The Old Perth Court House is believed to be the oldest building in Perth.... and I thought that honour belonged to my local lunch bar.

In 1836 Governor Stirling called for tenders to construct a new court house in Perth. The building was completed in December 1836, and was officially opened on Good Friday 1837. It is the oldest public building still standing in Perth. In those it days stood close to the original shoreline of the Swan River. Today it stands next to the Supreme Court, and ranks as the hardest to find Perth heritage building. When the surrounding land was reclaimed from the river, the Old Perth Court House lost it's prime shoreline position. Not even the effects of global warming have restored its river views.

The Old Court House.

 

The Old Perth Court House.

The Old Court House around 1900. It is a rather humble looking building of Georgian style architecture. However at the time of its construction, most of the colony's population were still living in bush huts. The building was designed by Mr Henry Reveley, who was Perth's first civil engineer. It is of stone rubble construction, and is rendered for a more pleasing appearance. With a shortage of quality buildings during the early years of the colony, the Court House served many different community uses. 

The Law Society of WA finally got their hands on the building in 1965, and in 1987 declared it the Francis Burt Law Education Centre. Now living in the shadow of the Supreme Court (and other various high rise buildings), it is a forgotten link in Perth's colonial history.
The Court House around 1900.  
The best way to locate this lost icon, is to walk through Stirling Gardens on the corner of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street. Stirling Gardens were officially opened in 1845, and are the oldest botanical gardens in Perth. The site was set aside for botanical purposes in 1829, and was originally used as an acclimatisation garden for introduced species. These species included grapes, and imported fruits. The Old Court House is hidden in the far corner behind the Perth City Council building. The Court House is open to the public from Wednesdays to Fridays.  Very few visitors successfully locate the court house, so expect a warm welcome from the guide.  A comforting hug, and an exchange of current newspapers would be an appropriate gesture.
 
Inside the Court House. Alternative uses of the Old Court House building over the years. The Stirling Gardens.
Inside the Court House. Alternative building uses. Stirling Gardens.
 
When was the Old Court House New?
Over the Christmas break in 1836, the court house was the newest public building in the colony. It was not until the construction of another court house in 1856, that the 1836 court house was considered to be old. This means the court house had varying degrees of newness for the first 20 years, and increasing levels of oldness for the last 154.  The passage of time has now made the 1856 Court House rather old, but let's keep it simple.
It's all about time.
 
Father Salvado: The Piano Man.

The Piano Monk
Over 130 years before Billy Joel became a famous musician, the Old Court House was the stage for one of the original piano men, or should that be monk. Father Rosendo Salvado was in desperate need of some funding to establish his Benedictine Mission in New Norcia. As a last resort he performed, "a one night only", solo piano performance in the Court House. The venue was a sell out, and the people of Perth enjoyed some great piano music. Father Rosendo raised both the house, and the cash necessary to kick start his Benedictine Mission
During a quiet moment at the monastry, Father Salvado reflects on his "Hot August Night".
   Father Salvado Reflecting on his "Hot August Night"
 
The Old Court House and Swan River Foreshore.
Being Perth's oldest surviving public building, the Old Court House provides an opportunity to work out where the original river shoreline was. Back in the old days, the river waters lapped onto the base of the steps on the southern side of the building. The Water Police built their boatsheds just in front of the Court House. In the Government House Grounds, next door to the Old Court House, an old limestone wall still exists from the early days of the colony. The river boundary once ran along this wall, and continued past the Old Court House. The land was reclaimed during 1904-05, and is now known as the Supreme Court Gardens.  To find out more about the Perth foreshore visit our Swan River Reclamation page. The Old Court House is behind the Water Police Boatsheds.
  Prior to the reclamation, the Old Court House
was much closer to the river shoreline.
 
The Old Limestone Wall  
The Old Limestone Wall in the Government House Gardens. The limestone wall is located in the lower grounds of the Government House Gardens.  The river originally lapped the boundary line along the length of the wall. The present Government House was built between 1859-64, and is visible in the upper left. 

Garden Rule: If you find any stray tennis balls, they are the Governor's.
The Old Limestone Wall (right of picture) borders the Swan River in 1870. The Government House Gardens.
The limestone wall borders the river foreshore in 1870. The Old Court House is behind the Water Police Boatsheds. The original river flats and terrace, are still
intact in the Government House Gardens.
 
Top Secret Fact. Most old court houses hide some dark secrets, and our one is no exception. Perhaps sentencing 15 year old John Graven to death in 1844, was the building's darkest moment.  Not quite. There is one fact the tour guide will never utter within its stone rubble rendered walls. Perth's Oldest Surviving Building you ask?  Mr Henry Reverley also designed the mysterious Round House gaol in 1831, which is still standing on Arthur's Head in Fremantle.  It is officially the oldest surviving public building in Western Australia. The Old Court House might technically be the oldest building in Perth. However, it takes a brave visitor to challenge this claim, while taking the stand in the Old Perth Court House.
 
Did You Know?
A very important public meeting was held in the Old Court House on the 23rd February, 1849.  Over 200 settlers adopted a petition to establish Perth as a Penal Colony.  The subsequent arrival of over 10'000 convicts played a vital role in sustaining the future of this isolated settlement.
Now You Know!
 
So the next time you are feeling lost for things to do, why not locate Perth's hardest to find heritage building, and stand on a little reclaimed foreshore at the same time. 
 
Location:   4 Barrack Street, Perth.  Try looking at the rear of Stirling Gardens. 
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