What is significant?
Gold was discovered at Beechworth in 1852 and the township of Beechworth was proclaimed on 1 July 1853. On 23 August 1856 the Municipal District of Beechworth was proclaimed and the first meeting of its council was held 10 October. Beechworth tapped the river trade as well as benefiting from being on the main overland route between Melbourne and Sydney. As a result it quickly became the administrative centre of Victoria's north east. Originally forming part of the government camp, the site on which the Justice Precinct is situated, had officially been gazetted as a police reserve by 1856. In the period 1857-60 numerous weatherboard government offices, which were constructed when gold was first discovered were replaced by a more substantial complex of public buildings, constructed of local honey-coloured granite. Most of these early granite buildings still survive and included in the Justice Precinct are; the former Telegraph Office (1858), Court House (1859), Police Station (1858 originally Sub-Treasury and Gold Office), Chinese Protectors Office (1858) and the Gold Wardens Office (1859). Also surviving on the site, are the, brick Stables (1870), portable timber Lock-Up, and brick Police Residence 1912-13. Along with other notorious criminals including other members of his family, Ned Kelly appeared before the Beechworth court during the 1870s on robbery and assault charges. What is now known as the Police Paddock also originally formed part of the government camp and once contained Police Barracks, Superintendent's Quarters, Offices, Officer's Quarters, Offices, Police Kitchen and a stone Lock-Up. Records demonstrate that most of these buildings were on the site in 1859 and constructed of timber. The only of these remaining is the stone Lock Up which was constructed in 1867 and has since been partly demolished. The Police Superintendent in Beechworth during the 1850s was Robert O'Hara Burke, who was later to become famous for his exploration expedition with William John Wills. He died in 1861 while on that expedition.
How is it significant?
The Beechworth Justice Precinct is of historical, architectural, aesthetic and archaeological significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Beechworth Justice Precinct is of historical significance as activity on the site dates from the time when Beechworth was the focus of Australia's richest goldfields and the administrative centre for north eastern Victoria. The remarkably intact collection of police and justice buildings dating from 1857 to 1913 reflect the site's continuing use and public importance and demonstrate many aspects of the history of law enforcement in Victoria. Being intact as a group and so little altered individually gives them great importance. The Courthouse is historically significant as it was once a branch of the Supreme Court and has a long judicial history well documented by extant charge books. It has significant associations with the bushranger Ned Kelly who was tried in the building. The site also has associations with the famous explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, who was Police Superintendent at Beechworth during the 1850s.
The group of five distinctive granite buildings facing Ford Street is aesthetically significant for the fundamental contribution it makes to the streetscape of Beechworth. It is a rare example of such a collection of buildings. These five buildings are of architectural significance for their construction of unusual honey coloured granite, which was collected locally. The buildings demonstrate early stonemasonry techniques and fine craftsmanship. The Warden and Chinese Protector's Offices are rare surviving examples of their type and period, with the Chinese Protector's Office, in particular being a unique example of a building associated with that specific function. The Telegraph Office is also a rare surviving example of its type in Victoria. The Police Stables and the Police Residence are fine intact examples of their type, and contribute considerably to representing the continuing history of the site.
The Police Paddock is of archaeological significance for its potential to yield information on buildings that were once on the site. It originally formed part of the government camp and was gazetted as a Police Reserve by 1856 and contained numerous weatherboard structures associated with law enforcement. Evidence of occupation on this site could provide further insights into the early settlement of Beechworth and its role in Victoria's history. The Police Paddock has been relatively undisturbed and plays an integral part in the understanding of the history of the Justice Precinct.