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Clare's Police History

Three stories by Jean Schmaal

1. Historic Link with the Days of the Gold Rush

by Jean Schmaal, Scope, July 1975

possibly drawn from 'There's Gold in them thar Hills'. 1974 


2. Dead Men do tell Tales

by Jean Schmaal, 1976 

3. The Constables of Clare

By Jean Schmaal, Scope, March 1979

also published in Clare --- A Backward Glance, 1980

1.  Historic Link with the Days of the
Gold Rush

An interesting historical link with the colourful early years of the SA Police Force and between Clare and the roaring Victorian gold rush days was broken when Albert George (Bert) Ewens died last week (June 1975).

Bert Ewans was a grandson of William Robert Ewens, known in police circles as Mounted Trooper who 'rode the Tolmer'. And it's a proud man who can claim that disctinction.

The year 1852 was a time of 'yellow fever' --- the days of the great Victorian Gold Rush, when thousands of South Australians headed for where the action, leaving farms and shops without labor.

Historic Link to Gold Rush
Australian Gold Rush.jpg
Harvesting with sickles 1900.jpg

In the course of three months no less than 7000 able-bodied men headed for the goldfields. Before long that number had grown to 15,000 and the great migration continued.

With a population totalling only 63,000, the drain-off soon created a crisis in S.A.

Soon there sprang up an unprecedented demand for sovereigns from the banks by the intending migrants for the diggings, each of them taking between 10 and 12 pounds to pay for their necessary expenses.

More than 120,000 pounds in sovereigns left the province within four months --- a ruinous state of affairs.


It was obvious that, unless this practice could be stopped, the colony would soon be drained of specie. Circulating coin was being drawn off from the colony from another angle too; speculators in bullion were selling it in Victoria for 55/-.

With the acute shortage of labor, it was only with the greatest difficulty that the harvest was got in. In spite of the fears that, with the men away, attacks would be expected from aborigines around the countryside, the opposite was the result.

Reports from all over the country showed that aborigines had stepped into the vacant places of the shepherds and other country workers. Most of the harvest was taken off by these (native) people, using sickles.

Their new responsibilities seemed to develop their own trustworthiness and upward of 200,000 sheep were in the charge of native shepherds.

In some areas the native women took over this work --- 'sleepy shepherds' as they were known..

The NSW government declared a gold discovery on May 22, 1851.

"gold has been obtained in considerable quantity…the number of persons engaged at work and about the diggings…cannot be less than 400 and of all classes."
Governor FitzRoy despatches, May 1851.

The NSW government feared that the entire labouring class would abandon their duties in Sydney as clerks, labourers and servants failed to appear for work as thousands rushed west for the newly named "Ophir" gold field. 

There was a concern that shepherds, drovers and farmers would abandon the developing agricultural industries that had been prospering the young colony.

'thousands of people of every class are proceeding to the locality, - tradesmen and mechanics deserting certain and lucrative employment for the chance of success in digging for gold, - so that the population of Sydney has visibly diminished.' 
- Governor FitzRoy despatches, May 1851.

Police Commissioner Tolmer-Adelaide 1852.jpg
Trooper William Robert Ewens 2.png
Men and their absence

Mining operations, requiring labor, had to be suspended. Houses were now without tenants, and fields without the labor to cultivate them were offered for ridiculous sums of money.

  • Merchandise and livestock became depressed in value. The business houses of Adelaide had stocked up on goods, but the lack of ready money meant no sales.

  • And those diggers who did strike it rich, could not sell their gold when they brought it back --- there was no money in the colony to purchase it.

  • At one time, the SA Treasury coffers were empty and civil servants received no pay for three months.

Because of these circumstances the Bullion Act came into being, whereby it was decided to establish an Assay Office to assay and convert the gold into stamped ingots to be exchanged with the banks for their notes.

This meant that the men on the diggings could send their earnings at once to their wives and friends without needing to quit their claims. The big question was "How to get the precious stuff back to Adelaide?"


