Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Rocks Police. Part 2


The last quarter of the 19th century was a busy one for the police in The Rocks.  They moved into a handsome new purpose built police station designed by the Colonial Architect James Barnet on George Street. The Rocks Push and other larrikin gangs became notorious throughout Australia, showing increasing defiance towards the police.  Several disease epidemics also occurred, requiring police to keep the peace and ensure people remained quarantined. There were also large strikes and riots caused by economic depressions and union activity that the police had to control.

The Rocks Police also had to deal with increasing xenophobia towards the Chinese population and accusations from the local community that they were corrupt.  This resulted in a Royal Commission specifically targeting the professionalism and integrity of the men of No.4 Station. Despite this two former Police Commissioners, James Mitchell and Walter Henry Childs, began their careers at The Rocks.

In the 20th century The Rocks Police had to share their station and then vacate it for the US Naval Shore Patrol and deal with the beginnings of organised crime. There was also increasing union activity and protests which they were called on to control. Policing changed dramatically in the 20th century, and as former Police Commissioner Walter Henry Childs (1872–1964) said on his retirement:

 "I take off my hat to the policemen of the old days in Sydney, with no equipment, poor telegraphs, no telephones, slow travelling — it was wonderful how successful they were.”

Throughout all this time The Rocks Police have had a hard and emotionally challenging job. The Rocks was a working class neighbourhood and parts of it displayed crippling poverty and misery. The newspapers of the time were often reporting on bodies found in the harbour, three in one week alone, and there are many reports of newborn infants, both dead and alive, found abandoned in the area.  Alcoholism and violence were extremely common and it was not uncommon for The Rocks Police to find a body suffering from the effects of either or both.

The new No 4 Station, 127 George Street

In the 1870s a scarlet fever epidemic prompted the government to appoint the Sydney City and Suburban Sewage and Health Board in 1876 to report on sub-standard buildings and sanitary conditions. All of the police buildings in Sydney were inspected, resulting in a rebuilding program which transformed Sydney’s police stations. 

The Harrington Street Watch House not been used since 1847, leaving the Cumberland Street Watch House as the principal station. It was condemned in the 1876 Sewerage and Health Board report to the Colonial Secretary and became so notorious for its dreadful condition that the newspapers printed articles about it. 

Figure 1. Harrington Street Watch House (1829–1847) photographed c. 1882, located directly behind 127 George Street. This photo has been previously misidentified as Cumberland Street Watch House. (Mitchell Library GPO 1 – 06975)
Figure 2. Cumberland Street Lockup (1829–1882) served as the principal police station for the north part of the city from 1847 until replaced by 127 George Street. (Illustrated Australasian News, 29 June 1881)
Smallpox broke out in Sydney in 1881 and one of the places reported to be affected was the Cumberland Street Watch House, sealing its fate. The local police were heavily involved in this epidemic, ensuring people remained quarantined and supervising inoculations.

Figure 3. Smallpox care in Sydney. Illustrated Sydney News 9 July 1881
Figure 4. Former police station copy of tracing from original plans dated 17 July 1880 from Public Works Department. (Source: 2004 CMP, citing copy held by Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority)
Figure 5. 127 George Street c. 1890, the ‘new No. 4 Police Station’ Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority Historic Image collection
The Cumberland Street Watch House was demolished after the police moved into their new station at 127 George Street in 1883. It was known as No 4 Station and its new sub-inspector was
Alexander Atwill (1838–1912). He had served in the Royal Irish Constabulary from 1856 until his departure for Sydney in 1864. On arrival he immediately joined the NSW Police Force and was stationed at the Cumberland Street Watch House. Atwill was deployed at the Mint in Macquarie Street from 1870–82 before being appointed sub-inspector in charge of the newly completed No 4 Station, replacing Samuel Dillon Johnston (1824–1907) who had retired.


Figure 6. Group outside No 4 Station, The Rocks, c. 1895, which includes Constable Alexander Mackie. The seated figure in the centre is probably Sub-Inspector Alexander Atwill. Original in possession of Mackie’s descendant, Patricia Punch.
 A total of 76 police were attached to The Rocks in 1891 including 18 men in Balmain and five in Manly, two at the Colonial Secretary’s Office, two at the Lands Department, one at the Library, five at the ‘Station’  (i.e. in the offices at 127 George Street), and four at the Police Court. There were never more than five men on duty during the day and eight at night in the city portion of No 4 station.[1]

Philip Sweeney (1830–96) served with The Rocks police from 1858 until his retirement in 1892. In later years he was the lockup keeper, and in 1891 Sweeney told the Royal Commission that the station sergeant and the ‘reserve man’ serve 12 hour shifts, from 10am to 10pm, and 10pm to 10am. He said that women would bring dinners down to their husbands who had been arrested in Moy Ping’s gambling house[2] and “complain of their husbands spending their money in the gambling houses and leaving them without food.”[3]  The majority of people that Sweeney had to look after were locked up for drunkenness and gambling. But this gives us in insight into the running of No 4 Station and the long shifts the police worked.

Figure 7. Cartoon by Norman Lindsay from the Bulletin, 1901, satirising the police. 
Charges of police corruption 1891–2
Anti-Chinese sentiment was rife in Australia following the gold rushes of the 1850s. By the 1870s The Rocks had a substantial Chinese community. The Bulletin maintained an anti-Chinese stance publishing derogatory cartoons about Chinese reinforcing these prejudices.[4] In 1891, European business owners in Lower George Street formed The Anti-Chinese Gambling League claiming that their businesses suffered from the behaviour of their Chinese neighbours. Alleging filthy, overcrowded houses that were used for gambling, opium smoking and prostitution, The League claimed that the Chinese openly solicited the entrance of men and women passing by, creating a cultural enclave dependent upon police corruption for its continued existence. They lobbied NSW Parliament until a Royal Commission was appointed.

The Royal Commission on Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality and Charges of Bribery Against Members of the Police Force [5] largely focussed on The Rocks, where it was alleged the police of No 4 Station were accepting bribes from the Chinese.

