Duties and Regulations: 'An Unpopular Policeman is Useless as a Detective'

The line of duty of a beat policeman was (and is) extensive and diverse. By and large, the majority of duties of the Queensland’s Policeman were spelt out in, very great detail, in numerous rules and regulations guidelines. Due to the intricate and precarious nature of police service in a metropolis, and the police and public relationship, a police manual meticulously outlined the duties and definitions of virtually everything a policeman could encounter on the job. The earliest edition of the Queensland Police manual was printed in 1869 and contained 65 pages.

A revised edition of the Manual of Police Regulations for the Guidance of the Constabulary Queensland, 266 pages long, was published in 1876.  Both editions were released during D.T. Seymour’s tenure as Commissioner of the Force (1864-1895). In 1905, Police Commissioner W.G. Cahill compiled a new updated Queensland Policemans Manual (1914). The Manual incorporated the latest policing methods such as fingerprinting techniques, plaster casting and ‘conviction through the evidence of broken matches’:

An entry included in the 1914 edition of the Queensland Policeman’s Manual showing the plaster cast technique. Image Courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Prior to this codification, there is evidence of boot imprints used for tracking and identifying perpetrators by local police dating back to 1850. In July, the District Constable of Kangaroo Point, Peter Murphy, investigating a case of house robbery where the thief entered through the window and abstracted a one pound note and three penny pieces. The suspicion of District Constable Murphy* fell upon a ticket-of-leave holder named Isaac Thomlin, and finding the gentleman at the Police Office, where he was making modest request to be allowed a pass to remain in Brisbane, Murphy took the liberty of searching him. He found the notes which was positively identified by Mrs Duffy by the peculiar way it was folded and by some remarkable stains on it. Murphy examined the forensic evidence on the scene and matched Thomlin’s boot print to the one found near Duffy’s house. As a nail was missing from one of the boots it left a characteristic impression in the soft soil.

‘As a rule, an unpopular Policeman is useless as a detective’, while ‘an uncivil, discourteous person is seldom successful in official life.’

As per the police manuals, observation and forensic skills were not only the key components of the job well done. Sobriety, proper conduct, attention to duty, civility and courtesy were among the principles that made a good policeman:

Sobriety – a policeman who tipples will never gain the confidence of his superiors or the respect of the public.
Conduct – if a young policeman does not decidedly refuse to be led by another, it indicates a weakness of character and a want of moral courage
Conduct Towards the Criminal Class – a policeman should not hold himself aloof from such persons; on the contrary, he should converse with them upon every suitable opportunity; he should act kindly towards them, and endeavour by advice and encouragement to induce them to abandon crime and live honestly.
Attention to Duty – a policeman on duty should allow nothing but his duty to occupy his thoughts.
Civility and Courtesy –every member of the Force should be most civil and courteous, and endeavour, as far as he can, consistently with his duty, to make himself popular with all classes. He should impress them with the idea that it is his desire to be obliging to all, and to render all the help in his power to everyone in need of it.

Vigilant guardianship of person and property was another key principles of police duty.  Absence of crime was considered ‘the very best evidence that can be given of the complete efficiency of the Police’. A grumbler with regard to duty, however, was seen as a considerable disadvantage to the service, comradeship and confidence of those in authority over him.

‘As a rule, an unpopular Policeman is useless as a detective’, while ‘an uncivil, discourteous person is seldom successful in official life.’

The 1914 Queensland Policeman’s Manual was first printed on 12 May that year, and came in navy or black. Image Courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

*To learn more about the life and service of the early colonial policemen watch out for the forthcoming book titled Policing Colonial Brisbane: the Good, the Bad and the Ghastly late 2017/ early 2018!


Anastasia Dukova