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Native Police, Rockhampton, 1864

Australian native police units, consisting of Aboriginal troopers under the command usually of a single white officer, existed in various forms in all Australian mainland colonies during the nineteenth and, in some cases, into the twentieth centuries. The Native Police were utilised as a cost effective and brutal paramilitary instrument in the expansion and protection of the British colonial frontier in Australia. Mounted Aboriginal troopers of the Native Police, armed with rifles, carbines and swords escorted surveying groups, pastoralists and prospectors into frontier areas. They would usually then establish base camps and patrol these areas to enforce warrants, conduct punitive missions against resisting local aboriginal groups, and fulfil various other duties. To maintain the imperial British method of "divide and conquer" and to reduce desertions, the aboriginals within the Native Police were routinely recruited from areas that were very distant from the frontier places in which they were deployed. As the troopers were Aboriginal, this benefited the colonists by minimising both the wages of the police and the potential for aboriginal revenge attacks against white people. It also increased the efficiency of the force as the Aboriginal troopers were vastly superior in their ability to track down dissidents in often poorly charted and difficult terrain.[1]

The first government funded force was the Native Police Corps, established in 1837 in the Port Phillip District of the then Australian colony of New South Wales (now Victoria).[2] From 1848 another force was organised in New South Wales, which operated mostly within the borders of the later colony of Queensland.[3] This force, sometimes called the "Native Mounted Police Force", was the largest and longest lasting of the mainland forces, and is most well known for conducting widespread extrajudicial shootings of aboriginal people under the official euphemism of "dispersal".[4] It existed from 1848 to about 1915, when the last Native Police camps in Queensland were closed.[5] The method of "dispersal" against Aboriginals was also employed by the Native Police of other colonies and also by groups such as pastoral station workers,[6] the colonial British Army[7] and the Border Police. The government of South Australia set up a short-lived Native Police force in 1852, which was re-established in 1884 and deployed into what is now the Northern Territory.[8] The colonial Western Australian government also initiated a formal Native Police force in 1840 under the command of John Nicol Drummond.[9] Other privately funded native police systems were also occasionally used in Australia, such as the native constabulary organised by the Australian Agricultural Company in the 1830s.[10] Native Police forces were also officially implemented in the Papua and New Guinea territories administered by colonial Queensland and Australian governments from 1890 until the 1970s.[11] The Australian government also organised a native police force on Nauru during its administration of the island from 1923 until 1968.[12]

Early prototypes of native police

The general template for native police forces in Australia was the sepoy and sowar armies of the East India Company. However, the more compact forces of the British imperial frontier like the Cape Regiment in southern Africa and the Kaffir and Malay Corps in Ceylon are a closer comparison.[13] Before the creation of the first official Native Police forces, there were some informal and privately funded examples of utilising Aboriginals as enforcers of colonial British rule in Australia.


The frequently violent process of taking control of the land from the Aboriginals in this area was officially left to the settlers themselves,[14] who were reinforced, at times of major conflict, with soldiers "to inflict exemplary and severe punishments".[15] Coercing and influencing "friendly" Aboriginals into assisting with the capture or elimination of other "hostile natives" was quickly adopted as a method of improving the efficiency of these punitive missions.[16]

In 1805, Hawkesbury chief constable Andrew Thompson exploited intra-clan rivalries by equipping two Darug men with firearms to aid in the destruction of another group of Darug. Seven or eight "hostile natives" were killed as a result and the two mercenaries were each promised a wife from the women seized during the raid.[17] Armed Aboriginals were also used to capture runaway convicts in the region and John Macarthur sometimes appeared at public functions with a bodyguard of uniformed Dharawal and Gandangara men.[18]


In 1824, at the conclusion of the Bathurst War against the Wiradjuri, Governor Brisbane sent Major James Thomas Morisset, commandant of the British forces at Bathurst, a letter congratulating him on his efforts. In this letter, Brisbane outlines his desire to give "rewards to the natives who assisted in the police" and advised Morisset that he had "directed £50 subject to detailed accounts of its expenditure" to be at his disposal.[19]

Van Diemen's Land

Musquito was a Hawkesbury Aboriginal who was exiled first to Norfolk Island in 1805, then to Van Diemen's Land in 1813. He proved to be a valuable asset to the government there in tracking down bushrangers. He later became a renegade and was himself tracked down and shot in the groin by another Hawkesbury aboriginal named Teague. Teague was sent by Hawkesbury settler Edward Luttrell to capture Musquito on the promise of a whaleboat as payment. Teague never received the boat and Musquito was hanged in 1825.[20] In the 1830s, John Batman also used armed Aboriginals from the Sydney region such as Pigeon and Tommy to assist in his roving parties to capture or kill indigenous Tasmanians.[21]

Newcastle/Port Stephens

Up until at least 1830s, Aboriginals around the Newcastle and Port Macquarie penal settlements were regularly utilised to recapture escaped convicts. Men such as Biraban and Jemmy Jackass would track down the runaways, disable them with spears, strip them and return them to the soldiers for payment of blankets and corn.[22]

At nearby Port Stephens, the Australian Agricultural Company had obtained a million acre land acquisition. In the early 1830s, the superintendent of the company, Sir Edward Parry, established a private native constabulary to augment a small garrison of soldiers. These black constables, such as Jonathan and William, were armed with firearms and mobilised to search for and eliminate threats such as hostile groups of Aboriginals[23] and bushrangers.[24] Parry was later officially accused of putting bounties on the heads of certain aboriginals.[25] By 1841, the new superintendent P.P. King still employed black constables, but their duties may have been limited to dingo culling.[26]


Also in the 1830s, Major Edmund Lockyer a magistrate in the Goulburn region, employed at least one Aboriginal constable who captured murderers and gangs of armed bushrangers in the region.[27]


In the late 1830s, the NSW government found it was having trouble financing the NSW Mounted Police which was a corps of mounted soldiers that since 1825 operated as the main enforcers of colonial rule in frontier areas.[28] Officials looked at cheaper alternatives and came up with two solutions. One was the Border Police, which was a mounted force of armed convicts under the command of a commissioner, and the other was to trial a force of armed and mounted Aboriginals under the command of white officers. By 1840 the Border Police became the main replacement for the NSW Mounted Police along the frontier, while the Native Police Corps, as the Aboriginal force was known, was limited initially to one division in the Port Phillip District of the colony, around Melbourne. Requests for the establishment of a Native Police Corps were made from as early as 1837 when Captain William Lonsdale proposed legislation for its formation.[29]


In October 1837, Christian Ludolph Johannes de Villiers was appointed to command the first official Native Police troopers from their station at Narre Narre Warren. It was disbanded briefly in January 1838 but reorganised in April of the same year with their new headquarters in Jolimont where the MCG carpark is now situated. Due to funding problems, the force was again dissolved in 1839. These issues delayed reformation of the corps until Superintendent Charles La Trobe indicated he was willing to underwrite the costs in 1842.[5] A significant factor in the restoration of the force was the successful capture of five Tasmanian aboriginals near Westernport in 1840 by local Aboriginals who were attached to a party of Border Police and soldiers.

