Small Court House. Big Stories.
Our unique collection of over 2000 items has a focus on the history of the law in Western Australia, reflecting all periods and systems of law that have been a part of Western Australia’s history including Aboriginal, British and Australian.
The collection also seeks to capture the social and cultural significance of the Court House building to the early Swan River Colonists and provides a lens through which to explore Western Australia’s social history.
Items in the collection highlight cases significant to individuals in the State. They can also contribute to wider discussions, both nationally and globally, about the relationship of colonialism to the rule of law and its contribution to systemic discrimination, the effects of which are still evident today.
The Old Court House building, its internal furnishings and the Museum collection work together in a symbiotic relationship to represent the place, the processes and the social networks that have underpinned the development of and administration of law in Western Australia.
Have a look at some of the items held in our collection.
Jury Barrel, Supreme Court of WA
The Jury Barrel was used in the Supreme Court as the first step to prepare a list of potential jurors. Filled with small discs which correspond to individuals on the electoral roll, this barrel ceased being used in the 1990s when computerised selection was introduced.
Bar table, Old Court House, 1854
Manufactured in 1854 using local Jarrah timber, the Bar table has always been housed in the Old Court House. It showcases the incredible early workmanship of the Swan River Colony’s carpenters in the pre-machinery era. It has undergone conservation treatment to ensure it stands in the courthouse for many decades still to come.
Dressing Case, Sir Stephen Henry Parker,
c.1885 (ID 1991.61)
Used by Sir Stephen Henry Parker, the dressing case travelled to official visits, including when ‘the people’s Henry’ travelled to London to petition for a self-governing constitution for Western Australia.
Boot, c.1930s (ID 1987.83a-b)
Evidence in a compensation claim in the 1930s. A worker alleged that their toe had been severed by workplace machinery. It was found that the cut in the boot was intentional and caused by the machinery in question. The boot is an example of extreme lengths people went to for money during the Great Depression.
Statement, Audrey Jacob,
Written following the events of a fatal shooting at the Government House Ballroom. Handwritten by defence lawyer Arthur Haynes, whilst the accused, Audrey Jacob, was remanded in Fremantle’s Womens Prison.
Petitioning letter, Ticket-of-Leave convict Cornelius Ahern (convict number 4738), 4 April 1867 (ID 1989.33f)
Unable to afford defence counsel, this rare letter was Cornelius’ petition to the Chief Justice that he did not wound Police-Constable Michael Moran with the intent to murder him. The settler jury did not accept his plea, finding him guilty for which he received the death penalty and was hanged in a public execution at Perth Gaol on 12 April 1867.
Criminal Trial notebooks, Chief
Justice Archibald Paull Burt,
1861-1979 (ID 1989.33a-t)
A collection of 20 criminal trial notebooks written by the first Chief Justice of Western Australia, Sir Archibald Paull Burt, spanning the early years of Supreme Court sittings in Western Australia.
Wooden writing compendium, William Henry Mackie c.1825
A writing compendium owned by William Henry Mackie, the first person to hold a judicial position in the Swan River Colony. Mackie arrived in the colony in 1829 but brought the compendium out in 1833. It was likely used to write much of the early legislation.
FAQs about the Collection?
The Museum collects a range of materials relevant to the history of state law, the legal profession and, where appropriate, customary law in Western Australia. We also collect items of relevance to the Old Court House building and all events that occurred within; legal, social and civic.
We have a Collections Development Policy and consider whether an object relates to specified key themes that will assist in understanding and interpreting Western Australian legal and social history.
We will also assess the following about an item:
- Is it already well-represented in our collection?
- Is it a particularly good example of its type?
- Is it in a suitable condition to allow long-term storage or display?
- Does it have a clear provenance, with information about its history and owners?
No. Please do not bring objects to the Museum or send them in by post. We need to assess material before it can be physically accepted into the Old Court House Law Museum Collection. We also have strict quarantine regulations that limit material entering our collections store.
If we are considering an offer our curator will contact you if we need to arrange a time to view the item.
No. The Old Court House Law Museum does not accept material on permanent or long-term loan. Short-term loans are only considered in relation to temporary exhibition requirements.
The Old Court House is a heritage-listed building that does not have space to display everything at once. Objects on display have been selected due to their relevance to themed gallery content. Many items in our collection are not suitable for long-term display due to their fragility or sensitivity to light.
The Museum’s collection contributes to an understanding of state law, the legal profession and, where appropriate, customary law in Western Australia. We continue to build this collection as an important repository from which we can respond to enquiries from research scholars and the public.
Over the next few years, we will be undertaking a digitisation project with the aim of making the collection more easily accessible online.