Policing the Irwin

Police in the Irwin were initially used to deal with the conflicts that arose between the indigenous people and the European settlers.

In late 1854, Magistrate William Burges made the suggestion that the police in the region be divided into two sections, one for the Irwin-Greenough and the other for the Geraldton area 1. Anyone arrested was handed to the military, but with no gaols in the region, great difficulty was experienced holding prisoners until they could be transferred to Perth for trial. It was suggested to Governor Fitzgerald that chains, padlocks and handcuffs be issued to secure prisoners, particularly the “natives”2.

With the arrival of convicts in the Colony and their release as ticket-of-leave labourers into the community, the work of the police increased, apprehending absconders and generally enforcing the ticket-of-leave regulations3. A ticket-of-leave issued to convicts permitted them to leave detention and work on farms and roads in the district. Police were first stationed in the Irwin in 18684, Police Constable Stack in Dongara5 and Police Constable Watson at Strawberry6.

Irwin District Police Officer Constable James Watson, c.1880 (IRME1728)

One of PC Stack’s first duties was to inspect the newly opened Irwin Arms Inn and his Occurrence Book records “… all quight (sic)”7.The work of the police was constant and far ranging. Before the introduction of a postal service, it was the police, on horseback, who brought mail from Perth8. They also hired drays to transport sick shepherds and to deliver rations. There was also the gruesome task of dealing with the bodies of men who died of thirst while walking from Perth looking for work.PC Stack’s recording of such events usually concluded with the statement “Found his body in a Wattle thicket: made a hole and inteared (sic) him.”9.

Display of handcuffs and chains used at Dongara Police Station

With the opening of the Dongara Police Station Courthouse and Gaol in 1870 life for the police was greatly improved.

References

  1. Bain, M.A., Ancient Landmarks, p. 191
  2. ibid. p. 68, 69
  3. ibid. p. 236
  4. ibid. p. 174
  5. ibid. p. 303
  6. ibid. P. 317
  7. ibid. p. 303
  8. ibid. p. 353, 354
  9. ibid. p. 317

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