File:Victorian Native Police.jpg

Native Police of Port Phillip, 1850

Henry EP Dana was selected to command the corps in 1842. Except for a brief period where the corps was based at Merri Creek,[5] the headquarters was at the Aboriginal Protectorate Station at Narre Narre Warren, about 25 km south east of Melbourne. The force made use of Aboriginal men from the Wurundjeri and Bunurong tribes as trackers. The corps was made up of 60 members, three quarters of whom were "natives".[30] There were two goals in such a force: to make use of the indigenous peoples' tracking abilities, as well as to assimilate the Aboriginal troopers into white society.[30] Both La Trobe and Aboriginal Protector William Thomas expected that the men would give up their ancestral way of life when exposed to the discipline of police work. To their disappointment troopers continued to participate in corroborees and in ritual fighting, although not in uniform.[5]

As senior Wurundjeri elder, Billibellary's cooperation for the proposal was important for its success, and after deliberation he backed the initiative and even proposed himself for enlistment. He donned the uniform and enjoyed the status of parading through the camp, but was careful to avoid active duty as a policeman to avoid a conflict of interest between his duties as a Wurundjeri ngurungaeta.[5]

After about a year Billibellary resigned from the Native Police Corps when he found that it was to be used to capture and kill other natives. He did his best from then on to undermine the corps and as a result many native troopers deserted and few remained longer than three or four years.[31]


The main duty of the Native Police was to be deployed to areas around the Port Phillip region where Aboriginal resistance to British occupation was unable to be controlled by armed settlers. Once in these areas, the troopers and their officers were placed under the command of the local Commissioner for Crown Lands, who would then seek out and capture or destroy the dissident groups and individuals. In addition to Native Police, the Commissioner also had the troopers of the Border Police and NSW Mounted Police as well as armed volunteer settlers at his disposal to conduct punitive raids on Aboriginal people.[32]

Other more minor duties of the native police included searching for missing persons, carrying messages, and escorting dignitaries through unfamiliar territory. During the goldrush era, they were also used to patrol goldfields and search for escaped prisoners.[33] They were provided with uniforms, firearms, food rations and a rather dubious salary. However, the lure of the goldfields, poor salary and Dana's eventual death in 1852 led to the official disintegration of his Native Police Corps in January 1853.[34]

During its existence, there were three main areas of activity of this corps: Portland Bay, Murray River, and Gippsland. Divisions of the Native Police would be deployed to these areas in the winter of each year until 1852 and spend the rest of the year mostly garrisoned at the Narre Narre Warren barracks. Winter was chosen as the period of active duty as the target aboriginals were more sedentary in the colder periods and therefore much easier to find.[32]

Frontier clashes

Portland Bay-Western District

Native police were called upon to take part in massacres of other Aboriginal people in the Victorian Western District in 1843.[35] Operations in this year included attacks upon the Gunditjmara and Jardwadjali at the Crawford River, Mt Eckersley, Victoria Range and at Mt Zero. Upon return to Melbourne one of the troopers boasted about an incident in which 17 Aboriginal men had been killed by the corps. From reports it seems likely the troopers were called upon by their commander, Henry EP Dana, to shoot rather than try to make arrests:

"Captain say big one stupid catch them very good shoot them, you blackfellows, no shoot them me hand cuff you and send you to jail." One of the troopers is recorded by Thomas to have said.[36]

With reduced reports of attacks in the Western District following two years of policing, two new troopers were signed up from the Port Fairy area in 1845.[37]

Although 1843 appears to be the year of the largest casualties from the corps in this region, operations in other years up to 1847 resulted in further mass fatalities namely at Lake Learmonth, Cape Otway, the Eumeralla area and at Captain Firebrace's Mt Vectis property.[38]

It is important to note also that the Native Police based at Portland Bay were ordered to conduct operations across the border at Mt Gambier in South Australia in 1844. Likewise, South Australian police forces at the same time were used to investigate the rape of an aboriginal boy named Syntax near Portland. The officer involved found that the boy was shot by Native Police.[39]

Murray Region

The Native Police deployed to this region operated over a large area that included forays across the Murray into the Tumut region right down to the Wimmera. They worked under their own officers such as Cowan, Walsh and Dana while also under the authority of Commissioners like Smythe, Bingham, Powlett and McDonald. In 1843 and 1844, Commissioner Smythe led large punitive missions with forces including Native Police along the Moira area of the Murray, down Mitta Mitta creek and along the Edward River. Other collisions also occurred near Tongala. Further down the Murray, punitive operations were also conducted near McLeod's station in 1846, Lake Bael Bael in 1846 and around Swan Hill in 1850. Swan Hill and Echuca (Maidan's Punt) became bases for Native Police operations.[40] A Wemba Wemba man managed to kill a trooper near Swan Hill. He was later tracked down by other troopers, shot and butchered into small pieces through the use of their swords.[41]


Native Police operations in Gippsland began in 1843 with the appointment of Commissioner Tyers to the region.[42] Tyers had command of a permanent force of Border Police based at Eagle Point augmented with a seasonal deployment of native police based at Boisdale. The closeness of the Border Police and the Native Police is demonstrated by officer Windredge who was employed in both forces in Gippsland. In 1845 and 1846, Tyers led extensive punitive raids with his forces around Lake Wellington, up the Avon River and down to the Lakes region.[32]

