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Water Police Badge circa 1923 - 1968 THE QUEENSLAND WATER POLICE
"A Proud Service Since 1859"


The need for some permanent type of 'police' presence for Queensland came with the transportation of convicts to Brisbane. At that time there were two distinct Police Organisations in existence, the New South Wales Police and the Water Police. Both were controlled from Sydney and were involved in enforcing laws brought from England, and those that were being enacted by the Parliament of New South Wales.

The first convicts arrived in Brisbane in 1824 and between then and 1842 the enforcement of law and order in the districts within reach of Brisbane was under the control of the Military commandants stationed in Brisbane. 

Captain J.C. Wickham, Royal Navy, was appointed Police Magistrate for Moreton Bay in 1842. He was paid the sum of 300 per annum and had under his control a chief constable and five constables of the New South Wales Force.


Honourable William Thornton MLC circa 1875
Hon. William Thornton M.L.C. ca.1875
John Oxley Library
State Library of Queensland

On the 31st May 1859 William Thornton (1817 - 1884) was appointed as the first Water Police Magistrate for Moreton Bay.

Thornton's appointment marked the birth of the Queensland Water Police and was followed on the 30th December 1859 by the appointment of Richard Bingham Sheridan as the Water Police Magistrate for Maryborough.

As Thornton was already the Collector of Customs, and in receipt of a salary of 600 per annum, no additional salary was included with his new position.

Sheridan, a Sub-Collector of Customs in receipt of a salary of 500 per annum, was also the Harbour Master, Gold Receiver, Inspector of Distilleries, Health Officer, Cotton Inspector and Shipping Inspector, and was also appointed without additional salary. The Customs and Harbour Department boats' crews at Maryborough performed the duties of Water Police Constables.1

December 1859 saw the separation of Queensland from New South Wales, however, there was no attempt to treat the police force of the newly proclaimed State of Queensland as a separate organisation from that of New South Wales until 'The Police Act of 1863' came into force. It was only under the provision of this Act that the term 'Police Force' included the Water Police Force.

The 7th January 1861 saw the appointment of William John Brown, Sub-Collector of Customs with a salary of 475 per annum to the position of Water Police Magistrate for Rockhampton. Brown had under his control three Customs boatmen who also acted as Water Police Constables.1


William Thornton (later to be the Hon. William Thornton M.L.C.) continued in the role of Water Police Magistrate for about 10 years and during this time a Select Committee was appointed to inquire about the management and working of the police force at which Thornton, whilst giving evidence, outlined the operation and duties of the water police.

He told the Committee, "The Water Police consists of an Inspector, a coxswain, a carpenter, and five constables one of whom acts as cook. There are no other water police in any part of the colony.

The water police are stationed on board the hulk at the mouth of the river, and the expense of keeping up of the hulk includes the keeping up of the water police.

There is a Sub-Inspector at 200 per year, coxswain at 120 per year, a carpenter at 120 per year, and five boatman at 95 each. The carpenter coxswain and five boatmen receive 15 a year in lieu of rations, night allowances and good conduct money and they all receive two suites of uniform.

The other expense is for what paints are required to paint the vessel once a year. Twenty pounds a year should pay for keeping the hulk in serviceable condition".


"Including water police duties, the force has charge of the dredging plant lying at the mouth of the river off Fisherman's Island. It takes up much of their time, There are 27 vessels consisting of two dredges, the "FITZROY" and the "LYTTON", one steam tug the "BRISBANE" and 23 punts. The decks of the dredges and tug have to be washed down every day and the machinery on board the dredged has to be turned once a week. There are also repairs constantly required. It fills up their time between their other duties" Thornton said.

