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Day, Ernest Charles (1857–1915)

by Hazel King

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Ernest Charles Day (1857-1915), police officer, was born on 30 October 1857 at Sherborne, Dorsetshire, England, son of John Day, surveyor, and his wife Mary Julia, née Bluett. Educated in 1869-71 as a foundationer at Sherborne School, he entered commerce and at 24 was managing a large Southampton brewery owned by his brother. A taste for adventure, titillated by reading tales of Australian bushrangers, decided him to migrate and he sailed for Sydney in the John Elder, arriving on 26 May 1883.

Day joined the New South Wales Mounted Police on 11 June, was trained for a few months at the Police Depot in Sydney, and was posted to Gulgong, where he married Nellie Hegarty at St Luke's Anglican Church on 1 May 1884. He was a good horseman and a crack shot with both revolver and rifle. His first promotion, to constable 1st class, came in May 1885 after he and two other policemen showed marked skill and courage in tracking two prisoners, who had been bushranging for over a month after killing a constable and escaping from Coonamble gaol. The pursuit ended in a revolver duel in which the bushrangers were killed. Day next served at Nymagee and Cobar where he helped to break up several gangs of cattle duffers and horse thieves.

By April 1892 Day was stationed at Bourke with the rank of senior sergeant. While there, by disguising himself as a woman, he captured a man known locally as 'Jack the Ripper', who had been molesting girls and women. His most famous case arose from his investigation in 1896 of a murder at Brennan's Bend, on the Darling, which led to the conviction of 'Tommy' Moore, a hawker. Day's prolonged inquiries over a wide area also linked Moore with the unsolved murders of five other men, whose mutilated bodies had been found over a period of years in western and southern parts of the colony.

Promoted sub-inspector in 1897, Day served at Narrabri and Newcastle where in 1904 he was promoted inspector. In 1907 he was transferred to Sydney, with the rank of superintendent, to take charge of the Police Training Depot and the eastern police district. In March 1910 after further promotion, he was attached to the office of the inspector-general, Thomas Garvin, whom he succeeded on 1 January 1911. As inspector-general, Day was in command of 2600 men. His courteous manners, wide police experience, and the fact that he had risen through the ranks on merit, made 'the General', as they called him, popular with and respected by his men. He was liked too by journalists who found him approachable and informative. He was the first inspector-general to realize how helpful a co-operative press and good public relations could be in police matters.

At Narrabri on 29 November 1899 Day had married Rose Welsh with Catholic rites. Both his wives were Catholics and his children were educated in Catholic schools but he remained an Anglican. Ill health led to his retirement on 9 January 1915 and he died of cirrhosis of the liver at his Moore Park home on 17 January. He was survived by two sons and four daughters of his first marriage and by his second wife and their two sons. After a funeral service at St Matthias's Church of England, Paddington, he was buried in Waverley cemetery. His fellow police officers and men later erected a monument to his memory on his grave. It bears the lines: 'The rank is but the guinea stamp, The man's the gowd for a' that'. Probate was granted on his estate at £3209. His grandson Ernest Robert Day became an inspector in the State Police Force.

Select Bibliography

  • A. L. Haydon, The Trooper Police of Australia (Lond, 1911)
  • L. E. Hoban, A Centenary History of the New South Wales Police Force, 1862-1962 (Syd, 1962)
  • Australian Journalists' Association, Copy, Dec 1913
  • Evening News (Sydney), 10 Mar 1910, 2 Dec 1911, 19 Jan 1915
  • Town and Country Journal, 16 Mar 1910, 20 Jan 1915
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 24 Dec 1910
  • Sun (Sydney), 29 June 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Jan 1915
  • notes on E. C. Day (New South Wales Police Dept)
  • private information.

Citation details

Hazel King, 'Day, Ernest Charles (1857–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/day-ernest-charles-5923/text10091, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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