Sydney Architecture Images- Circular Quay and area

Justice and Police Museum Historic Houses Trust


Edmund Blacket, Alexander Dawson, James Barnet  


4-8 Phillip Street, Sydney, NSW 2000


1854 - 1886


Victorian Academic Classical




Government Museum
This complex consists of three buildings;

Water Police Court 

Cnr. Phillip & Alfred Sts. The Water Police were officially established in 1830. It was their task amongst other duties, to prevent smuggling and the escape of convicts by stowing away on ships visiting the port.

In 1851 a site was chosen for a much needed Water Police Court at the corner of Albert and Phillip Streets. However when the goldrush broke out in the same year men flocked to the diggings causing an acute shortage of labour in the towns and cities.

The building was eventually constructed between 1853-1856. It was designed by Edmund Blacket. The court remained in use until the 1970s when more modern accommodation was found elsewhere.

Phillip Street Police Station

Cnr. Phillip & Alfred Sts. The Police Station was designed by Alexander Dawson and constructed in 1858. It was originally used by the Water Police but later for the regular police force.

The building includes a lock-up, (imposing cells with high ceilings and heavy iron doors) and intimidating Charge Room and Sergeant's office.

Police who occupied the building in recent years thought it a dreadful place to work in, but it was said to be close-knit, friendly place to work - perhaps a reaction to the awful environment. The Police Station closed in 1985 when The Rocks Police Station opened.

Police Court

Cnr. Phillip & Alfred Sts. The Court House, located between the Water Police Court and the Police Station in Phillip Street was designed by the colonial architect James Barnet and completed in 1886. In his design Barnet copied the basic elements of the earlier Water Police Court design to complement the buildings already on the site.

The building was used as a Magistrates Court and later became known as Traffic Court No. 2 (the Water Police Court being Traffic Court No. 1). In the museum the court room has been restored to its original Victorian splendour.


The Justice and Police Museum comprises two main elements, the Museum Buildings and the Museum Collection. 

These are two 19th century courthouses and a police station built on the corner of Phillip and Albert Streets at the eastern end of Circular Quay for use by the Sydney Water Police, the Water Police Magistrate and the metroplitan police. 

1856 - Court House - 4 Phillip Street 
1858 - Police Station - 8 Phillip Street 
1886 - Court House - 6 Phillip Street 
(Historic Houses Trust 1990:1) 

THE 1856 BLACKET COURT BUILDING AREA is a single storey classic revival sandstone building with an arched colonnaded portico roofed with a Doric pediment. The facades comprises timber framed windows and doors with the main entrance to the northern wall enclosed with curved timber and glass walling. 

The Court House consists of five smaller roof areas. These include the main gabled or pedimented roof area to the court room, with two lower hipped roof areas on each side of the main court room area. The building area also includes a flat roof area to the rear or south end of the court which extends over a sandstone paved corridor between the Blacket Court Building (1856) and the Barnet Court Building (1886). The western wing has a lean-to verandah roof extending along the Phillip Street facade. 

The main gabled ended roof and the two hipped roof areas are covered in slate with lead hip and ridge flashings. 

The flat roof area at the rear is covered in copper and contains three glazed skylights with steel grilles. The western lean-to verandah roof is covered with corrugated steel 'colourbond' roofing. 

There are four chimneys located on the main courtroom roof area. 

THE 1886 BARNET COURT BUILDING AREA is a single storey sandstone building erected at the rear of the Blacket Court Room as an extension. It consists of an arched colonnaded portico, also roofed with a pediment to match the detail of the earlier Blacket Court Building. 

The main front entrance portico is enclosed with a curved timber and glass walling, 

The main roof area is gabled with slate roofing and the stair roof comprises a lean-to corrugated steel 'colourbond' roof sheeting. 

