Busselton Courthouse

A colourful list of historical justice characters has played an important role in the development of the Busselton community.

The first Busselton magistrate in 1830, Captain Molloy [later Colonel], and his wife and daughters took up residence at the property known as "Fairlawn", as Government resident. The captain held court in a room of his home and noted that "all essential duties are to be conducted from the captain's residence".

One such duty must have involved the preliminary hearing of the first woman to be executed in Western Australia, Bridget Hurford. Reports from the Inquirer and Commercial News on 10th October 1855 give an interesting insight into the scandalous affair

"John Hurford had amassed property to the value of 2,000 pounds, a considerable sum for the time. He and Bridget had been married for about four years, she having a son from a previous marriage. She was considerably younger than John. Right from the outset of their relationship they quarrelled, at times quite violently. John was in the habit of sleeping away from her in an attempt to keep the peace. On the day proceeding the murder, John had been to the Vasse and when he returned he said he was sore and not well. Bridget then went to the Vasse and while there asked what would happen to her if John dies without leaving a will. In other words how would she be situated. That night Hurford died.

After conviction, Bridget later confessed to the crime, which had been planned with accomplices William Enoch Dodd, Peter Dixon (who forged a will) and a man known only as "Osbourne". Hurford and Dodd were hanged in Fremantle in 1855.

In 1856, Mr Henry Yelverton, a timber miller of Quindalup, tendered for the erection of a building on the corner of Queen Street and Marine Terrace. For the princely sum of just 250 pounds, Busselton was to get its first 'justice complex' of cells, police offices and a courtroom.

Magistrate Joseph Strelly Harris was the second resident magistrate for Sussex and Vasse from 1861 to 1880. An energetic character, he clashed on a number of occasions with chairman, David Earnshaw (who was the original gaoler) and the Town Trust members, most notably over the construction of Queen Street.

However Magistrate Harris was also instrumental in organising a "busy bee" which resulted in the spectacular avenue of peppermint trees in the newly constructed Queen Street. He also suggested the surveying of a main road with two bridges from The Vasse to Blechyndon Farm at Bridgetown, which greatly increased travel and communication in the area.

At the turn of the 20th century, a brick courthouse was built in the same location. Official notes on the building herald its architectural status.

"The brick court house of 1896/1897 was designed in the office of the Public Works Department when George Temple Poole was Colonial Architect. It illustrates his significant (albeit inadequately appreciated) influence on Australian architecture, both directly and through Robert J. Haddon.

"The new court house is architecturally significant, like many post-gold rush buildings in that it reflects the total change of the face of Western Australian towns brought on by the influx of architects and builders into the state. (In 1893 there were 12 private architects in Western Australia).

Unfortunately, the successor to this courthouse did not receive such glowing reviews. When the 'new' Queen Street premises was opened in 1975 by the Justice Minister N McNeill, the Busselton-Margaret River Times reported.

"The extremely hot day also highlighted what appears to be a serious oversight in the $183,695 structure. No provision has been made for air-conditioning in the building and poor ventilation in some sections, particularly the courtroom and some offices, were emphasised under the hot conditions."

Further criticisms included inadequate waiting areas and such bad acoustics that the local magistrate was known to abandon hearings during heavy rain and often made public mention of the fact that the walls were so thin that it was useless to order witnesses out of court!

Construction of the current $4.1m Busselton Justice Complex was to rectify these problems, and bring to the community the latest advancements in courtroom technology and customer comfort. Construction started in April 2000 and was completed by May 2001. The architects Sandover, Pinder and Hoffman created a timeless design which is sympathetic to the immediate streetscape. Devaugh Construction Pty Ltd, a building company from Bunbury, won the tender to construct one jury courtroom, one magistrates' courtroom, chambers, a secure custodial area (shared by the adjoining police station) and offices for the court's administration and Community Justice Services. Community Justice Services have since moved premises out of the court building.

In the tradition of long-serving Busselton magistrates (and clerks of court) it is interesting to note that Magistrate Kelvin Fisher (in his 14th year of service when the current justice complex was opened in 2001) is the son of Charles Fisher who was the Busselton magistrate for more than 20 years.

Last updated: 10-May-2019

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