WILLIAM HENRY GRAY, ONE of SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S CHIEF CONSTABLES
This philatelically contrived cover is different from the vast majority of such covers in that it celebrates the centenary of the landing in South Australia of an ancestor of the sender, the addressee on the cover. The cover has the 1d green KGV sideface Australian stamp cancelled by the roller cancel, ADELAIDE/ 11 AM/ 10 FEB/ 1937/ S.A. In addition, a photograph of W.H. Gray is adhered to the cover, and underneath the following is typed: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the landing in South Australia of William Henry Gray in the ship ‘John Renwick’. Feb. 10 th 1837 - Feb. 10 th 1937 (Figure 1).
South Australia was colonised in 1836, and unlike the other Colonies, it was not a penal settlement, for the migrants were ‘free settlers’. It was hoped that by adopting this type of migrant, a respectable society would grow in S.A. and there would be no need for an organised police force. Some protection was afforded the colonists by the employment of a few retired military men, special volunteer constables and a group of men from the ‘H,M.S. Buffalo’, the vessel that brought the Governor Hindmarsh to the colony. The marines however were found to be unsatisfactory, as they were not always sober!
The laws and statutes of England were binding in the colony, and the ancient office of Constable was also brought, but it was never a popular one. Hindmarsh did find a suitable person willing to accept the position, which was recorded in the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence on 6 Jan. 1837. A Mr. W. Williams, as High Constable, was furnished with 3 braces of pistols, 3 swords and 24 ball cartridges, all for the purpose of his office. Williams retained the office for only a few months, and the office was advertised: “persons desirous of becoming candidates for the situation may apply at the office of the Colonial Secretary between the hours of ten and twelve in the forenoon.”
William Henry Gray was the successful candidate, and his appointment dated from 29 September, 1837, and he was paid the sum of £13.2.0 as Chief Constable, and he had the assistance of a Constable named Windebank, who was paid £7.0.6. The date of Gray’s departing the office is not recorded, but Andrew Birrell was recorded as appointed Chief Constable following the resignation of a Mr. Lines on 3 March 1838, so that Gray’s tenure may have been only 10 weeks. Governor Hindmarsh from the outset had predicted that the low pay would be the cause for a suitable person not applying for and/or staying in the position.
Gray was born in London in 1808 and he became interested in the Wakefield Scheme to colonise S.A., and he landed in Adelaide on the ‘John Renwick’ as stated on the cover in February 1836. He was among the first colonists to purchase land in the new colony, not only large tracts in Port Adelaide, but also Southport and the surrounding hinterland. He established his farm near Adelaide at the Reedbeds, where he set up a voluntary military force, known as the Reedbeds Mounted Rifle Company in 1859. The major policing concerns were mainly two-fold, for the convicts were escaping to S.A. from other colonies, and there were troubles with Aboriginals.
Gray’s name became associated with the suburb of Gray, in Palmerston ( fore-name of Darwin). This came about when he went to Palmerston in 1870 on the ‘S.S. Bengal’, not long after its founding, and he bought up land with partners. When Gray died in 1896, he left a large estate to his family, interest from his properties which were held until the post World War 2 years.