Bermuda Police History - The Early Years

Bermuda Police History

1609 – 1929

The First Policemen
Visitors to Bermuda naively believe that this island paradise is totally free of crime. It would be similarly naive of readers of this review to think that Bermuda was free of crime before the establishment of the Police Service.

In 1610, less than a year after the Sea Venture floundered on the Island's reefs, Bermuda recorded its first murder. One Edward Waters allegedly killed a fellow sailor by the name of Edward Samuell. The accused man was caught, tried and sentenced to hang, but he later escaped and was eventually pardoned.

The first reference in Bermuda to the forerunners of Police officers occurred on 1st June 1620 at the Second Assizes in St. George's. Mention was made in the records of the role of the 'Bailiffs of the Tribes (Parishes)' and that 'the subordinate Officers to these in every tribe, are the Constables, Headborowes, and Church Wardens'.

We may therefore reasonably deduce that in 1620 there were probably nine Parish Constables serving this fledgling colony.

The Constable's oath of allegiance was all encompassing and substantially longer that the one taken by officers today. In part the oath required Constables to 'see and cause his Masters peace to be well and truly kept and preserved according to your power. You shall arrest all such persons as in your sight shall go around offensively or shall commit or make any riot, affray or breach of Masters peace' and that 'if any such offender shall make resistance with force, you shall levy hue and cry and shall pursue them until they be taken.'

It is fair to say that in those days, a Constable's lot was not a happy one! He was required by law to serve part time for a period of twelve months and he received no salary. His only income came from the execution of writs and warrants.

An Increase In Crime
Despite the presence of Parish Constables, Bermuda saw an increase in crime during the latter years of the seventeenth century and the Island's prison in St. George's became overcrowded. The then Provost Marshall repeatedly complained about the continuing inadequacy of the old prison. It would however be another thirteen years before a new prison was built. The wheels of Government moved slowly in those days too!

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Provost Marshall was the Government official responsible for maintaining law and order in the colony. Serving under him were the Justice's of the Peace (one for each Parish) and below them, the Constables, Church Wardens and Bailiffs.

The First Police Act
About the time of the American War of Independence (1775 – 1783), the Island was faced with the problem of how to encourage Bermudian men to serve their allotted times as Parish Constables!

As most of the Island's residents know today, the Police Force has been faced with a similar type of problem throughout the twentieth century! How to encourage Bermudians to join the Police!

The simple solution at the time (1786) was to introduce an Act wherein any man chosen to serve as a Parish Constable, and who so refused to do so, could be fined five pounds (probably the equivalent to over $1,000 in those days). Incidentally the wording of this particular Bermuda Act was the first to use the term 'Police'.

During the early part of the nineteenth century various additional Acts and amendments were passed which gave the powers that be greater authority with which to appoint law enforcement officers. Constables began to receive payment for the first time for their labours.

Meanwhile in London in 1829, Sir Robert Peel established the world's first Police Force. The success of his pilot scheme quickly encouraged other cities around the world to follow suit.

First Death
In 1867 Rural Constable Thomas Burrows Browne became the first Bermudian officer to die on duty. While trying to recapture an escaped prisoner, the man stabbed him and the Constable later died from an infection. Despite this tragic event, for which the assailant was committed to the local lunatic asylum, the Island generally remained free of serious crime.

Events Come To A Head
The eventual establishment of the Bermuda Police Force probably came about as the result of a series of issues and events rather than because of one specific matter.

In the late 1870's the Chief Justice of the day was particularly critical of the calibre of men chosen to act as Constables and whether or not they had the ability, both physically and mentally, to carry out their duties.

At roughly the same time, one of the most notable murders in Bermuda's history occurred.

The Death Of Anna Skeeters
In 1878 Edward Skeeters and his wife Anna lived in a small house on Somerset Long Bay. Theirs was not a happy marriage.

One day Anna went missing and her allegedly distraught husband reported her disappearance to the authorities. Edward Skeeters himself however, became an immediate suspect. Days went by, but there was no sign of Anna. Then some local fishermen noticed a change in the flow of water in the bay. They rowed out in their boat some fifty yards and jumped overboard to investigate. There beneath the surface, tied to a heavy boulder by means of a length of rope, they discovered the rotting remains of Anna Skeeters.

Edward Skeeters was subsequentially tried, convicted and hung for the murder of his wife Anna. Today he lies buried on the island in the Great Sound that bears his name. The rock that he tied to his wife in order to keep her body submerged became the headstone on his grave.

Established 1879
In August 1879 the Legislature passed The Police Establishment Act, 1879 and on October 1st that year, Bermuda's first full time Police Force came into being.

The wording of the Act, reflecting the concerns of the Chief Justice, began 'Whereas the present police force is deficient in organization, discipline and efficiency and it is expedient to reorganize it under more efficient management:'

The new Force had an establishment of ten full time men and an annual budget of six hundred pounds.

The very first Chief of Police was Superintendent J. C. B. Clarke, a former army officer, and he was stationed in Hamilton. His second in command, Chief Constable H. Dunkley, was stationed in St. George's. Three Assistant Police Constables were posted to Hamilton, three more to St. George's and the remaining two to Sandys Parish. Twenty one Rural Constables, who were still employed, backed them up on a part time basis.

One of the earliest full time Constables was a colourful individual by the name of Thomas Joseph Powell who claimed to be a veteran of the Crimean War (1853 – 1856).

The Big Shake Up
Despite the appointment of a Chief of Police and full time officers, the Force failed to distinguish itself in its early years.

By the turn of the century it was apparent to most people that the twenty one year old Force needed a major shake up – and it got it!

