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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilson, Henry Croasdaile

by Hazel King

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Henry Croasdaile Wilson (flourished 1832-1841), barrack master and police magistrate, was a colonel in the army of one of the South American republics before coming to Australia. Through the influence of his relation, Lord Althorp, he was appointed barrack master at Sydney in 1832, but Howick asked Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke to give him a more lucrative position if a suitable one became available. In 1833 Bourke nominated him first police magistrate in place of Captain Francis Rossi, who had been granted leave and retired in 1834 without resuming his duties. The secretary of state then formally appointed Wilson.  

It was his duty under the terms of the Act, 4 Wm IV, no 7 NSW, to reorganize the Sydney police on similar lines to the London Metropolitan police. Bourke's intention in introducing this new organization was to separate the judicial and executive functions of the police, thus relieving Wilson of magisterial duties so that he could devote his whole time to the recruitment, training, inspection and executive direction of the police. This plan did not work because of the ever increasing number of cases brought before the Sydney bench, although in other ways, such as the introduction of the beat system, Wilson was able to make the Sydney police organization something like that of London. Governors Bourke and Sir George Gipps credited him with reducing the inefficiency of the Sydney police.

Unfortunately Wilson had an irascible temperament and made many enemies in the small colonial society. Gipps twice found it necessary to inquire into violent quarrels between him and other officials. In 1838 Wilson faced charges of misconduct with a female convict, but the Executive Council did not take a very serious view of the matter. In December 1839, however, charges were proved that he had employed policemen to assist in building his home and as liveried domestic servants. Wilson's explanation, that he needed police for his personal protection and that the livery was a disguise, was found unsatisfactory; Wilson was suspended from duty and formally removed from office in July 1840.

In June Wilson, who claimed ownership of some 10,000 acres (4047 ha) of land in New Zealand, had been associated with William Charles Wentworth and others in an unsuccessful protest against a bill to empower the governor to appoint commissioners to examine land claims in New Zealand.

On 11 March 1841, at a general meeting of the Australian Club, Wilson was defeated by Major William Christie in an election for the office of secretary-treasurer. On 24 March the first of a series of anonymous articles appeared in the Free Press casting aspersions on the committee and secretary for alleged mismanagement of the club's affairs. One article, on 5 May, ended with a Latin tag which Christie interpreted as a reflection on the honour of his wife. Finding that the anonymous author was Wilson, Christie horsewhipped him; a duel threatened, but Wilson could not find a second and Christie was bound over to keep the peace. Wilson, who admitted authorship of the article but denied any intention of referring to Mrs Christie, took action in the Supreme Court against Christie for assault and was awarded £150 damages. On 16 June a general meeting of club members resolved that he be asked to resign.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 17-20
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1835, 1840
  • H. King, ‘Some Aspects of Police Administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 42, part 5, 1956, pp 205-30
  • Sydney Herald, 18 May, 8 Oct 1835, 26 Mar 1838, 18 June 1841
  • Free Press, 24, 31 Mar, 3, 14, 24 Apr, 5 May, 16 June 1841
  • H. King, Police Organization and Administration … New South Wales 1825-51 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1956)
  • CO 201/233, 236, 289, 202/27
  • manuscript catalogue under Henry Croasdaile Wilson (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Hazel King, 'Wilson, Henry Croasdaile ', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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