Policing Colonial Brisbane


In 1838, an Act for Regulating the Police in the Towns of Parramatta, Windsor, Maitland and other Towns, etc., was passed in New South Wales. The following year the NSW Border Police was established. In May 1842, NSW Border Police units were established for Moreton Bay district. Captain John Clements Wickham arrived to the town as police magistrate in January 1843. In 1846, the Brisbane police force comprised of Chief Constable William Fitzpatrick and four constables.  Fitzpatrick was dismissed in 1850 and was replaced by Samuel Sneyd, later District Constable. Constable Peter Duff Murphy was one of the four constables to walk to streets of Brisbane town in the 1840s. Murphy was born in Dublin in 1806, a Roman Catholic and a plasterer by trade, he was indicted and convicted of street robbery in Dublin City in 1826 and transported to Australia for his natural life on the Countess of Harcourt the same year. He arrived to Sydney in June, 1827.

43. Murphy Peter Duff, 21 yo, literate, Catholic from Dublin, 5'6", sallow, brown eyes and hair, long scar centre of forehead. Source: New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842 for Peter Murphy_Bound Indentures 1827.

Murphy was granted Ticket of Leave in 1842 and a Conditional Pardon five years later under extraordinary circumstances. Prior to joining the Brisbane Police in the mid-1840s, he accompanied Messrs Leslie and Arthur Hodgson on their pioneer expedition of the Darling Downs. Twice they were attacked by the local Aboriginals and 'each time Murphy showed such gallantry in standing by his employer,' that upon their return Leslie petitioned Governor Gipps for remission of Murphy's sentence. Before being granted  Ticket-of-Leave, Muprhy was serving as a District Constable in Port Macquarie. ("Queensland Pioneers", Cairns Post, 5 Jul 1938, p. 10) It was not unknown for a convict man serve as a policeman, the three men recruited before Murphy were convicts and 'leavers' as well. ('Letters Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland received 1822-1860', SLQ A2 Series).

Constable Muprhy, an emancipated 'lifer' from Dublin remained with the police until 1864, resigning in the rank of an Acting Chief Constable, well after Queensland gained political freedom by separating from New South Wales.

Queensland at one time formed a portion of what was included under the general name of New South Wales, and, like the district Sydney proper, was a penal settlement. This ceased to be in 1842; and in 1859 the district of Moreton Bay was erected into an independent colony, under the title of Queensland.
— Illustrated Times, London 1863
QPF Act.png

Queensland Police Force

Prior to separation in 1859, the area now known as Queensland was governed from Sydney as part of the colony of New South Wales.

In 1850, the Act for the Regulation of the Police Force in NSW (14 Vic, No. 38) provided for establishment of a colonial police headed by an Inspector General supported by a network of provincial inspectors. The proclamation of the act ended locally organised police forces in NSW and the domination of the police by the magistracy. In 1852, however, the 1850 Act was disallowed and replaced by the Police Rgulations Act, reinstating magisterial authority. The same year, William Colburn Mayne (born in Dublin), was appointed Inspector General of Police (1852-56). In 1850 while on Legislative Committee he recommended the local police be reorganised along the lines of the Irish Constabulary. He further suggested the local force be disbanded and replaced by men brought over from Ireland. (Lindsay).

By Letters Patent and an Order-in-Council issued by Queen Victoria on 6 June 1859, Queensland was created as a separate colony. Favouritism of the Irish model persisted. Among numerous the Duties of the Inspector General of the Police in Queensland outlined in the Colonial Secretary Papers, 1859-63, one was 'to perform the general duties of the Commandant of the Native Police Force; and to regulate the drill and discipline, dressage of the English Police Force (this should be done as early as circumstances will permit according to the rules of the Police Force in Ireland).' (1860, 69)

Following the separation, the nascent force was mainly concerned with policing Brisbane; the rural areas remained under the jurisdiction of the NSW legislation, even after the QLD Parliament was established in 1860. This taxed the numbers of policemen on duty as the prisoners had to be escorted to Sydney to stand trial. Finally, in 1863, a separate police act was promulgated which took effect on 1 January 1864. 'Candidates with previous service with the Irish Constabulary, urban police or any military/ law enforcement agency were actively sought out for the service. The majority of the Queensland rank and file had Irish links, and officers displayed a strong Irish presence, especially so during the earlier years of the force.' (Dukova, 151) 

