The Iron Copper

Jeremiah Box StockdaleMemorial to Jeremiah Box Stockdale

Jeremiah Box Stockdale, the first Chief Constable of Cardiff Police, and (right) a memorial to him in St John’s Church, Cardiff. The tablet reads: “Jeremiah Box Stockdale, who for 34 years held the appointment of Superintendent of Police in the Borough of Cardiff, and died 21 August 1870, Aged 63 years”.

Jeremiah Box Stockdale

Jeremiah Box Stockdale (1807-1870) was born, the eldest son of the London publisher John Joseph Stockdale on 29th April 1807. His unusual middle name came from his mother, Sophia Box. It seems he was something of a ladies’ man, for in his youth he attracted the attention of Viscountess Kirkwall, a leading lady in London’s fashionable society. The favours of the Viscountess led Stockdale to a commission as a mercenary lieutenant in the Queens Own Irish Grenadiers. This privately raised regiment was organised to fight for the cause of Queen Donna Maria in her attempt to preserve the Spanish throne on behalf of the “Infanta” against the insurrection of Don Carlos, who argued that under Sallic Law no woman could become the sovereign of Spain. However the Grenadiers were almost destitute of military training and would have been of little use in actual warfare.

Embarking on the Manliness, a vessel chartered to convey the mercenaries to Spain, the Viscountess presented Stockdale with a handsome pocket book and diary in which she dispensed kindly, almost parental, advice over several pages. Stockdale took part in the attack and capture of Oporto, but his military career was a short one. He had no opportunity to display his bravery because he was invalided home just three months after his departure. On the return voyage his ship encountered a severe gale and every item of baggage was thrown overboard to lighten the vessel. Thus Stockdale arrived at Portsmouth, penniless and with only the clothes he stood up in.

He did not receive a penny in payment for his services, for by this time the Viscountess had lost interest both in the fate of the Spanish throne and that of her young hero. After remaining in Portsmouth for several weeks seeking work, he returned to London to enlist in the newly formed Metropolitan Police Force. As a result of this training and experience, Stockdale was able to obtain employment in 1836 as Cardiff’s Chief Policeman at such an early age.

Stockdale was just 24 years of age and over six feet tall. He wore a dark blue tunic and trousers trimmed with red cord, a peaked cap and a sword belt which was a relic of his military life. He would have cut a dashing, dazzling figure in the backwater township that was Cardiff in this period. However, the town council authorised payment of only £2 6s 0d to cover Stockdale’s expenses in relocating from London to Cardiff and Cardiff’s Chief Constable was also forced to subsidise his meagre earnings by acting as mine host at the Cardiff Boat public house in Womanby Street.

Yet, the glamorous and dynamic Stockdale was to remain Cardiff’s top policeman for 34 years, building a force of more than 60 constables to police a town with a population of 40,000 people. He grew with the town and became acquainted with almost every one of its inhabitants, as it became one of the major ports of the world. Stockdale was given the former County Gaol in St Mary Street as a police station and the old Town Hall as a lock-up, with his brief to train and organise men recruited locally. In the end, four people were appointed. Unable to rely on his men and with a limited budget, Stockdale led from the front. His youthful, flamboyantly dressed presence alone, in stark contrast to the ageing Parish Constables formally entrusted with the peace of the town, was enough to command respect.

However, his appearance also encouraged assaults by criminals. Within months of his appointment Stockdale had been attacked twice. A powerhouse of a man, there are many documented accounts of Stockdale’s bravery. In 1840, when a number of sea captains had been assaulted and robbed at night near the newly built West Dock, Stockdale dressed up as a sailor complete with large “souwester” and set himself up as bait. Aware that he was being followed by three men, he broke into a run. One of his assailants outpaced the others and caught up with Stockdale who knocked him down with a sharp blow to the nose. On seeing their companion knocked down, the other men deserted him. Stockdale’s attacker was arrested, several robberies proved against him and he was transported for seven years.

