Liverpool Courthouse (former) and Potential Archaeological Site (under consideration) | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Liverpool Courthouse (former) and Potential Archaeological Site (under consideration)

Item details

Name of item: Liverpool Courthouse (former) and Potential Archaeological Site (under consideration)
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Courthouse
Location: Lat: -33.9244 Long: 150.9256
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
 441  831058
 442  831058


251 Bigge Street, corner Moore Street, Liverpool, including wall and fence to Bigge Street.

Statement of significance:

The former Liverpool Courthouse (1819) and Potential Archaeological Site is of state heritage significance as it demonstrates the activities of significant historic importance to the State from 1819 for over 120 years. The archaeology site is one of the earliest surviving examples of a convict barracks on the Australian mainland. It is likely that only Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks, (1817-19) predates it. The potential archaeological remains of the barracks at the rear of the courthouse may provide key ongoing research opportunities in fields such as convict studies, colonial settlement and working class communities, all important themes in Australian history.

The former Liverpool Courthouse and potential archaeology provides evidence of the important role of Liverpool in the early colonial period as a key government administrative centre during Macquarie's time in office. The extant building served important functions in the colonial period, first as a gaol and then as a courthouse and demonstrates the history of judicial service in the colony of New South Wales for over 120 years. The Courthouse is a rare example of an early colonial Georgian courthouse with later Victorian additions and embellishments, indicating a level of achievement in its design and construction. Because of its early construction and use as a convict barracks before it became a courthouse, the building demonstrates variation in form and style in NSW, highlighting its rarity and importance.
Date significance updated: 05 May 17
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.


Construction years: 1820-
Physical description: Single storey colonial style Government building with hipped roof, L-shaped plan, probably incorporating main block of convict gaol built early 1820s. Sandstock brick construction on sandstone foundations with articulated sandstone quoins, decorative timber verandah with valance and iron roofs. Twelve pane double hung windows and four panel doors doors. Original structure appears altered and extended about 1855 using part of gaol wall on south east portion of site. Two bays remain of impressive iron palisade with stone gate piers.
Date condition updated:03 Feb 98


Historical notes: The story of the former Liverpool Courthouse is, perhaps most significantly, the story of the former Liverpool Convict Barracks; the structure that now occupies the corner of Bigge Street and Moore Street in Liverpool was purpose built as a convict barracks. Many alterations, additions and demolitions have since occurred to render the collection of buildings at that location in their current form. (Rapperport, 2009).

The former Liverpool Courthouse building was constructed on the site of, or adapted from, the original buildings of the c 1819 barracks. As such, it is considered one of the earliest examples of a convict barracks on the mainland, only predated by Hyde Park Barracks (1817-1819). The area has the potential to contain a range of archaeological remains associated with the earliest use of the site. These remains are considered to be of state heritage significance and may provide information about early colonial and convict life in Liverpool.

Surveyor Robert Hoddle's 1827 map of Liverpool clearly shows the complex of buildings on the site. In 1836 James Backhouse visited the Liverpool gaol and described it as:
'A brick building of two large rooms for prisoners of common order, one for debtors, another for females, which is small: also three good cells, but all opening into one common yard, along with the dwellings of the turnkey and overseer, and the cooking-place, and other offices'. (Backhouse 1842 p.6).
An 1840 plan also show these buildings.

Later alterations and additions occurred, most significantly a police station to the rear of the courthouse and likely outside, or adjacent to the wall of the barracks visible in Hoddle's 1827 map and the 1840 plan. This police station remained until after the mid-20th century.

Overview of Archaeological Potential: there is a high potential for archaeological remains associated with the barracks buildings shown on the 1827 and 1840 plans (Casey and Lowe 2014 p. 14).

The land around the Georges River and Liverpool was occupied by the Darug Aboriginal people prior to the arrival of British settlers in 1788. The Liverpool district was home to what the early Europeans mistakenly ccalled the Liverpool Tribe, who were in fact the Cabrogal clan of teh Darug Tribe.

Governor Macquarie selected a site for a town at Liverpool on 7 November 1810. After establishing a site in the centre of the proposed town for a church, he left the details of laying out the town in the hands of surveyor James Meehan.
After the departure of Governor Macquarie in 1821, Governor Brisbane began the relocation of convict labour from public works to assignment on private properties, on the recommendations of the Bigge Report. The offical end of transportation in 1840 led to the winding down of the convict system and an economic decline for Liverpool.

The development of Liverpool in the second half of the 19th century was driven by the establishment of the railway in 1856, although substantial expansion did not occur until the end of the 1880s when there was a growth in workers housing and subdivision of preivously vacant land. (Casey and Lowe, 2014).

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site meets this criterion at a state level as the Liverpool Courthouse (former) demonstrates the accommodation of convicts at a time when those convicts were actively engaged in the physical construction of the town of Liverpool in its very early days. The Courthouse is one of the oldest buildings in Liverpool and, dating from the Macquarie era, is probably the second oldest existing convict barracks in mainland Australia. A relatively small number of buildings in the state date from this period or earlier.

In its role as a courthouse, it provided an important contribution to the administering of law and order and the furthering of social justice over a period spanning 120 years.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The site meets this criterion at a state level. The Liverpool Courthouse is an example of an early Colonial Georgian convict barrack with later Victorian additions and embellishments associated with its use as a courthouse which indicate a level of technical achievement in its design and construction. The site is situated opposite the colonial period Bigge Park and its location in the vicinity to a number of other historic sites in the Liverpool city centre based on the Hoddle grid street plan adds landmark qualities to the site.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The site contains areas of archaeological significance at a state level as these can provide evidence of material culture which yields information that may be unavailable from documentary sources alone. Analysis of the archaeological information that could potentially be gathered at this site includes data that would provide a window into the changing impact of Government during the formative historical period.

The site has the potential to contain structural remains associated with the early gaol and barracks buildings, such as footings, postholes, fences and outbuildings. This information may be crucial to interpreting the site's development over time.

The physical remains at the site and the associated artefact collection would provide major ongoing research opportunities in fields such as convictism, colonial settlement and working class communities, which are major themes in Australian history.
SHR Criteria f)
The former Liverpool Courthouse is one of the oldest and last remaining convict barracks in the State, almost all others of its time having been destroyed or demolished. The Former Liverpool Courthouse buildings provide a fine example of early 19th century architecture erected during the significant period of Governor Macquarie's governorship. Further, the Former Liverpool Courthouse is a remnant of Liverpool's important colonial past. It is part of a group of Colonial buildings which includes St Luke's Church and the former Hospital, which illustrate different aspects of Liverpool's convict beginnings. The potential archaeology of this period is a rare resource.

Despite having been originally designed and used as a convict barracks, the Former Liverpool Courthouse served predominantly as a courthouse. As such the building is possibly unique in being the only courthouse in NSW not to have been originally designed by the Government Architect.
SHR Criteria g)
The Liverpool Courthouse (former) is representative of the layout, character and architectural style of an early 19th century gaol, which was then modified to a form that is representative of the layout, character and architectural style of a 19th century courthouse.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - Under consideration for SHR/IHO listing     
Potential Heritage Item  25 Feb 15   
Register of the National EstateNom. 20/12/1976.00329221 Mar 78 AHC 

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Casey & Lowe Associates with Tracy Ireland, 1996. Liverpool Archaeological Zoning and Management Plan. NEGP Report Date:/10/1998
WrittenJames Kerr1984Design for Convicts. An account of design for convict establishments in the Australian Colonies during the transportation era.
WrittenRappoport Pty Ltd2009Former Liverpool Courthouse Conservation Management Plan

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055101
File number: 003292

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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