Shauna has chosen Court Records for her topic for week 17. She tells us that there are all kinds of courts from higher courts such as the Supreme and District Courts to the local courts of petty sessions plus there are licensing courts, mining warden’s courts, traffic courts, police courts. The terminology and court names vary over time and within the various Australian colonies/states and territories.
Court records in general are not indexed although there may be individual indexes within each register. The easiest way to find out if an ancestor did make a court appearance is finding a reference in newspapers via Trove. This will give a date and place which can then be followed up at the State Archives which is where court records end up for research purposes.
Using Trove, I have come across several court reports in newspapers which have mentioned my ancestors, all of which provide a fascinating insight into their lives. The article on the left relates to a workers compensation application made by an employee of my ancestor Henry Mulholland after the poor man lost a hand in a farming accident. The amount of compensation for the loss of his hand was disputed, so the case went to court where eventually a sum was agreed upon.
Not all court records necessarily relate to criminal matters. My Great Grandmother Eliza Pummeroy found herself widowed with 4 children under 5 years old when her husband died of pneumonia. A month after the death of her husband she made an application for relief to the St Kilda court. She was receiving 3 shillings a week from the local Ladies Benevolent Society and the court gave her 10 shillings from the poor-box. Her children were committed to the Department with the recommendation they be handed back to their mother, and she struggled on. I had already known that both her younger children, boys Alfred and William, were placed in an orphanage for several years and retrieved when she remarried, while she managed to keep the two girls, Alice and Edith (who was deaf and mute) with her. Finding this article helped show just how desperate she must have been. The article is dated Saturday 9th March 1901, and youngest son William (my grandfather) was born on the 6th January, so he was only a month old when his father died.