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Native Police – an article extract

The following material is from the draft manuscript written and supplied by NT Police Superintendent Tony Fuller


A Narrative of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Service in the Northern Territory Police Force 1870-2009


Native Police of the 19th Century were not solely a Northern Territory Police phenomenon. In an article on the Australian Governments Internet site it is reported that

The first experiments with Native Police reportedly commenced in Victoria in 1837. In 1842, the Port Phillip Native Police Corps was established. The Corps included white officers and black troopers. The Corps provided a deterrent to Aboriginal attacks on pastoral properties as well as later policing the gold diggings and escorting gold to Melbourne. However, the Native Police also used violence to settle conflicts with other Aboriginal people. By 1851, many Aboriginal people were killed by the Native Police in Western Victoria and Gippsland. The Corps operated for eleven years until it was disbanded. When it was disbanded, some of the Native Police were absorbed as trackers into the Victorian police. A similar Aboriginal force was established in New South Wales in 1848 by Governor Charles Fitzroy. This force was under New South Wales' control until 1859, when Queensland became a separate colony and took over command. The Queensland force continued until 1900. In the Northern Territory in 1878 Foelsche initially rejected the notion of establishing a Native Police Force and reported to Government Resident Price ‘black savages’ could not be relied upon and might become dangerous when excited.[8] Foelsche advised that, instead of Native Police, three good trackers should be capable of tracking offenders, especially Aboriginal people, and, whilst no other attributes were essential, it was desirable they be intelligent.[9] This is a far cry from current recruitment requirements. Indigenous officers should not be disappointed with Foelsche’s opinion as he also would not recruit local men to join his Mounted Constables but his attitudes to Native Police did alter slightly over time. Despite his objections 3 trackers were despatched from Blinman in South Australia. Wilson reports the fate of two of these trackers remains unknown as only one was recorded as returning to Blinman in 1881, ill and unfit for any further work.[10] The Northern Territories Native Police Corp was established in November 1884 at the request of MC Willshire who made a representation to the South Australian Police Commissioner. Six men aged between 17 and 26 where recruited from Charlotte Waters, Undoolya and Macumba. They were issued with a horse and equipment and their uniform was that of the SA Mounted Police distinguished by a white band on the hat and a little piping on the jacket. In some early Correspondence between the Commissioner and Inspector Besley in South Australia the Commissioner made the following Instruction -


