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DUDLEY, George

George Vernon Dudley was the third officer in charge of the Northern Territory Police and the first to hold the actual title of Commissioner. Prior to this time the power or Commissioner was vested in the Government Resident although the term is still generally applied to the person in charge of the police contingent.

Dudley's employment was terminated on 31 December 1927 due to behavior and disciplinary reasons.




Major George Vernon Dudley was the third commander of the Northern Territory Police Force and its first Commissioner. He was without doubt the most controversial of the three initial leaders of the Northern Territory Police. On the surface, he was extremely well qualified, having served in three overseas police forces for a total of 12 years and having served under fire during the First World War. Indeed, as Downer indicates, Dudley’s previous history suggested that he ‘was the greatest imperialist since Cecil Rhodes’. Dudley epitomised those who viewed Australia as ‘the national life and thought of ‘an Empire of which the peer has yet to make itself known’. He was ‘little more than a transplanted Briton’. Despite his obvious qualifications, his application suggested he could not settle into one position or even on one continent. Later events were to also demonstrate that he had flaws in his character that made him totally unsuited to the position. Despite such flaws, he undoubtedly had a vision for the police force. He set out to improve its operational efficiency and was a ‘broker of dreams’ generating inspiration, hope and a sense of purpose and effectiveness in the organisation. The missing ingredient was morality and this was to bring him undone.

Dudley was born in Oxford, England, on 21 October 1884, the son of a solicitor. At age 18, he enlisted in the British South Africa Police, a police force with responsibility for policing the then Rhodesia. The British South Africa Police possessed seven-pounder muzzle loading artillery pieces and he was, for a short time, a member of the force’s artillery. He objected to the use of artillery to shoot wild game, on one occasion objecting because he was detailed to clear a river of hippopotami for a sculling race. Despite his reluctance to clear rivers by use of artillery pieces, Dudley was apparently successful in his police career because he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant at the age of 21. As a Sergeant, Dudley was a drill instructor, with responsibilities for teaching recruits drill, riding, musketry and some instructional lectures. Many of the recruits trained by him would have been Africans. One of his referees for the position of Commissioner in the Northern Territory Police, Brigadier W. Bodle, said that Dudley was a capable drill instructor and was tactful in the performance of his duties. Bodle considered Dudley to be of exemplary character. After serving as officer in charge of the Selukwe Sub-District, he resigned from the British South Africa Police in late 1910 due to ill health. The nature of the illness is not disclosed in the various files still available. Downer, however, suggested that it was malaria and blackwater fever. Dudley recovered quickly and spent the next year working in a mine in Johannesburg


His next foray into policing was in Canada, where he joined the Royal North-West Mounted Police on 29 December 1911. On his attestation form he listed his previous address as Salisbury, South Africa, omitting reference to his stay in Johannesburg. Initially serving at Red Deer, then at Rocky Mountain House, Dudley undertook general policing duties, suffering a recurring bout of malaria whilst at Rocky Mountain House. In 1913, he was transferred to Calgary, where he worked as a teamster and later as a drill instructor. He must have been a pugilist because he boxed with Tommy Burns, who lost a world title bout to Jack Johnson, and with a boxer named Pelky, who had killed a man. He told friends later that he had been a sergeant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however his service record does not indicate a promotion to this rank. He soon tired of policing in Canada, purchasing his discharge in June 1914, saying that he wished to return home to his parents in South Africa. He arrived in England 10 days before the outbreak of the First World War, immediately enlisting in the Honourable Artillery Company, one of the most prestigious Regiments of the British Army. Five months later he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery, serving in France with three Artillery Regiments from 1917 to 1918. His application to join the Northern Territory Police also lists service in France in 1915 and 1916 and this appears likely because the military record shows that he was posted to the Royal Garrison Artillery on commissioning. There is, however, no record of his service until 1917 but, as the British Ministry of Defence points out, many First World War files have been extensively culled and Dudley’s records hold ‘an extremely meagre amount of information’.

