III — Policing the Frontier
Inspector Paul Foelsche commanded the Northern Territory police force for 34 years. He maintained the rule of law in an unpredictable frontier society, and established a reputation for great integrity. But Foelsche's record was not unblemished…
Soon after arriving at Port Darwin during January 1870, Foelsche and his men built their own police station. He then turned his attention to regulating the life of the small settlement of Palmerston, as it grew from about 60 to 200 Europeans during the next four years.
Following the discovery of gold during 1872, an increasing number of Chinese miners and labourers arrived in Port Darwin. Foelsche found himself faced with new problems, including opium use and 'gambling dens'.
At first Foelsche barely intervened in Aboriginal affairs. He understood that Aboriginal people had their own system of justice and retribution. Exceptions were in cases of violence against Europeans, theft or public drunkenness. Those problems increased as Europeans offered alcohol in exchange for labour or for Aboriginal women.
From 1879 the 'Protector of Aborigines' recommended that Foelsche act in cases of violence among Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people began appearing before the courts. Foelsche's dual role as photographer and policeman gives their portraits a particular resonance.
When Europeans were killed by Aboriginal people in the remote bush, Foelsche faced a dilemma. He favoured a decisive response, but this was easier said than done. By allowing his deputy, Corporal Montagu, to mount reprisal expeditions, innocent Aboriginal people were shot on at least three occasions. After the Daly River killings and reprisals of 1884, Montagu faced a full government enquiry and Foelsche was publicly criticised.
For the first 15 years of his Northern Territory service, Foelsche held hopes of a southern promotion. This never occurred, and he became resigned to completing his career in Palmerston.
On his retirement in 1904 Foelsche was the longest-serving public official in the Territory's history. He was awarded the Imperial Service Medal, and received an illuminated address from his fellow officers.
18. Palmerston's first police station, 1870
Foelsche and his men cut the poles and erected this police station during mid-1870. It was the first police station in the Northern Territory. They completed the project reluctantly, as the Government Resident refused to assist them with labour. One of Foelsche's earliest photographs, with little of the complexity of his later work, it nevertheless provides rare documentation of the first built structures in Palmerston.
19. Palmerston police cells, 1871
After the Government Residence, these police cells were probably the next stone structure built in Palmerston. Prisoners were held here prior to sentencing and imprisonment in the town gaol. Foelsche's photograph, taken in early 1871, shows the system of rainwater collection.
20. New police station, December 1875
Foelsche's photograph of the new police station, erected on the site of the first wooden station. On its opening the Northern Territory Times reported that the verandahs were 'well and smoothly laid; but we are sorry we cannot report thus favourably of the interior of the building'. Intended both as a police station and as Foelsche's residence, it was commandeered for use as 'government offices' by the Government Resident. The police station was relocated along the Esplanade, and Foelsche and his family moved to a new residence.
21. The capture of Ah Kim at 10.20 pm on 11th May 1875
This photograph is Foelsche's reconstruction of a tragic event, the shooting of an escaped Chinese prisoner during a police attempt to recapture him. Foelsche's motive for reconstructing the event is unclear. Public disquiet over the shooting of Ah Kim may have prompted Foelsche to prepare this unambiguous daylight tableau of a murky evening tragedy.
Among the contrived elements in this photograph is the puff of smoke from the policeman's carbine, which Foelsche painted onto the glass negative. The falling figure of Ah Kim himself is represented by a stuffed dummy.
Ah Kim was one of the first Chinese to arrive in the Northern Territory during 1871, as a ship's cook. He established a successful market garden at Yam Creek before working as a jeweller in Palmerston. During April 1874 he was arrested for the theft of some cheques he had found. Imprisoned without trial for a year, Ah Kim escaped from the Palmerston Gaol in April 1875, and eluded police capture. In fact, he was living in a tree on the foreshore, barely a stone's throw from Foelsche's police station.
On 10 May, Foelsche was tipped off that Ah Kim planned to row to Cox's Peninsula in a stolen boat, loaded with provisions. This boat is partly concealed behind the larger boat in the photograph. Foelsche sent two troopers, who ambushed Ah Kim late on the evening of 11 May 1875. They challenged him to surrender. He slipped from his hiding place above the boat, and fell. Believing him to be armed, a policeman fired a shot, hitting Ah Kim in the jaw and killing him instantly.
Ah Kim was far from a dangerous criminal. It was generally considered that he should not have been in prison in the first place, as his original offence consisted only of failing to return some cheques he had found. He had been held without trial for many months, and had written several letters complaining of his treatment, appealing to authorities in Palmerston and Adelaide.
