History of Marine Policing

Marine Police Waterloo Pier

The MPU enjoys a rich history dating back to it’s formation in 1798 when magistrate Patrick Colquhoun and Master Mariner John Harriott set up the Marine Policing Establishment to combat an epidemic of theft that blighted the cargo ships and their precious cargos that entered and left the Pool of London.

The initial set up costs to provide 30 officers and sufficient boats amounted to £4200. It is estimated that after its first year of operation, it had recovered £122,000 worth of cargo and saved countless lives.

The ill feeling amongst the thieves that the Marine Police were denying them of their livelihood was such that it sparked a riot outside the Wapping Police Office during which Marine Police Officer Gabriel Franks was shot dead. Franks was the first police officer to be recorded as killed in the line of duty.

The Marine Police Establishment lays claim to a number of other firsts, most notably that it was the first established modern police force in the world (although this claim is disputed by the US Coastguard!).

When The Metropolitan Police was formed by act of parliament in 1829, the Marine Police remained a separate organisation, but was later incorporated into the Met in 1839 as Thames Division - a policing division in its own right with sole responsibility for policing the Thames. At it’s height, Thames Division had an establishment of over 250 officers operating from 6 Police Stations along the Thames from Erith to Shepperton.

This rich history is kept alive by a dedicated group of former Thames Division and Marine Policing Unit Officers from the Thames Police Association. You can read more about the fascinating history of the Thames Marine Police on their website - see related external links.