“My instructions to you were that blacks from Alice Springs should be classed as Native Police and the accounts made out accordingly. You had better give them fresh names, their own take up too much time to write.” [11] Willshire and the Native Police were sent to Powell Creek to apprehend four offenders, after which Willshire transferred their command to MC Power and they were then ordered to Pine Creek for the remainder of 1885. In 1886 they were used in Roper and Daly River area and by August 1887 only three Aboriginal trackers, one time Native Police Troopers, remained under Foelsches control one each at Palmerston, Katherine and MacArthur effectively disbanding the Corp in the North. Willshire in the meantime had returned to Alice Springs where he raised a further unit of Native Police. Six Native Police have been enrolled under charge of Mounted Constable Willshire. Their head quarters (sic) are at Alice Springs, and their duties are to patrol the country from the Peake to Barrow Creek (sic) in order to protect the settlers from the outrages of the Natives.[12] The first task of the Native Police Corps at Alice Springs was to shift the Police Headquarters to Heavitree Gap. Three of its members died from colds and others suffered pulmonary complaints. [13]Then in December 1897 Willshire moved his troops to Boggy Waters near Tempe Downs Station where his instructions were to “protect the pastoralists; put an end to cattle spearing.”[14] Willshire and his Native Police continued patrols in Central Australia between 1885 to 1891. Willshire was notorious for not keeping accurate journal records particularly in 1889 and as such reporting on the activities of the Native Police during this period is difficult. The Corp was small, reportedly only 14 men in 1893 compared to the hundreds employed in Queensland.[15] In 1886 four Native Police were used in the Roper River area to track down a wanted fugitive “Charley” wanted for the murder of Duncan Campbell on Elsey Station in 1882. MC Power and Curtis with four Central Australian Native Police members, Jem, Billy, George and Jack located Charley who was shot dead whilst resisting arrest. These members in 225 days during 1886 traveled a reported 7330 miles.[16] On the 9th January 1890, what may be the first case of an Indigenous member being killed occurred when a Native Police member “Peter” who was on patrol with MC Willshire was speared when the camp came under attack by an unspecified number of attackers.[17]. Wilshire later reported to Inspector Besley “They managed to drive one long spear through the body of the native named Peter. He died the following afternoon. The attackers were all identified by their footprints by a native constable who called out the names to whom the footprints belong.” Willshire only refers to Peter as “his native” so presumably he was a Native Constable. In 1892 another Native Constable was killed when he and a fellow Native Constable where ambushed near Erldunda. The following is an extract to the matter of fact recording of the incident by Mounted Constable Daer in his journal. “ 1st November visited Native Camps at daylightin company with Mr Warburton found two blackfellows and one lubra had left camp during the night. Started NC’s Tommy and Walter on tracks at once to see where blacks had gone, at noon native constable Tommy reported that Walter and himself were attacked by a mob of about twenty natives and that Walter was killed. Started at once and found Walter quite dead, a spear having passed through his kidneys, Tommy was also speared but able to ride a camel, followed tracks after burying Walter. To Ippia Range, came up with one lubra who reported that two natives named Milyarie and Chapilcharra had thrown the spears and that Milyarie had been wounded by NC Tommy and that he had revolver bullet in the thigh. Camped at Ippia 19 miles, 2nd November Natives kept to the rocks and I could not dislodge them. NC Tommy very ill today obliged to lift him on camel and take him to Erldunda 20 miles.”[18] Wilson wrote that during the period of 1884 and 1898 there was a period of institutionalised violence by the Police including the Native Police towards Aborigines. The Native Police, particularly in Central Australia were allowed to operete with only minimal controls and records were brief and sometimes written up from memory. [19] On the 22nd February 1891 an incident involving the Native Police and the killing of two aborigines at Tempe Downs caused the activities of Native Police to be scrutinised and the arrest and charging of Mounted Constable Willshire for murder. It is reported that Native Constables Larry and Joe (also reported as Jacky and Thomas in some literature) shot and killed two Aborigines, Donkey and Roger, part of a group suspected of cattle killing. The Native Constables were under the control of Mounted Constable Willshire who later reported that he had given the Native Constables the instruction not to use their firearms except in self defence. Allegedly the two men killed were in fact the murderers of the two Native Constables fathers. [20] This incident by MC Willshire and his Native Constables was initially endorsed by Inspector Besley who says they have only done their duty. Despite the initial endorsement Willshire was later charged and then in a trial that commenced on the 23rd July 1891 he was acquitted of the murder of Donkey and Roger. These events are subject to many books and contention amongst authours as to the actual events that took place. Arguments can be made that the Native Police were simply armed trackers or possies along the lines of the American Wild West as they did not receive any significant Police Training but then neither did the European Police members of the era. Indigenous members (trackers) still being referred to as Native Constables in 1920 when there were 28 Native Constables. [21]

[1] Downer 1963 P15

[2] McLaren [3] Clyne 1987 [4] Langton et al, p 130 [5] P 152 Volume 4-Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report [6] HQ File 96/0576, Report by Commander Green [7] NTER Review into Law and Order. [8] Foelsche to Price, 20 May 1878,SRSA,GRG 790, 31/78 in Wilson (1996) p 24 [9] ibid [10] Wilson (1996) p 25 [11] McLaren P326 [12] SA Gov Gazette 17 Sept 1885 p831. [13] Stapleton p 27 [14] Stapleton p 27 [15] Arthur & Morphy [16] McLaren and Alcorta Chapter 9 [17] McLaren and Alcorta Chapter 9 [18] McLaren p 341

[19] Wilson (1996) [20] Discussed by Wilson in Sillitoes Tartan in Northern Australia. P 65 [21] McLaren p633



MC Willshire (standing second from right) in a staged photograph with 'Native Police'.




Native Police Constables
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This list of Native Police members is from the draft Fuller manuscript for reference purposes.

Further information is invited.

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