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Updated:  31 August 2011 

In June 1808 a Bill was prepared to be laid before Parliament proposing the creation of a Police Office in Plymouth Dock.  The preamble to the Bill made clear the reasons for this: 'Whereas great Frauds and Depredations upon the property of the Public and of Individuals are frequently committed in His Majesty's Dockyard at Plymouth Dock, and elsewhere in that town and its neighbourhood ...'  The proposal was based on the successful establishment of such a police office, the Thames Police Office, in the parish of SAINt John, at Wapping, in the county of Middlesex.  That was a privately-funded venture by merchants who were anxious to put a stop to the thieving from their ships moored along the river.  The Dock proposal was to enable His Majesty to establish the police.  [1]

What is interesting about the Plymouth Dock proposal is that the area this police force was to cover included the whole of Plymouth Sound, the rivers Plym and Tamar, all harbours, bays, creeks or arms of the sea, within that area and 'upon the land at any place within the said Counties of Devon and Cornwall ...'  It's jurisdiction would therefore have been huge and it is hardly surprising that the proposal came to nothing.  Plymouth Corporation, given their views about Plymouth Dock, would not have liked the Dockers to have powers over their territory and possibly the county landowners also disliked the idea.  [1]

Although the Bill never got enacted it could be said that this was also the precursor for the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in the Royal Dockyard

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 allowed previously unincorporated towns like Devonport to become Boroughs, with a Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council.  Devonport was granted this status in 1837 and one of its new powers was to be able to have its own police force, which it formed in 1838.

Mr William Brockington was the Superintendent of Police in 1850-51 and lived at 36 Clowance Street, Devonport.  [2]

Apparently the Superintendent of the Devonport Police in 1857 was Mr Robert Hitchman  [3].

One of the Constables who joined the Devonport Borough Police in 1862 was Mr John Matters.  Thirty-one years later he became the Chief Constable.  In 1862 the pay of a First Class Constable in Devonport was 19 shillings per week but Mr Matters never achieved that, receiving, for some unexplained reason, only 17s 6d per week.  It is most likely that he was a Second Class Constable.  However, he did attain the rank of Sergeant only two years after joining and then received 1 1s per week.  When he joined there were only 40 men in the Force, covering an area of some 1,700 acres and a population of around 40,000.  [4]

In 1867 the Inspector of Constabularies, Captain Edward Willis, reported that 'Devonport possesses a constabulary of 46 persons, 51 acres to each constable. The force is well clothed and equipped and is efficient'.  [5]

Whistles became standard issue from September 1881 although Plymouth had them in 1880 and the Devon force, covering Stonehouse, were not issued with them until 1892.  [6]

During the year 1882 Superintendent John Lynn had a force of three inspectors, five sergeants, two detectives and forty constables for a Borough population of 48,939 people.  One of the highest crimes in the Town were against the Elementary Education Acts, which were presumably not sending their children to school or allowing them to be absent without good reason.  There were 62 convictions.   There were 21 convictions for common assaults and 92 for drunkenness or being drunk and disorderly.  18 of those convicted were whipped.  The longest sentence was one case of imprisonment for between 3 and 6 months.  Of those taken to Court, 490 were males and 160 were females.  [7]

The Superintendent of the Borough Police in 1891 was 59-years-old Mr Samuel Evans.  Born at Bigbury, Devon, in around 1832, he had been an Inspector back in the late 1860s when Mr John Matters was a sergeant.  [8]

Mr John Matters had been promoted to Inspector in 1870 and in 1893 he was appointed to the newly created post of Chief Constable.  He retired on Wednesday April 1st 1908, having served in the Devonport Borough Police for 46 years.  He was succeeded by Mr John Henderson Watson, from Congleton, in Cheshire.  [4]  

At the end of 1908 the strength of the Devonport Borough force was recorded as a Chief Constable, a Chief Inspector, five Inspectors, nine Sergeants and 71 Constables.  [9]

Devonport Police had a mounted section.  This consisted of six officers but when the Watch Committee met on Thursday April 20th 1911 they were informed that they 'have a very ragged appearance' and were only used once or twice a year.  The Committee resolved that the mounted section be discontinued.  [10]

The last meeting of the Devonport Watch Committee took place on Thursday October 15th 1914, prior to the amalgamation of the Three Towns on Monday November 9th.  [11]

The last surviving member of the Devonport Borough Police Force, Mr Frederick John Boundy, died on Wednesday February 23rd 1977, just four days before his 90th birthday.  Although born in Plymouth, he had joined the Devonport Police in 1911.  During the Great War he had served in the Royal Artillery in France.  After ten years in the Criminal Investigation Division, he was promoted to Inspector and was in charge of the Devonport Division until 1942, when he was promoted to Chief Inspector at the Greenbank Police Headquarters.  He was in the building when it received a direct hit from a 1,000 pound German bomb: luckily it failed to explode.  He retired from the Force in 1945.  The funeral service took place on Monday February 28th 1977 at the Church of Saint Barnabas and he was laid to rest in Ford Park Cemetery.   [6]+[12]


[1]  "A Bill To enable His Majesty to establish a Police at Plymouth Dock, in the County of Devon", Ordered to be printed 25th June 1808.

[2]  1851 Census. HO107/1881/351/18.

[3]  Plymouth street and trade directory for 1857, Plymouth Local Studies Library.

[4]  "Chief Constable Matters: Retirement To-morrow", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 31st 1908.

[5]  Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary", Mr Walter J Hutchings, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2nd edition, 1957.

[6]  Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history of the police in Plymouth deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.

[7]  "Devonport Police Returns", Western Morning News, Plymouth, October 30th 1883.

[8]  1891 Census, RG12/1741/33/21.

[9]  "1908 in the West: Devonport", Western Morning News, Plymouth, December 28th 1908.

[10]  Devonport Borough Council, Minute dated Thursday April 20th 1911.

[11]  Source not recorded.

[12]  "Ex city police chief dies", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, February 28th 1977.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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