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Cecil James Carroll (1888–1970)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published:

Cecil James Carroll (1888-1970), police commissioner, was born on 8 July 1888 at Woombye, Queensland, second son of Patrick Carroll, a police constable from Ireland, and his native-born wife Margaret, née McGrath. Educated at Blackall State School, in 1904 Cecil became a pupil-teacher there and subsequently taught in schools at Petrie Terrace, West End, Cairns and Brisbane East. On 24 August 1915 he was commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force and posted with reinforcements to the 9th Battalion. Promoted captain in December 1916, he was twice wounded while serving in France, mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Military Cross. He was invalided home and his appointment terminated on 28 March 1918. At St Stephen's Catholic Cathedral, Brisbane, on 11 June that year he married a civil servant Alice Mary Fahy. Because of war-wounds in his hip and knee, Carroll abandoned teaching and joined the State Public Service as a clerk in the Land and Income Tax Office. He took two years leave of absence to engage in home-defence duties at Townsville.

Returning to the public service in 1920, Carroll rose to inspector (1922), senior inspector (1923) and chief inspector of taxation in January 1929. He was appointed royal commissioner in 1932 to inquire into the alleged payment of secret commissions in the dairying industry. About this time complaints were being voiced over problems in the administration of the police department. In 1933 Hugh Talty, secretary of the Queensland Police Union, requested a royal commission, alleging that some Labor politicians and police administrators had violated the Criminal Code. Next year public disquiet was aired about police procedures and law enforcement, while dissension was revealed within police ranks, particularly over disciplinary matters. Such concerns led the government to choose its new police commissioner from outside the force. In January 1934 the home secretary E. M. Hanlon selected Carroll—under whom he had served in France—in the expectation that his capacities would bring 'far greater efficiency' to police operations.

Taking office on 8 May, the commissioner began a thorough reorganization. Although many police retired, often after being examined by the medical board, Carroll increased the force's numbers, especially the ranks of non-commissioned officers. A new training system required recruits to sit an educational test. A cadet system of admission was initiated, whereby recruits entered at the clerical level at the age of 18 before undertaking regular police training. Promotion became dependent on qualifying examinations. Various lecture projects were created, among them an in-service education scheme for young detectives. The Queensland Police Manual was wholly revised. Despite his having taken charge without previous police experience, Carroll's reforms quickly built up efficiency and morale, and regained public confidence. In 1934 he was appointed M.V.O. He was one of three royal commissioners who investigated matters relating to racing and gaming in 1935-36.

In 1937 a consolidating Police Act changed the status of the commissioner. Previously a five-year appointee, he now headed what was virtually a separate government department, able to hold office until aged 65, with a salary equivalent to that of an under-secretary. The government argued that this new security of tenure would prevent a commissioner from being a political tool, too closely concerned with government policy. The Opposition, however, called these (and other) changes 'Hanlon's blot', while Talty condemned 'the meanest and most vicious and most tyrannical and oppressive piece of legislation ever introduced by any Parliament in the Southern hemisphere'.

Modernization was one of Carroll's notable achievements: he was 'affectionately known as the man who mechanised the Force'. When he took over, its equipment was limited to 'one or two cars, a few motor cycles and pedal cycles'. By supplying as many motor vehicles as his budget permitted, he made the force mobile. A wireless station was set up and a start made on installing receivers in motorcars. To improve the effectiveness of the Criminal Investigation Branch, a 'modus operandi' recording system was introduced, along with the single fingerprint system and an up-to-date photography section. The firearms section was enlarged, and a scientific section established so that police could, for example, examine documents and handwriting by using ultraviolet rays or microscopy. Carroll also encouraged further specialization and planned a traffic squad at a time when motor transport was increasing and automatic signals were first installed in Brisbane. Buildings were renovated and amenities improved. New police stations included those at Fortitude Valley and Toowoomba, and barracks for recruits were built in the capital at Petrie Terrace. A police welfare club with social and recreational facilities was opened in Brisbane and police were encouraged to participate in outdoor sporting activities.

World War II greatly strained Queensland's police resources and the health of the commissioner. The movement of hundreds of thousands of Australian and American troops through the State stretched police resources to their limit. Extra duties were required by wartime emergency and security regulations, and one of Carroll's objectives was to keep out of Queensland 'undesirables' from the south. Apart from handling internees, police were invested with civil defence tasks, such as the training of air-raid wardens. The end of the war brought Carroll no relief from stress. Industrial trouble and major strikes shook the community, and police were often called upon to maintain the peace. A notorious fracas occurred on St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1948, when baton-wielding police confronted union street-marchers during a railway strike.

Although he had done much to restore the image and role of the police, the commissioner was not immune from criticism. A ballot conducted by the police union in 1942 called for a royal commission into police administration; apart from regular complaints on issues like discipline and promotion, much of the discontent was generated by Carroll's apparent preference for the detective branch to the uniformed police. In parliament there were frequent comments and questions about corruption in the force. J. F. ('Bombshell') Barnes, aided by Tom Aikens, raised instances of brothel-keeping, starting-price betting, police abuse of power, and bribery. Barnes had no regard for Carroll whom he described as 'a bombastic little squirt'. In 1946 the commissioner came under further attack, with insinuations that police had not fully performed their duty when T. A. Foley, the minister in charge of police, was raided by officers from the Commonwealth Department of Trade and Customs.

On 23 July 1949 Carroll retired on the grounds of ill health: he had a nervous disability and had suffered from pernicious anaemia for fifteen months. Police and public contributed £2892 to his testimonial. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died on 21 May 1970 in Brisbane and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland from 1915 to the 1980s (Brisb, 1984)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1937, pp 318, 358, 1941, p 1091
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 11, 12 January 1934, 7, 20 July 1949, 22 May 1970
  • Truth (Brisbane), 18 May 1941
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 22 May 1970
  • Police Department (Queensland) staff file AF 5361 (Queensland State Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Carroll, Cecil James (1888–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 April 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 July, 1888
Woombye, Queensland, Australia


21 May, 1970 (aged 81)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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