When asked what other duties the water police were required to carry out Thornton replied, "... keeping order amongst the shipping in the bay, they act as Customs House Officers and search vessels going up and down the river, the Sub-Inspector is a health officer and boards vessels in his capacity as such, and assists the Tide Surveyor in his duty by lending him men in bad weather to go to vessels in the bay as the Tide Surveyor's crew has been reduced to two."2


In 1866 William Thornton took a seat in the Legislative Council that he held for 13 years. During this time he continued as Collector of Customs for Queensland and, for the majority of the time, as Water Police Magistrate. In September 1879 he was forced to resign his seat in the Legislative Council as a result of a resolution of Parliament against any officer of the Government (his appointment as Collector for Customs and Water Police Magistrate) holding a seat in the Parliament. He later took up another seat in the Legislative Council that he retained until his death.

Thornton died in 1884 and his body was interred at the South Brisbane cemetery, Dutton Park on the 29th June 1884. His funeral was attended by many notable Queenslanders including Sir Arthur Palmer, President of the Legislative Council, Hon. Sir Samuel Walker Griffith (1845-1920), Premier, the Hon. Richard Sheridan and Mr John McMaster, the Mayor of the Municipality of Brisbane.3

Obituary, The Brisbane Courier (Qld.:1864-1933), Monday 30 June 1884


Sir Samuel Walker Griffith PC,GCMG
National Library of Australia

Although the hulk "PROSERPINE" was used as the water police station as outlined by William Thornton to the select committee, it was also used to house prisoners due to overcrowding in Brisbane gaol and was the second vessel to be used for this purpose. The first hulk used for this purpose was the "JULIA PERCY", a brig purchased from Hayes Brown and Company for 200, although it is reported that overhaul and fitting raised the amount to 871 (January 1863).

Even though the amount of 871 was expended in the refit of the "JULIA PERCY" only four months later Captains Kerr of the "FLYING CLOUD" and Headley of the "WARREN HASTINGS" in company of a ship's carpenter inspected and condemned her.

The "JULIA PERCY" remained at anchor off Fisherman's Island and continued to house the water police and prisoners until she could be replaced.

She was reported sold to an Andrew Muir in late 1863 who patched and re-rigged her as a brigantine. He paid the Government 21 pounds 10 shillings, but the sale of 'spares' raised the Government receipts to 313.

The Government called for tenders for a new vessel to replace the "JULIA PERCY" and subsequently negotiated for the purchase (on approval) of the "MARGARET ELIZA" a towns barque of 505 tons, built in the USA in 1856, then at sea under a Captain Smith, at a price of 3000.

The "MARGARET ELIZA" arrived in Brisbane in 24th January 1864 after a passage of 4 days from New Caledonia where she had landed a cargo of cattle shipped in Sydney. Shortly after her arrival she underwent a special survey inspection carried out by William Thornton, Lieutenant G.P. Heath, R.N., the Brisbane Portmaster and a Mr. W.L.G. Drew, who recommended her suitability for purpose and the purchase subsequently went ahead. She was renamed "PROSERPINE" on the 30th April following her proclamation as a prison before being refitted for her new role as a prison hulk and on Wednesday the 11th May 1864 was towed to Fisherman Island at the mouth of the Brisbane river.

The refitting of the "PROSERPINE" involved considerable work with sleeping quarters for the water police built at the stern of the ship and cells for the prisoners located in the centre of the ship between the main and fore hatch ways. Access to the prison cells was by way of a small passage about 3 feet or 1 metre wide down both sides of the vessel.

The "PROSERPINE" was configured to hold 40 prisoners in 10 cells each being approximately 9 feet long by 5 feet wide and fitted with hammocks for sleeping.

There would have been no way the "PROSERPINE" could have been mistaken for another ship as just before she was towed to the mouth of the river to be anchored off Fishermans Island she was painted yellow, ' a color more conspicuous and better calculated to stand the rays of the sun', and on each bow in large black letters were painted the words "Prison for Refractory Seaman".4


Inspector John Mcdonald Keeper of the Prison Hulk Proserpine 1863

Inspector John McDonald dressed in the uniform of the Crimean War - Photo courtesy of Ken Scanlan.

