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Origins of the First Heidelberg Courthouse

Heidelberg Historical Society's Museum was the second courthouse in Heidelberg, not the first. The original courthouse was built on the same site as the Museum in 1860. It was moved to Heidelberg Gardens next to the old Shire Hall, to make way for the 1901 courthouse building.

The 1906 image at the top of the page shows its next location, next to the Austin Hospital, where it was used as part of the Heidelberg Municipal Chambers complex. Burgundy Street on the right is still unsealed.

The following extracts give information about the beginnings of the first Heidelberg Courthouse.

Victorian Government Gazette, March 9th, 1853, No. 13, (page 368),

"His Excellency the Lieut-Governor in pursuance of the power vested in him by the Act of the Governor and Legislative Council of N.S.W., William IV, No. 3, has been pleased to appoint Heidelberg (Township of Warringal) in the Parish Keelbundoora, County of Bourke, and Colony of Victoria, to be a place for holding Courts of Petty Sessions under the provisions of the aforesaid Act.
By His Excellency's Command.
W. Lonsdale."

"HIS Excellency the Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to appoint
to be Clerk of Petty Sessions at Heidelberg
By His Excellency's Command.
W. Lonsdale."

2nd Clerk of Court - E. Bathurst - 1854
3rd Clerk of Court - E.A. Bartrop - 1855

Tenders were called in May 1859 for the building of a Court of Petty Sessions and the contract went to Hugh Cormack for a price of £449. The contract was gazetted on 17 June 1859.

The first courthouse was never very popular as a structure and only survived as such until the end of the century.

'The News', 4th February 1898
Heidelberg Court House.

❝We have over and over again pointed out the total unsuitability of the existing structure for the transaction of the comparatively large volume of the legal business at Heidelberg; but we may repeat once more that the business of the Court of Mines, presided over by a judge, sits at Heidelberg, and winds up companies in all the colonies; that the Warden's Court takes in the whole area comprised in St Andrew's Division of the Castlemaine Mining district, and is held at Heidelberg monthly; that, in addition, there is a Licensing Court once a month; and that there is a Court of Petty Sessions every fortnight.

According to statistics supplies to Sir HENRY CUTHBERT in May last year in three (1884-95-96) no less that 966 cases had been heard; in 1895 the magistrates attended the court 47 times, and in 1896, 49 times. The mining lease applications in 1896 amounted to 189; and the warden's cases heard and dealt with in 1895-96 totalled 298. All this business is done in a very primitive small weather-board structure, the main hall being about 25ft. x 20 ft., while the clerks of courts perform their duties in an ill-ventilated kennel about 6ft. x 6ft. in dimensions. On the 24th December last we wrote—

"Last Monday the pokey little out-house at Heidelberg, which is used as a Licensing Court, as Court of Petty Sessions and a Warden's Court was crowded with magistrates, members of the constabulary, litigants, applicants, witnesses and others from 10 a.m. till 5.30 p.m., the temperature being exceedingly high. Two clerks of courts had to transact their multifarious duties in a tiny den."

This is not at all exaggerated. In summer the atmosphere is stifling and full of flies, cockroaches and other insect pests, while in winter the building is leaky, draughty and dismal. In July last the following paragraph appeared in our columns—

"At the Warden's Court held at Heidelberg on Monday, Mr. Keogh, P.M., who presided, commented in strong terms on the inconvenient and draughty character of the court house. The weather was cold, accompanied by a keen wind, and although the Warden ordered the doors to be closed his seat on the bench was rendered decidedly uncomfortable by the whistling currents of chilled air that surrounded him, while big drops of rain occasionally splashed down and blotted the foolscap upon which the clerk of courts was engaged taking depositions."

The paragraph in the Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903), Friday 18 March 1898, page 3, is also accurate in substance and in fact. Then to make matters worse the recent hurricane shifted the wretched building slightly out of plumb, so that at the present time it is a standing disgrace to the Law Department. Its dilapidated condition and the inadequate accommodation it affords has been recognised for years past departmentally, but a combination of unfortunate circumstances have prevented its replacement...❞

Mercury and Weekly Courier,
Friday 21 July 1899, page 2
The Old Heidelberg Court House.

The Old Court House; Heidelberg, which was recently made a present to the local council by the Law Department, was on Tuesday, removed by the contractors (Messrs. McLellan Bros.) to the new site on the Parkland, about 30 feet from the Shire hall. The contractors have to refix it in its new position and rebuild the chimney. The work of repainting and general renovation will have to be undertaken by the council subsequently.

There is considerable discussion among the ratepayers as to the uses to which the building is to be put, and further, as to who is to manage and control it.

A proposal has been made by one prominent gentleman that the ratepayers should form a committee of management and that trustees should be appointed with a view of converting it into a local literary institute maintained by public subscription.

On the other hand there are many who believe it would be better for the council to retain possession and form a library, reading room, and literary institution, under municipal jurisdiction...

Then in the "Mercury" on Friday 29 September 1899, page 2

A Library for Heidelberg.

THE movement to establish a public reading room and library in Heidelberg, we are glad to be able to say, is being heartily supported by all sections of the community throughout the entire district. For many years the want of such an institution has been felt, and various efforts have been made at intervals to supply it, but without success, the failure of the several movements being principally due to the absence of a suitable building. By a happy inspiration this difficulty has been removed and the primary credit of overcoming it belongs to Cr. Thomas DAVEY, J.P., who at the council table in May last moved—
"That Mr. GAIR, M.L.A., be written to, and asked to use his best endeavours to get the Government to hand over the Old Court House for the ratepayers' use (when its removal is necessary for the erection of the new building) for a reading room and library."

Cr. DAVEY's motion came most opportunely, and the live member for the district (Mr. GAIR) lost no time in giving effect thereto. He secured the Old Court House, which, as our readers are aware, the council has removed to municipal land and renovated at a total cost of about £30. The building, as it now stands, is worth fully £130, so that the rate payers have secured a bargain, and Cr. DAVEY and Mr. GAIR will be entitled to the thanks of posterity, as well as the present generation, when upon the foundation thus laid is raised a literary institute, a reading room, a library, and popular place of resort for all those who wish to improve their intellectuality...

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Heidelberg Historical Society (Inc. No. A0042118P)