Who Were the Officers of the NMP?

By Cherrie De Leiuen

In a previous blog we discussed the project’s online database, which holds both the archaeological and documentary evidence that has been collected and will be accessible to the public later in 2019. One database category that is explored in more detail in this post is the NMP officers.

At present (April 2019) we have entries for 466 officers in the database. This information is drawn from dispersed sources of varying quality, as most individuals do not have police files in the QSA from their time in the NMP. For some we only have their name and rank mentioned in official correspondence, while for others there is more complete biographical information. When we have a name and location, we have cross-checked these with a range of sources such as birth, death and marriage records, obituaries or other accounts in newspapers, online genealogical databases and prior research, to help compile as much accurate evidence as possible. Obviously, this is a work in progress — as we go on with our research we continue to input new information as we come across it.

While we’ve looked at individual officers such as Thomas Coward, Stanhope O’Connor, Wentworth D’Arcy Uhr and Hubert Durham in detail, it is also interesting to pull together the information we’ve collected in the database to date to form a general profile of the group. Who were the officers? Where did they come from? Did they have experience in the military or other police forces? Do the data confirm or challenge what we know about them?

The NMP was a paramilitary* body and all NMP officers were working for, and subjects of, the British Empire, though not all were British born. While officers are generically referred to as ‘white’ and authors such as the historian Jonathan Richards (2008) refer to them collectively as ‘European’, examining their individual birthplaces can provide an insight into the socio-economic and cultural differences amongst the cohort.

Of the 466 officers in the database, so far we have identified birthplace details for 172 (about 37%). As shown in Figure 1, of these, most were born in Ireland (n=54). Within this group, five specified Northern Ireland, and another four we know are from the Anglo-Irish ascendency, including David Seymour, who became Qld Police Commissioner after 1864. The next largest group is the English (n=44), followed by those born in the Australian colonies (n=40, with 9 born in Qld, 7 in Victoria, 2 in Tasmania, and 22 in NSW). Two other men were born in the colonies of India and Indonesia to English parents.

Figure 1 NMP officer’s birthplace for the 172 men for whom we know this information.

There is one man from each of the countries Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and France, and these constitute a particularly interesting bunch. For example, Evgenio Genatas, from Corfu, was one of the first Greeks to live in Australia. When his commanding officer was asked about him at the 1861 inquiry into the NMP he replied that Genatas was ‘very zealous, and particularly steady; the only thing against him is his imperfect knowledge of the language’ (Edric Morisset 6 July 1861, Qld Legislative Assembly 1861 Select Committee into the Qld Native Police, p147). Genatas resigned from the NMPafter two years because ‘he felt himself unfitted for so harassing a life’ (QSA846762 1862 Report from John O’Connell Bligh to Colonial Secretary 26 May, In letter 62/2123, Mfilm Z5607).

In contrast, Carl Hansen, from Copenhagen, had two stints in the force. Interestingly he was transferred to another post due to his Danish background, with Sub-Inspector James Lamond in 1891 stating that ‘all the Danes in this district intend to do all they can to injure Hansen and have him charged’ (QSA A/38828).

So while the officers were divided by rank, there were also likely to be cultural, even language, differences amongst some of them.

The extent of the ‘Irishness’ of the officers and indeed, the NMP, is noteworthy, as Richards (2008) has previously noted. Sir George Bowen (1821–1899), the first Governor of Qld and an English Liberal-Conservative, was also born in Ireland. Bowen established the police in Qld based on the model of the Royal Irish Constabulary (c.1822–1922). Indeed, the ranking structure of the NMP were based in the Irish model, which also had a paramilitary ethos, with barracks, firearms, uniforms, and a marked distinction between men:

From 1836, every county was supervised by a county inspector and counties were subdivided into a number of districts, each commanded by a district inspector. There were 1,400 police barracks around the country. (http://royalirishconstabularyincountymayo.weebly.com/origins.html)

The RIC was run by the Anglo-Irish, but was made up of over 80% Irish Catholics in the lower ranks. Most of these were sons of tenant farmers or rural labourers, who undoubtedly sought work in the Force in the famine years due to the stable wages and pensions the job afforded. Joining the NMP in colonial Qld would likely have been an attractive (and not unfamiliar) job for Irish men for similar reasons. Some of the Irish-born officers were actually in the RIC prior to the NMP, including Francis Faulkner, who resigned from his post in the RIC at Antrim to emigrate to Qld and joined the NMP with letters of recommendation from his superiors (QSA563375 1865 Letter of recommendation for Francis Faulkner 22 August, Francis Faulkner Police Staff file).