Figure 8. Cartoon commenting on the perceived relationship between The Rocks police and the operators of Chinese opium and gambling dens. Bulletin, 1890s.
Atwill, Sergeant Bartholomew Higgins, and others were questioned on their dealings with the Chinese community. Higgins was asked to justify his property portfolio which included almost a dozen buildings in The Rocks and a block of land at Lane Cove.  Sub-Inspector Atwill had undoubtedly made enemies during more than 30 years as a policeman. At the Commission he had been accused of:

(1) taking receipt of a bookcase at no cost from Ah Toy, cabinet maker of Lower George St in 1891, (2) demanded a present of £100 from a publican, (3) had said to a photographer that he should supply photographs freely of himself and his family, and that other tradesmen in the area should likewise supply goods “in consideration of the protection he afforded them”, (4) induced a shopkeeper (Dawson) to smuggle a quantity of tobacco and cigars ashore for his personal use.[6]

Higgins’ neighbour in Gloucester Street, John Kearney (1847–93), was also questioned about property in The Rocks that he had acquired when serving as a Senior Sergeant. Kearney had served in The Rocks from 1872–85. In 1884 he broke his leg following a 30ft fall from a roof of a house in George Street after pursuing a burglar over roofs.[7] As a result of the accident Kearney was pensioned out of the Police Force. Unable to support his wife and eight children on a police pension he found employment as a caretaker at the morgue in George Street. [8]

The Commission found that all of the allegations against the police were baseless.

Police death in the course of duty
Senior Constable Henry Murrow (1869–1897) of No 4 Station died from an injury received on duty. Born in England, Murrow had settled with his parents in New Zealand where he joined the New Zealand Police Force before moving to Sydney and joining the NSW Police Force in 1883.

On 4 October 1897, Murrow, while on duty in The Rocks was hailed by Jane Jones, publican of the Orient Hotel who was having trouble with a drunken patron, Daniel Conway. Jones asked Murrow to move Conway along. This he did, requesting that Conway go home. Conway left with another man, walking south along George Street, closely followed by Murrow, as witnessed by George Howlett. Nearing the Port Jackson Hotel (now the Russell Hotel) on the corner of Globe Street, Conway’s companion was swearing, at which point Murrow overtook them and clasped his hand on the man’s shoulder. This resulted in a fight during which Murrow struck his head on the woodblock paving of George Street. Howlett intervened, helping Murrow to his feet. Conway then fled back towards Argyle Street and Howlett assisted Murrow to the nearby No 4 Police Station.

Murrow was escorted to Sydney Hospital where wound was dressed. It appeared to be minor so Murrow was dismissed. Meanwhile Conway was delivered into the custody of water police Constable William Cleugh who took him to the Water Police Station in Phillip Street where he was charged with assaulting Morrow while he was on duty.

At 10.30pm at his home at Paddington, Murrow lost consciousness and died around 12.30am. Doctors were summoned and determined that he had concussion, an autopsy confirmed it. Conway, was charged with murder but convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced to six months hard labour at Darlinghurst Gaol.[9]

Figure 9. Daniel Conway, photographed in 1897 at Darlinghurst Gaol for the manslaughter of Constable Henry Murrow of No 4 Station. (NSW State Records NRS 2138, photo 7218)
The pushes
The Rocks Push became one of Australia’s most well known street gangs, made up of ‘larrikins’, young unruly men without respect for authority. They were not the only gang in the area, there was also the Millers Point Push, the Argyle Cut Push, the Green Push made up of Catholics and the Orange Push comprising Protestants. As well as fighting among themselves the pushes also had battles with others around Sydney, such as the Glebe Push, the Straw Hat Push, the Forty Thieves from Surry Hills and the Gibb Street Mob.

The Rocks push became famous or infamous for several reasons, their leader, or captain, was Albert Griffiths, popularly known at the time as “Young Griffo” who became the world featherweight boxing champion in 1890. Fighting skill was essential to lead these gangs and Larry Foley, another famous boxer, was the captain of the Green Push.

Figure 10. Young Griffo (Wikipedia)
Figure 11. Larry Foley (NLA http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn3060380)
The Rocks Push was known for their specialty for robbing people unfamiliar with the area. They also engaged in union activity and riots, such as the riot at the ASN Company offices in George Street in 1878, which the Police had to break up with horses and batons. 


Figure 12. The 1878-9 Maritime Workers Strike, the riot in George Street. (Ref unknown possibly Illustrated Sydney news)
During the early 1890s they intimidated men finding work at the Labour Bureau, objecting that these men were strike breakers and lowered working conditions.  The push was responsible for kicking to death at least two sailors, but it will remain unknown how many other people were robbed and assaulted by them.  Several of their members were flogged for throwing blue metal at police and knocking one unconscious.  They appear to remain a force in the area until the outbreak of World War 1.

Figure 13. The Bulletin 9 June 1900 suggesting London Police could help with the problems of the pushes. (Scanned by SHFA from Microfiche University of Sydney Fisher Library)
After the war the police then had to contend with a new menace, the beginnings of organised crime and the black market economy. There were two murders in The Rocks that have been attributed to organised crime. The first was the shooting of Reginald Holmes in 1935. Holmes was a star witness in the ‘Shark Arm Murder’ and he was found on Hickson Road in his car with three gunshots the morning he was to testify. A local anecdote relates that guns used in the Shark Arm Murders were stored in the chimney of a terrace in Atherden Street that was searched by police, but they weren’t found.

Figure 14. Reginald Lloyd Holmes (Scratching Sydney’s Surface http://scratchingsydneyssurface.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/20-feb-09-shark-arms/)
 The other murder occurred in 1956 in broad daylight outside the Australian Hotel in Cumberland Street.  The sheer audacity of the crime led police to believe that it was an organised hit, however no one has ever been charged.  A plaque has been placed on the pub that reads:

"John William Manners was shot dead outside The Australian Hotel on June 8 1956. George Joseph Hacket was detained for Manners murder but was acquitted of the crime at the Central Criminal Court on October 25 1956. No one since has been tried for John Manners' murder"

United States Navy Shore Patrol (1942–47) 
In December 1941 the United States entered the Second World War and following the fall of the Philippines, General Douglas Macarthur relocated to Australia. Sydney became a major supply base for the operations, and an important naval base for the repair of US Naval ships.

