Overview : Rottnest Island lies off the Western Australian coast, 19 kilometres from Fremantle. The Aboriginal name for Rottnest Island is... more »
Rottnest Island lies off the Western Australian coast, 19 kilometres from Fremantle. The Aboriginal name for Rottnest Island is... more » Wadjemup and is located in Noongar Country. It has always played an important part in Aboriginal culture and spirituality.
European settlement took place on the Island after the establishment of the Swan River Colony in 1829. In 1830 a townsite was proposed and town lots were offered to the public in the area now known as the Thomson Bay Settlement.
This historical walk starts at the Museum building, which was originally built as the Old Mill and Hay Store. The tour will explore the colonial buildings and landscape of the Thomson Bay Settlement. less «
Tips: Visit the Museum and the Salt Store for information on other tours available on Rottnest Island.
Since the beginning of time it has been an important part of Aboriginal culture and spirituality, formed by the Wagyl - created by the Rainbow Serpent in the Nyitting Nyitting and protected by Yrprinri (Caterpillar) Dreaming.
Following European settlement, Rottnest Island was declared "an Aboriginal Establishment" in the Government Gazette of... More 1839. For close to a century (1838 to 1931) it served as a prison to nearly 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys from all over WA. The men were judged according to Euorpean Law with many of the offences committed directly related to a clash of cultures, including a lack of understanding of how each other lived.
Around 370 Aboriginal men died and were buried in unmarked graves. The majority of deaths resulted from influenza which swept through the prison, thought to be exacerbated by overcrowding.
Aboriginal prisoners built the vast majority of buildings constructed on the Island in the 19th Century. The prison officially closed in 1904 but the Island continued to act as an annex of Fremantle Gaol until 1931.
The Rottnest Island Authority recognises the cultural significance and sad history that the Island holds for Aboriginal people, and it's position of responsibility to ensure the Island is managed well, with a focus on spiritual healing and reconciliation.
For further information, Rottnest Island Authority will be releasing a publication shortly "A Guide to Aboriginal History on Wadjemup".Less
Rottnest Island was surveyed in 1830. A townsite, to be known as Kingstown, was proposed and town lots were offered. The Bay is named after Robert Thomson, who moved to Rottnest Island in 1831, becoming a major landholder, acquiring land for the purpose of farming and salt collection.
In 1839 the Crown resumed all land for the establishment of... More an Aboriginal Prison, compensating settlers (including Thomson) with land on the mainland.
In 1848 Governor Fitzgerald expressed an interest in having a holiday residence on the Island, however access for the general public was limited by the need for permits.
In 1902, permission was granted for ferries to bring excursionists to Rottnest Island on Sundays. A jetty was built and horse-drawn trams carried passengers at sixpence a head to their destination. In 1907 the Governor, Admiral Sir F. G. Bedford proposed the Island should be declared a "Public park and recreation ground forever'. The first official tourist season was in 1911.Less
In the 1840s, when a number of the buildings in this guide were constructed, Perth and Fremantle had been settled for less than 20 years. Before the introduction of convicts in 1850 sourcing and transporting building materials and skilled tradesmen was a challenge so the Island's natural resources where used wherever possible.
Limestone was... More quarried on the Island and used extensively, including building walls but also floors and roofs paved or covered with flat slabs of limestone. Shells were burnt for lime (a key ingredient for mortar, render, plaster and limewash), with driftwood and the Melaleuca trees used to thatch roofs.
The buildings have been compared to the Georgian style, which can be seen in the simplicity of their plans, the sparseness of decoration and the proportions of openings. However, the style is also a response to limited materials, builders and skills. Architectural solutions evolved through trial and error.Less
This building, along with the General Store (originally a hay store), is part of the complex of farm buildings associated with the Aboriginal Prison Establishment that were built to replace the original 1840s farm structures destroyed by a fire in 1856. The agricultural aspect of the Prison was significant. Several hundred acres of crops of wheat,... More oats, hay, barley, and rye were grown on the slopes of Mt Herschell and cultivated by the prisoners.
The building was adapted for use as quarters for staff working at the Lodge and a Rottnest Literary Institute and Club was also established in the building. The building has also accommodated a billiard room and a barber and a laundry in the backyard.
In 1979 it was conserved and adapted for use as the Rottnest Island Museum. Open daily 11am to 3.30pm and entry is by gold coin donation.Less
The Boys Reformatory was designed by the Public Works Department and built by 1881 through a contract with John Watson who became the first and only Superintendent of the Reformatory.
Prior to the establishment of the institution on Rottnest Island, juvenile prisoners had been incarcerated with adults in the Perth Gaol. The reformatory was not... More only designed to seperate the juveniles from the bad influence of adult offenders, but it was also intended to teach them a trade. The boys were engaged in carpentry and building repairs and were kept busy in the gardens around Garden Lake.