Two clay pipe bowls excavated from the NMP camps at Boralga (Laura) (Figure 2) and Boulia (Figure 3) show uniquely Irish iconography. The bowl from Boralga shows an Irish harp, or the Brian Boru (which was also the symbol used by the RIC, and often used to convey ‘Irishness’), and that from Boulia shows a possibly hand-etched harp with the insignia “CORK”. It’s hard to imagine an English officer smoking from one of these. Before the introduction of the cigarette in the 20th century it was common for both men and women to smoke from clay pipes. These were often manufactured in places such as Scotland and imported to Australia. In the Irish tradition, long-stemmed pipes were commonly passed around at wakes and consequently became known as ‘Lord ha’ mercy’ pipes. The short-stemmed pipe was favoured by the working class as it was short and light, and is the type we have found fragments from at many NMP sites. These were known as ‘dúidíns’ in Ireland, ‘cuttys’ in Scotland and ‘nose warmers’ in parts of England. The clay bowl was often decorated and used to express political or social allegiance – being decorated with the Irish national emblems, the harp and shamrock (see https://www.galwaycitymuseum.ie/clay-pipes).

Figure 2 Part of factory-made clay pipe excavated from Boralga NMP barracks with embossed Irish harp on the bowl (BOR-035101).
Figure 3 Part of clay pipe bowl excavated from Boulia NMP barracks with a possibly hand engraved Irish harp and the word ‘CORK’ (BOU-019361).

We do know Irish officer Daniel Whelan was at Boulia (possibly along with Peter Fahey and Michael Green, though no birth records have been confirmed for these men). Irishmen Ned O’Brien, William O’Reagan and John Kenny were posted to Boralga, and it is possible these items belonged to any one of these men, though they may equally have been the property of any of the troopers or their family members.

We also know there was occasional Protestant-Catholic and English-Irish tension. For example, Constable Thomas Lonergan reported to Inspector John Marlow in 1871 on the ‘abuse and ill treatment’ that he received from Sub-Inspector Thomas Coward while stationed at Cashmere. He writes of the insults he received, including that ‘he was worse than the greatest Myall in the Bush’ and was ‘an Irish Buggar’. James Kenny was dismissed (discipline) for ‘making an offensive and insubordinate reference concerning Inspector Malone’. The memo to Thomas Clines read:

Dear Tom I am sorry you are going to such a place as the Mossman but it could be worse we are well surrounded with Micks now and up starts at that I will be the next on the go he has me set since he came the Irish W. (QSA563740 1907 Memorandum from James Kenny to Thomas Clines, Registrar S D Court Mareeba 19 February, James Kenny Police Staff file)

Family Life
In terms of family, we also have marriage records for 156 officers. As shown in Figure 4, these records show that 31 were married before they entered the NMP and significantly, that 89 married during their service. In other words, at least 120 officers (ca 25%) were married while on active duty. This contrasts with the official service records that have been located, as there are only 14 ‘applications for leave to marry’ in police files. Only one man, Sydney Scott Reed, a cadet at Barron River, was dismissed for marrying without permission (QSA847048 81/3069).

Figure 4 Marital status of officers showing 89 were married while employed by the NMP.

It is also clear that most of these men also had children, many of whom were born while their fathers were posted to NMP camps. So, while it could be assumed that the NMP officers were young, single men due to the nature of the job and the living conditions, this was not always the case

Further, any women associated (and especially living) with the NMP are usually assumed to be Indigenous. While some of the officers’ wives and children were undoubtedly living in towns near to where their husbands were posted, there is evidence that many wives lived with their husbands at various camps, such as Adria Stafford, wife of Brabazon Stafford, Mary Ann Armit (wife of William Armit), or Maria Johnstone (wife of Robert Johnstone).