Figure 15. US Navy coming ashore at Dawes Point. (Mitchell Library GPO_49699)
The United States Navy Shore Patrol took over use of the five cells and both exercise yards from 29 July 1942, and then on 8 March 1943 the entire building. The purpose was to ensure order among US Naval personnel while on shore leave.[10]

The Sydney Morning Herald carried a brief report of an escape from 127 George Street on 2 November 1942:
U.S. SAILORS ESCAPE FROM LOCK-UP
Four American sailors escaped from the George Street North police station yesterday afternoon by smashing the iron grille over the exercise yard. Openings were made between the bars large enough for them to squeeze through. The sailors were being held in custody by the U.S. Navy shore patrol, and police were asked to assist in recapturing them.

The necessity for a shore patrol is illustrated by another episode, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 May 1944:
Man Wounded by U.S. Patrol
Three shots were fired by a member of the U.S. Navy shore patrol in George Street, near the. Victory Theatre, at 1.15 last night after two naval ratings had escaped from the patrol wagon. One bullet ricocheted from a wall and struck George Wilbur Woody, a U.S. Navy storekeeper, who was standing in a big crowd outside the theatre. Police officers consider that it was a fortunate chance that other persons in the crowd were not struck by the .38 bullets.

In August 2009 in the roof space above the northern cells a series of artefacts relating to the United States Navy’s use of the building were found. They were a number of cigarette and chewing gum packets, a ciphered telegram, match boxes, a tinware dish, and pages of newspapers from 8–10 October 1942. 

The three green Lucky Strike cigarette packets have US Sea Stores Custom labels, confirming that they arrived via the US Navy supply system. Lucky Strike changed their packaging from green to white in 1942, and so these packets date to the first year of the US Navy’s occupation of the building.  After 1941, to protect the reputation of its brands after supplies of top-grade ingredients became limited, the company took Wrigley's Spearmint, Doublemint and Juicy Fruit off the civilian market and the entire production was sent to the troops.  The artefacts were all in close association and were probably all deposited at the same time, although what someone was doing in the roof space is still a mystery.  It is unlikely that the escapees reported in November 1942 were held for a month in these cells.

Figure 16. Artefacts found above cells in former Police Station 2009. SHFA
Traffic Police (1950–74)
On 11 March 1950 127 George Street was resumed by the NSW Police as offices, and the whole building occupied by the Traffic Division of No 4 Station, which included the Special Parking Police. The main station continued to be based at Phillip Street until 1983.
In 1900 the control of traffic came under the jurisdiction of the NSW Police, largely due to the introduction of electric tramways in Sydney which shared the public streets with horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians.

Figure 17. A constable from No 4 Station on traffic patrol (centre, in white helmet) in Hunter Street, c. 1905. (Mitchell Library GPO 1 34744)
Traffic patrol had been a part of No 4 Station for some time. Indeed, one of the earliest casualties of the electric trams was Constable Black:
When on duty at the corner of George-street and Circular Quay on Saturday morning Constable Black, of No 4 Police Station, became jammed between two passing trams. One of the cars struck him heavily, fracturing two of his ribs and inflicting other injuries to the body. Black, who lives in Argyle-street, Miller's Point, was removed by the Australian Ambulance to Sydney Hospital, where he received treatment.[11]
The increase in car ownership had put a heavy strain on the streets of Sydney, designed as they originally were for foot, or at best horse drawn transport. Electric trams and cars appeared around the same time. By the 1930s car traffic congestion was becoming a problem in Sydney, and in 1937 there was talk of phasing out trams, and extending the public bus service. Postponed by the intervention of World War II, it was not until the early 1950s that the scheme was put into action[12]. Trams were gone from Sydney by the end of 1961.

Traffic lights were introduced to London in May 1933.[13] Five months later Sydney’s commenced operation at the corner of Kent and Market streets.[14] Gradually mechanisation relieved the police of general point duty at intersections. Technology and regulations took much of the professional police roll out of the Traffic Police. Gradually the role of traffic police was taken over by clerical staff attached to the Police Force.[15]

On 2 November 1974 the NSW Police Force finally vacated 127 George Street, handing it over to the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA). The Traffic Police relocated to another SCRA building; 16–18 Grosvenor Street, along with the Police Records Division. In 1983 the police returned to The Rocks (renamed The Rocks Local Area Command) following the closure of the Phillip Street Station (now the Justice and Police Museum). The former ASNCo Hotel at 91 George Street was leased from SCRA and refurbished for their use. They remained here until moving to larger premises across the street at 132 George Street in 1997 where they still remain. The NSW Police can therefore demonstrate a presence of more than 200 years in The Rocks, 92 years of which were spent at 127 George Street. There are five extant buildings in The Rocks that have served as police premises; Cadman’s Cottage (Water Police 1847–58), 127–129 George Street (No 4 Station 1882–1974), 16–18 Grosvenor Street (Traffic and Records 1974–90), 91 George Street (1983–97) and 132 George Street (1997 – present).




[1] CGC p458
[2] Moy Ping lived in Harrington Street in the 1870–80s and operated as a merchant from 208 George Street.
[3] CGC p267
[4] See Fitzgerald, S. (1997): Red Tape Gold Scissors (State Library of NSW) and Lydon, J. (1999): Many Inventions: the Chinese in the Rocks, Sydney, 1890–1930. (Monash Publications in History)
[5] CGC
[6] CGC p23
[7] SMH 6 Oct 1884, p6
[8] John Kearney: Register of Police Appointments (NSW State Records).
[9] Daily Telegraph, 7 and 8 October 1897.
[10] The NSW Police Property Cards for the building detail changes to the building from 1915–1974. The transferral of the head station to Phillip Street in 1933 would have meant an overall increase in cell accommodation, although a police presence was maintained at 127 George Street up until 1943 when the US Navy took over all of the building. From 1950 the Traffic and Special Parking Police would have had little, if any, use for cell accommodation. It is likely therefore that the two rooms were converted to cells during the US Navy’s occupation from 1942 – c. 47, and therefore the action failed to be recorded in the NSW Police’s property cards. 
[11] SMH 9 Sept 1901, p8
[12] SMH 26 May 1953, p2
[13] SMH 13 May 1933, p18
[14] SMH 13 Oct 1933, p11
[15] In 1996 the State Debt Recovery Office relieved the NSW Police of the task altogether.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Policing The Rocks. Part 1, 1788 – 1880.

