Identity area

Reference code

AU WA S252




  • 1861-01-01 - 1891-01-01 (Creation)

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Various - see descriptive note


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Administrative history

A Court of Quarter Sessions was established in Western Australia in 1830 and a Civil Court established two years later. However, as the colony grew and as society became more complex, the judiciary became overtaxed. In the 1850s the equity jurisdiction of the Civil Court was challenged while the courts' jurisdiction in criminal matters was questioned. For these and other reasons, the Supreme Court Ordinance of 1861 was introduced.

The Supreme Court Ordinance (proclaimed on 18 June 1861) provided for a Supreme Court which had the same criminal, common law, and equity jurisdiction as the Courts of Westminister. The Ordinance amalgamated the Court of Quarter Sessions with the Supreme Court and transferred to it a number of functions of the Civil Court. For example, the Supreme Court was empowered to grant probates and letters of administration and given jurisdiction in bankruptcy matters. After 1863, the Supreme Court was also given jurisdiction in matrimonial causes (i.e. divorces).

Under the Ordinance, the officers of the Supreme Court were to be the Chief Justice (Archibald Paull Burt), an Attorney-General, a Master, and a Registrar.

In 1880 a new Supreme Court Act was introduced. The Act which came into force on 1 August 1881, clarified the Court's jurisidiction in admiralty matters and empowered the Chief Justice to make Rules for the conduct of the Court. Provision was also made for the appointment of one or more puisne judges and for the Chief Justice and other judges to sit as a Full Court. Initially, the Full Court could only entertain motions for retrials and pronounce on points of law, but after 1886 it was given the status of a Court of Appeal.

The first sitting of the Supreme Court was held on 3 July 1861 and for the first few years it occupied premises in the Police Court and Gaol Building in Beaufort Street, Perth. In 1863 it moved to the old (1836) Court House in Stirling Gardens and in 1880 moved again to the old (1835) Commissariat Store at the foot of Barrack Street. Despite alterations the Commissariat building was inadequate and in the 1890's work began on a new, purposely-designed courthouse. The new building, completed in 1903, is still the principal seat of the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

Archival history

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Scope and content

Letters from Comptroller of convicts forwarding antecedent memos, ie, forms detailing a man's previous convictions. The letters are written by the Comptroller General to the Chief Justice concerning men who are due to appear at forthcoming Criminal Sessions of the Supreme Court. The letters include a list of the names and registration numbers of the men who are committed for trial and sometimes the list will show whether he is an expiree, CP holder, etc.

The forms give convict number, name, crime and sentence, date of conviction ie, (convictions in England in most cases, unless he was a local prisoner), date of ticket-of-leave, subsequent re-convictions and remarks often include the name of the ship on which he arrived in W.A. or date on which he arrived in W.A. or date on which he received his certificate of freedom etc.

Details of the trail at the "forthcoming criminal sessions" mentioned above are given in the criminal registers (WAS 49) and the criminal indictment files (WAS 122).

The letters and the forms had been detached and filed separately at the Supreme Court and are retained in that state. The letters are filed by date order; the forms are arranged by (convict) registration number.

NB: One letter from Comptroller General with forms still attached is listed separately.


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Archivist's note

Range Control Symbol = 1 - 5; 4 - 10267

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