One area of local administration in St. John's for which the
colonial government assumed direct administrative and financial
responsibility was policing. When the legislature met for the
first time in 1833 it continued the longstanding policy of the
governors of providing for the cost of the police establishment
from general revenue. In 1806 Governor Sir Erasmus Gower had
placed the three magistrates then in the town under permanent
salary (or stipend) to enable them to be independent of any
private or professional interest. Previously, their salaries had
been derived in part from the annual licensing of taverns and
from the fines they collected in their courts; but half of the
money they had collected had gone into the Imperial Treasury. (1)
After 1833 the work load of the magistrates steadily increased
with practically every new statute enacted by the legislature
giving them new duties. (2) When presiding over Quarter Sessions
the Newfoundland magistrates had the same powers as the Justices
of the Peace in England with regard to the Common Law; but until
1837 they had no right of summary adjudication of minor crimes
and misdemeanours. This lack of authority resulted from confusion
over which of the criminal laws of England applied to
Newfoundland - a confusion that persisted even though the
Judicature Acts of 1791 and 1824 gave the Supreme Court of
Newfoundland authority to hear all crimes and misdemeanours.
Accordingly, many crimes of a minor nature could be dealt with
only by indictments in the Supreme Court, and the delay involved
in this costly procedure let miscreants escape. In practice the
Judges of the Supreme Court relied upon the whole body of English
Common and Criminal Law in deciding the cases brought before
them. When the legislature in 1837 adopted the Criminal Law of
England effective June 20, the magistrates received the right of
summary adjudication of crimes and misdemeanours. (3)
The magistrates were responsible for controlling the appointment
and regulation of the constabulary. (4) There had been paid
police in St. John's since 1812 when Governor Sir John Duckworth
had hired 12 constables out of the proceeds of the annual
licensing of the town's taverns. Before this change publicans had
occasionally acted as constables and in 1806 this service had
been made the condition of obtaining a license. The publicians
had opposed this measure, their interest favouring leniency. (5)
Opposition from the publicians arose again in 1822 when they
rebelled against the charges being levied on them for the
maintenance of the constabulary. Their protest took the form of
an appeal to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favour,
stating that the magistrates in sessions could not allocate the
license funds to pay the constables. This decision was based on
the argument that the English laws by which the magistrates had
imposed the license fees were inapplicable to Newfoundland. (6)
For a time, therefore, the only funds available to pay the
constables were those they collected themselves. (7)
The legal impediment which the publicans had taken advantage of
in 1822 was removed by Section 34 of the 1824 Judicature Act.
Governor Sir Thomas Cochrane again applied the 8 pound annual tavern
license to the salaries of the constables. After 1833 the
legislature continued the salaries of magistrates and constables
from the general revenue in St. John's as well as in the larger
outports. (8) As organized by Governor Cochrane, the St. John's
constabulary consisted of a senior stipendiary magistrate, a High
Constable, and eight constables. This remained the size of the
force until the mid-1830s when, for reasons of economy, the
legislature reduced the number of constables by two. (9)
In St.John's at this time, as was generally the case in Britain,
the chief responsibility for the detection and prosecution of
crime belonged to the private citizen. An arrest was made when a
citizen came forward to the magistrates and gave the necessary
facts with regard to the alleged crime. Once the plaintiff paid
the constable a fee, a warrant was executed for the arrest of the
offender. (10) The duties of the constables themselves consisted
of patrolling the main streets from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. They
were expected to be on the alert for breaches of the peace and
petty thefts, and to prevent the throwing of nuisance into the
streets. They were also to ensure that the taverns closed on
time. (11) In the spring and autumn the constables had to forego
their normal duties and attend (under penalty) the daily sessions
of the Supreme and District Circuit Courts. (12) Their presence
was hardly missed for in reality it was the presence of the
military garrison and the pervasive influence of the Roman
Catholic clergy which kept the citizenry of St. John's under
The ineffectiveness of magistrates and constables in dispensing
crowds was demonstrated again and again in election contests,
when physical intimidation was frequently the best weapon
political parties had to guarantee the victory of their
candidates. The only security the magistrates could offer to
political candidates was to be found in the hiring of extra
special constables or the calling out of the troops. (13)
In the 1840s, however, the constabulary gradually became
important, taking on both detective and preventive work. In this
it mirrored changes that had been in progress in British police
forces since the 1829 establishment of a paid, uniformed police
in London. (14) The impetus for reform in St. John's came from
Governor Sir John Harvey, who in the mid-1830s had been the
Inspector of Police in Ireland. Harvey appointed an Irish
protege, Thomas Mitchell, to the local force in 1844. Thirty-one
years old at the time of his appointment, the Roman Catholic
Mitchell had served under Harvey first in the Irish Constabulary
and then in the New Brunswick police force when Harvey had been
governor of New Brunswick before coming in 1841 to Newfoundland.
