Victorian London - Police and Policing - Thames Marine Police

Police. - Except in respect of carrying out their patrolling work in boats instead of on foot, the Thames Police, or more correctly speaking under the present arrangement, the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police, differs but little from the other divisions of the force. Its head-quarter station is at Wapping, a little above the entrance of the old Thames Tunnel, now a station of the East London Railway, and has a pleasant look-out over the river, just at the junction between the Upper and Lower Pool. It is under the command of Superintendent William Alstin, who has under him 31 inspectors, 3 sergeants, and 115 constables; the latter being of a somewhat amphibious type, as is designated by their uniform, wherein the tight blue tunic is superseded by a blue double-breasted jacket, and the helmet by a hard glazed hat, such as, were it not carefully carried on the nape of the neck, might impart an additional polish to the forehead of Captain Cuttle himself. During the night from four to six boats are generally rowing guard in different parts of the river at the same time a fresh boat starting from the station hard every two hours to relieve the one whose watch is up. Each boat contains an inspector and two men, the latter of whom do the rowing, and a careful system of supervision is maintained by which the passing of each boat is checked at various and varying points throughout the night. An important portion of the duties of the Thames division consists in searching for and dealing with the bodies of suicides, murdered persons, and persons accidentally drowned. The dragging process is only carried on for one tide, after which it is considered that the missing body will pretty certainly have been carried out of reach, and it occasionally happens that a corpse will drift into a hole and be covered over before it becomes sufficiently buoyant to rise. Should it be eventually recovered, it is first photographed and then preserved as long as possible for identification, not at the station, but at the parish dead-house, following in these respects the regular course pursued with respect to all corpses found by the police in any part of the town, as well as the bodies of all insensible persons so found who may die before identification When ultimately buried on the coroner's order, the clothes are preserved by the parish authorities, but are only shown to those who bring with them a police order to that effect. The return of the number of persons arrested and convictions obtained by detectives attached to this division is rather curious. Up to 1875 there appear to have been no detectives attached to the division. In that year three were allotted to it, increased in 1877 to four; the number of arrests, however, which began in 1875 with 107, dropped in 1876 to 88, and fell again, notwithstanding the addition of the fourth detective, to 73 in 1877, whilst the convictions obtained fell from 70 to 57, and thence to 48. This does not appear to have arisen from any general decrease of crime in the neighbourhood; the K division which holds the bank of the river at Stepney, the L and M which patrol the southern bank at Lambeth and Southwark, and the R which performs the waterside duties of Greenwich, exhibiting for the most part rather an increase than otherwise, and in no case a similar continuous decrease. The apparent discrepancy, however, is no doubt susceptible of explanation. The division is one of the most hardly worked, and by far the most exposed to privation of any in the force, the night-guard rowing, especially in the storms and fogs of winter, being exceedingly trying.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881