The 21st May 1864 saw the appointment of Inspector John McDonald ( - 1895) to the position of 'Keeper of the Prison Hulk - Proserpine'. Inspector McDonald, was the Inspector of Water Police for the Port of Moreton Bay, having been appointed to this position on the 10th October 1862, and had previously served as an Acting Sergeant-in-Charge of the Brisbane Police Station.

During his time as Inspector Water Police, McDonald was involved in the successful rescue of a small party of passengers and crew from the passenger ship "Queen Of The Colonies".

The "Queen Of The Colonies", a Aberdeen built clipper of 1346 tons under the command of Captain Cairncross, left London on the 24thDecember, 1862 with 460 passengers and 1200 tons of general cargo, reportedly the largest ever bought to Queensland to that time. The voyage to Brisbane was to be an eventful one. Unfortunately, shortly after sailing measles were discovered amongst the passengers. In all 35 cases of measles were reported six of which proved to be fatal. The fatalities being exclusively contained to the infants onboard. There were 2 deaths of women whilst in childbirth, one infant from convulsions, and one adult who died from injuries received from falling into the ships hold. During the voyage 26 stowaways were discovered, there were seven births and one marriage conducted by the Reverend Terrence Joseph Quinn, the Roman Catholic Chaplain, who joined the voyage at Queenstown, County Cork Ireland (renamed Cobh in 1922). One would think this more than enough to keep Captain Cairncross and his crew busy however the "Queen Of The Colonies" was to experience further drama before she berthed in Brisbane.5

Sadly as the "Queen Of The Colonies" arrived in sight of Moreton Bay a Mrs Barnfield died in childbirth and it was decided to bury her on Moreton Island. At five o'clock in the afternoon the "Queen of The Colonies" came to anchor near Cape Moreton and under the command of the ships Chief Officer, Mr. Eldridge, 14 people left onboard the ships boat for Moreton Island.  Amongst those onboard were the deceased woman's husband Mr. Barnfield, a Captain Hill, who read the funeral service, Father Stanley, Mr. W.O. Hill (later to be appointed as a police magistrate), a Lieutenant Durant and Messrs. Arundel, Langford, Ford, Grant (fourth-mate), Roach and Murray (quarter-masters), and 3 able seaman. As the burial party left Moreton Island for the "Queen Of The Colonies" a sudden storm, together with an ebb tide, blew the ships boat past the "Queen Of The Colonies". Unable to take hold of a line thrown to them from the ship and incapable of rowing against the weather and tide the ships boat and her crew were carried out to sea.

Lost and unable to find their way back to the "Queen Of The Colonies" the ships boat was eventually put ashore on a beach near Caloundra Heads. The "Queen Of The Colonies" raised the alarm however despite several attempts rescuers were not able to put the sea due to the continued bad weather.

Even though it had been more than 10 days since the loss of the ships boat and her crew, and with many holding no hope for their survival, Inspector McDonald put to sea with 5 men in his rescue boat under oars to be almost shipwrecked himself on an unknown reef near Bribie Passage.

With their provisions contaminated by sea water from their near sinking in Bribie Passage, and a less than happy crew, Inspector McDonald put his boat ashore to continue the search, accompanied by a Mr. Campbell, on foot. The remainder of his crew stayed with the boat.

While the search was underway the survivors of the ships boat, with little by way of food and water, had attempted to launch their boat back through the breaking surf however their attempt was to be unsuccessful as the boat was almost swamped in the heavy seas. Disaster also befell Mr. Barnfield who was taken by sharks during the attempt to relaunch the ships boat that saw the remaining survivors hastily retreat to the safety of the shore.

