Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Richmond Courthouse

The Richmond Courthouse is an adaption of the Regency style of architecture and features an elliptical ceiling. It was built of bricks in 1825 probably to a design by Colonial Architect, David Lambe who had been appointed in June 1824. It was constructed around the same time as the Richmond Gaol.

In December 1826, Tobias Kirkwood, who was the acting engineer, wrote to the colonial secretary stating that the inside of the new courthouse was fit for use by the public service but that there were two windows required for each side of the of the entrance door. However, the only window maker potentially available to complete the work was currently serving time in the chain gang and thus was not available until his time was up. As a substitute, Kirkwood had two plain windows made.

The courthouse was initially used, as a temporary measure, to house soldiers. However, in 1827, these soldiers were soon reported as “reveling in the court house, considered most unseemly behavior. In that year, Lieutenant Governor Arthur sent a dispatch to the Home Secretary in England reporting that the construction had been completed with the work and materials being provided by convict mechanics and laborers. By this means, the public works had been conducted without any heavy expense and without the need to increase the wages of free mechanics and thereby distressing the settlers.

By 1829, the Courts of Quarter Sessions for the Police District of Richmond were underway. By 1834, the building was also being used for church services prior to the construction of the churches in the town. In May 1834, a letter from the Police Office, Hobart recommended that the party stationed in Richmond under Overseer Thompson should be tasked with making repairs to the courthouse roof and to construct a porch on the front of the building. By July 1834, the work had not commenced due to a delay in the delivery of timber from Port Arthur which had been sent to Hobart instead of Richmond direct..

It would appear that work on St Luke’s church was stopped for the courthouse and the incomplete school building was used as a store house until the church was completed. All of this was due to the delay in the arrival of the timber and other assorted stores. Even the fencing timber provided for the courthouse was unsuitable for its intended purpose. Governor Arthur finally organized for 9000 bricks to be supplied for the final completion of the courthouse in late 1834.

When Richmond became a municipality in 1861, the court house also became the Council Chambers. The police watch house which had been constructed in 1838 next to the court house, and is now the kitchen and part of the supper room area of the building. In 1862, permission was granted to use the building for dancing classes “upon the condition that the ordinary rules of propriety and good order were to apply” It was used as Council Chambers from 1861, when the Richmond Municipality was established, until 1993, when Richmond Council amalgamated with Clarence City Council.

A small plan in the Tasmanian State Archives shows the central court room flanked by 4 rooms as it is at present but with three outside doors all facing due north and only the rear two rooms having direct access to the court room. The prisoners did not enter through the porch door.

Main Text & Information Source –
“Richmond, Tasmania – A Crossing Place” – Elizabeth Jones

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