When the British arrived in Sydney in 1788 there was no provision made for ‘policing’ the new settlement. Arthur Phillip’s commission empowered him to:

"appoint constables and other necessary officers and ministers in our said territory and its dependencies for the better administration of justice and putting the law in execution".

However, policing in Britain was less than proficient, so he had no model to base the establishment of a law enforcement agency upon.

Watchmen, called Charlies after King Charles II who introduced them, were the first paid keepers of the peace in London, but they were rather ineffectual and it was a job for old men.

Charlies were often ridiculed by the people of London. The Bow Street Runners were formed in 1748 and they have been credited as Britain’s first professional police force. In 1829, Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police of London. They became known as Bobbies, a name that has stuck with English Police.

Figure 1. ‘Tom Getting the Best of A Charley’. George Cruikshank 1820. Museum of London Prints.

The Royal Marines who accompanied the First Fleet refused to carry out the duties of a police force. Their commander, Major Robert Ross, stated that his men were soldiers, not prison guards, and it was insulting to His Majesty’s Regiments to expect them to act in such a role. They did agree to guard the settlement and patrol at night.

Governor Phillip appointed freeman James Smith as a ‘peace officer’ but he retired after a brief period, he was deemed too old and infirm to be effective.

By 1789, scarcely a night passed when there was not a theft of some kind. After six marines were executed in March 1789 for stealing provisions when the colony was close to starvation, it became obvious that some form of organised law enforcement was needed.

In July 1789, convict John Harris went to Collins with a proposal for a night watch to be established from among the convicts to deal with all those found away from their huts at "improper hours". Collins commented that:

"It was to be wished, that a watch established for the preservation of public and private property had been formed of free people, and that necessity had not compelled us in selecting the first members of our little police, to be appointed from a body of men in whose eyes, it could not be denied, the property of individuals had never been sacred. But there was not any choice convicts who had any property were themselves interested in defeating such practises [as theft]".

This first night watch consisted of 12 well-behaved convicts and was split into four divisions. The Rocks watch patrolled from the hospital to the observatory, approximately Globe Street to Dawes Point. In November 1789, Collins wrote that the night watch had been very effective, there were fewer crimes and the culprits were usually caught.

On 1 February 1790, Governor Phillip advised Lord Sydney of "the institution of a night watch to control robberies (particularly of vegetables and poultry) was immediately effective” and that there was “no robbery in three months". The night watch were held in "fear and detestation" by their fellow convicts. Convicted pick-pocket George Barrington arrived in Sydney in 1791 and was almost immediately appointed a police constable guarding the colony’s stores. He later became Chief Constable at Parramatta.

Figure 2. ‘Barrington Detected Picking the Pocket of Prince Orlow’, 1790, by Inigo Barlow. Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia.

During 1789, Governor Phillip also formed a row boat guard whose primary duties were to police the harbour and foreshores of Sydney Cove to detect smuggling and prevent the passing of letters between convicts and crews of sailing vessels at anchor. As a fore-runner to the water police, the row boat guard was a policing organisation that would have a long association with The Rocks.

In response to growing public disorder and the difficulty in policing an expanding city, Governor Hunter divided the town of Sydney into four divisions and directed residents to number their houses; each division elected and paid for their own watchmen who were instructed to report drunkenness, gambling and loitering. To discourage and locate absconding convicts, they were also empowered to request identification from people outside the division of their residence.

As the colony grew, so did the duties and size of its fledgling police force. The Sydney Foot Police Force was established in 1790, there were 36 Constables serving by 1800. The Sydney Foot Police Force continued as an organised force (later known as Sydney Police) until the amalgamation of all New South Wales colonial police forces in 1862. The Row Boat Guard was at various times, both an independent water police and also part of Sydney Police.

In 1803, the first death of a police officer in NSW occurred when Constable Joseph Luker was beaten to death with his own cutlass, two of his fellow constables were suspected of the death but it was never proven. The one man who did face the hangman’s noose was reprieved after three attempts to hang him failed.

Figure 3. ‘The Death of Constable Luker’. Pen and ink by Danny Webster, 2003

In 1810, Governor Macquarie re-organised the police force and changed the division of the town into five districts, each to have a watch house and district constable. Six watch houses were built within Sydney’s five metropolitan police districts.

The Rocks was divided into two districts separated by Globe Street, the original boundary of the night watch; watch houses were built soon after in Cumberland and Harrington streets.

The Harrington Street building, in all likelihood, stood directly behind 127 George Street, where a replacement was constructed in 1829 and which stood until 1911.

The original Cumberland Street watch house is believed to have been at 188 Cumberland Street until it was replaced by another opposite the site of Lilyvale (176 Cumberland Street) in 1829 . The second Cumberland Street watch house served as the principal station for Sydney north district from 1847 until it was replaced by the property at 127 George Street in 1882.

Figure 4. The Harrington Street watch house, photographed c. 1882; it has been misidentified as the Cumberland Street watch house. From SHFA Historic Image Collection.

Ex-convicts still dominated the police in the 1820s according to Alexander Harris: “....at this time almost every constable in Sydney and indeed in the colony had been a prisoner of the crown; I believe there were two or three old soldiers in the force, but their principals were not a whit superior, so far as I heard and observed, to those of the convict class."

The competence of watchmen was often called into question, and reported on in the press. All the appointments and dismissals, and their reasons why were published.

There were numerous articles on constables around The Rocks being asleep or drunk on duty, and people being locked up for drunkenness losing their valuables. The constables were mostly ex-convicts and it paid to become one—at least in rum, as a constable was issued with two gallons of rum and the chief constable received five gallons.

As maligned as they were, the police in The Rocks in those early years had a really tough job. They received no training, were enormously disliked, especially by other ex-convicts who saw them as class traitors, and they had to police a neighbourhood that wasn’t known for its law-abiding population, or respect for authority.

