Over almost a century from 1838-1931, around 4,000 men and boys were incarcerated on Rottnest Island from all over the former colony and, after Federation, the State of Western Australia.
There is no symbol that better represents this period than the formidable Quod building. ‘Quod’ is an English slang term, originating in the eighteenth century, meaning a prison.
Built in 1864 with the labour of Aboriginal prisoners, the Quod was the second prison to be built on Rottnest Island. The first prison, sited in the vicinity of eastern side of the Settlement Mall, was destroyed by fire in 1856. The Quod served as prison accommodation until the prison’s formal closure in 1904.
The design of the Quod closely resembles the Round House in Fremantle (the first prison constructed in Western Australia). The building is octagonal in plan and originally had a well in the centre of the yard. All cells, apparently capable of housing up to 200 prisoners, faced a central yard. The building’s original roofs were flat and covered in lime plaster, but these were replaced with pitched shingle roofs in the 1870s. The only entrance to the Quod during the prison years was on the eastern side. The rooms on either side of the gateway, housed the Superintendent’s office and accommodation for the wardens.
Conditions in the Quod were deplorable, with cells no larger than 2.5x1.6 metres occupied by up to seven prisoners at maximum capacity. The men slept on the dirt floor, with only a thin blanket to keep them warm. The cells had no furniture, fireplace or windows.
In these conditions disease spread easily and claimed the lives of many prisoners.
Conversion for commercial accommodation
At the closure of the prison, Rottnest Island quickly became a favoured destination for recreation. The Quod was converted into a State Hostel for accommodation, and was later further adapted for use as commercial accommodation, forming part of the Rottnest Lodge.
These adaptations have long obscured the building’s prison origins and the impact of the prison history on the Aboriginal community.
Guidance on future plans
The Quod and some associated structures return to RIA management and control on 31 May 2018, at the conclusion of a commercial lease for visitor accommodation.
In 2017, the Wadjemup Aboriginal Reference Group, comprising Aboriginal community members including Whadjuk traditional owners, was appointed by the Rottnest Island Authority to advise on future plans for the Quod and the Aboriginal Burial Ground (which is located adjacent to the Quod).
The appointment of members to the WARG was made through an expression of interest process.
What has happened to date?
RIA is leading efforts to engage with the WA Aboriginal community to determine how the Quod and associated sites are recognised and conserved.
RIA acknowledges consultation on an appropriate future for the Quod and Burial Ground is expected to take the better part of a year.
Where to next?
A commemorative action to mark lease-end on the Quod is being determined through consultation with the WA Aboriginal community and is likely to involve the input of representatives from many regions of Western Australia.
The event will offer a landmark moment of reflection and provide momentum to the ongoing conversation about an appropriate future use for the Quod.
Updates on the project will be published on this web page as the consultation process progresses.
To read about the Island’s prison history in detail, refer to the ‘Aboriginal’ link on the ‘Our history’ page of the Rottnest Island website.