Seeing the magnificent Victorian Italianate Goulburn Courthouse for the first time brought back to my mind some of the grand colonial buildings I have seen in India. I certainly hadn’t anticipated coming across such a structure here in what I might unfairly call sleepy old Goulburn.

Since Goulburn was the largest town in the district, this magnificent court house (the town’s fourth) held, and continues to hold, sessions of local and district courts as well as the supreme court.



The building was designed by Government Architect, James Barnet, and is one of the most spectacular courthouses in New South Wales and, indeed, in Australia. It features a copper dome, colonnaded facade and an apparently richly decorated interior. It is surrounded by attractive gardens and is enclosed by an iron pike fence and ornate gates – added in the 1900s.


The keystone over the central arch depicts Queen Victoria, Australia’s monarch at the time of completion.



The building cost around £30,000, a massive sum at the time but easily within the City’s budget given its prosperity as an agricultural, and to a lesser degree gold-mining, hub. Goulburn was now at the end of an important rail line and had changed in character from a rough and tumble penal settlement to a regional government administrative centre. Further evidence of this prosperity in the late 19th century can also still be seen in the, now often jaded, opulence and decadence of many of the city’s other older buildings.

On opening the courthouse in 1887, Chief Justice Darley described it as ‘a courtroom which I venture to say takes rank amongst the best courtrooms in any part of her Majesty’s dominions’ and continued by expressing his hope that one day Sydney would have a comparable edifice.

Darley continued:

“…..from personal experience from having come on circuit twice this year, I am entitled to hold the opinion that no more law-abiding, orderly, peaceable, and, I trust, God-fearing, people exist than those who inhabit this great Southern district; and the highest compliment I feel I can pay to the district is to express the hope that this great building may continue to be, as it now is, more for ornament than for use”.

Having opened the court the business of the day continued……..

Terence Maloney was found guilty of assaulting a woman at Bungendore, and was remanded for sentence. James Cronan pleaded guilty to maliciously killing a horse at Queanbeyan, and was also remanded for sentence. John Hickey was found guilty of assaulting and robbing a man named Rogers at Duck Flat, near Bungendore (apparently with good cause though!).

A banquet followed where the Chief Justice (obviously based in Sydney) again lamented the non-existence of suitable court facilities in Sydney before the obligatory toasts were proposed. The night concluded with toasts to “The Ladies” and “The Press”.

Internally (no access permitted unless on court business – as it remains a working courthouse) the courthouse contains two large courtrooms, offices, a grand foyer and an old morgue (at the rear). Previously a tunnel linked the courthouse to the former police station and previous courthouse around the corner on Sloane Street. That building is now a massive second hand bookshop, the Argyle Emporium, and is worthy a visit not just to browse the extensive collection of books, records and entertainment memorabilia but also to to see the former police cells (now packed with books) with original steel doors and other architectural features which have been retained, albeit in a state of faded grandeur.

Argyle Emporium – Former Police Station and Courthouse


Returning to the new courthouse, hangings took place from gallows on the front lawn though I understand that, unlike many other places where hangings were a form of public entertainment, large tarpaulins shielded the masses from the show here in Goulburn. It was felt that such displays could have a demoralising effect, especially on the young.

And, finally, what would a building such as this be like without a resident ghost?

Prior to the construction of the courthouse a prison was located on this site. Back in 1855 one Mary Ann Brownlow was, very controversially, hung within the prison confines, for the murder of her wastrel (wasteful or good for nothing) husband whilst she was ‘in a state of frenzy, caused by jealously, and stimulated by liquor’. Brownlow was the last woman to be hanged in Goulburn. Rather than slip away quietly she subsequently took up residence as the courthouse ghost and continues to haunt the building to this day. Such was her notoriety that a ballad was written about her demise at the hands of Justice Stephens. After the performance of ‘The Ballad of Mary Ann Brownlow’ in the courthouse in 2005, Sheriff Stanberg said that he had “received many complaints from people sitting in the upstairs gallery who claimed they had been touched on the shoulder or that their hair had been flipped by an unseen hand”.

Address: Montague Street
Directions: Across from Belmore Park and the Tourist Office.

My next Goulburn review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my Goulburn reviews –HERE

3 thoughts on “Goulburn Courthouse – “More for ornament than use”

  1. Impressive indeed, and I see just what you mean in your comparison with buildings of that era in India 🙂 Your final sentence sent a little shiver down my spine …


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