Berrima Courthouse

Anyone that knows me knows the Berrima Courthouse located in Berrima, NSW Australia is, bar none, the most tangibly haunted location I have come across in more than 30 years that I have been investigating.  Following I will give some history and a few brief excerpts about the courthouse and the amazing activity I experienced there.

After years of investigations and subsequent ghost tours, one night in 2005 I locked the door behind me for the last time.

The History:

In the non-aboriginal population of New South Wales during the 1830's, there remained a large number of convicts and a community which often viewed the police and legal system with some suspicion.

As the colony began to emerge from its convict origins, proper court houses were needed as places where the administration of justice could be put into effect. They were the symbols, even in the Australian bush, of the central place that law and justice has in our social system.

Australia's second Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis, designed Berrima Courthouse in the Greek Revival style giving the building its formal and imposing presence. Although the foundation stone was laid in 1835, problems with a succession of builders delayed completion until 1839. Ultimately the courthouse was only a Court of Assizes presided over by a Supreme Court judge from 1839 to 1846 although it was used intermittently for court sittings until 1884.

An important part of the town, the courthouse was also the centre of public administration where licenses were issued to publicans and hawkers and where convicts were assigned as farm workers. It was a venue for meetings, dances, concerts and church services.

Around the turn of the century the library for the School of Arts was kept in the courthouse and during the First World War, German officers who had been made prisoners of war were housed in the building.

In 1927 a public fund helped pay for restoration work and the committee of the School of Arts re-opened the building in 1936.

Other local organisations made use of the building in later years until 1972 when it was again closed.

Careful restoration of the building to something resembling its original state was undertaken by the Department of Public Works and completed in 1976.

As printed in the Sydney Morning Herald

Berrima Courthouse

Judy McDowell

My experience with the Berrima Courthouse began innocently enough.  I was working at the local newspaper at the time and in charge of our Features section which meant writing stories, taking photos and selling advertisements as well as putting it all together to print.  I happened upon the courthouse while I was putting a special feature together on the township of Berrima.

The courthouse operated as a musem during the day and was situated directly across from the Berrima Gaol, which was still in operation until 2011.

As soon as I stepped into the building I knew there were some strong energies still residing there.  I took a moment to walk around and take in what I was feeling.  I was absolutely hooked from that moment on.  I took every opportunity to go back to the courthouse and eventually convinced the curator to allow my team to conduct a series investigations.  At that point I had been researching and investigating the paranormal for about 20 years.  I thought I had seen it all and was still unconvinced that "ghosts"really did exist.  Don't get me wrong, I had seen and experienced a plethora of unexplainable events and although I had no obvious explanation, I was still doubtful...What happened to me at and because of the Berrima Courhouse over the next several years changed everything I believed in.


Lucretia Dunkley and Martin Beech

Lucretia and Martin's Skulls

Courtroom at Berrima Courthouse

Ruins of Henry Dunkley's Farm

Lucretia Dunkley/Martin Beech and John Lynch

Berrima Gaol was built of local sandstone and was operational between 1839 and 2011 with a number of breaks in between.
Initially established as Berrima Gaol, the facility closed in 1909 and reopened in 1949.

Australia's first serial killer John Lynch was hanged here in 1842. another of the notable trials held in the nearby Berrima Court House was that of Lucretia Dunkley and her lover Martin Beech. Both were hanged in 1843 for the murder of Dunkley’s husband. Lucretia Dunkley was the only woman hanged at Berrima Gaol.

In 1898, a residence for the governor (or superintendent) of the jail was built next door to the gaol.

During World War I the gaol was used as a German prisoner internment camp.

Between 1970 and 2001, the centre was classified as minimum/medium security for male inmates. Most inmates were permitted to work outside of the centre on the local market gardens managed by Corrective Services NSW. Some detainees were permitted to maintain local parks and gardens and the local Berrima cemetery.

In 2001 the Centre changed its name to Berrima Correctional Centre and, after one hundred and sixty six years as a men's prison, the centre became a woman's prison, with a capacity of fifty-nine inmates.