A second incident involved one of his own police officers. Substantial amounts of silk had been stolen from a Mr Hurndall who had come from London to open up a large drapery business in Cardiff. Hurndall alerted Superintendent Stockdale to the fact that many women in town were wearing dresses made of the stolen silk. It transpired that the goods were being sold at a public house and supplied by a police constable named Fisher, who absconded.

Stockdale heard Fisher was in Wiltshire and he successfully apprehended him at Salisbury. He took the precaution of handcuffing Fisher’s wrists together before placing him in a train for Cardiff. Approaching Bath, Fisher complained that one of the cuffs was cutting his wrists and requested it be removed. This was done and Fisher suddenly opened the carriage door and jumped out, followed by Stockdale who had seized him by the collar. Both men rolled down the embankment struggling, but Fisher made good his escape and shouting back to the dazed Superintendent, “Not caught yet, Stockdale.”

Stockdale offered a reward of £20 for information of Fisher’s whereabouts. One morning he received a letter from London. Fisher’s betrayer was a former sweetheart of the woman with whom Fisher lived as his wife and who had left him for Fisher. Stockdale enlisted the help of two detectives from Scotland Yard and travelled to the capital to make the arrest. Initially Fisher overpowered his adversaries but on seeing Superintendent Stockdale, gave himself up. He was brought to Cardiff, where he admitted the robberies, and was sentenced to 14 years transportation.

Stockdale’s most famous arrest followed the Chartist demonstrations outside the Westgate Hotel in Newport in 1839 when several prominent Chartist leaders fled to various parts of Wales. One of the ringleaders, Zephaniah Williams, escaped to Cardiff where he took refuge in the Sea Lock Hotel while he waited for passage to France in a trading ship called The Vintage..

Williams was smuggled out to the trader at night to await the morning tide but Stockdale, aware of his presence at the Sea Lock Hotel and disguised as a ragged seaman, had been maintaining surveillance. Stockdale, in a boat, approached The Vintage through the mist-laden river, challenged the captain and handcuffed Williams before he was fully awake. Williams, together with John Frost and William Jones, went on trial at Monmouth Assizes and all three men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. However the death sentence was overturned by the Lord Chief Justice who ruled that the men were not guilty of treasonable offences. They were transported instead to Australia.

Cardiff’s first race riot

Despite Superintendent Stockdale’s formidable reputation, he was subjected to fierce criticism following a vicious murder in 1848 which sparked off Cardiff’s first race riot. Welshman Thomas Lewis was walking with his wife along the city’s Stanley Street, when he was brutally stabbed to death by John Conners, one of many Irish immigrants who had settled in the area. Stockdale, on duty, was alerted to the crime by the sound of a woman screaming. However he was too late to apprehend Conners who had made good his escape into the destitute Stanley Street area. The local population, already incensed by two earlier murders of Welshmen by Irishmen, were infuriated by this latest outrage. Serious disturbances broke out, with Welsh mobs rampaging through the immigrant areas of the city looking for the fugitive Connors.

Connors was eventually arrested at Pontypridd, found guilty of manslaughter and transported to Botany Bay for the remainder of his natural life. At the funeral of the murdered man, Irish railway navvies lined the route armed with pickaxes, ready to protect the resident Irish population against Welsh reprisals.

Stockdale received much unjustified criticism in the media following the death of Thomas Lewis, with the press complaining that Connors was allowed to be at large in the streets of Cardiff for at least 24 hours after the murder. Pressure continued to build on Stockdale with local councillors from the Cardiff Watch Committee, who were responsible for maintaining the police force and for dealing with cases of indiscipline by police officers, describing Cardiff Borough Police force as a “ragged regiment.” Every monthly meeting of the Watch Committee noted some indiscretion by a minimum of three police officers, most commonly drunkenness on duty, assault, frequenting brothels and incivility.

To compound Stockdale’s problems, as Cardiff continued to expand and develop as one of the world’s great seaports, Tiger Bay began to gain a notorious reputation as a den of vice and iniquity. Opium dens, posing as Chinese laundries, began to make an appearance. Sailors found themselves “Shanghaied” by prostitutes. Prostitution during this period of Cardiff’s history was so rife that one police officer claimed to have raided more than 80 brothels in one year!

