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Island Beat: Policing a Pacific Island

Island Beat: Policing a Pacific Island

What Explorer, Bushranger, Duke and French Spies are linked to Norfolk Island? If you guessed Captain James Cook, Martin Cash, the Duke of Edinburgh and the French Agents who blew up the Rainbow Warrior, you’d be right!

Founded on the 14 October 1931, The Norfolk Island Police Force (NIPF) is Australia’s smallest jurisdictional police force. It has an establishment of just four full time members, three of which are members of the Australian Federal Police(AFP) seconded for a term deployment. The rest of this small force is made up of locally engaged part-time and casual members who work alongside their AFP colleagues. The NIPF celebrates its 80th anniversary on Friday 14 October 2011 and to a far greater recognition that it’s commencement. It is only fitting then, that we have a look at one of the youngest and smallest police forces in the world.

Early Policing on Norfolk Island

Policing has been an intrinsic component of life on Norfolk Island from the earliest times of European settlement. The earliest reference (so far discovered) to police, and more accurately to the appointment of a ‘Constable’ on Norfolk Island appears in 1790, with the appointment of Charles Grimes (1772-1858) as the ‘Head Constable’. Grimes was a surveyor and later went on to discover the Yarra River in 1803. The number of Constables is believed to have risen to around 20 during this first (colonial/convict) settlement period, although little research into this element of the settlement’s history has been undertaken. This second British colony in the Southern Hemisphere remained a convict colony for a number of years before its reduction in size, becoming a small settlement, which finally closed on 15 February 1814.

In 1824, the British government instructed the then Governor of New South Wales, Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane, to re-establish Norfolk Island as a Penal Colony, to be a place to send the ‘worst of the worst’ and repeat offending convicts, particularly from Van Diemen’s Land. Norfolk Island was re-established as penal colony on 28 May 1825.

This second settlement was led by Major Richard Turton, commencing with 34 troops, six women and children, and 57 convicts. By 1829, 211 convicts were on Norfolk and by 1834 there were close to 700 convicts, all employed by the government which, according to personal accounts of convicts and visiting officials, inflicted on them harsh punishments verging on the inhumane. By 1846, there were more than 1900 convicts, some 700 more than at Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land at the same time.

In 1840 Captain Alexander Maconochie R.N. (1787-1860) was appointed as Commandant of Norfolk Island. Maconochie, who is known as the advocate and champion of penology and the ‘father of parole’ introduced a fairer administration and the convicts started to be treated more humanely. In February 1844 Maconochie was replaced by Captain Joseph Childs.

It was during the term of Commandant Maconochie that a critical development in policing took place. Captain Maconochie established (or re-established) a police force soon after his arrival in March 1840.

On 14 September 1844 the administrative control of Norfolk Island passed from New South Wales to Van Diemen’s Land. With the leaving of Maconochie, Norfolk Island regained its reputation of brutality, through a series of harsh regimes, and a place known as ‘hell in paradise’. By 1846, there were at least four police stations.

In a colony that was ruled by fear, brutality and inhumane treatment of convicts, it was not surprising that there were a number of major uprisings. A sign of the times, a number of recorded ‘Convict Mutinies’ occurred in 1789, 1800,1826, 1832, 1834, 1846 and 1854. At least one uprising was by those who supposed to protect the colony.

In the end, this remote penal colony could not be sustained and a terrible chapter in Norfolk Island’s history was closed down. The last of the convicts were shipped to Port Arthur, Van Diemen’s Land in June 1856, 2 weeks after the arrival of Pitcairn Islanders, many of whom were descendants of the ‘Bounty Mutineers’. In turn, their own descendants remain intrinsic to the island today.

The Arrival of Pitcairn Islanders

During the two previous settlements, the island’s successive administrations from 1788 had reported to New South Wales, then Van Diemen’s Land. Following the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders on the Morayshire in June 1856, Norfolk Island was declared ‘a distinct and separate colony’ on 31 October 1856. The Governor of the Colony of New South Wales was also the Governor for Norfolk Island and was given, ‘full power and authority to make laws for the order, peace and good government of the said island, subject nevertheless to such rules and regulations as Her Majesty at any time by any instruction or instructions… may think fit to prescribe’

In 1857 the then Governor of New South Wales and Norfolk Island, Sir William Denison issued a proclamation which was referred to as ‘Laws & Regulations of Norfolk Island’, setting out 39 laws for the island. This proclamation is now regarded as the commencement of the modern legal history of this island, with no traceable legal rights going back to the convict era.

Whilst Norfolk Island and the Pitcairn community largely enjoyed autonomy as a separate Crown Colony, the island remained (administratively) close to the colony of New South Wales. This relationship was formally consolidated in 1896 when Lord Hampden (then Governor of NSW) visited Norfolk Island, repealing all the island’s laws and installing a new Resident Magistrate. The Island was placed under the Governor of New South Wales and additional police from Sydney were sent to the island.

As Australia moved to federation and the establishment of the Commonwealth administrative powers relating to Norfolk Island remained under the Governor of New South Wales until 1913 when the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Norfolk Island Act. The Act came into operation on 1 July 1914 and Norfolk Island becoming Australia’s first Island Territory.

Norfolk Island may have become a territory of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1914, but the NSW Police continued to provide police to the island until 1926. The Commonwealth finally commenced providing policing services to the territories. The Federal Capital Territory Police was established in September 1927, when it took over policing Canberra and the Capital Territory from its New South Wales Police counterparts.

