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A brief history of the Northern Territory Police Force 

The Northern Territory Police Force is the oldest institution in the Territory.

It has a rich and diverse history dating back to 1870.

1900 - 1930
1931 - 1960
1961 - 1990
1991 - 2020


Policing in the Northern Territory began when Government Resident B.T. Finniss appointed seven Special Rural Constabulary to assist with the maintenance of law and order at the Escape Cliffs settlement. The seven men also acted as stockmen and explorers. The settlement failed and was abandoned in 1867.



Sub-Inspector Paul Foelsche arrived in Darwin with six officers. Total force of the Northern Territory Mounted Police comprised on 1 Inspector, 1 Corporal and 5 Constables. 


The officers arrived without horses or other transportation and relied initially on the facilities and resources of Goyder's Camp to conduct police business.


Constable William Davis was the first member of the Northern Territory Mounted Police to lose his life whilst serving the community of the Northern Territory. 


Constable Davis joined the Northern Territory Mounted Police in September 1872 and was assigned to the water police. On 15 November, Davis finished his shift and went for a night time swim near the wharf. He was taken by a crocodile in Darwin Harbour.


On 1 July 1874, Paul Foelsche was promoted to the rank of Inspector for the Northern Territory Police. This was the first documented mention of the police force for being referred to by that name instead of the Northern Territory Mounted Police.


The first police officer to die in the line of duty in the Northern Territory was Mounted Constable John Shirley, aged 27 years. He died of dehydration near Attack Creek. 


On 7 November 1883, Shirley and a rescue party of eight men and 18 horses set out in search of missing pastoralist Harry Readford and his party, who had reportedly been attacked by a band of Aboriginal people. Readford and his party were later reported safe. Unfortunately, Shirley and the rest of the rescue party, except the telegraph operator and a local Indigenous boy, died of thirst. 


On his retirement, Foelsche had served 48 years with South Australia Police (SAPOL), 34 of which were as the leader of the Northern Territory Police. He had grown the police force from a body of six (including himself) to an organisation of 50 members. After his retirement, Foelsche remained in Darwin, continuing his interests of botany, anthropology and photography.


In January 1904, Inspector Waters was appointed as the leader of the Northern Territory Police. On 14 August 1872, Waters joined SAPOL and transferred to Palmerston (now Darwin) with the rank of Trooper First Class, some ten years later. Spending the majority of his career in Palmerston, Waters was promoted to Sub-Inspector in February 1903, whilst acting for Foelsche who was ill at the time. Waters was also the Crown Prosecutor and had prosecuted 39 murder cases, some of which ended with capital punishment.  


On 1 January 1911, the Northern Territory Police came under the control of the Commonwealth Government with the handover of the Northern Territory from South Australia to the Commonwealth. 


Inspector Waters retired on 29 August 1923, due to illness. He served 40 years in the Northern Territory with a total of 51 years as a police officer. 


That same year, the Police and Police Offences Ordinance 1923-1960 was signed into law. In that document the police force was officially referred to as the Northern Territory Police Force. 


Major George Vernon Dudley became the first Commissioner of the Northern Territory Police Force. 


Major Dudley was the third officer in charge of the Northern Territory Police Force and the first to hold the actual title of Commissioner, appointed 1 March 1924. Prior to this time the power of Commissioner was vested in the Government Resident. 


From 1 March 1927, the Northern Territory was divided into two territories – North Australia and Central Australia. This led to the Northern Territory Police Force being temporarily divided into two police forces – the North Australia Police and the Central Australia Police. Each policing district had its own Government Resident and Commissioner of Police. 

Commissioner George Dudley was made Commissioner of the North Australia Police until his departure in December 1927. The position was then abolished and the duties vested to the Administrator as leader of the North Australian Police.

The Commonwealth Police Force badge was also introduced in 1927 and continued to be used until early 1950.

Sergeant Robert Stott was the first Commissioner of Police for Central Australia until his retirement in 1928; when his office reverted to the Government Resident. Stott died in Adelaide on 5 May 1928, after being struck by a train. Stott Terrace, Alice Springs and a mountain, northeast of Alice Springs are named after him. 


In 1928 a dingo trapper named Fred Brooks was killed by a group of Aboriginal people, near Coniston, northwest of Alice Springs. During investigations into Brooks' killing, Constable W.G. Murray of Barrow Creek and other members in his party shot at least 31 Aboriginal people. 

A government appointed Commission of Enquiry was conducted in January 1929, and found that the shootings were justified. In 2018, Commissioner Reece Kershaw formally apologised for the role of police in the Coniston massacre.


On 1 August 1933, Mounted Constable Albert Stewart McColl was investigating the murder of several trepang fishermen at Woodah Island in Arnhem Land. 


McColl was left in charge of five Aboriginal women, while the rest of his party were conducting investigations. While they were gone, McColl was speared to death. Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda was later charged with McColl's murder and found guilty in the Northern Territory Supreme Court. Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death, but his conviction was quashed on appeal to the High Court. 


In 2003, a reconciliation ceremony was held at the Supreme Court between the Wirrpanda and McColl families, which was instigated by the Wirrpanda family.


Radio receiving and transmitting sets were installed in 1934 at police stations in Daly River, Roper River, Rankine River and Timber Creek. 


In his 1936 report, the Superintendent of Police reported that the Northern Territory Police Force held 432 horses, mules and camels. For an organisation with 40 staff (not including trackers), there were ten 'beasts of burden' for each serving member; requiring feeding, watering, medical attention and use in order to keep them trained. This would have been a considerable proportion of a member's working day. 


The Northern Territory Police Association was first founded in Darwin in 1939. After discovering the existence of a police union in Queensland and police associations in other states; Constable JJ Mannion GM convened a meeting with other police members, on 12 November 1939, to discuss the formation of an association. 


Following the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, the Darwin police barracks and station were both abandoned by police in favour of two houses on McMinn Street. On 6 April 194q, the police finally pulled out due to the application of martial law in Darwin. 

The Brocks Police Station was commandeered by the Australian Army to create the 13th Australian Detention Barracks on 31 March 1942. The barracks accommodated a maximum of 100 prisoners guarded by 20 military police. The barracks remained in operation until late-1945 and was reoccupied by the Northern Territory Police Force on 30 September 1945.

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