(15) Mitchell's selection foreshadowed the future course of the
constabulary, which would gradually be modelled on its Irish
Additional responsibility for the constabulary developed as a
result of the formation in the late 1840s of a night watch for
the town. Organized in January, 1848, and paid for by a warrant
on the colonial treasury, the Watch consisted of 20 special
constables, who patrolled at night once the regulars went off
duty. (16) Governor Sir John Gaspard Le Marchant intended the
Watch as a temporary arrangement, to last only during the winter,
when a sizable portion of the population was unemployed and idle.
The Watch was to arrest persons for drunken and rowdy behaviour,
and to be on constant alert for fires which, during November and
December of 1847, were very numerous and generally believed to be
the work of incendiaries. The new special constables proved
immensely popular with merchants and other property owners,
although there was considerable resentment from the citizens at
first because of the sometimes zealous manner in which they
arrested individuals on the spot for alleged breaches of the
peace. The Watch also took on a detective role, as evidenced by
its successful confiscation in its first month of its operations
of a sizable amount of contraband goods. (17) Despite these
successes, in April, 1848, the size of the Watch was reduced by
half, but it was subsequently maintained by Governor Le Marchant
at this strength. (18) Beginning in 1849 the legislature agreed
to pay for a Watch, but only to the extent of equaling the funds
the stipendiary magistrates could raise through voluntary
subscriptions. Since enough funds could not be raised by this
means to support a year round operation, the Watch now became a
winter force which functioned generally between November and May.
(19) Nor was its effectiveness limited only by lack of money.
Because members had to be recruited annually the force was often
hindered by its lack of discipline. (20) What was obviously
needed was the enlargement of the existing regular paid
constabulary to allow it to patrol at night.
A small step towards the improvement of the regular force was
taken in December, 1853, when Governor Ker Baillie Hamilton, in
response to Grand Jury criticism of the constables, (21)
appointed two more policemen. To improve the internal
organization of the force, Hamilton promoted constable Timothy
Mitchell to the newly created position of Superintendent and
Inspector of the town's police. Mitchell was instructed to carry
out the duties of his office according to the practice of his
counterparts in the Dublin and London forces. (22)
Mitchell had great difficulty asserting his control over the
constables, facing great opposition from stipendiary magistrate
Peter Weston Carter, who had held that position since 1818 and
who resented the apparent reduction in his own authority. Carter
encouraged the High Constable, John Toor, a member of the
constabulary since 1826, not to acknowledge Mitchell as his
superior. What Carter wanted Mitchell to do was to confine
himself to ensuring that the constables carried out the duties
given to them by the High Constable, who, in turn, would continue
to act on the orders of the magistrates. The not surprising
result was general confusion among the constables as to who was
really in command - Toor or Mitchell. The matter came to a head
late in 1855, when Mitchell decided to seek a clearer definition
of his office after Toor had not only questioned his orders but
his character. After a careful review of Mitchell's appointment,
the Liberal Government of Philip Little (1855-1858) supported the
Superintendent's position, giving him firm control of the
constables under the continued direction of the magistrates. (23)
Another controversy between Mitchell and Carter erupted the
following year. On this occasion Carter dismissed a constable
whose wife complained that she had been assaulted by her husband.
