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Paterson River history

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Paterson Court House

Paterson Court House, now a museum

Paterson Court House, re-opened 1863 after extensions to the 1858 building. It is now a museum run by Paterson Historical Society.


Petty Sessions ot be held at Patersons Plains

Above: Proclamation that Court of Petty Sessions will be conducted at Patersons Plains (NSW Government Gazette 3 October 1832 page 318).

In 1819 a District Constable and a Constable were appointed to Patersons Plains and in 1820 a military barracks was established there, staffed by a Constable and four soldiers. The barracks was located at Old Banks, which was the site of government administration for Patersons Plains. It was a few kilometres downstream from the present village of Paterson.

In 1822 the Hunter Valley was opened up for settlement via land grants. In 1825 a local magistrate, James Webber, was appointed, giving Patersons Plains its own court. It was supported by a 'Clerk to the Bench' and a scourger (flogger), so convicts could be sentenced and punished locally.

A wooden lockup or watchhouse (a small jail) was built at Old Banks in the mid 1820s and it doubled as a courthouse. In 1832 Governor Bourke revised the legislation governing courts and replaced General Sessions with Petty Sessions. Patersons Plains was gazetted as a place where the new Petty Sessions were to be held (a Court of General Sessions had been held there since 1825).

The current township of Paterson was gazetted in 1833 and in 1835 a wooden court house and lockup were built there. Government administration of the district then moved from Old Banks to Paterson and the Court of Petty Sessions also moved upstream to Paterson.

Paterson's new court house in 1858

By the late 1850s Paterson had outgrown its wooden court house and lockup. In September 1857 tenders were called for construction of a new court house.[1] Its architect was Alexander Dawson and the cost of the building, furniture and fittings was £1,210.[2] The modest building consisted of a court-room measuring 23 by 18 feet, with two cells and police quarters at the rear.[3] It opened in November 1858 [4] but within four years it also became inadequate for current needs.

In June 1862 tenders were called for substantial rennovation and expansion of the near new building,[5] so it could also house a troop of Mounted Police that was to be stationed in Paterson. The roof was removed and the walls raised to two storeys to accommodate a troopers' barracks above the cells and police quarters. At the same time the court-room was extended to 22 by 30 feet, with a vestibule in front, and two wings were added to provide a jury room and a magistrates' room, each 12 by 14 feet. Provision was also made for future extension in the form of an additional room in each wing.[3]

Architect of the alterations and additions was Mortimer Lewis jnr and the work cost £2,302, giving the building the form we see today apart from the extra two rooms in the rear wing, which were added later. As part of this work, stables were constructed at the rear of the court house for the troopers' horses.[6]

The court-room was completed in May 1863 but by August it had not officially been handed over because the roof leaked and repairs were required. Finally the Police Office was transferred to the new court house in September and magistrates held court here for the first time on 8 September 1863.[7] The photo below shows the court house a few years after completion in 1863, including the stables at the rear.

Paterson Court House c1870

Above: a remarkable photo c1870, showing Paterson Court House after completion of extensions in 1863. St Ann's Presbyterian Church is on the left and St Paul's can just be made out behind trees at mid right (photo: Jack Sullivan Collection).

The three buildings at the rear of the court house c1870

The three buildings at the rear of the court house in the c1870 photo above, and a close-up of them below, need some explanation. The one on the left with the big chimney is the kitchen for police living in barracks above the court house. It was probably built in 1868 when the old slab court house was demolished. The middle building is the original 1835 lock-up which was pulled down in 1876.[8] The building to the right, partly in front of the old lock-up, is the stables constructed for the troopers' horses in 1863.

Paterson Court House c1870 detail

Above: a close-up of the court house and outbuildings from the c1870 photo.

Mounted police were stationed at Paterson from 1863, and lived in the barracks upstairs in the court house. Paterson was the centre for administration of justice in the Paterson Valley until the local Court of Petty Sessions was discontinued in 1967. Paterson Court House reopened in 1974 as a museum run by Paterson Historical Society.

Paterson Court House late 1880s

Above: Paterson Court House late 1880s, showing the two rooms added to the rear of the building some time after 1863. Provision had been made for them in the 1862 plans The building immediately to the right is the kitchen, with the stables at far right (photo: Boxer collection, Paterson Historical Society).

Inside Paterson Court House today

Above: Paterson Court House as it is now as a museum. It is open on Sundays from 11 to 3.

See also


1. Maitland Mercury, 8 September 1857, 3.

2. Votes and Proceedings, NSW Legislative Assesmbly, September 1863. See also: "Paterson Court House 1861-63", a handout by Val Anderson, Paterson Historical Society.

3. Maitland Mercury, 5 July 1862, 3.

4. Maitland Mercury, 25 November 1858, 2.

5. Maitland Mercury, 12 June 1862, 3.

6. Maitland Mercury, 6 November 1862, 4.

7. Maitland Mercury: 30 May 1863, 2; 1 August 1863, 3; 19 September 1863, 4.

8. Maitland Mercury, 5 September 1876, 5.