After 14 days lost the majority of the missing men were found by Inspector McDonald at Caloundra Head suffering from exposure and lack of food. Three of the men, the Chief Officer Mr Edridge, the Fourth officer and Lieutenant Durant had left the survivors in an attempt to find help two days earlier. Spurred on because of the poor health of the survivors Inspector McDonald loaded as many as he could into his boat and set off to return them to safety.  Rowing with great purpose Inspector McDonald's men set off for Brisbane until the steam-tug 'BRISBANE' came into sight taking the first party of survivors onboard.  Obtaining a fresh crew from the men onboard the 'BRISBANE', Inspector McDonald returned to Caloundra Head to pick up the remaining survivors.  Within hours of returning the men to the safety of Brisbane, Inspector McDonald set off to return to Caloundra Head where he located the remaining 3 members of the "Queen Of The Colonies" and returned them to Brisbane.

In recognition of his efforts involved in this rescue the Government presented Inspector McDonald with 100. The agent and officers of the Black Ball Line, owners of the  "Queen Of The Colonies" expressed their gratitude with the presentation to Inspector McDonald of a tea and coffee service valued at 100 guineas.6

Inspector McDonald remained with the Water Police until the 14th May 1867 when he was appointed as Superintendent of the Penal Colony at St Helena Island, Moreton Bay, a position he held until his retirement in 1882.7


On the arrival of the "PROSERPINE" at Fisherman Island on the 11th May 1864 an inspection was carried out to assess the quality of work undertaken to covert her from a cattle ship to a prison. The work was found to be most favourable and a credit to those responsible and was reported in The Brisbane Courier (Qld.:1864-1933) the following day. The only concern to be reported by The Brisbane Courier was, "...that the prisoners will be made too comfortable, and will enjoy a life of idleness incompatible with their usual habits."

With a influx of prisoners from through out the colony the overcrowding of the prison system continued to put strains on the Brisbane gaol, and the "PROSERPINE". In November of 1865 prisoners from "PROSERPINE" were put to work to clear the vegetation from St. Helena Island, Moreton Bay, in preparation for the establishment of a quarantine station however as the overcrowding of prison system became unacceptable the Government scrapped the idea of moving the quarantine station and St Helena Island became Queensland's maximum security prison.

The "PROSERPINE" remained anchored at the mouth of the Brisbane river as a prison hulk until the last 49 of her prisoners were moved to St. Helena Island on the 20th May 1867. With St. Helena Island now providing relief to the over crowded prison system it was intended to use the "PROSERPINE" as a reformatory to house approximately 100 juvenile offenders however it was not until 1871 when she was declared to be a ‘Reformatory School for Boys’ under the Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1865.

Boys under the age of 18 years were sentenced to a term of confinement at the reformatory by the Children’s Court at Brisbane, for the purpose of segregating neglected and convicted juveniles from the poor influence of adult prisoners, so as to better promote their reformation and rehabilitation.

At the time the "PROSERPINE" was under the supervision of a Superintendent (the first of which was appointed on 15 March 1871) and a Visiting Justice. The former was responsible for admissions, discharges, internal discipline and the general administration of the reformatory. The Visiting Justice, who visited the "PROSERPINE" at least once a week, was responsible for ensuring institutional regulations were adhered to; inspections of the boys to ensure they were properly cared for; the investigation of complaints; and magisterial inquiries into the deaths of inmates.

Both the Visiting Justice and the Superintendent reported directly to the Colonial Secretary.

A medical officer and school teacher also visited the "PROSERPINE" to look after the health and education of the inmates. Teachers were appointed by the Board of General Education until 1875 and then by the Department of Public Instruction.

As part of their education and rehabilitation, the boys were put out to service in various trades, such as farm work. Whilst the reformatory was located on board the "PROSERPINE", however, such employment was confined to domestic and general maintenance chores. It appears that some boys were transferred to orphanages before the expiration of their sentences. Parents of neglected and convicted inmates were required to contribute financially to the maintenance of their sons whilst in the reformatory.8

The use of the "PROSERPINE" as a reformatory was advised in the Gazette of 7 February 1872 as follows: -

General Order No. 526 (Gazette 7 February 1872)

'Officers of the Force, more especially those in large towns, are hereby informed that the hulk "Proserpine", having been proclaimed a reformatory is now ready to receive boys of the criminal class'.

