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Old Heidelberg Courthouse

Our Museum and Head Quarters

Our Museum was the second courthouse in Heidelberg. The first one was a small, dirty, cold, pigeon box, built in 1859. Bits of it are still to be seen in the old Heidelberg Municipal Building in Warringal Park.

State Government authorities took some convincing before they agreed to finance a new building.

From 'The Age, Friday 10 June 1898, page 5

"The Premier visited Heidelberg on Tuesday to inspect the local court house accommodation. During Sir James Patterson's Premiership £1200 was placed on the estimates for a new court house, and was subsequently struck out.

Deputations waited on the Premier, urging the necessity for the work, but without success. On Tuesday Sir George Turner, after viewing the present ramshackle structure, said he would not expend £1200 on a new one, but that a substantial brick building would answer all requirements. He would give the matter favorable consideration."

Sir George Turner was never enthusiastic about spending money.

From 'The News', 6th April, 1900.
New Courthouse at Heidelberg. Open for Business.

"The new courthouse erected at Heidelberg by the Public Works Department for the Crown Law Department has been completed. It cost £1800, and occupied a triangular site adjoining the police station. It is constructed of brick with cement dressing, and is roofed with slates. The external architecture is of the simplest character, but the main lines of the building produce a very pleasing effect.

The shape of the court-room itself is an elongated octagon; it is lighted from a range of clearstory windows all round, and the ceiling is of wood. The building is approached from a porch leading to a vestibule on either hand. and on a level with the court provision is made for female witnesses, barristers, and prisoners. On a level with the raised bench are the clerk of courts' office and the magistrates' retiring room.

The whole is very conveniently arranged and the acoustic properties of the court itself have proved to be exceptionally good.

Though the building itself has been completed, some work is still required to the approaches, fencing and footpaths; these it is proposed to modify in such a manner as to provide a suitable access to the building and at the same time improve its appearance.

The architect was Mr J. B. Cohen, and the contractors were Swanson Bros., whilst Mr Edwin Hooks acted as inspector of works."

Heidelberg Needed a New Courthouse

Planning the Courthouse 1899

Plenty of discussion took place during the planning for the new courthouse, including its placement adjacent to Jika Street. Image shows main entrance facing Park Lane.

From the 'Mercury and Weekly Courier', 22 September 1899.
Heidelberg Court House.

"THE request made to the Government by the Heidelberg Council that the plans of the New Court House be altered so as to make the main entrance to the court face Jika-street has been refused. The building was estimated to cost £17,500 and the contract was let at £18,000 odd. The alteration desired by the council would have necessitated the expenditure of yet another £100, and Sir GEORGE TURNER emphatically objected.

For our own part we do not see what there is to complain of concerning the present plans. It is not necessary that entrance doors to a police court should face a main-street. In populated centres the "great unwashed" that frequent such places are not either ornamental or useful. The offices, &c., of the Heidelberg building will have access from Jika-street, and that is all that is required.

Mr. GAIR, M.L.A., is to lay the foundation stone, and he is justly entitled to any kudos that attaches to the performance of the ceremony. He got the court house for Heidelberg, and it is proper that the inscription on the stone should bear his name."

The main entrance facing Jika Street would have changed the character of the building. Premier Sir George Turner was renowned as a frugal leader. Comments about "the great unwashed" characterise attitudes to lower income citizens that might have changed in some quarters since then. The entrance in Jika Street referred to was to an area where the public could come to pay fines and other charges. Mr Gair, who was the local MLA, was remembered by having his name on the foundation stone of the court house, where it can still be seen in 2022.

The Museum Today


As you enter the Museum from the front door, galleries extend on either side. At one time, the galleries had attractive lead-light windows. The roof was covered with slates and the building fronted with a picket fence.

The main area was the body of the court. The magistrates bench faces the visitor imposingly. To the right is the witness box and to the left, the dock, in which the accused would be seated. This is our main exhibition area.

Display cases contain items that refer to pioneers, early transport, houses, churches, sport, cultural organisations, hotels and famous people. Special exhibitions from time to time provide an in-depth focus on a particular theme (eg. a subject, an object, a person, a place or an event).

Behind the Magistrate's Bench, a passage leads to the Research Room, which houses early newspapers, cuttings, books and brochures and our large collection of photographs. Visitors can ask one of the museum staff if they wish to delve into our files and documents. Materials can be photocopied on request, at a small charge.

'Heidelberg Historian' No 197, April 2000
Heidelberg Court House - Museum : 100 Years Old.

"On Monday 2 April 1900, the new Heidelberg Courthouse was officially opened.

The earlier courthouse was completely unsuitable, far too small and inadequate for court purposes. A "new" one was planned in 1896, and following Council requests and deputations and the efforts of the local MP, Mr M.J.S. Gair, the new courthouse was promised in 1898, when the Government was prepared to build a new brick building for a cost of £1700. This was later modified to £1200 by the Premier, Sir George Turner, who was known for his efforts to save costs wherever he could.

In July 1899 the old courthouse was donated to the Shire and moved across the road, again through the efforts of Mr Gair, and attached to the Shire Offices. For a few months it housed the Heidelberg Library. This is the same Shire Offices building that much later moved to Warringal Park.

The business of Heidelberg court moved temporarily to the Sir Henry Barkly Hotel while work began on the new building.

Foundation Stone 1899

The foundation stone of the new courthouse was laid on 4 October 1899, and work continued throughout the summer, in time for the opening and first court on 2 April 1900.

The courthouse continued in use until 1979 when a new modern courthouse was built in Jika Street nearby. With the help of our local member, Bruce Skeggs, and the Minister for Public Works, the Hon. Roberts Dunstan, the Heidelberg Historical Society was able to acquire the old building for our Museum."

Plan of the Museum shows how the building was used as a courthouse, before it became a museum.

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Heidelberg Historical Society (Inc. No. A0042118P)