Group VRG 10
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1836 - cont
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
Scope of Police Group

The first police force in Victoria comprised the constabulary attached to the Police Magistrates, the first District Constable being appointed in September 1836 (New South Wales Government Gazette 14 September 1836). From 1837 to 1853, in addition to the local District and Rural Constabulary, there were a number of separate police forces, including the Melbourne City Police, Border Police, Mounted Police, Water Police, Native Police, Gold Escort and Goldfields Police.

In 1853, following a Legislative Council Select Committee inquiry, a single integrated Victoria Police Force (VA 724) was established under the control of the Chief Commissioner of Police.

This Group includes Police Magistrates' Districts and the various independent forces until 1853, the Victoria Police Force (VA 724) and all its operational, criminal investigation, traffic operations and special operations units. As the Victoria Police Force (VA 724) includes the Office of the Chief Commissioner of Police which performs a central management and administration role for the Force, the Victoria Police Force has also been included in VRG 16 Colonial Secretary, VRG 26 Chief Secretary and VRG 73 Police and Emergency Services.

The following officials, Ministers and agencies have exercised responsibilities in relation to the police in Victoria and their central administration:

Group Agency Date Range

VRG 7 Police Magistrate VA 472 Police Magistrate 1836-1839
Port Phillip District Port Phillip District

VRG 11 Superintendent VA 473 Superintendent 1839-1851
Port Phillip District Port Phillip District

VRG 16 Colonial Secretary VA 856 Colonial 1851-1855
Secretary's Office

VRG 26 Chief Secretary VA 475 Chief Secretary's 1855-1979

VRG 73 Police and VA 421 Ministry of Police 1979-ct
Emergency Services and Emergency Services

District Constabulary and Melbourne City Police

On 9 September 1836 the Governor of New South Wales proclaimed the official settlement of the Port Phillip District and Captain William Lonsdale was appointed Police Magistrate of the District on 14 September (see VRG 7). As well as taking responsibility for the general superintendence of the District, he also undertook the duties of a New South Wales District Police Magistrate, including administration of justice and supervision of the local constabulary. Following the appointment of a Superintendent of the District in 1839, the duties of the Police Magistrate were restricted to responsibility for the local constabulary and local magisterial functions in Melbourne and the position was retitled Police Magistrate, Melbourne. In the meantime Police Magistrates were being appointed in other localities, Captain Foster Fyans taking up duty in Geelong in late 1837 (see New South Wales Government Gazette, 13 September 1837, on appointment of constables). The Police Magistrates continued to be responsible for the constabulary within their Districts until 1853 when responsibility for all police matters was vested in the Chief Commissioner of Police (VA 724).

In Melbourne and Geelong Districts, quite large police forces existed by 1853, the Melbourne City Police including a Detective Force (established in 1844). By 1850 constables assigned to rural areas outside Police Magistrates' Districts were referred to as the Rural Bench Constabulary. In 1850 the Chief Constable of the Melbourne and County of Bourke Constabulary was titled Superintendent.

A number of New South Wales Acts regulated police in the Port Phillip District, including the Act which regulated police activities in towns and was extended by proclamation in November 1838 to cover Melbourne as well as Sydney (see the New South Wales Acts 2 Vic., No.2, 11 Vic., No.44, 14 Vic., No.38). The Melbourne Corporation Act of 1842 (New South Wales Act 6 Vic., No.7) included special provisions for the Melbourne City Police.

The constabulary's responsibilities included law enforcement, arrest of offenders, gaol keeping, patrol and escort duties, the serving of summons and execution of warrants. The Melbourne force also had a criminal detection role.

Other Police Forces 1837 - 1853

From 1838 a number of separate special purpose police forces were established including the:

Border Police (from 1838)
Mounted Police (from 1838)
Water Police (from 1841)
Native Police (established 1842 after several earlier unsuccessful attempts)
Gold Escort Police (from 1851)
Goldfields Police (from 1852).

The Border Police were attached to Commissioners of Crown Lands and assisted in the regulation of the use and occupation of Crown lands (see also VRG 27 District Lands Offices). Detachments of Mounted Police were drawn from infantry regiments stationed in New South Wales. They were posted on overland routes and attached to Police Magistrates' Districts to assist in general police duties. They also served with the Gold Escort and Goldfields forces attached to the Goldfields Commissioners (see also VRG 25 Mining Districts). As well as escorting gold being transported to Melbourne and maintaining law and order on the diggings, these forces policed the use of miners' rights. The Water Police assisted the Harbour Master to enforce ports and harbours regulations, regulate and control shipping and seamen. The Native Police Corps was set up to maintain order between aborigines and settlers.

