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Orange Courthouse New South Wales

Orange Courthouse 1883, Orange, Central Tablelands, New South Wales

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Orange Courthouse, New South Wales, Australia, early Australian courthouses

The Orange Courthouse lies on the corner of Lords Place and Byng Street, opposite Robertson Park, Orange, New South Wales.   The Courthouse sits on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people. 

The Orange Courthouse is an operational Local Court hearing criminal and summary prosecutions as well as civil matters up to the amount of $100,000.  The District Court of New South Wales also conducts regular sittings in the Orange Courthouse to hear civil matters.  The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), a specialist tribunal, holds regular hearings in the Courthouse across a diverse range of matters as a ‘one-stop-shop’.

Orange Courthouse 1883 – a ‘new’ courthouse

The current Orange Courthouse building was designed by the Colonial Government Architect James Barnet.  Construction was completed in 1883.  Previous buildings existed on the site, the first being erected in 1847, around the time of the town’s settlement, and operated as a Court of Petty Sessions, being the usual arrangements in those times. Orange was proclaimed a municipality in 1860, the first meeting being held in the Courthouse, located on the same site as today, but a different structure.

An excellent historical background to the development of a courthouse to serve the growing area principally as a place for the administration of justice, but also serving other functions can be found in the article: Evidence of the law: Excavations at Orange Courthouse, a case study by the The Office of Environment and Heritage, Government of NSW.  The Orange Courthouse is protected under state legislation as NSW State Government Heritage.

1860 at Orange – incorporation, discovery of gold, a courthouse

In 1859 district courts had been established in various localities without the necessary prison accommodation.  Not surprisingly this caused inconvenience to the extent that the Government at the time had been censured for their neglect.Consequently, increased and new facilities for the proper administration of justice, that is, courthouses, were allocated in places where district courts were held.  Orange was one, and Gundagai another. The new structures were to be built on uniform plans.

In 1860 the Colonial Architect received instructions to proceed with the construction of a number of gaols and courthouses in the principal towns in the interior of New South Wales.1

In the same year, the important town of Orange was incorporated in January.  The climate is delightfully bracing and extremely healthy, and the soil very fertile, producing vegetables, fruits, and cereals in great abundance.  The mineral resources of the district seem to be inexhaustible; gold, silver, and copper mines are being opened up in every direction. The public buildings were described as “good substantial edifices” with a fine courthouse where the Presiding Magistrate sat daily.  Petty Sessions and District Court sittings were held there three times during the year. 2

New gold fields seemed to be springing up everywhere in that decade.  In 1860 new diggings were discovered about half-way between Orange and Stony Creek, and at Ophir.3


The Orange Courthouse in winter.


In 1878 the Sheriff of Sydney, Charles Cowper Esq visited Orange.  It was thought that his visit would give hope that after a long period, the disgrace of the miserable Courthouse at Orange would be substituted by one more worthy of the town, and less dangerous to the lives of those who have to attend there. 4   In 1880 it was again expressed that the previous Courthouse structure was ‘quite inadequate to the requirements of the District.5

Eventually the new Courthouse building was formally opened in May 1883, with the Ministers of Justice, Mines and the Colonial Architect attending, with a banquet held to honour the event. The police magistrate mentioned the growth in the district and the absence of flagrant crime.6

Below: the soaring columns of the Orange Courthouse flank the main entry door.


Orange Courthouse, New South Wales, early Australian courthouses, old Australian courthouses, succession law, inheritance law


Promissory note fraud on farmers

Courthouses are public buildings and in those times often used for other purposes, such as public meetings.  In 1879 a well-attended public meeting was held at the Orange Courthouse with the Mayor presiding.  A petition to the Directors of the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) was unanimously adopted.7

The petition prayed for a favourable consideration of the cases of the unfortunate victims of the frauds of James Dale, on the ground that the persons whose signatures were obtained to the promissory notes derived no benefit from the transactions.  Nearly all the makers of the notes are small farmers, who signed the notes in ignorance of the amount of liability they incurred, and they will be unable to sustain the losses involved in having to pay the notes.

early Australian Courthouses, Orange Courthouse, New South Wales, Australia, colonial Australian courthouses, inheritance law

Above, the Orange Courthouse in winter.

