26: Court House


Located on th Sunraysia Highway, Learmonth. Built: 1864.
Architect: A. T Snow. Cost: £1,169.

THIS court house was built in 1864 to a design similar to Daylesford's. Five years later local resident William Rain took over as clerk and held the job for the next sixty years. As in most summary courts, the most common charges at Learmonth were for street offences and drunkenness. Irish labourer John Magee was given fourteen days for "soliciting alms in a public place". William Regan, a hawker, was fined five shillings for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart and resisting police. Another hawker, Badoa Singh, was fined the same just for being drunk and using bad language—but he was a 'pagan' Indian.
Six-year-old reformatory boy Samuel Hurly didn't even make it into court. The police arrested him for absconding from his hired service with Mrs Hennessy, and the Reformatory Department simply directed them to hand him over to a Mrs Reece of Waubra.
In December 1893, Theresa Collins, an Irishwoman, "being a common prostitute, did importune a person passing in a public street at Learmonth". It was an unusual charge for such a small township, though nearby Ballarat was said to have fifty hotels that were "mere brothels". Theresa was convicted and fined five shillings.
In 1912 John Donohue, aged eighteen, sauntered into the Camp Hotel Learmonth with a cheque for £25. The publican cashed it and gave the lad three £5 notes and ten gold sovereigns. The elated Donohue shouted drinks for everyone at the bar then wangled himself a lift to Ballarat with a passing brewer's wagon.
Before long the cheque was found to be a forgery and the Ballarat police were notified. They removed Donohue from a Melbourne-bound train, with most of the money still on him—and arranged a refund of 7s 6d on his ticket. Donohue was a simple stable-boy of previous good character. He entered a plea of guilty at Learmonth and was sent to Ballarat for sentence. There, Mr Justice Hood asked if any benevolent body could find the youth some work, then bound him over to behave himself.
Learmonth Court was closed in 1931 and the court house stood empty until 1948 when it was put up for auction with a reserve of £480. The council's request that it be converted into a post office was ignored and the building was sold. It is now a private home.

Reproduced from "Historic Court Houses Of Victoria"
by Michael Challinger. Palisade Press 2001.

As the population of Learmonth increased so too did Police business, which was particularly busy at harvest time. On October 5th, 1860, Mr James Service, representing the residents of Learmonth, communicated with the Attorney General, the Honorable J D Wood MP concerning the advisability of establishing a Court of Petty Sessions at that centre. The application was promptly approved, as a letter from the Lake Learmonth Police Station on 16th Nov 1860 indicated that Sen. Con. McGann, the Creswick Police Magistrate, had assumed duties at the court of Petty Sessions.

The newly built Road Board Office was offered for the use of the Court, thus saving the Government some expense. The Bench was composed of the following Justices of the Peace: - Messers George Morton, James McIntosh and Angus Gilchrist, with Sen.Con. McGann visiting from Creswick once a fortnight. On June 14th, 1861 Sen. Con. J H Mather commenced duty as Clerk of Petty Sessions acting). Sen.Con. McGann resigned.

In 1863 it was decided that the Road Board building was not large enough for existing requirements and the Attorney General requested the Public Works Department to proceed with the building of a new courthouse. The successful tenderer was William McKay who had also been the contractor for the Police Complex.

The first court in the new building was held on June 15th 1864. The Learmonth correspondent reported in August - " The court house has been finished in a style that would bear favourable comparison with any similar building in the colony. Fitted with all the requisites of a Court of justice, it is both roomy and comfortable, and a great acquisition to the town. The cost of the building had been about £1200 ($2400), and the large plot of ground on which it is erected in front of the lake, is being planted with trees and shrubs to improve its appearance still further. The necessary police offices are situated at a convenient distance off, and are built in a similar style; the whole forming a cluster of buildings such as for size and finish is rarely to be met with in our country towns."

In 1869, Mr William Rain, a local resident was asked to hold the office of the Clerk of Petty Sessions, releasing the Police of the duty. He held the position until 1929, spanning a period of 60 years. Following his resignation, the Creswick Clerk of Petty Sessions visited the court twice a month.

By 1931 the volume of business handled at Learmonth had decreased so noticeably than the Attorney General directed the court to be close as from Nov 30th 1931.


Researched and written by Mrs Claudette Crick. Return to sites list

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