Mapping and tracking the Native Police in Moreton Bay and nearby districts (Southeast Queensland)
Dr Jonathan Richards, Visiting Fellow 2017/2018

Reading Archival Documents

The Native Police records assessed for this project are a mixture of mundane and extremely important documents, ranging from petty house-keeping details to powerful insights into the policing of Aboriginal people on the pre-separation frontier. Some are torn or damaged, which means they are frustratingly incomplete and unusable. Others simply show mathematical calculations without any evidence of their creators, or the date of their making.

Some documents on the other hand are very detailed, and provide us with a rich understanding of the daily lives for members of the Native Police. For example, W.C. Wentworth’s 1850 invoice to Commandant Walker (QSA item 86143) includes multiple purchases of tobacco, of different qualities, both rough ‘Negro Head’ (presumably for troopers) and better ‘Colonial’, probably for the officers. Tobacco was a form of currency on the frontier, as was alcohol.

W. C. Wentworth’s 1856 account to Commandant Walker showing rations, ‘Negro H Tobacco’; ‘Colonial Tobacco’ and other items. (QSA item 86143)

The same document provides insight into the normal diet of Native Police, listing bags of flour, lots of beef, and sugar. Soap was the only luxury item.

Details of officers’ consumption of alcohol and cigars are listed in other documents (QSA item 86143). Supper was provided when members of the force stayed in town, along with fodder for their horses.

Commandant Walker’s and his troopers’ expenses at South Brisbane, 1854, including soda, brandy, cigars, claret and horsefeed. (QSA item 86143)

Commandant Frederick Walker’s hotel bill at Gatton, unknown date, showing ‘2 meals & bed; 6 gills (1 gill = about 0.15 litre) Brandy; 8 Bottles wine; 1 Bottle Champagne; 2 feeds corn, 2 horses stabling & station hay; station water; station groom; 2 glasses Brandy’. (QSA item 86143)

The 1854 invoice (QSA item 86143) from Martin Byrne, at Gatton’s ‘Rose Inn’, is particularly illuminating, showing that Walker purchased dinner, mutton and beef, flour, corn, tobacco, and a clay pipe for his men.

Invoice for Commandant Walker’s expenses for the Police at Martin Byrne’s Rose Inn, at Gatton, in 1854; including 22 lbs of beef, dinner for 16 men, tea for 12 men, tobacco, flour and sugar. (QSA item 86143)

Other records (QSA item 86143) show clothing purchases, especially white and drill trousers. All men were given boots and shirts.

Storekeeper J. Markwell’s 1854 account to Commandant Walker; items purchased included 24 pairs of military drill trousers; 22 white shirts; and 25 pairs of drill trousers. (QSA item 86143)

Equipment issued to the officers and troopers of the force is listed in one document (QSA item 86131), showing that each man was provided with a saddle, bridle and carbine. Some troopers were also issued with knives, combs, pistols and handcuffs, while all members of the force carried belts, blankets and capes.

QSA item 86131, showing ‘List of articles’ for the ‘7th Section of the Native Police’ in 1850, signed by Sub-Lieutenant R. G. Walker. Every trooper has a belt, a saddle, a bridle and a carbine, and sundry other items; some also have pistols and handcuffs.

The force’s mobility and success depended on their horses, and the purchase of horsefeed was mentioned in several records. One invoice (QSA item 86131) from North Brisbane saddler M. Wallace listed repairs to saddles and other riding equipment, and the sale of ‘one strong bridle’.

M. Wallace’s 1854 saddlery account to the Native Police; certified by Sub-Lt Bligh. (QSA item 86131)

Another document (QSA item 86136) showed the transfer of officers’ salaries through an account at the North Brisbane branch of the Bank of New South Wales.

Bank of New South Wales statement, from North Brisbane in February 1855, to Commandant Marshall, showing payments of several officers’ salaries. (QSA item 86136)

Most importantly, the files provide us with rare insights into the policing activities of the Native Police. One (QSA item 86144) is a warrant issued by the Government Resident at Moreton Bay (J.C. Wickham, J.P.) for the arrest in 1850 of an Aboriginal named “Papoolia”, ‘and any nine other native Blacks who can be identified’, wanted for robbery with violence.

Warrant issued by Government Resident J. C. Wickham in 1850 for the arrest of an Aboriginal named “Papoolia”, ‘and any other native Blacks who can be identified’, wanted for robbery with violence. (QSA item 86144)

An 1851 document (QSA item 86144) refers to the theft, one year earlier, of the Ipswich mail and the subsequent discovery ‘by the Blacks’ of ‘a very large parcel of orders’ near Ipswich. In 1853, timbercutter Hugh McGowan, gave a statement (QSA item 86144) about an Aboriginal attack on a hut at Pine Mountain near Ipswich.

Storekeeper Benjamin Cribb’s 1850 letter to Commandant Walker about ‘the robbery of the mail from Ipswich to Brisbane’ stating that ‘a very large parcel of the orders was found by the Blacks near Ipswich’. (QSA item 86144)

Page from Hugh McGowan’s 1853 statement from Pine Mountain, near Ipswich. (QSA item 86144)

Some records show that the Native Police did more than just fight Aboriginal resisters. Sub Lieutenant John O’Connor Bligh, who later became the Commandant of the Native Police, wrote to Acting Commandant Richard Marshall in 1854 (QSA item 86144), describing his capture of an escaped convict John Fahay “alias Kanbary” at Ubee Ubee (Obi Obi) Flats on the Upper Mary River.

Sub-Lieutenant Bligh’s 1854 letter to Acting Commandant RP Marshall, stating that an escaped convict John Fahay alias “Kanberry”, who has been living among the Aborigines for several years, was camped at Ubee Ubee Flats on the head of the Mary River; said he took ‘the white man from among them’ on 14 December 1854. (QSA item 86144)

In 1856, the Native Police were placed under the command of Government Resident J.C. Wickham, who wrote to all the officers in the force advising them of the change, and asking for ‘any suggestions you may consider calculated to increase the efficiency of the corps, and render effective protection to the inhabitants of the northern districts’ (QSA item 86134).

J. C. Wickham’s 1856 letter to Lt. Morisset about bank payments and asking for ‘any suggestions you may consider calculated to increase the efficiency of the corps, and render effective protection to the inhabitants of the northern districts’. (QSA item 86134)