Courthouses in Young, New South Wales
By B Stead
Please note: if you have landed here looking for the Young Local Court contact and location details please go to the NSW Government Local Courts – Young, here.
Young, a town on the south-west slopes of New South Wales was settled in 1826. See location map below. Known initially as Lambing Flat, the discovery of gold in the 1860s soon attracted large numbers of miners and prospectors to the area. However tensions among them led to riots and unrest. Eventually Lambing Flat became known as Young.
Young has two courthouse buildings although only one operates as a courthouse. The other, older building constructed in the 1880s has long been part of the Young High School.
The former Young Courthouse – the “great courthouse” 1886
The former Young Courthouse building above was designed by Government architect James Barnet, (1827-1904). The information plaque states it was built by Gough and Co of Young at a cost of £12,000. It was opened by his Honour Chief Justice Martin on 6 April 1886, and being an important event, followed up by a banquet and public ball.1
The old Courthouse was “built to demonstrate Law and Order on the site of the worst encounter between rioting miners and police”.2 This encounter took place in 1861.
The “Great Courthouse” as locals sometimes referred to it, was not the first courthouse constructed in the elevated position once known as Camp Hill. To put the “new edifice” into perspective, a Herald correspondent noted at the time, it was worth considering previous arrangements which had done “duty as halls of justice”.1
First, it must be remembered he said, that in July 1860 gold was discovered. This resulted in a rapid population increase of about 20,000 people within a year, all seeking to make their fortunes. Police quarters were established but court facilities for the administration of justice amounted to a simple canvas tent, 12 feet by 14 feet, pitched near the “new edifice”.
The first substantial courthouse structure was built of 3-inch thick sawn timber; such thickness thought to be bullet-proof. This requirement arose from the early experiences of rioting on the goldfields. However this burnt down requiring a replacement.
In those times the lack of suitable arrangements for the administration of justice was not the only problem. How to retain those charged in custody was another, as there was no gaol accommodation. It was reported that police authorities “were driven to the necessity of chaining their prisoners to a tree. The tree stood within 50 yards of where the new Courthouse now stands.”1
The ‘new edifice’
On approaching the former 1886 courthouse, its height and soaring classical columns convey a somewhat overbearing presence.
This was not an uncommon strategy in building facilities for the administration of justice, so as to remind and uphold the rule of law.
Ventilating the courthouse and collecting water
It was also reported in 1886 that the Courthouse had an efficient system of ventilation. The ceiling contained four large and highly ornamental ventilators, and on each side of the hall at some distance from the floor were more ventilators. These were fitted with hot or miss traps and connected with a large air pipe underneath. In addition there were three underground tanks collecting water, to a total capacity of 20,000 gallons.1
From Courthouse to Schoolhouse
In the early 1920s it was proposed that the large courthouse be used for educational purposes, namely a school. In 1923 Judge Bevax suggested that the building in which the Sessions and District Courts were held be turned into a high school. According to reports, the locals were receptive to the idea, and indeed they had previously sought to have the building handed to the Education Department for that purpose. However the Justice Department said they had “turned us down flat”. His Honour thought it was worth having another go, as this vast building he said, was idle most of the year when it could be put to good use.3
The Great Courthouse is now used as a seating or assembly hall by the Young High School.2
The Young Local Courthouse 1929
The Young Courthouse on the corner of Lynch Street which is still operating as a Local Court. It was built in 1928-29. Construction was funded in part by the transfer of the Great Courthouse to the Education Department. The original cedar fittings from that courthouse were removed and placed inside the new one.2
An incident from the past
In 1922 an unusual experience was reported of a motor car driver with his car while outside the Court.
He had driven the Police Magistrate to the Bimbi Court, some distance from Young. While the court was proceeding, sought to adjust the car’s spare wheel in front of the courthouse. It was reported that:
“Swift as lightning came a terrific explosion. Watson was locking the spare wheel in position when the tube, which was blown up to 75lb pressure, burst and caused an explosion like a violent thunderclap. The screwdriver, which he had in his hand, was buried right across the street, striking the hat of a man who was looking on, and knocking it off.
When both men recovered their wits a moment or two later, Watson found his left hand was bleeding profusely as a result of the palm of the hand having been rent by the force of the explosion. The other man, in a half-dazed condition, was looking for a cigarette that had been blown from his mouth.
A singular coincidence was that inside the courthouse the solicitor cross-examining a witness had just asked the question: “Now, didn’t you throw a lighted cracker at this girl and frighten her,” when the explosion outside immediately followed and disturbed the court.”4
1. ‘New Courthouse at Young’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Mar 1886, p.5.
2. Young Heritage Walk, Young Historical Society, Rotary Club of Young Inc, June 2015.
3. The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 1923, p 14.
4. ‘Chaos. Motor Tyre Bursts. Extraordinary Experiences’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Jan 1922, p. 13.
1 February 2016
See more early Australian courthouses here.