The previous Orange Courthouse building – 1859

It would seem the previous Orange Courthouse building was more modest, if this observation from a correspondent to a local newspaper is any guide:

District Court. Although our Courthouse can lay but small claim to architectural pretension outside, or artistic embellishment within, still it stands a chance of being honoured, for a time at last, as the Judge’s Court of the district.  It is confidently believed that this court will soon be opened for the trial of civil causes.8

The Coat of Arms on the Courthouse below:

Orange Courthouse NSW

The Orange Heritage Trail pamphlet summarises some historical waypoints:

“On a site where local Wiradjuri people are said to have once held corroborees stands the Orange court House. A slab and bark watch-house was erected in 1849 and used as a court house from 1851. Early church services and the first council meetings were held. A larger sandstone Court House was erected in 1860-62 by Kennard and Snow. Bushranger Ben Hall was tried here in the early 1860s. This building made way for the present Neo-classical building designed by James Barnet in 1883. A new wing was constructed a the rear of the site in 2001.”9

Snow on a paddock with a large evergreen pine tree in winter, near Orange, New South Wales

Above: snow near Orange, 2015.

Orange Courthouse heating – a ‘rank failure’

The District of Orange is on the Central Tablelands of NSW, at an elevation of 922m, near the Canobolas Ranges. The climate ranges from cold winters, often bringing snow, and warm to hot summers.  In 1913 an exceptionally cold day in May put the new heating arrangements in the Orange Courthouse, which was a stove, to the test. While the new stove had been ‘duly passed by an inspector, and put into action’, it was a ‘rank failure’ in the opinion of those present on that cold May day.  It was ‘very ornate and all that, but as far as serving the purpose intended, it is about on a level with the man who gave the hungry boy – his sympathy.’ 10


Scales of justice engraved or carved into the sandstone pillar at the Orange Courthouse, New South Wales


The scales of justice etched into two of the imposing columns flanking the entrance to the Court.

Orange Courthouse – statistics in 1889

The Advocate reported in 1889 that during 1888 the case mix adjudicated in the Orange Courthouse consisted of 50 cases under the Licensing Act, 443 police cases, 371 summons cases, 26 Quarter Sessions cases, 240 small debts cases, and 91 district Court cases.12


In those days the recording of births, deaths and marriages in country areas was done at the various local courthouses.  Courthouse administration also involved the collection of revenue for deposits on mineral leases, survey fees, gold leases, gold survey fees, mineral licenses and miners’ rights.


Lamp post outside the Orange Courthouse New South Wales


Cattle theft

In 1851 a Herald correspondent observed an unusual crowd about the Courthouse and was curious as to what was the attraction. There were two cases before the two magistrates presiding.  One under the Hired Servants’ Act and the other for cattle stealing. The correspondent opined that there “we are surrounded on every side by hordes of cattle stealers, who will have to be more closely looked after than has hitherto been the case.”  The District Constable was commended for bringing them to justice.11


Front door entry to the Orange Courthouse, New South Wales

Above: the Courthouse entry doors with an elaborate surround.



1.  ‘Country Works’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Jan 1860, p.8.
2.  ‘Orange’, The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 Oct 1888, p. 713.
3.  The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 10 Mar 1860.
4.  ‘Orange’, Freeman’s Journal, 2 Nov 1878, p.9.
5.  The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 3 Jul 1880.
6.  Sydney Evening News, 11 May 1883
7.  ‘Orange”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Sep 1879.
8.   Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 12 Mar 1859, p 3. ‘Orange’.
9.  Orange Heritage Trail, a pamphlet produced by Ross Maroney in conjunction with the Orange City Council, the Orange Visitor Information Centre.
10.  The Leader, 20 May 1913.
11.  ‘Orange’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Sep 1851 p 3.
12.  ‘Orange’, Bathurst Fee Press and Mining Journal 15 Jan 1889.


B Stead
BHS Legal, updated April 2023.

All images © B Stead.

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The Orange Courthouse, New South Wales

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