Inverness-shire Constabulary PC Sinclair Tait (1883 onwards)

May 15, 2019 - Comment

Inverness-shire Constabulary PC Sinclair Tait (1883 onwards) Image by conner395 1,000 views on 18th October 2013 Here’s an enigma! For once I know WHO the officer is – but I do not know when the photograph was taken. Clearly it is a copy of a photograph, and perhaps it is a re-photograph of a newspaper/magazine

Inverness-shire Constabulary PC Sinclair Tait (1883 onwards)
survival 70 pcs
Image by conner395
1,000 views on 18th October 2013

Here’s an enigma! For once I know WHO the officer is – but I do not know when the photograph was taken. Clearly it is a copy of a photograph, and perhaps it is a re-photograph of a newspaper/magazine photo, as there is no detail, just dots!

The man in the photo is Constable Sinclair Tait of the Inverness-shire Constabulary but whether it was taken during (or before) his Inverness-shire service I cannot say.

His Inverness-shire record says that, prior to joining the force on 18th January 1883, he had previous police service:

  • Glasgow City Police – 2 years 4 months (Resigned)
  • Singapore Police – 1 year (resigned)

If this photograph was taken AFTER he joined Inverness-hire, then it would the only photographic evidence I know of, depicting an Inverness-shire officer wearing a helmet. Despite its having been the largest force in the Highlands, I have not yet in 30+ years of research established (let alone found an example) of the helmet badge worn by the force – but I do know, from correspondence, that such a badge did exist. Police Station,

On 9th August 1884 Inspector Peter MacKenzie, Lochmaddy, wrote a Constable on the Island of Barra: ”I am sending you and P.C. MacDonald a helmet each – both in one parcel addressed to you by the "Dunara Castle" on Monday next. It is requested that the ornaments will be transferred from
the old helmets to the new ones at once. They are to be placed 1 and 1/4 inch above the chain in the front of the helmets. You will require to use a piece (of) twine in fixing the ornaments. Be particular in fixing the ornaments, that the lower edge of the wreath will be 1 and 1/4 inch above the chain.”

I do suspect that this photograph was taken BEFORE he began with Inverness-shire, in view of the double set of buttons on the greatcoat, the 1870s style of "fireman" helmet, and the leather baton-holder worn on the belt.

Nevertheless, I would love to know for definite.

As regards Sinclair Tait, I received this copy (of a copy of a copy) from one of his descendants, many years ago. I was told he finished up as a Sergeant at Benbecula, and died before he could retire.

Well, his service record has survived (hence knowing about his previous police experience) and it shows he DID actually reach retirement, but did NOT achieve the rank of Sergeant. In point of fact, Inverness-shire had only a few (merely a handful) of Sergeant ranks during his service period. To make up for that however, a number of officers whose performance and behaviour was exemplary were elevated to First Class Constable, and may have actually worn one or more chevrons as a result – which could explain the confusion.

Anyhow, looking at PC Tait’s service, we find that this native of the County of Sutherland was 24 years of age and unmarried when he was appointed as a Constable in the Inverness-shire Constabulary on 18th January 1883. His time in Glasgow and Singapore must have been almost consecutive, and he would be not long back from overseas.

His first posting was a remote one – the village of Dalwhinnie.
Dalwhinnie (Scottish Gaelic: Dail Chuinnidh = "Meeting Place") is a small village on the Inverness-shire side of Drumochter Pass, through which flows the railway line and the A9 trunk road, both from the south to Inverness. It is also the point at which a spur road leads off through Laggan to Lochaber (Fort William) and the West Coast. Its position has always made it a strategic – if exposed – location. In the winter, conditions on the A9 can be atrocious and snowploughs and police are on constant patrol in an effort to keep the road open and to ensure safety of the travelling public. The road can be blocked for days if conditions are sufficiently bad (blowing drifting snow in freezing conditions causes mayhem and is not something you really want to experience unless fully survival-equipped in a police 4×4 – and even then you need to know when to give up and retreat for safety)

No 4×4 for PC Tait, just Shank’s Pony – but the traffic on the road back then would not have been that considerable, as its condition would not have been much more than a dirt-track. It was however an important entry/exit point from the County, and as such Chief Constable McHardy (newly appointed a month before PC Tait took office) considered it an important police post. McHardy would know the road well, having travelled that way frequently no doubt while Chief Constable. Of Sutherland, and before that Deputy Chief of fife (and before that, Deputy Chief of Sutherland). Just the location to place a man with some police service and experience.

It should be mentioned that in the time between the Inverness-shire force being set up in 1858 and until just before McHardy’s appointment as Chief on 2nd December 1882, the strength had slowly crept up from 29 to 44. McHardy wasted no time the last month of 1882 in taking stock. Between 1st January and 1883 and 5th March (64 days) he had hired 49 men – more than doubling the size of the force in process. Many already had police experience elsewhere, and/or were farm labourers – all experienced in hard work, heavy lifting (!!) and the Jighland weather. Some of the recruits – 8 in number – did not last out the year of 1883, and 3 longer-serving men also resigned for various reasons, but overall b y the end of 1883 the strength of the force had risen from 44 to 83 (all down to the major recruiting drive in the space of less than 3 months).

The extra manpower was required to cope with the developing civil unrest in the crofting areas of the huge Highland and Island County that is Inverness-shire.

In December 1884 PC Tait was transferred to Trumisgarry (north end of Isle of North Uist) and in September 1887 9/1887 he moved the few miles to Clachan et the south end of North Uist. The following April, it was back to Trumisgarry. Then in August 1896 he removed to Stoneybridge (on South Uist). After 13 years there, he made his final “flit” to the Island of Benbecula (which lies between the two Uists). On 2nd May 1910, and there he retired on 27 November 1913. The next two editions of the Chief Constable’s Annual Report record him receiving a pension, before the 1916 Report intimates ex-PC Tait had died on 23rd June 1916.

The size of the force gradually sank back down through natural attrition

1883: 83
1884: 79
1885: 80
1886: 74
1887: 70

  • and by 1901 was down to 64 by 1901, remaining static to the time Sinclair Tait retired, and then gradually dropped by 3 or 4 per year all through the War, before climbing to 63 in 1919. Then it remained static right through until 1939 when a significant rise (McHardy would have approved) resulted from the taking on of War Reserves, before returning to the mid-60s after peace returned. Thereafter a gradual increase occurred as duty hours were reduced and more time off (including a 2nd day off each week!)was granted. When the force merged with Inverness Burgh in 1968, it had 118 officers of all ranks.
  • Anyhow, at the very least there must have been at least 40 helmet badges (doubtless double that number if McHardy had one made for each officer in 1884) – so WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

I suspect they do not bear the Force name on them, and as such are not identifiable as police insignia – hence the reason nobody seems to have seen one. I wonder if Mr McHardy recalled all the helmets – or at least the badges – and they were either dumped (unlikely) or melted down for re-use (sadly very possible), I shall write more on this subject another time!


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