Policing in Victoria


Dorothy Wickham


Within three years of the Ballarat goldfields being settled, British military detachments of the 12th and 40th Regiments were sent to Ballarat to quell the unrest. They were reinforced by the horse and foot police. In the early 1850s there were in the Colony of Victoria no less than seven separate bodies of police: The City Police, The Geelong Police, The Gold Fields Police, The Water Police, The Rural Bench Constabulary, and the Mounted Police and the Escort, which were maintained without co-operation or communication with each other.

When the gold rushes broke out, many men in the police forces left their positions to dig for gold, leaving a much-depleted body of men to maintain law and order. A contemporary of the 1850s, John Sadlier, wrote that “Crimes of violence abounded everywhere, from the Murray to the sea; the very scum of all these southern lands poured into Victoria”. Although there were reports such as this it is evident that there were also peace abiding citizens and family men on the gold fields of Victoria.

The police forces recruited many men from numerous sources. With news of the gold rushes many crew deserted their vessels, leaving them to languish in Port Phillip. One “new chum” described how he pitched his tent in 1852 at Black Hill, Ballarat East. with other shipmates just landed from South Africa. Those who “had no money or inclination to hard work”, he wrote, accepted billets as policemen at the Camp. He described the police as a “force of ragged ununiformed Falstaffian sort of crowd, with arms to match”.

The Police Camp in Ballarat was located north of Sturt Street on the plateau between Lydiard and Camp Streets. It was described by historian William Bramwell Withers as a favourite camping place in the pastoral days, safe from floods, and near to water and grass. It was the location for a Camp Hospital and other administrative buildings.

The military were positioned north of the camp, the area in which the military encampment existed, the area being named Soldiers’ Hill.

The Victoria Police Force, as a statewide entity, was created due to The Police Regulation Act of 1853, which laid out the conditions and organisation for the Force’s administration and future development.

The Parliamentary Select Committee of 1852 stated that it was hoped that the Victoria Police Force would be “… effective in organisation and discipline, to carry the Laws into execution, and afford protection and security to Life and Property”.