Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (School of Arts and Sciences)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Doctor Leigh Straw

Second Supervisor

Doctor Shane Burke


The history of crime and punishment is intertwined with Australia’s colonisation, including the foundation of the Swan River Colony in 1829. It can be demonstrated that Jeremy Bentham’s writings on criminal reform, specifically through his work on the panopticon model prison, influenced the development of punishment and prisons in the colony. This is evident in the construction of Fremantle Gaol (1831), which was built on the principles set forth by the panopticon and provides an interesting insight into what was deemed important in the penal system the colony continued to establish between 1831 and 1841. While Fremantle Gaol conformed to the core principles of the panopticon, it cannot be argued to be a true representation of the model; instead, it was adapted to suit the colony’s needs. This thesis explores the panoptic infrastructure of Fremantle Gaol by examining how its location, architecture and utilisation mirror Bentham’s scheme. From this, its operations and the punishments inflicted can be analysed, while also highlighting how the model was modified for colonial requirements. An understanding of prisoners’ reactions to punishment is ascertained by exploring escape attempts as well as correspondence sent by and on behalf of prisoners. This study utilised a methodology comprising historical analysis and hermeneutics, with a theoretical underpinning based on the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault and his concept of power. This study contributes to the expanding literature on panopticon-inspired institutions by interpreting Fremantle Gaol as a colonial adaptation of the model. It further contributes to the knowledge surrounding the gaol’s operations and prisoner experience, which is underdeveloped in the literature on the Swan River Colony.