Some Court Houses of New South Wales

British colonisation of the interior of New South Wales required crossing the Blue Mountains from the Cumberland Plain on which much of the metropolitan area of Sydney lies. This was eventually achieved in 1813 by Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson during the dynamic governorship of the Scottish-born Lachlan Macquarie. The hope was for new pastureland. Even now, driving on a modern highway, one can understand the difficulties faced in pushing through the wooded terrain with its ravines and steep gorges. The first stock was taken though in 1815, leading to the European settlement of the Bathurst Plains.

It is not the aim of this Blog to enter into the current controversies over the colonisation of Australia. It is clear that the colonial government was keen to exercise  and be seen to exercise control and to provide law and order, particularly given the convict system. The aim was quickly to move from military to civilian control. Courts administered justice and court houses were statements of government power and authority. Your Blogger recently was in New South Wales and for the first time followed the route all the way through he mountains to the Bathurst plains. On this route one comes across the old colonial settlement of Hartley. Long bypassed by history (and, most importantly, by the Victorian railway), it preserves a feel of the early- to mid-nineteenth century, with a beautiful church, a presbytery for the priests and some other old buildings of considerable charm, all in the most beautiful setting. One of those surviving is a most beautiful Greek revival court house, a building of considerable sophistication, built of yellow sandstone. It was designed by the famous colonial architect, Mortimer Lewis, and completed in 1837. Its elegance is emphasised by its isolated rural setting. It was in use for government and justice for only fifty years, however, as development took place elsewhere, as the Hartley Valley was bypassed by the railway.  It was this that preserved the tiny settlement. Before the end of the nineteenth century, it had already become a stop for tourists, as part of a nostalgic Australian past.

The major administrative centre for the area is the historic town of Bathurst, with its elegant centre based round a square. Ranged round a court, with one side open to the square, are some government buildings completed in 1880, of which the most important is the court house, which has an imposing dome. Facing each other, are the old post and telegraph offices, placed as wings to the court house, creating a large cour d’honneur. It is most impressive, and on a grand scale. It definitely expresses the power and authority the colonial government. The architectural style is described as Federation Free Classical, though this would make it a very early example of this style. Your blogger thought its details rather reminiscent of the buildings of Greek (Alexander) Thomson – Holmwood House grown to a giant scale, for example. But this may be no more than to say that the original architect, the Scots-born, colonial government architect, James Barnet, and Thomson were near contemporaries. It is very grand indeed, but lacks the classical purity and elegance of Lewis’s Hartley court house. But it is definitely a statement of power and authority.