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Coming with me to Olympia, pt. ii: Colquhoun, Harriott, Bentham and the first London police force

I am an historian by training, but a bibliophile by nature – I see history through books. People make history, but until the twentieth century it was mostly in books and documents that history was recorded. Manuscripts are by their very nature frequently unique, whilst printed works are generally not. That said, here at Antiquates we tend to unearth a few unrecorded books each year. Sometimes these are unrecorded editions of known texts, every know and again they are entirely unrecorded texts. Unrecorded texts are generally unrecorded for a reason. Perhaps they failed to resonate with a paying public, or were superseded by events or innovations, as tables of logarithms and interest were made obsolete by the pocket calculator. Once in a blue moon a discovery of an unrecorded text turn out to be of real historical importance; I’m pleased that Antiquates is offering one such work at our stand (G11) at this week’s London international antiquarian book fair at Olympia.

The first modern London policing guide?

Hidden in plain sight

This significant ‘find’, what appears to be the first printed guide to modern policing in London, is only 15 pages in length and housed within a sammelband of eighteenth-century European works on criminal law, punishment and policing. It is a remarkable survival.

The first modern London policing guide

The Marine Police-Office was set up in July 1798, in order to combat the growing losses of cargo at London’s docks. Based upon a plan composed by Essex Justice of the Peace and Master Mariner John Harriott, supported by philosopher Jeremy Bentham and campaigned for by London Magistrate Patrick Colquhoun, the force was sanctioned by government but funded by those who stood to gain from reduction of River theft: the planters and merchants of the West India Company. Consisting initially of just fifty officers, the marine constables were charged with policing more than 30,000 London dock workers. The initial success of the force was reported in the sixth edition (London, 1800) of Colquhoun’s Treatise on the police of the Metropolis: ‘certain it is, that previous to the establishment of the Marine Police System…the incease [in losses] had been regular and progressive, while the easy manner in which this species of property was obtained, generated an accession of plunderers every year’. Establishment recognition of success was swift; Colquhoun and Harriott’s private enterprise was taken under government control just over two years later with the passing of the Marine Police Bill on 28th July 1800.

Instructions for constables

This short guide, dated 7th August 1798 to the second leaf, forms a rule-book and guide to the responsibilities, rights and powers of the river constables. Oaths of office, vigilance, fidelity and allegiance to the overseeing magistrates and the King, along with rules for proper conduct and sobriety are included alongside a more technical description of the operating procedures of the new force. These details include such preventative measures as the posting of ‘A CAUTION’ on newly docked ships and the lighting of lanterns at night. The process of apprehending criminals and the connection and close working relationship between the constables and their magistrates are both firmly outlined, with the expectations of the latter including the careful noting of details in ‘Check-Books’ highlighted. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the professional nature of the new force, the details of Pay for the constables is outlined: 5s per day whilst ships are unloading, dropping to half pay either on completion or after ten-days.

The historical context

Given these details t is unsurprising that it was Colquhoun’s first professional, salaried force, with an emphasis on upholding the law and preventing criminality through deterrent was the model, coupled with clear financial cost-benefit analysis, which converted the English political economy to abandon law-enforcement founded in the medieval period and embrace the foundation of a public police force. Thus, when the Metropolitan Police Force was founded by statute in 1829, it resembled more the Marine Police Force than the mid eighteenth-century Bow Street Runners.

The only surviving copy?

Printed items are rarely unique, but occasionally there is justification for believing they are the only extant copy. This first instruction manual for the first modern London police force is entirely unrecorded in the usual databases. Given a likely print run just exceeding the size of the new force, around 50, and taking into account the ephemeral format and practical nature of such a book, it is entirely possible that this is the sole remaining example.

Full details:


[POLICE]. Instructions to marine police-constables serving as watchmen and guards for the protection of commercial property in ships and vessels in and upon the river thames, and in lighters passing from the said vessels to the quays and wharfs in the Port of London. Marine police-office, under the sanction of government. Instituted 2d July, 1798.
London. Printed by H.L. Galabin, Ingram-Court, Fenchurch-Street, 1798. First edition.8vo. 15pp, [1]. Not in ESTC.

[Bound third amongst a sammelband of seven works on policing, crime and punishment, with:]

I. FIELDING, Henry. An enquiry Into the causes of the late Increase of Roberts, &c. With some proposals for Remedying this Growing Evil… London. Printed for A. Millar, 1751. Second edition. [iii]-xxxii, 203pp, [1]. Without half-title. ESTC T89871
II. [WOOL]. Proposals For preventing the Running of Wool, And encouraging the Woollen Manufacture. London. Printed for J. Peele, 1731. [3]-31pp, [1]. Without half-title. Marking to title and following leaf, price shaved from imprint. ESTC T70310.
IV. [SERVAN, Mr.] Discours sur l’administration de la justice criminelle, prononce par Mr. Avocat-General. A Geneve, [i.e. Geneva]. [s.n.], 1767. [2], 152pp.
V. DRAGONETTI, Giacinto. Abhandlung von den Jugenden und ihren Belohnungen als eine Fortsetzung der Abhandlung von den Verbrechen und ihren Strafen Aus dem Franzosischen. Riga. ben J.F. Hartsnoch, 1769. First German edition. 88pp. Occasional shaving to running title. Rare, with OCLC locating a single copy (Danish Union catalogue).
VI. SONNERFELS, H.V. Uber die Abschaffung der Tortur. Zurich. Bey Orell, Gessner, Feusslin und Compagnie. 1775. First edition. 117pp, [3].
VII. ZAUPSER, Andreas. Gedanken uber einige Punkte des Kriminalrechtes in drei Abhandlungen. Munchen, [i.e. Munich]. Gedruckt bey Johann Paul Jacob Botter, 1777. 64, 79-80. Lacks E1-6, with tear to final leaf.

Finely bound in twentieth-century half tan morocco, gilt, over buckram boards, by Sangorski and Sutcliffe.