Home » Human Life » The Story of the London “Fifty” by Anthony L Holmes

The Story of the London “Fifty” by Anthony L Holmes


Melbourne Police Force 1860 (Victoria Police Museum)

Many people know that convicts were transported to Australia in large numbers, it was estimated that between 1788 and 1868 around 164,000 convicts made the journey.

However  recently I have been contacted by Anthony L Holmes to inform me of a lesser known story of the Fifty London Policeman who went to Australia in 1853 to preserve “Law and Order .”

Although Anthony has lived in Australia since 1982, he was born in Orpington, Kent  but used to travel regularly to Poplar to visit his grandparents. When he left school  he served  his  apprenticeship at prestigious Heals & Son in Tottenham Court Road with  weekly visits to The London Collage of Furniture in Commercial Road in the 1970s. After his apprenticeship he worked  as a  French Polisher in a number of  furniture factories in and around the East End including  Younger Furniture, Monia Road, Bow and H & L Epstein at Hanbury Street / Brick Lane.

Anthony has written an account of what happened to these adventurous police pioneers and especially of one of Anthony’s ancestors, a Wapping policeman called James George Judge.

The London Fifty

With the discovery of gold in Victoria, Australia in the 1850’s, the small local police force was quickly overwhelmed. Immigrants flooded into the colony, and many police abandoned their posts to pursue dreams of riches.

On one day in November 1851, 50 of the 55 members of the Melbourne City Police resigned, leaving the force in a state of total disarray. Various experiments in recruitment were trialled in the early 1850s, the least successful of which was the recruitment of military pensioners from Van Diemen’s Land, described by one police official as ‘the most drunken set of men I have ever met with’.

Efforts to recruit trained police from England met with more success, with 50 men who had served in the London Metropolitan Police, known as the ‘London Fifty’, enlisted in May 1853.

whistler wapping wharf1859

Wapping Police station by Whistler 1859

One of the  ‘London Fifty’ was a James George Judge born  1831 in Saint George in the East to parents William and Elizabeth Judge.  He came from a distinguished Policing family in Wapping , his father William Judge and his uncle Joshua Judge were both Thames Police Inspector’s .

James George Judge had joined the Metropolitan police in 1850 initially his beat included policing the docks, however he suffered a family setback a year later when his father William died of a heart attack at Wapping Police Station.

We don’t know what effect this had on young James, but  soon afterwards he applied to undertake a ten-year stint working as a policeman  in Australia and in 1852, he and 49 other policeman were selected to serve in the Victorian Police in Melbourne to maintain Law and Order in the Gold Fields of Victoria.

This group of Policeman were affectionately known as the “London Fifty” they all resigned from the Metropolitan Police on the 10th December 1852 and they were paid a half a year’s salary in advance 34l 4s 8d.

The London “Fifty”  travelled by steam train to Baltic Wharf in Plymouth, Devon where they remained for two weeks training while awaiting for a suitable tide. They finally set sail on an emigrant ship called Earl Gray on the 14th January 1853.  This vessel had been commissioned to transport the Police to the colony of (Port Melbourne), Victoria, Australia.

James George Judge and the other policemen arrived in Melbourne on the 2nd May 1853.

However it was not long after the arrival that problems began to surface, the Police group began to complain by refusing to abide by the local police regulations in so far as the hours of duty were concerned, they “avowed their willingness to do duty according to London time and hours under which they were engaged and would never submit to Melbourne time and such duties as being asked of them”.

This got sorted out quickly when they were reminded that under their contract they were to serve a minimum of 5 years with a penalty of 50 pounds for any breach of contract—-they were reminded of this penalty which resulted in the “revolt” being quelled very quickly.

They, as a group were apparently not highly thought of due to being “foot police”, the hierarchy had a preference for mounted police to be used in both the gold fields and the metropolitan areas. The group as a whole appears to have been distributed primarily in the metropolitan districts.

By October 1853 of the original fifty, twelve had deserted and another  twenty-eight  could not be traced. Of the 14 that stayed in the force, 10 later became sergeants, with 2 rising to the rank of Inspector.

Their senior London Officer was Inspector Samuel  Edward Freeman, who later became a J. P.

To understand why there was so much dissatisfaction amongst the recruits it important to see their role in the Gold fields which was totally unlike the policing they had carried out in London.

The Local Government of the day were building up “Law & Order” using the imported Police to “police” the Gold Fields.


Gold License ( Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum)

The gold licence system caused considerable unrest on the diggings. It was regarded as a tax and greatly resented since it was applied regardless of the success or failure of the digger. However, the gold commissioners and Police known as ‘traps’ enthusiastically policed the gold fields, checking on licences and arresting and fining the unfortunate diggers who could not produce them. The Police ‘licence hunts’ were often brutal, corrupt, unfair and inefficient. These licence hunts came to symbolise the government’s oppression of the diggers and directly led to major protests on gold fields in Sofala in 1852, Bendigo in 1853 and the Eureka Rebellion in 1854. A year after the Eureka Rebellion the gold licence was replaced by a Miner’s Right which cost one pound a year for the right to dig and also entitled the owner to vote in parliamentary elections. Peter Lalor, the miner’s leader at Eureka was elected to the Victorian parliament.

During the gold rush of the 1850s, policemen collected taxes for the government and policed unlicensed miners. On Sunday, 3 December, 1854, miners unhappy with the gold licensing system and the administration of the goldfields at Ballarat barricaded themselves in what became known as the Eureka Stockade. A military force, including 94 police, attacked the miners’ camp. Up to 30 rebels were killed and four soldiers died. No police lost their lives but the events of that day are forever etched in Victoria Police history.

It is unclear exactly  how many years James George Judge remained in the Victorian Police service as the paper trail runs thin.  However his marriage to Margaret Bertrie Spence, on the 3rd of  July 1871 age 40 shows his occupation as an Innkeeper, eventually they had ten children together.

In 1875 James was granted land and become a Gold Miner at Bairnsdale, Victoria allotment 1C, Cobungra, Victoria on 29 Jan 1875.  Four years afterwards sources from Victoria government gazettes tells us James must have run into trouble for not paying land tax and the land was sold off at the Golden Age Hotel on the 29th August 1879.


The James Flood Book of Early Australian Photographs. Golden Age Hotel, Omeo, Victoria 1850

There is evidence that James George Judge remained as a Gold Miner in Sunnyside, Omeo until he died aged 78 of natural causes on the 7 September 1909 in Glen Valley, Omeo Highway, Victoria,


Sunnyside, near Omeo in 1920 [picture]. Harvey, J. H. (John Henry), 1855-1938, (photographer)

He was buried in  Glen Wills Cemetery , North of Omeo and South of the Mitta Mitta township. This Cemetery is now cared for by the people of the nearby Glen Valley.


Glen Wills Cemetery (Photographer John Smith descendant to James George Judge.)

The story of how a Wapping policeman ended up as a Gold miner in the outback of Australia is a reminder of the many people who especially in the 19th century left these shores never to return.

We will probably never know if any of the London “Fifty” ever made it back to Britain or if any struck “Gold” whilst in Australia.

But Anthony’s story makes sure that  a  hidden chapter  of  London police history  is not  forgotten.

1 Comment

  1. Well done Tony,
    the life of gt.gt uncle James is interesting to read in full,I’m sure there are other life stories
    yet to tell.

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