The Old High Court - 140 years old

The Old High Court, as it is known today, was officially opened on 11 April 1881. It was the second building built on the newly reclaimed land in Wellington.


Supreme Court 1880 ATL1/2230694-G

Inspired by court buildings in England, Pierre Finch Martineau Burrows, the Chief Draughtsman in the Public Works Department designed the building with a grand edifice made from brick and mortar.

The foundation stone was laid in 1879 in a ceremony attended by over 2000 people. Similar to buildings of its time the plasterwork above the entrance records that date.

The estimated cost, based on the plans, was £16,000. However, similar to buildings today the final cost was more than anticipated £24,785. The equivalent value today would be around $4 million. When it opened the building was gas lit with no indoor toilets. The staff and all the judges had to use long drop toilets erected behind the new court building. While that may seem strange today when looking at the grand building it was not unusual as indoor plumbing did not become a feature until later. 

On 11 April 1881 the building opened for business with a criminal session. At the opening Chief Justice Prendergast described the building as “handsome” and commented that he was glad to find that the court list was unusually light with not a single case of violence.

Photo of portrait by Cameron Drawbridge

First known as the Wellington Supreme Court when the names of the courts changed in the 1980’s it became the Wellington High Court.  In 1993 the Wellington High Court moved to Molesworth Street and the old building closed.  So, now it is known as the Old High Court.


Information sheet: The Old High Court - 140 years old (PDF, 272 KB)