To Police or Not to Police: Policing in the Nineteenth Century

The "New Police" Wore Uniforms
developed by Robert Peel.
English society (to which Aubrey's world owes a great deal) had  ambivalent attitudes towards the police. The original "police" were constables and watchmen; they were preventative rather than investigative. The Bow Street Runners, precursors to the police, were thieves-turned-informants and more often than not they were thieves-turned-informants-turned-thieves.

The only way to correct this totally inefficient arm of the law was to create an actual police force, something we take for granted (look at all the cop shows on television!), but about which Britishers in the early 1800s were completely unconvinced. It wasn't the possible violence--men with guns!--that worried them; early police rarely carried weapons, and society was already incredibly violent (far more than society today). It was the intrusion of privacy--men being paid to spy on society. The creation of a body of police was debated for years. The Metropolitan Police came into being in London in the 1820s. Police were established throughout Britain by the mid-1800s.

It took a few years but by the 1860s and the case of Constance Kent, middle-class policemen such as Jack Whicher (who investigated the case) were considered respectable and even interesting; a number published their memoirs. (The French thief-turned-detective Vidocq's memoirs, published in 1828, were popular, but he still belonged to the adventurous rogue version of police work.)
Jack Whicher, the detective
known by Dickens!

Between Vidocq and Whicher, fascination with detection, including police work, took off in both America and England. This fascination took the form of dime novels, comics, mystery magazine stories, and full-length novels; it culminated in the 20th century's Golden Age of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, et al.

Charles Stowe and his men from Aubrey are the first real police force in Kingston (and Roesia); they are slightly more respectable than their British counterparts of the same time period, but still not entirely acceptable.

No comments: