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Archives in Brief 32 - Quarter Session records

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This Archives In Brief provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to the Courts of General and Quarter Sessions (generally referred to as Quarter Sessions) in New South Wales. Additional records may be identified in Archives Investigator under Quarter Sessions, Clerk of the Peace and Court of Criminal Appeal.

Hay Court House, n.d.

NRS 4346 Hay Court House n.d.

Overview

Courts of General and Quarter Sessions (known as Quarter Sessions)

Courts of General and Quarter Sessions (Quarter Sessions) were formalised in New South Wales in 1824 under the provisions of the Better Administration of Justice in New South Wales Act 1823. The Courts were given power to deal with all crimes and misdemeanours not punishable with death. In addition they were given a summary jurisdiction over offences committed by convicts not free by pardon, or whose sentence had not expired. The Courts also adjudicated ‘on appeals from summary convictions, or other decisions of single justices, or of the Courts of Petty Sessions, on road cases, and other matters referred to Quarter Sessions by various enactments of the Legislature’.[1]

Initially there was no district structure of the Court which met as required. In 1858 the Courts of General and Quarter Sessions were arranged into districts.

The court ceased on 1 July 1973 when the Quarter Sessions were abolished and the district courts took on the criminal as well as the civil jurisdiction. The Sydney Court of General and Quarter Sessions became a court in the District Court Criminal and Special Jurisdiction, Sydney and Central Division.

Records created by Quarter Sessions courts

Records generated by the Quarter Sessions (mainly Minute Books) are listed in Archives Investigator under the particular court.

Clerk of the Peace

The first Clerk of the Peace (the predecessor of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions) in New South Wales was appointed in 1817. The office lapsed in 1821 but after the abolition of the office of Judge Advocate and the institution of Quarter Sessions in 1825, it became necessary to revive the office.

From the 1830s onwards the Clerks of the Peace were appointed in country districts where Quarter Sessions were held. The title Clerk of the Peace changed to 'Solicitor for Public Prosecutions and Clerk of the Peace' in 1980 and in 1986 the Director of Public Prosecutions Act appointed a Director of Public Prosecutions to institute and conduct Crown proceedings.

Records created by the office of the Clerk of the Peace

The bulk of the records relating to cases heard by the Quarter Sessions were created by the office of the Clerk of the Peace. These records are listed in Archives Investigator at the end of the agency description of Clerk of the Peace (1817-1980) Solicitor for Public Prosecutions and Clerk of the Peace (1980-1987).

The depositions and papers for the period 1824-37 are largely complete. For most courts they commence with their first sitting — Sydney, Liverpool and Windsor in November 1824; Parramatta in February 1824; Campbelltown in July 1828, Maitland 1830 and Bathurst 1832.

From about 1837 onwards there are significant gaps in the records, with only one box of papers for the whole of New South Wales surviving for the period 1841-1901, and only 13 boxes for the period to 1920. The absence of these records can be partially overcome by using the various series of Registers and the newspapers of the time, many of which are available on TROVE. From 1921 to the present, most of the records have survived.

Online indexes to records relating to Quarter Session hearings

Indexes to related records

Clerk of the Peace - Main record series 1824-1920

NRS 845, Depositions and other papers, Sydney and Country, 1824-37, 1841-1920. 
1824-37 [4/8368-8443] Reels 2395-2416, [4/8470-84] Reels 2752-2754, [4/8444-69, 4/8485-89] View a list of surviving papers

1841-1920 [2/10415-28, 10/8911 part]. The depositions 1841-1920 have been sorted into Sydney (by month) and country (alphabetical by place) for each year. View a list of surviving papers for the period 1841-1901 [2/10415]

NRS 831, Calendars of persons tried on criminal charges in Sydney courts (Court books), 1835-1923

NRS 844, Calendars of criminal cases tried at Liverpool, Campbelltown, and Parramatta Quarter Sessions, 1824-38, [5/2996], Reel 2727

NRS 846, Indexes to Quarters Sessions criminal cases, Sydney and Country, 1839-1922: 1839-1912

NRS 847, Registers of criminal cases tried at Sydney Quarter Sessions (Sydney Deposition books), 1839-1921

NRS 849, Registers of criminal depositions received (Depositions books), 1849-1921

 NRS 850, Returns of criminal cases heard at Country Quarter Sessions, 1870-1920

NRS 884, Registers of Quarter Sessions criminal cases heard before Supreme Court on Circuit, 1883-1948

Clerk of the Peace - Main record series 1921-72

NRS 846, Indexes to Quarter Sessions criminal cases, Sydney and Country, 1913-30

NRS 849, Registers of criminal depositions received (Deposition books), 1916-49

NRS 845, Depositions and other papers, Sydney and Country, 1921-31. The main sequences of depositions have been sorted into Sydney (by month) and country (alphabetical by place) for each year. Parramatta is included under country.

