By 1839 Berrima was the administrative and judicial centre for the Southern Highlands, with an impressive court house and gaol dominating the town.
Berrima's prestige began to decline in 1850 when Supreme Court and Quarter Sessions, which had sat on circuit at Berrima, were moved to the faster growing town of Goulburn. It became the judicial centre for the Southern Districts.
Lower-tier courts continued at Berrima, however, to serve the local district. The lowest tier, the Courts of Petty Sessions, sat at regular intervals. Also known as the Police Court, it was presided over by a paid Police Magistrate with prominent local gentlemen serving on the bench as Justices of the Peace or magistrates. At least two were required to convict people on charges of theft, drunkenness, disobedience, abusive language or other disorderly conduct.
The local court also processed civil matters such as liquor licenses, registering of businesses and licensing of slaughter yards. Records of proceedings and of fees and fines were kept by a Clerk, usually a police constable.
District Courts, introduced in the 1850s for NSW regional areas, sat three times a year at each location, including at Berrima. It was an intermediate court, hearing the more serious misdemeanours beyond the jurisdiction of local magistrates, but not capital crimes. Those punishable by death went before the Supreme Court.
The Police Magistrate supervised policemen stationed at Berrima. In the early 1860s the strength was one sub-inspector, one senior sergeant, three mounted constables and three foot constables. Records indicate there was a lock-up keeper's quarters attached to the Court House and a separate police station.
The nearby Berrima Gaol, enlarged in 1866 to hold prisoners under a solitary system, was separately administered by the NSW Prisons Department.
The police at Berrima were responsible for the entire district, consisting then of scattered rural settlements along the Southern Road (now Old Hume Highway) from the Bargo Brush to Paddy's River, with villages at Braemar, Nattai (where the Fitz Roy Ironworks operated), and along the Old South Road including at Sutton Forest.
Settlement intensified from the late 1860s. The Robertson Land Act of 1862 enabled the taking up of uncleared land including on the district's eastern side in the dense Yarrawa Brush. Pioneers, many from the Illawarra, settled there in the Robertson, Burrawang and Kangaloon localities.
With the opening of the southern railway through the district from 1867, townships were established around stations at Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and Bundanoon.
As the new towns developed, so did their need for law and order, until then based at Berrima.
Courts and police stations were progressively opened at Mittagong, Robertson, Moss Vale and Bowral, with Burrawang and Bundanoon gaining police stations only.
This early infrastructure would, with many additions and changes, provide the framework for modern community policing in the Wingecarribee Shire under the Bowral Police Division, now Hume Local Area Command.
Mittagong was the first after Berrima to obtain a watch-house, built in 1868 at the corner of Regent and Station Streets. Its strength was one constable (foot). A Court of Petty Sessions opened in 1882, held in a schoolroom.
In 1885 the watch-house was enlarged and a tall, one-storey sandstone Court House erected alongside, comprising of a lobby, court room and magistrates' office. A kitchen, two prison cells and exercise yard were added at the rear. The Mittagong precinct was renovated in 1901 and served the town until the Court closed in 1962 and the Police Station in the 1990s. It now houses the Highway Patrol.
At Robertson, a police station opened in 1881, with a strength of one constable (mounted), and Petty Sessions commenced in 1888. A late-Victorian style Court House with residence was built in 1891 and a rear paddock notified as a police reserve in 1900. The precinct still serves as a police station.
Once Moss Vale and Bowral gained legal infrastructure, an intense rivalry would develop.
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society - compiled by PD Morton. Part 2 of a 4-part series.
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