Joseph Dyer of the Mounted Staff Corps
by Diane Oldman and Peter Conole
Joseph Dyer served in the Mounted Staff Corps. The brief history of that small and rather obscure unit – a precursor of the modern Provost Corps – deserves some recognition, despite the scarcity of documentation.
Dyer was born c. 1828 in Rayne near Braintree, Essex. His marriage certificate (1856) reveals he was the son of a coachman, Joseph Dyer, by then deceased. However, in 1841 Joseph and his father were both working as hostlers at Broomfield, Chelmsford, Essex.
Dyer joined the London Metropolitan Police on September 25, 1848 and was posted to the Kennington Police Station in York Row (later Lambeth Station). He had obtained references from the Reverend Doctor Emmerton of Hanwell and Mr George Virtue, Ivy Lane in the City. He resigned on August 22, 1854 to serve in the Crimean War. Joseph Dyer joined (regimental number 25) the recently established Mounted Staff Corps, a body comprised mostly of Irish Constabulary recruits but with some hand-picked men from the London Met.
The Corps was formed on August 1, 1854 and placed under the command of Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant (1822-1861). The officer was a notable early settler of British Columbia and the son of Colquhoun Grant, Wellington’s senior military intelligence man in the Peninsula War. Grant was given the local rank of major for his new posting. The men he led were tasked with maintaining discipline in camps and bases at the front and checking offences such as theft of supplies. Grant’s unit consisted of three other officers and 56 NCOs and other ranks.
The unit arrived in the Crimea by October 1854 as 24 men were engaged at the Battle of Balaclava of which two later died of wounds. The remainder of enlisted men declined well before Christmas and most out of action, i.e., in hospital in the camps before Sebastopol or at Scutari. As Deputy-Judge Advocate William Govett Romaine wrote to his friend Lord George Mulgrave back in England on December 22: “A wet night doubles the number of deaths in camp and increases the sick in hospital…of the fine Corps of Mounted Staff Police numbering 52 [sic] when they arrived there are now only 25 fit for duty”. In all 16 enlisted men – over a quarter of those who served – lost their lives, 12 of them during the period November 1854-February 1855.
Regardless of the above, the Corps soldiered on during 1855. They did well enough to inspire the Army establishment back in England to form, following a suggestion of the Provost Marshall at Aldershot on June 13, 1855, a permanent body of Mounted Military Police. Officers and men from various cavalry regiments were selected; the new outfit began life at Aldershot on July, 4 1855. Their predecessors on active service continued the good work in the Crimea but were not fondly regarded by the high command or army rank and file. Lord Raglan’s successor General Sir James Simpson wrote to Lord Panmure (Secretary of State for War) from the Crimea on July 7 stating that “I also dread those so-called military corps that are sent to this country with enormous pay – like the Royal Mounted Staff Corps – as such a system is most unpleasant to our regular troops, who are doing the same duty on a soldier’s pay”.
We know nothing of Dyer’s personal experiences during the war, but he gave good service. A senior Metropolitan Police officer claimed his conduct in the Crimea was “so exemplary that that he was made a non-commissioned officer…he is a very intelligent man”. Dyer did obtain a temporary promotion to corporal by November 15, 1855. He received the Crimea War Medal with clasp for Sebastopol. Joseph re-joined the Metropolitan Police after returning to England and was on duty in Lambeth, Surrey when he married Elizabeth Williams at St Mary’s Church on February 5, 1856. The couple had no children.
A few months later opportunity beckoned for Constable Joseph Dyer. The colonial authorities in Western Australia were attempting to raise standards in the local Police Force. A despatch of February 23, 1856 from the Governor and his Executive Council requested that six officers from London be selected for service in that distant colony. The men were chosen by October, but passages for the colony were not available for some time. The men were required to resign from the Met and join the colonial police on January 28, 1857, while still in England.
Dyer and his comrades finally set sail on the Travancore and arrived in Fremantle on April 29, 1857. By any standards the man had a successful career in the WA Police, one that was hampered only by budgetary constraints imposed on the organisation in the 1870s. He began as a constable and won promotion to corporal in May 1857, then to sergeant in August 1861. From 1865 onwards he was entrusted with the command of large districts extending over thousands of square miles. Joseph Dyer reached the commissioned rank of sub-inspector on the first day of 1870 and in April 1872 moved to the port of Bunbury to take command of the huge south-western district.
Unfortunately within four years Dyer and other serving police in the colony had reason for concern about rumours of cost and staffing reductions. The local press had been discussing the possibility since 1873. Joseph and his wife timed their response well. He resigned on January 9, 1876 and they departed from the colony on the Zephyr exactly one week later. As a former commissioned officer Dyer would have received a good gratuity after his resignation, enough to make a fresh start back in England.
After returning to England Joseph became a publican. He is recorded in the census as the licensed victualler of the Station Inn, Earlswood, in Reigate, Surrey. Elizabeth Dyer died in late 1881. Joseph Dyer passed away at the Station Inn on September 4, 1884, leaving a personal estate of £627.
Grandfather was a Policeman, M. Bentley, Hesperian Press, Western Australia 1993.
Censuses of England & Wales, National Archives, Kew.
London Metropolitan Archives, Guildhall, London.
Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre, West Brompton, London.
Romaine’s Crimean War, Major Colin Robins et al, Sutton Publishing Company 2005.
Crimean War Medal Rolls WO100/24 folios 31-35, National Archives, Kew.
Panmure Papers, G Douglas and G B Ramsay, London 1908.
History of the Military Mounted Police, RMP Mounted 2009 Website.
British Army, Provost Police, Website.
Protect and Serve: a history of policing in Western Australia, P Conole, Western Australia Police 2002.
National Probate Calendar Index of Wills & Administration, National Archives, Kew.
© Diane Oldman 2016