The first report of the Superintendent was written in 1879 and appears in the Queensland Votes and Proceedings, Parliamentary Papers for that  year. The first appointed Superintendent was James William Wassell (pictured below- middle back row) and his wife Rebecca was appointed as the Matron, both being appointed on 15 March 1871.

 Water Police Staff circa.1875

Water Police Staff ca.1875
Seated: Henry Roughsedge, Henry Ross, George Burge
Standing: Henry Bycroft, Ambrose Taylor, James Wassell, Mathew Henning Anderson and William Henry Wardle.
Image No PM0001 QPS Museum

 James Wassell is listed in the 1871 Blue Book as a Sub-Inspector, Water Police with a salary of 200 pounds per annum with quarters on board the ‘Proserpine’.9


The eventual end of the "PROSERPINE" is not yet known but following her use as a reformatory it is recorded that she was later anchored in the Milton Reach of the river for possible use as a quarantine vessel during the small pox scare of the late 1800's.

Although the official reason for changing the name of the "MARGARET ELIZA" to "PROSERPINE" is not clear, there may have been some grim humour involved. Proserpine, a goddess in Greek mythology was the wife of Hades, King of the Underworld, and is said to have kept a boarding house in hell.


 Water Police on Brisbane River circa. 1906
Water Police on the Brisbane River ca.1906

The water police after leaving "PROSERPINE" were stationed at Lytton and continued to patrol the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay in river boats under oars.

1882 saw the launch of a small timber steamer the "S.S. VIGILANT" .  The "S.S.VIGILANT", under the command of Acting Sub-Inspector Alexander Douglas-Douglas with a small white crew and six native mounted police, patrolled the northern rivers of the State between Cardwell and Schnapper Island (Cooktown) that were inaccessible by horseback. The "S.S. VIGILANT" remained in service till the mid 1890's when she was transferred to the Marine Department.

Since that time the name "VIGILANT" has had a long association with the Water Police both in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast with a number of small runabouts carrying the name.

By the time of the appointment of Major William Geoffrey Cahill, C.M.G., V.D., (1905 - 1916) as the 3rd Queensland Police Commissioner in 1905, 42 years after proclamation of 'The Police Act 1863', little appeared to have changed as far as the water police were concerned. The strength of the Police Force was reported as 835 of which only eight were water police. These numbers slowly increased to 11 on the 30th June, 1916, and 13 out of a total Force of 1,107 by the 30th June, 1921

Although the first Queensland Commissioner of Police, Mr D.T.Seymour, in 1893 recommended that "A smart steam launch, which if properly fitted out would, apart from its utility as a patrol boat, be useful in case of fire on board ships or in premises adjoining wharves", should be made available (in Brisbane), this was not forthcoming until the 21-foot motorised timber police launch, the "PATROL" was put into service in 1907.

 Motorised Police Launch 'PATROL'

Motorised Police Launch "PATROL" ca. 1907

The "PATROL", a 21-foot timber vessel launched in Brisbane January 1907, was later transferred to Rockhampton in 1917 where she  remained until 1921 when she returned to Brisbane and was sold.


"PATROL II" Brisbane River late 1940's

"PATROL II" Brisbane River late 1940's

The "PATROL" was subsequently replaced by the "ALERT" (formerly HYGEIA), a 30-foot timber launch powered by a 12-horse power engine, obtained from the Quarantine Department.  The "HYGEIA" was built in 1907 for the Department of Public Health and handed over to the Police Department in 1910 when she was renamed.

The "ALERT" being more powerful than the "PATROL" rendered valuable service in rescue work following a cyclone that caused heavy damage at Mackay in 1918. She was then replaced by "PATROL II" (called "PATROL") a 22-foot timber vessel powered by a Palmer engine and launched in November 1935. She remained in service until 1963 when she was given to the Department of Harbours and Marine and replaced by the "D. T. SEYMOUR".

"Patrol II" Brisbane River


" David Thomas Seymour - Commissioner 1864-1895" Since that time a number of vessels have been brought into service as the need to police the waterways of Queensland increased.

