The Bridgetown Police Station 1880 Museum, 148 Hampton St, Bridgetown, Western Australia
Police Station on the south side of Blackwood River Bridge, Bridgetown - looking north up Hampton St. Bridgedale, residence of John Blechynden, is hidden behind trees on the opposite bank. It is probably Constable Abraham Moulton in the right foreground with his wife, Esther and two young boys, Lewis and Matthew. The kepi hat he is wearing is typical police headwear of the era.
Photo dated 1868
The original, basic, Geegelup police camp in March 1862 was located on the southern bank of the Blackwood River (Indigenous name Goorbilyup). The first policeman, Mounted Constable James Forrest, had just a tent to live in with his family, until a horse shed was built in June 1862. This area was important to the local Bibbulmun people, the Wadandi/Pibulmun/Menang people who had farmed and cared for this Country for over 60,000 years.
The arrival of white settlers to the region destroyed the Indigenous people’s lives – fences prevented them from travelling across Country, waterholes were fouled by stock, grassy pastures were trampled on and foraging for food was prohibited. The police tried to keep the peace between settlers, who had bought or leased land, therefore they owned it, and Bibbulmun people, who had no concept of individual ownership of land, rather they were the custodians of the land for future generations. But the law was settled by the Crown and so all rights of the Indigenous people were removed after 1788.
Mounted Police Constable Abraham Moulton was the first, permanent police officer, to live in the Geegelup Police Station in the photo above, built in 1867 for a cost of £205. Moulton had Aboriginal assistants, and occasionally Constable John McAlinden, who was stationed at ‘Jayes’ (later Bridgetown Police Station #2) helped maintain law and order. Prisoners at Jayes were chained (leg chains, and only Indigenous prisoners) to a large tree as there was no lock-up there.
Joseph Smith, a ticket-of-leave man who had settled in Bridgetown in the early 1860s, was a builder and brick maker and he won the contract in 1867 to substantially rebuild and improve the Police Station (originally it was a tent, then a slab building).
Following its gazettal in June 1868, the township was named Bridgetown and the Geegelup Police Station became known as Bridgetown Police Station No.1.
By the late 1870s the Police Station was in disrepair and Moulton resigned to open a general store in Bridgetown. Tenders for a new police station located in the centre of town were called for in 1879, and the building was completed by James Gibbs in October 1880. Constable Bovell moved into the new premises on 18 October 1880. The new Bridgetown Police Station and Lock up was built for a total of £423. The No.1 was dropped from the name as Jayes was no longer in use.
Improvements were soon needed for the Police Station. In 1892 tenders were again called for and requested two new cells, an exercise yard and conversion of the existing cells into a change room. The two, north-facing slot windows were to be converted into a large, single window, but these changes never eventuated.
The Police Station and Lock up remained as two cells, with a storeroom acting as bedroom for the visiting magistrate. The kitchen, office, sitting/living room remained unchanged until 1907, when the Public Works Department drew up plans for two police Quarters to be built adjacent to the Police Station. During these works, the living room was halved and closed off to the Police Station, and new arches were installed in the lobby. The cells were lined with jarrah, to prevent prisoners picking away at the mortar and escaping, the storeroom’s casement window was removed and replaced with bars and shutters to provide an extra cell.
Further renovations and alterations were done in 1918, and in 1926 the north-facing, slot windows in Cell 2 and 3 were squared up and bars inserted. More works were done in 1950 and 1960 but it became clear a new, modern police station was required, and building commenced on the current police station in Steere Street in the late 1960s.
The Hampton Street Police Station continued to serve as a traffic licensing office until 1973, when it was finally decommissioned. It was acquired by the Shire of Bridgetown-Greenbushes and used as a storeroom for various organisations until 1992, when the Bridgetown Historical Society was given use of the building for museum purposes. Renovations began, including hand-splitting 7,000 jarrah shingles to recreate the original room, and reinstating the verandah. The steps leading to the front door are not original and were created in 1992.
The shingle roof was, unfortunately, not weather-proof, and so a tin roof was installed early in the 2000s.
It is the town’s only Museum and has recently undergone an extensive revitalisation in its displays, using interpretive panels to create a contemporary museum showcasing the story of policing in Bridgetown and the effects on the Indigenous people of this region.
The Bridgetown Police Station 1880 Museum
148 Hampton Street, Bridgetown as it is today.
The Main Booking Room
The desk is a 1920s Government Issue and probably used by the police at that time. The cabinet (originally from the Courthouse) was made by Frederick (Polly) Henry Dakin, a cabinet maker who moved to Bridgetown in 1902. His shop was one of three on the current site of Mitre 10 on Steere Street. He also became the town’s first undertaker. Polly Dakin Drive (the road adjacent to the cemetery) is named after him. The bare patch of wall above the door shows the original mud render over bricks.
The Sitting Room
Used by police for meal breaks, resting and other private activities during quiet periods. The door to the back verandah allowed food to be brought into the building without going into the Main Booking Room.
The Lockup Cells
They were only used for short-term or overnight lockups, not long-term imprisonment. Minor cases were heard next to the Police Station in the Courthouse (now the Community Resource Centre). Major or serious criminals were held overnight in Bridgetown then transferred to be heard in Bunbury courts. Aboriginal prisoners were leg chained to the bar at the back of the cell, and the chain put through the slit window of the exercise yard so that they could sleep outside on the verandah.
Used by the policeman’s wife for all cooking purposes, police, visitors and prisoners, because the police quarters did not have a kitchen. The heat from the bread oven spread through the walls and provided a modicum of heat to prisoners except those forced to sleep on the verandah.
The walls around the Police Station were originally painted white to enable a torch or spotlight to reflect and highlight an escaping prisoner.
Note: The adjoining police quarters (1907) have been renovated to accommodate Shire staff and are not open to the public.