The Large Variety of Duties of the Native Police

The work of the Native Police was central to imposing and maintaining a British system of law and order throughout the Port Phillip District. The Corps also performed a remarkable range of other tasks for the emerging colony, some of which are depicted in the many drawings and paintings made of them by William Strutt and other contemporary artists.

Image of Princes Bridge opening
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Image 4: William Strutt, Artist's impression representing the opening of Princes Bridge, Melbourne as it was in 1852 [sic], etching, 1852, in Victoria the Golden: scenes, sketches and jottings from nature, 1850-1862. Reproduced with the permission of the Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Victoria.

The Native Police provided escorts for travellers. Troopers were often assigned to prisoners, but they also accompanied dignitaries and senior office-holders when ranging into unfamiliar territory. Local Aboriginal escorts such as the Native Police were there to make sure that European dignitaries did not get lost. On one occasion, in 1844, two Native Police troopers escorted Chief Protector George Augustus Robinson on a seven-month exploration of the Port Phillip District. During the first part of this long journey, Robinson's expedition opened up an overland route to Port Albert in Gippsland. The party then continued across much of present-day eastern Victoria: through swamps, down to the coast and up into the high country, then onward to the southern coast of present-day New South Wales, visiting Two Fold Bay before returning to Melbourne via Queanbeyan and Albury. In the journal Robinson kept of this epic journey, he expressed his appreciation of his Aboriginal escorts for their assistance throughout the entire trip. His statement is an implied acknowledgement of the navigation, diplomacy, and bush survival skills the troopers provided.

The Native Police also undertook searches for settlers who had become lost in the unfamiliar bush. A report from Henry EP Dana gives a dramatic account of the search for Mrs Simpson and her two children in August of 1842. The search team eventually found them all alive. They had been wandering for nine days in the bush near Nerre Nerre Warren.

Image of sketch of Separation rejoicings and Princes Bridge opening
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Image 5: William Strutt, One of several sketches of Separation rejoicings and openings of Princes Bridge, pencil and watercolour, 1851, in Victoria the Golden: scenes, sketches and jottings from nature, 1850-1862. Reproduced with the permission of the Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Victoria.

The Native Police carried messages and dispatches on horseback to far-flung colonial outposts, and in 1847 established the first overland delivery of mail to Alberton in Gippsland. Up until that time, the new settlers of Gippsland had a long wait for mail coming on a steamer from Melbourne that would rendezvous at Rabbit Island in Corner Inlet. Troopers were also used to carry dispatches to Cape Otway, the Goulburn Valley and other places in the Port Phillip District.

Another interesting episode in the story of the Native Police was their search for a shipwreck in 1848. The Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, Charles La Trobe, requested that Dana and his troopers search for the missing ship between Point Nepean and Wilson's Promontory on the Bass Strait coastline. Dana wrote back to La Trobe with details of the search, reporting that no wreck had found.

In a series of instructions dating from 1848, the Native Police were directed to patrol the bush; to find bushrangers; to intercept suspicious persons on the roads and in the bush; and to check the passes of 'any person appearing to be a prisoner'. From 1849, the emphasis of patrols began to shift toward patrolling the new gold finds in Port Phillip. During 1850 and 1851 the Native Police also acted as guards at Pentridge. These were tasks that the Aboriginal troopers did not find as satisfying as their previous work of patrolling frontier districts.

Image of sketch of swearing in of his Excellency C. J. Latrobe
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Image 6: William Strutt, One of several sketches illustrating the swearing in of his Excellency C. J. Latrobe at the door of the old Government House or Treasury, Lonsdale Street, pencil and watercolour, 1851, in Victoria the Golden: scenes, sketches and jottings from nature, 1850-1862. Reproduced with the permission of the Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Victoria.