In late 1846 and early 1847, in a horrible example of British colonial values, a rumour began that a shipwrecked white woman had been abducted by a Gunai clan. Outraged Victorian sensibility demanded both the rescue of the supposed damsel and the wholesale punishment of the natives involved. A special Native Police mission was organised in September 1846 under HEP Dana that failed to produce the white woman. A private posse of 10 armed Aboriginals and 6 whites was then organised under de Villiers which also did not produce the woman. The rumour of the white woman was proved false, but the results for the Gunai were devastating. Tyers estimated that the two punitive groups killed at least 50 Aboriginals and wounded many more.[32]

At the same time, more regular combined Native and Border Police operations resulted in mass killings of Gunai around Boisdale and on the MacAllister River. There was a large punitive operation in late 1846 at the mouth of the Snowy River involving the forces being split into 3 groups to surround and engage aboriginals residing in the estuary area. The Native Police Corps then continued upstream along the river.[43] The brutality of these Gippsland police missions which killed hundreds of people is demonstrated by the Protector Thomas being able to describe how the troopers returned to Narre Narre Warren with captured Gunai girls and the severed hands of the defeated as trophies.[44]

Western Australia

In the late 1830s, Western Australia was in a similar situation as the eastern colonies in that the regular Mounted Police force were proving expensive and increasingly ineffectual in subduing resisting Aboriginals. This culminated in 1840 with the murders of a white woman and her child in York. John Nicol Drummond, a young man who had grown up amongst Aboriginals in the areas of the Swan and Helena Valleys, was able to capture the perpetrator due to his knowledge of the local tribespeople. As a result, in August 1840 Drummond was rewarded with the title of Inspector in the newly formed Native Police. The Western Australian Native Police was smaller than those of other colonies in that usually only 2 or 3 mounted aboriginal constables were attached to the white officer. It was also different in that the officers were given monetary rewards for capturing wanted people and that they were placed under the control of the Native Protector. However, extrajudicial killings by the police upon Aborigines still occurred during the 1840s. The force also became less formalised in its command structure to the point where, in 1854, Drummond concurrently held the positions of Native Protector, magistrate and Superintendent of Police in the Champion Bay area. This situation gave Drummond complete freedom to subdue the natives around Geraldton in whatever method he deemed appropriate and a massacre of Aboriginals conducted by the police and armed stockholders at Bootenal swamp near Greenough was the result.[45]

The official term Native Police in the colony soon gradually phased out and was replaced with terms such as native constables and native assistants, but these operated in the same way as before. In 1865, Maitland Brown's extensive punitive expedition through the La Grange and Roebuck Bay areas utilised native police to aid in the summary executions of local Aboriginals.[46] As late as the 1920s, native constables or trackers as they by then were called, aided white officers and stockmen in massacres of Aboriginal people. A famous example of this is the Forrest River massacre.[47]

New South Wales

Frederick Walker

From 1839 the main frontier policing force in this colony were divisions of mounted convict soldiers known as the Border Police.[48] However, in the late 1840s with the end of convict transportation looming, a new source of cheap and effective troopers were required to subdue resistance along the ever-extending frontier. The need was especially apparent in the north as conflict between squatters and aboriginals toward the Darling Downs area was slowing pastoral expansion.[49] As a result, the NSW government passed legislation in 1848 to fund a new section of Native Police based upon the Port Phillip model.[50] Frederick Walker, a station manager and court official residing in the Murrumbidgee area, was appointed as the first Commandant of this Native Police force. After recruiting and training 14 troopers from 4 tribes around the Riverina area, in 1849 he mobilised his force north beyond the MacIntyre River to conduct missions to police the disturbed areas.[51] Walker advocated a method of "bringing in" the aboriginals, forcing them onto pastoral stations so as they could be easily controlled. Those who stayed away were consequently regarded as potential enemies and were at high risk of being targeted in punitive missions. Walker also promoted his troopers to differentiate and elevate themselves from other Aboriginals, encouraging the use of denigrating terms such as "charcoals" to describe aboriginals not involved in the police.

Although most of the subsequent operations of this force over the following 60 years occurred in what is now Queensland, Native Police were stationed in various parts of New South Wales and patrolling continued there until at least 1868. These areas included Kempsey/Macleay River, Grafton/Ballina (Clarence River), Murrumbidgee, Lower Darling/Albert and Upper Darling/Paroo regions.


As Walker's force originated in this area, native troopers from outside this region were utilised to punish Aboriginal resistance in the Murrumbidgee. For instance, in 1852, after the murder of an American worker at Deniliquin, Sergeant O'Halloran from Moulamein imported both native and white troopers from Victoria to shoot Aboriginals as a collective punishment. His force drove a camp of people, most of them older women and children, across the Edward River, fatally wounding 2 women and a child.[52]

By 1853, 12 troopers of Native Police were officially stationed in the Murrumbidgee District under the command of the local Commissioner for Crown Lands.[53] The need for native troopers in this region was soon deemed superfluous and the government dissolved this detachment in 1857.[54] However, the Murrumbidgee was still utilised as a recruitment area for troopers to fight in Queensland with Lieut. John Murray returning to the area as late as 1865 to enlist local Aboriginal men.[55] In 1864, Murray visited the region bringing with him the remaining four living troopers from Walker's first recruitment in 1848. After 15 years service, one of them was lucky enough to be reunited with his father in Echuca.[56]


Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset

In 1853, Walker reluctantly deployed the 5th Section of the Native Police under 2nd Lieut. Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset to the Clarence River region. He thought this was a "retrograde step" as he viewed the Aboriginal problem is this area as minor.[57] But under pressure from powerful squatters in the area like William Forster he relented even though the section did not have enough horses. Morisset and his 12 troopers were stationed on the Orara River 10 miles south of Grafton and were involved in two major dispersals not long after. Morisset was given warrants for the arrest of some Aboriginals who worked as shearers at Newton Boyd and after arriving in the area on a borrowed horse, ordered his troops to open fire. Several wanted men were shot and some captured, although other reports claim many Aboriginals were killed. This resulted in a government inquiry but no real changes being made.[58] The other significant punitive raid occurred in East Ballina, where the troopers conducted an early morning raid on Aboriginals sleeping on the slopes near Black Head. This resulted in at least 40 deaths and many wounded. Again complaints were made to the government about the massacre but again no changes resulted.[59] Edric Morisset later became Commandant of the Native Police based in Brisbane and was replaced on the Clarence by 2nd Lieut. John O'Connell Bligh. A few years later when a Clarence River squatter was asked if he thought any Aboriginal criminals were still at large, he simply replied "No, I think they are dead."[60] The Native Police were officially withdrawn from the area in 1859 but punitive missions still occurred under more regular police forces. Sub-Inspector Galbraith was dismissed in 1863 for the shooting death of a native girl while out "routing the blacks" near Grafton.[61]

