Old Darwin Courthouse & Police Station 1884, Northern Territory

The old Darwin Courthouse

Old Darwin Courthouse, Australian Courthouses, early Australian Courthouses, Colonial Australian Courthouses, old Australian Courthouses

Old Darwin Courthouse & Police Station, 1884, Northern Territory

 

Darwin Courthouse and Police Station (former) 1884, Darwin, NT

Constructed of limestone in 1884, the former Darwin Courthouse and adjacent Police Station are now used for administration purposes.  After Cyclone Tracy inflicted considerable damage in 1974 the Courthouse buildings required extensive restoration work.  See a photo of how the Courthouse looked after Cyclone Tracy, visit the Northern Territory Government’s webpage on the Old Courthouse here.

Dawin Courthouse 1884, legal history, Australian legal history, early Australian courthouses

Prior to Cyclone Tracy the Courthouse buildings were occupied by the Royal Australian Navy as their headquarters during 1942.  Originally the Courthouse was designed by John G Knight, Architect and erected in 1884 as the first courthouse, cellblock and police station in the Northern Territory: the Courthouse Plaque.

The Northern Territory was originally under the administration of the South Australian Government until the 1970s, information on the history of the NT Parliament is available here.

Old Darwin Courthouse 1884, early Australian Courthouses, legal history

Early courthouse buildings being among the first civic buildings constructed in colonial times were occasionally used for other purposes than the administration of justice.  The Darwin Courthouse in Darwin, or Port Darwin initially, was no different.  In 1900 a local newspaper drew members attention to the annual meeting of the Port Darwin Rifle Club which was being held at the Court House.1

Darwin Courthouse 1884, early Australian Courthouses, legal history
Courthouse ventilation was not always up to providing relief from the stifling tropical heat it seems, especially in a crowded courtroom during a murder trial.  During a trial in March, 1900 before a sitting of the Northern Territory Circuit Court, proceedings were particularly trying to the patience of all concerned.

The heat throughout was intense, and the crowded and badly ventilated Court House from a climatic point of view, could only be adequately described as a little inferno.2

Old Darwin Courthouse, Early Australian Courthouses, Australian legal history

Wide verandahs for tropical heat, a unique feature for a courthouse.

With oppressive humidity at times, it was customary for the judge to permit ” the jurymen to remove their coats.” However, one “removed his boots as well, and, being devoid of socks, sat with bare feet..”: the Port Darwin Court, the Border Watch, 25 Feb 1921.

Old Darwin-Courthouse-side

A superior court was eventually established in the Northern Territory on 30 May 1911.  When the Territory was surrendered by the South Australian Government to the Commonwealth, a law (the Supreme Court Ordinance) was passed to establish the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.   A history of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory can be read on the Court’s website here.

Mr Justice Bevan was the first judge appointed, arriving one year later at Darwin by the steamer Empire in May.  Two days later a public swearing-in ceremony took place at the Darwin Courthouse.  A number of citizens witnessed the ceremony.  His Honour presented to the Administrator of the Northern Territory the commission, signed by the Governor-General, appointing him judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.  The Administrator administered to Justice Bevan the oath of allegiance to the sovereign and the oath of office.  Afterwards he was “a guest at Government House, the residence provided for the judge being in the hands of the carpenters and painters.”3

His appointment as Supreme Court judge was to be until such time as by reason of his having reached the age limit of service, he would have to retire from the NT public service.  In case of incapacity or misconduct, the Governor-General had power to remove him.

Old Darwin Courthouse 1884, legal history, Australian legal history, early Australian Courthouses,


1.  ‘News and Notes’, Northern Territory Times and Gazette, 6 April 1900, p 2
2.  ‘A Record Trial’, Northern Territory Times and Gazette, 23 March 1900, p 1
3.  The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), 11 June 1912.

27 February 2015, updated 11 September 2017.
B Stead
BHS Legal

Old Darwin Courthouse 1884, legal history, Australian legal history, early Australian Courthouses

Slate and stone steps