Warders’ Cottages

July 15, 2020

Address: Henderson St, Fremantle
Architect: Capt. Edmund Henderson
Style: Colonial
Type: Government
Year: 1851
Author: Phil Griffiths & Carmel Given
Heritage Listing: State Heritage List 24674

When the first convicts arrived in the Swan River Colony in June 1850, there was no existing infrastructure to accommodate the convicts and their guards. The dispatch to advise the Colonial Government of the convicts’ voyage arrived after the convicts did. Temporary accommodation to house the convicts was found in existing premises in Fremantle. 

Captain Henderson, Royal Engineer and Comptroller General of Convicts, and James Manning, the Clerk of Works, arrived in the colony with the first contingent of convicts. The initial priorities were to provide facilities for the convicts, and plans were made for the construction of convict accommodation and associated buildings.

One of the requirements was accommodation for the warders and their families. In a climate of demand rental costs for properties in Fremantle were exorbitant. As the provision of quarters was a condition of employment, the construction of accommodation for the warders became pressing.

The location of the Cottages was chosen because of its proximity to the Prison. In August 1851, Henderson submitted three types of designs showing accommodation for fifty-six warders. 

Henderson ordered work to commence before waiting for a response from England. The buildings’ constructed differed in detail from the design types submitted; however, the design and the actual construction were based on contemporary English workers’ housing. Terrace housing was appropriate for England and other colonies where space was restricted. Despite having large amounts of available land in the Swan River Colony, the concept of the terrace house was used for the Warders’ Cottages.

Each terrace provided accommodation for twelve families with two families in each house. All three terraces were constructed using convict labour with stone quarried from the same site as that used for the prison. A tramway was used to bring the stone down the hill from a quarry near the prison.

In November 1851, Governor Fitzgerald proclaimed the First Terrace, 19-29 Henderson Street (1851) to be ‘a very handsome approach to the principal Gateway of the future permanent Depot’. The warders and their families were not as complimentary about the facilities. A lack of privacy arising from shared facilities and an absence of fireplaces in the first-floor rooms led to many complaints about the accommodation.

By 1866, the numbers of convicts and warders were declining. Quarters meant to house thirty-two families had only seventeen families in residence. The instructing warders’ cottages (no longer extant) were built for six families but housed only four. It appears that other public service officers, such as the water police and the ordinary constabulary, occupied some of the surplus cottages around this time.

In 1896, the Fremantle Council resumed the portion of land on which the semi-detached cottages for instructing warders were constructed. 

Prison Warders were obliged to live in the accommodation provided by the Department of Prisons as part of their conditions of employment. In 1932, possibly motivated by the poor standard of accommodation, a request was made to enable officers who had served for ten years the option to leave the quarters. The request was refused and it was not until 1941 that the Department of Prisons decided they did not wish ‘to compel officers to reside there’.

By the late 1980s, the majority of warders had vacated Warders’ Cottages and a number of the cottages were vacant for a few years. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991 and around this time Homeswest tenants began moving into the Cottages.

In 2001, Homeswest leased the buildings out for residential purposes and by 2011 the cottages were vacant as the government planned for their disposal. In 2016 ownership was transferred to the Heritage Council and basic conservation works were completed prior to all the Warders’ Cottages being offered for sale. W1 was acquired by W1 Hospitality Pty Ltd and a development approval was issued in 2018 to refurbish and adapt W1 to accommodate a boutique hotel with 11 accommodation units and a café/reception area, and for a newly constructed restaurant and garden bar in the rear yard.

Research by Carmel Given, edits and updates by Phil Griffiths