Kempsey/Macleay River

In 1854, Sub Lieut. Dempster who was initially stationed as a sergeant at Grafton with Morisset was ordered to travel to the Macleay River with six troopers and set up a Native Police station near Kempsey.[62] Squatters in the area had recently placed official requests for a section to be garrisoned on the Macleay.[63] The Native Police camp was located at the old Border Police barracks at Belgrave Flat near Belgrave Falls just west of Kempsey.[64] There is a record of a punitive expedition involving native police troopers in the mid 1850s after an Aboriginal attack on Wabro Homestead.[65] In 1859, 2nd Lieut. Richard Bedford Poulden (sometimes written as Poulding) was deployed to Belgrave Flat with his troopers from the Upper Dawson area in Queensland. Poulden was previously an Ensign in 56th Foot who fought in the Crimean War, and was the great-grandson of the Earl of Devon.[66] In addition to performing patrolling duties, he also came for the purpose of recruiting more troopers.[67] In 1859 he conducted a raid on Aboriginals living at Christmas Creek near Frederickton.[68] He captured a Dunghutti man called Doughboy but others such as Blue-Shirt managed to elude him. In 1860, Poulden was soon called out again to "punish the blacks" who had laid siege to Mrs McMaugh at Nulla Nulla Creek. Poulden and his six troopers tracked them up Five Day Creek to the ranges where several were killed after a gunfight. The local resisting Aboriginals had access to firearms by this stage. A child was taken after the skirmish and given to local Towal Creek squatter John Warne.[69] This child was a girl about the age of twelve and she was later taken to Sydney. The native police involved in such raids used to strip naked and had to wear red headbands to distinguish them from the "wild blacks", so as to prevent shooting each other by mistake.[70]

Not long after this, at the request of prominent station manager John Vaughan McMaugh, the Belgrave Flat Native Police barracks was moved to Nulla Nulla station near Bellbrook.[71] After some cedar cutters were killed nearby in an ambush, stockmen and native police troopers went out after the perceived perpetrators. Again another battle ensued and in the end there were a great number of dead and wounded Dunghutti. The creek where this occurred was named Waterloo Creek (halfway between Dyke River and Georges Creek) as a result of the carnage. Four prisoners were taken.[72]

In 1863, Senior Constable Nugent took control of the Native Police at Nulla Nulla. In September 1864, he and his troopers were involved in a punitive mission that ranged from Georges Creek, Lagoon Creek and then up Five Day Creek to Moy Buck Mountain where a dispersal occurred.[73] Later in 1864, there is a record of Blue Shirt being captured and handcuffed to the stirrup of a horse belonging to a Native Police trooper. The horse subsequently kicked him in the head, killing him.[72] Names of some of the troopers posted to the Macleay region include Carlo, Quilt, Paddy and Dundally.

Nulla Nulla barracks appears to have closed in 1865 when Henry Sauer bought the property and turned it into a dairy farm. In 1885, 36.4 hectares of the property was gazetted ironically as an Aboriginal Reserve.[74] In 1902 the skeletons of a woman and child with shot holes in their skulls were found on Taylors Arm Mountain in the Macleay region. It was reported as a double murder mystery.[75] Local Aboriginal Left-Handed Billy solved the case by stating that there was a Native Police camp at Nulla Nulla and these two people were some of its victims. Billy offered to take the authorities and show them the other places where people were shot.[76]

Lower Darling and Albert Districts

These districts appear to have overlapped in their geographical jurisdictions, but they were treated for the most part as separate areas. The Lower Darling extended from the confluence of the Murrumbidgee with the Murray, up to the Darling and north to Fort Bourke. The Albert region was the area west of the Darling River. In late 1853, Stephen Cole, the Commissioner for Crown Lands for the Lower Darling district had organised six troopers for his Native Police based in Euston.[77] This force was involved in arresting European sly-grog sellers.[78] At the same time, Commissioner for Crown Lands for the Albert District, G.M. Perry, had organised another six Native Police troopers based at Moorana, an administrative town that used to exist just west of Wentworth.[79]

By the late 1850s the jurisdiction of the native troopers had transferred from the Crown Lands department to the Native Police proper, with E.M. Lockyer[80] and A.T. Perry[81] being appointed 2nd Lieutenants for the Lower Darling and Albert districts respectively. Perry and his troopers, while investigating the death of a white man at Baker's station, threatened and intimidated four aboriginals residing on the property into making confessions. One was shot dead on the spot, while the other three were taken to Balranald.[82] These three managed to escape but were found at Euston where two more were shot dead. Their hands were cut off and presented as proof of their demise.[83] Perry also dispersed a large congregation of Aboriginals assembled at the Murray-Darling junction.[84] When investigating another murder of a white man near Menindie, Perry had a Barkindji man tied to a tree and shot dead as an example in "keeping the blacks quiet".[85] It appears that the Native Police units were dissolved in the Lower Darling and Albert Districts by the early 1860s.

