A ceremony on Sunday 19 September recognised 20 Police Officers who lie in unmarked graves at East Perth Cemeteries.
Memorial plaques commemorating the officers, who served between 1828 and 1898, were installed on the relevant denominational fences throughout the cemeteries as part of the Western Australian Police Historical Society Graves Project.
Around 70 people attended, including descendants of the officers, along with members of the WA Police, WA Police Union and Police Historical Society members, volunteers and dignitaries.
The ceremony included a blessing of the site by the Police Chaplain, presentations by WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson APM and the Hon Bob Kucera APM, former Member of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly, National Trust of Western Australia Chairman, and a former Assistant Commissioner of Police.
Also featured were mounted police, police in historical dress, Armadale Rangers, a police piper, and a moving performance of of ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ by a police officer-turned-opera singer.
“The National Trust is honoured to be part of the dedication ceremony remembering some of Perth’s first police officers who were laid to rest at East Perth Cemeteries,” said the Hon Bob Kucera APM, National Trust of Western Australia Chairman. “The memorial plaques installed here add another layer to the rich stories that can be uncovered at this important heritage site.”
Included among the officers who were recognised in the service was Theophilus Ellis, Western Australia’s first appointed police officer and the first to lose his life in the line of duty. There were also several young men who died in their twenties of conditions such as typhoid and tuberculosis – a reminder of just how precarious life was in the colony’s first decades. Many of these early police officers would have had other, regular employment and were only paid as police representatives when called upon to serve summonses or uphold the law. They were divided into three distinct groups – foot constables, mounted troopers and water police – which amalgamated in 1853 with the formal establishment of the West Australian Police Force.
The Historical Society’s ongoing Graves Project was set up by Commissioner Brian Bull AO, APM (deceased). Graves of deceased police officers are located and identified to ensure that no West Australian police officers, Aboriginal police aides or trackers languish in unmarked graves after faithfully performing their duties to the state. Since the first recognition service in 1994 for Constable Thomas Knibbs, a further 79 graves have been recognised. The ceremony for the 20 unmarked graves at East Perth Cemeteries is the largest held so far, and brings the total number of recognised graves to 100.
The Police Historical Society is a volunteer association made up of retired police officers and people who have an interest in the preservation and history of the West Australian Police Force.
East Perth Cemeteries were established in 1829 and, until their closure in 1899, almost all of the people who died in Perth were buried there. Although thousands of people were buried fewer than 800 marked graves survive. This important heritage place is managed by the National Trust of Western Australia and is opened by volunteers on Sundays from 2–4pm for visitors.
The National Trust offers anyone the opportunity to purchase a plaque to be attached to one of the denominational fences throughout the cemeteries to commemorate someone laid to rest there. The plaque is a way to acknowledge individuals who, while buried there, do not have a grave marker.
Today the grounds are maintained with an appearance in keeping with their nineteenth-century context to help communicate the story of the challenges faced by the community when the cemeteries were operational. To find out more about East Perth Cemeteries visit eastperthcemeteries.com.au.