Saturday, 5 October 2013

Sir George Arthur and his police

Arthur made a number of changes. His first task was to suppress bush-ranging and win the confidence of settlers. In 1826, he selected a number of convicts to serve as armed field police, under the direction of respectable settlers and military officers. Induced by a pardon for good service, the field police arrested runaways from private service or public works, ended bush-ranging and succeeded in making the settlers of the interior feel more secure.[1] One important result was that, by appointing convicts to the field police, ‘a mistrust and jealousy’ was ‘infused into the Prisoner Population,’ and, seeking a pardon for themselves other convicts applied for admission to the police. In 1827, the field police numbered eighty-three and a small band of four military mounted police was also formed.[2]

Once bush-ranging been contained, the field police were called on to deal with the threats posed by Aboriginal attacks on settlers.[3] The ‘outrages’ committed against Aborigines by absconding convicts, isolated convict stock keepers in the interior and sealers in ‘remote’ parts of the coast excited ‘the strongest feelings of hatred and revenge’ and Aborigines waged guerrilla war against white settlers.[4] Arthur was torn between his belief in ‘justice’ for the Aborigines and his duty to protect the settlers. Having failed to conciliate the Aborigines, Arthur proclaimed martial law, hoping to drive Aborigines away from the settled districts for their own protection as well as that of the settlers.[5] In 1829, Arthur placed as many military parties in the interior as he could spare and detached small parties to protect the more remote settlers.[6] The field police and six parties of five well-behaved convicts under constables of ‘respectable character,’ under the control of Thomas Anstey a wealthy settler, conducted more active operations to expel or capture Aborigines.[7] These roving parties were kept ‘continually on the move’ in the most threatened districts and killed many Aborigines. In 1830, soldiers, settlers and convicts traversed the island (the so-called Black Line) in an attempt to confine the estimated three hundred remaining Aborigines to the Tasman Peninsula. Despite capturing only two Aborigines and killing two others, Arthur’s efforts won the admiration of most landholders.[8] Physical force was followed by George Augustus Robinson’s policy of conciliation leading to the transfer of Aborigines to Flinders Island northeast of VDL.[9] By August 1834, the Aboriginal problem, as the colonists saw it, had been settled, since all but a handful of natives had been removed from the mainland to the Flinders settlement.

After introducing ‘a more coercive system’ of disciplining convicts and dealing with bushrangers, in early 1828 Arthur devoted more attention to general police arrangements, believing that on the efficiency of the police hinged ‘the effect of Transportation.’[10] Arthur aimed to make the police ‘infinitely more effective’ without increasing costs by establishing a ‘powerful engine’ to discipline convicts ensuring

...the most minute attention and incessant watchfulness of the conduct of every convict after his arrival in Van Diemen’s Land.

They would especially keep ‘a steady surveillance’ over the expirees and ‘the lower order of settlers.’[11] The expirees were ‘chiefly pick-pockets and other London vagrants,’ drunks ‘beyond redemption,’ who had been more corrupted than reformed by a lifetime of punishment in England and who became free men at the end of their seven-year sentences in VDL.[12]

Under the new system, the chief police magistrate, based in Hobart Town headed the police.[13] Nine police districts were headed by a police magistrate, each with an annual salary of £350, and divided into divisions as appropriate. Magistrates sent weekly reports to the chief police magistrate sitting at Hobart Town, who in turn sent a weekly summary to Arthur.[14] Arthur periodically issued instructions to ensure that magistrates were not too lax or too severe and maintained control of their police forces. He thus instituted a centrally directed system of policing and magistrates deviated from his instructions at their peril.[15] Arthur’s centralised management irritated some independent magistrates. Constables were appointed, dismissed or transferred without reference to these officials, who often felt that they were ciphers in the hands of Arthur’s henchman, the chief police magistrate. When hearing a case, their ‘whole thoughts were necessarily directed to know what Colonel Arthur or the chief police magistrate, would think of it; not to what was the just sentence.’[16] A chief constable, always a free arrival, was appointed to superintend the police in each district and lived near the police magistrate, to whom he would report. Each division was not to be more than five miles from the chief constable’s residence. Division constables, who were also usually free arrivals, supervised convict policemen in remote districts. The number of field police and petty constables, appointed from the convict population, varied with the needs of the district. They were paid nine-pence per day instead of rations, sixpence per day as salary and were given bedding and clothing.[17]

More important than salary was the opportunity provided by police service to gain freedom from convict sentence. After three years, any convict policeman receiving ‘a certificate of good conduct’ from his police magistrate would earn a ticket of leave.[18] If he remained a policeman for another three years and received another certificate of good conduct, he became entitled to a conditional pardon, although some additional conditions might be imposed. Another three years with good conduct would earn a free pardon. Arthur perhaps relied too heavily on the desperation of convict policemen to secure their freedom. However, these low-paid men were tempted by bribes to turn a blind eye to illegalities or to use their powers to arrest innocent or defenceless colonists increasing their wages by unscrupulous means.

