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Francis Erich (Frank) Bischof (1904–1979)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published:

Francis Erich (Frank) Bischof (1904-1979), police commissioner, was born on 12 October 1904 at Gowrie Junction, near Toowoomba, Queensland, fourth child of August Bischof, dairy-farmer, and his wife Sophia Carolina, née Riethmuller, both native-born. One of a family of nine, Frank helped to milk the cows each morning before walking to the Wilsonton primary school. After attending Toowoomba Grammar School, he worked in a cheese factory until he joined the Queensland Police Force as a constable in 1925. He married a dental assistant Dorothy May Alice Gledhill on 22 February 1930 at St Mary's Anglican Church, Alderley, Brisbane.

A detective constable stationed from 1933 at the Criminal Investigation Branch, Brisbane, Bischof became a sergeant in 1939. Promoted inspector in 1949, he spent six months studying police methods and organization in Britain (including Scotland Yard) and Europe. In 1950 he was chosen to investigate the Bulimba elections fraud. Over these years 'the Big Fella'—6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall and 16 stone (102 kg) in weight—developed a reputation as a crime-buster, securing thirty-two convictions in thirty-three murder investigations. One notorious case related to the murder of a taxi driver at Southport: Bischof's interrogation trapped the suspect Arthur Halliday into admitting guilt. In 1955 Bischof was appointed officer-in-charge of the C.I.B.

When (Sir) Francis Nicklin's Country-Liberal government named Bischof, a Freemason, as commissioner of police in January 1958, the appointment was criticized by the Opposition as political patronage. Labor argued that at least two other inspectors were more suitable. To some, Bischof's promotion marked the ascendancy of a Masonic cabal over the 'Green Mafia' (police of Irish-Catholic descent) who had dominated the force under Labor. Responding to the controversy, in the 1960 election campaign Nicklin spoke of setting up a three-member commission to administer the police, a proposal which failed to gain cabinet support.

The commissioner was convinced that his first tasks were to boost police morale and to improve their reputation in the community. In August 1958 he 'shook up' the force by transfers and new appointments. A Crime Prevention Bureau and a Public Relations Bureau were established, as well as a pipe-band. Bischof counselled his staff: 'If you're news on the front page you don't have much to worry about. It's when they start putting your wrongdoings on the back page that we'll all start to panic'.

Bischof appeared frequently at public functions throughout the countryside, encouraging various initiatives whereby the community could support and co-operate with police activities. He became well known for his interest in the welfare of children, particularly through the expansion of youth clubs. Foundation chairman of the Queensland Police-Citizens Youth Welfare Association, in 1959 he was named Queensland's first 'Father of the Year', though he was childless. He often conducted counselling sessions for young lawbreakers on Saturday mornings in his office and in 1963 arranged for the formation of the Juvenile Aid Bureau under a senior constable (Sir) Terence Lewis who was to become commissioner. That year Bischof was appointed M.V.O.; in 1965 he was awarded the police medal.

For all that, a constant barrage of political criticism accompanied Bischof's efforts. Allegations and suggestions of corruption, abuse of power or negligence on the part of individual police officers were insistently raised in parliament by C. J. Bennett, E. J. Walsh and Tom Aikens. Disquiet also arose over police zeal in controlling street demonstrations. In October 1963 Bennett's allegations that Bischof and other police frequented, encouraged and condoned a call-girl service in a Brisbane hotel led to a royal commission (1963-64) into the police force and the National Hotel. In the face of unreliable and restricted evidence, Justice (Sir) Harry Gibbs of the Supreme Court of Queensland did not find that a call-girl service operated or had police sanction. He did find irregularities, however, in the enforcement of the licensing laws in that 'the hotel was let off due to friendship between it and the force'. The limited terms of reference did not require the commission to consider the policing of prostitution, or to examine corruption in relation to members of the licensing branch and the consorting squad. Gibbs's inquiry might have been frustrated by a cover-up: in 1971 one of the witnesses Shirley Brifman admitted to perjury in her evidence, but her death cut short any attempt at further investigation.

During Bischof's commissionership a network of corruption—particularly identified with the licensing branch and the consorting squad—was becoming entrenched. It led to the protection of vice figures, among them starting-price bookmakers who continued to flourish despite restrictive legislation, and prostitutes who began operating from hotels after the Nicklin government had closed the brothels. The existence and extent of the network became public only when G. E. Fitzgerald's commission of inquiry into possible illegal activities and associated police misconduct (1987-1989) began gathering evidence. This commission revealed that 'certain police were said to enjoy Bischof's favour, and to be his ''bag-men"', and that they collected protection payoffs. As Fitzgerald observed, 'in some respects police corruption had acquired a quaint quasi-legitimacy by the Bischof era'.

With only 240 days until his retirement, Bischof took leave somewhat suddenly on 13 February 1969. Suffering from hypertension, he spent three periods in hospital before being boarded out of the force on medical grounds. The reasons for his retirement became apparent when Sir Thomas Hiley (State treasurer 1957-65) published his account of 'The case of the corrupt Commissioner' in the Brisbane Courier Mail on 18 September 1982 and exposed Bischof's weakness as an 'inveterate punter'. Some country bookmakers had complained to Hiley of a police protection racket, with proceeds flowing through to Brisbane; aided by betting sheets, Hiley established the extent of Bischof's habit; he then confronted Bischof who capitulated. It was later stated that during his last three years in office Bischof had received treatment for psychotic depression. In December 1974 he was charged with stealing, but the Crown filed a no-true bill. Bischof's interests included bowling, and he was sometime patron of the Queensland Amateur Water Polo Association. Survived by his wife, he died on 28 August 1979 in South Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • P. James, In Place of Justice (Deception Bay, Qld, 1974)
  • G. E. Fitzgerald, Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct (Brisb, 1989)
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 5 June 1967, 18 Sept 1982
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 9 Feb 1969
  • Sunday Sun (Brisbane), 24 Oct 1976, 2 Sept 1979
  • Police Department (Queensland) records (Brisbane), and personnel file AF 8912 (Queensland State Archives).

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Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Bischof, Francis Erich (Frank) (1904–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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