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National Trust Willunga branch.

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National Trust of South Australia


Court House and Police Station

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Fast Facts
Address: 61 High Street
Town or Locality: Willunga
Year constructed: 1855
Used for: Courthouse and police station.
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When there were no prisoners in the cells, the courtyard was a perfect playground for the children, sunny and private (see memories below).

Willunga was established in 1839 as the new half-way town between Adelaide and Encounter Bay, with a fortnightly mail service provided by the police.

A survey camp, or depot, was set up in mid-1839 near the creek at Willunga to provide facilities for survey staff, police officers and prospective settlers. Three huts were built by Mr. Davis to serve as police station, survey store and post office, as shown in the 1840 sketch by the Surveyor General Capt. Edward Charles Frome on one of his visits to the new settlement.

Farming land had been surveyed and was first offered for sale in October 1839. Willunga township allotments were made available for selection in December 1939 by which time the weatherboard Bush Inn had opened.

Across the creek from the Deport on the hill with views to the sea, a wooden cottage had been erected by 1839, known locally as Governor Gawler's Government House, or the Government Hut. Lady Franklin, wife of the Governor of Tasmania, who stayed here overnight on 31 December 1840 (New Year’s Eve), described it as a ‘Government hut of two rooms, dividing partition not to ceiling, and a brick chimney to one room, brass handles to doors - earthen floors”.

The present Police Station and Court House was built in stages from 1855 to 1872, with major additions, including the cells and stables, being constructed in 1864 by contractor John Wadham.

The new building was initially used as a temporary female immigration depot. An unexpected influx of Irish immigrant women arriving in the Colony caused an accommodation crisis in Adelaide’s immigration depot. So at least forty young Irish women were sent to Willunga in July 1855, accompanied by a Matron, to live in the new Police building and hopefully find work in the district. The Depot was short-lived and provoked a serious dispute involving the Chairman of Willunga District Council, the Matron and the local Catholic priest. The Depot was closed after six months.

Finally in January 1856, the police moved in to their new building and normal law and order activities commenced. Magistrates visited monthly from Port Adelaide. They found the new Court Room much preferable to the rowdy sessions previously held in the local hotel. Court Cases presented for judgement ranged from minor offences (drunkenness, assault, straying cattle, child maintenance) to the occasional more serious charge of murder.

Aboriginal people displaced from Adelaide were accommodated here and provided with supplies for a few years from 1858 to 1860.

In 1929, after over seventy years, the police station and court house closed, to be replaced by a new police station built in Main Road, Willunga.

The police station was leased out to various tenants, but at times was left vacant and neglected. The dilapidated complex, under threat of demolition, was restored by the National Trust in 1969 and the Court House Museum was opened to the public in February 1970. The unique Willunga Slate Museum opened in 2005.

The Government Reserve in 1840
The Government Reserve in 1840
Courthouse and Police station, Willunga, 1880s.
Courthouse and Police station, Willunga, 1880s.
Court House, Willunga 1980s
Court House, Willunga 1980s

Memories of Court House and Police Station

Mounted Constable Otto Koch, his wife Meta and five children lived at Willunga Police Station in 1923 and 1924. Here are some memories from his daughter Ira who was seven at the time:

It was a children’s paradise. The area by the creek-bank was covered in golden wattle and the path down which the bay police horse, Robe, was brought to the creek to drink was a narrow tunnel through the green.

When there were no prisoners in the cells, the courtyard was a perfect playground for the children, sunny and private.

The creek was also a favourite playing spot. The children used to seize hold of a handful of willow fronds and swing out over the creek and back. In those days the creek was a deep, wide flowing stream.

The station was already an old building in the twenties; one night part of a wall fell in, waking the family but causing no other harm.

Do you remember Court House and Police Station ? Then Join up and add your memory here.

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