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Frederick John Hanson (1914–1980)

by Bruce Swanton

This article was published:

Frederick John Hanson (1914-1980), police commissioner, was born on 26 May 1914 at Orange, New South Wales, eldest of four children of native-born parents Ernest Frederick Hanson, telegraphist, and his wife Vera Marie, née Teddiman. Educated at the Christian Brothers' St Mary's Boys' School, Burwood, Fred worked as a manufacturing jeweller's assistant (1929-31) before being employed as a porter in the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways. He joined the New South Wales Police on 7 September 1936 and in the following year was posted to Broken Hill where, in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, he married Carole Louise Whitehall with Catholic rites on 9 November 1938. In 1940 Hanson was transferred to plain clothes duties.

He had served (1932-36) in the Citizen Air Force and obtained his 'A' class private pilot's licence in 1939. On 31 January 1942 he was released to the Royal Australian Air Force. Commissioned on 14 January 1943, Hanson served as a pilot in Britain, the Middle East and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and was mentioned in dispatches. On 30 January 1946 he was demobilized as acting squadron leader and rejoined the police.

Promoted constable (first class) while on active service, Hanson was briefly posted to the vice squad before being assigned to the police air wing as sergeant (third class). Such rapid advancement, in an organization committed to promotion on seniority, resulted in numerous appeals. The first appeal heard was rejected and the remainder were withdrawn, thereby allowing him to overtake more than a thousand colleagues on the seniority list. Thereafter, he was known as 'Slippery'. When the air wing was disbanded in 1950, Hanson moved to the new No.21 Mobile Division. He returned to Broken Hill in 1953 and was advanced to sergeant (first class) in 1955. He served as inspector (third class) and officer-in-charge at Bega (1959-62) and Wollongong (1962-64), then moved to the Metropolitan Police District as superintendent (third class). After attending the Australian Police College in 1963, he rose to superintendent (first class) and assistant metropolitan superintendent in 1967.

Hanson was appointed assistant-commissioner in 1968, deputy-commissioner on 14 January 1972 and commissioner on 15 November. That year he attended the general assembly of the International Criminal Police Organization at Frankfurt, Germany; in 1974 he visited the Australian police contingent on Cyprus. While commissioner, he introduced merit rating, abolished seniority in executive promotions and established the crime intelligence unit. By objecting to the Police Association's attempt to gain greater access to the Industrial Commission of New South Wales, he sparked contention. He gained widespread approval in 1975 when he instituted aggressive street patrols to counter hooligan activity, but he failed to control illegal gaming which became a major public issue. Next year Hanson sued the Australian Broadcasting Commission for defamation in suggesting that he had a financial interest in an illegal casino at Gosford; the case was settled out of court. Pressured to resign as a result of adverse publicity, he delayed until he was replaced in 1976 by his favoured successor and air wing colleague Mervyn Wood. Allegations of corruption were made against Hanson in the 1980s.

A modest but humorous man, he kept his family life extremely private. He was a renowned practical joker and esteemed by his subordinates for his interest in their welfare, his readiness to delegate responsibility and his unwillingness to be impeded by red tape. Survived by his wife, he died from carbon monoxide poisoning by inhalation on the night of 25/26 October 1980 at his Terrigal home; the coroner dispensed with an inquest and Hanson was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Swanton and G. Hannigan (eds), Police Source Book 2 (Canb, 1985)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Mar, 16 Nov 1972
  • Daily Sun (Sydney), 25 July 1974, 9 Feb 1975
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 9 Feb 1975
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 23 July 1980
  • New South Wales Police Department, Annual Report, 1972-80
  • Hanson's record of service and stations (copy held by author)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bruce Swanton, 'Hanson, Frederick John (1914–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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