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Old Darwin Courthouse 1884, early Australian Courthouses, legal history

Historic Darwin Courthouse & Police Station 1884, Northern Territory

If you have landed here looking to contact the Darwin Court please find contact details on the Northern Territory Local Court site here.


Old Darwin Courthouse, Australian Courthouses, early Australian Courthouses, Colonial Australian Courthouses, old Australian Courthouses
The historic Darwin Courthouse and Police Station, 1884, Northern Territory.

The former Darwin Courthouse sits on the traditional lands of the Larrakia people of the Larrakia Nation.

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

The historic Darwin Courthouse with adjacent Police Station was constructed of limestone in 1884.  Originally the Courthouse was designed by John G Knight, Architect and erected in 1884 as the first courthouse, cell block and police station in the Northern Territory: the Courthouse Plaque.  No longer in use as a courthouse or police station the stone buildings are now used for administration purposes. 

Administrator’s Offices in the Darwin Courthouse

As mentioned the former Darwin Courthouse buildings are now used for administration.  For more information on the heritage of the attached police station and cells go here.

Damage from Cyclone Tracy

On Christmas Day 1974 a severe tropical cyclone – Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin.  The Cyclone caused widespread damage and loss of life destroying most of Darwin.  The Courthouse did not escape.  The Courthouse buildings required extensive restoration work. 


verandahs, legal history, Australian legal history, early Australian courthouses
A mix of slate, stone and timber were used in construction.


Second World War bomb raids

During the Second World War (Pacific War) the Courthouse buildings were occupied by the Royal Australian Navy as their headquarters in 1942.  The Japanese made over 50 bomb raids across Northern Australia during 1942-43.  The biggest and most well know was the raid on Darwin.  Others followed on Broome (Western Australia), Mossman and Townsville in Queensland.4  

Darwin bomb raids

Early on the morning of 19 February 1942 some 242 Japanese aircraft bombed Darwin killing 235 people and over 300 wounded.  Extensive devastation was caused to infrastructure with many left homeless.   For an account of the story of the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese on 19 February 1942 visit the Library and Archives of the Northern Territory site here:

Administration of the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory was originally under the administration of the South Australian Government until the 1970s.  To find out more about that and information on the history of the Northern Territory Parliament click here.


Stonework, early Australian Courthouses, legal history


In colonial times courthouse buildings were among the first civic buildings constructed.  For practicality in a developng area they were frequently used for other purposes in addition to 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


Iron roof, early Australian Courthouses, legal history


No air conditioning in the early Darwin Courthouse

Courthouse ventilation was not always up to providing relief from the stifling tropical heat especially in a crowded courtroom.   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


Establishment of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory

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 was passed (the Supreme Court Ordinance) to establish the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.  

History of the Supreme Court

An interesting historical account of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory can be read on the Court’s website at

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,

To see more of history Australian courthouses visit a gallery of early Australian Courthouses here.


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, 1942-1943e, SA), 11 June 1912.
4.  Air raids on Australia 1942-1943,Wikepedia.



27 February 2015, updated 5 August 2021.
B Stead
BHS Legal, updated June 2023.

Old Darwin Courthouse 1884, legal history, Australian legal history, early Australian Courthouses
Slate and stone steps of the historic Darwin Courthouse


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