Some time later the angry drunken ex-constable visited the
police station where he insulted Mitchell and several of his
colleagues. Three days later, to the great dismay of the
constabulary, the dismissed man was reinstated by Carter without
a word of explanation. Mitchell now issued what was, in effect,
an ultimatum to the government; either he or the man who had
insulted him and had been reinstated by Carter must go. (24) The
Liberal Government again chose in Mitchell's favour. Toor was
subsequently dismissed and Mitchell made responsible directly to
the Executive Council. In future the magistrates were to direct
the constables only with the permission of the Superintendent and
Inspector of Police. (25)
The government also decided at this time to increase the size of
the constabulary to 16 and to have it carry out the work done by
the Night Watch. On the other hand, since this was a change
clearly for the benefit of St. John's, the government did not
want to bear all the expense itself. Accordingly, on July 4,
1856, it approached the merchants, through their Chamber of
Commerce, for a permanent financial contribution in lieu of the
voluntary subscriptions of former years. The merchants rejected
this request on the grounds that policing was a responsibility
the government alone should bear. (26) In the face of this
refusal the Liberal Government assumed the whole burden of the
increased cost and fitted out the entire constabulary with
uniforms. (27) Despite this additional police expenditure, there
was a limit to what the government was willing to afford for
improved policing. In 1857 Governor Alexander Bannerman tried to
strengthen further the number and quality of the constables
serving in St.John's and the larger outports. His proposal was to
bring 15 or 20 men from the London police force, but his
suggestion was rejected by his Liberal Executive Council because
of its great expense. (28)
The reason why Bannerman sought this improvement in the police
force was to lessen the dependency of the government on the
availability of the garrison in St. John's for the maintenance of
law and order in both the capital and the outports. Indeed, the
presence of the garrison, which in 1862 numbered approximately
300 men and cost the imperial Government 20,000 pounds annually,
relieved Newfoundland of the full cost of maintaining law and
order. (29) Several governors had tried, at the urging of the
Imperial Government, to persuade local politicians to form a
colonial militia; but for various financial and religious reasons
this force had never been mustered. (30) In 1870 the colonial
government was finally forced to assume full responsibility for
policing when the Imperial Government announced that its garrison
in Newfoundland would be withdrawn.
When the last troops were withdrawn in November, 1870, the
Anti-Confederate Government of Charles Fox Bennett (1869-1874)
organized a special force to complement the existing constabulary
in anticipation of any possible increase in crime during the
forthcoming winter. This force numbered 17 and was organized by
Stipendiary Magistrate Daniel Prowse. (31) The long term solution
proposed by the Bennett Government was the reorganization and
expansion of the colonial and St. John's police under the
leadership of an officer of the English or Irish police. In 1871
legislation was passed allocating $20,000 for the new force.
Initially, this legislation was strongly criticized by outport
opposition members who believed that only the capital would
benefit from it. They desisted, however, when Bennett assured
them that the force would police the whole island. On the
recommendation of the Imperial Government, Thomas Foley, an Irish
Protestant and former constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary,
was appointed to head the Terra Nova Constabulary, which had its
headquarters in St. John's. Foley retained the recently retired
Timothy Mitchell's title of Inspector and General Superintendent
of the Constabulary, but was given responsibility for all police
constables in the colony, subject to the direction of the
Executive Council. (32) By 1880 the new force numbered 100 men,
half of whom were stationed in St. John's. The force was
maintained by an annual vote of the legislature, while its
internal organization and discipline were modelled on the
practices of the Royal Irish Constabulary. (33)
1. D. W. Prowse, History of Newfoundland (London, 1895), 356-58, 383.
2. E. M. Archibald, Digest of the Laws of Newfoundland (1847), 66.
3. Ibid. See also Statutes of Newfoundland, 1 Victoria, Cap. 6; Journal of the House of Assembly (JHA), 1843, Appendix, 444-51; Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL), GN2/2, Incoming Correspondence of the Colonial Secretary's Office, Stipendiary Magistrates Blaikie and Carter to Colonial Secretary James Crowdy, May 17, 1838; and Gazette, January 15, 29, 1833.
4. PANL, GN2/2, Stipendiary Magistrates Carter and Simms to Colonial Secretary Crowdy, July 1, 1844;and JHA, 1857, Appendix, 476-77.
5. Prowse, History of Newfoundland, 381-86; Paul O'Neill, A Seaport Legacy: The Story of St. John's (Erie, Ontario, 1976), 573-74; Charles Pedley, History of Newfoundland (London, 1863), 280; and Arthur Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary (St. John's, 1971), 21.
