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Recruit Training

From "A Force Apart?" - it compares early training in the NT with other places.


Training was important because not only were police taught the skills required in order to be effective police officers, it was also a part of the complex socialisation police underwent. It started the bonding process, during which members learnt to rely upon their colleagues. If training was insufficient or inappropriate police were incapable of effectively undertaking the roles assigned to them.


The earliest members of the South Australian Force received only rudimentary training. Inspector Bee recognised the want of training in 1870 when he advised the Commissioner that recruits were still expected to be competent and ready for duty despite the lack of a depot or regular form of instruction. Inspector Bee attempted to overcome this problem by producing a catechism that recruits were expected to learn by rote and be tested on frequently. The catechism was explicit about the duties of a metropolitan foot constable who was required to walk his beat at two and a half miles an hour and not converse with other constables or civilians except when their duty required them to do so. The other duties foot constables were required to carry out were to undertake surveillance of suspicious persons and check that doors and windows were secured after householders had retired to rest. Police also learnt from the catechism that they must apprehend drunken persons, common prostitutes, those with no visible means of support and those suspected to have breached the various acts of parliament.

This latter aspect of the catechism was almost meaningless because members were not taught the contents of the various acts, but had to seek them out themselves. Lazy members could go through the whole of their service without learning more than the basic catechism and did not need to delve into the acts to understand their roles. This meant that the quality of police varied considerably, depending in a large part upon the individual’s enthusiasm. In 1875, a 52-page police manual was prepared and circulated to members. It provided essential advice on subjects as diverse as the rules of evidence, escorting prisoners and the service of summonses. The manual included sections from the Police Act that related to offences in proclaimed localities. Although the clauses were listed in full, there was no interpretation of the law and no advice to police as to how they should deal with offences committed within their view. The manual did however, include seven pages on first aid including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, treatment of snakebite, choking and apoplexy.

A second edition of the manual was printed in 1883. This included a preface in which the City of London’s Chief Commissioner was quoted as stressing the need for tact and civility by police officers. The South Australian Commissioner, William J. von Peterswald, wrote,

‘Careful attention to the above will do more to make the men of the South Australian Police Force what they ought to be than all the orders and regulations that could ever be published from Headquarters’.


This manual directed that all police recruits be drilled in foot drill, learn the basic duties of constables and use of the Martini-Henry rifle. If after a month the recruit was considered proficient, he would be placed on street duty or transferred to the mounted branch for extensive training in mounted drill. The second edition lacked the advice to recruits on common offences found in the Police Act, which the first version had contained. Little changed until 1932 when major changes were made to recruit training. Mounted members in South Australia were also required to learn horse and sword drills, as an extant photograph of police undertaking sword drill at Clare in 1883 depicts. As the 1883 manual indicates, the training for mounted police was more extensive than that of foot police, in as much that they were required to learn equestrian skills and drill as well as the basic knowledge required by foot police. Equestrian drill contributed to the military nature of the South Australian Police Force, a situation reinforced by regular shooting practice and military style inspections of quarters and equipment which members were required to undergo. The situation in Queensland was little different. There, recruits undertook four hours drill per day and an hour of gymnastics. Following this exercise, members were require to study the police manual and a sergeant read them the rules and examined them on their knowledge of these later in the day. Recruits did not study the actual acts of parliament. One advance in Queensland was that new recruits spent some time during their training going on patrol with more experienced members to learn ‘on the job’.

The 1889 Royal Commission into the police force recognised that members had inadequate access to reference material. Whilst their recommendation that the Police Manual should be updated was not acted upon, a brief summary of 180 Acts of the Queensland Parliament was issued. This was a great advance on the South Australian system of learning by rote. The lack of an up-to-date manual was, however, to plague the Queensland Police Force until 1924. Even so, this was almost 40 years before the Northern Territory Police issued a similar manual. Local recruits who commenced their police careers in Darwin or other parts of the Northern Territory suffered from a lack of structured training. None was provided, with these members having to learn from more experienced colleagues. In 1879 Inspector Foelsche had lamented that many local recruits would not take the trouble to learn their duties properly. In some cases, new members undoubtedly learnt bad habits from those who were teaching them and thus became, in turn, ineffective police officers.