Boys from the age of 8-16 years were admitted to the reformatory for such offences as stealing pigeons, stealing cakes, assault on another boy, or being "a rogue and a vagabond".
As an indication, there were 17 boys in the Reformatory in 1897, aged between 11 and 17. The institution closed in 1901.
In 1909, the building was converted for use as an “Accommodation House” for the Hostel and the dormitories were divided into smaller bedrooms.
The size of the building increased significantly with the construction of 12 further bedrooms on the eastern side of the building in 1984.
Also known as the Lodge, Accommodation House, Hostel.Less
This building was originally built as a school, but it also assumed other uses as a social focal point for the Island’s community. Evidence from the late 1880s describes it as being used as a school during the week and a chapel on Sundays.
It is also described as the venue for tea dances and meetings of the Rottnest Island Institute. Following... More the closure of the Aboriginal Prison in 1904, chapel services ceased but the building’s use as a school until 1910 and community hall continued. Work commenced on converting the building back into a chapel in 1963 and it was dedicated by the Anglican Archbishop of Perth in 1965.Less
After the fire of 1856, the replacement prison, referred to as the Quod, was not built until 1863-64. (The term 'quod' is English slang for prison). The only entrance into the Quod was on the eastern side. The rooms on either side of the gateway, which face eastwards, housed the Superintendent’s office and provided accommodation for the Warders.
... MoreThe windows and doors were made by the convict establishment in Fremantle and shipped to Rottnest Island.
An influenze epidemic in 1883 led the Colonial Surgeon to report that there had been 170 prisoners in the Quod and that the building should accommodate no more than 106. Superintendent Jackson reported that in general, there were four prisoners in each six-by-ten foot cell.
Following the closure of the Aboriginal Prison establishment in 1904, the building underwent extensive alterations in 1911 to make it suitable for holiday accommodation. Further alterations to improve the standard of accommodation were made in 1986, but the original building form is still clearly evident.
Also known as Aboriginal Prison.Less
This building was specifically built for Fremantle prisoner John Benedict Lomas at the direction of the Colonial Secretary.
Lomas had suffered a mental breakdown and was in his sixties when he was released from Fremantle Prison. He attracted the sympathy of government officials when he could not find suitable employment and uncommon provisions... More were made for his well being, including rations of food, clothing and rum, and the construction of this residence.
After Lomas’ death, a Prison Warder named Buckingham lived in the house, hence the other name of 'Buckingham Palace'. Subsequent uses included storage for signalling equipment, a telephone exchange and Anglican rectory.
Visit the cottage for an interpretive display that tells his intriguing story, together with the Angelo Collection showcasing significant portraits from the prison era. Open daily from 11am to 12:30pm and entry is by donation.Less
Originally this building was a simple one roomed cottage, with a large fireplace at the northern end, a split beam truss roof and timber floor. It was re-roofed with shingles in c. 1876.
The front verandah was constructed in 1907 and two more bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom were added to the rear of the house (framed and clad in timber)at... More approximately the same time.
Timber was used on occassion to construct simple v-shaped gutters and downpipes on some of the buildings. Timber spouts, which shed water from roofs can still be seen here and at the Salt Store.
Also known as Cottage M, Unit 332.Less
The responsibilities of the pilot service, which was first established on Rottnest Island in 1848, increased as more ships sailed to the growing Swan River Colony. The pilot crew increased in number and more buildings were required to accommodate them.
This building originally accommodated the Coxswain(assistant Pilot) of the pilot boat and... More consisted of two rooms with a lean-to kitchen. In c.1890, three further rooms and the verandah were added on the south side.
Unlike the other cottages along the sea front, the original verandah and front door of the cottage faced south, towards the Chief Pilot's Cottage.
Also known as Cottage L, Unit 333.
It is believed that Vincent Way is the oldest continuously inhabited streetscape in Australia still used for its original purpose, which is accommodation.Less
The northern half of this building is the oldest section. It began as the first boathouse for the Pilot Service, which was established on Rottnest Island in 1848. Living quarters for the Pilot crew were built above the boathouse later. In the mid 20th century, the building was used by the Rottnest Island Board of Control.
Also known as Board... More Cottage, Unit 301
In 1912, a year after opening as a tourist location, to reduce the glare off white limewash, the decision was made to start painting all of the buildings with Copperas wash. This distinctive ochre colour has since become part of the Rottnest Island identity on heritage buildings. During events like Heritage Week, volunteers assist in painting the Sea Wall in Copperas Wash.Less
This is the second boathouse built on Thomson Bay, the first is below the Board Cottage. The boathouse was constructed with a sentry box on its north side.
