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POWER, Cornelius

From "A Force Apart?" p.123

Mounted Constable Cornelius Power was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1851. He migrated to Australia as a young man and joined the South Australian Police in April 1873. He worked as a groom and labourer before he joined the South Australian Police Force as a Foot Constable in 1873. He transferred to the Mounted Police later that year and served at Port Augusta, Beltana and Innamincka. In 1879, he was promoted to First Class Trooper, a designation gained by his outstanding ability. Helen Tolcher, an historian of the Cooper Creek region, has recorded a testimonial to Power from Thomas Pierce in the Port Augusta Dispatch in 1881, ‘Police Trooper Power has shown great perseverance in doing his duties’. His colleagues thought highly of him as did the Beltana magistrate, Mr. Butterfield SM who said at a farewell to Power, ‘I hope the change will be greatly to his advantage because there is not a more deserving officer in the South Australian Police Force.’ The magistrate concluded his remarks ‘ Honor to whom honor is due’. Inspector Besley advised the magistrate that he considered Power the best officer in his Division.By all accounts, Power was considered by the locals and judiciary an exceptional officer whilst he was officer in charge at Innamincka. His career was brought undone because of his dalliance with Margaret McNamara, with whom he had an affair in 1882 when he was stationed at Beltana. McNamara later said that after they had ‘kept company’ for five months he had locked them in a cell together and refused to let her out until she had satisfied his sexual demands. McNamara also alleged that Power then promised to marry her, later refusing to do so. She also said that Power boasted of his conquest of her. McNamara followed him to Innamincka, where, in 1882, she threatened to shoot him. McNamara was later bound over to keep the peace and Power considered the matter closed. In 1884, however, she twice uttered threats against Power, saying she intended to ‘wing the dog and have his life’. McNamara was arrested on both occasions. When McNamara appeared in Court in October 1884, charged with breaching the peace, she claimed that Power had been disrespectful towards the Commissioner, a fact that was to loom large a few weeks later. McNamara was bound over to keep the peace, but the matter was now out in the open, the Port Augusta Dispatch calling on the Commissioner or Minister to deal with Power ‘as he deserves’. The Commissioner ordered Power to show cause why his services should not be terminated. He pleaded for leniency, claiming to have been the victim of an unscrupulous woman. Inspector Besley also asked the Commissioner to be lenient with Power because of his ability. This was not to be. He was dismissed from the force but promptly reinstated provided he transfer to the Northern Territory. He arrived in the Northern Territory in January 1885 and was initially stationed at Darwin. He assumed command of the first contingent of native police stationed in the northern portion of the Northern Territory from Mounted Constable William Willshire and moved with them to Pine Creek. He later travelled with the native police to Elsey and then, after the native police had been dispersed, to Burrundie. From the records available, it appears that Power was not as inclined to violence towards Aboriginal people as others who commanded native police during the years they served in the Northern Territory. He was the subject of only one complaint during his time in command of the native police, but escaped censure for permitting the members of that corps to perform duty out of uniform. Whilst stationed at Burrundie in 1887, he was aggrieved by the promotion of Mounted Constable Waters to the rank of Corporal ahead of him. He appealed the decision, but the promotion stood as originally determined. His affair with McNamara no doubt worked against his being promoted. Power later received promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal in June 1888 and later to Corporal. He served at Borroloola from 1888 to 1903 where he became well known and respected. He was always considered a good police officer whose conduct and efficiency were reported on by the Government Resident in 1894 as being ‘good’ and ‘very good’ respectively. During his service at Borroloola, Power was instrumental in having the famous Borroloola Library established. Although the origins of this library are not well recorded, at least one version is that the library was established after Power wrote to or visited Lord Hopetoun, then Governor of Victoria, later Governor General of Australia, seeking a donation of books. He later held the honorary position of Librarian of the Borroloola Library. Activities of this type indicate that not only was Power well educated and probably an avid reader, they also epitomised what has become known as community policing. Here was a member of the police force involving himself in community activities, who was well respected as a result and thus more able to police by consent, which is what community policing aspires to. He developed a novel way of reducing crime committed by Aboriginal people. In 1889, Power sought a supply of rations he could issue to old and infirm Aboriginal people which he hoped would keep them around the town instead of killing cattle on the surrounding stations for food. Tony Roberts has noted how in 1889 Power wrote to Inspector Foelsche informing him that several station managers had asked him to punish natives for cattle killing and robberies of huts. Power added, ‘I have a decided objection to this work, and will be glad to have your instructions on this matter’. Clearly, he was writing about something darker than just routine police work. Foelsche responded, ‘that Aboriginals must be treated the same as European offenders and I cannot authorize any other mode of punishment'. By writing to Foelsche, he achieved his aim of not having to mete out extra judicial punishment. He was respected by the local Aboriginal population and was not one of those to whom the locals referred to as ‘yilarr’ which literally means ‘bitter or poisonous one’. Coupled with his library activities, his approach was to police the Europeans with community consent and treat the Aboriginal population better than many of his contemporaries. Power was a humane man whose methods of policing were unusual for the period and more like today’s community policing. He developed an acute affliction of the lungs, which appears to have been tuberculosis, because he was later admitted to the Kalyra Sanatorium in the Adelaide Hills. This illness not only caused him to seek a transfer from Borroloola in 1903 it also hastened his death at age 53. Power died whilst in Adelaide on sick leave in 1904. His obituary in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette suggested: It would be difficult to find anyone in the Territory who knows Corporal Power who has not something good to say of him. He was kindly, unassuming and…A gentleman…he was a man who, in every circumstance apparently endeavoured to live up to that good old scriptural injunction to do unto others as he would have others do unto him…News of his death will be received with regret by a great many people in the Northern Territory. Power was a capable member who, apart from his unfortunate dalliance with Margaret McNamara, was typical of many of the early members who policed in a manner to which a majority of the European community consented. He went further, however, policing the Aboriginal population less harshly than many of his contemporaries.

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