Under the aegis of the New South Wales Police Force

The first recorded reference to the ‘Norfolk Island Police Force’ (to date) can been found in the ‘Funerals’ Column of the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday the 22 May 1900, reporting the funeral of Ellen Marie Knuckey, wife of Mr J.H. Knuckey, ‘late of the N.S.W. and Norfolk Island Police Force’.

Whilst there has been no official research into the history of policing on Norfolk Island, individuals tracing ancestors as part of their family trees have shone light onto police officers. It is due to this work that we know that between 1913 and 1924, the ‘Chief Constable’ of Norfolk Island was Constable (later Senior Constable) Sidney Charles Werner.

Constable Werner was a serving member of the New South Wales Police Force who sailed to Norfolk Island and was appointed on 10 September 1913.

It is recorded that soon after swearing in on 13 April 1926, a Commonwealth Peace Officer ‘sailed to Norfolk Island to replace a NSW Police Officer’.

The withdrawal of the New South Wales Police Force from Norfolk Island came some 12 years after the island became an Australian Territory and policing finally passed to the Commonwealth. This commitment continues to this day.

Establishment of the Norfolk Island Police Force

‘After having served with Commonwealth police force at Canberra since its formation in 1927, Constable W. O. Fellowes has been transferred on loan for two years to the Administration of Norfolk Island. He will leave Canberra on Thursday for Sydney to board the Steamer that leaves for Norfolk Island Saturday’ – Canberra Times Tuesday 1 Sept. 1931

On the 1 September 1931, William Osborne Fellowes, a Constable of the Federal Capital Territory Police (later the Australian Capital Territory – ACT Police) commenced his travels to take up his position as the first ‘Officer-in-Charge of the soon to be created Norfolk Island Police Force (NIPF). He was farewelled in the nation’s capital, Canberra and was presented with a case of pipes before he began the long journey, via Sydney, and sailing in a steamer to his new pacific island home, arriving on the 9 September 1931.

Policing in those early days involved being able to ride a horse and one of the earliest photographs depicts Constable Fellowes leading the Bounty Day procession (circa 1932). As late as the 1960’s, part of the equipment at the police station was a ‘Horse Shoeing Kit’.

World War II

The Second World War brought new challenges for Policing and changed the island forever. The building of the airport and runways brought greater access for the island to the outside world which up until that point was dependent on regular but limited shipping. The increase in population with hundreds of New Zealand armed forces members also saw an increase in the number of police, with four additional New Zealand Police sworn in (at the request of the Officer Commanding New Zealand Forces.

After the war, the island returned to less hectic times, but the construction of the airport had changed the island forever. No more would contact with the outside world be consigned to shipping or cables.

Moving to Self Government

In 1976, the Commonwealth Government commissioned Sir John Nimmo, to undertake a complete review of the governance and arrangements pertaining to Norfolk Island and in the process, review the role and responsibilities of police. Whilst the majority of these roles are no longer undertaken by police, many still remain.

One of the more famous incidents involving policing the island took place in July 1985. On the night of Wednesday 10 July 1985, an explosion ripped through the Greenpeace flag ship The Rainbow Warrior which was moored in New Zealand’s Auckland Harbour. A short time later, a second explosion sunk the vessel and claimed the life of a crewman, Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira.

The Rainbow Warrior was about to embark on a voyage to protest and hopefully stop the French nuclear testing at the Moruroa Atoll. Tasked with stopping The Rainbow Warrior, the French Secret Service, the DGSE deployed members to New Zealand as part of Operation Satanique. The yacht, Ouvéa, was a principle player in this incident and was used to transport equipment, including explosives, into New Zealand ahead of the attack on The Rainbow Warrior.

After the deadly explosions, the Ouvéa sailed from New Zealand undetected and made for Norfolk Island. It was not until the yacht attempted to anchor off Emily Bay and hit a reef that suspicions were aroused.

Norfolk Island Police boarded the yacht and whilst the French agents were arrested, there was not enough to hold them. They were released and sailed away, to later scuttle the yacht and be picked up by a French submarine.

Policing for the 21st Century

Today, the island is relatively peaceful and certainly nothing like its turbulent past. The NIPF is now responsible to the Norfolk Island Government (through the respective Minister for Police) and the Norfolk Island Administration, through the Chief Executive Officer, the Commonwealth Government, through the island’s Administrator and on an operational level, the AFP. The NIPF mission is to keep the community safe and secure in partnership with government and the wider community. This is achieved through the maintenance of law and order and the provision of quality policing services, undertaking emergency management and coordination and by meeting its statutory & regulatory obligations.

Recognising the relationship with the community

In the lead-up to the 80th anniversary celebrations, new emblems were developed to incorporate and represent the important aspects of what the NIPF has become today.The design of the new badge, to be representative, relevant and unique, have seen the combination of traditional symbols, representing the Commonwealth of Australia, Norfolk Island and policing in general.

Since its creation in 1931, the NIPF has relied on the community for assistance and support at all levels of policing services in the cooperative spirit for which the island is famous. The names of the Bounty Mutiny and Pitcairn descendants dominate the records of locally engaged Special Constables that have policed this island for the last 80 years as the NIPF and for almost a hundred years before that since their arrival from Pitcairn.

The Norfolk Island Police Force takes its role of protecting the community seriously, after all the police are part of the community and the community is part of the police. Working together, they make a difference.


Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 01 Issue 04, 2011. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.



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