Milestones of South Australia Police History

With a strong and vibrant heritage dating back to 1838, South Australia Police is recognised as the third oldest centrally controlled police force in the world after the London and Dublin metropolitan forces.

The founding of South Australia Police

SAPOL’s rich and diverse history is commemorated on Foundation Day, held annually on 28 April.

The colony of South Australia was proclaimed on 28 December 1836 but for the first 16 months it did not have a police force as authorities had initially assumed that citizens would be law abiding.  However after concerns about felons entering the new settlement from neighbouring colonies, SAPOL was formed on 28 April 1838 under the command of Inspector Henry Inman.  It comprised 10 Mounted Constables and 10 Foot Constables.

Appointment of first Police Commissioner

In 1840, Major Thomas Shuldham O’Halloran was appointed as the first Commissioner of Police.  At this time, SAPOL comprised one Superintendent, two Inspectors, three Sergeants and 47 Constables and was divided into both Foot and Mounted Sections.  They wore a uniform styled on the British police/military uniform of the time.

Major O’Halloran, circa 1905
Glass Negatives
The History Trust of South Australia

Appointment of first Women Police

On 1st December 1915, Kate Cocks and Annie Ross commenced duty at the Women Police Office, becoming the first women police officers in the British Empire to be employed with equal pay and arrest authorities as their male counterparts. While there had been several women appointed as police officers in jurisdictions around the world, all had been paid less than men and most did not have any authority to arrest suspected offenders.

Kate Cocks, c.1908

Northern Territory

In 1863 administrative control of the Northern Territory was transferred from New South Wales to South Australia, where it remained until transferred to the Commonwealth Government on 1st January 1911. Between 1869 and 1911, South Australia Police established 29 police stations in the Northern Territory.

Paul Foelsche (1831-1914) arrived in Adelaide from Hamburg at 25 years of age and joined the Mounted Police. In 1870 he moved north to Palmerston, (now Darwin) as one of the first Inspectors in the Northern Territory Mounted Police.

Southport Police Station, 1875
Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Emergency services

The South Australia Police Force has a history of tackling all emergency services that are needed in the community.

  • The police provided a fire service from 1848 to 1867 (until the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service was formed).
  • Police officers operated the Civil Ambulance Service from 1880 to 1954 (until it was taken over by the St John Ambulance Brigade).