For many years after the founding of South Australia, there was no ambulance service, public or private, for the conveyance of the sick or wounded. Patients were conveyed to hospital in private wagons and sometimes even on wheelbarrows. Eventually, the police became responsible for providing a public ambulance service and in 1884 were provided with a horse-drawn ambulance.
Following this, in 1885 the newly formed Adelaide Branch of St John Ambulance Association provided police with first-aid training. Thus began a trained and reliable civil ambulance service staffed by police officers, which over time saw an increase in demand for its services. In addition, in 1900 police were provided with several ‘hand-drawn’ ambulances as well as the first rubber tyre horsedrawn ambulance, built by Adelaide coach-builders, Duncan and Fraser.
In 1916 the first police motorised ambulance entered service, a Sampson, followed in 1919 by a second vehicle. By 1920 these had been replaced by two Model T Fords and in 1926, the last of the horsedrawn ambulances had been withdrawn from service. In the years that followed a number of different make of ambulances were used and staffed by police officers.
In September 1954 the ambulance service was handed over to the St. John Ambulance Brigade, bringing to an end 70 years of dedicated police civil ambulance service to the public of South Australia.