Even so, these constables and their families lived in The Rocks and were an integral part of the community they policed.

In 1833, the Sydney Police Force was established with 84 men, by 1839 the number of police increased to 128.

In the early 1840s transportation to NSW ceased and Sydney became incorporated as a city.

For the Sydney Foot Police, this meant a reduction in numbers and wages as they were being paid by the city and not the colonial government. These cuts started to show with only 89 constables remaining by 1843. The following year their wages were again reduced to three shillings a day. The newly incorporated City of Sydney Council of 1843 was unable to levy rates needed to pay police officers now under their control.

In 1844, the citizens of Sydney had a public meeting requesting the increase of police numbers. One of the points they raised was that from Dawes Point to Pitt Street there was ‘scarcely any property that was not committed to the protection of private watchmen and the reason was there were not enough policemen’. They believed the numbers of ex-convicts from Van Diemans Land and Norfolk Island moving into the city made an increase in police numbers a necessity. There had also been two horrendous murders in The Rocks that year.

One was committed by John Knatchbull, a Norfolk Island expiree, with a ticket of leave, who was the brother of Sir Edward Knatchbull. He went into the shop of a poor widow, named Ellen Jamieson. While she was serving him, he bashed her head in with a tomahawk. She died a few days later, leaving two orphan children. Knatchbull was hung at Taylor Square in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. His brother sent money to educate the children.

Figure 5. John Knatchbull. c.1844 Artist unknown. From National Portrait Gallery

The other victim was Thomas Warne, whose was murdered by his valet. This murder was discovered when Warne’s partly burned and dismembered body spilled out of a barrel on George Street as the valet was trying to dispose of it. He had raised suspicion by attempting to employ some watermen to take the barrel into the harbour and dump it, telling them it contained pork which had gone bad.

The demographic of The Rocks in the 1840s started to change. There were less convicts assigned to The Rocks, free immigrants and Australian-born residents became a larger part of the population and ex-convicts were older with jobs, homes and families.

That’s not to say that the place was heaven to police; it was a port town and they can get pretty rowdy. Sailors started riots on several occasions; two of the most notorious were in 1841 and 1851. In both instances the watch houses came under attack and were almost destroyed.

Figure 6. Harrington Street Watch House building. Although the Harrington St Watch House ceased functioning as such in the 1840s the building remained until c. 1911. It is in the centre of the image above marked with the “X”. From SHFA Historic Image Collection.

In 1850, all the police units, including the Sydney Foot Police, the Water Police, and Mounted Police , came under the New South Wales Police Regulation Act which placed all police NSW under the control of an inspector general. But two years later, the Act was rejected by the British Parliament and the inspector general's power was reduced to the County of Cumberland and control of the Mounted Police in the country areas.

In the 1850s, the gold rushes began.

In The Rocks this meant a flood of immigrants into and through the area including Chinese, many of who started businesses. The need for police everywhere rose so the Police Recruiting Act, 1853 was passed.

As a result, men were recruited from police forces in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Free passage to Australia was exchanged for a minimum of three years service. These men started to land in Sydney in 1855. One of the first was John Taylor, formerly of the London Police; on arrival he was immediately appointed sergeant. He became senior sergeant in 1862, and was acting sub inspector in 1870. In 1875, Taylor was sub-inspector of the Cumberland Street Watch House.

The NSW Police Force was reorganised in 1862, as were the police districts. The Cumberland Street Watch House became the principal station for No. 4 Metropolitan Station. No. 4 district had jurisdiction over Balmain, the North Shore, Lane Cove, Manly and the Water Police. A total of 44 officers were assigned to No. 4 in 1875; 21 at The Rocks, 14 at Water Police, four at Balmain, three at North Shore, and one each at Manly and Lane Cove.

In 1868, the No. 4 district police had to investigate the attempted assignation of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a picnic in Clontarf. The picnic was a fundraiser for the Sailors’ Home, which is located in The Rocks.

The shooting caused an enormous uproar; the suspect was Irishman Henry James O’Farrell. Although it was alleged O’Farrell was a Fenian, he had actually only recently been released from the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum at Gladesville.

This was the first visit to Australia by a member of the royal family so the pressure was on the police as the entire country was watching. The population reacted with shock, embarrassment and shame.

O’Farrell’s crime touched off a long and often bitterly waged vendetta against Irish nationalists, their sympathisers and the Irish generally. This must have made it tough for The Rocks Police, who had numerous Irishmen in their ranks.

Figure 7. Attempted assassination of his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh at Clontarf, Middle Harbour. Illustrated Sydney News 25 March 1868.

Over the years, The Rocks Police had become dominated by men recruited from the UK, especially Ireland. Between 1860 and 1890, at least 23 police in The Rocks were Irish and 10 of them had served in the Royal Irish Constabulary.

There were also at least 11 Scots, 10 Englishmen and eight Australians, of these nine had served in other police forces and three in the military. These experienced police made an impact: from media reports alone The Rocks Police were considered more professional, reflecting the difference between recruiting from convicts and experienced police.

In 1876, the Cumberland Street Watch House was condemned as being in an appalling state by the Sewage & Health Board which recommended that it be demolished.

Detainees could not be kept there because of the conditions, instead they were taken to the Water Police Cells in Cadman’s Cottage. Eventually the Cumberland Street Watch House was demolished and The Rocks Police moved into their handsome new station at 127 George Street in 1883.

Figure 8. The Cumberland Street Watch House designed by William Dumeresq. From Illustrated Australasian News, 29 June 1881.

[1] From Pierce Eganâ's Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, (1820-1821).
[2] Many websites, including that of the NSW Police name John Smith as the first constable, this is incorrect. First Fleet Journals including Phillip, Tench and Collins all state that James Smith was appointed as a “Peace Officer”. James Smith was the only free settler on the First Fleet, he paid his way and his presence was not known to Phillip until they reached the Cape of Good Hope. Smith came out to try his luck in the new colony and had the backup plan of going to India if the new settlement didn’t provide the opportunities he wanted.
[3] From: Website In the Line of Duty, Policing in Australia since 1788. Visited 18 June 2012. http://www.inthelineofduty.com.au/timeline.asp?startyear=1803&showstate=all&direction=next
[4] The site of the second (1829) Cumberland St watch house is now beneath the Bradfield Highway, the approach for Sydney Harbour Bridge.
[5] Votes and Proceedings of the NSW Legislative Assembly, 1875: Police (Distribution of Force on 1 December 1875).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Canvas threads and haute couture


Fashion has been an important aspect of Sydney society from very early in the colonial period. Fashionable attire was highly sought after, and early in the colonial period, was used to control behaviour. 

