Fremantle Stuff > people > Edmund Yeamans Walcott Henderson

hendersonEdmund Henderson

Lt-Colonel Edmund Henderson KCB (1821-1896) had a commission in the Royal Engineers, and was Comptroller-General of Convicts 1850-63, having arrived on board the barque Scindian, with the first convicts and the Enrolled Pensioner Force.

He designed the original parts of Fremantle Prison - notably the gatehouse - and the Asylum. The Knowle, now part of Fremantle Hospital, was designed by him and built as his family home. Henderson St is named after him.

After his return to England, he was Home Office Surveyor-General of Prisons from 1863 to 1869, and Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, head of the London Metropolitan Police, from 1869 to 1886.

SCOTLAND YARD. Founded by a Perth Official. (By 'Cygnet.')

A Leading article in 'The West Australian' recently, dealing with some famous unsolved mysteries, brings to mind the fact that Scotland Yard, the home par excellence of mystery solution, is itself built on the site of an unsolved murder mystery! And mention of Scotland Yard further brings to mind the fact that it fell to a West Australian official virtually to create that widest known of all police institutions.

One well remembered day only a few years ago I was being conducted around Scotland Yard when I paused in front of a photograph. Somehow the face seemed dimly familiar, and I said so. 'That,' said my guide. 'Oh, that was our second Chief Commissioner, Sir Edmund Henderson. By jove! Come to think of it, he came from your part of the world.' Then I remembered. Of course, it was our first Comptroller-General of Convicts in Western Australia, and it had slipped my memory that some time after he had left Perth in the eighteen-sixties he had been chosen to command that famous force known to the world as the London Metropolitan Police.

Sir Edmund Henderson, K.C.B. (as he afterwards became) arrived in the colony in 1850 as Captain Henderson, R.E. He came out on the Scindian as Comptroller-General of Convicts, bringing with him the first batch of 75, together with a party of pensioners, who were to be their guards. For a dozen years he remained here, doing great work for the colony. He was made an official member of the Legislative Council, and his work was also recognised by the home authorities, who promoted him major, and later lieutenant colonel. There is only one smudge on his administration here—that was when he urged the erection of a convict prison on the top of Mt. Eliza. Wisely, Governor Fitzgerald refused, and so Perth is spared the sight of a felons' palace frowning upon its beauteous setting on the banks of the lovely Swan.

In 1863 Colonel Henderson left Perth, having been recalled to England, where he was installed at Whitehall as chairman of the Prisons Board. Six years later he moved to Whitehall-place to succeed Sir Richard Mayne, the man who had raised the London Metropolitan Police at the bidding of Sir Robert Peel, and who for 41 years had moulded its shape and dilected its activities.

The year that saw the birth of the Swan River Settlement witnessed also the birth of the London Metropolitan Police. This was, of course, in 1829, and Peel was driven to the erection of such a force by the grossly immoral and criminal state of the times. It is significant that he entrusted the raising and the training of the force to two Irishmen, or rather to the son of an Irish judge, and to an ex-Royal Irish constabularyman; but it is somewhat Gilbertian to find that both these gentlemen from the outset had their work cut out to stop the force from being over-run by Irishmen, who seem ever to have aspired to be the world's policemen.

Henderson Made the 'Force.'

But we are more concerned with Henderson's regime. The record of his activities and achievements makes remarkable and romantic reading. He found London under-policed and added a thousand more to their numbers; he found only 15 detectives in the whole force and at once in creased the number to 200; he created the C.I.D. and founded what the world knows as 'Scotland Yard'; for the better management of the force he split it into four divisions each under a district superintendent, whom later he called chief constable, a title and a system which still remains; he found the men on duty wandering at random about their 'beat' so he inaugurated the system of 'fixed posts,' that is, fixed points where policemen on duty were to report at fixed times, thus increasing their usefulness as well as placing themselves under some kind of check; he did away with their old-time 'rattle' and issued them with whistles.

Within a year he had raised the pay of constables a shilling a week and of sergeants three shillings; he had recreation rooms built at the police stations and at the police barracks; he gave them the privilege of wearing civilian clothes when off duty; and he earned their undying gratitude by allowing them to grow beards, and moustaches! Up till Colonel Henderson's time they had been compelled to limit their face-decoration to a pair of side-whiskers, but desiring to move with the times they had long agitated for permission to adorn their upper lips and chins, a yearning which this bare-faced

Creation of Scotland Yard.

