Brosnans and the formation of the Australian Federal Police

A couple of years ago on this blog I began looking at Brosnans/Brosnahans who died on active service during WWI.  I never took that further than the Australian Brosnan war dead and maybe I should carry on the work a bit further.  Right now, however, it seems more appropriate to remember Brosnans who made their mark with anti-war activity.  Over the next wee while I’m going to write up something of the Brosnans who opposed conscription in New Zealand and paid the penalty of losing their freedom for their troubles.  But first, I want to mark an important centenary being celebrated in Queensland today.  This commemoration remembers a pair of Australian Brosnan brothers who took their anti-conscription fight direct to the Australian Prime Minister of the day, Billy Hughes.  On 29 November 1917 Pat and Bart Brosnan were involved in throwing eggs at the PM as he got off a train at Warwick in Queensland during Australia’s controversial conscription referendum debate.

One of the eggs hit the prime minister’s hat, setting off a physical stoush on the railway platform as Hughes’s supporters and anti-conscription protestors clashed.  After the latter had been removed from the station, the Prime Minister began his speech promoting conscription.  But Pat Brosnan returned to the platform and began interjecting.  This prompted Hughes to wade into the crowd, calling for Pat to be arrested.  And here’s where this minor incident in the great furore of those months in 1917, when Australian society was riven by the conscription issue, took an unexpected turn, and one that would have long-term consequences.   The policeman at hand, you see, was Senior Sergeant Henry Kenny, a Catholic of Irish descent who refused to make an arrest on the grounds that the egg throwers might have breached Commonwealth law but he was only answerable to the Queensland government.

This led directly to Hughes subsequently setting up the first Commonwealth police force since he was convinced that the Queensland force was “honeycombed with Sinn Feiners”.  The significance of the  “Warwick egg incident” is even noted on the official website of the current Australian Federal Police:

“… federal policing in Australia can trace its origins to the closing stages of World War 1 to an incident when Queensland Police would not follow the directions of Prime Minister William Hughes.  On 29 November 1917 while campaigning to introduce military conscription, Hughes was the target of eggs thrown by protestors when he arrived at Warwick Railway Station in southern Queensland. Prime Minister Hughes was incensed that the attending Queensland Police would not arrest the offenders under federal law, so when he returned to Parliament he set about drafting legislation to create the Commonwealth Police Force (CPF). The ‘Warwick Incident’ was the last straw for the Prime Minister who was engaged in a range of jurisdictional struggles with the Queensland Government at the time.”

I don’t know much about Pat and Bart Brosnan but years later when Billy Hughes died, Pat Brosnan was interviewed by the Melbourne Age, expressing his sympathies for Hughes’s widow and his admiration for his long ago adversary:

Melbourne Age, 30 October 1952:

“Mr. Patrick Brosnan, the man who threw the celebrated Warwick egg at Mr. W. M. Hughes in 1917, is going to send Dame Mary Hughes a telegram of condolence. Mr. Brosnan is 77 and a retired horse trainer, who has been living with his wife at Sandgate for the last two years. ‘Billy was a great old feller,’ he said today. ‘I would have loved to meet him, but never did. I hit him fair and square with the egg as he arrived at Warwick railway station. He just kept on going. ‘The “little digger”‘ was
campaigning for conscription at that time. He may have been right, but I did not want to be conscripted”.
The Southern Downs Regional Council has now named the little park outside the railway station Billy Hughes Park.  It runs along Brosnan Crescent, which seems more than appropriate.  Today a plaque recounting the history of the egg throwing incident was to be unveiled there and the call went out for Brosnans to join the celebrations: Calling all Brosnans  I hope lots of them did.

3 comments on “Brosnans and the formation of the Australian Federal Police

  1. Veronica Atley says:

    Hi – this was just posted on the Aust Federal Police FB page!

    Commonwealth Policing hatched from a Warwick egg

    On this day in 1917 Prime Minister Billy Hughes stood proudly on the platform of the Warwick station in South-west Queensland spruking his conscription plebiscite to bolster Australia’s reserve of troops following the war. But little did he know that on this day in a tiny rural town he would be struck with the idea of a Commonwealth Police Force.

    Midway through his passionate address a local scallywag by the name of Paddy Brosnan – an anti-conscription campaigner – happened to remove a large egg from his pocket and throw it at the Prime Minister, knocking his hat clean off his head.

    Shocked and angered, the Prime Minister allegedly reached for his pistol, luckily it had been left on the train. So he turned to a Queensland Police Sergeant, demanding the egg thrower be arrested. The Sergeant denied his request, simply stating “I deal only in Queensland law, this is a Commonwealth matter”.

    Further angered the Prime Minister got back on the train and drafted a telegram for his Attorney General and sent it from the next stop. Within months he had created a plain clothes Commonwealth Police Force, but not before he demanded the Queensland Police Sergeant be dismissed from duty. He wasn’t.

    One hundred years later and many name changes later, the Australian Federal Police still serves as Australia’s Commonwealth police force. Investigating crimes against the Commonwealth, serious organised crime all the way to community policing in the ACT and at our airports.

    Here’s to the next 100 years!

    #100YearsOfCommonwealthPolicing #AFP ACT Policing

    [Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, drawing] [Image may contain: 1 person, car and outdoor] [Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and shoes] [Image may contain: 1 person, wedding and indoor]


    veronica atley


  2. Ray Brosnahan says:

    Thank you for a good read Sean?Love Dad Ray.

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Veronica Atley says:

    Wonderful story thanks for sharing

    Sent from my iPhone

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