School at a site lower down in High Street in 1882. He resigned in 1886 and established a new boys’ school in this building. As a consequence the original Fremantle Grammar School closed and Briggs took it over, transferring the name to this building. The school operated until 1909, when it was purchased by the Church of England and used as a girls’ school until the 1940s. It was also used, later, as a Church of the Latter Day Saints. In 2005 it was vacant. [In 2018 it is a residence. The owner removed the bell-housing from the roof, the bell having been removed earlier. He was fined, but has not restored the structure. The land around the former school has been subdivided and more residences erected.]

It is another example of Gothic Revival architecture in Fremantle. The main hall of the school is at the front; it has buttresses and typical Gothic windows. A pair of arches on the street front is surmounted by a crest of overlapping shields bearing a lion and a swan. The wing to the rear was residential.


No. 186 High Street at the corner with Ord Street. This was built with convict labour as a residence for the chief warden of Fremantle Prison. Henry Blinco. It is described by Seddon (2000) as 'Colonial Regency' in style. Its name derives from that of its second owner, Lena Blacher, who owned it from 1909 to 1938. Subsequently, it was a hospital, a rooming house, a family home and a Migrant Resource Centre, before reverting to private ownership. [It was the home of George Seddon until his death in 2007.]

samson house

Samson House

Architect. J J Talbot Hobbs

On the corner of Ord and Ellen Streets. This house was built for Michael Samson, eldest son of Lionel and Fanny Samson. Michael was elected Mayor of Fremantle in 1905 but died just two years later. The house was built in two stages: 1888-89 and 1899-1900, when the Italianate turret was added. It was built of limestone quarried on the site and has brick dressings and ogee-style veranda, which is painted in broad red and white stripes. Its elaborate style reflects the boom times of the gold rushes and it is believe to have been a trendsetter in the design of houses for affluent Fremantle families. Michael's widow, Mary, and his children remained in the house. Mary died in 1910 and her two daughters married. Her son William Frederick stayed in the house until about 1926, when he went to live with relatives. The house was used as a boarding house for two years until he moved back in 1928 and, in 1935, married Daphne Marks. He served on Fremantle City Council for thirty-seven years, including a record twenty-one year term as mayor (1951-72). He was knighted for his services. His wife died in 1955 and his recently widowed sister, Mrs Rita Laurie, moved back to share the house with him. Sir Frederick died in 1974; he had willed the house to the Trustees of the Western Australian Museum with the proviso that his sister remain in occupation. She died in 1982 and the house came into the possession of the museum. Under its supervision, the Building Management Authority restored the house conserving elements, such as Sir Frederick’s little ‘cinema’ on an enclosed veranda, as evidence of the periods of construction and the lives of each generation. Other buildings on the site include a cottage and stables. Guided tours are available; enquire at the Fremantle History Museum.


Fremantle Arts Centre and History Museum

Architects: Capt. E Y W Henderson (1850s), George Temple Poole (1890s), Robin McK Campbell (1960s). Builders: Imperial Convict Establishment

No. 1 Finnerty Street. The northern end of this building was built by convict labour in the 1950s as a lunatic asylum. Its restoration, from 1967, under the direction of Robin McK Campbell, was the first substantial restoration of a large heritage building in Western Australia, and stimulated the Fremantle community to take an increased interest in the conservation of the city’s heritage.

As early as 1855 the Superintendent of the Convict Establishment, Thomas Dixon, pressed for an asylum. There were already thirty-two ‘lunatics’ — the common term then — housed in a temporary and unsatisfactory asylum in Daniel Scott’s warehouse. Half of them were ‘Imperial Lunatics’ and half were ‘Colonial Lunatics’. The comptroller-general of the Convict Establishment, recently promoted, Colonel E Y W Henderson, was temporarily in England and was instructed to ‘make himself master of such useful information on the subject [of asylum design] as can be collected in this country’. Soon after he returned he chose this site and prepared plans. Convict labour was used for construction and limestone was probably quarried at a site nearby, now a sporting oval.

The design of the building is eclectic. It has elements of Gothic Revival, Jacobean and Georgian styles and incorporates Dutch gables. It is possible that Henderson may have seen Dutch gables in Cape Town, where he would have stopped on his voyage. Building began in 1861 but was not finished until 1865. Surgeon Superintendent Attfield was pleased with it. He liked its

... spacious and lofty, well lighted and ventilated wards ... the good view of the sea, and the two spacious enclosures ... one chiefly meant as a garden ... laid out with fruit trees, vines, flowers and shrubs, the other containing a tolerably fair cricket ground and a very good fives court.

In modern times, Ord Street was extended to James Street, cutting off the garden and sports areas from the building. This area is now occupied by swimming pools. In 1886 the asylum was transferred to colonial control. The south wing, designed by the Colonial Architect, George Temple Poole, was begun in 1897. Poole’s design is simpler but sympathetic. The building is sited strategically at one of the entry points to the city. It is particularly attractive when lit by late afternoon sunlight. By 1900, with improvements in the treatment of mental disorders, the building was adjudged unsuitable and a new asylum was built in Claremont. Patients were gradually transferred from 1903, and the Fremantle Asylum closed in 1909. After a few years of neglect, it was converted for use as a ‘temporary’ Home for Women. However, it continued in that use until 1942 when the building was ‘converted rather brutally to serve as the wartime headquarters of the American Forces stationed in Fremantle’. After World War II some rooms were used as an annex to Fremantle Technical School. The building was scheduled for demolition in 1957.

The Mayor of Fremantle, Sir Frederick Samson, called a meeting of interested citizens in 1958, and the meeting resolved that the state government and the City of Fremantle should be asked to collaborate in restoring the building for use as a History Museum and Arts Centre. The Western Australian Museum, The Royal Western Australian Historical Society and the National Trust supported the idea. In 1963 the Earl of Euston, then Chairman of the National Trust of Great Britain, said to Sir Frederick, after inspecting the building, ‘Don’t you let them demolish this building  it is the best example of Australian Gothic in Australia today.’

Fremantle City Council continued to press the idea and approached the government again in 1964 for financial support on the basis that part of the building be made available to the establishment of a branch of the Western Australian Museum. Finally, in June 1965, government assistance was assured.

When the Fremantle History Museum opened in October 1970, it was the first state social history museum in Australia. Two years later the Arts Centre was opened. It includes an Art Gallery, offices for various arts officers and artists’ studios. It provides courses in arts and crafts. Music recitals are offered, especially in summer months, in the courtyard between the two sections of the building. [In 2018 the Fremantle Museum has ceased to exist.]

Garry Gillard | New: 11 January, 2019 | Now: 14 November, 2019