Development 1836 - 1853

Administrative responsibility for the police establishment prior to 1853 rested with the Police Magistrate 1836-1839 (VRG 7), Superintendent 1839-1851 (VRG 11) and Colonial Secretary (VRG 16). By 1842 when police strength outside Melbourne numbered 135, including all independent forces and the local District constabulary, police stations had been established at Geelong, Williamstown, Portland, Hamilton, Port Fairy, the Goulburn and Broken Rivers, the Grampians and the Pyrenees. By 1847 there were also stations at Sale, Horsham, Mt. Macedon, Pearson's Station and Colac, by 1850 at Kilmore, and by 1851 at Dandenong and Bacchus Marsh.

The Gold Rush precipitated a crisis for Victoria's police forces with many men deserting to join the Rush in a time of increased demands for their services.

A Legislative Council Select Committee on Police reported in 1852 that the existing police forces were "insufficient in numerical strength - deficient in organisation and arrangement - and utterly inadequate to meet the present requirements of the country." It recommended their replacement with a single unified force and the division of the colony into a number of uniformly administered police districts (see Report from the Select Committee on Police to the Legislative Council 1852, Votes and Proceedings 1852-3, Volume 2).

Formation and Operation of the Victoria Police Force From 1853

Following the recommendations of the Select Committee, a single integrated Victoria Police Force (VA 724) was formed by the Police Regulation Act 1853 (16 Victoria 24) and placed under the control of a Chief Commissioner of Police. The existing forces, with the exception of the Water Police and the Detective Force, which continued to function within the Victoria Police Force, were disbanded, but many of their members were absorbed into the new Force. From 1853 a Victoria Police Gazette has been published weekly and in 1856 the first Manual of Police Regulations was issued.

In regard to its general law enforcement and policing duties the Victoria Police has operated since 1853 on a District basis with the Colony, and later the State, divided into a number of metropolitan and country Districts with further sub-divisions down to local police station and police office level. These regional arrangements have gone through a number of restructures. Initially there were 9 police Districts, but these were increased to 11 following the 1881 Royal Commission. By 1971 there were 19 Districts, 7 metropolitan and 12 country, further divided into Divisions, then Sub-Districts. Recent restructures have resulted in the formation of large Regional Offices. District boundaries are detailed in the Gazettes.

The position of Chief Commissioner was also established by the 1853 Police Regulation Act. The Office of the Chief Commissioner provides central control, supervision, administration and coordination for the Victoria Police Force, its members and its operations. The Chief Commissioner has been responsible to the Colonial Secretary 1853-1855 (VRG 16), the Chief Secretary 1855-1979 (VRG 26) and most recently the Minister for Police and Emergency Services (VRG 73). Administrative assistance has been provided to the Force by Victoria Police and Public Service officers. Prior to the establishment of the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services (VA 421), the public servants belonged to the Police Branch or Police Department of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). They now belong to an Administration section within the Office of the Chief Commissioner. Currently (1989) the Chief Commissioner's central police administration is divided into the following sections, each headed by an Assistant Commissioner - Crime, Operations, Traffic, Services, Personnel, and Research and Development. In addition to these regional and central management structures, a number of specialist areas have developed within the Force.

Criminal Investigation

Criminal detection or investigation was from the beginning the responsibility of the Detective Force which was reorganised into the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) following the 1881 Royal Commission. The Special Branch was formed within the CIB in 1931 with close links to the then Commonwealth Security Service (later Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation - ASIO), while in 1953 an Information Section/Bureau and in 1936 a Fingerprint Branch/Bureau were added. Until 1936 the CIB operated from the Melbourne District, but thereafter it was decentralised into 8 Metropolitan Divisions. In 1948 it was further regionalised into 24 Metropolitan and 15 Country CIB Divisions. Other specialised sections and squads were added to it over the years - the Victorian Police Scientific Section and Detective Training School in 1938, the Homicide Squad in 1943, and more recently the Company Fraud Squad, Armed Robbery Squad, Arson Squad and so on.

Other Specialist Sections

Other special purpose units have also emerged, including the Licensing and Gaming Squads, Public Relations Office (1946), the Forensic Science Laboratory (established in 1955), the Police Surgeon (1947), the Motor Boating Squad (1964), the Dog Squad, Police Air Wing and Community Policing Squad. D24 was established in 1939 as the Force's Communication Control Centre.

Role in Times of Emergency

During the World Wars, the Force took on extra functions under wartime emergency legislation. In 1939-1945 D24 became a vital civil defence communications and air raid warnings centre with close ties to the military police organisations. Police also controlled lighthouses and the Special Branch took on responsibilities for enforcing national security regulations. After World War II the police continued to be responsible for coordinating emergency services in an emergency until this role was assumed directly by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services following the 1982 Ash Wednesday bushfires. D24 continues to provide the State coordinating centre in an emergency.

