See also: police stations, courthouses, police complex proposed for South Terrace

Policing in Western Australia
In 1829, the British Home Secretary established the London Metropolitan Police Force at Scotland Yard with 1,000 employees. It may have been coincidence that Robert Peel did so in the year that James Stirling arrived in the Swan River Colony. It was not coincidence that Stirling immediately set out to model his first steps in policing on the British model. In his Proclamation on 18 June 1829 he sowed the seeds of the way law enforcement and justice would proceed in the Colony. By December Stirling had appointed eight Justices of the Peace and Constables at Fremantle (4), Perth (5), Canning (1) and Swan (4). From 1829 to 1853, constables were employed - on foot, on horse and on water on a needs basis including soldiers from the military establishment. In 1853 the foot and mounted police were formed into a unified force; the water police joined the mainstream force in 1876. Diane Oldman, personal communication.
The Western Australian Police Force was officially established by the Police Ordinance Act in 1849. This Act established a formal police force with a Chief of Police, supported by a legislated organisational structure.
The first published Code of Rules and Regulations governing the Western Australian Police Force appeared in 1853, outlining a new administrative structure and regulations.

During the last few decades of the Victorian era and well into the 20th century, the view from the highest point of Fremantle Prison enabled the eyes of residents and random visitors to settle on several sites resonant with law officers and law enforcement in the port city. The Henderson Street police quarters, with a station and lockup attached, lay just below the prison. Within easy walking distance, but closer to the sea, the earlier police station, barracks and stables were located directly east of the Round House, not far from the Water Police station and the old traffic office. During the time of the Convict Establishment, the sight of the courts by the Round House, the Commissariat, the Enrolled Pensioner Force (EPF) parade ground and the pensioner guard and warder cottages will have struck a chord with men in blue uniforms.
Most of these buildings have since disappeared or changed beyond recognition, but the remnants enhance the historical traditions and heritage of Fremantle, one of the best preserved traditional port towns anywhere. Fremantle’s survival from 1829 as a continuing and discrete law enforcement jurisdiction, with a local chief of police, also makes it a rather old police district in world terms. Examination of policing in the port from 1829 until the 1872 police district reforms is a worthy exercise, one involving the early policing geography of Fremantle, working conditions of the colonial constables, the type of work they did and the kind of people they were, or wanted to be (Conole, 2010: 12).

Hitchcock, writing in 1919:
But to return to the ‘Gaol Hill’. Descending the steps from the Round House we will wend our way up the old time High-street taking the northern side first. The first buildings were the Police Station and constables’ quarters, located close to the tunnel and on both sides of the street. These were old fashioned structures, and in these days would be considered too primitive for even a bush township. The police of those days had ample work to do. About half the adult male population were either expirees or ticket-of-leave men over whom they had to exercise surveillance. ‘Are you bond or free?’ was the question every one was liable to be bailed up with if he ran against a policeman to whom he was unknown, and a refusal to answer meant being run in without more ado. The practice was continued long after any necessity for it existed.

In the early months there were many grog shops and much drunkenness and petty thievery. Lieutenant Governor Stirling’s response was to appoint unpaid magistrates and constables. On 9 December James Henty and George Leake were appointed Justices of the Peace for Fremantle. At the same time Richard Lewis was appointed Chief Constable with Robert Maydwell and Thomas Wall as Constables. On 30 August the following year Thomas Bannister was appointed the first Government Resident in Fremantle, charged with the superintendence of the general interest and welfare of the townspeople. Errington, 2017.

The first dedicated police stations and barracks (in association with water police) were in existence from the early 1850s, and may be seen in many photos taken from Arthur Head looking up High St, as they were the first buildings to be seen.

The three one-storey buildings in the foreground of this photo, both right and left, were occupied by police and water police. See the police buildings page for more details.

The second police station was in the c. 1898 complex in Henderson St, still standing, but privatised in 2016. The police moved here from High Street in 1916 (Conole 2006).

The police are currently (2023) operating out of the former National Australia Bank building at 88 High St. It goes right through to Leake Street, so police cars can also park there and officers go in by the rear entrance.

Proposed Police Complex in South Terrace

The first building on the South Terrace site was the Barracks, built about 1853 for the accommodation of the Enrolled Pensioner guards who arrived with the convicts. All that remains of that construction is the wall along the footpath. As John Dowson sets it out in his booklet on the Synagogue, the building was used in 1886 by the Immigration Department, an Old Mens Home, 1901-12, the No. 8 General (Base) Hospital 1914-24, then for Immigrants again, before its demolition in 1950, after which the Stan Reilly aged accommodation centre was built. That was demolished in expectation of the police station being built, but was used as a carpark while the powers-that-be got around to it (while the police had to make do with a former bank building in High Street). In 2023, some idea of the new building has finally been released.

References and Links

Peter Conole was the WA police historian. See his books and papers below.

Bentley, Mollie 1993, Grandfather was a Policeman: The Western Australian Police Force 1829-1889, Hesperian, Carlisle.

Conole, Peter 2002, Protect and Serve: A History of Policing in Western Australia, WA Police Historical Society, Scarborough.

Conole, Peter 2006, 'Fremantle 1919: A Slice of Policing Life'Western Australia Police Historical Society.

Conole, Peter 2010, 'Policing the port in early colonial times', Fremantle Studies, 6: 12-28.

Conole, Peter 2016, Irish Lives in the Western Australian Police, Western Australia Gaelforce Promotions, Kingsley.

Steve Errington 2017, 'Fremantle 1829-1832: an illustrated history'Fremantle Studies, 9: 15-29.

Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].

Hitchcock, J.K. 1919, 'Early Days of Fremantle: High Street 50 Years Ago', Fremantle Times, one of a series of articles on 'Early Days of Fremantle' publ. 21 March - 20 June 1919.

Neville, Simon J. 2007, Perth and Fremantle: Past and Present, privately published, WA.

Oldman, Diane, three websites: Royal Sappers and Miners in Western Australia, Crimean War Veterans in Western Australia, and Redcoat Settlers in Western Australia 1826-1869.

Pashley A.R. (Don) 2000, Policing Our State: A History of Police Stations and Police Officers in WA, 1829-1945, Educant, Cloverdale.

Wikipedia page for the Henderson Street Fremantle Police Station complex.

Heritage Council page for the Henderson Street Fremantle Police Station complex (but the link is broken).


This page incorporates material from Garry Gillard's Freotopia website, that he started in 2014 and the contents of which he donated to Wikimedia Australia in 2024. The content was originally created on 10 October, 2017 and hosted at (it was last updated on 26 July, 2023). The donated data is also preserved in the Internet Archive's collection.