The King Street Court Complex site was earmarked for the Supreme Court as early as 1813, when Governor Macquarie declared to the colony’s magistrates that Sydney needed a proper courthouse. His Civil Architect, Francis Greenway, designed a large and commodious new courthouse and laid its first foundations on King Street in 1819. But, in a harbinger of things to come, the newly arrived Commissioner Bigge recommended in 1820 that the court be converted into a church – the St James’ Church we see on the site today.
Macquarie had scarcely laid foundations for another building – a Georgian public school for neglected children, adjacent to the church’s west wing – when Bigge intervened again, insisting that the school be converted into a courthouse. Although Greenway grudgingly complied, the courthouse was still incomplete by the time Macquarie left the colony, under a cloud, in 1821.
Greenway himself was removed from the project the following year, and by 1827, when the building was finally handed over as the new home of the Supreme Court of NSW, little remained of his original design – only its circular staircase, the Doric portico at the western end (later demolished), window treatments and certain recessed wall panels.
By 1830, the courthouse was already in disrepair, requiring extra support pillars to prop up the botched roof. Other side effects of departing from Greenway’s design included fireplaces that filled the courts with smoke and large cracks appearing in the walls.
Ten years later, with spikes in common law actions (up four-fold) and equity suits (up ten-fold), the building was no longer adequate for its purpose, and newly appointed Chief Justice Alfred Stephen had plans drawn up for alterations and additional courtrooms. Due to his dogged persistence, these were eventually completed in 1848, but the demand for space continued to outstrip supply.
After decades more of reactive repairs and alterations, including the addition of the King Street arcade in 1868, and (more) major roof repairs, foundations were finally laid, in December 1895, for the Banco Court on the St James Road frontage. Designed by Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon, this new two-storey courthouse was (unlike its predecessor) well conceived and constructed in record time, opening a few months later, in February 1896. It survives today as a largely intact piece of the early-20th-century Federation Free Style architecture Vernon would produce prolifically over his two decades as Government Architect, from 1890 to 1911.
Foyer, Courts 1 & 2, Rotunda staircase and the Alexander Dawson Room.
Talks, tours & more
No photography in the court rooms.
Limited to ground floor foyer and Courts 1 & 2.
The King Street Court Complex is open with the approval and support of the Chief Justice of New South Wales.