Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society

The mission of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society is to stimulate and encourage the commemoration of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in its customs, traditions and affiliations and to appropriately honour and preserve their legacy for future generations.

Our History

Early 18th Century Roots
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has the deepest roots of any police force in Canada and possibly North America. These roots date back to 1729 when Newfoundlands first Governor, Captain Henry Osborn of the Royal Navy, created six separate judicial districts: Bonavista, Trinity, Harbour Grace, St. Johns, Ferryland and Placentia, each with justices and constables. In all there were 31 constables assigned to these judicial districts1. The justices and constables continued to maintain law and order during the winter months when the Governor returned to England with the naval vessels that accompanied the fishing fleet. According to Bannister a naval state soon evolved which formed the basis on which local government was administered. Officers of the Royal Navy supported and enforced a justice system based on local customs and transplanted English institutions. This proved to be an effective system of governance, which along with its administrative districts, prevailed until the end of the eighteenth century.

1 The appointment of constables is noted in the general histories of Newfoundland, including: the islands first comprehensive history by its first Chief Justice, John Reeves (1793); the magisterial work by local judge D. W. Prowse (1895) a century later, and by Jerry Bannister (2003), whose work The Rule of the Admirals: Laws, Custom and Naval Government in Newfoundland, 1699-1832, won the Canadian Historical Associations Sir John A. MacDonald Prize, the first time an author in Atlantic Canada had received such an award.
2 Bannister (2003)

Towards the Establishment of the Newfoundland Constabulary
Constables in St. Johns had been paid since the early nineteenth century. In 1812 Governor Sir John Duckworth hired constables out of the proceeds of the annual licensing of the towns taverns. Representative government was attained in 1832; and after 1833 the new Newfoundland legislature paid the salaries of magistrates and constables from the general revenue in St. Johns and the larger outports. However, elections brought crowds and demonstrations, and it became more obvious than ever that it was the military garrison that was essential in dispensing crowds and quelling riots. A bolstered constabulary was needed to maintain law and order and steps were taken in that direction through Sir John Harvey, who was appointed Governor of Newfoundland in 1841. Harvey had been an Inspector-General of Police for the province of Leinster in Ireland during part of the 1830s. He wanted an expanded constabulary force and recruited Timothy Mitchell to the local force in 1844. Mitchell had earlier served under Harvey in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC); and it was the RIC policing model that would gradually, but significantly influence the development of the Newfoundland police force for years to come3.

In 1853 Mitchell was appointed to the newly-created position of Inspector and General Superintendent of Police. Within five years the number of constables in St. Johns had risen from six to 16. There were an additional 63 constables in the outports. Mitchell would serve as Inspector and Superintendent of the Constabulary until 1871 when the force was re-organized and greatly expanded due to the withdrawal of the British garrison the previous year. Bert Riggs, archivist for the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, stated in an article about Mitchell, The subsequent development of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary owes much to the solid foundation Mitchell built in the years leading to its establishment.4

3 Baker (1982), pp. 5-16.
4 Riggs (September 18, 2001)

The Newfoundland Constabulary in Pre-Confederation Newfoundland
The Newfoundland Constabulary was formally established in 1871 with its headquarters in St. Johns; and Thomas Foley, another veteran of the Royal Irish Constabulary, was appointed as Inspector of Police. By 1880 the new force consisted of one hundred men, half of whom were stationed in St. Johns5. The Constabularys leadership continued to be recruited from the RIC during the nineteenth century. Both Paul Carty, who headed the Constabulary from 1873-1895, and John McCowen, who served as Inspecto General from 1895-1908, had served with the RIC before joining the Newfoundland force. McCowen also served 16 years (1879 -1895) as Governor of Her Majestys Penitentiary in St. Johns. In both capacities he excelled, receiving honors for his leadership, bravery and vision. In 1909 John Sullivan became the first native-born Newfoundlander to head the Constabulary.

