Henry Alford, South Australia's first police constable

Henry Alford

South Australia's First Constable



Henry Alford 1850 (SLSA)

Henry Alford, born 12 February 1816 in Acton, Middlesex, England, gave the following account of his life in the South Australian Advertiser of 27 December 1886.

I arrived here by the schooner John Pirie, 110 tons, Captain Martin, in the latter end of the year 1836. At least I did not land in South Australia proper, but on Kangaroo Island, at Nepean Bay. There were two vessels that arrived two days before us. These were the Lady Mary Pelham and the Duke of York, but our ship was the first to start from London for the new land of South Australia.

I and others came out in the employ of the South Australian Company. What had we to do? Well, we simply had to do what we were told. On landing there was nothing for it but to make the best of matters, and we had to camp under bushes or whatever other shelter there was to be found. Two days after we landed there arrived the Rapid with Colonel Light and Admiral Pullen on board.

I remember I also saw Dr. Woodforde, Mr. Hiram Mildred (who was then a lad), Mr. Barker, Mr. A. Hodges, Mr. Jacob and some others on the Rapid. Mr. Samuel Stephens, who came out for the South Australian Company, had arrived two days before our vessel. Well, we found that there were some white people already living on Kangaroo Island, but we did not know who they were.

Certainly, they did not come out with the expedition to colonise South Australia, and we understood that they had come over from Tasmania. These men came down to us, one at a time, and we became a little alarmed, because we did not know how many there were. About seven or eight put in an appearance altogether. Our great object was to find fresh water, because although we had some on the ships that would not last very long.

Mr. Stephens asked these men to show us where we could get water, but they declined. After some solicitation, however, they relented and pointed out where the very requisite fluid was to be obtained. It was some distance across the gulf, whether on the island or on the mainland I cannot now say, but it took four of us the best part of a day to pull there.

Then we worked during the night in filling a large cask, and started back on the following morning towing the cask behind the boat; but we had a head wind, and we were the whole day in getting back. These people who were on the island had small holdings, and I think they did a little cultivation. The John Pirie, I may say, never returned to England, but afterwards traded about the colonies.

Well, I was engaged by the company for 12 months, and after helping to discharge cargo I and some others went in the John Pirie to Tasmania, and we brought back two horses and two bullocks; the first stock that were landed in South Australia. We called at the island on the way back, leaving some cargo there, and then we came on to the mainland.

I finished my 12 months with the company, and then I went into the service of Mr. J. B. Hack, (in July 1837) and remained with him until a lot of desperate bush ranging broke out around Adelaide. I and two others volunteered, in response to a call from the Governor, and there were also several special constables. We were ordered to arrest the desperadoes, of whom there were three.

They used to stick people up all about the place. We took two of them in town, and the other one, named Morgan, bolted to Encounter Bay. I and the other two volunteers were sent after him, and we caught him too, but he would not walk, and the result was that we had to handcuff him around a tree at Currency Creek while we sent in for a cart to fetch him along. Our orders were to bring him in dead or alive.

One of these ruffians named Yeates was hung. This was in I838. On coming in for the cart the Governor summoned his colleagues in the management of the settlement, and it was thereupon decided that they must establish a police force. Captain Inman was selected as superintendent, and was entrusted with the duty of forming the force. First, however, he went back with us for Morgan, and as soon as we brought him in Captain Inman was sworn in as superintendent, and I and one of my mates were sworn in as constables on police pay.

Now that was the absolute foundation of the police force in South Australia. Captain Inman subsequently went home, and is now, I believe, a clergyman in charge of a parish somewhere in Kent. Well, I remained in the force for 16 years, and as inspector I brought over the gold escorts from Victoria in 1853 and 1854. In one escort we brought over 33,763 ounces of gold, and in another 42,119 ounces.

Of course, in my time I had a lot of desperadoes to deal with and I arrested a good many. There were a lot of them who used to take work as splitters in the Tiers, but they would retire from the avocation of sawyers and take to the profession of bushrangers whenever the opportunity offered. Then they would get together a lot of money and actually come into town and knock it down.

Sometimes they would put on masks and make a raid on that part of the Adelaide plains which is now Kensington. I was nearly forgetting to tell you about the proclamation of the colony. It took place on the day after I had come back from the trip to Tasmania. There was great fun. They had one fife, an old tambourine, and some other instrument they had made themselves, and that was the band. There was a regular spree that day.

So much for his own story, which really only refers to his first 15 years in the colony.

After some research we find that Alford joined the newly established police force in August 1838 and had been arresting cattle thieves, runaway convicts, ship deserters, sly-grog sellers, horse stealers, murderers, burglars, prize-fighters and other criminals. Within three years he had made more than fifty arrests. In 1841 he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Although often away from home, Alford did get married to Elizabeth Ann Drewett in 1844. Eventually they were to have six children, which included a Henry, born around 1839. On 28 December 1844 Alford was assaulted in Hindley Street by James Guntie and William Stratton. They were fined five pounds each or one month gaol. His efforts were not just in the young city. He often travelled far and wide during his time in the force.

