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Sir Frederick William Pottinger (1831–1865)

by P. A. Selth

This article was published:

Frederick William Pottinger (1831-1865), by unknown photographer

Frederick William Pottinger (1831-1865), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 12268

Sir Frederick William Pottinger (1831-1865), police inspector, was born on 27 April 1831 in India, second son of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pottinger of the East India Co., and his wife Susanna Maria, née Cooke, of Dublin. Educated privately and in 1844-47 at Eton, Pottinger purchased a commission in the Grenadier Guards in 1850 and served in England until 1854. Active in social life, he lost much of his adoring mother's wealth on the race-course. In 1856 he succeeded his father as second baronet and soon dissipated his inheritance. Forced by debt to leave England, he migrated to Sydney. After failing on the goldfields he joined the New South Wales police force as a mounted trooper. A superb horseman, he spent the next few years on the gold escort between Gundagai and Goulburn.

Probably because of conditions imposed by his family who still supported him with funds, Pottinger kept his title secret but in 1860 it was discovered by the inspector-general of police, John McLerie, and promotion came rapidly. In November he became clerk of petty sessions at Dubbo and on 1 October 1861 assistant superintendent of the Southern Mounted Patrol. Although determined to succeed in his career he was involved in a drunken brawl at Young on 20-21 December 1861. Sued, he received a public rebuke from Charles Cowper for his 'highly discreditable' behaviour. Posted to the Lachlan, he proved himself an indefatigable but unlucky hunter of bushrangers.

Under the 1862 Police Regulation Act Pottinger was appointed an inspector of police for the Western District. The Act was bitterly criticized and Pottinger seen as a symbol of its defects. In April 1862 he arrested Ben Hall at Forbes on a charge of highway robbery, but he was acquitted. Soon afterwards Hall joined Frank Gardiner's gang which on 15 June 1862 robbed the Lachlan escort of some £14,000. Quick in pursuit, Pottinger remained on the trail for a month, and arrested two of the bushrangers. They escaped several days later in a gun battle but Pottinger recovered the stolen gold taken by the prisoners. Criticized for his failure to send an adequate guard with the escort and his return without prisoners, Pottinger was praised by others for his determination and endurance. On the night of 9 and 10 August Pottinger and a party of police surrounded the house of Gardiner's mistress, Kate Brown, but the bushranger escaped when Pottinger's pistol misfired. They arrested a young boy on suspicion of being an accomplice and allowed him to remain in the lock-up without comforts; his death in March 1863 from gaol fever further diminished Pottinger's reputation. On 27 September 1862 Pottinger had appeared before a Bathurst court on a charge of assault.

In February 1863 Pottinger attended the Sydney trials of the escort robbers; jostled by larrikins in the street he again became the subject of public notice. He also threatened J. J. Harpur with his whip for charges made against him in the Legislative Assembly. Meanwhile the bushrangers in his district became more active. He later captured Patrick Daley, but on 17 August 1864 failed to arrest Alpin McPherson.

In May 1863 the inspector-general had directed the police to act on their own initiative. Early in January 1865 hoping to lure Hall and Dunn into the open, Pottinger rode in the Wowingragong races in breach of police regulations. Despite his justifiable claim that his action 'fully warranted the discretionary departure in point from the letter (tho' not the spirit)' of the regulation he was dismissed from the police force on 16 February 1865. Protest meetings against his dismissal were held on the diggings and in the towns, with petitions for his reappointment. On 5 March 1865 at Wascoe's Inn in the Blue Mountains on his way to Sydney to seek redress, Pottinger accidentally shot himself in the upper abdomen while boarding a moving coach. He recovered enough to be moved to the Victoria Club in Sydney where he died intestate on 9 April 1865. He was buried at St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick.

Select Bibliography

  • Yass Courier, 26 Feb 1862
  • Empire (Sydney), 26 Mar, 24 July, 4 Oct 1862, 28 Mar 1863
  • Lachlan Observer, 25 Oct 1862
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10, 12 Apr 1865
  • Bell's Life in Sydney, 15 Apr 1865
  • Burrangong Argus, 15 Apr 1865
  • Sydney Mail, 29 Apr 1865
  • Field (London), 22 May 1937
  • M. Brennan, Police History of the Notorious Bushrangers of New South Wales and Victoria (State Library of New South Wales)
  • boxes 4/544, 4/547 and Police special bundle, 2/674.10 (State Records New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Related Thematic Essay

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

P. A. Selth, 'Pottinger, Sir Frederick William (1831–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick William Pottinger (1831-1865), by unknown photographer

Frederick William Pottinger (1831-1865), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 12268

Life Summary [details]


27 April, 1831
Bombay, Maharashtra, India


9 April, 1865 (aged 33)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

shooting accident

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.