Darlinghurst Courthouse, Residence and Grounds | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Darlinghurst Courthouse, Residence and Grounds

Item details

Name of item: Darlinghurst Courthouse, Residence and Grounds
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Courthouse
Primary address: Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Parish: Castlereagh
County: Leichhardt
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Taylor SquareDarlinghurstSydneyCastlereaghLeichhardtPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Attorney General's DepartmentState Government 

Statement of significance:

Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence is the finest Old Colonial Grecian public building complex surviving in Australia. Commenced in the 1830s, it has a long and continual association with the provision of law and order in Sydney, along with the neighbouring Darlinghurst Gaol complex. The building has variously contained District Courts, Supreme Courts and the High Court throughout its history and has been the site of many high-profile trials and inquiries, including sittings of the Royal Commission into Espionage in 1954 within the High Court wing.

Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence is associated with Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales from 1831-1837, who made a number of signficant changes to the New South Wales justice system during his time as governor. Governor Bourke called for the construction of a new courthouse in Sydney to relieve pressure on the King Street Court and allow better transfer of prisoners between court and the proposed Darlinghurst gaol.

Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence is one of the few remaining examples of public buildings designed by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis. The many additions and alterations to the building over its history have been the responsibility of successive Government Architects and the Department of Public Works.
Date significance updated: 06 Oct 10
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: M Lewis, J Barnet, NSW Government Architect's Office
Construction years: 1835-1844
Physical description: Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence is a massive , heavily designed Old Colonial Grecian style public building. It communicates its civic presence through its form. The symmetrical building uses elements of the Greek temple form, having a fluted stone Doric columned portico supporting a pedimented gable entrance to the central court (Court 5), flanked by colonnaded wings which stand forward of the robust front elevations. The courthouse and residence are constructed in smooth dressed sandstone with a slate roof, timber floors and joinery and a marble tiled vestibule. (Schwager Brooks 1993)
The interiors of the courthouse are highly intact, with original furniture and fittings intact in all courtrooms and most offices. The courthouse has been added to continuously throughout its 170-year history, but retains a strong, coherent form to the main frontage on Oxford Street. Additions have generally maintained the qualities of the original courthouse, with high quality materials and fixtures used throughout.
The courthouse is set back from the street in grounds with a curved driveway and scattered plantings. An iron palisade fence with a sandstone base bounds the courthouse grounds and heavy sandstone and iron entrance gates are located to the north and south. The rear boundary of the grounds is defined by the wall of Darlinghurst Gaol. The prison dock is located between the courthouse building and the gaol wall.
Other accommodation: Seven court rooms (supreme courts and district courts), jury rooms, judge and associate chambers, sheriff's office, courtkeeper's residence, court reporters office, cells, corrective services, witness rooms, kitchens for jury meals.
Construction: Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence are constructed in smooth dressed sandstone with a slate roof, timber floors and joinery and a marbletiled vestibule. (Schwager Brooks 1993)
Interior material: timber joinery, marble.
Exterior material: sandstone, slate.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Good condition overall. (August 2010 & BGIS Annual Site Audit, 2017)
Date condition updated:11 Aug 10
Modifications and dates: Alterations and flanking court additions by J Barnet. (1884-88).
High Court added. (1922)
Court 4 added. (1948)
Courts 1 and 2 added in new addition designed by NSW Government Architect's Office. (1963-1967)
Current use: Courthouse and Residence
Former use: Courthouse and Residence

History

Historical notes: Darlinghurst Courthouse and residence was originally designed by the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis. Work commenced in 1835 but was not completed until 1844. The construction of a new courthouse and gaol had been a priority of the incoming Governor Bourke, who was concerned by the need to march prisoners through the city from the gaol on George Street to the courthouse on King Street.

The foundations for Darlinghurst Courthouse were laid by convict work gangs and construction began in 1836. Court proceedings were held in the building as early as 1842, despite the unfinished state of the building. Construction of a new gaol in Darlinghurst began in the 1820s and was ready for occupation in the early 1840s. The courthouse was a milestone building in New South Wales, being specifically designed to suit its purpose and impart authority and the power of the law.

Darlinghurst Courthouse was subsequently altered and extended by successive Colonial and Government Architects. This began with Edmund Blacket, who supervised the repair to the roof in the 1850s which was in danger of collapse.

