Robert Stott

Robert Stott

Policeman par excellence

Robert Stott was born on 13 July 1858 in a blacksmith's croft at Nigg, Kincardineshire, Scotland. He was the son of James Stott, fishery overseer and his wife Catherine, nee Cruickshank. He had a good education and soon joined the police force and served with the Lancashire constabulary. As a young man, he and a few friends decided to move to Australia in 1882. Stott arrived and settled in Adelaide where he worked at various occupations before joining the South Australian Police Force where he started as a foot constable on 1 Aug 1882. In December 1883 he, like several other South Australians, such as Samuel Gason, E.N.B. Catchlove, Paul Foelsche and W.H. Willshire, wanted to see a little more action and transferred to the Northern Territory Police, where he became a mounted constable.

He certainly saw more action and excitement and often went on long patrols. For most of the first years he was posted at Burrundie, Roper River and at the Victoria River. Police at the time travelled widely, by horse or camel, in the course of their duties and were assisted by black trackers or native police. In addition to regular six-to-eight week patrols, it was often necessary to mount special missions such was the case in 1884, when he, with Corporal Montagu and Mounted Constables Macdonald, Luck and Cox travelled to investigate an attack by Aborigines on a group of miners travelling towards Southport.

The January 1885 the Government Resident's Report stated that difficulties had arisen in connection with blacks and cattle in an area stretching from Newcastle Waters to Katherine and from Victoria River to the Roper. The presence of the black trackers at Elsey was welcomed and they proved able assistants in the years to come. Tracker Roper Tommy in particular served for 40 years at Roper River and, in recognition of his service, Stott succeeded in persuading the government to allow him to draw the old age pension, the first Aboriginal tracker to do so.

In 1885, a Chinese crewman was murdered by some Aborigines at a camp near Port Essington. Stott proceeded to the scene and eventually tracked the culprit after weeks of searching in wild, inhospitable country. In recognition of his devotion to duty, he was awarded a gold watch and a sum of £10 and was also mentioned favourably in the Police Gazette whilst the Minister commented on his 'great courage and sagacity'.

Stott also served for some time at Southport in charge of the police station there and established the first police camp at Katherine. In 1886 his application for transfer to the Mounted Police was approved by the Minister upon recommendation of the Police Commissioner Foelsche who described him as 'a good and zealous officer'.

Six years of hard and at times very difficult service in the Territory took their toll on Stott and in November 1889 he applied for three months' sick leave with passage to and from Adelaide. His request was supported by the Government Resident and in February 1890 he departed for Adelaide. However he was soon back on the job and in July, when a report by Constable Martin of a skirmish with a native at the river prompted him to request further assistance at the Roper. He pointed out that if one constable was away on patrol it left the remaining man vulnerable to attack.

In 1897 Stott was promoted to first class constable and later transferred to Burrundie. With a secure position and aged 41 Stott married English born Mary Duggan at the Wesleyan Church in Palmerston on 27 November 1899. The marriage was only of very short duration as she died giving birth to their first baby. After her death, at Darwin, an obituary of 15 February 1901 stated, Mrs Stott, wife of M.C. Stott, of Burrundie, who had been ailing for some weeks past, died at the residence of Mr F. R. Finnis, Palmerston, on Monday morning last, February 11, after the birth of their daughter Lily Duggan. The baby died a few weeks later on 3 March.

Mary came out from England some fifteen months ago, and 'was married in Palmerston, to Mr R. Stott, a much respected police officer. Since then Mrs Stott has enjoyed good health until some weeks ago, when a baby girl was born, but on and off for the past week or so the deceased lady has been very ill, until on Monday the end came, and she passed quietly away as stated. The funeral, which took place on Monday afternoon, was a large one. The first part of the burial ceremony was performed at the Roman Catholic Church by Rev. Father O'Brien, and the cortege then proceeded to the cemetery where the remains were interred. Wreaths and crosses covered the coffin, and served to show, the esteem with which the deceased lady was regarded'.

