Image from The Adelaide Chronicle of state governor Henry Galway presenting the King's Medal for bravery to Constable J. Rowney in 1915 at the mounted police barracks (still standing) off North Terrace, Adelaide.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

AUSTRALIA'S FIRST PROFESSIONAL POLICE  FORCE FROM 1838 IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA, a colony said to be convict-free but not crime-free


THE NEW COLONY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA, meant to be crime- and convict-free, set up Australia’s first organised professional police force in April 1838 in response to “escaped convicts ‘flooding’ into the colony”.

The cost of a police force, not part of planning for colony, was an “unexpected drain on government revenue”. Early policing dealt mainly with theft, drunkenness and licensing of dogs.

The police force, started with 10 mounted and 10 foot constables, initially had no rules, regulations, designated duties or a uniform.

To cover all of South Australia, numbers in the metropolitan police force grew to 65 during governor George Gawler’s term but they were halved soon after governor George Grey arrived in 1840 to cut government spending.

With the need for police rising and falling, according to the state of the economy, policing in the city throughout the 19th Century was not free.

Theatres and other groups needing crowd control for events paid a fee for one or more constables to attend.

In 1861, the government asked the City of Adelaide corporation to pay for protection of its citizens. It reduced the corporation's annual grant by £3,000 to pay for half the cost of the police. This police moiety increased each year.

When in 1873 the corporation successfully petitioned parliament for a more equitable adjustment for police services, an amount equal to the cost of 10 constables working in the city was agreed.

The City of Adelaide was the only local authority in Australia to pay a police moiety and it continued until 1938.

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