Upper Darling and Paroo

Lieutenant Perry occasionally sent several native troopers into the Upper Darling areas to accompany official expeditions into the area.[86] A police station was established at Tintinalogy between Menindee and Wilcannia.[87]

As late as 1868, Native Police based at Thargomindah in Queensland conducted patrols down the Paroo River as far as Fort Bourke in New South Wales. Sub-Inspector W.R.O. Hill described one of these patrols. After a dispersal, the troopers had abducted the four-year-old son of an aboriginal man who "had been deservedly shot". The boy spat in the eye of a trooper named Vick who killed the boy by smashing his head into a tree. Although Hill flogged the trooper as punishment, the death squad operations of the Native Police remain clear.[88]


Native Police
Active 1848 - c.1905
Country British Empire (New South Wales and Queensland colonies)
Allegiance British Empire
Type Mounted Infantry
Nickname(s) The Black Police
Commandant Frederick Walker (1848-1854)
Ceremonial chief Richard Purvis Marshall (1854-1855)
Inspector General of Police William Colburn Mayne (1855-1856)
Inspector General of Police John McLerie (1856)
Commander John Clements Wickham (1856-1857)
Commander Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset (1857-1861)
Commander John O'Connell Bligh (1861-1864)
Commander David Thompson Seymour (1864-1895)
Commander William Edward Parry-Okeden (1895-1905)

The Native Police Force that operated in Queensland was the longest operating force of its kind in colonial Australian history. It was arguably also the most controversial. Its mode of operation cannot by any standard be classified as "law enforcement". At least from the period 1857 onward to the 1890s there are no signs that this force was engaged in anything but general punitive expeditions, commonly performed as deadly daybreak attacks on Aboriginal camps. All signs are that the force generally took no prisoners at the frontier and in the few cases on record when this did happen these prisoners were on record as having been shot during attempts to escape.[89] As the colony of Queensland didn't come into official existence until 1859, the first eleven years of the force technically occurred in New South Wales but is included here as it relates to areas that are now in Queensland.

Initial deployment

The Native Police Force in Queensland (sometimes referred to at the 'Native Mounted Police') came into effect on 17 August 1848 under the command of Frederick Walker. Walker recruited 14 native troopers from four different language groups along the Murrumbidgee, Murray, and Edwards Rivers areas. The troopers were Jack, Henry (both Wiradjuri), Geegwaw, Jacky Jacky, Wygatta, Edward, Logan (all Wemba-Wemba), Alladin, Paddy, Larry, Willy, Walter, Tommy Hindmarsh (all Barapa Barapa), and Yorky (Yorta Yorta). Logan and Jack who were both previously employed in the Border Police, were given the rank of corporal. This force was consolidated and trained at Deniliquin before traveling to the Darling River where the first hostile engagement occurred 100 miles below Fort Bourke at a place called Moanna, resulting in at least 5 natives being killed by the troopers.[90] Once arriving on the Macintyre River on 10 May 1849, the force aggressively pacified the local Aboriginals resulting in "some lives lost". They were then deployed to the Condamine River where the "Fitzroy Downs blacks" were routed and another group were "compelled to fly" from the area.[91] Regular police constables from Warialda were still being ordered into these frontier areas and the indiscriminate use of force by the Native Police was demonstrated when Constable Dwyer was shot at when the pipe he was smoking was mistaken for an Aboriginal firestick.[92]

Walker found most of the squatters and magistrates in the region thought the Native Police existed to shoot down the natives so they would not have to. Walker encouraged the squatters to admit the local Aboriginals onto their runs so that they could be easily observed and controlled. This was done and Walker's measure of success was the resulting increase in land values.[93] These first actions of the Native Police reduced to great effect Aboriginal attacks and resistance against squatters in the Macintyre and Condamine regions.[94]

Expansion to Maranoa, Burnett, Dawson and Wide Bay areas

Walker returned to Deniliquin in July 1850 to recruit 30 new troopers[95] in order to enable an expansion into the Wide Bay-Burnett region.[96] With these fresh reinforcements, he created four divisions of Native Police, one based at Augustus Morris' Callandoon station, one at Wide Bay-Burnett, one in the Maranoa Region, and one roving division. While Walker was away, the squatter at Goondiwindi station, Richard Purvis Marshall, assumed command of the Native Police operations. Marshall, with the native troopers and contingents of armed stockmen, conducted punitive raids at Tieryboo, Wallan, Booranga and Copranoranbilla Lagoon, shooting Aboriginals and destroying their camps. This resulted in an inquiry by the local Crown Lands Commissioner and a vaguely worded official reminder from the NSW Attorney General to only shoot in "extreme cases".[97]

In 1851, Commandant Walker with his newly appointed officers Richard Purvis Marshall, George Fulford, Doolan and Skelton conducted wide-ranging and frequent operations resulting in many dispersals and summary killings. Dispersals of large numbers of Aborigines occurred at Dalgangal, Mary River, Toomcul, Goondiwindi and at various places along the Maranoa River. Governor Fitzroy noted in the 1851 end of year report that a great many blacks were killed, however no official action was taken to change the aggressive functioning of the Native Police.[97]

Fraser Island

The magistrate of the newly established town of Maryborough, E.B.Uhr requested significant assistance from the Native Police to rid the area of "troublesome blacks". Nearby Fraser Island was viewed as a sanctuary for these Aboriginals (the Badtjala people) which must be breached in order to force them into submission. In February 1851, Walker rendezvoused with the divisions of Marshall and Fulford in Maryborough to formulate a plan of attack. Uhr issued them with the warrants for the arrest of 36 Aborigines and Walker understood that a large force was needed to smash any resistance. After written consultation with authorities in Sydney, Walker received advice from Attorney General Plunkett that the warrants were legal, that war-like casualties were acceptable in this case and that the enlisting of special constables (ie.armed volunteers) to assist in the mission was allowed.[98]

It was not until late December 1851 that the force was ready to invade Fraser Island. Walker, Marshall, Doolan with their three divisions of troopers, together with local landholders the Leith Hay brothers and Mr Wilmot set out down the Mary River aboard Captain Currie's Margaret and Mary schooner. Aboriginals in a stolen dinghy were shot along the way and the boat seized. The force landed on the west coast of the island where the divisions split up to scour the region. Marshall's section shot a number of Badtjala and captured several. Bad weather hampered operations and Commandant Walker subsequently allowed his division to track down other groups of Badtjala without him. This group chased the local Aboriginals across to the east coast where they mustered them into the ocean.[99] The force returned to Maryborough in early January 1852 and Captain Currie received a reward of £10 for his contribution.[100]

