Did you know that the Mornington Courthouse was the first public building and permanent courthouse on the Peninsula? Or that the masonry and stone lockup on the site was home to many an overnight drunkard and larcenist?
This sweet little simply-gabled slate-roofed building must have been privy to some rough and ready characters. In continuous operation since 1860 and because of its position at the end of Main St, close to the pier where much of the freight and passengers originated, this cute yet pivotal piece of bricks and mortar history has probably heard it all. Think about it. All those tourists arriving at the pier right up until 1939, until the last paddle steamer stopped operating. Civil disputes. Breaking of by-laws. Gold being discovered in other parts of the state, resulting in Mornington providing produce and supplies to the rest of Melbourne. Everyone wanting to strike it rich.
But there haven’t been any sightings of ghosts! Yet!
Now an Information and Tourism Centre, the courthouse and lockup – which is managed by Victoria Police – are classified by the National Trust and have been included as “objects and sites of historic interest in the Mornington planning scheme and the former Shire of Mornington planning scheme”, as stated in the Northern Mornington Peninsula Tourism courthouse booklet. Built by William Vaughan & Co in 1860 and extended in 1862, the Mornington Courthouse serviced the whole of the Mornington Peninsula, while the lockup functioned as a jail from 1862 until 1882.
As noted by the Mornington & District Historical Society on its website, “the court of petty sessions was held every Saturday at 12 noon”, as written in the Gazette on January 22, 1861, in Schnapper Point — now Mornington. One of the most infamous cases involved shire president John Blackner, who in 1919 was charged with forgery. The Northern Mornington Peninsula Tourism representatives now run mock trials for students, which may result in ‘wearing a ball and chain for five minutes assembling outside the lockup, plus one week of hard labour’.
If you’ve heard any stories about what went on in the Mornington Courthouse or lockup, let us know. If only the walls could speak.