The Morpeth Museum Committee and Maitland City Council are preparing celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Morpeth Court House. Andrew Parkinson reports.
When Sue Thomas thinks about the Morpeth Court House, she says it is hard to not become entranced with the old building.
“I love it; when you walk into the place there is a feeling,” she said.
“It’s hard to describe, there’s just something there. It is certainly one of the most significant heritage buildings in this area if not the country.”
Mrs Thomas, who is the Morpeth Museum curator, is helping to prepare the courthouse for it’s 150th anniversary celebrations on October 18.
The courthouse, now occupied by the museum, has recently undergone significant renovations to restore it to its original condition.
Built in 1862, the courthouse didn’t see it’s first case until July 1863 because citizens claimed it wasn’t finished.
A leaky roof, loud echoes and other problems were some of the initial teething problems according to Mrs Thomas.
“The building was also built with a clock tower, but without a clock,” she said.
“The public at the time demanded a clock in the town with a loud chime over Hinton. There was a meeting at the courthouse about how it was unnecessary because gentlemen had a clock but the majority weren’t gentlemen, they were petty convicts, farmers and settlers.
“The clock was second hand and came from England and it was a seven-day clock but the courthouse wasn’t high enough in that the weights hit the ground on the sixth day.
“So there were many stories of husbands going out on Saturday and not returning until Monday because the clock wasn’t wound again until the Monday.”
Morpeth Museum chairman Alan Todd said that while East Maitland Court House was slightly older than Morpeth, there were plenty of petty crimes committed in the area to keep the local courts in business.
“It wasn’t only the sailors but there were the settlers and convict labourers and people of varying types drank a lot,” he said.
“There was plenty of liquor to be had due to the Irish convicts being good at making it, which all helped towards the need for a courthouse.
“And given that there were three, at Morpeth, East Maitland and Maitland in such close proximity there must have been a demand for them.
“If you look at some of the old charges for people being tried there, there’s some really unusual ones.
“Forgery, having a ferocious dog, furious riding of a horse, lots of bad language, loitering on the footpath, being an unlawful distance away from a horse and cart. There’s so many there.”
Mrs Thomas said there were countless stories associated with the courthouse and that the building had been put to various uses since it was decommissioned.
“We don’t actually know who the last person sentenced there was but we do know it would have occurred in 1942 when the courthouse closed during World War II,” she said.
“The emblem over the canopy should have been returned to the chief justice of the country but it wasn’t, meaning it is the oldest emblem in it’s original position in Australia.
“After the war it was first used as a recruiting office for the war effort and the Red Cross.
“Children came after school and made camouflage netting and since then it has been many things including a baby health centre, a library and all sorts of community activities.
“There has been a continual use by a whole variety of other people and many community meetings.”
The museum committee and Maitland City Council are welcoming the community to join them at the Morpeth Court House on Friday, October 18 to share stories about the building’s history.
Guests can RSVP through the council, with the committee also selling a book on the history of the court house by Ann Beaumont on the night.
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