Royal Commissions and Inquiries

A series of inquiries and Royal Commissions have been held into police administration and operations (see also VRG 14 Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry). These have included a Commission of Inquiry appointed after the Eureka incident in 1854, a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1862, a Royal Commission following the Kelly Outbreak in 1881, further Royal Commissions in 1906, 1923 (following the Police Strike) and 1936, the Abortion Inquiry in 1970 and the Beach Inquiry in 1975 (see the bibliography "Victoria Police Reading and Study Guide" in Police Life, November-December 1982, for a listing of published reports). The recommendations of these inquiries and Commissions - and of Colonel Sir Eric St. Johnston in his 1971 Report - resulted in various organisational changes, restructuring, reforms and innovations, for example formal training for recruits was introduced following the 1906 Royal Commission; significant pension reforms after 1923; a major restructure, establishment of the Internal Investigations Unit, and an opening up of career opportunities for women after the St. Johnston Report in 1971.

Women in the Victoria Police

Women first joined the Victoria Police Force in 1917 when two women were appointed as "agents" - they received half the pay of policemen and did not have the constable's power of arrest. In 1924 the four women police agents were reappointed with full constabulary powers, the same wages, hours and pension rights as policemen. By 1942 there were 12 policewomen and by 1950 18. Their work tended to be restricted to law enforcement in areas such as neglected children, control of prostitution and abortion. In 1950 the first woman was appointed to the Criminal Investigation Branch, and in 1954 the first woman was appointed to the rank of sergeant. By 1956 there were 43 policewomen and by the early 1970's 185.

From the 1960's the traditional roles of policewomen were challenged and from the beginning of the 1970's policewomen began to be integrated into all aspects of policing and specialist duties.

Traffic Control, Motor Registration and Driver Licensing

From the early 1900's, police duties included traffic control at intersections. The Motor Police, equipped with bicycles, was formed in 1912 with duties including motor registration and driver licensing. By 1921 the Traffic Control Branch (from 1971 Traffic Department) and Motor Registration Branch (VA 488) had been established. The role of the police in road safety and traffic operations, and of the Motor Registration Branch were set down in a series of Transport, Transport Regulation, Road Traffic and Motor Registration Acts. From the mid 1950's their responsibilities for road safety and traffic control were greatly increased and a prevention and educational role emerged. The Road Courtesy and Accident Appreciation/Investigation Squads date from this period. In 1978 the operational wing of the Traffic Department, the Traffic Operations Group (formerly the Mobile Traffic Section) was regionalised.

Further research is needed to establish the varying roles of Victoria Police units and the Transport agencies involved in traffic management, and the type of coordination mechanisms in place. (See also VRG 49 Transport.)

Responsibility for motor registration and driver licensing passed to the Minister of Transport (VRG 49) and Transport Regulation Board (VA 2738) in 1981 under the Motor Registration Act 1980.

Neglected and Abused Children

Under the provisions of the Infant Life Protection Act 1890 the Chief Commissioner of Police was vested in 1890 with responsibility for the registration of homes used for the purpose of nursing, maintaining and adopting infants. This function was previously undertaken by local councils in their capacity as Local Boards of Health (see VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies and VRG 12 Municipalities). In 1907 a subsequent Infant Life Protection Act 1907 transferred responsibility for this function to the Department for Neglected Children, later known as the Children's Welfare Department (VA 1467) in the Chief Secretary's Department (see also VRG 26 and VA 475).

In addition to its related law enforcement and criminal investigation responsibilities, the Victoria Police Force has continued to play a support role to the agencies with responsibilities for neglected and abused children, increasingly in community education and preventive programs.


Sources used in compiling this Group description include the official Victoria Police Force history: Police in Victoria 1836 - 1980 (Victoria Police Force 1980). A useful bibliography, titled "Victoria Police: Reading and Study Guide", was published in the Victoria Police Force magazine Police Life, November-December 1982.

Location of Records

Significant records are held by the Public Record Office. Researchers should also consult sections of the Summary Guide on the related Groups and Agencies referred to above.

See List of Holdings 2nd Edition 1985, section 12.0.0.

Other InformationOther Information
Agencies within this GroupAgencies within this Group
Display entries per page
Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1836 - 1839 Police Magistrate Port Phillip District VA 472 Dept. of State
1853 - cont Victoria Police (including Office of the Chief Commissioner of Police) VA 724 Sub Department
1858 - cont Benalla Police Office VA 2949 Other Instrumentalities
1873 - 1945 Harrietville Police Station VA 3120 Other Instrumentalities
1877 - cont Bethanga Police Station (also known as Bethanga Lower) VA 3037 Other Instrumentalities
2004 - cont Office of Police Integrity VA 4792
Functions related to this GroupFunctions related to this Group
Display entries per page
Date within Group Function Title Function Number
1853 - cont Supervision of local constabulary VF 2