Skip to Content

Original Documents on Aborigines and Law, 1797-1840

Document 65

Original Document 65

Threlkeld's letter respecting the proposed aboriginal Police Corps 


[359] May 7th 1838.



To His Excellency

      The Governor

      Sir George Gipps

                  &c. &c. &c.


                                          In obedience to your Excellency's desire that I should state my opinion respecting a memorandum entitled "Regulations proposed for the formation of an Aboriginal Police Corp", dated "Melbourne 28th October 1837" - and whether it would be desirable to attach such an establishment to a Missionary Station.   I have the honor to submit the impressions by which I have formed an opinion after attentive consideration on the subject.

      The first impression arising from the designation of the institution contemplated demanding consideration, was the lawfulness of the proposed employment in connexion with the duties of a Christian Mission toward Barbarians, and although no [360] Divine precepts appear in prohibition, there are reasons to assign why it may not be expedient.

      (1)  The danger of teaching barbarians the use of arms before they have Christian principals to guide their consciences in the just use thereof.   In reply it may be stated, that the fewness of the aborigines in this Colony within the present boundary as such as to render the danger of minor consideration, and in order to remove such apprehension as speedily as possible, a Missionary should at all times have free access to seek opportunities of impressing their minds of Christian Principles in the event of such an establishment being formed by Government.   The omitting of the Military Training, might remove the objection, using the blacks only as auxiliaries to the white Police whenever required.

      (2)  Another danger to the apprehended in their part of the Colonies, arises from the fewness of the Black Females in comparison to the Males.   If the Black Police continue Barbarians and are [361] sent as proposed to "perambulate the district" they will have means and opportunity to use violence to British Females, or women of other Tribes, - practices, for which, some have suffered condign punishment, because they must be armed, as themselves will be exposed to danger from the nature of their employment, which also affords many opportunities for interaction and that I fear great difficulty with desire to exercise sobriety. However this may be obviated, their always being accompanied with a steady English Policeman, until the Aboriginal Corp have become sufficiently instructed in the fear of God to do violence to no person.

      The next enquiry that naturally presents it self, is, would be the proposed employment be congenial to the habits and tastes of the Aborigines.   From what I have observed of their habits and tastes, I have no doubt the employment would suit them; many of them have often been employed with success by the Police, but the[362] reward has been so uncertain as to afford little encouragement to their exertions.   There are several amongst the tribes over which I have some influence, well adapted for such employment and M'gill the Aborigines with whom I conversed on the subject gave me the names of several that would, he thinks avail themselves gladly of the Employment under Government, and of whose capabilities, I have not the smallest doubt.   "Make me the head of them replied M'gill , and not a bushranger shall escape my tribes." I have therefore no hesitation as to the practicability of forming an Aboriginal Police Corp, provided suitable European agents can be found, but, whether it be desirable to carry it into effect requires due consideration.

      In other countries where there is a dense population of Aboriginal inhabitants possessing habits of agriculture, or mechanical pursuits, and amongst who Missionary Stations [363] are established with adequate means for the employment of their members, strong objections would arise against the proposed Aboriginal Police Establishment being formed by Government.   But in this peculiar Colony containing a very small remnant of Aboriginal Inhabitants, without habits of agriculture, or any other pursuit except that which is calculated to prevent their formation into villages, namely hunting, any lawful measures appear desirable to ameliorate the condition of the Aboriginals who can scarcely be placed in a worse position than that in which they stand at present, and if much time be lost before a remedy is applied their utter extinction will not be prevented.

      In reply to the last question "whether it would be desirable to attach such an establishment to a Missionary Station" it depends entirely on the state of the Mission for [364] if the Missionary Establishment has not the means of employing the Natives, and they do already congregate, then the Police Establishment would be superfluous, and perhaps injurious by rivalry-: besides agricultural pursuits are far more congenial to a Missionary's views than those of the Police or of a Military character, at least exposing the Blacks to temptation.   But if no such prosperous state exists and means are wanting to assemble the natives for instruction, in that case it would be acceptable as a means by which we can make known to them the Gospel.   I am fully convinced after twenty years of Missionary experience amongst barbarians in the Society Islands and this Colony, that the sooner we treat them as civilised men, the sooner they will become so, and that nothing but a reception of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the love thereof will completely change the [365]habits of the savage and effectively civilise the Barbarian.

      Viewing therefore the "Aboriginal Police Establishment" only as a means in the absence of others, by which we may obtain access to a party of Blacks, otherwise inaccessible for the purpose of affording an opportunity for instructions, it ort not be placed in such a position as to preclude the daily visitation of a Missionary to instruct them in the Christian Faith, which would prevent the establishment becoming a mere Police School, or undue restriction on the Aborigines, which once enforced would frustrate the benevolent design.   On these considerations it would be best attached to a Missionary Station, at such reasonable distance as to allow the Missionary a daily visiting Superintendence having full authority to report and present irregularities of [366]every kind.

      On a general view of the case confirming my remarks to these Districts having had no secular demonstration of the State of the Aboriginals at Port Phillip, Morton Bay and Wellington Valley , and considering the pitiable condition of the Blacks in this neighbourhood, there being no pecuniary means, from any source to congregate the aborigines.   The proposal does appear worthy of trial and under careful management, with agents of a proper spirit, the Establishment may be productive of much benefit to the Aborigines of this part of the Colony; provided Christian instruction be supplied without which, I have no doubt of its failure.

      Lastly I take the liberty of suggesting an alteration in the name of the proposed establishment which besides being objectionable in the use of the term "Police Corps", does not fully express the object of the institution,[367] which is not confined to making them mere Policeman, but " to place them upon higher grades of temporal and religious knowledge, where they will build themselves huts" "establish a village, employ this time in making gardens, & other improvements &c &c &c.   I would therefore recommend that the denomination be thus expressed "The Melioration Institution" supported by the British Government for bettering the condition of the Tribes of Aborigines in Australia in compensation for their land sold to, or occupied by Colonists in New South Wales." With such a title, and the establishment placed under proper management, the services of the Aborigines, would be available according to their individual capacity in various ways, the just claims of the Aborigines would be satisfied, the honour of the British Nation would be redeemed, and without [368] any compromise of the Missionary character.   I shall feel most happy to render every assistance to forward so benevolent an Institution, whilst with the present designation of "Aboriginal Police Corps" it is not a matter of surprise that any Missionary becomes alarmed at the very first mention of the name and consequently averse to the formation of such an establishment.

                                                      I have the honor to remain

                                                      With sincerest assurance of respect

                                                                  Your Excellency's

                                                                              Obedient Servant

                                                      Signed    L.E. Thelkeld


[1] We would like to thank volunteer Steve Salter for his meticulous transcription and presentation of this document.

Published by the Centre for Comparative Law History and Governance of Macquarie University, and State Records NSW