Sir Robert Peel (1788 – 1850)

Not ones to let cold weather put us off, the Bulovics were rambling around Lyttelton one particularly cold weekend not so long ago, checking up on some historic sites. It was then that I noticed a blue lantern attached to the outside of the Lyttelton Police Station (pictured). With its glass of rich dark blue; a well known icon of the police force – once offering a comforting and directional blue light into the dangerous darkness of a Victorian night. So, before anyone could say ‘Peelers’, we were hunched over the iPad, doing a search on the background of this lantern.

Sir Robert Peel, the 2nd Baronet, was born in Bury, Lancashire on 5th February 1788. Like many of the Canterbury Association’s members – years later – Peel was educated as a young man at Christ Church in Oxford. He excelled in classics and mathematics, and by 1809 he had settled into his studies ofLaw. In his spare time, he served as a Captain in local military service.

At the age of 21, he had his first taste of politics. He became a Member of Parliament for Rotten Borough of Cashel in Tipperary. It was there that he became good friends with war hero, the Duke of Wellington (shown with Peel in 1844), who would support this young Politian for the rest of his career.

In 1814, as Chief Secretary of Dublin, he introduced a specialised British police force into Ireland, later known on the streets as ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’. They were actually the ‘Royal Irish Constabulary’ and functioned as such until 1922.   They were the result of the ‘Peace Preservation Act 1814’ passed by Peel and his supporters (known as ‘Peelites’) in the Government.

A few years were quiet for Peel, serving as the War and Chief Secretary for Ireland. He was also the Chairman of the ‘Bullion Committee’ who was assigned to set up the new British financial system following the Napoleonic Wars.

But it was in 1829 that Peel secured his place in history when he reformed the British Criminal Law with the passing of the ‘Metropolitan Police Act 1829’. He employed 1000 constables, reduced the number of crimes which carried the death penalty, sorted wages for gaolers and introduced education opportunities to those serving time. He became known as the ‘Father of Modern Policing’.

He became the British Prime Minister for 100 days in 1834 – developing what is considered the modern Conservative Party. They faced so much opposition that the party soon collapsed. He was back in the role in 1841, mostly renowned for re-introducing Income Tax and for passing the ‘Factory Act 1844’ – improving working conditions and reducing the number of hours that women and children were expected to work.

Even after surviving an assassination attempt, which claimed the life of his personal secretary, his future in Politics was no way secure. He lost favour during the ‘Catholic Emancipation’ – from which he jumped, unprofessionally, from opposing to supporting; coupled with his lack of quick response to the ‘Great Irish Famine’, it cost him his place in government.

On 29th June 1850, he was thrown from his horse, the frightened creature then stumbled on top of him. He died 3 days later from a clavicular fracture.  He was the first British Prime Minister to ever have his photo taken and is acknowledged (in Canterbury, New Zealand) by the naming of Mount Peel and Peel Forest.

But maybe what honours him the most is that his forward thinking and actions in the Prison and Police Reform still survives today – throughout the world’s police forces and in every little blue Police Lantern.

*Photo of the Lyttelton Police Station taken by Annette Bulovic*
*Image of Victorian ‘Bobbie’ courtesy of the Liverpool Park Police –*


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