Identity area

Reference code

AU WA S938




  • 1914-01-01 - (Creation)

Level of description






Context area

Name of creator


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

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Maritime Prize Court
When enemy vessels and cargo are captured in port or at sea at the declaration of war or during a war by the naval forces of a belligerent power, they have to be taken to a port in the captor's country for 'adjudication' before a "Prize Court".
A Prize Court is specially constituted for the purpose of deciding questions of maritime capture in time of war according to international law. The court decides such matters as whether the capture was a lawful one, ownership of the vessel, whether cargo is "neutral" or "enemy" and what is to be done with it.

The Files
These files relate to cases conducted by the Supreme Court of Western Australia in its capacity as a Colonial Court of Admiralty on ships captured during World Wars I and II. The files contain ships' documents seized, as well as the record of the court documents filed. Some of the cases can also be found in WAS 939, Minutes - Maritime Prize Court.
The Consignment Lists give the names of the ships and list the documents associated with each one. State Archives has allocated each ship an identifying number for use when requesting files. The ships' papers seized are in German, Italian or Danish, depending on the ship's origins.
At the time of seizure, the papers were listed and allocated numbers. These original numbers are indicated in the Item Title coluimn. Note that State Archives does not hold all of the papers which were allegedly seized. Some files also contain the original lists made at the time of seizure.

Development of the Maritime Prize Court in W.A.
Governor Stirling was originally commissioned as Vice-Admiral in 1831, but without the authority to try Prize Cases. The Supreme Court of Western Australia was confirmed as a Court of Vice-Admiralty by Imperial Act 26 & 27 Vic c.24 of 1863.
The Imperial Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 53 and 54 Vic c.27 of 1890 conferred on it full civil jurisdiction in Admiralty. The court's legal status was thrown into doubt by Federation.
In 1914 the Federal Government added s.30A to its Judiciary Act of 1903 declaring the High Court to be a Colonial Court of Admiralty within the meaning of the 1890 Act. There was much debate about the effect of this on the Supreme Court. Section 30A was repealed in 1939. Meanwhile, in 1935, the W.A. Supreme Court Act declared the Supreme Court to be a Colonial court of Admiralty within the meaning of the 1890 Act. This 1935 provision was repealed in 1971.


System of arrangement


Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing access (legacy)

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Related units of description


Category of relationship


Description of relationship

Dates of relationship

1914-01-01 - 1943-01-01


Category of relationship


Description of relationship

Dates of relationship

1914-01-01 - 1915-01-01

Related units of description

Access points

Place access points

Description control area

Level of detail




Archivist's note

Range Control Symbol = 1 -

Accession area

Related subjects

Related people and organizations

Related places