Skip to main content

Please be advised: this website contains the names, images and voices of people who are now deceased.

Collections WA has a responsibility to preserve and make accessible the history and culture of Western Australia in all its various forms. The intention of Collections WA is to support research, and to reveal actions of the past that have impacted upon communities, families, and individuals.

In doing so, Collections WA acknowledges the need to respond sensitively and appropriately in cases when accessing this material may be confronting to Aboriginal visitors and clients.

Please also note: Some historical materials within this portal may include language or opinions that today are considered inappropriate or even offensive. Collections WA does not endorse this language and apologises for any distress caused.

Continue showing cultural advice
Stop showing cultural advice
CWA Logo Collections WA brings together collections from libraries, galleries, museums, archives, historical societies, cultural organisations, community groups and other collecting organisations across Western Australia.



Large, wooden, framed notice titled 'DIETARY SCALE / FOR FEMALE PRISONERS'. Printed in gold lettering on panel of sheet metal painted matt black and held in wooden frame painted brown. Text reads: DIETARY SCALE/No.1 & 2 DIET/FOR FEMALE PRISONERS/ BREAD/ MEAT/ TEA/ SUGAR/ SALT/ SOAP/ RICE/ VEGETABLES/ OATMEAL'.

Historical information

Used in the Female Division of Fremantle Prison.



Registration number
Item type
380 mm
Height or length
560 mm
Contextual Information

During the initial construction of the Convict Establishment there were no plans to include a female division. This had to change however in 1886, when the site ceased to be for the exclusive use of convicts, and was handed over to the Colonial Government. In 1887 it was recommended to the Colonial Secretary that all prisoners from Perth Gaol be transferred to Fremantle Prison, including the women. The female prisoner population at this time was relatively small, with an average of between 12 to 16 individuals on any given day, most of whom were serving short-term sentences.

The first evidence of a Female Division at Fremantle Prison appears in a document from 1888, which names the hospital building, in the north-east corner of the original convict site, as the location set aside for female prisoners. By 1889 the north-west corner of the site had been walled off from the main Prison and converted into a specific Female Division, including quarters for the matrons. In 1898 a new single storey eastern wing was added to the Female Division, which included an extra 22 cells, day room, hospital, chapel, lying in room, bath and earth closet. Finally in 1909 an upper range of 24 cells was added to the southern half of the east wing, and a new kitchen with lantern roof was added to the west of the original building.

The women’s cells were slightly larger than their male counterpart’s, and fitted with beds, not hammocks. The beds were constructed of timber, with mattresses made from teased coconut fibre. Like the male prisoners, the women also had slop and water buckets in their cells.

Prior to 1892, the Matron was the only warder in the Female Division, and was on call 24 hours a day. An Assistant Matron was appointed in 1892, and in 1896 two assistants were also appointed, perhaps owing to the increase in female prisoner numbers. These female officers were paid half of the male counterpart’s salaries. Some Matrons lived inside the Prison, whilst others lived in cottages just outside the main entrance.

Apart from a period between 1952 and 1966, the female prisoners prepared and cooked their own meals in their own kitchen facilities, which was eventually equipped with a refrigerator and electric stoves. As with many aspects of prison life, the amount and type of food consumed by the inmates was strictly regulated. Dietary scales, such as this one, specified the amount of food individual prisoners received. The scale was based upon the length of the prisoner’s sentence, their gender, ethnicity, and whether or not they were employed in hard labour.  

The female prisoners were employed in two sectors of work during the first two decades after the incorporation of the Female Division at Fremantle Prison. Women serving sentences under six months were engaged in ‘light labour’, such as dusting, cleaning and oakum picking. These prisoners received a ‘number one ration’. The second type of employment was for women with longer sentences, who were engaged in ‘moderate labour’, which included gardening, making and mending clothes, and washing laundry for the male prisoners and warders. These women received ‘number two rations’, which allowed them to have two ounces more of bread, meat and vegetables than the number one ration. In addition to the food provided by this dietary scale, a prisoner in 1911 could earn ‘marks’ in the Prison for good behaviour and use that to purchase privileges, such as eggs, fruit, tobacco and butter.

On 13 March 1970 the Female Division of Fremantle Prison was vacated, and all female prisoners were relocated to the new Bandyup Rehabilitation Centre.

This dietary scale is one of only a few artefacts which has survived from the Female Division at Fremantle Prison.

Primary significance criteria
Historic significance
Artistic or aesthetic significance
Scientific or research significance
Social or spiritual significance
Comparative significance criteria
Interpretive capacity
Object’s condition or completeness
Rare or representative
Well provenanced
Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison

Organisation Details
View Collection
Item Feedback

Scan this QR code to open this page on your phone ->

Full size unavailable (you're already seeing this image in its highest resolution available on Collections WA)