It was not until the London Metropolitan Police had been in existence thirteen years that twelve detectives were appointed. They were accommodated in a room in Old Scotland Yard, while the headquarters of the force was in Whitehall Place adjoining. By 1869, when Henderson took charge, the detectives had only increased to 15, but now at his touch they sprang overnight into 200. In 1877 he set up the Criminal Investigation Department as we know it, and, grotesque as it appears, it came into being with its chief detectives in penal servitude for bribery and corruption. These were Chief Detective-Inspector Meiklejohn, Detective Inspector Druscovich and Detective-Inspector Palmer. They had got into the toils of two of the astutest scoundrels ever known, Harry Benson and William Kurn. whose story Edgar Wallace has told and which puts to shame any of those fantastic tales Edgar's fertile brain invented.

However, the C.I.D. came into being. It functioned. It succeeded; and so well that its headquarters. Scotland Yard, became synonymous with 'the Police,' and passed into the language as such. When with the growth of both the uniformed police and the C.I.D. new premises were necessary, the name was transferred to the new buildings which, although officially known as New Scotland Yard, became at once and without question plain 'Scotland Yard' unprefixed by any adjective. It is in fact Old Scotland, the ancient London home of the Scottish kings, which has been forced to take the adjective if it would live.

The new site of Scotland Yard was on the Embankment near Westminster Bridge. It was acquired in the year that Henderson retired, and the first spades to be thrust into the ground, precedent to the erection on the spot of the most famous detective headquarters in the world, discovered the mutilated body of a woman who had been done to death there; or rather she had been buried there. But who she was, and who the murderer, we know not to this day, so that New Scotland Yard itself may be regarded as a huge monument to an unsolved murder mystery!

Henderson just missed the great Fenian outrages of the mid-century, but he had to grapple with the backwash, with explosions occurring all over London and in Scotland Yard itself. He had to deal with the first police strike, and he settled it by increasing their pay. He was called upon to face the first ugly demonstration at Trafalgar Square. He took all reasonable precautions, but his officers forgot that a worked-up mob throws reason to the wind and is liable to alter its plans in a burst of passion. This is what happened in 1886. The police were massed in one street, but the mob tore down another, as a prelude to wrecking a great many shops in the West End.

Sir Edmund Henderson resigned. His resignation was accepted, but it was the occasion for many congratulatory things to be said of and to him. He had done great things and everyone knew it. He needs no monument, though Fremantle remembers him by a street, Henderson-street. His memorial lies wherever Scotland Yard is spoken of, wherever a police whistle is blown, whenever a parcel is lost in the streets. He died in 1896 when the colony he had helped to build was in the throes of the gold boom, its name writ large over the whole world.

'Cygnet' - Cyril Bryan - West Australian 17 May 1934.

henderson painting

This Romantic painting of Perth (Mt Eliza on the left, Point Belches on the right) was done about 1861 by Henderson, who was clearly an accomplished part-time painter. The photo of the painting, as exhibited in the 'Out of the West' show at the National Gallery in March 2012, was published in The Australian newspaper.


hendersonReferences and Links

Birman, Wendy 1972, Bio in ADB.

Campbell, Rob 2017, Henderson & Coy, Royal Engineers & the Convict Establishment Fremantle, WA, 1850-1872, School of Design, UWA.

Conole, Peter nd, Bio of Henderson at the WA Sappers and Miners site.

Conole, Peter & Diane Oldman, 'Edmund Henderson: Comptroller-General of WA Convicts', Western Ancestor, vol. 13, no. 5 March 2016.

Cullity, Olimpia 2016, 'Reform and punishment: Fremantle Prison, 1850 to 1891', Studies in Western Australian History, 31: 63-79.

Webb, David & David Warren 2005, 'Edmund Henderson, from Fremantle Prison to Scotland Yard', in Fremantle: Beyond the Round House, Longley, Fremantle: 80-81.

Wikipedia page

Entry for Henderson at the WA Sappers and Miners site (Diane Oldman).

Garry Gillard | New: 17 June, 2015 | Now: 16 November, 2019