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Superintendent Charles Norcott    (1810 - 7/3/1838)

Charles Norcott - or to give him his full name, Charles Rossmore Robert Norcott - arrived in the Swan River Colony on the ship 'Warrior', March 12,1830. This enterprising young man was quite a catch for the colony in the social sense. He was the son of a renowned British hero of the Napoleonic Wars, Major General Sir Amos Norcott (1777-1838), a senior officer of the famous 95th regiment of foot (later part of the Rifle Brigade). Knowing something about Charles Norcott's father goes a long way towards explaining the younger man's career.

Amos Norcott, the son of another Amos Norcott and Henrietta Gordon, was born in London and gained a commission in the British army as early as 1794. He experienced long, hard service all over the world and during a 21-year period took part in 14 campaigns against the French and their allies. He became a friend of the future Duke of Wellington who, when they were serving in India in 1797, saved Norcott from ruin by borrowing money on his own account to pay off his brother officer's gambling debts. Amos Norcott appears to have been rather reckless and not afraid of taking risks, characteristics which were passed on to his son Charles. While serving as a lieutenant colonel in command of the 2nd battalion of his regiment, Amos Norcott was twice badly wounded - the second time at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

He was knighted for such exploits and later, in 1831, made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. By then he was a major general; he went on to become lieutenant governor of Jamaica and then officer in command of the Southern Military District in Ireland. While based at the port city of Cork, Sir Amos obtained an estate called Maryboro Park. He had married Elizabeth Noble in 1801; Charles Norcott was the fifth child and second son.

As a younger son, after a proper education, it was a matter of course for him to try and make his own way in the world. Parental influence and money were a help. Certain military connections were also relevant; it is worth noting that a quite a few Rifle Brigade veterans settled in the Swan River Colony.

In January 1831 Charles Norcott received a grant of 10 acres of land on Rottnest Island for the purpose of starting a fishing venture. The enterprise did not work out and he then sought Government employment. From 1832 onwards the colonial authorities were active in putting together a corps of mounted police to patrol the fringes of the settled areas and minimise conflict between settlers and aborigines. After a couple of unpleasant murders, Stirling put the pressure on and in the late autumn of 1834 was able to establish a well-regulated troop under the command of Chief Superintendent Theophilus Ellis.

Though scarcely 24 years old, Norcott was confirmed as Superintendent of Mounted Police for the Murray District on August 22,1834. The first major incident involving the troop came a little later. In October of that year Governor James Stirling led a party of 25 (including Ellis, superintendents Norcott and Richard Meares and five troopers) south-east of the Murray River to establish a town site. The journey ended in the well known combat with aborigines at Pinjarra on October 28. Norcott fought with daring and skill in the affair, in which Chief Superintendent Ellis was mortally wounded.

The three regional superintendents of the corps continued on with their work, but reduced trouble between colonists and aborigines inevitably led to less spending. On April 5, 1835 the services of superintendents Meares and Cheyne were dispensed with. Norcott was now the sole Superintendent of Mounted Police in the colony.

The young man played a prominent role in one of the great colonial exploring expeditions of the era. He set out with Governor Stirling and Surveyor John Septimus Roe and a party of 12, moving south from the Williams River in later 1835. Superintendent Norcott was in charge of five mounted troopers and a tracker. The expedition reached Albany on November 11 and was warmly welcomed by the Government Resident, Sir Richard Spencer. A fancy dress party was a centre piece of one of the celebrations. Stirling, Norcott and a few others headed north overland to York on December 14 and arrived back in Perth in early 1836. A monument in honour of the explorers was set up at Strawberry Hill Farm near Albany in 1985.

Notwithstanding the respect he had earned and his prominent place in colonial society, the young Norcott was unsatisfied with his official position. Financial pressure emanating from England led to further slicing and cutting at the expense of the Mounted Police. Governor Stirling had already advised him of measures regarding the possible 'removal of the Corps' in correspondence of May 22, 1835.

The superintendent lost patience and resigned in April 1836. He was planning to establish himself more securely as a gentleman farmer in the colony. In addition, marriage was in the air; he was involved in a romance with Rachel Burrows, a servant of Lady Stirling, the Governor's wife.

Charles Norcott left WA on May 28 on the vessel 'Sally Ann' with the idea of procuring livestock and returning to WA to take up farming and raise a family. Timing for the venture was good. His father, General Norcott, was fond of Charles and in a strong position to provide him with capital.

Unfortunately, all was not well with the family and ill-health intervened. The battered old hero Sir Amos Norcott passed away at Marybro Park in January 1838. There was not much time for the family to set things in order. To the horror of his relatives - and no doubt that of Rachel Burrows when she heard the news - Charles Norcott fell ill and died suddenly on March 7, 1838, just a few weeks after his father. He had been close to the general and was buried in the same grave as him.

In the far off Swan River Colony Rachel had given birth to a daughter some months after her 'beau' left for Ireland. Their child (illegitimate of course) was acknowledged and therefore not a source of awful shame. The infant Mary Lucille was adopted by Mrs Charles Boyd. Rachel was respectably married to Michael Hornby in 1849.


Peter Conole
WA Police Historian

peter.conole@police.wa.gov.au