Immediately prior to its closure on 4 November 2011, the centre was an all female low-to-medium-security prison and was the oldest Australian correctional facility in operation.

About the activity

In the beginning, activity was mostly reserved to footsteps, voices and the like.  As time went on footsteps turned to stomping, banging on doors, cell doors slamming shut, objects being tossed across the room, voices, people being touched and scratched, full bodied apparations and finally intelligent communication through the form of tapping in response to questions being asked.  Through it all, I still questioned the vailidity of the activity even though I was fully aware there was no logical explanation for what was occurring.

Data was collected almost every night in the form of Class A EVPs and the occasional video and/or photograph.  The photo pictured here was taken outside the courthouse during an overnight tour.  It was warm outside and no one was smoking.  This photo has been sent to England for verification and was confirmed to be of paranormal origin.  It is one of the very few photographs I have ever recorded that cannot be explained.


Hung in Berrima

  • Patrick Curran 21 October 1841 – Bushranger. Hanged at Berrima for attempted murder of constable McGuire and rape of Mary Wilmore.
  • Patrick Kleighran (Clearehan, Clerehan, Clearham) – 22 April 1842 – Hanged at Berrima for the murder of Timothy Murphy.
  • John Lynch (also called Dunleary) – 22 April 1842 – Hanged at Berrima. Confessed to ten murders.
  • Lucretia Dunkley22 October 1843 – Hanged at Berrima Gaol for the murder of her husband Henry Dunkley near Gunning.
  • Martin Beech22 October 1843 – Hanged at Berrima Gaol for the murder of Henry Dunkley near Gunning.


So who is haunting the Berrima Courthouse?

After several months of research, my initial conclusion was that Lucretia Dunkley was most certainly to blame for all the activity going on inside the courthouse.  A mock trial was set up in the courtroom depicting the duo and their crime was certainly quite haenous, the audio would turn on by itself at times...Not to mention both Lucretia and Martin were hung on October 22nd, my birthday!  However, as time went on and my research continued I learned that it was not Lucretia at all, but another of those tried, convicted and hung in Berrima, Australia's most prolific serial killer, John Lynch.

About John Lynch

John Lynch (1813 – 22 April 1842) was an Irish-born Australian serial killer, convicted for the murder of Kearns Landregan, but is believed to have killed 10 people in the Berrima area of New South Wales from 1835 to 1841. Possibly the worst serial killer in Australian history, Lynch was a bushranger who murdered and robbed cattle herders and laborers in the trails around Berima.

Lynch was sentenced to death, and was executed in 1842.

John Lynch was born in 1813 in Cavan, Ireland. In 1830, he was convicted of false pretences in Cavan, and two years later he was sentenced to penal transportation to Australia. Lynch, at 19-years-old, left Ireland on the ship Dunvegan Castle II, on 1 July 1832 sailing from Dublin to New South Wales. On 16 October 1832, the ship docked at Port Jackson and Lynch was billeted out to Berrima, a village founded that year and located in the southern highlands of New South Wales, roughly 130 kilometres from Sydney.

Lynch was a small but solidly-built man at just 5’3” in height, and worked as a convict labourer on various farms before joining a gang of bushrangers. An 1835 incident saw him and two others convicted for the killing of Tom Smythe, after Smythe had given evidence against Lynch's gang. Despite his admission to the crime the jury did not believe him and set him free, while the other two were hanged.


Lynch's murder spree started after he went to the farm of T.B. Humphrey, where he had previously worked, and stole eight cattle before setting out for Sydney, where his intention was to sell them. At Razorback Mountain, he met a man called Ireland along with an Aboriginal boy who were driving a full cattle herd loaded with wheat, bacon and other produce. The cargo was meant to be delivered to Thomas Cowper, who was a stranger to Lynch, and decided it would be more profitable to take Ireland’s load and sell it rather than his initial intention. Early one morning, Ireland asked the boy to help round up the cattle, and once they were away from the camp Lynch crept up behind him and smashed the back of his head with a tomahawk, killing him. Returning to camp while Ireland was making breakfast, Lynch distracted him before crashing the tomahawk into the back of his head, killing him too. Lynch hid both corpses and continued to Sydney to execute his plan with his stolen merchandise.

