Bernard Brown: Milton Ulladulla District’s first policeman

Bernard Brown, ancestor of a number of Milton Ulladulla residents, arrived in NSW as a free settler in November, 1848. His diaries, diligently maintained for well over two decades, were treasured by his descendants and later passed on to the Mitchell library. They have been a valuable resource for researching the history of the Shoalhaven District. Being of humble birth and having limited education, his writing, spelling and punctuation make deciphering his diaries a little like reading hieroglyphics.

The diaries record interesting snippets of day to day lives. They reveal the attitudes and daily activities in a time when people coped without the advances we now take for granted.

Bernard was born in 1811 in the farming village of Wool in Dorset with its beautifully maintained thatched cottages. This village provided the setting for Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”. Bernard’s name was recorded in the Lulworth Castle register in Latin as Bernardus Brown and his parents (William and Ann Brown) as Gulielmi and Annae Brown. I assume that as employees of the manor, the parents were expected to have their children baptised in the manorial Catholic Chapel.

There are few details of his early life, but it is believed that he was employed as bailiff on a property of Sir Edward (Tichborne) Doughty in Dorset. The occupation of bailiff meant that his duties were to keep accounts of rents from tenants and other financial matters relating to the estate. He would have been surprised by intrigues regarding inheritance claims on that property a few years later by a butcher from Wagga Wagga, NSW.

In the census for Wool in 1841 for which he was the recorder, Bernard claimed to be a “yeoman”. It is possible he owned a small property near Wool, which is still known as “Brown’s Ground”.

Bernard married Ann Hopkins on 1st January, 1837 at the seaside town of Poole, Dorset. She was three years older than Bernard. Farm wages were at the time very low in Dorsetshire, and becoming depressed by farm mechanisation. In nearby Tolpuddle, farm labourers who organised because of low wages had been arrested, tried, transported to Australia and eventually pardoned.

Whatever their reason may have been, the Browns decided to migrate. In November, 1848 they arrived in NSW on board the ship “Emperor” with four children: William Bernard aged 10, Francis aged 7, Waldron Carter aged 3, and Martin aged 1 year. Francis was always known as “Fanny” and Waldron Carter (my great grandfather) was always known as “John”, possibly because of the unfortunate choice of initials.

By 5th February the next year Bernard was employed by David Berry of the Coolangatta Estate as stock overseer at Jindyandy on the southern side of the Shoalhaven River. His salary was $30 per annum. He held this position until around August, 1851, when he was appointed as the first constable of police for the Southern Shoalhaven, stationed at Terara. Terara was then the main centre of population on the south side of the river. The large salary increase he was given was probably very welcome. His beat went south to Ulladulla and west to the Sassafras Range. This was a large area to watch over, especially with the transport available at the time, but the population was then very small and the pace more leisurely. His diaries indicate that much of his time was spent on horse-back.

A Constable John Smith appears to have been Constable Brown’s assistant, hence references to Brown as the “Chief Constable”. Smith’s position became compromised and he was dismissed when he bought a horse from a man who was in custody on a murder charge. John Faulks, the father of Sarah Claydon was the constable of the area north of the Shoalhaven at that time.

Bernard’s official responsibilities kept increasing as the years went by. In 1851 he was appointed Inspector of Cattle and Slaughter Houses for the Shoalhaven, then in 1853 as Bailiff of the Court of Requests for Shoalhaven Police District. In the same year he became Inspector of Weights and Measures for the Police District of Shoalhaven as well as Inspector of Distilleries for the Shoalhaven. As in Wool many years before, he was a collector for the 1855 NSW census. In addition to dealing with criminal matters he recorded births deaths and marriages, issued licences, acted as returning officer, delivered summonses, and distributed blankets to Aborigines as far south as Ulladulla

He was a correspondent for the “Kiama Independent”, the “Pilot” and the” Illawarra Mercury”. Bernard played a prominent part in local community affairs, and helped establish the Terara Racecourse.