Consolidation of the Native Police

John Murray, Native Police officer

The year 1852 saw further recruitment and expansion of the Native Police to 8 divisions. Forty-eight new troopers were signed up mostly from the northern inland rivers of NSW. Lieutenant John Murray was appointed to the 4th Division, Lieut. Blandford to the 3rd Division and Sergeants Skelton, Pincolt and Richard A. Dempster were also appointed as officers in charge of other divisions. The Traylan barracks on the Burnett River near the now-abandoned site of Ceratodus, north of present-day Eidsvold, was established while the other major barracks, besides Callandoon, was at Wondai Gumbal near Yuleba. Sgt. Dempster was responsible for several large scale dispersals in 1852. The first was at Wallumbilla where an ex-trooper named Priam and a number of others were shot dead. Dempster then traveled to Ogilvie's Wachoo station near St. George and shot a large number of Aboriginals with the aid of a man named Johnson who was the superintendent of the property. Johnson also shot dead a white storeperson in a "friendly fire" incident during this dispersal. Dempster, having fallen sick, then allowed Johnson to take charge of his division and lead it to Yamboukal (modern-day Surat) where a lot of Mandandanji working peacefully on this pastoral station were subsequently killed.[101] As a result of this, Dempster was suspended for 3 months. It appears that neither Johnson nor Dempster faced any legal repercussions.[102] Sgt. Skelton also led a number of dispersals across the Dawson River area and down to Ukabulla (also near Surat) where Mandandanji leader Bussamarai was killed.[103] Collisions also occurred between J.Murray's troopers and Kabi Kabi at Widgee and with Walker's forces and the Bigambul south of Callandoon. Native Police were also employed tracking down Chinese coolie labourers who had run away from the stations of powerful squatter capitalists such as Gordon Sandeman.

Deployment to Port Curtis

In 1853 several new Sub-Lieutenants were appointed including John O'Connell Bligh, Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset, Frederick Keen, Samuel Crummer, Francis Nicoll and Frederick Walker's brother Robert G. Walker. Dispersals and shootings continued throughout the settled districts including along the Balonne, Dawson, Burnett and Maranoa Rivers. These war-like missions were discussed openly and condoned in the contemporary Australian press. For instance, the Sydney Morning Herald described the operations of Lieutenants Marshall and J.Murray along the Burnett River as "taking and shooting host of murderers, never stopping, never tiring..a perfect light dragoon, best skirmishers of any troops in the world..loading and firing with the precision of an old soldier".[104]

As a result of these paramilitary interventions, the British pastoral invasion of the country was enabled to continue. New barracks were built at Rannes, Walla and at Swanson's Yabba station at the top of Yabba Falls. Squatters Holt and Hay pursued an overland path to the taking up of lands toward Port Curtis. Two men accompanying them were killed by Aboriginals and as a consequence, the 1st Division of Native Police under Commandant Walker was sent into the area to "have a month's sharp shooting".[105] Additionally, Lieut. J.Murray and the 3rd Division with the troopers of Sgt. Doolan were deployed by ship to Gladstone to ensure a strong garrison at the fledgling settlement there. The surveyor sent to mark out Gladstone, Francis MacCabe, felt so unsafe that he established the camp in an area close to the coast, two miles away from any freshwater.[106] The troopers served as an armed escorts for the drays of squatters Daniel Connor and the Leith Hay brothers coming in and out of the Port Curtis region. Aboriginal fatalities occurred and 2nd Lieut. R.G.Walker led at least one large dispersal during these operations.

Dismissal of Frederick Walker

The size of the Native Police expanded further in 1854 to 10 Divisions and as a consequence their violent methods were becoming increasingly noticeable. Supporters of the force had to defend charges of "wanton cruelty" perpetrated by the force by justifying the need of "cutting a lane to the culprit through the bodies of his defenders".[107] Further official complaints to the government in Sydney of massacres of peaceful "station blacks" by the Native Police were brushed off in parliament by the Attorney-General as unfounded or exaggerated.[108] Embarrassing information like these reports and further complaints from squatters who felt they didn't get enough protection from the force, as well as certain financial irregularities, pushed the NSW Government into organising an inquiry into the Native Police. Commandant Walker was suspended from duty in September and the inquiry, to be held in Brisbane, was set for December. The inquiry was closed to the public and the report was kept secret for two years and even then only fragments of information were released. It revealed that Walker arrived at the inquiry completely drunk and surrounded by nine of his black troopers. The troopers were denied entry, and after an attempt to continue with proceedings, the inebriation of Walker forced an adjournment to the inquiry which was later quickly and conveniently abandoned altogether. An attempt by 2nd Lieut. Irving to confront Walker, resulted in the ex-Commandant drawing a sword against him.[109] Eventually, Walker wandered off and was subsequently dismissed from the Native Police. He was later apprehended at Bromelton, charged with the embezzlement of ₤100 and sent to Sydney.[110]

Period of decline, Expansion to the Fitzroy River area

After the dismissal of Frederick Walker, the force entered a period of poor funding and uncertainty. Many troopers either deserted or were discharged. Richard Purvis Marshall was promoted to Commandant but was soon discharged from the position after complaining of the trooper reductions. With the force in a weakened state, aboriginal resistance became more bold. In September 1855, in retaliation against two previous dispersals and for the stealing of women, Gangulu warriors attacked the Native Police barracks at Rannes, killing three troopers of R.G.Walker's division. Mt. Larcom station was also attacked around this time, resulting in the deaths of five station-hands. Multiple punitive missions were conducted by John Murray and R.G.Walker's sections after these attacks, including one which went north of the Fitzroy River. Charles Archer of Gracemere provided assistance with this dispersal by attaching his own private native troopers to the corps. This augmented party killed 14 aboriginals.[111] In revenge, these aboriginals then attacked Elliot's new pastoral run at Nine Mile on the Fitzroy River, killing one person and wounding three including Elliot.

Charles Archer had arrived in Gracemere in August 1855 with an escort of 35 people including four Native Police troopers and four "Burnett boys". Once arrived, he obtained the protective services of a local Fitzroy River clan led by "King Harold" which Archer utilised to "restrain the outside blacks".[112] In July 1856, Richard E. Palmer travelled to the Fitzroy River from Gladstone, escorted by sub-Lieutenant Powell and his troopers, to set up the first store at Rockhampton. Powell went first to this area and constructed a Native Police barracks. This was the first habitable dwelling erected by the British in Rockhampton. It was on the south side of the river at the end of Albert Street.[113]

With increased attacks around this time and reports of discharged troopers conducting armed robberies around the region,[114] squatters began to call for an immediate re-strengthening of the Native Police.[115] A select committee inquiry into improving the Native Police was implemented and in late 1856 the control of the Native Police was transferred from the Inspector General of Police in Sydney to John Clements Wickham who was the Government Resident in Brisbane. New officers such as Moorhead, Thomas Ross, Walter David Taylor Powell, Francis Allman, Evan Williams, Frederick Carr and Charles Phibbs were appointed. In May 1857, the vacant position of Commandant was filled by E.N.V. Morisset and the headquarters of the Native Police was shifted from Traylan to Cooper's Plains just west of Maryborough. However, even with this reorganisation, strong indigenous resistance continued.

