Using Police Gazettes

19 November 2009

In some ways this is a continuation of last week’s entry in that it relates to my talk on Convicts & Criminals this Saturday at the Mulwala Family History Expo. I had finished my presentation and was doing a final run through to see that it worked and realised I had forgotten Police Gazettes.

When I was doing all my criminal research in Queensland back in the 80s, Police Gazettes were actually closed to public access and one couldn’t even see them. Now twenty years later I can buy digitised copies of them courtesy of Archive CD books or even see them online through the World Vital Records Australasia site for a fee. Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about back then.

Anyway, because I did my research the hard way, I have lots of references to police, court and prison records for a number of my relatives. Putting these names into the online indexes brings up surprising results, a bit like the results for newspaper searches that I mentioned last week, only not so explainable.

Another one of my g g grandfather’s did some gaol time for a range of crimes including drunkenness, obscene language, wife desertion, assault etc. Now there is no reference to him in the Qld Police Gazette for the year in which this all happened and I am not sure why. One of the things I found in the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence was a handwritten letter from him requesting a remission of his sentence and he outlined all the things my g g grandmother had done wrong including adultery and naming the other party. Mind you, all this action was going on while they were living in a tent with ten children on the railway line at Beenleigh.

A policeman was sent out to investigate my ancestor’s claims and the policeman’s report makes very interesting reading and doesn’t paint too flattering a picture of my ancestor. There was one part of the policeman’s report that I found disturbing when the policeman said “on 24th October last his wife summonsed Johnson for assault – the case was dismissed as the wife was not injured and the correction was not more than a husband is entitled by law to exercise”. I wonder what law that was and yes, I know, it was Queensland!

However, I did pick up a reference to him in the Police Gazettes post his gaol time. In 1895 he served one month’s imprisonment in Roma for threatening language. It was under the name Adam Johnson, not Johnston, but I knew it was still my guy who I had lost track of after his release from gaol in 1887 and before his death in Mackay in 1900.

How did I know it was him? He was described as 51 years old, native of Ireland, 5ft 6ins, medium build, fresh complexion, light brown hair, and hazel eyes. In the remarks it said he was bald with a long scar on the right side of his head which matched the description back in 1887 but now he had also lost his two upper front teeth and he had a fresh lump behind his right ear. I actually named my son after this guy but that’s another story!

So now I know he was out Roma way in 1895 and recently I was contacted by one of my collateral cousins who was all excited for me. She is also researching the family and we share information and she informed me that my Adam had partnered up with another woman (but no evidence of marriage or none found yet) and had another three children before he died in 1900.

We are going to get together in Brisbane in December and swap information. I suppose it really is too late to change my son’s name but at least he can claim a colourful ancestor. Nothing worse than ancestors who lived a good life, they didn’t leave exciting records behind!

The point of this blog, do use Police Gazettes as an easy way into your family’s criminal past (if you are that lucky) and don’t forget that Police Gazettes also mention police, missing persons, victims of crime and other community affairs such as hotel licensing etc. So definitely worth a look. BUT don’t neglect going back to original records where you can, because there might be more information and possibly even information that never made it into the Police Gazettes. Good hunting!


Shauna has been tracing her own family history since 1977 and is a Fellow of the Queensland Family History Society. In 2009 Shauna received the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations (AFFHO) Services to Family History Award for her achievements in Queensland, Canberra and Victoria.

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  1. Hi Shauna, I came here from the GenealogyWise network – whilst googling some family names I found a police dept. mug shot photo that matched approx age and exact name of one of my ancestors, but how to take it further?

    In your experience have you found birthdates or family listed in the police records anywhere?

    When you say (last paragraph) go back to original records, what would these be, I realise the Police Gazettes would have to be compiled from court records of some sort, are these available for searching?

    ….and your poor gggrandmother! ten children in a tent and she found time for adultery? who is he kidding!

    The fellow is Thomas Sutherland Jones

  2. Hi Erica
    Original records would be police records, court records, prison records, anything to do with the justice system. State Records NSW would be the place to check first.
    Also the Justice and Police Museum as they seem to hold the original photo. Don’t forget newspapers too.

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