The rank-and-file of the Newfoundland Constabulary continued to exhibit values and professionalism reflective of the highest police standards. Constables were stationed in major towns throughout Newfoundland and Labrador6, and the Constabulary remained the only police force in the country.

In 1935 the newly-established Commission of Government created the Newfoundland Ranger Force, modeled after the RCMP, to police the more remote areas of the island and Labrador. During World War II the Constabulary established a special Security Division in St. Johns to address civil security wartime concerns. The outstanding contributions of Newfoundland Constabulary officers on the Home Front during the War have been well researched and documented7.

5 Baker, p. 13
6 According to Arthur Fox (1971, p. 24) two constables were stationed in Labrador as early as 1832-33.
7 Browne (2008)

The Constabulary in Post-Confederation Newfoundland
With Confederation came the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who were contracted to provide policing services to the new province. They took over the duties of the Ranger Force and assumed policing responsibilities for all areas of the province outside of St. Johns. However, the Constabulary still had the authority to enforce the law anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador, and was called on by the provincial government to reinforce the RCMP during the IWA loggers strike in 1959. During that time a young constable, William Moss, was killed in the line of duty.

In 1979 the force had the prefix Royal conferred on it by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of its long and distinguished service to Newfoundland and Labrador. It is only one of six police forces in the Commonwealth to receive such an honor. The next year saw the first women being sworn in as constables8.

Beginning in the 1980s the jurisdiction of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was extended to various areas which had been policed by the RCMP since Confederation. It now also polices the Northeast Avalon (which includes Mount Pearl and surrounding communities), the city of Corner Brook, and Labrador West.

The history of the Newfoundland Constabulary was detailed by former Sergeant Arthur Fox in 1971, one hundred years after its formal establishment. In 1987 the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society was established; and in 1989 a museum displaying artifacts, documents and photographs depicting the forces heritage was officially opened at the RNC Headquarters at Fort Townshend. On 3 May 2005 an international ceremony was held as the RNC made a formal exchange of colors with Garda Siochana na hEireann, the police force of the Republic of Ireland, in recognition of the historic links between the two forces. In 2008 a fascinating account of the role of the Newfoundland Constabulary on the Home Front during World War II was provided by Deputy Chief of Police (retired) Gary Browne.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabularys rich heritage is well documented and the force appears destined for a strong future. On 2 September 2005 the first Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Recruit class graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland with Diplomas in Police Studies. Most of the recruits already held at least one university degree and some had achieved levels of excellence recognized by the university. All appear to be on the road to exemplary careers with Canadas oldest police force.

8 Paul Kenney and Sam Wentzell (1991)

Baker, M. (1982) Policing in St. Johns, 1806-1871, in Aspects of Nineteenth Century St. Johns Municipal History. St. Johns: Harry Cuff Publications

Bannister, J. (2003) The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom, and Naval Government in Newfoundland, 1699-1832. Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History/University of Toronto Press.

Browne, G. (2008) To Serve and Protect: The Newfoundland Constabulary on the Home Front World War Two. St. Johns: DRC Publishing.

Fox, A. (1967) Our Newfoundland Constabulary, in Smallwood, J. R. (ed.) The Book of Newfoundland, Vol. IV. St. Johns: Newfoundland Book Publishers (1967) Ltd., pp. 304-314.

Fox, A. (1971) The Newfoundland Constabulary. St. Johns, Robinson Blackmore Ltd.

Kenney, P. & Wentzell, S. (1991) Policing in Newfoundland, in The Newfoundland Quarterly, Vol. LXXXVI, No. 3, April 1991, pp. 42-43.

Pedley, C. (1863) The History of Newfoundland from the Earliest Times to the Year 1860. London: Longman, Roberts & Green.

Prowse, D. W. (1895) A History of Newfoundland from its Foreign and Colonial Records. London: Macmillan & Co.

Riggs, Bert First Chief of the RNC, The Telegram, 18 September 2001

Reeves, J. (1793) History of the Government of the Island of Newfoundland. London: J. Sewell, Cornhill.