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Plans to Replace the First Courthouse

Before the 1900 Courthouse was built, an older building was used on the same site. The following account from the Heidelberg News, 4 February, 1898, describes conditions in this older building, towards the end of its life. There seem to be no photographs of the old court house in situ., although part of it might have continued to be used in the old council offices. It was originally adjacent to the old police station shown below.

Heidelberg Court House

'The News', 4th February 1898.
❝THERE seems to be a probability of obtaining a new court house for Heidelberg, if the shire councillors, honorary magistrates, and leading residents heartily co-operate, irrespective of political feeling, with the Parliamentary representative for the district. Sir HENRY CUTHBERT has expressed, on more than one occasion, his complete concurrence with the reasonableness of the request, and has given the assurance that he will not only place the sum of £1200 on his departmental estimates for the purpose this year, but will, if the item is allowed by the treasurer, at once proceed with the work. Thus, as far as the Solocitor-General is concerned, we are safe, and if Sir GEORGE TURNER can only be brought to see the absolute necessity that exists for supplying adequate accommodation, we should get the much desired new building before this year is out. 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. a 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 invonvenient 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 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. About four years ago the Minister then in office promised that a new building would be put up at a cost of about £1900, and plans were prepared. In the meantime a change of government occurred, and the matter was allowed to stand in abeyance. in 1895 there was £1200 provided in the estimates. Then £500 was lopped off, leaving £700 still available. Then, again, last year, the treasurer, on the plea of retrenchment, struck the item out altogether, and later the Department inquired if a suitable building could be rented. Their claim is just, and as Sir HENRY CUTHBERT has promised to restore £1200 on this year.❞
NOTES: Sir Henry Cuthbert - Victorian Solicitor General 1894 - 1899.
Sir George Turner - Premier of Victoria 1894-99 and 1900-01.

Origins of the First Heidelberg Courthouse

In the Victorian Government Gazette, March 9th, 1853, No. 13, (page 368), a letter was published dated 7th March - "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."
A notice appeared in the 'Argus' dated 13 March, 1853, stating that Heidelberg was appointed as a place for the holding of a Court of Petty Sessions.
1st Clerk of Court - Wm. Abbott - 1853 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 fate of the 1850s courthouse.

Mercury and Weekly Courier, Friday 30 June 1899. Page 3
In reference to this matter it was decided to ask the Board of Land and Works for consent to remove the building to the Park land, and in the event of this being obtained to invite tenders. M'Lellan Bros. offered to do the job for £9.
Proposed Library and Reading Room. The Question of Control.
'The News' 21 July 1899
The old courthouse, Heidelberg, which was recently made a present to the local council by the Law Dept was on Tuesday (18 July 1899) removed by the contractors (Messrs McLellan Bros.) to the new site on the park land 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 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 library 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 institute under municipal jurisdiction. A library committee would be appointed representative of Heidelberg and Ivanhoe ridings, and some resident (lady or gentleman) could be obtained to attend in the evenings for a couple of hours in the capacity of caretaker for a small remuneration. The hall should also be available for meetings, etc. In our opinion, if a library and reading room is to be established under municipal control, it will be a success. Under a committee of ratepayers, it may be a success - or it may follow the course of many other such ventures and fizzle out a failure.