William Camphin – first Detective

– William Camphin –

The Blue Bar of the Law

William Camphin followed Henry Wager as officer in charge of detectives. Camphin was born in England and started his working life in an English Cotton Mill. He emigrated to New South Wales and on the 13th of May, 1858, he got an appointment to work under the Colonial Government. In 1862 he joined the New South Wales Police Force, the year the force was reorganised under the new Act.

It was not long before William Camphin joined the detectives and distinguished himself by investigating successfully a large number of intricate cases. He was involved in many dangerous operations involving bushrangers. In his early days prior to the formation of the Criminal Investigation Branch, Camphin then a detective, became involved in the hunt for the bushrangers Lowry and Woodhardt. The Inspector General of Police, Mr. McLerie sent Camphin and his work mate Saunderson to the Tuena Gold Fields with instructions to apprehend Lowry and Woodhardt. Camphin disguised himself as a digger (gold miner) and penetrated a group of friends and sympathisers of the bushrangers.

The detectives activities in those days were much the same as they are today and Detective Camphin soon obtained information that the Lowry Gang were meeting at Vardy’s Hotel at Tuena. Camphin obtained the information by buying several rounds of drinks for the bushrangers sympathisers. He paid for the drinks with a ten pound note. He got nine one pound notes in his change. Being a good detective he checked the serial numbers of the notes and found they were the proceeds of the Mudgee Mail Robbery.

Camphin relayed this information to Goulburn but before the police could return to Vardy’s Hotel with a search warrant they received information that two troopers performing an escort had been attacked by bushrangers and their prisoner killed. This delayed Camphin’s raid on the hotel.

On the 29th of August, 1863, Detective Camphin went with other police to Vardy’s Hotel on information that the bushranger Lowry was there. The information was correct and siege began with Lowry locking himself in one of the rooms of the hotel. In the resulting gun fight Lowry and Senior Sergeant Stephenson became involved in hand to hand combat and both discharged their revolvers. Lowry’s bullet hit Stephenson’s coat and Stevenson’s shot gave Lowry a mortal wound. Lowry died at six o’clock the next morning. Detective Camphin arrested several people at the hotel and recovered property stolen from the Mudgee Mail Coach.

Detective Camphin served with distinction under Detective Inspector Wager and on Wager’s retirement Camphin was appointed Officer in Charge of Detectives on 1st June, 1880. His salary at the time was 250 pounds per annum, plus 50 pounds in lieu of quarters. In 1883 he was promoted from Sub-Inspector to Inspector and in 1885 his salary was increased to 325 pounds per annum. During this period he handled the Parramatta River Murders which were rather bizarre at the time and arrested the offenders, Nicols and Lester who were later hanged for the commission of the offences.

William Camphin retired on the 2nd January, 1902 with the rank of Detective Superintendent and he died on the 20th December, 1909. He is buried in the Waverly Cemetery, not far from the resting place of his predecessor, Henry Wager.

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