6. Newfoundland Law Reports, 1817-1828, "R. Young v. James Blaikie, March, 1822", 277-84.
7. Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University, D'Alberti Transcripts, Correspondence with Governor's Office in Newfoundland, vol. 32, 1822, Governor Hamilton to the Justices in Sessions, April 1, 1822.
8. Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary, 22-8; and 5 George IV, Cap. 67 (Imperial).
9. D'Alberti Transcripts, Correspondence with Governor's Office in Newfoundland, vol. 34, 1825, E.B. Brenton to John Broom, November 28, 1825; and JHA, February 10, 1835.
10. Roger Lane, Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885 (New York, 1975), 70; and Archibald, Digest of the Laws of Newfoundland, 197-98.
11. D'Alberti Transcripts, Correspondence with Governor's Office in Newfoundland, vol: 34, 1825, E. B. Brenton to John Broom, November 28, 1825; and PANL, GN2/2, High Constable James Findlay to the Stipendiary Magistrates, September 24, 1844.
12. PANL, GN2/2, Stipendiary Magistrates to the Colonial Secretary Crowdy, June 30, 1835, November 25, 1836; Thomas Morton to Acting Colonial Secretary Joseph Templeman,July 27,1841; and Stipendiary Magistrates to Templeman, October 21, 1841.
13. PANL, GN2/1, Outgoing Correspondence of the Colonial Secretary's Office, Colonial Secretary Crowdy to William Carson, January 8, 1834; GN2/2, Chief Justice Boulton to Governor Prescott, January 25, 1837, and Stipendiary Magistrates to Colonial Secretary Crowdy, May 21, 28, June 10,1840. See also Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary, 29-36.
14. On the English police force, see David Philips, Crime and Authority in Victorian England: The Black Country, 1835-1860 (London, 1977), 53-82.
15. Prowse, History of Newfoundland, 462; O'Neill, A Seaport Legacy, 574-75; and Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary, 44-6.
16. Gazette, January 11, 1848.
17. PANL, GN2/2, Stipendiary Magistrates Carter, Bennett, and Doyle to Colonial Secretary Crowdy, March 9, 1850; Newfoundlander, November 4, 18, December 30, 1847, February 3, December 4, 1848; and JHA, April 2, 1849.
18. JHA, January 17, 1849; and PANL, GN9/1, Minute of Executive Council, April 8, 1848.
19. PANL, GN2/1, Colonial Secretary John Kent to Walter Grieve, July 4, 1856; GN2/2, Stipendiary Magistrates Carter and Simms to Colonial Secretary Crowdy, January 27, 1851; JHA, February 22, 1850, May 15, 1851; Public Ledger, March 26, August 30, 1850; and Express, January 18, 1855.
20. PANL, Colonial Secretary John Kent to Walter Grieve,July 4, 1856.
21. See PANL, ON 5121AI 11, Grand Jury Presentments, 1848-73.
22. PANL, GN2/1, Colonial Secretary Crowdy to the Stipendiary Magistrates, December 6,14,1853; and JHA, 1857, Appendix, 478.
23. JHA, 1857, Appendix, 474-91.
25. Ibid. See also PANL, GN9/1, Minutes of Executive Council, May 25, July 7, 1856.
26. PANL, GN2/ 1, Colonial Secretary John Kent to Walter Grieve, July 4, 1856; and GN2/2, Grieve to Kent, July 7, 1856.
27. PANL, GN9/1, Minutes of Executive Council, May 25, July 7, 1856; and Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary, 27.
28. Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary, 27.
29. Ibid., 37, 47.
30. Gertrude E. Gunn, The Political History of Newfoundland (Toronto, 1966), 92, 101-02, 154, 166; and PANL, GN9/1, Minutes of Executive Council, October 26, November 9, 1861.
31. On the organization of this special force, see PANL, GN2/2, 1870 for letters to the Colonial Secretary from Prowse for November 28, December 3, 8, 15, 1870. See also Gazette, February 28, 1871.
32. Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary, 46-58; and Statutes of Newfoundland, 35 Victoria, Cap. 6.
33. PANL, GNI/3A/folder 12/1880, Governor's Office, Inspector Carty to Attorney General Whiteway, April 12, 1880, and folder 7/1881, "list of Constabulary Members for January 6, 1881 "; and Gazette, January 20, 1874.