D T Seymour, PM 2273


In 1864, the population of Queensland was 75,000 with a police contingent of 339 men in a colony stretching over 400,000 miles squared. Of the total strength of the QP, 176 were ordinary constables, and the remaining 163 were members of the Native Mounted Police. (AR 1865) The structure of the organisation was complex and costly to run. In order to accommodate the diverse needs of the colonial topography the following branches made up the force: Water or River Police, Border Police (1839-1865), Native Police and the City or Metropolitan Branch. David Thompson Seymour headed the Queensland Police Force from its inception until 1895. Commissioner of Police Seymour was born and grew up in Ballymore Castle, Galway. Between 1860 and 1909, a total of 1283 Irishmen, approximately 34 per cent of the intake, joined the Queensland Police Force. Seymour's father was a barrister, high-sheriff and lieutenant-colonel of the Galway Militia (Richards, 87) Seymour himself joined the British Army as an ensign at the age of 25, he was promoted to lieutenant in the 12th Regiment following two years of service. 'A detachment from this unit under Seymour's command arrived at Brisbane in 1861. Within a year he became aide-de-camp to George Bowen, the colony's first governor.' (Richards)

W E Parry-Okeden, PM 2274

William Edward Parry-Okeden (1895-1905), Seymour's successor, was Australian-born of English heritage. His service career began with his enrolment in Melbourne in the Volunteer Force.  Parry-Okeden was appointed Commissioner in 1895 and assumed his duties in July of that year. He began his tenure by introducing structural changes to the existing Detective force and establishing the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) in lieu. This structural re-ogranisation and the title were modelled on the detective unit of the London Metropolitan Police which was established two decades earlier. 

 Detectives PM0064. Source: Queensland Police Museum and Archives

Detectives PM0064. Source: Queensland Police Museum and Archives


The Detective Office began on 1 December 1864, 11 months after the inauguration of the Queensland Police Force on January 1. Samuel Joseph Lloyd was placed as the officer in charge of the new branch. Lloyd immigrated to Australia from Ireland and joined the Victoria Police Force in 1855, where he served as a Detective for nearly a decade prior to joining the Queensland Police. Lloyd was OIC of the Detective Branch on and off for the next 32 years, until he retired in February 1896. The number of Detectives in the Office was nominal and drawn basically from the best police officers in Brisbane. There were 2 classes – Detective Constable 1/c and Detective Constable 2/c. Employed only on a part-time basis, the Detectives spent the other part of their time carrying out ordinary police duties. They received no extra pay despite the complicated character of their work and the long hours they often worked in criminal detection. In 1895, Parry-Okened restructured the Office into the specalised Branch, 'half of the men that formed the Queensland CIB were hand-picked, and had previous experience in law enforcement, ranging from the New Zealand Armed Constabulary to the Dublin Metropolitan Police and London Metropolitan Police.' (Dukova, 185)


A Brisbane city policeman was truly a jack-of-all-trades. Apart from the extensive policingduties (peace preservation, crime prevention, prosecution, beats), duties, he was expected to fill in the gaps in the civil service system. The services hitherto performed by him were not at all police duties, but occupied a considerable portion of a policeman’s time. Even well into the twentieth century, the extraneous duties list contained on average fifty to eighty tasks. In his first report to the Parliament, Seymour alluded to these services, namely ‘summons-serving, acting as Clerks of Petty Sessions, rangers of Crown lands, inspectors of Slaughter-houses, district registrars of births, deaths, and marriages, and bailiffs of Courts of Requests - none of which duties are legitimately those of constables.’ For example, according to the Police Court report printed by the Brisbane Courier, James Lovett appeared to answer a summons for breaching a Town’s Police Act, when he was ordered to pay a total of 10 shillings (a fine and costs of court) for depositing manure on the North Quay (city centre). How much police time this took up can only be imagined.


Source: Depositions and Minute Books - Police Court. 01/07/1864-15/03/1865 [QSA Item ID 97091].

beat constables

No person shall be appointed Constable unless he shall be of sound constitution able-bodied and under the age of forty years of good character for honesty fidelity and activity and able to read and write. 