He was clearly a brave man. He was wounded by enemy fire and he was Mentioned in Despatches, once according to the Army records, but twice according to Dudley. He was awarded the Military Cross in January 1918 in recognition of ‘distinguished services in the field’. King George the Fifth appointed him a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for ‘distinguished service in connection with military operations in France and Flanders’ in June 1919.155 He completed his wartime service in Germany with the Army of Occupation, resigning his commission as a major in May 1919. In November 1920 according to the force records, March 1920 * according to Dudley, he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary. He was appointed as an Inspector in the Auxiliaries, a rank at which he served until he left the Constabulary in January 1922. Because of the nature of the duties undertaken by the Auxiliaries it seems certain that he would have been engaged in operations against the Irish Republican Army. Dudley, however, never recorded any stories of his activities in Ireland.

Again tiring of his employment, he travelled to Fiji, where the Colonial Sugar Refining Company briefly employed him, before moving to Melbourne with the Australian General Electric Company. In 1923 he served as a special constable during the Melbourne police strike. A year after arriving in Australia he applied for appointment as Commissioner of the Northern Territory Police. The Minister, Senator George Pearce, personally accepted Dudley for appointment to the vacant position. His appointment dated from 1 March 1924, when he arrived in the Northern Territory at age 38. His wife and two children were still residing in Scotland when Dudley arrived in Darwin and did not join him until August 1924.

Dudley had received a sound grounding in practical policing. The North-West Mounted Police had a well-developed system of training for new members. In addition to undergoing training in drill and equine skills, recruits attended lectures on the laws they would be required to enforce. Few records remain that relate to Rocky Mountain House Police Station in Canada, which he opened. This police station was necessary because of a railway construction camp in the area. It can be assumed that he gained experience in social disorder, drunkenness and fighting, which were all prevalent in Canada during the period that he was a ‘Mountie’. There are no records which indicate his view of Aboriginal people, but his African experiences would probably have coloured his judgements. There are no records of Dudley’s views of Aboriginal people but his annual reports to the Administrator clearly demonstrates his understanding of practical policing as he concentrates on those issues in each of his reports. He also led from the front, being prepared to travel to a remote area to examine a problem and deal with it. Dudley did not stay indoors. His first annual report for the police force submitted a mere three months after taking up his appointment, indicates that he travelled extensively. In those first months Dudley traversed the Territory from Darwin to Alice Springs and the Victoria River to Camooweal in Queensland. He was the first senior police officer to undertake such journey’s by car, showing how he was prepared to introduce new technology to Territory policing. Station inspections were difficult, roads were poor and Dudley often suffered breakdowns. On one occasion whilst travelling from Darwin to Banka-Banka, the Commissioner’s car had to be towed behind a buggy into Banka-Banka as the vehicle refused to start.

The standard of entries in the police station day journals improved from the time he assumed command. One can sense the lift in efficiency, which followed Dudley’s appointment, and the inspiration his visits to outlying areas seemed to cause throughout the force.169 He also cared about the standard of police equipment. In the report for the year ended 1924, he referred to the shocking condition of the police horses. He reported upon a planned replacement programme for all aged horses. This was the first ever horse replacement programme instituted in the Northern Territory.

Dudley continued to travel the Northern Territory widely throughout his period as Commissioner. He visited all Territory police stations during his period in command. In 1925, following a lurid account of arson and theft at the Tanami goldfields which appeared in The Age, he visited the area with Constable Sergeant to ascertain if there was a need for police to be stationed in the area. He was also renowned for improving the conditions of his members. Downer quotes a retired police officer as saying that Dudley was a great fighter for those under his command, always trying to improve conditions. The annual reports also carry many complaints or discussions on the state of police buildings. Such reports showed that Dudley had an understanding of man management and was really a ‘broker of dreams’. He demonstrated that desire to inspire his men to work for him due to improved conditions. There was, however a question of morals, which is another key point in a leaders armoury. The Administrator, Frederick Urquhart, first brought Dudley’s personal life into question in the Northern Territory. In 1925, when considering the payment of an increment to Dudley, Urquhart wrote:


I am not able to make a favourable recommendation this year in his case. It is not that the Police work is not fairly well being carried out in the Territory but I am dissatisfied with this officer’s want of discretion in regard to visiting hotels and occasional indulgences in liquor which have given rise to remarks, and of course do not provide a good example for his men. I therefore do not recommend the granting of the increment this year.