Hobart in 1825

For free men appointed policemen, the rates of pay varied according to the importance of a district.[19] In Hobart Town, the chief constable was paid £182 per annum, in Launceston £100, and in other districts £75 or £50. District constables, who were at first appointed only to the two main towns, received a minimum of £50 rising to £75. A division constable received £25 and a petty constable £20. Arthur also appointed clerks to help police magistrates with paper work allowing them to spend more time supervising the police. The existing police cost, including rations, clothing, and salaries, was £12,605 19s 4d, but his new scheme would only require an extra £311 8s 2d. The Legislative Council approved the changes, but thought the salaries ‘the lowest which can be allowed’ and doubted that many ‘competent’ men would be attracted to police work. After 1828, the pay and conditions of policemen came under scrutiny and attempts to increase pay and lessen the impact of corruption were undermined by Colonial Office directions to reduce convict expenditure.

For all their power and responsibility, the pay of convict constables was hardly excessive and was thought by many to be the cause of their corrupt practices. Taking into account rations, bedding, clothing, and a salary, the total cost of a petty constable was £36 9s 6d per annum.[20] A committee of senior public servants, cautioning against reducing this sum unless the term required to earn an indulgence was lessened, thought that policemen should receive only monetary payments and that quarterly payments should be abolished. They recommended that policemen be paid two shillings daily in a monthly advance. This would prevent them incurring debts and remove the ‘temptations’ associated with receiving ‘a comparatively large disposable sum’ every three months, namely wasting their pay on drinking and gambling instead of paying their creditors. Arthur agreed to increase police pay to two shillings daily from 1 January 1830.[21]

Regularly directed by the Colonial Office to reduce administrative costs, in March 1832 Arthur asked the Chief Police Magistrate Matthew Forster[22] to investigate the possibility of reducing police pay by three-pence per day.[23] Pointing out that the pay was barely adequate as it was, three of the five magistrates whose opinion Forster sought counselled against any reduction because of the ‘unusual personal expenses’ the police financed from their own pockets, the importance of their duties, the difficulty of keeping ‘trustworthy good’ men in the police after they received their ticket of leave or pardon, and the increasing cost of ‘the necessary articles of life.’ Despite this advice, Forster told Arthur that the proposed reduction would not disadvantage the police and their pay was reduced to 1s 9d per day.

Critics thought the change would aggravate the practice of bribery and corruption.[24] Estimating the weekly cost of food at seven shillings, of lodging at three shillings and of washing clothes at one shilling, the Launceston Advertiser claimed this left a constable £5 17s a year, but clothing alone might cost nearly seven pounds.[25] The deficit and other expenses could only be made good by receiving bribes, conjuring up false information, conniving with thieves or stealing themselves. Believing that no ‘honest’ man could live on a constable’s salary, the Advertiser urged that the police should be ‘sufficiently paid, in order to prevent the abuse of the power which they are entrusted to wield.’ Even in NSW where, in 1835, the Sydney police were paid 3s 9d per day and the rural police received 2s 9d, the pay was considered too low and an incentive to corrupt practices.[26] Whether policemen acted with propriety depended on the quality of the men appointed to the police, but they were generally not of high quality and low pay proved a disincentive to join.


[1] AOT GO 33/1, Arthur to Bathurst, 11 April 1826, Arthur to Huskisson, 21 April 1828; CO 280, Arthur to Murray, 25 May 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 367-371; ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 5, letters from Arthur, Arthur to Wilberforce, 9 October 1828; Hobart Town Courier, 29 December 1827, 10 September 1831, letter by ‘A Constant Reader’; Colonial Times, 12 June 1829.

[2] Arthur to Huskisson, 1 May 1828, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 7, p. 303; O’Sullivan, John, Mounted Police of Victoria and Tasmania, (Rigby), 1980, p. 182.