22. Long Peter, Woolwonga man, 29 years, photographed in April 1878
Long Peter was the English name applied to a Woolwonga man of the Pine Creek region, south of Palmerston. After the discovery of gold near Pine Creek during 1871, Woolwonga country was rapidly taken over by European and Chinese miners. The Chinese population on the gold-fields increased to several hundred by the mid-1870s, and there were numerous instances of conflict with Woolwonga people.
During January 1878 a teamster named James Ellis was attacked on the road near Pine Creek. He was speared to death and his goods were stolen. Foelsche immediately authorised a reprisal expedition, led by Police Trooper Stretton. Foelsche was telegraphed by the South Australian Minister, who told him that 'no firearms are to be used except in extreme cases and in self defence', but as Foelsche told his friend John Lewis, 'we'll be able to regulate all that … I left it to Stretton, and I could not have done better than he did'. The precise results of Stretton's expedition are unknown.
A few weeks after Ellis's death, two Chinese market gardeners were speared at Pine Creek. Long Peter had previously worked for one of them. According to the evidence he arrived at the garden one morning and speared Qua Kan with an eight foot long stone-headed spear. Foelsche posted a reward for Long Peter's arrest, and he was soon in Palmerston Gaol, sentenced to eight years hard labour for 'wounding with felonious intent'. He was also considered to have been involved in Ellis's murder.
Palmerston Gaol did not have a good record for retaining its prisoners. A journalist quipped that prisoners were often seen scaling the 3 metre high fence to post letters. In July 1879, eighteen months after his arrest, Long Peter escaped from the Gaol with the help of another inmate, the Malay prisoner Hubeeb Abdoola. There appears to be no record of Long Peter's recapture.
23. Biliamuk Gapal, Larrakia man, 37 years, photographed in 1890
In early 1869, as a young man of 16 or 17, Biliamuk Gapal was among the first Larrakia people to engage in barter with Goyder's survey team at Port Darwin. He soon became a key cultural broker, intervening on one occasion to save the party's German naturalist from being speared, and preventing reprisals.
During 1871 Biliamuk was sent to Adelaide with two other Larrakia men, to impress the trio with 'the number and power of the white races'. On his return Biliamuk worked as a police tracker, becoming known as 'Billy Muck'. He found himself in gaol for stealing government property, escaped and was re-imprisoned. This pattern continued into the 1880s. By then Foelsche had photographed Biliamuk several times, for anthropology journals and International Exhibitions.
J.G. Knight included Biliamuk's pencil drawings in the 'Dawn of Art' exhibition held in Melbourne during 1888. These drawings refer to Biliamuk's traditional knowledge, as do the ritual body scars which he accumulated during his engagement with frontier society, as cultural broker, prison inmate, servant and police tracker, ethnographic type and Larrakia elder.
The photograph above, taken by Foelsche during 1890, depicts Biliamuk as a Larrakia man of full status. He is wearing a kangaroo tooth headband with feathered tassels, cane arm and wristbands, and a bone nosepeg.
24. Wandy Wandy, Iwaidja man, about 35 years, photographed in August 1880
Wandy Wandy was an Iwaidja man of Croker Island, near Port Essington. During early 1878 E.O. Robinson and T.H. Wingfield established a trepang fishery there. Wandy Wandy and others considered that the Europeans were obliged to provide them with goods in recompense, such as tobacco.
In March 1878, an Iwaidja man demanded tobacco from Wingfield. Wingfield refused, and when the demands continued, shot the Iwaidja man dead. Wandy Wandy killed Wingfield with a tomahawk, and announced that he would kill every European who came to his country.
Inspector Foelsche was obliged to act. In June 1880, Wandy Wandy was handed over by his own people and charged with manslaughter. The photograph at right was taken shortly after Foelsche arrested him.
Wandy Wandy was sentenced to ten years in prison, with hard labour added for attempting to escape. His case attracted public attention, and it was observed Wingfield's killing had been 'in accordance with the well-known tribal custom'. During 1888 Wandy Wandy's prison drawing of kangaroos was shown in the J.G. Knight's 'Dawn of Art' exhibition in Melbourne.
After serving his time Wandy Wandy returned to Croker Island. During 1892 he was arrested again, for involvement in the deaths of six shipwrecked Macassan trepang fishermen. Judge Dashwood's jury took only five minutes to convict Wandy Wandy. Dashwood sentenced him to hang, and the sentence was carried out in Wandy Wandy's own country at Malay Bay, before 30 members of his Iwaidja group. The scaffold was left standing as a salutary warning.