Return to 1857 Native Police SC Report


Witness, 1857 Native Police SC Report

McLERIE, JOHN (1809-1874), "soldier and police officer, was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and educated in Caithness. He enlisted early as a private in the Scots Fusilier Guards. Diligent, intelligent and literate he became an orderly clerk at the War Office in London. Commissioned in 1838 as ensign and adjutant of the 58th Regiment, he was promoted lieutenant on 27 June 1841.

In October 1844 McLerie arrived at Hobart Town in the transport Emily. He soon transferred to the regimental head quarters in Sydney. In 1845-47 he served with his regiment in the first Maori wars in New Zealand, and on his return to Sydney was appointed adjutant and paymaster of the New South Wales Mounted Police Force on 1 May with an extra salary of 109 10s. In 1848 the press and the Legislative Council criticized the mounted police as a military force no longer suited to the character of the colony. McLerie's post was reduced. On 24 September 1849 he became: principal gaoler in Sydney and, after his retirement from the army, superintended of police on 1 October 1850. He faced many problems : the Sydney police were inadequate in numbers and training and their reputation had been tarnished by the ignominious removal of several of their former heads after much public scandal. In Sydney gangs of hooligans roamed the streets at will and on 1 January the police had failed to quell  serious riot. A select committee of the Legislative Council recommended a thorough reorganization of the police. The Police Regulation Act unified the force under n inspector-general and McLerie, who had already improved the Sydney police, was appointed provincial inspector for the city and suburbs of Sydney. He was also visiting magistrate at Darlinghurst gaol and Cockatoo Island; his salary totalled 500.

Reorganization of the police was interrupted by the discovery of gold and further delayed when the Police Act was disallowed in London on a technicality. In 1852 an amendment Act reduced control by the inspector-general, but McLerie took over the office on 28 October 1856 at a salary of 500 and a house. He was also captain and commandant of the Yeomanry Cavalry. The 1862 Police Regulation Act again brought the force under the centralized control of the inspector-general and increased his executive powers. By 1874, mainly because of his efforts, the police had gained public confidence by controlling most bushranging. He had been ill when H. O'Farrell [q.v] attempted to assassinate the duke of Edinburgh, but believed that O'Farrell had accomplices in America or Ireland. McLerie had risen from the ranks and won the respect and affection of his men who familiarly called him 'the General' ... &c., &c.

Sel cttee on destitute children, V&P (LC NSW), 1854, 2, 1; V&P (LA NSW), 1861, 1, 919, 1234, 186S-69, 1, 797, 897, 1872-73, 3, 1528, Public Charities Com, 1873-74, 6, 2nd report, 236, 3rd report 47; H. King, 'Some aspects of police administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851', JRAHS, 42 (1956); SMH, 7 Oct 1874; Illustrated Sydney News, 17 Oct 1874; Town and Country J, 24 Oct 1874; Bulletin, 4 June 1881; MS cat under J. McLerie (ml).

Hazel King"

(From: Australian Dictionary of Biography, General Editor Pike, Douglas, Vol. 5 1851-1890, Melbourne University Press 1974, Pages 188-189)