Monday, January 13, 2014

Durban Borough Police

In 1850 the Law in Durban was upheld by two or three white policemen with a few black constables. The gaol (known as the Tronk), a wattle and daub cottage in mid-West Street, was a strangely multi-functional structure: it had two rooms, one for white and the other for black prisoners. Two rooms at the back and some outhouses accommodated the gaoler, the police, washhouse and also, remarkably, the hospital. The gaoler was Thomas Dand who had previously been a personal servant of Sir Benjamin Pine.

At that time Durban's population was about 500 but the settlement was expanding due to the influx of immigrants through the Byrne and other settler schemes. 

In 1852 the government officials living and working in Durban were:

Henry James Mellor - Resident Magistrate
V A Schonberg - Magistrate's Court
John D Schek - Clerk of the Peace
Henry Francis Fynn - Native Magistrate
W S Field - Customs Collector
Francis Spring - Postmaster
William Bell - Port Captain
G Archer, W Hodge & W Vionce - Pilots
Thomas Dand - Gaoler

There was a pound for stray animals, and the first poundmaster was W H Currie. The police could also be included in the list - they were party paid by the government.

In 1854 Durban was proclaimed a Borough with its boundaries as follows: to the east, the Indian Ocean, to the north the Umgeni river, to the west the farms Springfield, Brickfields and Cato's Manor and to the south the Umbilo river and the Bay.

At the first election for the first borough council, the borough was divided into four wards. Held on Tuesday 2 August at the McDonald Hotel, the results were:

Ward 1: G C Cato and James Blackmore
Ward 2: John Millar and George Wirsing
Ward 3: Alfred Evans and Richard Harwin
Ward 4: Charles Johnston and Robert Raw

G C Cato was elected mayor and Mark Foggitt appointed as town clerk at 50 pounds a year.

Ordinance No. 1 provided for the establishment of a Police Force to be under the control of the Borough Police Board.

There were to be 6 white policemen and several black constables. Edwin Lee was first Chief Constable but left office in under a year, becoming instead Customs Landing Waiter. His successor was William Harrison, already a member of the Force. Harrison was in office from 1855-1861.

Among the duties which fell to the new police force was assisting in the aftermath of two major disasters during 1856: in April 27 inches of rain fell over 4 days, the Umgeni rose 18 feet higher than usual and broke its banks. 'The wagon roads to the Point and Cato's Bridge were washed away. The Umgeni spread from Farewell Street to Point Road and Winder Street, while to the left one unbroken sheet of yellow, muddy water extended between Brickhill Road and the Gaol, right up the (Eastern) Vlei as far as the eye could see.' [The History of Old Durban, George Russell, p 269] Families and homes were much affected by the flooding and the police helped in the cleaning-up and reconstruction of the area.

The second disaster in December 1856 was rather different, in that it didn't eventually have much effect on Durban, but caused much alarm and despondency amongst its population. Rumours of unrest in Zululand were followed by a clash between the factions of Cetshwayo and Mbulazi near the mouth of the Tugela, Cetshwayo emerging as victor. In Durban, many people evacuated their families to the Bluff - but by Christmas people returned to their homes. Meanwhile the police had remained to guard property and possessions in the town. Refugees, both white and black, came south over the Tugela to Durban, and the population grew as a result.

Partly because of this growth, in 1857 the police force was increased in number, and night patrols were instituted.

In September 1861 the town council took over (from the Borough Police Board) control of the police and would henceforth be responsible for law and order within the borough boundaries. Captain R F Bennett was chosen as Chief Constable, starting his appointment in November 1861 at a salary of £150 per annum plus uniform and forage of £21 per annum. Two sergeants at £8 per month with uniform were also appointed.

Up to 1861 there had been no police station as such, and this was remedied the building of a plain single storey station on the north side of the Market Square; the cost of putting up this edifice was £600. Twenty years later (1881) a second storey was added at a cost of £2 061. In 1900, by which time Durban's population was about 40 000, the Main Police Station was demolished and a large new headquarters built on the same site (what would later be Medwood Gardens).

Captain Randle Fölsch Bennett (1814-1905) was Superintendant of Police from November 1861 to September 1867. He was also a founder member of the Royal Durban Rangers. His first task was to enlist enough men for the Borough Police - 9 men and 2 sergeants; but it was difficult to get men to stay in the force and pay was low.

By 1871 Major Thomas Maxwell was appointed superintendent, and he set about improvements in the force which seem to have been effective as there was a drop in the crime rate. When he handed over the reins in 1876 the population (all races) of Durban was 9 189.

In 1872 when the town council asked for a list of members of the Borough Police, stating the amount of service each had given, this was the information:

Sergeant McCabe - 7 years
Sergeant Connighan - 8 months
P.C. Green - 2 years
P.C. McAlister - 8 months
P.C. Brown - 5 months
P.C. Toohey - 2 months (Toohey had served 1 yr 10 mths previously)
P.C. Osborne - 1 month

They were assisted by 14 black and 2 Asian policemen.

Maxwell resigned in 1876 after having kept a firm grip on his policemen and on crime. He later became Chief Inspector of the Searching Departments of the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein diamond mines. He is buried in Commercial Road Cemetery, Pietermaritzburg.

Chief Constable Richard Charles Alexander was appointed on 11 May 1876, the start of what was to be thirty years of police service.

The Durban Borough Police became a respected force; it was finally disbanded in 1936.

Note: the Durban Borough Police was a civilian police force and was never under the control of the South African Police. Service records for members of the Durban Borough Police would not be held by SAPS.

Durban Borough Police flying squad ca 1929

For much more detail, many names, location of police stations, and particularly for a wide variety of sources, read 'A History of the Durban City Police' by Rev J Jewell. A drawback is the lack of an index.


DAVEY, William Police Constable
ROACH, Robert
VINNECOMBE [sic], piano-tuner
CARNEGY, Patrick Aiden
MORGAN, W, Captain, fire chief
NELSON, Police Constable
PALMER, William
VIRCO, C, firemaster
McCONNELL, W, capt. Volunteer harbour fire brigade
HART, William
ERICH, Franz
HARPER, Thomas
ASHER, Richard
THOMPSON, W T, tax collector
KIMBER, Police Constable
ROWE, John
WILSON, James, Sgt.
HAMMOND, Stephen, Constable
FERRON, Constable
FLEMING, Constable
McPHERSON, Constable
BAKER, Constable
LAMONT, Constable
NICOLAI, Constable
WOOLRIDGE, extra Constable
MILLIGAN, extra Constable
ELLIS, Constable
HUNTLY, Constable
BOND, Sgt (30 yrs service)
SIMPKINS, Sgt. (33 yrs service)
McCURRACH, Sgt (34 yrs service)


Russell, G: History of Old Durban
Henderson, W P M: Fifty Years of Municipal History

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