Thames Police: History - Origins
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Table of Contents > Origins > Establishment > Government Sponsorship > 1900 To WW2 > WW2 To Present Day

Origins of the Thames Police by Dick Paterson

The origins of the Thames Police go back to the 18th Century. Then importers were suffering losses of 500.000 annually, with a considerable subsequent loss of import dues, while cargoes were unloaded on the un-protected River Thames. There has never been even an estimate of losses occurring of exports that took place.

A plan to protect the river by policing the Thames shipping was devised in 1797 by Mr. John Harriott, an Essex Justice of the Peace, farmer and inventor from Great Stanbridge.

With Harriott's plan and the advice of Jeremy Bentham's legal knowledge, Mr. Patrick Colquhoun, LLD., the principle magistrate of Queens Square Police Office, Westminster convinced the West India Merchants, and the West India Planters Committees to finance the first preventative policing of the central shipping area of the Thames.

Mr. John Harriot

With Government's approval obtained the Marine Police began on the 2 July 1798 in Wapping High Street, on the site of the present Headquarters of the Marine Support Unit (MSU) of the Metropolitan Police.

Pictures of Headquarters Past & Present
Pictures of Headquarters Past & Present

The West India Merchants Company Marine Police Institute was originally intended to operate for just one year. However, Parliament was much involved in the war with France and the new police force lasted for two years. It consisted of three working sections:

  • Magistrates Office
    Staffed by Patrick Colquhoun as Superintending Magistrate and John Harriott as Resident Magistrate.
  • Lumping Department
    Lumping Department, which registered honest "Lumpers" to discharge West India Company ships.
  • Police Establishment
    Continue to the next section to learn more
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