Colonial Architect James Barnet designed major flanking court room pavilion additions to the building in 1884-88. Major repairs were undertaken to the original wing of the courthouse in 1901. The entire roof was replaced and changes were made to the fa├žade. The drawings for these alterations were signed by George McRae in the Government Architect's Office.

In 1903, Darlinghurst Courthouse was selected as one of the sites for the High Court of the newly federated nation of Australia. In 1907, accommodation was provided for the expansion of the High Court. Alterations included the addition of a new single-storey wing to house five new rooms.

An increase in the number of High Court Justices led to the construction of a second storey on this new wing. Numerous alterations took place throughout the twentieth century to cope with increasing court proceedings and expansions of the High Court. In 1913-14 a second expansion took place to further accommodate the High Court and eventually a new high court was added to the complex in 1922.

Alterations, maintenance and expansions continued to take place throughout the twentieth century. A major extension on the eastern side of the courthouse was completed c1963. The extension was designed by the Government Architect's Office and includes two courtrooms and offices. The High Court was relocated to Canberra in 1980, following completion of a purpose-built building.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities -
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages -
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Government inquiries-
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Administration of justice-
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Corrective services-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Major trials-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups -

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Darlinghurst Courthouse is one of the largest and most significant courthouses in New South Wales. The courthouse has been associated with the provision of law and justice in New South Wales since its opening in 1844 and has served variously as a Supreme Court, District Court and High Court over its history.
Darlinghurst Courthouse was one of the earliest purpose-designed courthouses in New South Wales and the first appropriately designed to impart the power and authority of the colony's justice system. The foundations for Darlinghurst Courthouse were laid by convict work gangs and construction began in 1836.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Darlinghurst Courthouse is associated with Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales from 1831-1837, who made a number of signficant changes to the New South Wales justice system during his time as governor. Governor Bourke called for the construction of a new courthouse in Sydney to relieve pressure on the King Street Court and allow better transfer of prisoners between court and the proposed Darlinghurst gaol.
The building is also associated with a number of NSW Colonial Architects, particularly Mortimer Lewis and James Barnet. The many additions and alterations to the building over its history have been the responsibility of successive Government Architects and the Department of Public Works. Most recently, the substantial eastern wing was designed by Government Architect's Branch under Edward Farmer.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence is a massive , heavily designed Old Colonial Grecian-style public building of outstanding quality and design. While the building has been extended many times over its history, each extension has been sympathetic to the original central portion of the building, giving a unified appearance overall that is unusual for a building that has experienced so much change.
Darlinghurst Courthouse features highly intact courtrooms and offices of high quality design. Each court rooms features different furnishing and fixtures that have been well maintained over the building's history. Care has been taken to retain a record of the building's use, from retention of the black curtains on either side of the judge in Court 5, down to grafitti etched into court room furniture.
The courthouse is a landmark building in Sydney, prominently sited at Taylor's Square.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Darlinghurst Courthouse is a long-standing major court in Sydney and has been the site of many high-profile trials and inquiries.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The many changes made to Darlinghurst Courthouse throughout its history and demonstrated in its form have potential to yield information about the changing requirements and uses of courthouses in NSW.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence contains one of the few remaining examples of public buildings designed by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis.
The building was one of only a few courthouses around Australia used to house the High Court until the construction of a purpose-designed builting occurred in the 1980.
Darlinghurst Courthouse is one of only two courthouses to retain an on-site court keeper within the purpose-designed residence. The courthouse also retains a relationship to its contemporaneous gaol, a situation that is rare in New South Wales.
The intactness of each of the additions made to the courthouse provides rare continuous evidence of changing court needs and functions over the past 160 years.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
Darlinghurst Courthouse and Residence is broadly representative of courthouses in NSW and could be said to be the building from which most other major NSW courthouses from the nineteenth century developed. The original Mortimer Lewis designed portion of the courthouse was the first to impart the power and authority of the law, with earlier courthouses modest in comparison.
Integrity/Intactness: Darlinghurst Courthouse has been continuously updated and altered as needs demanded over its history. Most of these additions have been of a high quality and sympathetic in scale and materials to the original courthouse building. Darlinghurst Courthouse retains a high level of integrity and intactness.
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.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerDept. of Justice & Att. General S170 Register 2011    

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenNSW Department of Public Works and Services1985Darlinghurst Courthouse Conservation Plan
WrittenSchwager Brooks and Partners Pty Ltd1993Department of Courts Administration: Preliminary Heritage and Conservation Register

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

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 3080007


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