Urquhart was a former Commissioner of Police in Queensland and would have had a good understanding of the conduct expected of a senior officer. It is unlikely that his expectations were too high. The reference to ‘remarks’ is also telling. Though there are no newspaper references to Dudley’s drinking habits, it would seem from Urquhart’s note that members of the Darwin community were openly talking about his sobriety. Drinking was not his only failing as a senior police officer. A year later Dudley was advised his position was to be terminated due to the division of the Northern Territory into two territories. At the same time, the Administrator, R.H. Weddell, advised the Secretary of the Department of Home and Territories that Dudley was indebted to a variety of Territorians. Weddell noted that Dudley ‘was of drunken habits and, on occasions, engaged in drinking bouts with his subordinates…on one occasion he was sent inland on inspection duty in order that he might recover from a drinking bout…’. Dudley, wrote Weddell, ‘had certainly pulled himself together this year, but I am sorry for his wife’s sake that he has been such a fool’. Enclosed was a list of Dudley’s debtors forwarded by a solicitor acting of behalf of four prominent citizens showing that Dudley owed £320 1s 6p to the four, who included two licensees. Dudley had been continuing to drink excessively even after having his increment refused. He was apparently drinking beyond his financial means, which would account for the considerable amounts owed to licensees of Darwin hotels. Weddell was alarmed by the prospects of Dudley returning to Darwin because ‘he would be sent to Fannie Bay Gaol’. Dudley’s character and reliance on alcohol clearly made him unsuitable for the position he held. The unanswered question is, was he a drunk and a debtor when he arrived in the Northern Territory? On the surface, the evidence suggests that he was a sober upright person before 1926. One of his referees at the time of his engagement, R. Townsend Warner, a barrister, suggested that Dudley was by character suited to the position and could be expected to carry out directions with fidelity and tact. There is also no evidence to suggest that he was frequenting hotels before 1926. On the other hand, his frequent change of employment and moves between various countries of the Empire may well have been because of his drinking or expensive lifestyle rather than wanderlust. The fact that his wife was living in Scotland whilst he was in Fiji and during the early part of his sojourn in Australia is suggestive of some marital problems. Character flaws existed before his appointment and a more searching enquiry into his background might have revealed them before his appointment. The Northern Territory and its society were not entirely to blame for Dudley’s drinking and indebtedness but may have exacerbated an existing problem.


Whatever the case, despite his obvious interest in his men and knowledge of operations, Dudley was ill suited to the position of Commissioner of Police. His wandering life continued after he left the Northern Territory. He served variously in the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Victoria Police. He was a court attendant at both the High Court of Australia and Supreme Court of New South Wales and a commissionaire at the Rural Bank of New South Wales. In conclusion, it is important, in the context of this study, to understand the characters and abilities of the leaders to determine what influence they had on the development of the force. Dudley tried hard to be a ‘broker of dreams’. New buildings, replacement of aged horses and an improvement in operational policing practices all occurred during Dudley’s term as Commissioner. He led from the front and was a sound practical police officer who turned around some of the inadequacies of the Waters era. Building upon Foelsche’s base, he developed the force into the shape that would last until almost the commencement of the Second World War. However, he was a spendthrift who became the talk of the town. The organisation suffered by his profligate behaviour. This offset his undoubted abilities as a leader and he cannot be credited with being a ‘dream broker’, particularly as insufficient evidence remains about his development of the force upon which to make an informed judgement. * Ernest McCall BSc (Hons) B A Cert Ed and author of books on RUC - www.theauxies.com - adds the following information - he joined 12/1/1920 and would have joined as a Permanent Cadet - 3rd Class District Inspector. When the Auxiliary Division RIC was formed on 27 July 1920 he transferred to them on an unknown date and was promoted to 1st Class District Inspector (1 DI) and was assigned to the "Depot" Company, Beggars Bush, Dublin. His RIC No was 76115 and his ADRIC No was 457. During his time in Dublin he would have been involved in many incidents and attended them after the shooting had stopped. On 21/11/20 Bloody Sunday occurred were the police/army shot dead several civilians in a botched operation to ensnare an IRA assassination gang in Croke Park. Dudley is recorded as attending Croke Park but is also recorded as being subordinate in the operational order, apparently an Acting Quarter Master (Head Constable) W E Mills another former army major, was apparently in charge which I find strange when a 1 DI was at the scene. There was a major inquiry into the incident and on 5/1/21 Dudley "deserted" and was dismissed 24/1/22 without appearing back in Ireland. Some believe that the shootings at Croke Park were the reason for his "desertion".


