The Moonee Ponds Court House Museum (c. 1980)
Source: EHS Collection (01661)
Moonee Ponds Court House Museum
The Essendon Historical Society operates out of the Moonee Ponds Court House Museum which is located at 768-770 Mount Alexander Road on the corner of Kellaway Avenue. Our volunteers open the Museum every Sunday between 2pm and 5pm. There, you are welcome to peruse the exhibitions and ask questions of our expert volunteers.
At present, COVID-safe procedures must be followed, including visitor capacity, mask mandates and QR-code check-ins on arrival.
Construction of the Court House
The Essendon Court of Petty Sessions has been located in five different locations dating back to 1860. On August 5, 1889, the Essendon Borough Council received a letter from the Crown Law Department informing them that a new courthouse was to be erected in Moonee Ponds. Plans were drawn up by prominent Public Works architect, S. E. Bindley, and, on October 14, 1889, a tender from Brunswick contractor, Henry Franklyn, was accepted.
The architect, Samuel Edward Bindley, was born in Birmingham, England, in 1842. After migrating to Victoria in 1873, he was employed as an architect in the Education Department and, in 1884, was placed in charge of government building design for north-western Victoria. Over the course of his career, he would prove himself to be prolific.
The Works of S. E. Bindley
After retiring in 1907, Bindley died in 1924. The value of his work is recognised with many of his buildings, at least fourteen, now listed in the Victorian State Heritage Register.
The Court House is architecturally significant as a notable, surviving example of Bindley’s work, characteristic of Victorian public buildings of the late nineteenth century.
Following the tenets of the various Medieval Revival styles in contemporary Britain, the Court House is decorated with polychrome brick, stone and polished timber finishes. The entrance is of particular interest with stilted segmental arches, squat Corinthian-style columns and the enriched cornice broken by the gable which is flanked with Tudoresque turrets.
The interior was also important for its decorative elements derived from Tudor architecture, including the large Courtroom fireplace and the fine ceiling with its timber brackets and bosses imitating pendant vaulting. The decorative treatment is of particular interest being linked to the work of William Burgess in England and his contemporaries and to France in the work of Viollet-le-Duc.
The local constabulary, including Senior Constable Thomas John William Rivis, at the Court House (c. 1891)
Source: EHS Collection (00785)
Working Court House
The Essendon Court House opened on Monday, August 18, 1890. Adjudication of minor offences occurred in this court, whilst in the case of serious charges, the matters were generally referred to a higher court in Melbourne. The name was changed to the Moonee Ponds Court House from May 1, 1949, and it remained the seat of justice for the district for a further 24 years. The final case to be heard in this building was in 1975.
By 1972, a replacement courthouse was being planned with the old building to be demolished. On April 27, 1973, the new courthouse was opened on Kellaway Avenue, adjoining the original which continued to be used for several years as an overflow court.
Courthouse to Museum
Since its inception in 1970, the Society held its meetings in private homes and, later, the foyer of the Essendon Town Hall and then the Essendon Civic Centre. The Society considered several potential sites for its historical collection and headquarters, including the Moonee Ponds Incinerator.
In 1972, plans were being drawn up for a new courthouse in Moonee Ponds. Then-EHS President, Ron Lambert, wrote to the Public Works Department, enquiring if the old courthouse could be acquired for the purpose of the Society’s headquarters and an historical museum. He was informed, however, that a new police complex was to be built and that the old courthouse would be demolished. This remained the position for many years, and all hope had almost evaporated.
Over the course of the decade, the Society was supported by local politicians, Essendon City Council (ECC) and the National Trust with appeals, reaching as far as the Premier to overturn the demolition order. In May 1979, Victoria Police dropped their claim, and the Victorian government allowed the Essendon City Council to lease the building from the Government at a peppercorn rate of $1 per annum.
The Council, in turn, appointed the Society as the Court House Committee of Management, and, on October 25, 1981, the Society gained occupancy of the “Old Moonee Ponds Court House” which has continued to this day. This not only gave the Society a headquarters but saved a precious local landmark.
Fire at the Court House
On Monday, June 27, 2016, EHS members woke to news that the Court House was on fire. The cause was a faulty light transformer. Fortunately, the contents of the rooms around the main court chamber were not damaged and most of the EHS collection and equipment was safe.
The Courtroom, however, was devastated. The slate roof and the mediaeval-style timber ceiling and windows in the main chamber were lost along with the period woodwork courtroom fittings and several irreplaceable items which were part of the EHS collection.
In the aftermath of the fire, it immediately became apparent that many people in the local and wider community loved the building and were devastated by the fire incident. They expressed their feelings and support for EHS in many ways and provided the strength and impetus for the Society to tackle the daunting task of restoration.
Thanks to phenomenal community support and a Living Heritage Grant of the Victorian Government, restoration work commenced in 2017 and the Museum was re-opened on November 21, 2019 by Member for Essendon Danny Pearson MP, a strong supporter of the restoration project.
The Court House Today
Despite threats of demolition, fire and pandemics, the Moonee Ponds Court House remains standing proudly on the corner of Mount Alexander Road and Kellaway Avenue as a museum. Across the road from Queens Park and the Cenotaph, and located in the Civic Triangle with the old Town Hall (today the Clocktower Centre), St Thomas Anglican Church, Sam Merrifield Library and Moonee Ponds Police Station, it is in the hub of the locality.