‘Sir, I respectfully offer myself a Candidate as Constable in the Queensland Police Force’ – all candidates for admission into the Queensland Police Force had to apply in person, with an application in their own handwriting, and such testimonials as they may have. Despite complaints from country hopefuls, who found it difficult to travel to the colonial capital, all men wishing to be considered for the position had to assemble at the Police Depot on Wednesday at 9 o’clock in the morning. The applicants had to be of sound constitution, stand clear at least 5 feet 8 inches without their boots, with chest measurements of 36 inches minimum and 38 inches when expanded. All men had to be free from any bodily complaint. Each applicant was assessed by a medical officer. Initially, the age bar was set to under 40 years old, but was shortly lowered to 30 years old.

The conditions of service were arduous and around the clock. The line of duty of the colonial city beat policeman was as extensive and as diverse as that of a Dublin or London bobby: as we have seen, it included an array of responsibilities which ranged from enforcing trading hours to traffic control and from carrying out arrests to recovering missing children. The majority of supernumeraries listed their previous occupation as ‘labourers’, which frequently meant farmers who were not used to rigidly regulated duties. The first years, saw unprecedented turnover of police constables. It was not unknown for a policeman to fall asleep on his beat. Constable Thomas Archibald McArthur (Reg No 1717), Queensland, was fined ten shillings for falling asleep on duty. On the 7 April, 1913, at a quarter after one o’clock at night “while posted for beat duty, found lying asleep on a seat in a park off Leichardt Street.” Constable McArthur resigned later the same year.

The duties of police a beat Constables were extensive, arduous, and often dangerous or at least extremely unpleasant. After drunkenness and common assaults, misdemeanours against Constables on duty formed the most prominent sub-category tried at the City Police Court. Throughout the nineteenth century, one of the most prevalent offences was destroying a policeman’s uniform. Nearly every other arrest would result in some damage. The degree of damage often varied and ranged from merely a button being bitten off to torn ‘tunic, waistcoat and shirt’.

Depositions and Minute Books 

On September 28, 1864, Constable Michael McKiernan deposed that he has arrested Edward Underwood who was lying drunk on a thoroughfare in Ann Street, Fortitude Valley. The defendant pleaded not guilty. McKiernan swore that the previous evening at half past seven he was on Ann Street where he found the defendant lying drunk on the footway. When asked where he lived, he said ‘any place’ and as no further information was given the Constable took him into custody. On the way to the lockup the defendant resisted violently and struck McKiernan with both hands and feet and tore his tunic, waistcoat and shirt. Underwood was very disorderly and remained so in the lock-up. He was fined 40 shillings including damages.

Long and tedious hours on the beat, wore out not only policemen’s boots and uniforms but their general health as well. Particularly common ailments were rheumatoid arthritis, pleuritis, pneumonia, tuberculosis (‘phthisis’), bronchitis and any contagious diseases rampant at the time (e.g. scarlatina, typhoid fever).



Act for regulating the Police in the Town and Port of Sydney and for removing and Preventing Nuisances and Obstructions therein, 1833 (4 William IV Act No. 7)

Act for the Regulation of the Police Force in New South Wales, 1850 (14 Vic, No.38)

Act for the regulation of the Police Force, 1852 (16 Vic No 33)

Act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the Police Force, 1862 (25 Vic No 16) 

Colonial Secretary Papers, 1822-1860; 1859-63, A2 Series, State Library of Queensland.

Convict Indents, 1788-1842, Peter Murphy Bound Indentures 1827, NSW Archives (digital image accessible via www.ancestry.com.au)

Depositions and Minute Books - Police Court. 01/07/1864-15/03/1865, Queensland State Archives, Item ID 97091.

Dukova, A. A History of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Its Colonial Legacy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Lindsay, P. True Blue: 150 Years of Service and Sacrifice of the NSW Police Force. Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers, 2012. 

Report of the Commissioner of Police for the Year 1864. QPS Museum and Archives

Richards, J. The Secret War: A True History of Queensland's Native Police. Brisbane: UQP, 2008.