old supreme court building brisbane history of the supreme court building

History and Construction of the Supreme Court Queensland

The word court originally indicated an enclosed space and in the architectural aspect, it so continues. It was a term apparently used for judicial tribunals which were enclosures where sat the judges and officials. Counsel, Attorneys and the general public stood outside the bar of the court.

Prior to the transfer of judicial activities from those of legislature and administration, the King and his leading councilors sat in his palace to carry out all these functions and consequently the household of the King was termed a court. As all judicial authority is derived from the King, his presence is assumed in all the court, which even not any part of the “curia regis" or King's court, but the curia regis itself.

Supreme Court for Moreton Bay Settlement

The Moreton Bay District Penal Settlement was out of bounds to free settlers until 11 February 1842, when it was rescinded by the New South Wales Government and was now open to free settlement. The Moreton Bay area was under the jurisdiction of the Police Magistrate, Captain John Wickham, a former naval officer who had sailed with Conrad Martens and Charles Darwin aboard The Beagle. Captain Wickham was the magistrate for minor crimes, while all major cases were tried in Sydney.

As there was no courtroom available in Brisbane Town, Captain Wickham used the old Convict Barracks Queen Street. North and South Brisbane were part of New South Wales at the time and the first Supreme Court session held on 15 April 1857 was referred to as the New South Wales Supreme Court at Moreton Bay.

Judge Milford was gazetted on 3rd April 1857, by the New South Wales Government to preside over the Supreme Court for the Moreton Bay Settlement at Brisbane. The court was situated in a portion of the building which had been constructed in 1829 for use as the Prisoners Barracks (Building far right).

This building, after the departure of the convicts in 1839, was used for many purposes at successive times and as in many small towns, as Brisbane then was, full utilization of the building was made by various official institutions as the occasion arose. In the portion of the building allotted to the Supreme Court, the court room served as a chapel on Sundays. The worst class of offenders sat in the gallery and the remainder were accommodated on the lower floor.

Supreme Court Queensland

The Supreme Court for Queensland did not come into being until Separation from New South Wales in 1859. Justice Milford was appointed Queensland's first judge but returned to Sydney after which on 14 August 1861 Justice Lutwyche took his place.

The Supreme Court proceedings continued to be held in the same building for many years situated on the site of the building later occupied by Allan and Stark, in Queen Street, Brisbane. Alterations were made from time to time and in the year 1870 additional ventilation was provided by the installation of several windows.

However, the inadequacies of the building became more apparent and the provision of a new Supreme Court on a better site was decided by the Government, but it was not until the year 1879 that the removal was made.

In October 1880, an auction sale was held and the iron, stone, bricks, timber and other materials were bought by Francis Hicks of George Street, Brisbane for £140. At that time, all the former old convict constructed public buildings situated on the western side of Queen Street in the block from the corner of George Street to Albert Street were also sold for removal and thus were removed the ugly reminders of the stern old days of early Moreton Bay Settlement.

The allotments respectively situated on the corner of Queen and George Streets and Queen and Albert Streets as well as three allotments situated halfway between those points were sold in early days viz. 1849 and 1850 to the various owners.

New Supreme Court Building

The site chosen for the new Supreme Court was originally occupied on the North Quay frontage by the Convicts' Hospital and Surgeons Quarters. This hospital was used after the convicts departure as the Town Hospital until the first General Hospital at Bowen Park Brisbane was opened in 1867. After that date, the Convict (or Town) Hospital became the Police Barracks until the site was required for the erection of the new Supreme Court.

Accommodation for the Police was provided at Petrie Terrace in the building formerly used as a military barracks. The corner of North Quay and Ann Street was the site of the Surgeon's one acre garden, while the adjoining area in what is now Ann Street was the Commissariat Clerk's quarters and the garden also of one acre alongside the corner of Ann and George Streets.

The site was a picturesque one with fine oak trees in line with North Quay, Ann Street and George Street. A beautiful thick clump of the trees shaded the Surgeon's Quarters and the old Hospital buildings, but all the trees had to be removed in the process of leveling the area to a uniform height of four feet above North Quay and preparing for the new building.

The building was designed in the neoclassical style by Francis Drummond Greville Stanley, architect of the Ports and Harbours Building and the Queensland Club. The original plans provided for a “T" shaped building of two storeys to be built with a frontage to North Quay of 230 feet and an average width of 42 feet. In the building plan, the stem of the letter “T" was to extend 100 feet towards George Street.

Italian style of architecture was selected as being climatically suitable and financially least expensive in proportion to the requirements of accommodation. The frontage plan for the George Street side provided for protection by arcades on the lower and balconies on the upper storey as this portion of the building is exposed in the summer months to the most heat.

General internal and office arrangements were designed on the most approved and convenient manner on the lower floor while the court rooms were placed on the upper floor so, as to give the best light ventilation and be removed as far as possible from the noise of the streets.

