Sydney Supreme Courthouse (Old Supreme Court) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Sydney Supreme Courthouse (Old Supreme Court)

Item details

Name of item: Sydney Supreme Courthouse (Old Supreme Court)
Other name/s: Old Court House
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Courthouse
Primary address: King Street and Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
Hectares (approx): 0.03437
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
King Street and Elizabeth StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Department of Justice and Attorney GeneralState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Old Supreme Court building located at the corner of Elizabeth and King Streets has historic significance as one of the three remaining Greenway designed buildings in the immediate area, the others are the Hyde Park Barracks and St James Church. The building has aesthetic significance as a design of Australia's first trained architect, Francis Greenway, and as a fine rare and largely intact, if modified, example of the Old Colonial Georgian style as used in a judicial building. The building has historical and social significance as part of the early colonial legal system and as part of Macquarie's vision for Sydney. The site is significant as the location chosen for Macquarie's first Georgian Public School which was apparently modified during construction to accommodate the Supreme Court. Representative of the style as used in a courthouse building and representative of the importance given to judicial buildings in the early days of the colony. (Peddle Thorp and Walker Pty Ltd, 1998) It is prominently sited and forms a major part of the Court group in Queens square and part of the earliest civic group with the Hyde Park Barracks and St James' Church. (SHR citation)
Date significance updated: 07 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.


Designer/Maker: Francis Greenway, J Barnet (additions)
Construction years: 1820-1828
Physical description: The Old Supreme Court building is a two-storey rectangular building which consists of the original Georgian building with an additional logia and cornice added in 1868 which gives the building a Victorian Italianate appearance, evident in the arched colonnaded and raised parapet concealing the roof. Original Greeway elements include windows, fine detail, recessed wall panels, arches, cedar joinery, staircase and cupola. (Schwager Brooks 1993)
This building, the Old Registry Office and the Banco Road Courthouse form the Supreme Court Group.
Other accommodation: Courts, Sheriffs office, legal rooms, judges chambers, library/conference rooms, chief executive offices, toilets.
Construction: The Old Courthouse is constructed in face sandstock brick with rendered, moulded details and slate roofing.
Interior materials: Cedar joinery, marble tiles, plaster.
Exterior materials: Brick, render, slate.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Fair condition. (July 2010)
Date condition updated:17 Aug 10
Modifications and dates: Major additions by J Barnet including loggia (1868) and later timber additions.
New court room (formerly Court 4) and associated rooms. (c1895-1909)
Alterations to internal configuration throughout nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Extensive repair and conservation works. (1975-1977)
Conversion of Court 4 into Sheriff's Office. (c2007)
New jury rooms for Courts 2 and 3. (2009)
Judge and associate chambers (Level 4) converted to mediation rooms. (c2009)
August 2016: Water penetrated courthouse damaging carpet.
Current use: Supreme Court
Former use: Courthouse


Historical notes: The Old Supreme Court building, along with Hyde Park Barracks and St James Church, forms part of the civic centre axial group designed by Francis Greenway.

The Old Supreme Court was originally built to house the newly established Supreme Court and was the second courthouse building constructed in the new colony of New South Wales, preceded only by a small courthouse built in Windsor in 1821. The building was designed by Civil Architect Francis Greenway in 1819 under the direction of Governor Macquarie. Greenway was dismissed before the building was completed and its design was so modified by his successor, Standish Lawrence Harris, that the building hardly resembles his original design. The building, which was completed in 1828, was occupied by the Supreme Court from 1827. It was deemed inadequate from the beginning however, and when a new supreme courthouse was constructed in Darlinghurst in 1835, the King Street building was renovated as the Court of Requests and the civil jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

In the 1860s, James Barnet designed additions for the building, including an arcaded loggia along the King Street façade and a new classical cornice and parapet for the roof.

A new court (Court 4, now the Sheriff’s Office) was added between 1895 and 1909 between the original King Street Courthouse and the Registry Office to the south.