Attacks at Miriam Vale, Eurombah and Hornet Bank

After an aboriginal ambush at Miriam Vale near Gladstone, it was determined that Curtis Island (like Fraser Island previously) was a safehaven for natives that should be breached. 2nd Lieutenant R. G. Walker organised a seaborne punitive expedition that included several troopers, 2nd Lieut. W. D. T. Powell and local squatters J. Landsborough and Ranken. The mission was a failure and despite shooting two aboriginals in a canoe, Curtis Island was deemed dangerously populated.[111]

On the Dawson River at Eurombah station 2nd Lieut. Ross with local squatter Boulton carried out several punitive missions killing at least 10 Aboriginals. Trooper desertions continued to be a problem in this area and containment of aboriginal resistance was problematic. A large attack on Eurombah station resulted in the deaths of six station workers. Officers Ross, Powell and E.N.V. Morisset led subsequent deadly punitive raids. Ross was suspended due to neglect of duty for allowing the Eurombah attack to occur.[111]

Not long after, on 27 October 1857, a combined Aboriginal offensive on neighbouring Hornet Bank station resulted in the death of eleven settlers. This was, at the time, the largest loss of British life in conflict on the Australian frontier and with the concurrent Indian Mutiny threatening the basis of British global colonisation, the military response was predictably merciless. Officer W.D.T.Powell was the first Native Police officer to arrive and immediately tracked down and killed at least eight Aboriginals. Multiple punitive missions conducted in the subsequent months under Powell, Carr and Moorhead killed at least 70 aboriginals. These shootings were blantantly indiscriminate with W.D.T. Powell reporting shooting down three unarmed Aboriginal women while they were running away.[111]

In addition to the official government Native Police response, there were at least three other private militias formed in the Dawson River area to conduct wholesale killings of Aboriginals. The first was the private native police formed by ex-commandant Frederick Walker. This group consisted of ten ex-Native Police troopers which conducted missions as far south as Surat.[116] The second was the so-called "Browne's" death squad that consisted of a posse of twelve local squatters which killed around 90 aboriginals.[4] The last was the group associated with William Fraser, who had most of his family killed in the Hornet Bank massacre. This group killed around 40 Aboriginals, some of which were buried beside a lagoon on Juandah creek.[117]

After Hornet Bank

The events at Hornet Bank marked a significant change to the official purpose of the Native Police. The official narrative beforehand was that frontier killings or dispersals were necessary to maintain a peace between white and black. The force under Commandants Walker and Marshall, while undoubtedly involved in many summary mass killings, pursued the method of encouraging squatters to allow aboriginals to be retained on the property. However, after Hornet Bank, the views of powerful squatter politicians such as William Forster, Gordon Sandeman and Charles Cowper became official Native Police policy. This involved encouraging squatters in frontier regions to "keep the blacks out" and consequently the Native Police became an indisputable vehicle of deliberate ethnic cleansing.

Another government inquiry in Sydney was ordered in July 1858 which concluded with the recommendation that "there is no alternative but to carry matters through with a strong hand and punish with necessary severity all future outrages".[118] New officers were appointed including Frederick Wheeler and George Murray and in August, Commandant Edric Morisset organised a large combined force of 17 troopers under Phibbs, Carr and G.Murray with a month's rations to scour the Upper Dawson area. The explorer, A.C. Gregory accompanied this force and partook in their actions. Officers Bligh and Moorhead at the same time patrolled the stations adjoining the scrubs in the region.[111] Gwambegwine and Kinnoul near Taroom became barracks for the Native Police.

The transition of the Native Police to an all out death squad caused the more moderate elements within the force to protest. 2nd Lieutenant Francis Nicoll resigned in 1858 stating that he would not become a butcher of women and children, while ex-Commandant Walker wrote several letters to the Attorney General admonishing the murders of innocent aboriginals including that of Tommy Hippi, Tahiti and the massacre of aboriginals at a Juandah courthouse after they were found not guilty of crime.[119]

Queensland separated from New South Wales and became a self-governing British colony in December 1859. E.N.V. Morisset, in addition to retaining his role as Commandant of the Native Police, also became the Inspector General of Police in the new colony. The Native Police had even less checks and balances than it did previously in this new administration. Morisset appointed new officers such as A.M.G.Patrick, A.F.Matveieff, J.T.Baker as well as his own brother Rudolph S. Morisset.

With Aboriginals in frontier regions now facing government endorsed violent forcible removal from their lands as the almost sole interaction with the invading Britishers, there were, as a result, a number of large skirmishes in the years following Hornet Bank. In 1860 along the Maranoa river, a two-hour stand up battle between Lieut. Carr's Native Police and the "Dawson blacks" under Baulie resulted in Carr being wounded and Baulie and fifteen other Yiman being shot dead.[120] In evidence given at the 1861 Select Committee report on the Native Police, Lieut. Carr gives many other examples of shootings of aborginals in the area.[121] Likewise, in the still unconquered Pine Rivers region just north of Brisbane, Lieut. Williams' patrol was attacked by around 300 Ningi Ningi warriors. Many of them were shot but of the eight troopers with Williams, one was killed and two were seriously wounded.[122]

John O'Connell Bligh

There was also an increase in the intensity of more usual dispersals or massacres. Seven "station blacks" were shot dead at Conyar by Native Police,[123] Lieut. Wheeler shot several innocent Aboriginals at Dugandan,[124] Lieut. John Murray conducted a massacre in the Wide Bay area[125] and officers Bligh and Rudolph Morisset indiscriminately shot "station blacks" on properties around the Conondale Range.[126] In a separate incident, John O'Connell Bligh also chased and shot dead some Aboriginals along the main street of Maryborough and into the river in broad daylight. Bligh received a special ceremony and a commemorative sword from the citizens of that town for his exploits.[127] While many settlers actively endorsed the actions of the Native Police and some were inclined to "know little of and care less" of the dispersals,[128] there was enough concern amongst sections of the populace to force another inquiry into the Native Police. This inquiry, while extremely informative on the callous and genocidal views of most of the politicians of the period,[129] was a whitewash which aimed to protect both the system and the officers.[130]