It required all Stockdale’s dedication and experience to maintain law and order with such a small force under him. Gradually he built up the strength of the constabulary to over 60 men, but it was inevitable that there would be occasions when the limited means at his disposal would be unable to prevent bloodshed. In 1856, during a fight between Greek and American seamen, both sides resorted to knives and revolvers but these were “encounters of such frequent occurrence that little notice was taken of them.”

Stockdale’s qualities of tact and diplomacy were utilised to the full when he managed to defuse a potentially dangerous situation at the onset of the Crimean War when a Russian and a Turkish ship found themselves moored alongside each other in the East Dock. Upon hearing that the Turks were sharpening their scimitars and behaving aggressively towards the Russian crew, Stockdale ordered the vessels to be berthed on opposite sides of the dock. He hurried the departure of the Russian vessel and then found excuses to detain the Turkish vessel for a further three days.

However such successes were few and far between. Statistics for 1857 confirmed that Cardiff was becoming increasingly violent. In that year there were three murders, three cases of attempted murder, two shooting offences and 611 assaults, including an average of three attacks on every policeman. The last public execution in Cardiff was also carried out in 1857 before a crowd of 12,000 people, when John Lewis of Merthyr was hanged for killing his wife.

Crisis point was reached in 1869 when the business premises of a Mr Whiffen of Church Street, Cardiff, were broken into. Whiffen, a prominent member of the Watch Committee, was furious at the burglary and verbally attacked Stockdale at the next Committee Meeting. He claimed that the force was “not in such a good condition as it might be” and his comments prompted the appointment of a sub-committee which concluded that Stockdale had outlived his usefulness and called for his resignation.

The ingratitude of the Watch Committee is further underlined in the light of Stockdale’s achievements. Despite the inauspicious beginnings of the Cardiff Borough Police Force, Stockdale had built up an efficient force of 60 men that included a police band to entertain the public in Sophia Gardens. He had also established an efficient fire service for the town. In 1840 he introduced two manual fire engines which were kept under the old Town Hall in High Street. By the time he left office Stockdale had overseen the construction of a fire engine house at the rear of the new Town Hall. Fire hydrants had been placed at convenient points and the Borough boasted a horse-drawn steam fire engine. Two regular firemen from the police supervised 12 civilian volunteers who responded to an emergency either from their homes or their places of work.

A bitter Stockdale appealed to the Committee that he “can hardly think that the Corporation would wish to terminate the connection which has so long subsisted between them and an old and tried servant” under circumstances which were “so painful to his feelings.” Ultimately he survived by the skin of his teeth, with his resignation refused by the Watch Committee by just 10 votes to 9. Just 15 months later on 7 September 1870, Jeremiah Box Stockdale’s sudden and untimely death was reported in the Watch Committee minutes.

His death, like his life, was played out against a background of drama and excitement. Stockdale had been given permission to take leave of absence from duty for his annual vacation. The usual term of a month was extended on this occasion to six weeks, as he intended to visit Constantinople. However, before he could leave France war was declared, and Stockdale was one of the residents in Metz when strangers were ordered to withdraw from that town. Finding his route obstructed, Stockdale lingered near the thick of the action for a while before returning to Dover where he became ill. He was brought home to Cardiff where he expired a short time afterwards, the diagnosis being “congestion of the brain, supervening upon an attack of acute mania.”

Jeremiah Box Stockdale was buried at St John’s Church in Cardiff on 27 August 1870. The funeral was a public one at the request of the majority of Cardiff citizens who wished to pay their respects. The Cardiff Argus paid tribute to him, describing him “as to some extent, fitted by nature to the position he filled,” and the Cardiff Times captured the public mood by referring to Stockdale as the “Prince of Thief Takers.”

* Extracted from an article, with thanks, on the website of the South Wales Police Museum under the heading “History of Cardiff Police (1836-1870): The Appointment of Jeremiah Stockdale”. The museum’s website:


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