This was when Alexander Tolmer (Commissioner of Police for S.A.) came up with a brilliant plan to form a gold escort of mounted police to convey the takings from Mount Alexander to Adelaide.

Despite claims that Tolmer was insane to suggest such moves, the escorts were organised and the plan put into action.

It worked, the seal was set on the solution to the colony's desperate financial plight.

Thus it was that South Australia got on its feet again. The gold escorts made 28 journeys ---  18 in 1852, and 10 in 1853 --- when they were discontinued.

The first escort brought with it nearly 6000 ozs. of gold, and all told nearly two million pounds worth was escorted across.


Among the escort troopers who made such a valuable contribution to the success of the plan, we find the name of William Robert Ewens.

When escort operations ceased, William Ewens went back to his police work, remaining there for about 16 years. He died in Kingston in 1873.

Ewen's Tradition

Two of Ewen's sons, Arthur and William Underdown, joined the service in 1870, Arthur remaining for only a few years. 

William Underdown Ewers, during his term of office at Robe, saw the closing of the old Robe Gaol. He escorted the last prisoner from the Robe Gaol to the gaol at Mount Gambier and he finally retired at Murray Bridge in 1916.

Following in the footsteps of their grandfather and also their father, William Robert and Albert George (Bert) became members of the force in the 1900s.


In about 1915, William transferred to the Lands Department. Brother Albert stayed with the police force until his retirement at Clare in 1947.

Sons of both these men served short term with the department; William's son Robert was lost at sea during the WW2 when the HMAS Sydney went down.

I want to describe the contribution made by one of the descendents of John Reynolds Ewens (another early trooper and a brother of Gold Escort Trooper Ewens).

His grand daughter was Eleanor. She was engaged to Mounted Constable W. Miller, who transferred to the Northern Territory for a few years at a time when police activities in that area were controlled from South Australia.

Eleanor later joined him in the Territory where they were married. Eventually they returned to S.A. being stationed at Clare in the early 1930s, with Sgt. Miller as officer in charge.

2. Dead Men do tell Tales

by Jean Schmaal 1976

2. Dead Men do tell Tales

Blyth Agriculturist (SA), Friday 26 June 1931, page 3



Sergeant Hanlin has shown us two old police journals, which he discovered in the Clare police station, from which we learn that the first police station in the district .was established at Bungaree in 1846, 10 years after the colony was founded.

Directions are given in this journal for the policeman in charge, and include that journals were to-be sent to headquarters each "week, charge sheets to be sent in once a quarter, an inventory of Government property to be sent in once a quarter, and reports of extraordinary happenings, to be sent in at once."

The first entry on March 30, 1846, states that Lance-Corporal Pow and P.C. Carter are guarding the prisoner Kangaroo Jack.


Mr. Hughes arrived on April 1 to try the prisoner, and he was discharged, as there was no conclusive evidence against him. Why Kangaroo Jack was arrested is not stated.

Records of each day are given in the journal, chiefly referring to long riding trips made by the troopers.

On April 24, Inspector Tolmer visited the station, and paid visits to Mr. Hughes' station, Mr. White's station, Mr. Campbell's station, Mt. Remarkable, and other places.

  • On one of these trips a man was arrested on suspicion of being the bushranger Britten, and taken to the city.

  • On June 15 a man named Britteal became lost, and was found at Mr. Hope's station.

  • Other persons who had been stealing were chased by the police.

  • The police constables mentioned in the journal were L. C. Pow, Wickham, Carter, Brooks, Lamb, Inspector Gordon, Kenny 

  • Lance-Corporal Wickham rode to Clare village to get his horse shod.

  • The contents of the journal are mainly of little interest.

The second journal was made at Clare Village Police Station, having evidently been shifted from Bungaree on Feb. 11, 1847. 


Police Constables South and Sherman are the first names mentioned.

