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Australia's first police detective - 'a fearless character'

By Kevin Banister

Whilst looking through photos of headstones from the old Devonshire Street cemetery about three years back I saw a photo of the headstone of Catharine Chapman. What caught my interest was the inscription on the headstone.

A photo of a headstone that started my search that led to finding that they are ancestors of mine. The headstone of Catharine CHAPMAN died 26/1/1829, aged 29. The wife of Israel CHAPMAN. Buried Devonshire Street. It's not known what happened to the headstone when the cemetery was resumed.

The original headstone in the old Devonshire Street cemetery.

Detective Israel CHAPMAN was born @1794 in Chelsea, London. At the Middlesex gaol delivery on 14 January 1818 he was found guilty of highway robbery and sentenced to transportation for life. His occupation was as a Coachman. He arrived in Sydney aboard the ‘Glory’ in 1819.

Chief Constable Noel Chapman, brother of Israel, was born 1809 in Chelsea, England. He arrived in 1826 as a convict aboard the ‘Speke’. His occupation was also as a Coachman.

Israel became the overseer of the Hyde Park convict barracks and was next appointed constable and principal overseer in the lumber yard, where in the course of duty he captured a number of burglars and bushrangers and went on to join the Sydney Police.

In 1821 Israel was granted a conditional pardon in reward for his services as lumber yard constable and entered the Sydney police. He was very active in this force, was wounded several times in the course of his duties and received a number of rewards for capturing bushrangers.

In 1827 Israel was appointed “George Street Runner” by the then Governor of NSW. He was granted a full pardon and was to become Australia’s first Detective. “Runner” was the nickname given to Police that worked in plain clothes undercover gaining information on criminal activities.

As a runner, Israel was also sent to country locations to perform his undercover work. He received an annual salary of 100 pounds. He was known as George Street runner because he was attached to the George Street Police office in Sydney.

In 1828 Noel appears in the census as living in Kent St, Sydney. In the same year he helped ‘apprehend 6 runaways’ and was granted his ticket of leave. Israel Chapman requested that his brother Noel be assigned to his care but was refused. On 21/4/1828 Noel received his ‘ticket of leave’.

In 1829 Noel was appointed as a Constable in Windsor, while still holding a Ticket of Leave in 1829. On 29/12/1829 Noel was appointed as ‘Ordinary Constable’ at Windsor. In 1831 Noel was given permission to marry Rebecca Armfield in Windsor Anglican church. She was four years younger than him and a member of a quite extensive Windsor family, several members of which later moved to Berrima.

Rebecca was the daughter of Edward Armfield (Convict, 1801, “Earl Cornwallis”) and Elizabeth Ruse, who was herself the daughter of James Ruse (First Fleet Convict, 1788, “Scarborough”) and Elizabeth Perry (Second Fleet Convict, 1790, “Lady Juliana”). They had two sons, Benjamin and Henry Edward. Benjamin had 12 children. Henry Edward did not marry but lived with his brother Benjamin.

On 21/12/1832 Noel was granted his ‘Certificate of Freedom’ and in 1836 he was appointed as ‘District Constable’ at Windsor.

The move to Berrima took place in 1840 when Noel was appointed Chief Constable of Berrima and District on the 1st January and Inspector of Slaughter Houses and Cattle in the District. The Berrima Police Establishment Ledger for September 1841 lists him as Chief Constable on a monthly salary of £6.5.0. In the Census for 1841, Noel was living in Berrima.

When Israel “Izzy” CHAPMAN (Police Runner) retired in 1840 it was without a pension. At this time he is thought to have gone to live with Noel, in Berrima. It would appear that Noel gave his brother Israel a job, as in The Scrutineer and Berrima District Press of 1 April 1902 under the heading Reminiscences by 'Old Tom' a description of the barracks and Izzie appears:

….. the old barracks were turned into a lock-up and police were stationed there. I well

remember when Izzie Chapman was lock-up keeper — a crusty old cuss, nothing but

grunt. God help the unfortunate drunk that was noisy and kept Izzie awake. He was sure

to appear before the 'beak' next morning with a good poultice.

In 1844 Noel was appointed Inspector of Distilleries for that district. He was the Chief Constable at Berrima from 1840 – 1849. Noel was transferred to Yass in 1849. It was then when Noel moved on from Berrima, he received a long service medal for his commitment to the constabulary.

In 1847 Israel Chapman wrote from Berrima, whilst living with his brother, Chief Constable Noel Chapman, asking for a grant of land. It was refused. Israel returned to Sydney and became a bailiff.

On 4th April, 1849 the bench of magistrates at Yass appointed Mr. Noel Chapman, Chief Constable of Yass, to be bailiff of the Court of Petty Sessions in the District of Yass, in the place of Mr. Richard Mallyon who resigned.

On 29th December 1849 Noel Chapman died as a result of a ‘Painful Illness’. In 1849 he appears in Yass where he was appointed Chief Constable. However he died soon after, for a trial in Goulburn was ‘occasioned by the recent deaths of Mr. Noel Chapman and Sergeant Morrison, who were successively chief constables at Yass. I assume the trial was aborted due to the death of Chief Constable Noel Chapman.

It is possible Izzie (Israel) went with Noel to Yass. But when Noel died in 1849 Izzy returned to Sydney, taking a number of lowly jobs until ultimately he returned to a life of crime, robbing an ‘aged shoemaker’ of £7 and two pairs of boots for which he was sentenced to seven months hard labour in Darlinghurst Prison.

In the end, after all the accolades and captured bushrangers, Israel Chapman slipped back into his old habits. In 1852 he was charged and convicted with robbery and sentenced to six months’ hard labour. It is also claimed that he was convicted of ‘extortion’ in that he “over enthusiastically” tried to recover rent that was owed to two of his friends.

The new headstone outlining the life of Israel Chapman, Australia's first police detective. Courtesy Kevin Banister.

In 1868 Israel Chapman died in Liverpool Asylum. Israel Chapman (George Street Runner) died at the Liverpool Asylum on 4 July 1868 and was buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery at Haslem's Creek (Rookwood) in an unmarked grave.

In 2019 the search for Izzy Chapman’s last resting place was initiated by the Acting Assistant Commissioner of the NSW Police, Stuart Smith. With the help of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies who provided assistance, his resting place was found and a ceremony was conducted at Rookwood, where a headstone was placed and consecrated 151 years after his death.

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