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The former Port Adelaide Courthouse sits on the lands of the Kaurna People. The Port Adelaide locality was known by the Kaurna as the Yartapuulti Yertabulti. Yerta referred to place and Bulti meant sleep or death. The land of sleep or death. More about the Aboriginal heritage in the Port Adelaide area can be found on the City of Port Adelaide Enfield site.
The old Port Adelaide Courthouse, 62 Commercial Road, Port Adelaide.
The Port Adelaide Courthouse is on the corner of Commercial Road and Portland Place, adjacent to the former Port Adelaide Police Station of 1861. See a location map below. The Courthouse building was constructed in the 1880s and opened in 1882 to replace arrangements, which it was felt at the time, totally unsatisfactory. These and other historic buildings in the Port Adelaide precinct are now classified as a State-listed heritage area – find more information here. The former Police Station is now used as a Tourist Information Office.
‘Utter unsuitability and inconvenience’ for the administration of justice
Reporting in the local newspaper in 1880, it was clear that Justices of the Peace at the time found administering justice very difficult in the existing facilities.
With very great satisfaction have we heard that the honorary Justices of the Peace at Port. Adelaide are making a strong representation to the Government of the utter unsuitability and inconvenience of the building at present devoted to the administration of justice.
All the purpose that the edifice now serves very effectually is to how the wretchedly poor ideas that were formerly entertained of what the Port was likely to become or to require -, and in every other respect a more unsuitable building for present use as a Court of Justice could scarcely be found.
The stench and effluvia on a full Court-day, when the public crowd in, are beyond description; and the accommodation for the bar, witnesses, and public, is of the most limited and insufficient character.
There is no waiting room for any persons who may be concerned in a trial, and to ” order witnesses out of Court” simply means sending them into the street, upon which the Court-house open windows abut, so that the condition of severance and prevention of complicity in giving evidence cannot be achieved.
We hope that the desired result may be achieved by the representation made by the Magistrates, and that there will be provision on the Estimates next year -for a sufficient building, with accommodation equal to the requirements of a very populous community.
Source: ‘Port Adelaide Court-House’, Port Adelaide News, 17 Jan 1880, p.4.
It seemed things were never quite right, even sometime after the new courthouse was constructed. There is always a price with progress. As reported below, this time it was the noise of the nearby railway line disturbing concentration during proceedings.
A ‘Noisy Courthouse’
A particularly objectionable feature of the Port Adelaide Courthouse was its proximity to a railway line. This line was used for shunting trucks to and from the wharves to the station.
Even at the best of times what with the insistent rattling of carts and trollies on the road outside, the Courthouse was not a quiet place, but when a ‘fussy little steam engine is towing a long string of heavily laden trucks past the front door, the condition becomes unbearable.’
The engine remains within a hundred yards of the Bench, sometimes for quite ten minutes, puffing and blowing and whistling incessantly, so that every one within the precincts of the Court has to strain to hear. Witnesses become confused, lawyers impatient, and the constables indignant. The engine driver pulls his bell merrily, and the locomotive gives discordant shrieks and blows off large quantities of steam.
Yesterday the disturbances were most annoying. The Magistrate endeavoured for some time to take down the witnesses’ evidence: but it was a trying task, and he had to give it up at last: ‘It is no good,’ he remarked, ‘we shall have to wait until the people outside have finished amusing themselves.’
Source: ‘A Noisy Courthouse’, The Register, 4 Jul 1911, p.6.
Courthouse renovation to alleviate unemployment
In August 1929 there was high unemployment in Port Adelaide. It was therefore suggested in Parliament that perhaps the Premier would consider renovating the Port Adelaide Courthouse and Police Station to absorb some of the unemployed. ‘Port Adelaide Police Station’, Port Adelaide News, 30 Aug 1929, p.2.
Nature of the legal work – inquests
There appears to be a number of inquests at the Port Adelaide Police Court in the 1860s and 1870s. Drinking, drowning, lack of work, no money, and suicide feature in these reports. one such is outlined below.
An inquest by jury was held at the Port Adelaide Courthouse on the body of a man found drowned at Mutton Cove. Mutton Cove was connected t0 a creek at Port Adelaide. His son identified him. The son reported he last saw his father at his home in Tarlee before going to the Port on business. No reason could be given as to the cause of death.
The medical officer found no marks of violence. Ultimately it was concluded that the deceased appeared to have fainted from exhaustion. Most likely from hard drinking and as a consequence of being in this condition had ‘got under the water’.
A detective at the Port Adelaide Police Station recognised the body. He was remembered as being a person who had attended the station to report the loss of money, saying he was drunk at the time of loss. The detective reported that he had said he would return at night to sleep as he had no money.
Another policeman deposed to having accompanied the deceased to look for the lost pocket-book. The deceased had informed him he was going to Melbourne to get work at his trade as a harness-maker and coach-trimmer. He had no fixed idea of what he was going to do. The jury returned a verdict of found drowned.
Source: ‘Inquest at Port Adelaide.’, The Express and Telegraph, 21 May 1869, p. 1.
Old Police Station, Port Adelaide, 1861
Next door to the old Courthouse is the former Port Adelaide Police Station, now a museum. It was designed by the colonial architect E. A. Hamilton and built in 1861. The Police Station existed long before the adjacent Courthouse.
28 November 2016, updated June 2023
The former Port Adelaide Police Station and Courthouse complex are in Commercial Road, Port Adelaide.