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Edmund Walcott Fosbery (1834–1919)

by Martha Rutledge and Brian Dickey

This article was published:

Edmund Walcott Fosbery (1834-1919), inspector-general of police, was born on 6 February 1834 at Wotton, Gloucestershire, England, son of Commander Godfrey Fosbery, R.N., and his wife Catherine Lyons, daughter of John Walcott, naturalist. He was educated at the Royal Naval School, New-Cross, Surrey, and won the Yarborough cadetship for mathematics and navigation but declined to join the navy. He became secretary to Sir Phillip Rose, of Rose & Russell, solicitors to Benjamin Disraeli and some large railway companies. In 1852 he migrated to Victoria and went to the Mount Alexander goldfields. Next year he joined the Victorian police force as a gentleman-cadet and was soon appointed to its executive branch.

In 1861 Fosbery advised Charles Cowper on the reorganization and centralization of the New South Wales police force. On 1 April 1862 he joined the civil service as secretary to the Police Department and acting inspector-general with the rank of superintendent. He was active in reforming a force largely 'composed of men into whose character and antecedents it did not do to inquire too closely'. By 1866 Fosbery could report that despite increased unemployment and distress there was a 'most remarkable decrease of crime'. In 1869 he claimed that seditious meetings had been held before the attack on the Duke of Edinburgh and declared it 'improbable that an assassination of that kind should be committed by one man, avowing himself a Fenian, without the connivance and assistance of other Fenians'. In 1874 Fosbery succeeded John McLerie as inspector-general of police. He gave the same attention to minor as to major matters; after complaints by Sir Edward Deas Thomson he even tried hard to 'abate the goat nuisance'. On 13 February 1882 he wrote to Sir Henry Parkes that 'The new Licensing Act though rather difficult to bring into operation is working wonders & will do much to abate the evil of intemperance which was spreading to such an extent here I expect the arrests by the police in Sydney will be reduced this year by some thousands'.

Under Fosbery the force increased from 800 men to 2300, despite trouble in recruiting. In 1882 he wrote to Parkes that 'Newly arrived Irish apply, but no others—a good draft of 30 or 40 English from the Metn. Police in London would be very useful to me', pay was bad and constables considered 'dismissal but little punishment'. Fosbery was always left untrammelled to enforce discipline. The duties of the police increased and ranged from chasing truants to collecting statistics in the interior. An able administrator, Fosbery was a member of the Board of Health, chairman of the Public Service Tender Board and from 1900 a member of the board for the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act. As chairman he took a particular and benevolent interest in the charges of the Aborigines Protection Board. He was on the committee of the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society and chairman of the Charity Organization Society. He was also a trustee of the New South Wales Savings Bank, and a director of the Bank of New South Wales and the United Insurance Co. In 1888 he visited Europe, partly on official business.

In 1901 Fosbery was presented with a silver cigarette box and salver by the Duke of York and in 1902 made a C.M.G. At his retirement on 31 December 1903 he was fêted by the mercantile community, the public service and the police force; he followed the latter's advice to use their cheque to visit England and have his portrait painted. On his return in 1904 he was appointed to the Legislative Council; he attended regularly, spoke on many subjects and carried one private Act. He was a member of the Union Club, a member and trustee of the Australian Jockey Club, and a vice-president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He died on 1 July 1919 at his home, Eaton, Darlinghurst, and was buried in the Anglican section of Camperdown cemetery. His wife Harriette, née Lightfoot, whom he married at Melbourne in 1854, had died in 1917. He was survived by a son and two daughters of his eight children and his estate was sworn at £23,500.

His portrait by Sir John Longstaff is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1866, 5, 629, 1868-69, 1, 805, 1873-74, 6, 67, 1879-80, 2, 950, Town and Country Journal, 14 Nov 1874
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 Dec 1903, 2 Feb 1904
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1919
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Fosbery (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge and Brian Dickey, 'Fosbery, Edmund Walcott (1834–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 February, 1834
Wotton, Gloucestershire, England


1 July, 1919 (aged 85)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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