  • Sherman had his horse stolen from Mr. Gleeson's stable, but the police were not successful in catching the thief.

  • Natives harassed the. shepherds and took away sheep, and attacked the police.

An interesting chapter of early Police history in the Clare District has links with the historic Moorundie settlement on the River Murray.

The lives of two young Police Troopers, Carter and Wickham, were fated to be linked both at 'Bungaree' Station, where the early Troopers were stationed for a few years before moving into Clare, and later at Moorundie where they both died tragically.

Restored Cottage Bungaree.jpeg

John Carter had been a midshipman on board the East Indian, when he decided to abandon his seafaring life and migrate to Australia.

At that time, his brother-in-law, Alexander Tolmer, was an Inspector of Police in the S.A. Police Force, and Carter decided to enter the Mounted Police.

At the conclusion of his training period, Carter was posted to the pioneer Police station in the Clare District in 1845. This station operated from a stone cottage on the historic 'Bungaree' (sheep) run. 

Police Trooper Wickham was also stationed there at the same time.

Sometime during 1847 the two young Troopers (Carter was only 22 years old, and Wickham 24) were sent to Moorundie where Edward John Eyre had been appointed Police Magistrate of the district by Governor Grey, in consequence of the repeated attacks which had been made by the Murray aboriginal tribes on parties travelling overland with stock.


On the eve of 7th May, 1847, the two young men were sent to quell a disturbance among the natives. 

While crossing the River Murray in a native canoe about 5 miles from Lake Bonney, a tragic accident occurred.

When opposite Dr. Wigley's station on the east bank, they hobbled their horses and got into a native bark canoe with the intention of passing the night at Dr. Wigley's station, but in the crossing, both men drowned.

It appeared to eye-witnesses that Carter was standing upright, propelling the frail craft, whilst Wickham was sitting behind him in the stern, and upon leaning over, upset the canoe.

It was supposed that, as the canoe capsized, Wickham caught hold of Carter,and the latter, to clear himself from the grasp, must have struck Wickham repeated blows in the face, which he bruised and cut. Neither of them could swim.

Dr. Wigley heard a cry and a splash and rushed out, but could see neither of the policemen. With the assistance of some natives, he later succeeded in recovering both bodies.

The bodies were then buried at the scene of the fatality, and some time afterwards (it not known just how long) they were re-interred at the Adelaide West Terrace cemetery by the voluntary contributions of their comrades in the Force.

Then --- one hundred years later --- the chance discovery of an old weather-beaten slate headstone in the southern part of the West Tce. cemetery led thee Police Dept. to take action to renovate the grave of those early members of the Force. 

In 1947 a tablet was unveiled in the presence of members of all the branches of the S.A. Police Force, on the grave which had been restored since its chance discovery.

At the Fort Largs Police Training Academy there are Memorial Gardens and a Memorial Wall "To those officers who made the supreme sacrifice in the execution of Police duty."

On that long list, the names of "Carter and Wickham, died 7 May 1847" are the first recorded. 

3. The Constables of Clare

3. The Constables of Clare

By Jean Schmaal, Scope, March 1979

also published with more detail in 'Clare --- A Backward Glance', 1980

On 6 March 1979 the township of Clare saw the opening of its fourth police station. What made this event so significant?

The first police party in the north was under Inspector Gordon, and they camped in a tent in the bend of the River Wakefield near present-day Mintaro, where they erected a sort of wurley which was used as a kitchen.

Their task was to protect settlers from aborigines in the area of the Hutt and Wakefield Rivers. Understandably the natives resented the intrusion of Europeans, and the subsequent interference with their hunting grounds and water resources.

In June 1842, as the settlers moved even further north, the first police building in the area was erected on 'Bungaree' and the force moved from Mintaro into this simple thatched cottage.

The police party from 'Bungaree' patrolled over a wide area, and on at least one occasion accompanied the Protector of Aborigines (Dr Moorhouse) to distant Moorowie at the foot of Yorke Peninsula.