Extensive repair and conservation works were carried out 1975-1977. Recent works include new jury rooms and extensive refurbishment of all rooms within the Old Courthouse.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis -
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 Civic centre-
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-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. -
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Major trials-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Old Supreme Court was the first permanent building constructed for the Supreme Court of New South Wales. The building was used for this purpose continuously for 150 years from 1827 to 1977. After a haitus of 20 years, Supreme Court use of the building resumed in 1997. The courthouse is associated with the history and development of the law in New South Wales and in particular, the constitutional law of the state.

The building is an integral part of the largest single surviving group of Macquarie period buildings in New South Wales (Conservatorium of Music, Parliament House and The Mint, the Hyde Park Barracks, St James Church and the Old Supreme Court). The fabric and form of the building bear witness to the changes brought about in the Colony by the Commission of Inquiry conducted by JT Bigge. (PTW Architects 2008)

The two original court rooms have been in continuous use as court rooms since 1827 and their arrangement has remained essentially unchanged since the 1840s-1850s. The judge's chambers in the west wing have been in continuous use for this purpose since 1827. (PTW Architects 2008)
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Old Supreme Court is associated with a number of figures important in the history of New South Wales. The building is associated with Governor Macquarie, who selected the site for the courthouse and commissioned its construction, and Francis Greenway, Sydney's first civil architect, who designed the original building. The building is also associated with the work of successive Colonial and Government Architects, including James Barnet, who designed the front colonnade of the building, and Walter Liberty Vernon, who designed a new courtroom for the building in 1895 (once Court 4, now the Sheriff's Office).

The choice of site for the courthouse, its eventual plan, the progress of the works and its final form are representative of the changes brought about in the Colony by the Commission of Inquiry conducted by JT Bigge. (PTW Architects 2008)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Old Supreme Court is a fine public building displaying Victorian Classical and Victorian Georgian architectural styles. The building is entered via a large loggia along its King Street façade. The interior of the building features two finely decorated courtrooms with intact early finishes and public galleries and a dramatic central spiral staircase with a domed ceiling.

The Old Supreme Court demonstrates the work of three Colonial/Government Architects in the numerous additions and alterations made to the original building over its history.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Old Supreme Court has social significance for its role as a significant indicator of the developmetn of a free society in New South Wales in the first half of the nineteenth century. (PTW Architects 2008)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Old Supreme Court site has the potential for the survival of archaeological remains of buildings once part of the Supreme Court complex which have been demolished. The site has the potential for the survival of underfloor and other archaeological deposits and features associated with the occupation of the site. Although the building has been modified since 1827, it retains the ability to demonstrate aspects of the history of the law and of the judicial process of various periods. The building displays in its fabric the history of construction since 1827 with significant remains of decorative schemes of several periods. (PTW Architects 2008)
SHR Criteria f)
The Old Supreme Court is a rare example of Macquarie-period building which continues to serve the same purpose for which it was originally intended. (PTW Architects) The building is also a rare example of buildings remaining in New South Wales built during the 1820s and a rare example of the work of Civil Architect Francis Greenway.
SHR Criteria g)
The two original courtrooms within the Old Supreme Court are representative of the design of these rooms during the nineteenth century in NSW. The courtrooms feature raised timber public galleries supported on cast-iron columns.
The Old Supreme Court is representative of the work of three Colonial/Government Architects: Greenway, Barnet and Vernon. The rooms and additions designed by each architect bear the trademarks of its architect's preferred style.
Integrity/Intactness: Sydney Supreme Courthouse retains a moderate level of intactness and integrity. The original court rooms have been sympathetically refurbished and significant elements such as the central spiral stair retained. Continual reconfiguration of internal spaces to accommodate new and increasing uses has left the original internal configuration difficult to discern.
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 - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerDept. of Justice & Att. General S170 Register 2011    

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenPeddle Thorp & Walker Pty Ltd1998King Street Courts Complex Sydney Outline Conservation Plan
WrittenPTW Architects and Rosemary Annable2008King Street Courts - Stage 7 Heritage Impact Statement
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: 3080013

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