On his way back from Sydney, close to Razorback Mountain, he met a father and son called Frazer, who were driving a cattle herd owned by a Mr Bawten. Lynch fancied this herd and decided he would have to kill the Frazers to get it, accompanying them on their journey. That night, they camped near Cordeaux Flat, and the next morning Lynch killed both men and then buried their bodies.

After killing the Frazers, Lynch decided to deal with the Mulligans, who had owed him £30 for stolen goods they had purchased off him. He visited the Mulligan farm and killed the four members of the family before gathering the bodies, built a pyre and set them alight. Lynch claimed to be the new owner of the property, and he bought it off the surviving Mulligans as the family left town without a word to anybody.

Arrest and conviction

On the morning of 19 February 1841, Hugh Tinney was on his way to Sydney with a herd of cattle. After stopping near the Ironstone bridge, which crosses the Wingcarribee River on the edge of Berrima, Tinney noticed a dingo rummaging in the undergrowth trying to get at whatever was hidden there. Tinney chased off the dingo, and a closer inspection revealed the body of a man. The man had received a various severe blows to the back of his head by a large blunt instrument, and items on the dead man's body identified him as a local farmhand named Kearns Landregan. Landregan was last seen just two nights previously, having dinner in the company of a farmer calling himself John Dunleavy at the Woolpack Inn in Nattai, close to Berrima and not far from where the body was discovered. The police then called on to a farm which had been home to a family called Mulligan but was now owned by Dunleavy, who maintained that he had bought the farm from the Mulligans for £700. Dunleavy also said that all of the Mulligans had apparently packed up and left town without telling a soul. The barmaid from the Woolpack later identified Dunleavy and Lynch as the same person. With that information and other strong evidence gathered by police on 21 February 1841, Lynch was charged with the murder of Landregan.

Lynch's trial began in Berrima courthouse on 21 March 1842 before the chief justice of New South Wales, Sir James Dowling. Despite the evidence presented to the court, Lynch maintained his plea of innocence, but the jury found him guilty in less than an hour. He stuck steadfastly to his story of being innocent, as he went through the appeals process, and it was only after this procedure was exhausted that he confessed to his crimes.[2]

Lynch was executed by hanging in Berrima Gaol on 22 April 1842.

The Aftermath

As months went by, I was warned by several psychic mediums, including two world reknowned psychics, to separate myself from John Lynch and the courthouse.  They warned me that he could "latch on" and create havoc in my life.  My logical mind dismissed this as fantasy and I continued to provoke and invite him into my life inadvertently as the tangible activity I was experiencing was incredible.

One night I was taken out of my comfort zone by a team member.  My photographer, who was normally very laid back and quiet, an observer, was becoming more and more disruptive during a tour one night.  During a break he approached me stating he felt as if he was being provoked.  I dismissed this as him being tired as he had been working all day and it was almost 1am not thinking there could possibly be any type of outside influence.

After the break we continued our tour and he continued to be disruptive.  When I suggested we take another break he left the room abruptly and walked toward the door.  Being a bit worried, myself and two of my team members went after him to make sure he was ok.  We came upon him standing in the audio/visual room with his back toward the door.  My team member asked him "Alan, are you ok?"..... Alan swung around with no expression on his face and with his mouth barely moving stated "Alan's not here, this place is mine".  He then took off out of the front door and began pacing around the front lawn of the courthouse mumbling "I'm sick of the games" over and over.  We were all a taken aback and I finally reached out, grabbed his arms and shook him.  "Alan!" I shouted...all of a sudden his face changed, he looked at me and asked "how did I get out here".

After that ordeal, I locked the door to the courthouse and never returned.  John, however, was not happy with the situation and continued to disrupt my life in ways I never imagined could occur.

There is too much to explain here and some of it is much too personal to share, but be warned.  Spirits can and will turn your life upside down if you do not take precautions.  Take it from someone who didn't believe....

This location and it's presence prompted me to tattoo John Lynch on my forearm as a reminder to never let your guard down