THE 1858 POLICE STATION AREA is a two storey Pyrmont sandstone building of simple Classical style with a pediment over the central section of the front facade. It has a 'T' shaped hipped roof with lead ridge and flashings and slate tiles. The windows are timber framed. The front facade to Phillip Street has a metal pike fence and gate on a low sandstone wall extending the full extent of the facade. 
(Heritage Group 1995:2-6) 

The collection is general and largely police-based in content. Its nucleus is formed from the 1910 Police Museum teaching collection of criminal implements. It contains few objects relating to the specific theme of the Water Police but covers a broader cross-section of policing activities and law related themes. The collection includes historical artefacts, photographs and documents. It is particularly strong in firearms of the colonial period and forensic evidence from famous crimes. 
(Historic Houses Trust 1990:1&23)


Pre 1856 
In 1851 the Governor General approved the Colonial Architect's plan for a new Water Police Office. By November the site had been chosen. In 1853 work began on quarrying the sandstone at Bennelong Point for the Water Police Office but work was delayed because of high prices and a labour shortage casued by the gold rushes. A sum of 4000 pounds was allocated in 1854 for the construction of the Water Police Station on Phillip Street to the south of the Water Police Office. 

The new Water Police Office on the eastern side of Circular Quay was completed. The building, designed by Edmund Blacket, consisted of a main court and four adjoining offices. 

In April the buildings were occupied by the Water Police Magistrate, Hutchinson Hothersal Brown, and court staff consisting of a Clerk of Petty Sessions and a second clerk. Cases heard in the court related to the workings of the Harbour Regulations Act and the Act for Establishing a Water Police. 

In May permission was granted for the Steam Navigation and Pilot Boards to take possession of one room. 

The Water Police moved from Cadman's Wharf to the Water Police Station located in Phillip Street to the south of the Water Police Office. It was designed by Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson and construction commenced in 1857. The building consisted of a ground floor with Charge Room, adjoining offices, cells to the rear, a kitchen, store room and exercise yard. Upstairs was a barracks providing accomodation for four water policemen and their families. It also contained a kitchen and wash house. 

The original police station design was based on stations at Darlinghurst, Newtown and Balmain. The building was intended to accomodate six cells and a lock-up keeper. However, due to financial constraints and delays caused by labour shortages during the Gold Rush period, the station was completed as a modest two storey building. 

The second court, designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet, was completed during this period. It consisted of a court room and two Magistrates Offices at the rear. While it functioned as a Summons Court hearing cases of petty crime, the Blacket Court became a Charge Court. 

This period witnessed a growth of police and court operations. The buildings were affected by a number of alterations and additions caused by changes to the nature of the courts and the business they attracted. 

In 1913 the Water Police who lived at the station were removed to their new accomodation on the north-western side of the Quay at Dawes Point, providing two locations for their activities. The station became known as the Phillip Street Police Station from this time although it was still often referred to as the Water Police Station. The activities of the station were incorporated more fully into the Metropolitan Policing District, becoming the head station for Number 4 Division by 1933. It seems that the Water Police held the two locations at least until this time, when the split between the metropolitan (essentially foot) duties associated with the Station and the Water Patrol had become more definite. However, the adjacent court continued to be referred to as the Water Bench until late 1940. 

In 1917 the Police Traffic Branch moved into offices at the Water Police Court and remained there until 1924. In 1918 the Water Police Court closed for alterations and was reopened in 1924. 

By 1924 special arrangements had been made for hearing traffic offences in the Water Police Court in addition to those concerning shipping, military trainees and children. From 1926 the courts became known as Traffic Courts 1 and 2 for hearing all traffic and parking offences in the Sydney district. They also continued to hear cases relevant to shipping and cases arising from Water Police activity. 

The courts were vacated by court staff, providing valuable space for the police in the adjoining station in late 1979. 

COURT FUNCTIONS - 1890-1924 
1890s - Licensing Court 
1917-1924 - Traffic Office 
1918 - Fair Rents Court 
1919-1933 - Small Debts Court 
1924-1980 - Traffic Court 

1890-1933 - Clerk of petty Sessions and Chamber Magistrate 
1890-1897 - Stipendiary Magistrate 
1890-1918 - Chief Clerk 
1890-1904 - Accountant 
1890-1902 - Clerks 
1891-1902 - Bailiff of the Small Debts Court 
1894-1902 - Messenger 
1914-1918 - Chief Industrial Magistrate 
(Historic Houses Trust 1990:15-17 & Section 14)

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