June 1914 saw the launch of "VEDETTE" a 30-foot timber vessel, built by the Government boat builder for the Water Police Brisbane, that remained in service until 1938. The "VEDETTE" was replaced by "VEDETTE II" (called "VEDETTE") a 36-foot timber vessel launched December 1938 that remained in service until she was destroyed by fire in 1951.

Records indicated that the "VEDETTE II", pictured below and launched in 1954, replaced the second "VEDETTE" launched 1938 that was destroyed by fire.  It would appear that as the second "VEDETTE" was known as "VEDETTE", and not "VEDETTE II", this 49-foot timber launch powered by twin diesel engines was named sequentially "VEDETTE II" instead of "VEDETTE III". The error was never corrected with the obvious consequences involving the launch of "VEDETTE III" (1969) and  "VEDETTE IV" (1982).

The "D.T.SEYMOUR", named after David Thomas Seymour (pictured above left) the first Commissioner of the Queensland Police Force (1864 to 1895), was launched 24th August 1962 and saw distinguished duty in company with "VEDETTE II" in the 1950's and 1960's. She was sold in 1974 and replaced by the "MEREKI".

Vedette II & D T Seymour

"VEDETTE II" (left) and "D.T. SEYMOUR"
Water Police Brisbane River ca. 1964

Click for more photos "D.T.SEYMOUR"

"VEDETTE" Brisbane River circa 1939-45

"VEDETTE" Brisbane River ca. 1938-45

"VEDETTE II" On The Brisbane River

"VEDETTE II" with Story Bridge and Brisbane Water Police Station
(under the northern (right) end of the Story Bridge) in background.
Crew Senior Sergeant Alec Powe (on bow) others unknown.

 "VEDETTE III" underway Brisbane River

"VEDETTE III" on the Brisbane River

"VEDETTE III a 40 foot diagonal planked ply launch built by B.J and B.P Thompson was launched 11th November 1969 and saw her initial service in Brisbane before being transferred to Yeppoon following a refit in 1984.

Originally designed at 45 foot the "VEDETTE III" was shortened to 40 feet as a cost saving measure. With a displacement of 7 imperial tons she was powered by a D334 series 6 cylinder Caterpillar diesel and had a top speed of just under 18 knots.9


Small outboard powered runabouts, such as the 14-foot fibreglass  "VIGILANT" (pictured below) powered by a 50 horse-power outboard engine became more widely used from about the mid 1960's.  Built 1961 for the Department of Harbours and Marine the "VIGILANT" was loaned to the Police Department in 1961. She remained on loan until 1968 when ownership was officially transferred to the Police Department.  She was sold in 1970 and replaced by "VIGILANT II".

'VIGILANT" and members of Brisbane Water Police circa 1965

"VIGILANT" and members of Brisbane Water Police Kangaroo Point reach of Brisbane River ca. 1965

"VIGILANT IV" Southport Police Station

"VIGILANT IV" - 1976

The "Vigilant IV" , a 16 foot fibreglass Cruise Craft runabout powered by 70hp Johnson outboard motor, was launched 1976 and was attached to the Southport Water Police (later Gold Coast Water Police) to patrol the waterways of the Gold Coast.

"Vigilant IV" is pictured above at the rear of the Southport Police Station 1976.

Vigilant IV was transferred to Cleveland in 1979 and replaced by the first   "C.W.Brown", a 23-foot Harris built Shark Cat, the first of a line of vessels to carry that name.

"C.J.CARROLL" 1966 - 1974 Named after 7th Commission or the Queensland Police

"C.J.CARROLL" 1966-1974

"C.J. CARROLL" a Bertram hydro-lift V19 fibreglass runabout powered by a 150 hp mercruiser inboard saw service with the Brisbane Water Police 1966 to 1974. C.J.Carroll, M.V.O., M.C. was the 7th Commissioner of Police (1934 - 1949).

