The Old Court House Law Museum

Redesign of the exhibitions at the Old Court House Law Museum

In 2009 the Old Court House Law Museum was fortunate to receive a grant from Lotterywest to enable it to commission an interpretation plan. With the help of this interpretation plan, the museum has been upgrading its displays.

To date, in addition to ongoing core funding from the Public Purposes Trust, the museum has received a further four grants from Lotterywest. The first three grants have enabled the museum to develop an audio overview of the history of the area and the building, develop and install a new exhibition in the Judge’s Chamber Small Court House Big Stories and to develop designs for the new exhibitions in a second room People and The Law. The fourth grant along with monies raised from Law Society Members in a National Trust Heritage Appeal, will see this new exhibition installed. The fourth grant will also enable the development of a design for the final exhibition in the third room as well as the entrance to the museum, forming the last stage of the redesign. 

Donations to the Old Court House Law Museum National Trust Appeal are tax deductible and National Trust receipts will be issued. Donations can be made by cash or cheque to the Museum Curator or through internet banking into the following Bankwest account

Account name -  National Trust (WA) Old Court House Law Museum Heritage Appeal
BSB 306-089 ACC No. 418932-9
Please write 1941 for the “description of the payment” to ensure the monies reach our appeal

The Old Court House Law Museum

The Old Court House Law Museum is unique to Australia and one of a very small number of law museums worldwide. It is housed in the City of Perth's oldest building, constructed in 1836.

The museum's objective is to promote understanding of the law, legal issues and the legal profession in Western Australia’s community and to preserve the history of the law and the legal profession in this state. The museum is a community service managed by the Law Society of Western Australia and is sponsored by the Public Purposes Trust and the Department of the Attorney General.

Early Days
The Old Court House is Perth’s oldest remaining public building and was the most prominent building in the early days of the Swan River Colony. For the first six years of the Colony, court was held in the Anglican Church of St James: a small building with rush walls and thatched roof.

In 1836 Governor Stirling called for tenders for the construction of a new court and accepted the lowest bid of ₤698. The building was designed by the Colony’s Civil Engineer, Henry William Reveley. When it opened in 1837 it also served as a church for all denominations and a schoolroom.

Concert Hall
The Old Court House was important in the early musical life of the colonists and was the scene of the first public concert. In 1846, Dom Salvado, a Spanish Benedictine Monk, gave a piano recital in the courtroom to raise funds to develop a mission. Salvado walked more than 100 kilometres to Perth from near New Norcia and gave a Bellini recital to a packed audience in the ragged clothes he arrived in.

Trial of John Gaven
The trial of John Gaven, the first European executed in the Colony, took place in the Old Court House in 1844. Gaven, a petty thief, was 15 years old when he was transported from Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight and apprenticed to the Pollard family in the South West. Within a few months of his arrival, he was accused of the murder of 18 year old George Pollard. He was found guilty in the Old Court House and was hanged three days later outside the Roundhouse in Fremantle on Easter Saturday.

In February 1849 a meeting of State importance was held in the Old Court House. In response to a labour shortage, farmers and merchants called a meeting at which a motion was passed in favour of a full penal colony. The following year convicts began to arrive.

Representative Government
The Old Court House was the venue for a public meeting to demand Representative Government. The demands were unsuccessful until 1870.

Arbitration Court
From 1905 to 1964 the State Industrial Arbitration Court proceedings were held in the Old Court House.

Law Society of Western Australia
From 1965 -1987 the Old Court House served as the office of the Law Society of Western Australia.

In 1987 the building was refurbished, opened to the public and named the Francis Burt Law Education Programme and Museum, a community education centre for legal history and one of the few law museums worldwide.

In 1992 the Court House was listed by the National Trust as a Heritage Site.

Download the booklet The Old Court House: A Brief History for more on the museum's history.

Visit the Museum

Location: Stirling Gardens, corner of Barrack St and St Georges Tce, Perth (next to the Supreme Court of Western Australia
Hours: Wednesday to Friday 10am to 2.30pm
Cost: Free entry
Phone: (08) 9324 8688 

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