The former Armidale Courthouse sits on the traditional land of the Anaiwan and Kamilaroi peoples.
Armidale Courthouse 1859, Armidale, New South Wales
The Armidale Courthouse and Sherriffs Office at 143-145 Beardy Street, Armidale, in the Northern Tablelands was an operating Local Court of New South Wales until 2014.
The Armidale Courthouse and Sherriff’s Office listed on the State Heritage Register, are said to be an example of Classical Revival style and reflecting the work of three successive colonial Government architects: A Dawson, J Barnet and W L Vernon.
The first Armidale courthouse
In 1844 the first courthouse was opened in Armidale.1 Two years later in 1846 the Armidale Court of Petty Sessions followed. More on that can be found on the State Records site at www.records.nsw.gov.au. It was created under the provisions of section 17 of the Offenders Punishment and Justices Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1832.
Making provision for the administration of justice was a slow, ongoing affair. In 1859 the Department of Land and Public Works called for tenders from builders and others willing to contract for the erection of a new court-house at Armidale. Plans, specifications and form of tender could be viewed at the Colonial Architect’s Office in Sydney.2 Work began in 1859 and in 1860 it was reported that the Courthouse was “half finished”.3
Some fourteen years later another courthouse was constructed at Glen Innes, around 100 kilometres to the north.
When courts were open on Saturday’s
In 1884 a correspondent reported that the Magistrate was keen to get through all business of the Armidale District Court on Saturday. To this end he sat until a quarter of an hour before midnight. It was believed that he only stopped then because the following day was Sunday.
The weather in Armidale is notoriously chilly in winter. The Armidale Courthouse was not equipped with heating and “miserably cold”. The judge, reporters and all the officials who had to be seated were wrapped up in blankets and shivering. In 1884 the presiding judge commented “severely upon upon the construction of the court-house and arrangements made for heating the building”.4
It was reported that the judge commented at some length on the number of times he had represented to the Colonial Architects Department on the necessity for stoves in courthouses, especially on the Northern Tablelands. However he lamented that the Colonial Architect’s Department appeared to ignore anything which a district court judge says. He particularly requested the Press to take the matter up, and try to obtain a remedy.”4
In 1892, during Parliamentary debate in the Legislative Assembly on an amendment to the criminal law, it was recounted by Mr Barlow recounted that when he was in Armidale and visited the Courthouse, he saw to his surprise, a prisoner leave the dock and enter the witness box. There he “so damaged his own case that a conviction speedily followed.” Sir Samuel W Griffith enquired whether any injustice was done, but he did not say that there was.5
In the Armidale Courthouse one attendee commented that it was ‘A cold seat and a warm rebuke.’
Crown Lands Acts and land under lease – 1882
In 1882-3 there was a jury trial at Armidale before Windeyer J over possession of a portion of land near Armidale. The main question was whether the land could be excluded from selection under the Alienation Act of 1861 on the ground that it was under a lease for mining.
The plaintiff’s evidence of title was a conditional purchase of the land. Against that was evidence tendered by the defendant of a mineral lease of the land to him at an earlier date. Also the defendant claimed this lease had been executed by the Governor. The judge rejected the lease in evidence that it was not proved that it actually had been executed by the Governor.
A new trial to hear the lease dispute
A new trial was ordered on various grounds and heard before three judges. It was held that the lease could take effect only from the time of its execution. In order to exclude land from selection under the Alienation Act of 1861 on the ground that it is under lease for mining purposes, it is necessary that an actual lease of the land in question should be in existence. All requirements of the Mining Act should be complied with in every respect, both by the Governor in execution and an applicant. Therefore no lease issued to the defendant at the time of the plaintiff’s selection, and such selection was valid.6
1. A Short History of Armidale, A brief chronological history, Armidale Tourist Office, 2014.
2. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 7 May 1859.
3. The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 1860, p,8.
4. ‘Armidale Court-house, A cold seat and a warm rebuke.’, Evening News, 20 May 1884 p 2.
5. The Brisbane Courier, 8 June 1892, p.7.
6. King v M’Ivor, 1882 NSWR 43
4 November 2014, updated June 2023