This is the Justice & Police Museum in Sydney, in what used to be the Water Police station and courts.  Background for the buildings here but quickly the Water Police Court  opened in 1856 and the station two years later, and a newer court was added in 1886. They were closed 1979-1985, and turned into a  museum. “The museum today features a courtroom, charge room and cell recreated to their appearance of the 1890s, when the complex was at its busiest” as well as lots of photos and weapons, and some other stuff.

There’s a photograph exhibition (still) on, the City of Shadows, but you’ll have to go through the rest of the place to see that, because it was on the left and they said I could start through either door so I went right.


Although I didn’t stay here very long being as there was more to see (and I missed the ‘name” of the exhibit) but there’s a series of display cases about people


with a picture, a bit about them and an object. This one is Louisa Collins who was the last women executed in NSW, for killing her two husbands and is the subject of a recent book (Sydney Morning Herald, 1889  & Sydney Morning Herald, 2014). The one at the end of the room that you can see in previous photo is Kate Leigh. The first paragraph says Kate Leigh (1881-1964) was one of Sydney’s toughest criminals. She dominated the inner-city trade in sly grog during the 1920s and 30s, and was a notorious fence for stolen goods. Leigh surrounded herself with hired muscle and mentored some of the era’s most brazen gangsters, including John “Chow” Hayes. She had a violent streak and was reported to have a punch like a kick from a mule. In 1930 when Sydney hoodlum John ‘Snowy’ Pendergast broke into her home Leigh reacted swiftly, shooting him dead with a firearm she always kept handy. She was acquitted of his murder on the grounds of self defence. The Razor Gang Wars, which she was part of, were the subject of a recent TV drama. Not all women, there was another for Andrew Scott, who was the subject of a  recent book. No idea on the others. As I said, didn’t stay long.




The next exhibit was about safe crackers, but it obviously wasn’t very interesting because this is the only photo I took.


This is the recreated court room. The info panel says.

As far as possible, the décor and furniture of the courtroom approximate the original Court of Petty Sessions of the 1880s and 1890s. The cedar canopy, the magistrate’s bench, clerks cubicle, court reporters screen, the bar and the table are original to the room.

The layout of the  other features (including the docks, witness stand and the reporters bench) is not an exact re-creation of the Petty Sessions courtroom but is based on the 1856 plans for the Water Police Court, also in this complex.

The architectural layout of the room deliberately reinforces the relations between each of the participants in the courtroom. The bench, bar, witness box and dock confront each other across the open spaces of the court. Such spaces ensure the atmosphere remains coldly official, and emphasise or diminish the importance of those who take part.

(Looks at key), so photo is “court reporter” (left), “reporters bench” (foreground), “bar table” (middle), “the dock” (right) and door out to courtyard (background)


Across the courtyard (muster yard) is the entrance to (according to the sign) Crime Museum, Charge Room & Cells.


Camera does not like low light, at all, even a little bit so most of my photos aren’t any good (you’re seeing the best, really) but occasionally it will concede that it can take a photo of a room, even a black room with no windows. This particular black room with no windows is full of weapons. The case to the right there has walking sticks.


A walking stick stiletto (bottom) and a stiletto with revolver concealed in a walking stick (centre left).


That is a Turbiaux protector squeeze pistol, but I’m sure you knew that.


The charge room, which has a street entrance (behind me, the camera is sitting on the window sill). The closed door visible there is marked “Inspector of Police”. I think it connects to the black room with lots of weapons.


Now there’s a hall with cells along one side.


A recreated cell.


The next cell has displays about the history of the NSW police.


Convict constable’s rattle & lamp.


The next cell is about forensic science, with an interesting timeline (which is readable in larger version), and its use in old cases.


This is the Pyjama Girl case from 1944.


Zinc Bath

This zinc-lined bath, filled with formalin, was used to display the body of the Pyjama Girl between 1934 and 1944. The body could be viewed at the Medical Faculty of the University of Sydney. She was finally identified as Linda Agostini, and buried in Preston Cemetery in Melbourne on July 13 1944


The last cell was about bushrangers but nothing much interesting in here, other than they had more guns.



Across the hall was a photographic exhibition, Collision: Misadventure by motor car


From there, down a hall took me to this room, and the start of the City of Shadows exhibition, or the end as this is the back entrance.


Ada McGuinness and her daughter Hazel were photographed by police on 26 July 1929 after a drug raid on their tiny terrace house in Hargrave Street, East Sydney. They fronted Central Court later that day, charged with supplying cocaine.

This image, and the accompanying one of her mother, is used a lot to promote the exhibition (see the link below previous photo). Not surprising as it’s very attention-getting.


Our Dark Places

In the days when these photographs were taken, the details of home life were not generally discussed in public, rarely written about, and depicted–if at all–only in the most idealised ways. The front door of the domestic dwelling presented an almost total barrier between the pubic life of the street and the private life of the home.

Fatal accidents or violent crime shattered that secrecy. The private workings of the crime scene suddenly became a public matter. As forensics assumed an increasing importantance in police work, detectives learned to observe and note minute details of crime and accident scenes. Police photographers in particular strove to make accurate, inclusive records of interior scenes exactly the way they found them. Without intending to, they thus established a large yet intimate ‘ethnographic’ record of private life in Sydney at the time.



Rogues Gallery

During the years 1912-1930 Sydney police photographed around two and a half thousand actual and suspected criminals, or ‘persons of interest’. Over a thousand of those portraits have been uncovered during research in the police archive. … We do not know what criteria were used in deciding who was photographed. A number of the subjects are not found in police records at all – in some cases it appears they were simply unlucky enough to be found in the company of a suspect. Others were charged with relatively minor offences. Generally, however, people charged with such everyday offences as simple assault, drunkenness, prostitution, offensive behaviour, consorting, drug possession, illegal gambling and ‘sly grogging’ are under-represented in the photo archives. The majority of subjects identified so far are ‘working’ criminals – confidence men and women, forgers, false pretenders, pickpockets, housebreakers, sneak thieves, ‘hotel barbers,’ bag snatchers, safecrackers, drug sellers and thieves.


These “mug shots” are in “Forensic archive” on the website, and appear in other places online. There is an interesting essay about what the protrayals might mean.


The Beat

Most of the early police photographs were taken within a few miles of the Criminal Investigation Branch in Central Street in the city. In many cases we have little idea why the photograph was taken. … The photographs also offer a huge amount of unintended background details: building facades, shop windows, street signs, billboards, advertisements and everyday people going about their business. The unsentimental view of urban life revealed was at odds with the picturesque photographic conventions of that time. However, some of the moody streetscapes and empty spaces are reminiscent of the work of between-the-wars artists such as Edward Hopper. Years later, a similarly downbeat visual style was to emerge in cinema, as filmmakers consciously emulated the hard-boiled ‘police procedural’ view of the city in creating postwar film noir.

The image in the top left was available as a postcard. None of the others were. Annoying as it seems the only way to get copies is to the buy the (expensive) book from the original version of the exhibition.


And that was it.


The side of the complex. That’s the arched doorway shown in the earlier photo, and I think the wall you can see on  the right was the Water Police Station.

One thought on “Justice & Police Museum, Sydney”

Leave a Reply