On the lower floor, a large central hall from which corridors lead to the three extremities of the building, the offices, the apartments which included chambers for the four judges (of those days), offices of the Attorney General and Crown Solicitor's Department.

The offices of the two last named Departments were later relocated to the Treasury Buildings in Queen Street, and of more recent times to the Crown Law Building in Ann Street diagonally opposite the Supreme Court.

On the Upper storey of the Supreme Court, each court room had a floor area of 40 feet square or including the galleries for the accommodation of the public the area was 70 ft. by 40 ft. with ceilings of 30 ft. The ceiling of the central hall from the main floor was 55 feet.

Originally, the roof was covered with slates but was later covered with galvanized iron. The roof of the central hall was carried to a sharper pitch than on the side windows, owing to an additional height of 15 feet. Although this arrangement diverged from the pure Italian style of architecture, it gave prominence and effect to the central block.

In 1874, the original design was for an extensive and magnificent building but which, if it had been followed, would have cost more than double the amount provided for the construction. Queensland, as a Colony, was only fifteen years established and the population of Brisbane itself 15,000. In the original design, the lower floor was to be built entirely of stone from Woogaroo (Goodna) and Murphy's Creek quarries.

Modifications of the plan were, no doubt adopted, one being that the lower floor, as well as the upper were built of bricks faced with cement. John Petrie was given the contract in September 1875 and the building was opened on 6th March 1879 the cost being £33,589.

At the time of its completion, the Supreme Court ranked next in architectural importance to the stately Parliament House at the lower end of George Street, Brisbane, but in the passing of time and the growth of population, many larger and more expensive buildings for the use of various government departments were constructed.

The site chosen for the Supreme Court was, at that time, remote from the noise of street traffic and set as it was, on a square block of land it was designed to occupy half the space of the area. It tended to beautify that area of the town when viewed from the Victoria Bridge, the river and South Brisbane.

Regarding the small cottage once situated in the Supreme Court grounds at the corner of George and Ann Streets, the belief of many was that this was the old Hospital of Moreton Bay Settlement days. This cottage was the home of the Supreme Court caretaker, and was not erected until the year 1887, sixty years after the original Convict Hospital (later used as a Town Hospital) on North Quay was built in 1827.

Demolition of all the old convict constructed buildings in the Supreme Court land area was completed during the year 1875. The stone used in the caretaker's cottage came from the walls of the old Petrie Terrace Gaol demolished after 1881.

The North Quay frontage, in the architectural aspect, was designed as the main entrance to the Supreme Court, but, by common usage, the George Street side soon became the thoroughfare from which the legal fraternity and the general public almost universally entered the Court.

The building was badly damaged by fire in September 1968 and was demolished in 1976 replaced by modern structures with the entrance unhesitantly facing George Street, notwithstanding what the Colonial Architect thought was the proper entrance.

- Unknown


George Rogers Harding was born in Somerset, England, on 3 December 1838. Gravitating toward the legal profession he was called to the Bar in 1861. Arriving in Brisbane with his wife Emily Morris in October 1866, he was immediately admitted to the Bar.

In April 1876 he was appointed a commissioner under the 1872 Civil Procedure Reform Act and in July 1879 became senior puisine judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland. He became ill during a trial and died 31 August 1895 in his chambers after delivering a judgment.

Honourable Patrick Real was baptised on the 19 March, 1846 at Pallasgrean, near Limerick, Ireland , being the youngest of six children. The family migrated and settled at Ipswich, Moreton Bay District in late 1850. He was admitted to the Bar on 8 September 1874. On 8 January 1879, Real married Annie Catharine Thynne and went on to later become one of the highest earning barristers of his day, often acting as a District Court judge.

He was appointed crown prosecutor on 20 February 1878 and was appointed to the Supreme Court bench on 8 July 1890. In 1891 he served on the royal commission on the establishment of the University of Queensland. He was appointed senior puisne judge in 1903 and retired the next year at the age of 76 years. Patrick Real died on 10 June 1928, survived by his wife, son and daughter, and was buried at the Toowong cemetery.

Sir Pope Alexander Cooper, politician and judge, was born on 12 May 1846 at Willeroo Station, Lake George, N.S.W. In 1868 Cooper went to London and was called to the Bar in 1872. He returned to Australia in 1874 and was admitted to the Queensland Bar.

He entered the public service and advanced to crown prosecutor in the northern district Supreme Court in 1878. He was appointed attorney-general in 1881 winning the seat of Bowen. Though unhappy in politics, he held this office and seat until January 1883 when he was appointed to the northern bench of the Supreme Court.

He was elevated in 1895 to senior puisne judge in Brisbane. He was appointed chief justice of Queensland in October 1903. Cooper was knighted in 1904. He was chancellor of the University of Queensland from 1915 to 1922. He retired in March 1922 and died at Chelmer, Brisbane on 30 August 1923.

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