The Court House (Supreme Court Building), Belize City
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Thursday July 6, 2017

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1926 newly built Court House with Presbyterian Church in the background. It must have been a novelty and pleasure for the locals to hear the clock ring for the first time. This is the previous church with the current Court House. This photo was taken at twenty-past six or four-thirty. Based on the shadow of Brodies I would say four-thirty.

Side view of the Courthouse and Presbyterian Church to the left, circa 1930's


Taken right after fire destroyed the Court House in 1919.

1911. Read the words above the stairs. "God Bless our King and Queen"

Unveiling of Governor Hart-Bennett Memorial Tablet. William M. Hart-Bennett was Governor of British Honduras (now known as Belize) from 29 January 1918 to 4 September 1918.

Court House, 1856. The Court House, first erected around 1819, was originally a wooden structure built to mirror the existing colonial architecture. The building housed a courtroom and other government offices, while it's lower floor comprised of apartments that were used by the Militia during Christmas muster". This photo is that of the first Court House with the cupola on top of it. I always though the second Court House was built where the first Court House was located. This photo shows that the first Court House could have been slightly further back than where the Court House is today and not at the same location. To the left looks like Riverside Hall. It has the flag raising pole.

The photo above this one was taken from the river, this photo was taken from the other side. The original Court House was across the bridge in the building where the Distributors use to be. By BulkStorage opposite St Mary's. The tower was located on the shoreline of what is now the fishing co-op near the Brown Sugar water taxi terminal. The large concrete bases are still there.

The building to the left is the Treasury building and housed the DC Johnson's office, and I think a library. The morning of the hurricane the oil tank from the ice factory floated across the river toward the Supreme Court building. It came around the building took out the railings of that building. The receding tide rested it on the stairs of the magistrate court. The building next left is the back of the Supreme Court. The openings (windows, doors) on the lower level of the main body of the Supreme Court Building are boarded up. Then the long low building was the Scots Kirk Church, which was destroyed in Hurricane Hattie. Some of the older folks said that it was hit by a metal barge and others said that it was hit by a metal vat. The church had a beautiful organ that was destroyed in the hurricane. Capn Foot was North of Scot's Kirk. Those piles are sand from the sea for construction. The sail boats used to go out and bring them in. The Chief Justice, and some Senior Civil servants weathered the hurricane there. When wind abated in the morning, the tide was up to the first landing. The stop signs next to Brodies were just under water. No one was out then. There was a small sail boat on top of the fountain in the park but no paddle craft. The sand piles disappeared and the Fire Bell went down also!

The Scots Kirk or the Presbyterian Church on the left.

1987, photo by Brian Keating

A typical September 10th Parade in the 1940's. The BHDF is assembled in front of the courthouse. On the right is a detachment of police in dress uniform. Brodies is on the far right. This excellent photo was made by the noted Belize photographer V.M.Lizarraga.

This photo from 1906 is the Court House (#2). The first Court House would have been located to the left of this building too far out to be seen.



Court House with large elevated water tank/ vat on the right. If you zoom in on the picture you will notice that the vats were being used for storage, probably sugar because you can see the extended funnel that could be lowered down with another 90 degree elbow over the barge below. The barges are the types that are being used to transport sugar from the factory to the storage vats and then from the vats to the ship.

The second courthouse, it was destroyed by fire in 1918.

So we can see why behind the Supreme Court was called "Court House Wharf." This aerial image was taken in 1911 by Sir George Arthur, also dated in his life bio. Documented during his 8 years as Superintendent and Commandant of British Honduras during 1814-1822. He was a Belizean frontline abolitionist, lots of development did occur during his tenure including setting the wheels in motion to abolish slavery in the British Commonwealth. During Arthur’s time, the First Court House was built at the same location as the second Court House which is the Court House in the photo. Across the river from the Court house was a very tall smoke stack or industrial chimney that was part of the power plant... many pics including the famous panoramic pic of the city was taken from atop that structure.

The Treasury Building" seems very close to the Courthouse, which is why it was destroyed by fire in 1918 when the Court House caught fire. Notice the roof comb, this prevented birds from landing. 1930s.

Court House and Presbyterian Church, postcard dated March 20, 1902. This is a photo of the second south side Court House which was the predecessor to the current Court House. This one was destroyed in 1918. It was constructed from wood by Gustavo Von Ohlaffen (not sure about the spelling of the last name).

