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William Augustus Miles (1798–1851)

by Hazel King

This article was published:

William Augustus Miles (1798-1851), commissioner of police and police magistrate, was ostensibly the eldest son of William Augustus Miles (1753?-1817), political writer, author of comic operas and holder of minor official posts, but currently believed a royal bastard. The rumours may have had some substance. William IV supported his application for the post of secretary of the Colonization Commission for South Australia in 1835 on the grounds that he was intelligent, well educated, and a protégé of the late King; on his gravestone in the old Camperdown cemetery was a crown and the words: 'Sweet nature gave a Prince but Fortune blind adorned him not whom nature had adorned'.

Miles held a number of civil appointments in England before coming to New South Wales: in the Privy Council office, as assistant commissioner of inquiry into the Poor Law, as assistant to the commission of inquiry into the state of the hand loom weavers, and as a commissioner of public charities. He had come into close contact with the commissioners of Metropolitan Police when assisting a committee of the House of Lords on secondary punishment, before which he gave evidence in 1834. In 1836 he printed a pamphlet in the form of a letter to Lord John Russell in which he advocated the establishment of a unified police force for England and Wales under the control of a single authority. As assistant commissioner to the Royal Commission on rural constabulary in 1836-39, he gained further knowledge of police matters. He was strongly recommended for the post of commissioner of police in Sydney by C. S. Lefevre, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who had been a member of the Rural Constabulary Commission, and was appointed in July 1840 by Lord John Russell, who thought him particularly well qualified for the post.

Parts of the Metropolitan Police system had already been introduced in Sydney in 1833, and Miles intended to make the Sydney police organization resemble the London one even more closely. Because of a shortage of suitable men and of funds he was unable fully to put into operation the organization he had planned, but he did insist that the Sydney constables should walk their beats at the regulation London pace of two and a half miles per hour (4 kph), and that they should wear tightly buttoned tail coats similar to those of the London police. In addition to being executive head of the Sydney police Miles was a magistrate and found his work very heavy. There were frequent complaints that he was not active enough as commissioner and that he was not readily accessible to the public because he did much of his business from his home near Dawes Battery, instead of from the police office. In 1847 a board examined his accounts and found him guilty of carelessness. Next year the governor and Executive Council investigated charges against him of insobriety while on duty and wrongful dismissal of a police inspector. They found that the charge of insobriety was neither proved nor disproved, and reinstated the inspector who had been dismissed; they decided that Miles should exchange duties with Captain J. Long Innes, acting senior police magistrate. Payment of Miles's salary in this new post was bitterly opposed in the Legislative Council, and was passed only by the casting vote of the chairman of the committee of supply; next year his salary for 1850 was not sanctioned by the legislature and he went into enforced retirement. His claim to be compensated for loss of office was granted by the reconstituted Legislative Council in October 1851, after his death; during the debate he was warmly defended by William Charles Wentworth, James Martin and others.

Miles appeared as a witness before various select committees of the Legislative Council, notably those on immigration (1842), the Water Police Amendment Act (1843), insecurity of life and property (1844), and police (1847). His interests were wide. He was a corresponding member of the Ethnological Society of London, of the Statistical Society, and of the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle of Paris. Some of his drawings of Aboriginal rock carvings are in the Mitchell Library. In his later years he lived in Cleveland Street, Sydney, where he died on 24 April 1851.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 20-26
  • W. A. Miles, 'How Did the Natives of Australia Become Acquainted with the Demigods and Daemonia, and with the Superstitions of the Ancient Races? And How Have Many Oriental Words Been Incorporated in Their Dialects and Languages', Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, vol 3, 1854, pp 4-50
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Dec 1840, 9 Dec 1841, 2 Oct 1845, 31 May, 2, 8, 9 June 1848, 23 May 1849, 25 Apr, 22, 30 Oct 1851
  • H. King, Police Organization and Administration … NSW 1825-1851 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1956)
  • Executive Council, minutes, 1848-49 (State Records New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under W. A. Miles (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 323/175.

Citation details

Hazel King, 'Miles, William Augustus (1798–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




25 April, 1851 (aged ~ 53)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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