Being a police officer, it is inevitable that you will not please everyone. An article expressing the appreciation from Ulladulla residents however appeared in the Illawarra Mercury in 13th October, 1856:


“There should be great credit given to our worthy and efficient police constable, Mr Bernard Brown, who is most untiring in his exercised to check crime in this district. During the time that Mr Brown has been constable in this district no living man could exercise the functions of his office better, and I must add that he is deserving (of) the highest praise”.


Some of Constable Brown’s diary entries reflect the attitudes of the time. In one, he wrote that he had visited some aborigines to engage them to cut some sheets of bark, probably to build a shed. He returned to collect the bark but it was not ready. He returned a second time, again without success. On his next visit he took a bottle of rum with him, and the bark was ready the next day.

From the diaries we can glean an understanding of the wildness and isolation of our locality at the time. On his way to Ulladulla to distribute blankets to the Aborigines he spent the first night at Wandandian, then was lost among the various tracks and returned to Wandandian to spend the next night. On the third day he arrived at Ulladulla. Due to bad weather, the return journey finally took six days. The confused pattern of un-signposted and unmapped tracks was impossible to follow without local knowledge. He was lost again on another occasion when heading to Ulladulla for a prisoner who had escaped from custody at Kiama.

During his time as constable, Bernard Brown had three murder situations to deal with. The first involved a man named Duncombe, whose wife died from a blow to the head. Duncombe was already in custody for his ill-treatment of her, but the jury decided that there was no evidence of him having murdered her. However the Attorney General of NSW sent a warrant to Brown for Duncombe to be arrested again on the same charge. He seems to have been found guilty following this second trial, but was only required to serve three months! Three months for murder? And wasn’t this double jeopardy?

The second murder case involved John Robinson otherwise known as “Jack the Hunter” or “The Conjurer”. Robinson had been at the goldfields in Victoria, and was in a relationship with a woman named Mary who he claimed to have married in Tasmania. When they moved to Bendigo she fell in love with another gold miner, Frederick Orth. Orth and Mary left Bendigo, married in Sydney and settled in Sassafras. They took with them a small girl which John Robinson believed he had fathered. The ongoing struggle for the custody of this child was very bitter.

On the night of the incident, Fred Orth had just returned from Victoria and the family and friends were in the Orth home at Sassafras drinking beer. Robinson burst in, asked if the beer was good, and then told everyone to get down on their knees. He then called out, “Fred, I’ve come to do what I promised to do!” Robinson then fired his pistol, but missed. Mary Orth then reached for her own pistol which misfired. Mary Orth then pleaded to the enraged John Robinson to shoot her, not Fred Orth. He aimed his gun at her and willingly obliged, and she lay dying on the floor. After the shooting, Mary’s body was placed in a coffin made from lining boards from the home and transported to Terara on a wagon. Stories are told that a wheel fell off, or it hit a rut in the road. Whichever was the case, the coffin fell onto the road. It split open and poor Mary’s remains lay on the gravel roadway. When reloaded, they set off on the journey and Mary’s remains were stored in the cool cellar of a hotel at Terara for a number of days until the arrival of Dr Andrew Alcorn to carry out a post mortem and for the coroner Dr McKenzie to make a report.

Bernard Brown followed several leads, some over long distances. He even set off on horseback to Braidwood to make an unsuccessful attempt at an arrest during the winter. Several years later Robinson was located in Adelaide. Brown was instructed by police headquarters to travel by ship to make the arrest. When he arrived in Adelaide, he was given directions to a place where Robinson was living under the alias of “William Excell” with a new family. The constable set off on a horse and actually passed Robinson on the road driving a horse and cart, without even recognising him. When he discovered his error, he turned back and arrested him at Blanche Town. When Bernard looked in at the Adelaide lock-up a few days later, another prisoner saw him and immediately turned his face away. Bernard did not recognise him, or perhaps he may have had a second prisoner to bring back all the way back to NSW.