“In order to prevent, if possible, the practice of thieving, which at times was very frequent, an order was given, directing that no convict, who should in future be found guilty of theft, should be supplied with any other clothing than a canvas frock and trousers.” Collins, D. An Account of the English Colony of NSW Vol 1 – London, 1795.
After the first few years of hardship and want, the new colony offered opportunities for social mobility not even dreamed of in England. Fortunes were to be made in the developing economy and those prudent enough to establish themselves in business were easily capable of achieving a lifestyle unheard of in the crowded industrial cities of Britain.


Detail from Felipe Bauza’s 1793 image ‘Convicts in New Holland’, showing a convict couple. It’s interesting that fashions worn by convicts and the military were very similar as early as 1793.


Detail from Felipe Bauza’s 1793 image, ‘The English in New Holland’, showing an officer and his wife.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways for newly emancipated convicts to stamp a claim on a new respectability was dress. Fashionable dress was in demand and there was money to be made servicing these desires. A quote attributed top Sarah Bird, who established the Three Jolly Settlers, one of the first public houses in The Rocks, shows the value placed on fashion items from the beginning of the colonial period.

“I did a little trade in the passage here in a number of small articles such as sugar, tea, tobacco, snuff, thread, needles and everything that I could get anything by ... I have sold my petticoats at two guineas each, and my long black coat at ten guineas, which shows that black silk sells well here; the edging that I gave 1s.8d. per yard for in England, I got 5s. for it here. I have sold all the worst of my cloaths, as wearing apparel brings a good price.”

Berzins, B. The coming of strangers: life in Australia 1788-1822 – Collins (in association with State Library of NSW) 1988.

Detail from Juan Ravenet’s 1793 image, ‘Reception of Spanish Officers in Botany Bay’. Interestingly, this image features the Governor’s House in George Street along with fashionable citizens, many of whom would have been convicts.

William Nicholas’ 1848 publication, The Heads of the People has left us with some wonderful street style images. The image below shows a few dashing colonials at a popular melodrama or opera. The slightly cynical caption, ‘The critics and The Stage Box’, suggests a sense of cultural superiority on behalf of the illustrator.

Nicholas, W. ‘The critics and The Stage Box’, 1848.

Three years after Nicholas’ book, and shortly after the discovery of gold in Bathurst, Sydney reporter, Charles Adam Corbyn, published Sydney Revels of Bacchus, Cupid and Momus. Hawksley & Williamson 1854. The collection of articles from 1851-54 offer delightful tongue in cheek descriptions of a variety of defendants appearing in the Sydney courts. The colourful snapshots include descriptions of dress such as:

“A pretty little fashionably dressed young female, apparently just arrived at sweet seventeen, was charge(d) with stealing three gold rings...”
“A showily dressed young man named John Howard...”
“A little squinting, cock-nosed female, arrayed in her best, answered to the name of Anne Callaghan…”

“Elizabeth M’Gregor, a pretty faced girl about seventeen, with her bonnet trimmed with an astounding quantity of pink ribbons, was called on behalf of Mrs. O’Brien (complainant) and stated that the podgy femaile (sic) opposite threw a stone which took effect on Mrs. O’brien’s leg...”

The really interesting thing about the majority of these articles is that the well dressed, attractive parties all seem to be triumphant in the court whereas, the shabbily dressed, less attractive specimens seem to come out second best an almost every occasion. It seems that fashion and external appearances were capable of affecting the court systems of Sydney around the mid 19th century.

R.E.N Twopeny’s accounts of the colonies contains numerous, less than complimentary descriptions of life in Australian cities. Many of these however, indicate that the average Australian was very fashion conscious. This description of servant attitudes is a great example.

‘’The greater part of the high wages which servants get is spent on dress. If ever they condescend to wear their mistress's left-off clothes, it is only for work in the house; but the trouble they take to copy the exact fashion and cut of their mistress's clothes is very amusing. One girl we had frankly asked my wife to allow her to take a dress she admired to her dressmaker, in order that she might have one made up like it. Whilst girls in the upper and middle classes are very handy with their fingers, and often make up their own hats and dresses, the servant-class despise to do this, and almost invariably employ milliners, who often cheat them dreadfully, knowing that they appreciate a hat or a dress much according to the price they have paid for it, and the amount of show it makes. In hats and bonnets this is specially noticeable; I have often seen our servants with hats or bonnets on, which cannot have cost them less than three or four pounds.’’ R. E. N. Twopeny, Town Life in Australia – London, Elliot Stock, 1883.

“The city men are more careful of their personal appearance, and have kept up the shadow and image of London. They wear shiny frock-coats and the worst-brushed and most odd-shaped of top-hats, and imagine they are well-dressed; at least I suppose they do, for they seem to have a sort of contempt for the spruce tweed suits and round hats of 'new chums,' and such of the rising generation as have followed their example and adopted that fashion”. R. E. N. Twopeny, Town Life in Australia – London, Elliot Stock, 1883.

Continuing with a crime theme, The Bulletin Magazine lampooned larrikin gangs on a fairly regular basis. These gangs were regular features in Sydney around the turn of the century. In The Rocks, the most notorious was ‘The Rocks Push’.

Banjo Patterson described them as, “Wiry, hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a sizeable man amongst them. They were all clothed in ‘push’ evening dress—black bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black paget coat, white shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief round the bare throat. Their boots were marvels, very high in the heel and picked out with all sorts of colours down the sides.”

Nowadays when we think of a larrikin, we get a picture of a likeable joker or knockabout sort of bloke. The late 19th century reality was far less alluring in action but quite stylish in terms of actions when it came to dress code. They were as sharp as the razors in their pockets.









