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Continuing support for the Round House Cannon Firing Ceremony

Fremantle Ports is proud to announce continued support for an historic daily ceremony - the 1pm Cannon Firing Ceremony at the Round House, Western Australia’s oldest existing public building.
  • Community
  • Heritage
  • Published 15 Sep 2021
Fremantle Ports' Harbour Master, Captain Savio Fernandes (left) discussing cannon firing technique with Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guide Frank

Fremantle Ports is proud to announce continued support for an historic daily ceremony ‑ the 1pm Cannon Firing Ceremony at the Round House, Western Australia’s oldest existing public building.

The support is part of a partnership between Fremantle Ports and the Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides Association (FVHGA), which provides daily tours and other tourism activities at the Round House.

The continuing partnership was celebrated today (Wednesday 15 September) at the Round House and kicked off with the Cannon Firing Ceremony at 1pm.

Fremantle Ports’ Harbour Master, Captain Savio Fernandes fired the cannon.

Neil Stanbury, of Fremantle Ports, said that supporting local maritime history was very important to Fremantle Ports.

‘Having the opportunity to sponsor the “maroons” for the Round House’s cannon firing is really special and we’re proud to enable this maritime tradition to continue.’

Robyn Littlewood, of Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides Association, said the Cannon Firing Ceremony was a highlight of many international visitor trips to Fremantle.

‘We’d like to thank Fremantle Ports for its sponsorship of the Round House cannon firing ceremony,’ she said.

‘The sponsorship encourages visitors to WA’s oldest building entirely run by volunteers to see the daily firing of the cannon and descent of the time ball and to learn about maritime history.’

‘The maroons cost $12 each which is not an inconsiderable daily expense for the Association which relies on public donations, limited sponsorship and occasional grants.

‘With visitor numbers reduced by two thirds due to the pandemic, the Association more than ever appreciates the generous support of Fremantle Ports.’

Background information on the Round House and the cannon firing

The Round House, the oldest existing public building in Western Australia, opened in January 1831, just 18 months after European settlement. It was built to hold people convicted of a crime and was used until 1886.

After it ceased being used as a jail, it became a police lock-up until the late 1890s and was then used as accommodation for the Water Police. After that it was used as a storage facility for Fremantle Ports.

After being threatened with demolition in the 1920s, the building was saved and control went to the State Government before it was deeded to the City of Fremantle.

Historically, the headland west of the Round House was an ideal site to send signals out to sea and over the years a variety of signalling systems were used. Early methods of signalling to ships off Fremantle were very simple. In 1846, regulations stated ‘… when Harbour Master makes signal from Gaol Hill, let go anchor …’.

A heliograph was also used for signalling between Fremantle and Rottnest Island.

A mirror was used to reflect sunlight and the coded message of long and short flashes (semaphore) could be seen over a considerable distance. This system was largely superseded by a telephone system in 1900.

From 1900, a time ball was used to signal the correct time for seafarers to set their chronometers (clocks used in/for navigation). A sliding ball was mounted on a pole extending from the roof of a small tower. The mechanism was connected by telephone line to Perth Observatory and when the clock struck one an impulse was sent down the telephone line to Fremantle, releasing the ball so that it slid down the pole. A gun was also fired. The time ball was moved from Arthur’s Head to the top of the new Fremantle Harbour Trust building in 1905. Time balls were superseded in 1937 by radio signals. The Signal Station was removed from west of the Round House to Cantonment Hill in 1929.

The expression ‘on the ball’ was coined from the first-time ball, invented by Captain Robert Wauchope in 1818 and painted black to be easily spotted by telescopes.

The Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides Association has played a significant face-to-face role with visitors on site at the Round House since 1998. There are about 30 volunteers who manage the daily running of the Round House ensuring it is open to the public from 10.30am to 3.30pm each day. The guides keep the mast flags flying, and a select few, with special theatrical explosives qualifications, fire the 1pm cannon. The Round House is open every day except for Christmas Day and Good Friday. New guides are always welcome.

The Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides fly Fremantle Ports’ flag proudly every day as recognition of the involvement the Round House has historically had with Fremantle Ports and the 1pm time ball and cannon.

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