Dudley was cremated at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium and Memorial Gardens on the 12th of August 1949. His memorial site is a niche wall - site 109YL. From records held by the NTPM&HS and McLaren’s History of NT Police George Vernon Dudley Major/ Squadron Leader George Vernon DUDLEY, DSO, MC, MID Commissioner of Police Northern Section of NT Police 1.3.1924 to 31.12.1927 George Dudley was born in Oxford, in England on 21 October, 1884, the son of a solicitor. He had 12 years Police experience with the British South African Police in Rhodesia. When he left the BSAP as a sergeant, he worked for a year with the mines at Johannesburg, then went to Royal North West Mounted Police (Forerunner of the RCMP) for two and half years (From 29 December,1911). He left and went to England in July, 1914 and at the outbreak of WW1 joined up as a gunner in the Artillery and in January, 1915 received a commission in the AFA and was promoted to Captain in August 1915. He was wounded but returned to service in May 1917. In august 1917 he was promoted to Major and served with the Army of Occupation in Germany. He was demobilized in May 1919. During the War he received the D.S.O., the M.C. and was mentioned in dispatches three occasions. In June 1920 he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary and was promoted to District Inspector*. He remained with the RIC until January, 1922. He first applied for a vacancy in the Northern Territory Police on the 10th January, 1923 from Fiji. He came to Australia in August, 1922. On the 27th September on that year he again applied but this time for appointment as Commissioner of Police of the NT Police for the Top End of the NT. He was 38 years old, married and had two children. On the 1st March, 1924, the Federal Government appointed him to Commissioner of Police for the Northern Section of the N.T. He arrived in Darwin on the 19th March, 1924 and was sworn in the next day. He was also appointed Chief Protector of Aboriginals. While he was Commissioner he obtained a chemical fire engine for the Police to take to fires in Darwin. Major Dudley’s appointment was terminated on 31st December, 1927 and the office of Commissioner was passed to the Government Resident in Darwin. After leaving the NT Police he served in the Infantry of the Commonwealth Military Forces, in Victoria, Constable in Victoria Police, Sergeant in Australian Tank Corps in NSW and was a Warrant Officer in the 2nd AIF. Then he served as Squadron Leader in the RAAF. After the RAAF he served as an attendant in the High Court of Australia and then as an attendant in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Those were years very full of incident. Dudley was chosen as one of s special mounted escort for Princess Beatrice of Battenburg and Lady Roberts, wife of Lord Rabbie Roberts in South Africa after the Boer War. He told a story of a bareback horse ride to rescue a native from a lynching mob who had just begun to hoist the boy by a rope when the Police gallopers arrived. While in Calgary, Canada he boxed with Tommy Burns who was World Heavyweight Champion He died in an accident, being crushed between a ferry and the Neutral Bay Wharf in Sydney in August 1949. It appears that from the date of his appointment on 1st March,1924, George Vernon Dudley was the Commissioner of Police of the Northern Territory until the 1st March,1927 when he became the commissioner of Police in Northern Australia until his termination on 31st December,1927. He was very adventurous and lived a full life, who wore more famous uniforms than many other men. From Trooper to Drill Sergeant Instructor to Major, to Squadron Leader and finally to Commissioner of Police. To do - Obtain details of letters with additional information. - Add in other images - Add in files 'Dudley Adventurer P1' - Add in files 'Dudley Adventurer B' - Add in notes from NTPM to do list



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