[3] Windschuttle, Keith, The fabrication of Aboriginal history: Vol. 1, Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847, (Macleay Press), 2002 has generated a protracted and heated debate on the nature of the colonial attack on the Tasmanian Aborigines. See particularly, Moses, A. Dirk, ‘Moving the Genocide Debate Beyond the History Wars’, Australian Journal of Politics & History, Vol. 54, (2), (2008), pp. 248-270, Shipway, Jesse, ‘Modern by analogy: modernity, Shoah and the Tasmanian genocide’, Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 7, (2), (2005), pp. 205-219, Reynolds, Henry, ‘Genocide in Tasmania’, in Moses, A. Dirk, (ed.), Genocide and settler society: frontier violence and stolen indigenous children in Australian history, (Berghahn), 2004), pp. 127-149, Grimshaw, Patricia, ‘The fabrication of a benign colonisation?: Keith Windschuttle on history’, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 35, (2004), pp. 122-129 and Manne, Robert, (ed.), Whitewash: on Keith Windschuttle’s fabrication of Aboriginal history, (Black Inc. Agenda), 2003.

[4] ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 5, Letters from Arthur, Arthur to Franklin, 29 October 1836; CO 280, Arthur to Murray, 15 April 1830, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 9, pp. 164-168; see also AOT Non State (NS) 1044/1 and Colonial Times, 29 September 1826; AOT GO 33/4, Arthur to Murray, 4 November 1828. Arthur’s Aboriginal policy has been fully analysed in ibid, Reynolds, Henry, Fate of a Free People and HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. xxxvi-xlv and HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 9, pp. xxi-liii for the context to the Black Line operation in 1830. See also, Ryan, L., The Tasmanian Aborigines, 2nd ed., (Allen & Unwin), 1996, pp. 101-173.

[5] Connor, John, ‘British frontier warfare logistics and the ‘Black Line’, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), 1830’, War in History, Vol. 9, (2), (2002), pp. 143-158.

[6] CO 280, Arthur to Murray, 12 September 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 610-624; AOT GO 33/5, Arthur to Murray, 28 April 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 334-336; ibid, Levy, M.C.I., Governor George Arthur, pp. 106-124.

[7] ‘Anstey, Thomas (1777-1851)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 19-21.

[8] Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review, 31 December 1830.

[9] Ibid, Reynolds, Henry, Fate of a Free People, chapter 6; Launceston Advertiser, 9 May 1832; see also, ‘Robinson, George Augustus (1791-1866)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 385-387 and Plomley, N.J.B., (ed.), Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of G.A. Robinson 1829-1834, (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 1966.

[10] AOT GO 33/3, Arthur to Huskisson, 21 April 1828; Arthur to Huskisson, 1 May 1828, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 7, p. 292.

[11] CO 280, Arthur to Hay, 24 November 1829 HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 724-727; Hobart Town Gazette, 25 January 1833.

[12] Arthur to Goderich, 31 December 1827, HRA, Series III, Vol. 6, pp. 421-422; Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 2, pp. 290, 311.

[13] AOT GO 33/3, memo by Arthur, 28 February 1828, minute by Arthur, 26 February 1828; CO 280, Arthur to Goderich, 27 February 1833, memo by Forster, 1 January 1833.

[14] Ibid, Arthur, George Defence of Transportation, in Reply to the Remarks of the Archbishop of Dublin in His Second Letter to Earl Grey, pp. 33-34; ibid, Forsyth, W.D., Governor Arthur’s Convict System, p. 57.

[15] Shaw, A.G.L., Sir George Arthur, Bart, 1784-1854, (Melbourne University Press), 1980, pp. 71-73.

[16] Ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 3, pp. 116-17.

[17] AOT Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO) 1/199/4743, minute by Arthur, 29 February 1828, minute by Arthur, 1 August 1828; AOT Executive Council (EC) 4/1, pp. 286-287, 9 April 1828

[18] AOT CSO 1/199/4743, minute by Arthur, 29 February 1828.

[19] AOT CSO 50/5 and 50/10.

[20] AOT CSO 1/60/1258, report by committee of senior public servants, 15 October 1829, Lyttelton to Burnett, 7 June 1830.

[21] AOT CSO 1/60/1258, report by committee of senior public servants, minute by Arthur, 1 December 1829; CO 280, Arthur to Hay, 24 November 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 724-727.

[22] Shaw, A.G.L., ‘Forster, Matthew (1796-1846)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 404-405.

[23] AOT CSO 1/545/11870, Forster to Burnett, 30 March 1832, Police Magistrate, New Norfolk to Forster, 16 March 1832, Police Magistrate, Launceston, 21 March 1832; AOT EC 4/2, pp. 321-322, 2 April 1832.

[24] Launceston Advertiser, 18 April 1832; Launceston Independent, 28 September 1833.

[25] Launceston Advertiser, 9 May 1832.

[26] Ibid, Neal, David, The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales, p. 159.

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