Circa 1914. This view taken from Berrima Gaol during it's restoration.
The site for the Court House was chosen by Governor Bourke on a visit in 1834. However, difficulties with the original architect and contractors meant that little was achieved before the appointment of Mortimer Lewis as government architect in 1835.
A foundation stone was laid by Governor Bourke in March 1835, and instructions given for quarrying sandstone at Church Hill (behind Holy Trinity Church of England today).
It took another 3 years for the building to be completed, after further difficulties with contractors, it was apparent that sub-standard workmanship(leaking roofs and water seepage from the foundations)was rapidly affecting the condition of the building, Necessitating expensive repairs for the next 20 years. Nevertheless, Mortimer's imposing building was opened in April 1838 with a salaried Police Magistrate, Clerk of Petty Sessions, and nine police constables.
The Court House, built of hand-hewn sandstone, was designed in the Regency Style (1810-30). The roof was originally of timber shingles, later replaced by slate. The internal rooms had decorative plasterwork cornices, and doors and mouldings of pure cedar from the forests between Robertson and Fitzroy Falls.
The facade consists of four Doric columns with classic Greek bases and capitals (but without the traditional fluting of the shafts), with irregularly tapered tops. Above is a stone architrave of three courses, the topmost of which protrudes to form the base of the Greek triangular pediment. The entrance doorway is deliberately overwhelming, and designed to instil awe into the visitor, as are the columns and the four tall pilasters on the facade.
The recessed niches with rounded tops are a Roman technique, to emphasise the (apparent) thickness and strength of the walls – This central two-storey construction houses the courtroom itself, the similarly tall internal dimensions adding to the grandeur and majesty of the court. On Lewis' original design, the courtroom was topped by a vast a 'greenhouse' type structure on top, which allowed natural light to fill the interior. From inside, the lantern effect is retained, although now recessed below the pitch of the roof and illuminated by skylights set into the roof.
Adjoining the courtroom are two single storey wings, which house the juror's rooms (petty jurors and female cell on the right, grand jurors and male cell on the left.) Although their height is lower than the central section, they are not of modest proportions, and a parapet, which rises above the edge of the roofline, accentuates the height of the walls.
Each wing is topped by a smaller 'lantern' to allow natural light into the interior, and the external walls have a 'rusticated' finish to give a rougher and more grooved appearance to contrast with the clean lines of the façade. A single storey extension is placed across the back of the building, with curved walls connecting the wings with the straight lines of the sides and the recessed wall across the back. This extension housed the Housekeeper's rooms (now the audio-visual display area), a dressing room for the staff, judge's retiring room or chambers, an office for the Clerk of the Court, and a Witness Room (now closed).
From the outside can be seen the chimneys over the fireplaces, (three of which were originally reported to have had carved cedar mantle pieces) – (now lost). Windows at the back are of Georgian appearance, two high windows on the sides can be seen which let extra light into the courtroom itself, and two narrow slits high in the walls of the wings, which allowed dim light into the cells. There are a number of blind windows and doorways let into the walls to provide architectural balance. Above the curved doorways can be seen cornices on carved supports.
At the entrance of the museum today, the visitor can see the first of a number of carved and curving doors made out of solid pieces of cedar, Berrima Courthouse is an experience which must be shared by the tourist and heritage lover alike - not the least because of its setting in the beautifully preserved village of Berrima.