One of the most frequent comments I hear about The Edward Street Baby Farm is ‘How come I’ve never heard about this before?’ That was my own reaction when I first came across the ‘baby farming case’ and the 1907 Alice Mitchell trial. It caused a sensation at the time, and had such a significant impact on Western Australia’s legal system. How could it have been forgotten?
There is at least one place in Perth where the Alice Mitchell case is remembered. In the grounds of the imposing Supreme Court building on St George’s terrace is a much smaller building that looks rather like a chapel. In fact, at times it was used as a chapel, a school room and even as a concert hall. But it’s main purpose, when it was built in 1836, was as a court house. Now the Old Court House is home to the Law Museum, dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of the legal profession and the law in Western Australia.
Inside the front door is the court room itself, where trials took place until 1857. Smaller rooms behind it hold displays on the history of various aspects of the law in WA, going right back to the first days of the Swan River Colony. In one corner of one of these rooms is a panel about laws relating to children. And there it is — a poster that mentions the Alice Mitchell trial and its significance.
The Law Museum is unique in Australia, and well worth a visit. Apart from admiring the beautifully restored building itself, you can also discover lots about how the law developed in this state in relation to women, Aboriginal people and convicts. You can learn about some famous cases, and the judges who heard them.
This video, narrated by Richard Offen, gives a brief history of the building.