Faces of Tamworth: popular ​Chief Constable James Dwyer

Historical photo of Tamworth.
Historical photo of Tamworth.

FRESH off a boat from Cork in Ireland, James Dwyer was the first man tasked with overseeing all local police in Tamworth 167 years ago.

An attempt had been made in 1849 to bring all NSW police under some form of unified control but it had been unsuccessful.

In 1851, an officer, still answerable to the Commissioner for Crown Lands, was placed in charge of all local police.

His name was James Dwyer and he was designated “Chief Constable” for the Liverpool Plains Crown Lands District.

His district was enormous. Beginning at Ardglen, it ran north along the Great Dividing Range to Guyra, then across to Warialda and Moree, down the Barwon to between the mouths of the Namoi and Macquarie Rivers, then to the head of the Mooki (south-west of Blackville) and along the Liverpool Range back to Ardglen.

Later, this huge area was reduced to a more manageable one.

Dwyer was recruited from Cork in Ireland where, eleven years earlier, he had married Joanna Barry.

He sailed immediately for NSW to take up his new appointment on an annual salary of £180.

He soon came to be very highly regarded, as the Wallabadah Manuscript indicates:

“The police were a very good class of men in the Fifties. Mr Dwyer was the Chief Constable at Tamworth with only two police. They were well acquainted with the bush and many a chase they had after horse stealers and other criminals and, making great captures. Mr Dwyer was a clever bush detective. He was always on the lookout for wrong doers. His name was a terror to them. So, with such a splendid police officer, Tamworth was free from every crime.

“He never spared himself or his horse when on duty and was a very zealous officer having such a large district to look after.

“In those days, the country was not like it is at present. There were no telegraph lines to send news to the police station next to them about desperate criminals. They had to rely on their own bravery and judgement which was never at fault. So the public was never afraid while Mr Dwyer was in charge of the police as he always did his duty”.

James Dwyer was one of the few public figures of the time against whom no complaints were lodged - apart from those coming from the people he had apprehended.

Furthermore, he was able to lessen the Commissioner’s load by himself advertising for police recruits and disciplining junior police officers.

Fifteen months after he took up his position, he was appointed Inspector of Weights and Measures.

At that time, he had a staff of five policemen, and because of the gold discoveries, two additional mounted men.

Their yearly allowances were: pay £109; clothing and arms each £20; horses £24; and forage and incidental £50.

Dwyer was so well received by the citizens of the District that in 1855, they took up a collection for him.

Most of the money came from Tamworth but there were also contributions from Barraba, Gunnedah and Quirindi.

On behalf of the people, J. H. Durbin, the Commissioner for Crown Lands, presented Constable Dwyer with a gold watch and a purse of eighty-four sovereigns, along with the following tribute:

“The peace and order of this township, the suppression and ready detection of crime through the district we mainly attribute to your zeal and ability. We trust your labour may be of long duration amongst us and that this small token of merit may mark your future exertions with the same zeal and impartiality that has heretofore characterised your conduct.”

There are unconfirmed reports that he had been transferred to a different region but had resigned because of the inconvenience of shifting his large family.

The Archives Office of NSW does not have a date when he ceased to be Chief Constable but his name no longer appears on the List of Officers of the Civil Establishment after 1856.

This is interesting because Dwyer definitely stayed on in Tamworth and served for another nine years after the presentation.

  • Information sourced from Chronological History of Tamworth

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