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ALEXANDER TOLMER, COMMISSIONER of POLICE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The stampless 0.H.M.S. paper with a manuscript ‘free’ and a red [crown]/ FREE/ with date slugs removed, also has an originating unframed KOORINGA/ DE 13/ SOUTH AUSTRALIA postmark, and it is addressed to Alex Tolmer, Commissioner of Police, Adelaide (Figure 1).

The reverse has a reception postmark of G.P.O / DE 14/ SOUTH AUSTRALIA as well as red sealing wax (Figure 2).

Alexander was born in England in 1815 of French refugee parents, but he spent his early childhood in France. At eight he rejoined his widowed father, who had remarried and was a language teacher at Plymouth, England. Alexander went to schools there and in Rouen, Maidstone and Hawkhurst, from which he ran away to sea, but did not enjoy the experience. He entered Rev. H. Boyce's school at Edgware to train as a language teacher, but enlisted in the British legion which had been raised in 1826 to support Donna Maria's cause in Portugal. He saw much action with the lancers, being three times wounded, most seriously outside Lisbon in October 1833. He resumed his studies in France but soon entered the 16th Lancers at Maidstone, Kent. He was a good cavalryman and by 21 he was acting adjutant and drill supervisor.

With his failure to gain the adjutancy, he married Mary Carter in 1836 and they both arrived in Adelaide with their infant son on 8 February 1840 with a letter of introduction to Governor George Gawler, and he was appointed sub-inspector of police 11 days later, promoted to inspector almost immediately, as well as well as captain and adjutant of cavalry in the Volunteer Militia. His years as inspector of mounted police were active and successful. Tolmer led many expeditions to prevent trouble between settlers and Aboriginals, and he spent much time in the bush pursuing cattle thieves, murderers, smugglers and seeking illicit stills. His duties also took him to Tasmania and Victoria.

Tolmer succeeded George Dashwood as commissioner of police in January 1852 and he now decentralized the force, instituted water and native police and the detective force. As soon as the bullion Act of January 1852 was passed Tolmer suggested an overland gold escort service from Victoria to South Australia, designed to reverse the drain of currency from the colony during the gold rush. He left with the first escort on 10 February and returned a month later with gold worth £21,000. This escort service lasted until December 1853.

Tolmer's dismissal arose partly from the disorganization of the police force as a result of his long absences on escort duty and partly from his character. A good leader, capable of inspiring great devotion, he was also quick-tempered, petty and suspicious, especially under criticism. He regarded any disagreement as a personal attack and became involved in demeaning disputes with his subordinates. Following the report of a board of inquiry in November 1853 he was demoted, but remained in the force as inspector and then as superintendent until the position was abolished in 1856.

Tolmer's remaining years were active but he felt degraded. A trading venture on Lake Alexandrina failed, as did an attempt to cross Australia from south to north in 1859. In 1862 he was appointed crown lands ranger, in 1863 inspecting ranger, and in 1877 he was transferred as sub-inspector of credit lands at a salary of £330. He retired in 1885 with a gratuity of £1000 which he invested in Broken Hill mining shares. In 1882 he had published in London his Reminiscences of an Adventurous and Chequered Career at Home and at the Antipodes, an engaging and egotistical work in two volumes mainly devoted to his service in Portugal and with the police. Two pictures of Alexander Tolmer are seen in Figures 3 and 4.

 

Tolmer's first wife died in 1867, leaving him three children. On 14 October 1869 he married Jane Douglas at Mount Schank station and, they had four daughters and two sons. He died of uraemia at Mitcham on 7 March 1890 survived by his wife and large family, and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £8350.

This is to acknowledge that the text of this paper is derived from the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 

 

 


 
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