In Canada, recruits were required only to be over the age of eighteen, physically fit, five feet ten inches tall and literate in French or English when accepted. If recruits made their own way from eastern Canada and enlisted at either of the prairie gateways of Winnipeg or Regina, the standards were lowered because the cost of transporting the recruit to the depot had been dispensed with. Patronage played a part in the selection of recruits at all ranks, including constables, a situation not unheard of in South Australia. After enlistment, the Canadian recruit was faced with an intense period of mounted and dismounted drill, shooting practice, musketry instruction; and an introduction to their duties. There was no fixed period for training during the earliest years of the North-West Mounted Police because recruits progressed at their own pace, but the usual period spent in the depot was between three and six months. By 1888, the force had become the proud owner of a printing press on which several manuals were produced, including a constables’ manual that was issued to all members. Whist the training emphasised military virtues, concentrating on drill and shooting skills, all members received a sound grounding in police skills; very different from the basic instruction provided in South Australia, or total lack of training the Commonwealth provided in the Northern Territory after 1911.

The South Australian Police Force had no recruit educational examination before 1897. Accordingly, members of the police force were sometimes uneducated, a trait especially notable among the foot police. Commissioner Madley introduced entrance examinations in 1897. These included writing, reading, spelling, composition and arithmetic. Madley faced a barrage of criticism in parliament for his testing of applicants for employment. In a tacit acknowledgement that patronage had played a part in previous selection processes, Commissioner Madley wrote to the Chief Secretary that ‘the day when ignorant men could get appointments has long since passed…[I] will not prefer an ignorant man because his friends want him taken on. There is nothing to indicate whether local recruits who joined in the Northern Territory, such as Cowle, had to undertake the entrance examination. In Queensland, too, recruits before 1889 were not required to undergo an educational test. Recruits were only required to ‘be able to write a fair hand, and possess ordinary intelligence’. Following the 1899 Royal Commission recommendation that all recruits should ‘pass a reasonable educational test’, one was introduced shortly thereafter.

After the Commonwealth assumed control of the Northern Territory in 1911, the use of entrance examinations ceased and they were not revived until after the Second World War. Basic literacy was required in order that members could complete documents. How this was tested is not clear, although the file of every member who applied for appointment after 1911 has a letter on it seeking appointment. It is likely that this was sufficient evidence of an applicant’s literary ability. It was to be 1949 before the Northern Territory Police Force introduced an induction course for new members. Mistakes were obviously made by members before that date, but it is a wonder that more serious mistakes did not occur. Apart from the basic information on life saving skills provided in the 1873 manual, first aid was not taught to recruits in Adelaide before 1891, when the ‘newly formed St John organisation’ trained police in these skills. In 1891, too, the results of ambulance examinations were first gazetted. It is surprising that formal first aid training commenced so early, and yet, on reflection, medical skills were essential for members stationed in remote areas a long way from medical help.

Examinations were not initially a prerequisite to promotion in the South Australian Police Force. In November 1874, however, the first examination for promotion to non-commissioned rank was held. Thereafter examinations were held regularly. Police in the Northern Territory, being members of the South Australian Police, were subject to the same examination system until 1911 with the advent of Commonwealth administration. Thereafter, promotions without examinations were reintroduced, a procedure that eventually led to dissatisfaction and the formation of the Northern Territory Police Association in 1939. Training for non-commissioned officers was non-existent in the Northern Territory until 1975. In Canada, such training was routine and introduced in 1889, when the commissioner decreed that corporals, upon appointment would undergo a non commissioned officers course at the Regina Depot for two moths. Thus, the Canadians were far more advanced than their Australian counterparts in this aspect of police administration.

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