A postcard showing the Court House, Government buildings, and Presbyterian Church, established by Scottish settlers in the 1850s (Scotch Kirk). Haulover Creek with sailboats. Dated February 1905. Hood Engravers & Printers Middlesbrough 'Sanbride.'

Court House on postcard dated February 15, 1907.

View Of Court House, 1950s

The Supreme Court was built in 1818, however, it was until June 26, 1820 the first sitting was held. The building was erected by Gustav Von Ohlafen. In 1918, the Supreme Court was completely destroyed by a fire. During that fire, the Governor at the time, Hart Bennett, was fatally injured while rendering his assistance to put out the fire.

A 1931 photo of British Colonial building and postoffice in Belize. The post office is the building furthest to the right, today we know it as the Treasury building this is before it was moved into the Paslow Building. Photo courtesy George Villanueva

It is not very often we have a glimpse of the front and rear of the same historic building (just above and just below), but we do for the Supreme Court. This version of the Supreme Court was destroyed by fire in 1918 and subsequently killing Governor William Hart Bennett a few days later. Governor Bennett was the only Colonial Administrator that died on Belizean Soil.

Dated in the early 50s. Photo courtesy George Villanueva

Photo by Phoenix Visuals

What we have now, taken July 21, 2020. Photo by Gordon Kirkwood
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The Supreme Court of Belize is established as a superior court of record under sections 94 and 95 of the Constitution. The Court has unlimited original jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceedings under any law. The Court also hears and determines any appeals arising from any decision of an inferior court. There are currently 8 Judges of the Supreme Court including the Chief Justice.
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The Court House (Supreme Court Building), Belize City

Built in classic British colonial style the Supreme Court building in Belize City is complete with clock tower.

The original courthouse in Belize City was destroyed by fire in 1818 and in 1926 a new building was constructed to house the Supreme Court. This grand old edifice has 4 clocks facing each of the cardinal points and is entered via an intricate ironwork stairway leading to the second-floor veranda.

The Supreme Court of Belize still holds several annual sessions on the second floor while the first floor houses a daily magistrate’s court.

The court is not opened to the general public.

On September 1st, 1786, at a magistrate meeting, a man by the name of “Dan” offered a lot located at the present day Government House. This lot was the first location considered for the Court House. As faith would have it, the lot was used for the construction of the Government House in 1814 and the rest is history. Here are seven additional facts:

1) The first Court House was built in 1818, and was almost destroyed in the great fire of 1863, which burnt almost the entire town.

4)The 1818 Court House was replaced in 1880 with a new Court House constructed out of wood with the same architectual design as the current Court House. The second court house was built by a Prussian Army Officer by the name of Gustav Von Ohlafen. Mr Ohlaffen was the same person who built the Vaults (1881) located at Sanker’s Park in the Yarborough area.

5) The second Court House was eventually destroyed by fire on August 17th, 1918.

6) Governor Hart-Bennett died as consequence of the 1918 fire when the flag pole which was weaken by the fire, fell and hit him on his head. He died a month later from his injuries. He has been the only Governor, Lieutenant Governor and/or Superintendent who has died on the job. The governor was hosting a “White elephant sale” for the Red Cross at Governor’s House when the news of the fire came. He left the party to check out the fire.

On August 17th, 1918, a mammoth blaze completely destroyed the Courthouse, the Government Printing Office, the Southside Fire Station and the Post Office. This fire not only obliterated huge amounts of official records documenting the business of the Colony, it also resulted in the death of the new Governor, St. William Hart Bennett, when a fire-weakened flagpole toppled on his head while on his way to assess the damage. This particular fire is a significant event in Belize's history and forms a part of the socio-political tensions of the time. It occurred during the War years at a time when public disapproval of the British was at an all time high and racial tensions were still being played out. (Most of this is directly due to Governor William Collett whose 1913-1917 tenure was characterized by personally motivated racist acts and who often took offense at colored people who tried to rise above "their station in life". His undisguised racial discrimination was also copied by other members of his particular political administration, the worse being Col. Slack, a prominent lawyer and Commander of the Belize Defense Force. His mistreatment of blacks and creoles was so notorious that it eventually led to his own murder, which the Clarion described as "a foul deed that was indeed a brave act" ). Suspiciously, the fire destroyed mostly government buildings and much to the consternation of the colonial authorities and the dominant classes affected by the fire, hardly any of the onlookers bothered to assist in the fighting of the fire. Arson was suspected but never proven. Peter Ashdown writes in “The Growth of Black Consciousness in Belize: 1914-1919: The Background to the Ex-Servicemen's Riot of 1919" - "The Clarion agreed that the populace of the City had done little to save the government edifice. The general attitude had been "LET IT BURN", the fire brigade had been jeered and its hoses sabotaged and there had been some looting of deserted stores. Acting Governor Walter who witnessed these events believed there to be ‘a dangerous and ugly spirit broad’. “Things had reached a head by the following year when The BELIZE EXSERVICEMEN RIOT took place on July 22, 1919. (This paragraph courtesy Suzette Zayden)

7) The current Court House, constructed from concrete, was built in 1926.