Under the 1901 Establishment Act the Force was almost trebled in strength. The Superintendent's rank was abolished and the new rank of Inspector of Police was created. Pay and conditions were also improved across the board.

The revamped Force now consisted of one Inspector of Police, three Chief Constables, fifteen Constables and twenty one part time Rural Constables.

So exactly how much did a full time Constable earn in salary in 1901 on the new pay scales? To be exact, between £78 and £85 per year (in today's dollar amounts, roughly between $128 and $140).

An unusual provision of this Act allowed for 'the employment of a Detective in cases of public emergency.' The first one however was not appointed until some eighteen years later in 1919!

Further Increase In Men
Just two years after the big shake up, the size of the Force was increased again through the addition of seven Constables. One of the prerequisites for appointment was that the applicant must be able to read and write legibly. Uniform and boots were supplied free of charge.

It is believed that as many as half a dozen of the Rural Constables serving at this time were from the West Indies, although there was no specific recruiting drive in the Islands at that time. One of the first West Indians to join the Force was Henry Montgomery Beach. He was born in St. Kitts and came to Bermuda in the 1890's. Beach served as a Rural Constable in Devonshire Parish and retired in 1919.

The Twentieth Century
The early years of the twentieth century prior to the outbreak of the First World War were quiet for both Bermuda and the Police Force.

Serious crime was still a rarity and only one murder was recorded between 1905 and 1917. That murder, however, in 1913, caused a major stir at the time.

The Armstrong Case

Like the vast majority of murders committed in Bermuda this century, it arose out of a domestic dispute. Robert Montgomery Armstrong was seen to be paying too much attention to the wife of one Chesterfield Paul. Following a fight (which Paul won), Armstrong went home, picked up a knife, returned to Paul's residence and stabbed him. He died almost immediately.

At the Inquest the Foreman of the Jury raised concerns about the testimony of the Doctor who attended the deceased. No autopsy had been performed and at the request of the jury, the Coroner ordered the body to be exhumed. Following the postmortem examination, the dead man's heart was laid out on a piece of blotting paper and shown to the jury to prove to them how he met his end.

The accused Armstrong subsequently became the first man to be found guilty of murder in Bermuda this century and also the first to be executed. He was hanged on Christmas Eve 1913.

It is of further interest to note that his father, Thomas Armstrong was also accused of murder (in 1896). The charge in his case however was later reduced to one of manslaughter, of which he was convicted.

Many years later, Martha Paul, a sister of the deceased Chesterfield Paul, was charged with the murder of her ex-boyfriend. She too was found guilty, executed and is buried on Skeeters Island.

Some interesting categories of crime listed in the Police reports during the Great War included 'Murder of wife & child' and 'Murder other than wife & child'.
Another offence was 'Praedial Larceny', which, according to one dictionary means (1) Of or relating to land, farming etc. (2) Attached to or occupying land.

The War Years
During the Great War (1914 – 1918), most of the activity in Bermuda centered around the dockyard area and the principal role of the Police at this time appears to have been keeping rowdy sailors in check!

The First Detective
In 1919 Charles Edward Simons was appointed as Bermuda's first Detective Officer. 'D. O.' Simons soon became a familiar figure to one and all as he pedal cycled around the Island investigating crime.

The First Overseas Recruits
In 1920 the Force underwent another major reorganization. The Police Establishment Act of 1920 empowered the Chief of Police to recruit young men in England and that is exactly what he did.

Eighteen men were selected from the five hundred applications received and they arrived in Bermuda in August of that year. Five were ex-Royal Marines and the other thirteen ex-United Kingdom Police officers. The new Force now numbered forty six.

The new recruits arrived by steamer which berthed in Hamilton and after docking they were marched off to Hamilton Police Station (yes, the same building which we use today!). Literally within hours of arrival some of them were detailed to walk the beat.

Having just arrived in a foreign country (five of them without any Police training whatsoever), is it hardly surprising to learn that one of them became lost and had to ask a road sweeper the way back to the Police Station!

New Fingerprint Section
In 1924, the Governor, Sir Joseph Asser, wrote to the Chief of Police, Mr. J.H. Sempill, suggesting that the Bermuda Police Force should introduce fingerprinting to aid Detectives in the investigation of crime. Mr. Sempill was already thinking on similar lines and afterwards arranged for three officers, one of whom was 'D.O.' Simons, to attend courses of instruction at the New York City Police Criminal Identification Bureau.

On their return to Bermuda, and with the assistance of a fingerprint expert from New York, they established the new Bermuda Fingerprint Section – the forerunner of today's Scenes Of Crime Office (S.O.C.O.). The first successful conviction in Bermuda obtained solely on fingerprint evidence was secured two years later.

The Lone Rider
By the late 1920's Tucker's Town was being developed as both the ideal winter vacation destination for well heeled North American tourists and also as a beautiful place in which to live.

Beautiful it might have been, but it was also a long way from everything. Back in the age of the horse and buggy, the new residents felt a certain vulnerability and so they clubbed together to raise enough money to buy a horse. That horse was then donated to the Police Force on condition that a Police officer use it solely to patrol the Tucker's Town area.

In 1929 P.C. John Galloway became the Bermuda Police Force's first (and so far only) equestrian patrol officer. A subsequent down turn in the economy a few years later led to this unique patrol being withdrawn.

Historical Review by Sgt. Chris Wilcox, September 1999 **This review was reproduced from the publication,

'Historical Review of the Bermuda Police Service 1879 - 1999'. Edited, designed and produced by Sgt. MacDonald.