Policing the Port of London
|Colquhoun and the Marine Police Force|
In 1798 the Marine Police Force was founded. It was the first organized police force in Britain. It was also badly needed. By the end of the 18th century, trade had grown to such an extent that the Thames had become highly congested.
One estimate put the merchants' losses at £500,000 a year, including 2% of all sugar imported. Among the gangs that operated in the port were:
Determined to end the pilfering, the West India Company, led by Robert Milligan, decided to act.
The company approached Dr Patrick Colquhoun, a merchant and magistrate, and asked him for his advice on how to deal with crime in the port. He proposed, and then organized, a force of 100 men equipped with muskets, swords and pistols. A second body of 100 special constables reinforced them. The force was commanded by John Harriott, another magistrate, and was paid for by both the Government (£980 a year) and the West India Company (£4020).
The first Thames police
Alongside the construction of enclosed docks, they helped bring stability to the port and reduced the losses from theft. Harriott was appointed Superintendent of Ship Constables and his new force leased premises on the riverfront at Wapping.
Five Surveyors, who were rowed in boats by police watermen, patrolled the river, while another four visited ships as they were unloaded.
Ship Constables, who were appointed and controlled by the Marine Police, but paid for by ship-owners, supervized the dock gangs. A Surveyor of Quays, with two assistants and 30 Police Quay Guards, watched over cargoes on shore.
Amalgamation with the Met
In 1829, Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police Force, by which time the Marine Police had three stations at Wapping, Waterloo and Blackwall, and 15 boats.
Ten years later, in 1839, the two forces amalgamated and the Marine Police Force became the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police.
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