Three years later at the age of 44, on April 21 1902, Constable Stott married again. This time to Agnes Heaslop, age 24 of Cooktown, Queensland and daughter of Samuel Heaslop and Jane Ann (nee Moffatt)), at Cottage, Port Darwin. 'A very quiet wedding took place in Palmerston on Monday evening, when Miss Heaslop was united in the holy bonds of matrimony to Mr Robert Stott, well known member of the N.T. Mounted Police force. The marriage ceremony was celebrated by the Rev.F. Greenwood, and the newly married couple left by Tuesday's train, for Burrundie. The ceremony was strictly private, only a few near friends of the parties being present'. They would eventually have six children, Malcolm, Cameron, Robert, Agnes, Malvern and Mavis.

The Stott family departed Darwin on the vessel Waihoi on 10 February 1904 for Borroloola on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Stott would now take charge of the Borroloola police and take up many other duties as well. From 1908 Stott was a first class Mounted Constable at Borroloola.

On 1 January 1911, administration of the Northern Territory passed from South Australia to the Commonwealth Government and Robert Stott, who was at that time based at Borroloola, was transferred to Stuart (later Alice Springs) as prison keeper, clerk & bailiff of the local Court. At this time the police residence was at the old Heavitree Gap site. Robert came overland, while Agnes and the children travelled by sea to Adelaide. From there they boarded The Ghan to Oodnadatta followed by a three week buggy trip to Stuart.

Stott was held in high regard by the people with whom he lived and worked. Alice Springs was notorious for its wild element and he was credited with establishing law and order in the tough outback town. A resident of Alice Springs at the time stated, 'To see Robert Stott break up a 'free-for-all', not with a gun or truncheon, but with a riding crop, was to witness an exhibition of physical courage rarely equalled. When he told anyone to get out of town, and stay out, they went and stayed'.

Stott was known by all station managers and their employees, and respected wherever he went. He ruled with only a riding crop and the force of his remarkable character. When the surveyor-explorer, Captain H.V. Barclay, made complaints against the Hermannsburg Mission, Stott held an inquiry in 1912 and played an ameliorating role, acknowledging some criticisms but generally giving support to the missionaries.

Accepting people on their merit, his family was hospitable to the roughest bushmen as well as to touring dignitaries among whom was Lord Stradbroke. In 1914 Stott saw that the family of a dead gold miner was housed, found a job for the eldest son and ensured that the children attended school. He was chairman (1918-26) of the committee that led to the establishment of Adelaide House, Central Australia's first hospital in Alice Springs established by Flynn.

While in Alice Springs, Stott as Protector of Aborigines, enforced the rule that half-caste children be given their fatherís name. Another rule he enforced was that no trees should be cut down within a certain radius of the town. By the late 1920's he had become a legendary figure, careering about in one of the earliest motor cars in Central Australia and widely known to enjoy a whisky. When the local school children were paraded for the benefit of a visiting official who asked them to name the King, they replied 'Sergeant Stott'.

On 1 March 1927 the Northern Territory was split for administrative purposes into two sections, with the 20th parallel of latitude as the boundary between the Territory of North Australia and the Territory of Central Australia. Each Territory had its own Government Resident and its own police force. In recognition of his 46 years of service, Sergeant Robert Stott was appointed Commissioner of Police, Centralian Police Force.

Upon his retirement, Sergeant Stott received the following telegram from Sergeant Stretton. of Darwin, 'On the eve of your retirement, and on behalf of the members of the Northern Australian Police, I desire to express our high appreciation of the services rendered by you during 45 yearsí service. Your devotion and attention to duty have been an inspiration to younger members of the force. You have faithfully and efficiently discharged important duties in connection with the development of the North and Central Australia'.

He retired in 1928 and whilst on final leave of absence, Stott who had survived endless hardships and danger in the north was struck by a train at Wayville. Stott died on 5 May 1928 in the Adelaide Hospital. He was buried at West Terrace cemetery. His wife, four sons, and two daughters survived him. Agnes Stott died Melbourne 5 April 1953. Stott Terrace, Alice Springs and a mountain, north-east of the Alice are named after Robert.

With special thanks to Leo Fogarty
who supplied most of the information and pictures.

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