Constable Joseph LUKER

Assault – Cutlass


26 August, 1803


On the night of 25/26 August, 1803 Constable Luker was patrolling Back Row East, Sydney Town. His intention that night was to endeavour to capture a number of burglars who had recently committed several offences on homes in the area. In the early hours of the morning, during his patrol near Mary Breeze’s dwelling (where an offence had been committed earlier that night) Constable Luker was set upon by a group of offenders and beaten to death. He suffered horrific head wounds and when found had his cutlass guard embedded in his skull. Another constable, Isaac Simmons, was strongly suspected of the murder however this allegation was never sustained, although he was almost certainly guilty. For the offences of stealing and Luker’s murder Joseph Samuels was sentenced to death (commuted when three attempts to hang him failed) and John Russell was acquitted. Constables Isaac Simmons and William Bladders were both also found not guilty.


Australia’s first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette of Sunday 28 August, 1803 reported the story of Constable Luker’s murder and the ensuing enquiry in some detail, informing its readers that “Joseph Luker, a Constable, whose time of duty commenced at twelve o’clock, went off his post, as is conjectured, at or rather before daylight, with a design of examining the brush behind Back Row; but was shortly afterwards found on the edge of the road leading to Farm Cove, a breathless corpse, shockingly mangled, and with the guard of his cutlass buried in his brain…”


The same newspaper reported on 6 November, 1803 that “A Grave-Stone has lately been erected over the head of the late unfortunate Luker, with an Inscription and Epitaph descriptive of the circumstances of his death”. The headstone, which was four feet (1.2m) in height, bore the following inscription (with an incorrect date of death).


Sacred to the Memory of

JOSEPH LUKER, Constable;


Aug. 19 1803. Aged 35 Years.

Resurrexit in Deo.


My midnight Vigils are no more,

Cold sleep and Peace succeed;

The pains of Death are passed and o’er,

My wounds no longer bleed.

But when my murderers appear

Before Jehovah’s Throne,

Mine will it be to vanquish there,

And theirs t’endure alone.


At the time of his death the constable was stationed in Sydney, at the eastern side of the settlement. He was an ex-convict who had been transported on the Atlantic in 1791, and had been a free man since 1796. Hewas the first Australian police officer to be killed on duty.


(Back Row East is now Phillip Street, Sydney and the site of the murder lies in the area bounded by Phillip Street, Hunter Street, Macquarie Street and Martin Place.)


Mystery solved in time for Police Remembrance Day

MORE than 200 years after Constable Joseph Luker was bashed to death while investigating a robbery near a Sydney brothel, the officer’s grave has finally been found again.

With the discovery of Constable Luker‘s original grave under Town Hall, the police have solved a Sydney mystery over the burial site of the first officer in Sydney to die on duty.

As the force prepares to commemorate fallen officers on Police Remembrance Day today, the story of Constable Luker’s final resting place can finally be told.

After years searching graveyard records, recent excavations under the Town Hall have revealed Constable Luker was buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground, which was used from 1792 to 1820. Constable Luker’s grave was markedassassinated“.

Records show the bodies of three policemen, including Constable Luker, were exhumed in 1869 when building began on the Town Hall site and they were interred at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney’s west.

“It is important to police as an organisation that we ensure we honour and pay respect to those who have served before us and that is why we have continued to search for Joseph Luker’s burial place,” Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said yesterday.

“Joseph Luker paid the highest price for protecting the citizens of the then fledgling colony. No organisation should ever forget the sacrifices of its staff.”

Sydney City Council found records showing another two officers, Constables Joseph Haynes and John Farmer, were buried on the Town Hall site but nothing is known about how they died.

Constable Luker was on a midnight patrol after a spate of burglaries near prostitute Mary Breeze’s brothel in Phillip St, then known as Back Row, east Sydney Town, in August 1803.

He had been beaten to death and his cutlass guard was wedged in his skull when his body was found near Macquarie St.

In one of the first scandals to rock the police, two of his colleagues were suspected but were never convicted.

A message to his killers was posted on his headstone at the Town Hall site telling them: “My midnight vigils are no more, Cold Sleep and Peace succeed . . . But when my murderers appear, before JEHOVAH’s Throne, Mine will be to vanquish there, And theirs t’endure alone.”

The 35-year-old was a convict who served seven years transportation before joining a fledgling police force.

Mr Scipione urged people to wear a blue ribbon on the right-hand side of their shirt today to show support for police. He said remembering lost officers was a way to offer continued support and comfort to their families.

“It means we will never forget their courage and sacrifice,” he added.