Transcribed by Lyn Nunn - 12 July 2008



"In a time when there was no regulated police force as we know it today, citizens were required to provide their own watch system to ensure the safety and peace of their towns and villages. Night time was often the most troublesome.


"So, on the 16 May 1812, a meeting was held in the Exchange Rooms for the residents of Belfast for the purpose of forming a night watch. At that meeting it was resolved that a nightly watch be appointed consisting of four constables selected from the residents, along with a military guard as protection for the town for a period of twelve months. Two gentlemen from each street were appointed whose duty it would be to record the names of suitable candidates that were capable and willing to act as constables. They were as follows:


Donegall Place and Square                William CLARK & William BATT


North Street                                        Hugh WILSON & James LUKE


Donegall Street                                   Arthur CRAWFORD & William JOHNSTON


Waring Street                                      Dr TENNENT & John WHITTLE


High St. & Bridge the Quay        William DAVISON & Mr GARDNER


Bridge Street to the Bank Bldgs.        James MCADAM & Dr BIGGER


Bridge Street                                       Mr BLACK & George LEPPER


Rosemary Lane                                  James BLAIR & Hugh JOHNSON


Hercules Lane                                     George BLACK & F TAGGART


Castle Street                                       John MCCAMMON & John BARNETT


Ann Street                                           Campbell GRAHAM & Robert TELFAIR


Arthur Street                                       Henry ROWAN & William TUCKER


Smithfield                                            A. BAYLEY & C. HUDSON


"Francis TAGGART was appointed secretary and Messrs MCADAM, MCCLEAN, MCDOWELL and Dr TENNENT were to look for a suitable place to use for confinement.


"A suitable place seems to have taken a while to procure as, from an initial report, it appears prisoners were kept in the Exchange Rooms at first. Later a place had been built at Ferguson’s Entry near Smithfield and it was suggested that as previous to this place being built, disorderly women, that were said to “infest the streets during the greatest part of the night,” had been ignored but now, if they were found rioting, making noise or disturbing the peace of the inhabitants they could be taken there and placed into custody. Otherwise, if the chief constable thought fit, he could take them to the prison with instructions on whether to release them in the morning or hold them pending further instructions."




"Thomas WARD was chief constable on duty at the Exchange guard room on the 22nd June 1812 when he reported that, apart from himself, the other constables on duty were Michael [?] ANDREWS, Henry HOLDEN and James MURRAY. Sergeant WEANRY from the Dumfries Militia had 2 Corporals and 12 Privates on duty as guards. In his report he records that at eleven o’clock the constables and guards went out in 3 parties and for the first shift all was quiet but when they went out a second time at a quarter to one o’clock they found  “ a man perfectly intoxicated lying in the street”. As the man was incapable of giving his name or address, he was brought into the guardroom and left to sleep it off in a way they felt he would not suffocate himself. By one o’clock they reported that the streets were “tolerably crowded but very peaceable”. By quarter past one it was silent in the streets, however about three quarters of an hour later, John King MACAULEY, a dancing master was making a lot of noise in the street and was seemingly very intoxicated. He was brought in to the guard rooms while John FINLAY, a recruit and quite sober but who was really only looking for some lodging for a few hours was locked out. Robert BARR and James MULLEN were also brought in being unable to account for themselves other than “that they were taking a glass of punch.” All was well again by ten minutes to three o’clock whereby at three o’clock all the prisoners were discharged and the guard dismissed on what the constable described as a very fine morning in a perfectly quiet town.


"Another report on the 20th August 1812 records that a gentleman came in when the guards were out on their first round requesting that some guards be sent to Waring Street where there was a fight involving some Portuguese sailors using knives. The chief constable said he went to investigate himself and “brought one of them in, a black.” A boy was also brought in that night who had been “ill-used” and as the whores had been “troublesome all night” it appears that the purpose built building at Ferguson’s Entry was not yet completed."




"Finding volunteers became difficult, perhaps exacerbated by the threat of cold weather as winter moved in. On the 19th November 1812 there was a meeting of the committee that managed the nightly patrol. Present were: Robert TENNENT, John WHITTLE, Archer BAYLEY, John WARD, William TUCKER, George LEPPER and James MUNFOAD and they resolved that James MUNFOAD and Dr TENNENT were to present the Sovereign with the following letter signed by the members of the committee:


To Thomas Verner Esq. Sovereign


We the undersigned being appointed a committee to superintend the regulation of the night patrol at a meeting of the inhabitants held in the exchange room on the 20th May last, finding of late such an unwillingness in many of the persons to serve on that duty whose names were given in to us, and in many cases positive refusal from those who are possessed of large property in the town, request you to call a meeting of the inhabitants on as early a day as may be convenient to you, in order that we lay the case before them and either resign the trust committed to us or let the meeting adopt some more effectual plan. Signed by:


James MUNFOAD, John WHITTLE, Archer BAYLEY, Campbell GRAHAM, George ASH, John WARD, William TUCKER, George LEPPER, Robert CALLWELL, Robert MCGEE, Robert MCGEE [sic].


"At the subsequent requested meeting the night watch was ceased and the record of the meeting was apparently the last entry until February 1816 when the system was again renewed but once again only lasted a few months."


SOURCE: “Extracts from report of Belfast Special Constables of nightly watch transactions, 1812 and 1816” in Problems of a Growing City: Belfast 1780-1870, PRONI, Belfast, 1973, pp.61-66.