Highlands History | June 19

In the 1830s Berrima became the district’s judicial and police headquarters. With expansion of settlement from the 1860s, new towns in the Southern Highlands gained legal infrastructure. A history of developments continues here.

After a railway station opened at Moss Vale in 1867, the town grew rapidly and residents soon petitioned for legal services. In 1877 one constable (foot) and a Petty Sessions Clerk were appointed. They occupied a weatherboard building, formerly a hotel, near the Argyle Street railway bridge.

During 1880,  police and court premises were erected on Bay Street near the railway station. The well-designed buildings were of brick, with gardens and a lock-up keeper's quarters, police yards and stables. The precinct embodied the Government’s confidence in Moss Vale continuing to prosper.

STYLISH: A side view, c1900, of Moss Vale’s police precinct built in 1880 on Bay St near the railway station. Photos: BDH&FHS.

STYLISH: A side view, c1900, of Moss Vale’s police precinct built in 1880 on Bay St near the railway station. Photos: BDH&FHS.

SHORT-LIVED: Moss Vale’s fine court and police precinct built in 1880 and demolished in 1914.

SHORT-LIVED: Moss Vale’s fine court and police precinct built in 1880 and demolished in 1914.

In addition to Petty Sessions, in 1881 Moss Vale gained the next level of the judiciary. The Government Gazette advised that the District Court, hitherto held at Berrima, would be moved to Moss Vale “which shall exercise jurisdiction in and over the existing district”.

At Bowral, where a railway station had also opened in 1867, a police station was provided in 1882, with one constable (foot), located in a weatherboard building at the corner of Wingecarribee and Bendooley Streets. 

In 1886 a brick police residence was erected at the rear, facing Wingecarribee Street. It had two bedrooms, dining room and kitchen, plus two cells and an exercise yard. By 1892 two constables (foot) were listed.

Townspeople requested a Court of Petty Sessions and Lands Office in 1883, due to the “great inconvenience of cases having to be taken at Mittagong or Moss Vale”. The Justice Minister considered it unwarranted but, after six years of agitation, a Court opened in 1890 in a rent-free room at Council Chambers. 

Residents then requested that the Government erect a Court House at Bowral to serve the whole district. The Berrima District Police Magistrate, FR Wilshire, was not in favour and existing arrangements continued. Tenders were eventually called in 1895 for a court house, designed by the Government Architect in late Gothic style, to be built on the police station site. Alf Stephens, a Bowral-based builder, submitted the lowest tender and won the contract. 

Bowral people were dismayed that plans did not specify the unique trachyte stone from Mt Gibraltar. The local member, William McCourt, pushed their case and it was agreed. The building was also considered too small, but had to be accepted as the trachyte substantially increased costs.

Bowral’s Court House was officially opened in May 1896, followed by a banquet at the Grand Hotel, where a ‘coming of age’ was celebrated by town elders and dignitaries.

COMPACT: Bowral Court House (left) built in 1895 with trachyte, the unique Mt Gibraltar stone, c1900.

COMPACT: Bowral Court House (left) built in 1895 with trachyte, the unique Mt Gibraltar stone, c1900.

The legal landscape, however, was changing. From 1896 a district Police Magistrate was no longer appointed, the duties being transferred to Goulburn. Then, in 1901, due to a decline in business at Berrima, the district’s police headquarters were relocated to Moss Vale. 

The residents of Bowral were indignant. At a large gathering, as reported in the Bowral Free Press, they objected to “Moss Vale's unfair endeavour to appropriate all the Government offices of the district” and “the continued neglect of Bowral as the district’s central town”. They considered their town as the most suitable for police headquarters. 

Bowral’s police station had been relocated to the residence in 1895 when the original building made way for the Court House. By 1912 the strength was listed as one sergeant 2nd class and one constable, indicating it was still a local station, not headquarters.

Moss Vale’s police and court precinct was demolished in 1914 to make way for the duplication of the Great Southern Railway. The Robertson Advocate noted sadly that “the picturesque police station will disappear . . . all the land in the vicinity being required for railway lines, yards, sidings and buildings”.

In April 1914 the Scrutineer alerted Moss Vale residents to be vigilant about retaining the police and court headquarters “not that anything is foreshadowed”. 

A new site had been obtained by the Justice Department but, being war-time, building works were on hold. 

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 3 of a 4-part series.