There were also several sets of brothers and fathers-sons in the NMP, for example, Frank Blakeney and his son Charles; brothers Arthur and John and their father Robert Kyle Little; brothers William and Wallace Bayly, grandsons of William Lawson a founder of NSW; Frederick and Ernest Carr; William and Cecil Hill; George and Edwin Townsend; Wentworth and Reginald Uhr; Frederick and Edward Wheeler, the Murray brothers, Frederick, George, John and Robert; Aulaire, Rudolph and Edric Morisset, sons of Lt. Col. Morisset superintendent of Norfolk Island; and brothers William, John and Charles Nutting, nephews of John O’Connell Bligh. Having a family connection to the NMP (or senior government officials) was sometimes an expedient route to recruitment and promotion in the force.

Former Experience

It was the rule to appoint only well-educated British army men whose past record was without reproach; men accustomed to command and be obeyed, and who hesitated not in the face of whatever odds, to do their duty (Longreach Leader, 15 December 1943, p25).

In contrast to many recollections about the NMP, few of them were in fact ‘British army men’. Richards (2008:84) pointed out that four of the highest ranked officers had served in the military: Henry John Browne and David Seymour in the British Army, Thomas Barron in the Indian Navy, and Alexander Douglas in the Royal Navy in China[1]. Of the remaining officers so far, 29 appear to have some kind of military training or background, and their ranks and service vary.

English-born Edmund Lockyer had served with the 57th Foot Soldiers in Taunton, Canada; two fought in Crimea, six with the British Army in India, and two with the Bengal Infantry, two each in the Indian and Royal Navy, four in the Imperial forces, and the remainder in the British army. Ten officers were in the RIC prior to the NMP.

Thus, rather than attracting a group of highly trained and experienced military men, the NMP was made of both men willing to learn on the job, and men with military and previous policing experience, like Wentworth D’Arcy Uhr, whose situation we explored in a recent post.

One officer, Edward Briggs Kennedy, from London, was appointed a Sub-Inspector in 1864 in the Nogoa district, and later returned to England and wrote extensively on his time in Qld. A piece on Kennedy’s time in the NMP by the Townsville Daily Bulletin (15 April 1952, p5) stated:

… there were no examinations nor any preparatory training before applying for a post in this force. As long as a man could ride well, could understand the use of firearms, and bore a satisfactory record, he was an eligible recruit. Though Kennedy was posted to different barracks for longer or shorter periods he never saw much drill (beyond a few simple forms) nor any red tape. It would have been of no practical use. The true drill belonged to the troopers and, in fact, to all blacks who, from the time that they can walk, are naturally drilled by members of their tribe to track, indulge in mimic warfare and, above all, to scout so as to get in first with a spear, waddy or boomerang.

The details of many men’s experiences prior to and during the NMP are scarce. Often the police staff files have little information, but sometimes mention that an officer was a former pastoralist or had previous experience being out with NMP officers as a station manager – clearly these men would have known exactly what the duties of an officer would be. Many went in and out of the NMP with more than one service period (including quite a few who were dismissed and then reappointed). There are dismissal records for 88 officers. Of these, no reason is given for 20, 23 are for drunkenness, 10 for violence, 13 for discipline, 6 for incompetence, 7 for financial irregularities, 3 for neglect of duty, 2 ‘services dispensed with’ and 4 for ‘reduction in the force’. There are records of 142 resignations, 62 retirements and 12 suicides. At least 31 officers were also Freemasons, 29 were Inspectors of Slaughterhouses, 30 were Clerk of Petty Sessions, and at least 14 went on to become Police Magistrates.

Overall, the profile of NMP officers is emerging to be that of a diverse group of men with varying levels of training and education. Many were Irish, English or locally born, many were married with children, and with differing levels of personal wealth. What was common, however, was that as part of the NMP they were all part of the colonial force whose role was to disposse Indigenous Queenslanders from their land.


Richards, J. 2008 The Secret War. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.


[1] Henry John Browne, born Breaffy, Mayo, Ireland, served 18th Prince of Wales Regiment (Qld Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 2 June 1863, p3, Richards 2008:226; David Thompson Seymour born Ballymore, Galway, Ireland, served as lieutenant 12th Suffolk Regiment 1856-1858; Thomas Henry Bowman Barron, born Exeter, Devon England, served Indian Navy (Richards 2005:109–11); Alexander Douglas Douglas, born St Heliers, Channel Islands, entered the Royal Navy as a naval cadet in 1857. Served in the English Channel, the West Indies, Hong Kong, Japan, the Taiping Rebellion and the Tientsin campaign (Kirkman 1984:76; Telegraph, 23 June 1905, p5; Week, 30 June 1905, p22)

* Thanks Nigel Casson for correcting us on the terminology used here

8 thoughts on “Who Were the Officers of the NMP?