"RITA" In Service 1970 - 1978

"RITA" 1970 - 1978

The "RITA" was launched in 1970 and was attached to Thursday Island where she saw service in the waters of the Torres Strait. In 1973 she was transferred to Cairns until she was decommissioned in 1978.

The  "NIMROD" a 5 metre aluminium vessel powered by twin 35 horse-power outboard motors was launched 1974 and saw service in the Torres Strait attached to Thursday Island Police until 1980.


"W. CONROY I" pictured in Loders Creek, Southport after she was renamed as the "C. W. Brown" ca. 1986.
Crew (left) Senior Constable Mark Landells (right) Sergeant 1/c Neville Cooper.

The "NIMROD" was replaced by the "W. CONROY I" launched October 1981 and later exchanged with the "C.W. BROWN I" attached to the then Southport Water Police (later to be the Gold Coast Water Police).

 "N.W.BAUER" at her Launch 1976 " Norwin William Bauer - Commissioner of Police 1969-1970 "

"N.W.BAUER" - 1976
Crew on N.W.Bauer - (right to left) Constable 1/c Tony Benson, Senior Sergeant Ernie Burns, Sergeant Sid Marshall, Constables Allan Thompson and John Maher

Named after Norwin William Bauer, (picture inset) 12th Queensland Police Commissioner (1969-1970), the "N. W. BAUER" , pictured on the day of her launching, was built by B.J. and B.P. Thompson in Bulimba Brisbane reportedly for $169,000, saw lengthy service in the Townsville area.10

The "N.W. BAUER" was launched by Mrs Jessie Newbery, wife of the Hon. Tom Newbery M.L.A., Minister for Police, on Wednesday the 22nd December, 1976. Former Police Commissioner Norwin Bauer, after whom the vessel was named, was the guest of honour at the launch.

Police Commisioner Mr Terry Lewis described the "N.W.Bauer" as 'An aquatic police station and residence'. It was so modern for the time Commissioner Lewis was at pains to point out that it even had ' four berths for VIP guest, plus lavatory, showers, and galley'.11

"MEREKI" Brisbane River

"MEREKI" Brisbane River - ca. 1974

The "MEREKI", a 34 foot fibreglass flybridge motor cruiser launched 20th September 1974, saw service with the Brisbane Water Police 1974 to 1977.

Vedette IV Brisbane River during sea trials 1982

"VEDETTE IV" undergoing sea trials 1982.  

"VEDETTE IV" 48-foot Cheoy Lee 'Sports Fisherman' flybridge cruiser launched in 1982 (decommissioned 1989), saw duty along the entire length of the Queensland coast.


As the larger vessels became more common water policing still required many smaller vessels to get the job done. Searching rivers and waterways often required the use of small dinghies as shown below.

Searching for drowning victims often required the water police to dragg the river bottom.

"Dragging" the Brisbane River ca. 1960

Constable Fletcher and Senior Constable Jensen circa 1995 Gold Coast Water Police

Constable Michael Fletcher (left) & Senior Constable Karl Jensen
Gold Coast Water Police ca. 1995


On the 27th February 1998 the Minister for Emergency Services, Sport and Recreation, The Honourable Michael Vievers MLA, in the presence of the Minister for Police, the Honourable Russel Cooper MLA, Commissioner O'Sullivan (1992 -2000), Regional Assistant Commissioner Early and other invited guest officially launched the Queensland Ambulance Service, Marine Officer Program at the Gold Coast Water Police.

This program had been under on-going development since 1992 when the first Queensland Ambulance Officers were training in seamanship for the purposes of accompanying water police to search & rescue and medical missions. The water police officers were trained to Ambulance Officer 'Level 2' standard to provide assistance to the Paramedics working as a single officer onboard the police launch.

Since that time considerable rationalisation of the program had occurred which culminated in the fit out of the police launch "D.W.Wrembeck III" to the standard of a 'Class 1' Ambulance and the appointment of two full time, and a number of part time, Ambulance Paramedics as crew onboard the Gold Coast Water Police vessels.