Image: ‘An ill wind’, GR Ashton, 1893.


Turn of the new century

On initial examination, images of The Rocks taken early in the twentieth century, suggest both men and women were extremely fashion conscious.

This image shows a very dapper street cleaner dressed in the height of fashion.

Cameras were far more conspicuous in 1900 hence, many of the images we have of people in The Rocks are posed, often in their Sunday best, such as the two girls below in Gloucester Street.




Image: Bertie Collection c. 1901 – courtesy of the Bertie Family.

Whilst respectable dress was essential in maintain a respectable public face, the actual standard of living experienced by most in The Rocks at the time was probably more in alignment with the substandard accommodation backdrops of run-down housing we see behind the subjects.














Image: Bertie Collection c. 1901 – courtesy of the Bertie Family .

















 Image: Bertie Collection c. 1901 – courtesy of the Bertie Family .

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The First Hospital

The first hospital in Australia was located on George Street in The Rocks, in the block bounded by Globe, George, Harrington and Argyle streets. A plaque on the former police station at 127 George Street commemorates the hospital’s location and the laneway that runs between George and Harrington streets was renamed ‘Nurses Walk’ in the 1970s as a tribute.


Figure 1. Plaque on the former Police Station 127 George St. SHFA

Hospital tents were among the first erected when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in late January 1788. The eight-month-long voyage from Britain was healthy by the standards of the day with only around 34 deaths among the approximately 1500 people who set out and there were no major outbreaks of disease once the fleet left Portsmouth. This was a remarkable achievement, especially when compared to hellish deathrate on the Second Fleet. However, once the First Fleet reached Sydney Cove scurvy and dysentery broke out and the tent hospital was soon full.

By July 1788 a hospital building and laboratory had been erected which Phillip reported would last for some years, although it took until August for the roof to be completed because of heavy rain. A large plot of land was allocated to the hospital grounds for a garden and future expansion. Collins gives us the most detailed description of the hospital building and its construction:

“A building for the reception of the sick was now absolutely necessary, and one, eighty-four feet by twenty-three, was put in hand, to be divided into a dispensary... a ward for the troops, and another for the convicts. It was to be built of wood, and the roof to be covered in with shingles, made from a species of fir that is found here... Carpenters were now employed in covering in that necessary building the hospital, the shingles for the purpose being all prepared; these were fastened to the roof (which was very strong) by pegs made by the female convicts’’.


Figure 2. William Bradley, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, March 1788 – Location of the hospital indicated by the red arrow. State Library of NSW.

The authors of the First Fleet do not detail exactly what structures were built for the hospital, what plants were cultivated in the garden or what livestock was allocated to it. It is only the hints and passing comments made when reporting on other incidences that provide any indication of these details. Huts for staff, such as the corporals’ guard, and stores are mentioned occasionally, but how many, what size or where they were located remains a mystery.


Figure 3. A View of Sydney Cove – Port Jackson March 7th 1792, Port Jackson Painter. British Natural History Museum. The key to these numbers has been lost but William Dixson (1923) has identified the buildings. View of the hospital complex at 1792. The white building, No. 18 is the portable hospital which arrived with the 2nd Fleet in 1790. 19 and 20 are the hospital store and outbuildings. No. 20 could possibly be the original hospital building constructed in 1788. 21, the assistant surgeon's residence. 22, the surgeon-general's residence. 29, the hospital garden.

Collins reports an incident of the local Eora people killing a goat from the hospital before taking it with them to Long Cove (now Darling Harbour) this is the only hint found of any stock belonging to the hospital. There is even less detail on what was grown in the garden, so we do not know if it was only imported plants or if some of the local species were cultivated. The medical properties of several local plants were reported on by the First Fleet authors, including the efficacy of Red and Yellow Gum in the treatment of dysentery, and which wild vegetables were found to treat scurvy. In the early months the colonists experimented with wild vegetables and found, what Collins described as “wild celery, spinach, and parsley, fortunately grew in abundance about the settlement; those who were in health, as well as the sick, were very glad to introduce them into their messes, and found them a pleasant as well as wholesome addition to the ration of salt provisions.”

However, neither he nor anyone else mentions if these plants were transplanted to the hospital gardens. The early images of the hospital complex show that the gardens were quite large, with enough room for animal stalls.


Figure 4. Detail of "A View of the west side of Sydney Cove taken from Too-bay-ulee, or Bannellongs Point – Port Jackson Painter. British Natural History Museum. Dated between 1792-1795. View of the hospital. The hospital complex is the area enclosed by the fence and includes the surgeon and assistant surgeon’s residences on the far right. The portable hospital is the long white building behind the hospital wharf, the original hospital is the biggest building in the centre. The function of the smaller outbuildings is not known for sure.

The hospital was not reserved for the exclusive use of the British, several local people were brought there during the smallpox epidemic of 1789 which decimated their population. They included a young man named Nanberry who was eventually adopted by John White, the principal surgeon.

There are numerous mentions of wounded local indigenous people being treated at the hospital, but no reports of indigenous women giving birth there. Benelong told Phillip that his wife, Barangaroo, was going to give birth to their child at Government House, this could have been an attempted claim of traditional ownership for Benelongs’s child, and a powerful political declaration. Phillip demurred and told Benelong that Barangaroo would be better off giving birth in the hospital. The hospital was seen as a place of death to the local people and so this would not have been a welcome suggestion to Barangaroo. She went off into the bush alone when the time came and gave birth without any assistance, but under the curious prying eyes of Collins who was astonished to see her walking about gathering sticks for her fire immediately after the birth.

In January 1790 Collins reports that a brick dispensary was built next to the hospital for the storage of medicines and instruments because the hut they were kept in was not weatherproof. He doesn’t mention whether the original hospital building was improved with brick walls though. Then the Second Fleet arrived and with it a medical crisis and a prefabricated portable hospital. By the time the colonists managed to erect the portable hospital there was a sick list of 480 people. The Second Fleet was managed by a company that had been involved in the North American slave Trade and they were paid for each convict embarked, not landed. The effect of this was each death among the convicts earned the company more profit, as they could and did sell the rations allocated for that convict. A total of 939 male convicts and 78 females embarked, and only 692 males and 67 females landed at Port Jackson, of those landed more than 500 hundred of them were sick or dying. The mortality rate on this fleet was to be the highest in transportation history to Australia. The death rates for the ships were one death to every 3.1 convicts embarked on the Neptune, one death to every 3.5 convicts embarked on the Scarborough and one death to every 7.1 convicts embarked on the Surprise. Although the condition of the convicts shocked Sydney and Britain when the news reached there not one person was ever charged and the company was again chartered for the Third Fleet!