In November 1845 he was involved in the rescue of passengers and crew from the wrecked schooner Mariner some 60 km south of Goolwa. A few months later he went north as far as Mount Brown where Aborigines has seized some 900 sheep owned by Tennant. On 1 April 1847 he was appointed Sergeant Major.

Two years later he was appointed Inspector of Police, following the death of Commissioner Gordon. From the well-known efficiency of Mr Alford, 'this promotion cannot but give general satisfaction,' according to the local papers. Some two or three hundred convictions, noted in the Police Records, bear ample testimony to his value in that department. His promotion is therefore deserved in every respect, and must engender a spirit of useful emulation throughout the force of which he has been so long a zealous member.

A year later it was said that 'It cannot be forgotten how gratified the public were at the elevation of that indefatigable officer, Inspector Alford'. This was followed barely two months later by another commendation which read, 'On reference to our police report, it will be seen that Inspector Alford has given another marked proof of his courage, vigilance, and tact, in the capture of a runaway from Van Dieman's Land, who was transported from this place about five years ago, and had just returned to his old haunts.

The promptness of the capture, and the accuracy displayed in fixing the charge upon 'the right man', who had been away from the colony so long, reflects great credit upon the Inspector and our admirable police force.

Although still very busy with police work and often away from his home at North Terrace, he was much pleased when his wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter on 22 October 1851. They named her after an earlier Elizabeth Ann, who was born in 1846 but had died. This was followed by the birth of Edwin in 1847, Julia in 1849 and Mary Jane in 1854.

On 22 May 1852 it was stated that His Excellency met with the full approval of the colonists when Alford was raised to the office which he has since filled with admirable efficiency. That same month he was appointed to form a mid-way station for the Gold Escort.

A few months later, the public was advised that a grand night would be held at which the Alford family would be present. The Ladies, Gentlemen and Gold Diggers of Adelaide were respectfully informed that there would be a Grand Performance at the Victoria Theatre, under the distinguished Patronage of Mr Alford, his Lady and family, who had signified their intention of being present.

On 31 January, the Overland Escort, under the command of Inspector Alford, arrived in town with 33,765 ounces of gold. Mr Alford had affected the quickest journey from Forest Creek on record, having made Wellington in eleven days from that plans. He arrived at Wellington on the 26th and stopped there two days to rest the horses.


Wellington Police Station 1864. (SLSA)

The men had behaved extremely well, and the horses were brought in as if they had only been out for a day's canter, instead of having traversed a good eight hundred miles in thirty-three days.


Dr TY Cotter 1875, SLSA

In May 1853, he was in Adelaide to attend the Albion Lodge of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity's ninth anniversary dinner at the Albion Hotel, Morphett Street. It was chaired by JH Fisher, with EJF Crawford Esq as croupier. The room was crowded, above a hundred gentlemen being present, among whom were Dr Cotter, Alderman Sherwin, Councillor Fiveash, Inspectors Stuart, Alford, and Cromie.

A few days later, the Adelaide Times reported, 'It is with the highest gratification that we record another instance of that substantial appreciation of merit which so eminently distinguishes the Colonists of South Australia. The services of Mr Alford in his capacity of Inspector of Mounted Police are too well known to all classes of the colonists to require any particular statement at our hands.

As an officer, his thorough efficiency is universally acknowledged, and his urbanity and courtesy have not only secured to him the esteem of all who have ever been brought in contact with him, but have materially assisted in promoting that good understanding which should exist between officer and subordinate.

Impressed with a belief that the citizens of Adelaide and colonists generally saw in the public conduct of Mr Alford an object worthy of a significant acknowledgment, Mr W Williams, formerly of the City Bridge, commenced, a few months back, to solicit subscriptions for a testimonial to that gentleman.

His labours have been eminently successful, and the result was that last evening Mr Alford was presented with a Silver Cup, containing One Hundred and Thirty Guineas. The presentation took place at the City Bridge Hotel, Hindley Street, in the presence of about forty gentlemen, who were presided over by W Paxton Esq. The Cup, with its valuable contents, was handed over to the Chairman by Mr Williams, and Mr Paxton in a suitable address, presented it to Mr Alford.

It was inscribed as follows, 'Presented with a Purse, containing One Hundred and Thirty Guineas, to Mr Henry Alford, Inspector of Mounted Police, by a number of his friends and brother colonists, in testimony of his personal worth and the great efficiency of his public services during a period of fifteen years'.

The Cup having been presented, the Chairman handed over to Mr Alford a list of the Subscriber's names engrossed upon vellum. Mr Alford expressed his thanks for the handsome present in modest terms, and proposed the health of Mr Williams, which was drunk in bumpers. A variety of toasts followed, which were duly responded to.

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