A small room was added on the south side of the boathouse some time after 1871 and is referred to as the holding or transit cell and it is thought to have been used to secure prisoners... More temporarily.
The Sea Wall, which runs along a considerable length of the beach was constructed in limestone in several stages from 1842 onwards.
Visit the Pilot Boathouse for a striking display of Rottnest's maritime history, featuring a replica pilot boat and historic photographs. Free entry. Open Daily 2pm to 3pm.Less
In 1847, Francis Armstrong arrived on Rottnest Island as Moral Agent and Storekeeper. He helped to build his own cottage, however in August 1848, the Governor gave orders for the cottage to be used by the newly appointed Pilot, Captain Edward Back, and his crew. Armstrong moved out to quarters in the lighthouse at the centre of the Island and... More resigned from his position four months later.
It was originally constructed with a limestone roof, but this leaked so badly that it became the first roof on the Island to be covered over with a pitched shingle roof in 1855. These timber shingles have been authentically replaced on these units.
When the Rottnest Island Pilot Service closed in 1903, the cottage became the quarters for the Officer-in-Charge of the Signal Station. In 1951, it was adapted and divided for use as two holiday units (K1 and K2).
Also known as Pilot's Cottage, Cottages K1 and K2, Units 334 and 335.Less
Construction began on this house for the Prison Superintendent in 1848 when Governor Fitzgerald expressed interest in residing in the First Superintendent’s House.
Captain James Dempster completed construction and this became his own residence until the prison was reopened in 1856.
The building has also accommodated the Island’s Store Keeper ... More(1898), the Colonial Secretary (1908)and the Officer-in-Charge (World War I and II). It later became the Island Manager’s House.
Also known as Manager's House, Unit 336.Less
This building originally consisted of three rooms and was built to accommodate the Prison Guards. The prison was guarded by less than eight soldiers from the 51st Regiment of the British Army at this time.
Later it was modified for Prison Wardens and their families. The building was again altered and extended to the north in 1898 to provide... More accommodation for the Island’s schoolteacher.
In 1917, the building was divided into 3 flats (“E”, “J” and “H”) and let out to tourists by the newly formed Rottnest Island Board of Control.
Also known as Cottages E, J and H, Units 337, 338 and 339.Less
Built as the residence for the Superintendent of the Rottnest Aboriginal Prison this is one of the oldest and most significant buildings on Rottnest Island.
The Prison was closed in 1904 and in 1913 the building was divided into two cottages and used by government officials. Its current use, as holiday accommodation for the general public, was... More established by the 1930's.
Also known as Cottages F and G, Units 340 and 341.Less
The site of the current shopping mall was the approximate location of the Island’s first prison, built c.1840. These buildings included a two storey prison/workshop building, stables, barns and a piggery. A fire destroyed most of these buildings in 1856, but their location is interpreted through modern paving in the Shopping Mall.
Originally... More built as a hay store, the building was converted for commercial use as part of the Island’s conversion to tourism in the early 20th century.
Also known as General Store, Shopping Mall, Hay Barn.Less
Salt, which crystallises on the beds of the salt lakes when they dry up, had been collected by settlers on the Island since the late 1830s. Salt was brought into the Salt Store through doors on the north side of the building and removed through the eastern doors. A tramway between the Salt Store and the jetty (in the approximate location of the... More current Fuel Jetty) assisted with the transport of the salt. It has also been used as a bank, library, office and museum.
A glass demonstration panel in the floor of the building allows a glimpse of the original limestone floor.
Visit the Salt Store to view photographic and art exhibitions. Free walking tours depart from here daily with the Rottnest Island Voluntary Guides.Less
Governor Fitzgerald first expressed an interest in a summer residence on Rottnest Island in 1848 and temporarily resided in the First Superintendent’s House.
His replacement, Governor Kennedy, authorised the building of a new Government House on the Island.
Richard Roach Jewell designed the residence in Victorian Tudor style in 1858.
Jewell, as... More Superintendent of Public Works and Towns, designed many prominent buildings in Perth, including the Town Hall, Government House, the Pensioners’ Barracks (Old Barracks Arch) and Wesley Church.
The Governor’s Residence was completed in 1864.
An alternative summer residence was found at the Rocks, Albany, in 1913 and the Governor’s Residence was converted to flats in 1919 and rented out as holiday accommodation. A liquor licence allowed it to be opened as a Hotel in 1953.
The building has undergone many alterations and additions over time, but the original plan is still discernible and the crenellations in the parapet walls (feature above roof line, typically seen on fortified medieval castles) were a feature of the original design.
Also known as Government House, Quokka Arms.Less