The ambulance fit out of the "D.W.Wrembeck III" included a full size ambulance bay, patient bed, a full range of medical equipment and both fixed and portable oxygen.

The program, a first in Water Policing anywhere in Australia, enabled a high level of pre-hospital patient care to be administered to people suffering from illness or injuries sustained while on the water and out of the reach of normal Ambulance responses.12



During 1990, while under the command of Commissioner Newnham (1989 - 1992), the Queensland Police Force was officially renamed the Queensland Police Service and the old motto of 'Firmness with Courtesy' was changed to 'With Honour We Serve'.

A CHANGE OF NAME - A CHANGE OF UNIFORMQueensland Police Service Badge

Prior to 1990 the Water Police uniform had remained much the same as it had since the 1800's consisting of dark blue trousers, white shirt and double breasted tunic with gold shoulder patches and gold admiralty pattern buttons. It included a very distinctive white cap and gold cap badge.

The uniform clearly demonstrated the common roots the water police had with the military, and the navy in particular, dating from the early 1800's .

Following the renaming of the Queensland Police the water police uniform was changed and is now the same as that worn by general duty officers.


With the increase of the population through out Queensland, and especially along the eastern seaboard, water police stations are now established at Thursday Island, Cairns, Townsville, Whitsunday, Yeppoon, Hervey Bay, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

On the 14th December 2005 the Police Minister Judy Spence announced the latest water police establishment was to be located in Gladstone and operate from premises at the Central Queensland Ports Authority.

The 10-metre vessel "D.W.Wrembeck" (pictured above), previously attached to the Gold Coast water police will be transferred to Gladstone following an $89,000 refit including new motors.


It is now the policy of the Queensland Police Service to name new police launches in honour of officers who have given their lives in the Service of the people of the State.

Click on the following link for further details of Queensland Police Vessels and the officers in whose honour they are named.

"Police Launches Named In Honour"



My thanks goes to the Queensland Police Museum, past and present members of the Queensland Water Police and in particular Mr. Peter Stiller (Sergeant, Ret) and Sergeant Edi Mian, for their generous assistance with this project.


1Queensland Blue Book 1870 p.19(2)
2Historical Society of Qld Journal; Vol 4, No 3, pages 340-360
 Queensland Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings, Thornton, William MLC, Collector of Customs and Water Police Magistrate, Management and working of the Police Force, 1869/v.1, 805-807
3National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3431536
The Brisbane Courier (Qld.:1864-1933), Monday 30 June 1894
4The Brisbane Courier (Qld.:1864-1933) Tuesday 17 May 1864
5The Brisbane Courier(Qld.:1864-1933) Friday 10 April 1863, p2
6The Brisbane Courier (Qld.:1864-1933) Wednesday 12 June 1889, p9
7Mr. Ken Scanlan (Assistant Commissioner Ret.)
8Queensland State Archives - http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/
9Queensland Blue Book 1871; p.21
10Mr. Tony Benson (Sergeant, Ret)
11Courier Mail 23 December 1976
12Gold Coast Water Police - 5 Year Review 1998


Queensland Government Gazette, 19 Feb 1881, Vol XXVIII No.27, p.383
Queensland Votes Proceedings; Session of 1979 Vol.1 pp 737-740
Queensland State Archives Ref. PRV7539
Queensland Miscellaneous Cutting Book, Page 23
W. Jack's Cutting Book No 26, Page 40
Police Life; May 1986, pages 82-83
Queensland Police Museum
Gazette 2 October 1867
Gazette 7 February 1872
Water Police Prison Hulks, E.V.Stevens,Brisbane 1951
Brisbane Water Police Technical Section - Vessel Maintenance Records

Queensland Police Museum
Brisbane Water Police
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
National Library of Australia
Author's private collection.
Mr. Ken Scanlan (Assistant Commissioner Ret.)


2009 Copyright John Rice
Last Modified June 2009