NRS 856, Depositions and other papers, Sydney Quarter Sessions, 1932-72

NRS 857, Depositions and other papers, Country Quarter Sessions, 1932-72

NRS 858, Indictments, Sydney Quarter Sessions, 1921-59

NRS 859, Indictments, Country Quarter Sessions, 1921-59

NRS 847, Registers of criminal cases tried at Sydney Quarter Sessions (Sydney Deposition books), 1920-48

NRS 862, Card register of cases tried at Sydney Quarter Sessions, 1949-62

NRS 850, Returns of criminal cases heard at Country Quarter Sessions, 1921-48

NRS 866, Card register of cases tried at Country Quarter Sessions, 1949-69

NRS 884, Registers of Quarter Sessions criminal cases heard before Supreme Court on Circuit, 1883-1948

Appeals to Quarter Sessions

NRS 852, Registers of appeals from Courts of Petty Sessions to Sydney and Country Quarter Sessions, Feb 1903-Apr 1922

NRS 870, Registers of appeals from Courts of Petty Sessions to Sydney and Country Quarter Sessions, Apr 1920-Dec 1948

NRS 871, Card register of appeals to Quarter Sessions, 1947-62

NRS 872, Appeals to Quarter Sessions, 1941-62

NRS 873, Appeals, Sydney Quarter Sessions, 1932-73

NRS 875, Appeals, Country Quarter Sessions, 1932-73

Published guide

The guide Clerk of the Peace: Part 1 Quarter Sessions Records 1824-1920 is available in the reading room. It includes a listing of NRS 845, Depositions and other papers, Sydney and Country, 1824-3, which are indexed in the online Index to Quarter Sessions cases, 1824-37.

Related records

NRS 4481 Goulburn Court House n.d.Digital ID: 4481_a026_000531

NRS 4481 Goulburn Court House, n.d.

Coroners' records

Registers of coronial enquiries can establish basic details such as cause of death, name of accused and locality of trial. Detailed reports have not survived for the years 1828 to 1911. See Archives in Brief 4.

Court Reporting Office, Transcripts, 1899-1987

See Archives Investigator NRS 2713 Transcripts, 1899-1987. Transcripts for early years are arranged by the name of the judge and the jurisdiction of the Court. Later they are arranged by the jurisdiction of the Court and the name of the person tried. Records more than 30 years old are open to public access if the case is not of current interest.

Guide to Convicts and Convict Administration

Also known as the Convict Guide, it is available in the reading room. See Chapter 11: Colonial trials and court records.

Judges notebooks

Judges' notebooks survive from c 1828, but are not complete. See Archives Investigator under the name of the judge. Newspapers may give the name of the judge, as may the registers listed above.

Prison records

See Archives Investigator under Corrective Services for details. Post 1870s prison records may include photographs of prisoners with details of conviction and personal history. There is an online index to Gaol Photograph Description Books. This index is being regularly updated. See also Archives In Brief 82 Records of Gaol Inmates.

Reports of Crime for Police Information, 1854-62 and Police Gazettes, 1862-1982

These publications include details of crimes committed, criminals wanted, criminals apprehended, prisoners discharged. See Archives Investigator for further information and a list of records.

Supreme Court Criminal Jurisdiction records

The Supreme Court heard all matters that were punishable by death until the abolition of the death penalty in 1955. See Archives in Brief 31 for a description of the main Supreme Court of NSW criminal records held by State Records.

Access

District Court

Records dated pre 1955 that do not relate to children under the age of 18 as victims or perpetrators of crime are open to public access. Records that relate to children under the age of 18 as victims or perpetrators of crime are closed to public access for 100 years.

For access to closed records contact:

District Court Criminal Registry
PO Box A4
Sydney South NSW 2000
Telephone: (02) 9287 7314
Email: ag_sdc_crime@adg.nsw.gov.au

Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.

For more information about your rights of access to State records see Archives in Brief No. 9: Your rights of access.

Footnotes

[1] Historical Records of Australia 1.26.638-642