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Albany Courthouse 1895-96, Western Australia

The Albany Courthouse sits on the traditional lands of the Menang Noongar people in the Kinjarling, meaning a “place of rain”. 
More information on the Noongar peoples here.

The Courthouse is located at Courthouse, 184 Stirling Terrace, Albany, Western Australia.  If you have landed here looking to contact the Albany Magistrates Court you can find those details by clicking here.  The Albany Courthouse is an operating Magistrates Court for civil and criminal matters in Albany, Western Australia. The Court also has a District Court Registry for civil actions.

Albany courthouse, Western Australia, local stone, Australian colonial legal history, Colonial Australian courthouses
The Albany Courthouse, 184 Stirling Terrace, Albany.

Albany began as a penal colony

Albany was founded in 1826-7 in Western Australia when a brig sailing ship the Amity, carrying a mix of convicts, soldiers and others landed on the shores of King George’s Sound on Christmas Day 1826.  It was the first settlement in Western Australia and was initially known as Frederickstown. 

Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and Albany Courthouse, Western Australia, Australian legal history, New South Wales were not the only places  established as penal colonies. The stocks situated in front of the Albany Courthouse (pictured at left) are a reminder of Albany’s first beginnings as a penal colony.

An excellent historical recount on the history of the Courthouse can be found on the West Australian Department of Justice’s page.


The Albany Courthouse is part of the Justice Complex in Albany and listed on the West Australian State Register of heritage places.  The Albany Police Station was also in the Courthouse building until 1970.1

The current building was designed City of Albany, Courthouse, George Temple Poole, Historic Australian courthouses, Australian legal historyby George Temple Poole and built by a local builder, Charles F. Layton. 

The foundation stone was laid by the Director of Public Works, Mr Piesse on 30 December, 1896.2  Details on its construction are explained on the West Australian Department of Justice’s page here.

Opening of the Albany Courthouse – 1898

Curved granite stone work over the entrances is a peculiar feature of the Albany Courthouse. class=


After some delay due to sourcing of the right bricks the Courthouse was opened on Monday, 7 February 1898. 

Opening the Courthouse was the first function of ‘Albany Week’3 by the then Attorney-General and Acting Premier. 

The Premier thought opening a courthouse was ‘hardly right to begin Albany Week but it was still a necessary building..’ hailing it as one of the best in the Colony of Western Australia, of which the people of Albany ‘should be well proud’.

Arched entrances in stone are ‘poems in stone’

A curious feature of the Courthouse building are its arched doorways.  They were constructed from local granite in the ‘dry stone’ style meaning the stone was not cemented together.

Writing about the grace of what he called the two porch-way entrances in 1948, a correspondent recounted that a man who had worked on the building, said the arches were really “poems in stone”.  This was because he doubted whether anyone still existed  who could do such stone masonry.  Then inside, there was a large, lofty cedar-panelled main court room and spiral staircase leading to the exit hall.

The unusual curved blue stone work around the entry. The stone was quarried locally.

The unusual curved blue stone work around the entry was made using locally quarried stone.

Albany Courthouse used as an auction venue for Government land sales

In the 1800s courthouses were used for a variety purposes in addition to being places to administer justice. In 1898, the same year that the Albany Courthouse was opened, and subsequent years for a time, the colonial Government of Western Australia used it to auctioneer residential land. One lot was knocked down at the upset price of £70 to the quartermaster-sergeant at the forts.5

The British Coat of Arms on the Albany Courthouse

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom is situated alongside one of the doors to the Courthouse. It has been carved out of sandstone transported from Sydney.1

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom on the Courthouse.
The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom


A few notes are interesting to note. The Latin words Dieu et mon droit at the bottom of the shield mean ‘God and my right’, which is the motto of the English monarchs. 

The words ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ around the shield mean ‘Evil be to him who evil thinks’, from the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  The shield is supported by an English lion on the left and a chained unicorn on the right.  The chain is there because it was thought that unicorns were dangerous. 

Coat of Arms on colonial Australian courthouses

Many Australian courthouse buildings have a Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom.  See the Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom in the High Court of Australia here. 

The Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom has significance for the development of our legal system because it represents the reception into Australia of English common law.   It is also a reminder that, at least up until 1986, there was a right of appeal from Australian courts to the highest court in the hierarchy, the English Privy Council.  However in 1986 legislation was passed in Australia, the Australia Act 1986 (Cth), and also in England which abolished this right of appeal with the result that the High Court of Australia became the highest court of appeal.

Side view of the Courthouse looking out towards King George's Sound, Albany.
Side view of the Courthouse looking out towards King George’s Sound, Albany.

Side view of the Courthouse looking out towards King George’s Sound, Albany.

The Court’s case work in colonial times involved hearing numerous inquests into the cause of local fatalities.  Other work was acting as a Licensing Court.

Enclosed balcony not complying  – the meaning of ‘enclosed’

In 1915 a complaint was made by the then local council the Municipality of Albany that a resident in the same street as the Courthouse had curtained-off a portion of a balcony over the public footpath.  In so doing the balcony then became enclosed.  The resident conducted a photography business from the premises.  The complaint was because he had not obtaining a license through the proper application process..6 Such an enclosure was against Council by-laws which the Council had the power to make under the Municipal Corporations Act 1906. The dispute was over the meaning of ‘enclosed’.

Initially the magistrate in the Court of Petty Sessions sitting at Albany concluded that no offence had been proved, as no part of the balcony had been completely shut in and confined on all sides.  However the Council appealed with the Chief Justice ruling that from the facts, it appeared that portion of the balcony was enclosed.

War time and mail

A hearing at the Albany Courthouse in 1917 about the fate of two men attracted a large crowd over the fate of two men.  They had been arrested in connection with allegations of theft of registered mail.  The mail contained money and valuables on the ship Indarra during its voyage from Sydney to Albany. The pair were held on remand for a further period until sentencing.7


1.  From a pamphlet The Amity Trail, Central District Heritage Trail 1, City of Albany and WA Museum.
2. Coolgardie Miner, 30 Dec 1896.
3. Albany Advertiser, 8 Feb 1898, p. 3.
4. The West Australian, 18 Sep 1948.
5. The Enquirer and Commercial News, 6 May 1898.
6. The Municipality of Albany v Sands [1915] 18 WALR 25
7. ‘
The Indarra Case‘, Kalgoorlie Miner, 17 Mar 1917

B Stead
BHS Legal

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