Do you know what is the connection between the Court House, Governor William M. Hart-Bennett and the Vaults at Yarborough?

The Court House you see today is not the original Court House, the original was built in 1818 and was rebuilt in 1880 by a Prussian military officer named Gustav Von Ohlafen. The building was a beautiful wooden structure, reminiscent of the colonial architecture of the time. The current building was constructed in the same design as the 1880's version, except in concrete.

Mr. Gustav Von Ohlafen was also the contractor for the infamous Vaults that was built in the Yarborough area (see picture). The Vaults structure was built in 1882 when the second Yarborough Cemetery reached capacity. The Vaults was Mr. Ohlafen's solution to the fact that the cemetery was in a low lying area and the coffins were submerged in water after interment. The Vaults has been the only failed attempt to bury the dead above ground. The Vault structure contained hundreds of apertures where the dead were and would be placed. It was closed in 1886 when the community complained that they could not endure the smell coming from the Vaults. One of the good things that came from the Vaults was that the residence of the area were able to survive the surging waters from the 1931 and 61 hurricanes by going on top of the structure.

Governor William M. Hart Bennett, CMG, was the 7th Governor of British Honduras from January, 29th,1918, to September 4th, 1918. His tenure was one of the shortest tenures of all the Governors due to an unexpected life ending event.

What connects all three is that the new Court House that was rebuilt by Mr. Gustav Von Ohlafen was burnt down on August 17, 1918. During that fire, Governor Hart-Bennett, who was directing the efforts to extinguish the fire, was struck by a falling flagpole from the Court House. He died from those injuries on September 4th, 1918.

The irony is that, Mr. Von Ohlafen, who built the Court House and the infamous Vaults, was the first person to be buried in the infamous Vault after his death.


This is a sight filled with history. - - - A Book could be written of this site.

This sight was named, Court House WHARF, because it was the sight most convenient for Farmers to bring their products by boats and dorey.

This was the Supreme Court which burnt down in the year 1918.

The Flag Pole you see there by the Court House also caught fire and fell on Colonial Governor William Hart Bennet, killing him immediately..

The Scott's Kirk Church, on the right hand side, was totally demolished by a Sunken Iron Vat buried near Old City Hall. - - -This Sunken Iron Vat which was buried in the ground, was up rooted up, and FLOATED over the river into the Church Building. Some 20 persons died there.

The Field across the Supreme Court was the Battle Field, - Now Central Park.

The building far across the Church Tower was once, the Head Quarters of the Belize Military. ( and also served, as Post Office, and Magistrate Court.

In front of the Sea Shore you could buy wholesale, Fruits, Fire Wood, Charcoal, Bananas and Plantain, Sand and Botan Posts and Papta etc. Hector Silva

Recognized by its unique cupola this wooden version of our court house burnt down in 1918. The then Governor got a bit too close observing the fire resulting in a burning flag pole falling on and killing him.

This was the Court House before the current Court House which was destroyed in the 1919 fire. This Court House was built entirely of wood by Gustave Von Ohllafen who was a Prussian officer. He also built the Vaults (after they closed the Yarborough Cemetery) in the Queen Charlotte area. I understand he was the first person buried there as well. The Vaults were not a popular gravesite because they buried the dead in vaults above the ground. Photo courtesy Belize National Historical Society, George Clarke Collection.

A photo of Belize city Courthouse wharf dated 1969. Photo courtesy George Villanueva.
Harold Usher: Nice picture of the old Cottage Industry directly in the centre and the Colonial Secretary (Col. Sec.) Building. Around the left corner is the Bliss Institute, continue on to Bellevue Hotel and Foreshore. To the right (unseen) is the Court house and one of the famous Fire Bells and Scots Kirk (Presbyterian Church). The boats seen in this vicinity were boats bringing in coconuts, plantain, bananas, sugar cane, fruits and so on from places like Sarteneja and Mullins River and other places. Interesting to see the trucks in this area.

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