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Frontier Policing – 19th Century Western Australia

Courtesy of a police officer in Western Australia, Graeme Sisson, the Garda Journal recently received an extensive archive of records relating to officers in Western Australia with Irish backgrounds. Many of the records are a fascinating illustration of the perils and pleasures of frontier policing and life in the young Australian state. Here we reprint the records and notes on each officer’s service. If there is anybody from your family who you believe may have served with the Western Australian police during the 19th and early 20th century, let us know at

William Finlay Regimental № 275

It is worth noting that William Finlay was in his 25th year when he received his commission as Sub-Inspector. He was one of the youngest commissioned officers in WA policing history – and a very able one. As the position of Sub-Inspector had been abolished by order of the Colonial Government, through no fault of their own, five capable and experienced officers had to find other employment in the course of 1878.

Finlay made his name by sorting out disciplinary problems and suppressing sly grog selling among settlers and also distinguished himself by leading a party to capture the bushranger William Graham in May 1864. William Finlay was the son of William Finlay (1807- 1890) of the Enrolled Pensioner Force, formerly a Sergeant in the 97th Regiment of Foot, and of Marjory Allcock. The family arrived in WA on the Scindian, June 1 1850.

When Finlay left the Police Force in 1878 he was still in charge of Albany, where he spent the rest of his life. After retrenchment, he obtained the minor Government posts of Clerk of Customs and Tide Waiter. He eventually became a leading citizen of the town and helped establish a militia unit, the Albany Rifle Volunteers. He was a Lieutenant in the Company even before resignation – in June 1878.

He became Captain and OIC in March 1879. The Unit disbanded in March 1885. Finlay served at various times as
Chairman of the local Board of Education, Secretary of the Boat Licensing Board and a member of the Mechanics Institute. He was also active in the Masonic Lodge and immediate Past master at the time of his death. After being a Member of the Municipal Council for two years, Finlay was elected Mayor of Albany in 1885.

He died in office on 16/6/1886, still only in his 46th year. This former police officer was an outstanding member of WA colonial society and one of the founding fathers of Albany. Finlay had spent a lot of time and money on charitable work and left a large family, which may have suffered financially because of his premature death. William Finlay is buried in an unmarked grave in the Pioneers Cemetery at Albany. It is believed various descendants in the male line still live in the district.

Service record of William Finlay
• Extracts from York Occurrence Book
• 1141/8-9. January 1873. Sub Inspector at York
• October 27 1870 at York Fair
• January 17 1870. Suspends Constable at York
• 1141/9-10. April 27 1871. With family and effects arrive
York from Newcastle.
• 1141/45. March 30 1861. Corporal to be Sgt. At Champion
Bay, vice Sgt. Walsh-resigned
• 1141/9-10. Sub Inspector (with Supt. of Police) from
Newcastle tour of inspection, York Parade.

Born: 1840
Place: Dublin, Ireland
Height: 6’1”
Calling: Labourer
Status: Single, then married Sarah Coppin
Recommended by: Lieutenant Colonel John Bruce,
Commandant of the ColonialDefence Force

Peter Denis Kavanagh Regimental № 275

The following is an extract from an unknown newspaper: “Joined the Police Force when he was twenty-one. He
was a born detective, keen and shrewd, with boundless energy. He was also a clever prosecutor. Kavanagh, was tutored by that wonderfully astute Excise Inspector Victoria Christie. When Kavanagh was only 18 ‘sly groggin’ was rife in Mildura and other places and he suggested to Inspector Christie that he (Kavanagh) put a stop to the illicit trade and eventually decided to give Kavanagh a chance and he quickly killed the trade in those parts.

How he checked the gold stealing industry on the Golden Mile is now history. He was a relentless pursuer in the interests of the Crown but always fair. Numerous incidents were told of the helping hand he extended to those who came within the pale of the law even after he took over the Gold Detection Unit at Kalgoorlie. He received shabby treatment at the hand of the Government of the day.

About five years before he died at the age of 34, in St. Vincent’s Hospital (Sydney) after he and Detective Porter were out all one night in Weld Square watching the movements of a notorious burglar named Fogarty. Joined the PoliceForce in the early 1890’s where his natural ability soon won him rapid promotion. In 1896 he was transferred to the Eastern Goldfields where his first and most important case was the daylight robbery from Pearl’s jewellery shop in Bayley Street.

The running to wrath and arrest of four Eastern States criminals was one of the pluckiest actions in police history. Another outstanding case was his capture of two well-known burglars – Jones and Grogan – at Coolgardie on December 28th 1898. After he was transferred to Kalgoorlie he was appointed to the Gold Stealing Unit (Detection) where he quickly became a legend. It was said that if there had been a dozen or so men of his ability and integrity gold stealing might have been brought to an end.”

One of his few failures was when a quick witted miner’s wife plunged some stolen gold into a pot of soup on the stove as he knocked on the door, which became the basis for a short story “RICH STEW” by Gavin Casey which won for him the Bulletin Prize. This was taken from Ex. M.Sharp Goldfields “Family History Society.”

Service record of Peter Denis Kavanagh
Born: March 12 1873
Place: Co Wicklow, Ireland
Height: 5’8½”
Eyes: Hazel
Hair: Dark Brown
Complexion: Dark
Appearance: Ordinary
Status: Married
Calling: Revenue Officer Appointments
• Detective 2nd Class: October 21 1896
• Detective 1st Class: September 10 1899
• Detective Sergeant: April 10 1904
• Transfers
Perth: October 21 1896
Kalgoorlie: September 7 1899
Perth: July 10 1900
Coolgardie: May 16 1904
Kalgoorlie: April 20 1905
Gratuity: £226-0-10 (Probably paid to wife)
Died: March 26 1908 (In Sydney New South Wales)


Peter Denis Kavanagh 3


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