Bungaree Cottage side view.png
First Mayor of Clare in 1868 E B Gleeson, Esq of 'Inchiquin'.jpg

A few years later Inspector Gortdon was despatched to Clare and reported the house and stables proposed to be rented from Dennis Kenny were suitable for the purpose, but on 6 August 1948, Corporal Robbins reported from 'Bungaree' that the house in Clare was not yet  ready for occupancy.

It seems very likely that he was the first member of the Police Force to be stationed at Clare. The following year, 1849, the police were transferred to premises in Clare leased from a Mr. Mortimer.

E.B. Gleeson was appointed a Justice of the Peace and Magistrate in May 1849, and in 1850 a Local Court was granted.

Gleeson was the nearest magistrate for miles around and cases had to be brought to Clare from as far away as Port Wakefield, Pekina and Mount Arden, 55 km north of Port Augusta.

In 1851 the (current Museum) Courthouse and police barracks, described as being a "quaint courthouse nestling in the hills" were built and occupied on the western edge of Clare Village. 

The second (stone) courthouse building was erected on a corner of a 56 acre reserve known as the Police Paddocks, where the constables' horses were put out to graze.

Still standing, this is Clare's oldest public building and now houses Clare's National Trust Museum.

New and Old Casualty Hospital, now museum.jpg

Stockmen and shepherds, some of them wild young bloods, came down to Clare from the north, to 'blow' their hard-earned cheques, and some wild, rowdy times were known.

This was when the remote location of the police station of the police station presented a problem. 

Drunken offenders had to be taken from the hotels (there were six of them in the Clare Main Street) to the cells at the Police Station in a wheel-barrow.

Also, it was difficult to summon the police when needed.

In 1863, to meet these demands, a new (third) police station and courthouse were built in the Main Street, on the site now occupied by the Post Office, at a cost of about £1,167 ($2,334) by a Mr William Threadgold of Auburn.

Between 1870-1880 the headquarters of the Northern Division Mounted Police were under Inspector Richard Saunders at Clare.

The headquarters for this division were later shifted to Melrose and then to Port Augusta.


Construction of a new courthouse was begun in 1878. It was occupied in 1880. The former courthouse in Main Street Clare became the Post Office, but the police retained other buildings and used the cells until the early 1920s.


A former police officer now living in retirement in Clare clearly remembers Clare's Police Station in Main Street. He recalls:

"I joined the police force in June 1925, and I first came to Clare as a single man in 1927."


"At that time Sgt. Norman Hanlin was officer in charge. This was when the police station and post office were joined together.

There was a wall about 3 m high running down Police Street, and the Police station buildings were behind that.

The office and house were all one building. We had to go through the office door to get to the house."

"There was a big, old yellow door on the side wall off the street, and prisoners were taken through it to the cells.

The whole of the residence was on Police Street at that time. At the bottom of the yard was a building which at some previous time had been the stables. 

This was later converted into single men's quarters. The hayloft was the single man's bedroom --- this was above the stall."

For a while mounted constable Davenport, his wife and their small child lived over the stables in the single man's quarters.

"I went into the new single man's quarters in June 1927, and I was the first to occupy them. They are still standing behind the sergeant's house but are no longer in use. 

"To have a bath I had to borrow a round washtub from from the sergeant and placed it in a cell. I used the sergeant's copper to heat up water for a bath. Three were three or four cells and these were only about 3 m from the house.

When the old station and residence in Main Street were demolished, the street alongside (Police Street) was widened".

Gone are the  days of the Troopers, the black-trackers and the police horses. Motorisation was introduced in 1940 by a motor-cycle and side-car.

Police Patrol cars on a permanent basis came during the 1940s, and radio communication in cars in 1974.

The fourth Police Station and prison cell complex on Daly Street and Main Street, North Road, at Clare was opened in March 1979.

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