History

Founded in 1798 by a partnership between the West India Committee, Scottish magistrate Patrick Colquhoun, merchant-adventurer John Harriott and the Government of the day, the Thames River Police are recognised by UNESCO as the oldest continuously serving police force in the world. Originally called the Marine Police, they were created with the aim of preventing theft from ships carrying valuable goods from the West Indies, which were moored in the Port of London on the River Thames. They were revolutionary for the time as they aimed to prevent crime as opposed to merely reacting to it when it occurred, and they employed men drawn from the community that worked on the river to achieve this aim. They quickly proved their worth and were adopted by the state in 1800 in order to protect all vessels on the Thames. From this point on, they were known as the Thames River Police and continued to demonstrate the effectiveness of preventative policing techniques, of which they were pioneers, both on the water and on land, such as in the case of the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811.

Eventually, the Metropolitan Police were founded in 1829 on the same ideas of preventative, community policing that the Thames River Police had proven to be effective. For this reason, the Thames River Police are considered to be the forerunners of the Metropolitan Police. Although they continued as a separate force for ten years after the creation of the Metropolitan Police, they were eventually absorbed into the later force as a distinct unit, Thames Division. Despite these changes, they continued to protect people and property on the river, through such events as the Princess Alice disaster of 1878, the World Wars and the Marchioness disaster of 1989.

Today they are known as the Marine Policing Unit and continue their historic mission from the same site in Wapping where they have been based since 1798.

For a detailed history, please read our e-book.