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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Urquhart, Frederic Charles (1858–1935)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Frederic Urquhart, n.d.

Frederic Urquhart, n.d.

Queensland Police Archives

Frederic Charles Urquhart (1858-1935), police commissioner and administrator, was born on 27 October 1858 at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, England, son of Frederic Day Urquhart, army officer, and his wife Charlotte, née Goldie. Having attended All Saints School, Bloxham, Oxfordshire, and Felsted (military) School, Essex, he served as a midshipman before migrating to Queensland in 1875. He worked in the sugar and cattle industries, and became a telegraph linesman at Normanton in 1878.

Reputedly an accomplished horseman who had some acquaintance with Aborigines, he joined the Queensland Native Mounted Police Force on 27 April 1882 as a cadet and was installed as sub-inspector in charge of the Gulf, Cape York and Torres Strait districts. Urquhart was summoned to Cloncurry in 1884 to lead a detachment of armed settlers and police against the Kalkatunga (Kalkadoon) Aborigines; in a campaign that culminated in pitched combat at Battle Mountain the Kalkatungu were slaughtered and their armed resistance ended. He transferred in 1889 to the general police. In the far north he searched for survivors from the ill-fated Quetta in Torres Strait in 1890. He charted Albatross Bay, and the Embley and Hay Rivers, publishing his findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland (1897). 'Well read', with a 'cultivated intelligence', Urquhart wrote bush verse which included Camp Canzonettes (1891) and Blood Stains (1919).

Suffering from repeated sickness, he transferred to Brisbane in 1896. Next year he was promoted inspector, second class, and in 1898 took charge of the criminal investigation branch. His administration was severely criticized in 1899 by a royal commission which drew attention to his 'impulsive and exacting temperament' and his 'vindictive and tyrannical nature', but, with the support of the police commissioner and political friends, Urquhart survived. Appointed chief inspector on 1 July 1905, he was prominent in police action during the 1912 general strike. Despite some objections, he was appointed Queensland's fourth commissioner of police on 1 January 1917; he held the position until 16 January 1921, introducing little in the way of reform. He figured in the police action against the 'red flag' rioters in Brisbane in 1919 and was involved with loyalist groups during and after World War I.

Appointed administrator of the Northern Territory on 17 January 1921, Urquhart was sent to Darwin 'to clean up the place'. His mission brought him into confrontation with the 'socialistic extremists' of the North Australian Industrial Union; to counter their industrial and political power, he supported the formation of the Northern Territory Workers' Union. Urquhart welcomed restraining measures introduced by the Commonwealth government's Observance of Law Ordinance (1921) which legitimized police control of public meetings, abolished trial by jury except for capital cases, and enforced payment of taxes. Next year citizens without certain property qualifications were prevented from voting at municipal elections. Mounting local public opposition over taxation without representation and the imprisonment of tax defaulters led in 1922 to the appointment of one member for the Northern Territory with limited voting rights in the House of Representatives. Faced with unemployment and a depressed economy, Urquhart had to carry out retrenchments, repatriate Chinese and find relief work for one hundred Europeans.

After he retired as administrator on 16 January 1926, Urquhart settled at Clayfield, Brisbane. Predeceased by his wife, Annette, née Atkinson, whom he had married at St Peter's Church, Melbourne, on 7 November 1891, he died at St Helen's Private Hospital on 2 December 1935 and was buried in Toowong cemetery with Anglican rites. A daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Police Department (Queensland), A Centenary History of the Queensland Police Force, 1864-1963, C. Lack compiler (Brisb, 1964)
  • A. Powell, Far Country (Melb, 1982)
  • P. F. Donovan, At the Other End of Australia (Brisb, 1984)
  • D. J. Mulvaney, Encounters in Place (Brisb, 1989)
  • Royal Commission to Inquire into the Constitution, Administration and Working of the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Police Force of Queensland, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Queensland), 1899, 4, pp 167-8, 174
  • Queensland Police Union Journal, July 1986, p 16
  • NT, Annual Report, 1921-27
  • personnel file, Qld Police Dept, A/47932 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Urquhart, Frederic Charles (1858–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Frederic Urquhart, n.d.

Frederic Urquhart, n.d.

Queensland Police Archives