Brown escorted Robinson back to Sydney by steamer. Robinson was quite upset that the other passengers on the paddle steamer shunned him. The prisoner was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. I do not know whether or not the sentence was carried out, but many people pleaded for mercy on his behalf and it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for him.

The other murder investigation involved a man called “Billy Bailey” who was well known for his cunning. After killing “Little Dan”, Bailey was arrested and remanded to a higher court. He was being escorted by Constable Smith and somehow escaped into the “Back Bush”. This was probably the area known today as Back Forest near Coolangatta. He then went into hiding in “De Mestre’s Swamp”. Constable Brown arranged to have the swamp surrounded by men, but somehow the suspect slipped away unnoticed. However justice was eventually served when Bailey was later killed by members of his own tribe. Their system of justice succeeded where the Europeans had failed.

In 1862, with the passing of the “Cowper’s Police Act”, Brown accepted a bonus and retired from the service. It is said that he had been offered a much more lucrative position, but refused. This position may possibly have required him to undertake further police training or move to a new locality.

This started the next phase of his life, as an Auctioneer and Commission agent. He operated this business for the next twenty two years. When the town of Nowra was established he purchase land in Nowra. He also purchased a 303 acre block of land about two miles south of Nowra, in the location of Brown’s Hill, Brown’s Creek and Brown’s Road. His son “Johnny” operated a saw-mill and timber business on this land for many years, probably near where St John’s School is today.

Despite making a few enemies during his time as a policeman, he achieved the greatest number of votes in the election of the first Nowra Municipal Council in 1872, and he became Mayor in the following year. He again topped the poll in the next election. He took a prominent part in civic life, gaining a name for public speaking and was involved in a number of local committees, including the Nowra School Board. He used his talents as an auctioneer for charity auctions and chaired a protest meeting to oppose the government’s plan to join Nowra in a larger council area with the flood-prone areas along the river to the east. As a Justice of the Peace he sat on the local bench and his decisions were said to err on the side of mercy.

Some references in the diaries tell of the trials and tragedies of the Brown family:

3rd May, 1874: A series of tremendous storms. John and Martin arrived home about 9 O’clock. Their poor mother died at ½ past 2 O’clock pm.

4th May, 1874: Creeks very high last evening… (?).. and….(?)…… all night to cheer us, but our hearts are very heavy at our bereavement for our dear departed one. A very sad trial for us all, indeed a loss that can never be replaced for me.

Three years later he suffered another great sadness when his son William was killed in an accident. Travelling home in the dark, a wheel on his spring cart struck a stump and he was thrown some distance onto a tree stump. He suffered severe head and back injuries and died a few days later. He left a wife and a family of young children. On a dismal day of torrential rain a long procession of buggies and sulkies followed the hearse and remains of “poor Billy Brown” were laid to rest at the old Worrigee Cemetery.

Others tell of happier times, as when son “John” and his wife returned from their honeymoon:

3rd Oct., 1874: John and little wife arrived home this evening. Came by Moss Vale. They got very wet. Stoped (sic) a little while at Kangaroo Valley, Mr Vances and dried themselves.

Bernard himself died on his 73rd birthday on 1st January, 1884 following an illness of about two weeks. Coincidentally it was also the 47th anniversary of the day Bernard and Ann were married. The cause of his death was said to be “chiefly due to old age and the exertions of an active and useful life”. He was buried in the old Worrigee Cemetery next to his wife. Unfortunately the headstone marking the grave of this noteworthy pioneering Shoalhaven citizen has now collapsed to the ground amongst the weeds and has shattered into several pieces.



Adapted from a talk by Barrie Wilford at MUHS Inc..


The Illawarra Mercury and various other South Coast newspapers

Diaries of Bernard Brown, Mitchell Library, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

A Backward Glimpse of Wool”. Brown, Alan. Self published. East Burton Rd, Wool, Dorset. 1991.

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