  1. I have to take issue with your assertion that ‘The NMP was a military body…’, Cherrie. As its name unambiguously announces, it was a police force; albeit a paramilitary police force – but in that regard it differed little from many of the police forces operating in the Australian and other British imperial colonies until well into the 20th century, which displayed the trappings of military show in the form of uniforms and weapons, and which practised military training and drill.

    The NMP wasn’t on the roll of British military services and units, and its expressed function upon formation was the identification and arrest of criminal suspects according to the procedures of British law, not the deployment of lethal force against declared enemies of the state. Its firearms were to be used only as a last resort in self-defence when a suspect resisted arrest or when deployed to ‘aid the civil power’ in dispersing unlawful assemblies. Frederick Walker insisted that he always obtained warrants when pursuing ‘offenders’, and that his men only fired when they were in immediate danger of being wounded or killed by suspects or those aiding and abetting them. Although he does appear to have strayed to some extent from strict adherence to police procedure during the NMP’s first operations (in his reports he used decidedly military language), he was quickly reigned in by his superiors and thereafter struggled with the application of lawful procedure to the unusual and challenging policing environment of the frontier.

    In other parts of the empire police forces were occasionally deployed during military operations, but in those cases they were under military command and their police functions were officially temporarily suspended. The best-known example is the use of the Natal Mounted Police during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 because of a local shortage of mounted troops. An unusual case is the formation and use of the New Zealand Armed Constabulary during the latter stages of the New Zealand/Maori Wars. This body was formed primarily as a military force to deal with the last sputterings of Maori resistance, and it took over the role British troops had performed until they were withdrawn in 1870. Its police function was secondary, but all its personnel were lawfully sworn in as constables, allowing them to serve as police officers as required.

    After Walker’s tenure as Commandant of the NMP ended, and particularly after NSW was granted the powers of self-government in 1856, and to a greater extent with the Act of Separation that created Queensland in 1859, scrutiny of NMP actions via the restraining influence of the Colonial Secretary and the Aborigines Protection Society quickly faded and the local vested interests who dominated the new colonial government transformed the force into a secretive punitive body acting solely in their pecuniary interests, and largely unfettered by its founding legal obligations it did indeed often drop its police role and responsibilities and act as a militant, if not technically or officially military, body. However, we shouldn’t allow this later degeneration in its character and actions to blind us to the founding purpose that motivated the British government to create the NMP, or its officially declared function.

  2. Another interesting and informative post . I am eagerly eating for the release of your database . keep up the good work

  3. For those who might be interested in delving further into the history of the Natal Mounted Police for comparison purposes, the full text of a complete and comprehensive history of that organisation, ‘The Mounted Police of Natal’, by H. P. Holt, is available free online.

    Because of the prevailing demographic and political circumstances in the southern African colonies, the founding vision and the functions of this organisation differed fundamentally from those of the NSW NMP. In Natal the colonist population was surrounded by and vastly outnumbered by powerful politically centralised African tribes which could, and sometimes did, each deploy thousands or even tens of thousands of warriors, many of whom possessed firearms (there was an incessant illegal gun-running traffic), and by often hostile Boer republics that could call up thousands of well-armed mounted volunteers. The Natal government wanted a permanent hybrid force that could serve as ordinary civil mounted police during peace-time to maintain law and order, but which could also be immediately concentrated to quash any revolt or hostile incursion at its inception. The late 1870s and early 1880s in particular saw such an intense spate of native rebellions and large scale military campaigns that the Natal Mounted Police did very little police work due to being almost continuously deployed in its military role.

    The hybrid police-military organisational model of the Natal Mounted Police was mirrored in those of other police forces in the British south African colonies, such as the Frontier Armed and Mounted police of the Cape Colony.

  4. Note: the original wording of the first line of the ‘Origins’ section of the article was ‘The NMP was a military body…’.

Leave a Reply