WA Police Commissioners 1853-1867
Since the formal establishment of a united Police Force in Western Australia (later the Police Service), 27 individuals have held the position of Chief of Police. The title 'Commissioner' was finalised as the permanent designation for the leader of the police in our State in 1887. Before then 'Superintendent' was the more usual rank.
Individuals who acted as Chiefs of Police are included when the post was completely vacant or when the incumbent was out of office for some official reason. As yet, no portraits or photographs of Conroy, Skinner Smith or Crampton have been tracked down. However, probable photographic portraits of Crampton and Smith have been identified and will be added after further research.
The following short biographical data will be expanded and amended in the course of further work on the careers and background of these most influential public officials of Western Australia. The activities of most of these men while they were in office have been largely outlined in detail in the writer's book Protect and Serve: a History of Policing in Western Australia.
Contributions from those who have information directly relevant to the lives and careers of the Commissioners will be gratefully received. Consideration will be given to amending the entries in the interests of accuracy, and full credit will be given to those who supply additional data. It would be particularly gratifying to receive information from descendants of the Commissioners.
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The Commissioners of Police in Western Australia
John Augustus Conroy (1822-1867)
Superintendent: March 14, 1853
Commissioner: June 20, 1854 to December 31, 1856
Aged only 31 when appointed, Conroy was the son of an army officer and the nephew of the notorious Sir John Conroy, formerly equerry to Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent. The Conroys were in origin a very ancient Irish aristocratic family.
After serving in India as an officer of irregular cavalry, Conroy left the army because of a duel and fell on hard times. He was later made Deputy Overseer of Convicts and arrived in the colony of Western Australia in 1851. As Commissioner of Police, he was a flamboyant and committed leader, who fought hard to stabilise the new organisation in the face of resource restrictions. Conroy's career as Commissioner ended in controversy and accusations of financial impropriety. He went on half pay on the last day of 1855 and returned to England in a successful attempt to clear his name. He did not return and the position lapsed after another year. The ultimate fate of John Conroy and his family remains unknown.
Frederick Palgrave Barlee (1827-1884)
Acting Commissioner: January 1, 1856 to March 2, 1857
Of middle class origin and a bank clerk in early life, Barlee entered the British Civil Service and had a distinguished career. After work in the Ordnance Department in England, Barlee transferred to the colonial service and spent some time in Sierra Leone. From 1855 to 1876 he was Colonial Secretary in WA. It is probable he engineered the overthrow of Conroy.
Barlee later thought better of his actions and gave up control of the Police Force in the interests of the separation of powers principle. He was later Lieutenant Governor of British Honduras and died in office as Administrator of Trinidad. Barlee was knighted in 1883. He is the youngest head of the organisation in WA policing history.
William Hogan (1825-1898)
Inspector: March 3 to May 31, 1857
Superintendent: January 1, 1861 to July 11, 1866
William, the son of John Hogan, was of very obscure origin. He was a former soldier and a highly commended London detective who arrived in WA in 1854 to assist with criminal investigation work. Hogan was commissioned early and soon reached the rank of Inspector - he was the right-hand man of successive Superintendents of Police, although family commitments in Victoria led him to leave the WA police for a brief period.
Soon after he took command in 1861 a new Police Ordinance was introduced which set the scene for a period of reform. Hogan personally compiled the Police Rules and Regulations of 1863 and he worked tirelessly to raise standards and improve operational methods. He was under considerable personal strain by 1866 and a disagreement with officialdom led to his second resignation. Hogan moved east and worked as a detective in New South Wales until his retirement. One of his sons became an Inspector in the WA police.
Alfred Hawes Stone (1801-1873)
Acting Inspector: June 1, 1857 to March 1, 1858
Stone arrived in WA in 1829 with his brother. They were both heavily involved in the development of the legal profession in WA. A.H. Stone was the son of a lawyer of County Kent and was a solicitor himself. His legal career in the Colony was astonishing - Stone was given the high-sounding title of 'High Constable' for Perth township in the early years, but his real commitments lay elsewhere.
He established a successful private practice and by 1850 had accumulated a number of public positions to go with it - Crown Solicitor, Commissioner of the Court of Requests and Registrar-Clerk of the Civil Court. He filled in for William Hogan when the latter went to Victoria, although he had little time to devote to his duties as Acting Chief of Police. After the Supreme Court was established in 1861, he became Registrar, Master and Keeper of Records of the court. For good measure, he acquired some four other public posts over the next decade in a permanent or acting capacity.
Nobody in WA found reason to question Stone's integrity. He retired in 1870.
Charles Symmons (1804-1887)
Acting Superintendent: March 1 to May 31, 1858
Symmons was another well educated immigrant from the 'middle orders' of society, although little is known of his background. In 1839 he was appointed Protector of Natives in Perth and went on to hold other public positions. He was a member of the Board of Public Works from 1849 and Immigration Agent in 1855. After his short spell as a stop-gap Chief of Police, he went on (in Stone style) to become Acting Sheriff of the Colony, an Assistant Resident Magistrate, a Justice of the Peace and Police Magistrate in Fremantle.
Sir Alexander Thomas Cockburn-Campbell (1804-1871)
Superintendent: June 1, 1858 to December 31, 1860
Cockburn-Campbell was of minor Scottish gentry in origin; his family became wealthy through mercantile activity in India. The baronetcy was obtained by marriage to the heiress of a famous British general of the Napoleonic Wars. Sir Alexander served for a short time as an army officer in India and held some civil posts. He then devoted a lot of time and energy to work for the Plymouth Brethren religious movement, of which he and his wife were founder members.
As Superintendent of Police in WA, he was a hard taskmaster and disciplinarian, a man who set high standards both for himself and others. At the same time, he was astute enough to propose a couple of changes aimed at alleviating the severe working conditions endured by his junior officers. Cockburn-Campbell resigned to become Resident Magistrate at Albany, where he spent the rest of his life.
Robert Henry Crampton (1827-1871)
Acting Superintendent: July 12, 1866 to June 17, 1867
Crampton was the son of a prominent Anglo-Irish clergyman, Cecil Crampton, and married into a family of English landed gentry. He received a commission in the British Army at the age of 20 and made his mark in two colonial wars in South Africa, during which he received several wounds. Crampton was very well thought of by senior army officers and was sent to WA as a major and staff officer in the Enrolled Pensioner Force.
Crampton took over as Acting Superintendent after Hogan's final resignation and showed himself to be a gifted administrator; he developed a couple of plans for police reform which were eventually put in place by his successors. During Hare's tenure, he again acted as Chief of Police whenever the Superintendent was absent. In 1870 he became Commandant of the Colonial Defence Establishment, and was made a colonel of volunteers (militia). Crampton died in office.