Our history | Launceston’s lasting legal legacy

Launceston’s second courthouse was situated on the north-west corner of Paterson and Wellington streets. It was most likely designed by the Colonial Engineer, John Lee Archer.

Tenders were called for its construction in March 1837. John Moir from Hobart was awarded the contract. He was assigned convicts at the end of November and the foundations were laid in December 1837.

During construction, John Moir was fined 10 shillings for burning shavings in the street, and Richard Vaughan, a convict, had his sentence of transportation extended another two years for stealing tools from the contractor.

It appears that the courthouse was first used on March 13, 1839 when cabinet maker William Ledgerwood was brought before Peter Mulgrave for insolvency. It was used for public meetings, the sale of crown land, the election of the first Municipal Council and every court except the Police Court.

But with use, more design faults came to light.

The newspapers voiced their concerns. They claimed it was too small, cold and draughty in winter, hot in summer, had bad acoustics and was noisy from passing traffic. The accommodation for the prisoners was initially an outside pound. Later, a short underground passage was built connecting the dock with cells. However, this often meant that the prisoners had to walk up to their knees in stagnant water to reach the dock.

The newspapers also complained about the inconvenience experienced by judges, counsels, witnesses, jurors, onlookers and reporters.

Despite all the problems and criticisms made by the press and judiciary, the Launceston Courthouse was in operation for 91 years. The new courthouse in Cameron Street was opened in June 1930. The old building was vacated and earmarked for demolition to make way for a new wing of the Launceston Technical School.

But, the financial crisis intervened and it was not pulled down. It was used by the school for nearly 10 years after a new floor was installed.

In June 1933, the oak trees along Paterson Street were removed and the porch at the front was demolished, revealing once more, the distinctive triple arches.

As the Technical School was built around it, the 102-year-old courthouse was finally demolished by contractor Walter Reid in April 1940.

All the convict-made bricks and sandstone steps were salvaged by Mr Reid and used to build his house in Wentworth Street, Newstead. Along the front, he re-created the triple arches. This is the closest representation we have of the old courthouse through which many of our ancestors passed.