The London Metropolitan Police, on which the Australian colonies tended to bases their own police systems, established a detective branch in August 1842.
Now the first mentions of detectives connected to police in Trove newspapers (i.e. an Australian context) are:
Were, therefore, persons trained, to foot-tracking in England, they would become great adjuvants to our present Detective Police, as instances have occurred in India of thieves being tracked
through populous towns, from the tracker’s discriminating the’ thief’s foot from that of the others.
The Australian, 7 June 1843 & Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 1843
His accomplice unfortunately escaped, but he is well known and cannot long elude the vigilance of the detective police.
The Australian, 23 April 1844
We possess, indeed, a detective police, which for vigilance and vigour have been but rarely surpassed ; but what, let us ask, can the efforts of three men
achieve against such a multitude of habitual offenders as those now congregated in Launceston.
Cornwall Chronicle, 2 November 1844
We have been informed that an individual belonging to the detective police, and to whose presence of mind in the late encounter with bushrangers at the farm of Mr. Button, the whole of his party, in all probability owed their safety and ultimate success, has been rewarded with a recommendation for a ticket-of-leave.
Launceston Advertiser, 16 November 1844
Now from those you can note a few things. That first one is less than a year after the London date. They all seem to be referring to something existing, not something new. (And they’re all from Sydney and Launceston papers. I didn’t pick them. Those are the first references to local happenings.) Which suggests to me some sort of existing plain-clothes investigators that adopted or were given the name of “detective police” after in was introduced in England. (That’s what early detectives were: plain clothes police who investigated crimes, as opposed to uniformed constables who prevents crime. Pre-1842, in London, the job was done by the Bow Street Runner (disbanded 1839) or uniformed police were expected to drop the uniform and become temporary investigators.)
So, prior to 1844 & in places other than Sydney & Launceston, what was going on? Did they have full-tome plain-clothes investigators operating? Or were they petty constables who got pulled off their beat to do different duties from time to time? Why is it that the more you look into things, the less you know?
(Image: convict constable’s rattle & lamp, Justice & Police Museum, Sydney)