Figure 5. Detail. Portable Hospital, Evans, c1803: Sydney from the western side of the Cove. Mitchell Library

The portable hospital which arrived with the Second Fleet is quiet distinctive, it was prefabricated in panels and it stands out from the other buildings around it. The British architect Samuel Wyatt was awarded the contract, but the portable hospital has been attributed to his nephew, Jeffry Wyattville, who was working for him at the time. Wyatt’s invoice to the Treasury described the building:

“To a Military moveable Hospital with a cross Partition and Torches; the building is 84ft long by 20ft 6 inches wide and 12 ft high upon the walls; the roof covered with Copper, the whole consisting of wooden Framing in Panels. Plates, Standards, Bearers, etc...the whole to be delivered on Board a Ship in the River Thames at Six Hundred and ninety Pounds...£690”

This hospital was one of 12 commissioned for British overseas possessions that could be flat packed and transported by ship. Wyatt claimed that it could be taken down and re-erected in the space of an hour and was “so contrived as not to require artificers of any kind to fix them up or take them down – not even a hammer will be necessary”. It actually took around a week to construct, and this was with the help of ship’s carpenters by a colony that was desperate to get it erected.


Figure 6. Detail. A view of Sydney Cove. Artist unknown probably copied by Watling. C1793. The hospital complex from the south showing the gardens and other buildings. The long ones at the rear may be the orderlies barracks.

In 1797 High (George) Street was realigned. The realignment required the portable hospital to be pulled down and re-erected on a stone foundation slightly west of its original location. A store and dispensary were then erected to the north and west of the hospital buildings. The portable hospital appears to have become the first Military Hospital, although further research is required to ascertain this. Eventually there were three main hospital buildings and quiet a number of out buildings, but the function of each building is not know at the time of writing.

Every Governor including Phillip reported that the hospital was not large enough for the population and numbers of sick to be accommodated there. Bligh reported:

“There will be an absolute necessity for building a new general hospital as soon as possible, the present one being in a most ruinous state, and very unfit for the reception of the sick that must necessarily be sent to it, of which there are on an average seldom less in it than between seventy and eighty men, women, and children.”

The hospital appears to have been continually added to and improved by each of the Governors until Macquarie, but it is difficult to find what work was done. A surgeon’s residence was built where the Orient Hotel now stands and an assistant surgeon’s residence on the opposite side of Argyle Street. The assistant surgeon’s residence eventually became the home of Francis Greenway, the convict architect.

There are mentions in newspaper articles of numerous outbuildings used for nurses and orderlies overnight accommodation, but no record as to what they were constructed of or where on the hospital grounds they were erected. These types of buildings and other structures such as animal stalls generally do not get depicted on paintings and drawings made for an audience in Britain, usually being judged as erroneous detail, nor are they written about for the same reason. However, even if these buildings were constructed of simple wattle and daub, they may have left an archaeological resource, perhaps as the marks of postholes.

The hospital was not just used for treating illness and wounds, experimental medicine was also conducted. In 1803 several experiments were carried out on vaccinating children with cowpox to prevent smallpox. The first experiments were not successful and then a different method was tried which did work. Unfortunately the details of these experiments could not be found, they were reported in the Sydney Gazette. The year after, 1804, Dr Thomas Jamieson, the principal surgeon, wrote articles for the newspaper assuring people that the cowpox vaccination did work, that they were not safe from smallpox, even though he had seen no cases in the colony in ten years. He also went to lengths to squash the assumption that smallpox could not survive in Sydney’s climate. He encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated, in this he was echoed by the newspaper and several articles of the efficiency of the vaccine in other countries were published. By 1810, articles telling parents to bring their children to the general hospital for vaccination were being published regularly along with the wonderful results of vaccination around the world and refuting the objections people had to it.


Figure 7. The Cow-Pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!—vide. the Publications of ye? Anti-Vaccine Society. 1802. Wikipedia images. British satirist James Gillray implied that vaccination for smallpox with cowpox caused people to become part cow.

When Macquarie arrived the western side of Sydney Cove consisted of a cluster of buildings servicing the shipping trade and docks consistent with a young port. Noting the poor condition of the town and public buildings, particularly of the hospital, he immediately set about making his mark and improvements. He renamed “High Street, “George Street”, in honour of the reigning monarch, King George III and other streets in the area including “Argyle Street” (after the Laird of his native county).

The need for new hospital buildings was very apparent and a new Military Hospital was opened on Observatory Hill in 1815. Macquarie also found an ingenious solution to fund the building of a new general hospital. He granted to three colonists a short-term but lucrative monopoly on importing spirits in exchange for building the new hospital in Macquarie Street. Consequently, the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (from 1881, Sydney Hospital) was nicknamed the ‘Rum Hospital’. It opened in 1816 with one large central and two smaller wings.


Figure 8. Macquarie’s “Rum Hospital”, Wikipedia Images. NSW Parliament now occupies the left building. The centre has been demolished and replaced by a new Sydney Hospital and the right wing now is now the Historic Houses Trust.

One wing of this hospital is now used as NSW Parliament House, another became the Mint and now houses the Historic Houses Trust.

Some of the buildings of the original hospital on George St were dismantled and the materials sold off, ironically the portable (temporary) hospital building survived until the 1880s, over one hundred years.


Figure 9. The three-storey building on the left is the Fortune of War hotel. The single storey building fronting George Street became the site of the ES&A Bank in 1881, and the vacant block next to it is the site of 127-9 George Street. The low, long roof behind is the former portable hospital. Bayliss Panorama- detail- taken from Garden Palace. National Library

Figure 10. Roof of the former portable hospital, c1871 Mitchell Library