The Cullin-la-Ringo Massacre at its aftermath

Disbandment of the Native Police

A.J. Vogan's novel 'Black Police', written as fiction, was, he claimed, closely based on incidents that he said he saw or investigated in 1888-1889. The book included stories of atrocities committed by the Queensland Native Police in close cooperation with settlers antagonistic to the presence of Aboriginal people on or near their runs. This book, continued newspaper focus on incidents, an increasingly active and influential social criticism, especially by urban Liberals and religious interests, eventually had some effect. John G. Paton wrote in 1889 that, two years previously, Samuel Griffith, the Premier of Queensland, "had these blood-stained forces disbanded for ever."[131] This, however, is not true. Griffith did not disband the force during his term in government, but numbers were gradually reduced from the mid 1880s onwards.[132]

South Australia

Commissioner Alexander Tolmer formed the South Australian Native Police Force in 1852 at the specific direction of the South Australian Government. Later that year a newspaper reported, "A dozen powerful natives, chiefly of the Moorundee tribe [from Blanchetown, South Australia district on the River Murray], have been selected to be sent to the Port Lincoln district to act as Mounted Police."[133] The little corps, under the command of Mounted Police Corporal John Cusack (1809–1887), sailed for Port Lincoln on the government schooner Yatala on 29 December 1852, for service on Eyre Peninsula. It was confidently expected they would be usefully employed in protection of the settlers in that district.[134]

The Native Police were soon extended, the strength in 1856 being:- Murray District (half each at Moorundee and Wellington): 2 inspectors, 2 corporals, 13 constables, 16 horses ; Venus Bay: 1 sergeant, 1 corporal, 7 constables, 8 horses.

The six officers and non-commissioned officers were all European, while the twenty constables were all Aboriginal, all being issued with standard police arms and uniforms. Both Aboriginal and European offenders were brought to justice by these men, but on Eyre Peninsula the Aboriginals were largely ineffectual as they were in unfamiliar territory, while on the Murray the entire force went walkabout and did not return.[135]

In 1857 it was abolished as a distinct corps, although a few Aboriginal constables continued to be employed from time to time at certain remote police stations. Also, Aboriginal trackers were employed as needed, but were not sworn police constables. In 1884 a native police scheme was revived by the South Australia Police in Central Australia (see Northern Territory, below), but this time it was based on the more notorious Queensland and New South Wales models.

Northern Territory

In 1884, the South Australian Police Commissioner, William John Peterswald established a Native Police Force. Six Aboriginal men were recruited in November 1884. Aged between 17 and 26 years of age, they came from Alice Springs, Charlotte Waters, Undoolya and Macumba. The Native Police became notorious for their violent activities, especially under the command of Constable William Willshire. In 1891, two Aboriginal men were 'shot whilst attempting to escape'. The deaths were noticed and the South Australian Register called for an Enquiry to establish whether or not police had been justified in killing the two Aboriginal men.

Eventually, F.J. Gillen, Telegraph Stationmaster and Justice of the Peace at Alice Springs, received instructions from the Government to investigate the matter and report to the Attorney-General. Gillen found Willshire responsible for ordering the killings. At the conclusion of Gillen’s investigation, Willshire was suspended, arrested and charged with murder. He became the first Northern Territory police officer charged with this offence. He was subsequently acquitted.[136]

See also

  • History of Victoria
  • History of Queensland
  • Victorian gold rush
  • White Woman of Gippsland
  • First Nations Police (Ontario)
  • United States Indian Police


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On the Native Police Corps of Victoria (1842-1853)

  • Fels, Marie Hansen: GOOD MEN AND TRUE: THE ABORIGINAL POLICE OF THE PORT PHIL-LIP DISTRICT 1837-1853, Melbourne 1988, 308 pages.

On the Native Police in South Australia (Northern Territory)(1884-1891)

  • Amanda Nettelbeck & Robert Foster: IN THE NAME OF THE LAW: William Willshire and the policing of the Australian Frontier, Kent Town SA 2007, 227 pages, illustrated ISBN 978-1-86254-748-3

On Queensland's Native Police Force (1848-1897):

  • Bottoms, Timothy: Conspiracy of Silence, Allan & Unwin Sydney 2013, 258 pages, ill.
  • Evans, Raymond in Evans, Saunders, & Cronin: RACE RELATIONS IN COLONIAL QUEENSLAND: A HISTORY OF EXCLUSION, EXPLOITATION AND EXTERMINATION, third edition Brisbane 1993 (first edition publ. Sydney, 1975), 456 pages, ill.
  • Evans, Raymond: ACROSS THE QUEENSLAND FRONTIER In Frontier Conflict: The Australian Experience, eds Bain Attwood and S.G. Foster. National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2003, pp. 63–75 ‘Frontier Conflict’ Dec. 2001 14 pages.
  • Evans, Raymond: THE COUNTRY HAS ANOTHER PAST: QUEENSLAND AND THE HISTORY WARS, chapter in ‘Passionate Histories: Myth, memory and Indigenous Australia’ Aboriginal History Monograph 21, September 2010. Edited by Frances Peters-Little, Ann Curthoys and John Docker.
  • Feilberg, Carl: THE WAY WE CIVILISE (pamphlet, see external links below)
  • Ørsted-Jensen, Robert: FRONTIER HISTORY REVISITED - QUEENSLAND AND THE 'HISTORY WAR', Brisbane. ISBN 9781466386822
  • Richards, Jonathan: THE SECRET WAR. A TRUE HISTORY OF QUEENSLAND'S NATIVE POLICE, St Lucia Queensland 2008, 308 pages
  • Skinner, Leslie Edward: POLICE OF THE PASTORAL FRONTIER - NATIVE POLICE, 1849-1859, Brisbane, St Lucia, 1975, 455 pages.
  • Vogan, Arthur James: THE BLACK POLICE: A STORY OF MODERN AUSTRALIA, London, Hutchinson & Co., 1890, 392 pages.
  • Wright, Judith Arundell: THE CRY FOR THE DEAD, Melbourne 1981, 303 pages.

External links

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