A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 6, The Police

The English politician, Robert Peel who determined, especially after the Peterloo tragedy1, that it was best to deal with civilian problems with the use of a civilian police force, so trained, rather than calling out troops drilled to fight armed troops of another nation. Armed troops but aggravated the symptoms of political and social disturbance. Thus, in 1829, there came to the streets of London (Scotland Yard) blue coated men and top hats (later exchanged for helmets) armed but with truncheons. With "Peelers" there now existed an efficient civilian force, of non-partisan character, and armed only with staves. Prior to this time, the civilian population, when it came to minor disturbances, depended on a "few old men armed with a staff, a rattle, and a lantern, called watchmen." These watchmen were "the only guard throughout the night against against depredation."2

The old system of a "few old men armed with a staff" to deal with minor disturbances and the calling out of the troops should there be a major problem, despite the improving developments in London, this old system, was to continue in Nova Scotia for a number of years. In 1818, the elected members of the legislature became conscious of the need for the better protection of people and their property. In that year, at Halifax, there was passed an act "For the better preservation of property, by providing a sufficient Watch at Night." A listing of the acts3 through the years 1820s and 1830s shows that there were a number of legislative acts re the Night-Watch. From Akins' "History of Halifax City" we see the 1820 picture of the police at work in Halifax.

"Drunken people were frequently to be seen in the streets in those days, yet the peace of the town was tolerably well preserved by the three or four police constables. Old Jock Henderson was very corpulent, but his great knowledge of his profession rendered him an exceedingly useful officer. Jack Mahar was celebrated as a detective, but king alcohol at last put an end to his usefulness. The practice of publicly whipping thieves had almost altogether gone out of fashion by this time, though occasionally resorted to at the work house. Among the town oddities was Constable Hawkins. He was a negro, one of those who were brought from the Chesapeake by Admiral Cockburn. He had been for some years employed at the work house to do the whipping. He was usually dressed in an old military green uniform, epaulets, plumed cap, with red sash, and on state occasions, a sword.4 With constable's staff in hand, this worthy might be seen in the morning at the opening of the police office, escorting prisoners down George Street to the office for examination, accompanied by a mob of boys."5

NEXT: [Chapter 7, Umbrellas And Trousers]


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Peter Landry