Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Nick

Fremantle Prison entrance
(Fremantle Prison entrance)

Did a tour of Freo Prison while I was in Freo last week. It closed as a prison in 1991 and opened again in 1992 for tours and stuff.

It was used as a nick for nearly 140 years. Convicts built it in 1850s. It was a limestone hill. They had to quarry the limestone by hand then build their own prison out of it. Talk about yer cruel and unusual punishment.

However, this limestone was pretty soft as rock goes, as Moondyne Joe demonstrated in one of his escapes.

Moondyne Joe
(Only known photo)

Moondyne Joe was a bushranger. He was born in Wales about 1827, transported in 1853 and carked it in 1900. He stole horses and chooks then gained greater fame as an amateur escapologist.

He escaped 4 times from Toodyay nick (pron. Too-jay) then got transferred to Freo and bunged in a cell made specially for him. We looked in it on the tour. Lined with jarrah (very hard Australian wood) and a jarrah door and all of it with iron studs driven in every few inches. Get out of that you scoundrel, said the Governor (words to that effect anyways), and I'll pardon you.

Righto! says Moonie and starts planning escape number 5. Then the Guv goes and helps him by setting him to breaking rocks up in the corner near Fothergill Street with a warder watching him.

Thing is, the rocks he breaks aren't taken away every night. Fresh ones are brought every morning and he's made to stand in the same place every day, on the pile of rocks he's reduced to rubble. This goes on for a bit and the pile of rubble gets higher and higher and eventually all the warder can see of Moonie is his hat. But he can hear him whacking away at the rocks and that's enough to know he's still there.

Fremantle Prison wall The Terrace nr

Thing about that is, the rocks he's breaking up are the same rocks the wall is made of. You know where this is going right? Yep, Moonie starts whacking the wall between whacks of the rocks. The wall's a few feet thick but Moonie's got arms like a fucking blacksmith after a few months of whacking rocks and he covers the hole up at night and starts on it again every morning.

So the inevitable happens one day. The whacking stops. After a bit of grumbling the warder clambers up the pile of rubble and there's Moonie's hat perched on the end of the sledgehammer, a hole in the wall and Moonie's buggered off.

He was out for two years that time but eventually got nicked again breaking into a wine cellar. Of course he said to the Guv, you can't hold me you bastard, you said I'd be pardoned if I got out of that bloody cell. Yeah but, says the Guv, you didn't get out of that bloody cell, did yer? You got out through the bloody wall so it doesn't count! Sucks to be you, huh?

No more escapes this time. He sat there like a good boy until they let him out in 1871. Then he went straight, worked as a carpenter and got hitched. But there was no happy ending for Moonie. His missus died in 1893 and he went into the poorhouse (home for the destitute) then off to Freo Asylum just up the road from the nick. He popped off in there in on August the 13th 1900.

Moondyne Joe at the Australian Biographical Dictionary (Straylyan version of Who's Who)

Freo Prison's website

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