The first PANSW Secretary Bertram Fortescue

A sturdy advocate for the force

Betram Fortescue and Thomas Pauling circa 1921
Betram Fortescue and Thomas Pauling circa 1921

In 1931 when the first General–Secretary of the Police Association, Bertram Fortescue, died in office, the Police Association was desperately seeking an exemption from public sector wage cuts of 16.5%.

Fortescue, who had been hospitalised for cirrhosis of the liver, left his sick bed to arrange a meeting with Premier Jack Lang, hoping to intercede on behalf of members. Unfortunately, he suffered a setback and was taken back to Netherleigh Private Hospital Randwick where he died on 29 December 1931. He was 39 years old.

Bertram was born at Booligal in 1892 and followed his father, Sgt Percival Fortescue, into the force.

He joined the NSW Police on 9 December 1915 and was initially stationed at Redfern. Constable Fortescue’s good education and clerical talent were spotted and he later joined the Metropolitan Superintendent’s staff.

Fortescue and the first president Thomas Pauling were among a small group of police who, in 1920, sought the Inspector–General James Mitchell’s permission to form the Police Association.

On 8 September 1920, when the first Association Executive meeting was held in a room at Police Headquarters, Constable Fortescue was asked to act as honorary Secretary till the first conference.

At our first conference in February 1921, there was considerable debate about employing a fulltime Secretary, who couldn’t be influenced from police hierarchy.

However, as the Inspector–General had given Constable Fortescue 12 months leave on full pay and allowances, and permission to work outside the department, delegates unanimously elected him as honorary secretary of the Association.

Lowest paid

Excerpt from January edition of Police News Magazine 1921
Excerpt from January edition of Police News Magazine 1921

From the first, Fortescue proved a canny and capable advocate for police. He was a man of great intellect, organisational ability, and generosity. In the first edition of Police News

(then called New South Wales Police Association magazine), Fortescue argued that police were being left behind.

Instead of being the best paid public servants, police were the lowest paid of all. As well, they were expected to be universal problem-solvers. To highlight this, Bertram published a list of 50+ additional duties police performed on top of core duties. This included inspecting slaughter houses, acting as bailiff for small debts, and completing agricultural and statistical returns.

One hundred years ago, the police force was a vastly different organisation. Approximately 74% of members were Constables of varying service and grades. Police promotions was a foundational issue for this organisation and the Association vigorously pursued the Police Appeals Bill. It was a painfully slow process, which finally came to fruition on 1 January 1924.

By then Fortescue had resigned from the force. At the 1922 Association Conference, delegates elected him as General Secretary of PANSW with an annual salary of £500.

Fight for basic wage

In the early days, the Association had no legal advisors. Fortescue advocated on behalf of members who were subjected to departmental inquiries. He also acted as an organiser, traveling around the state updating members on the Association’s efforts to secure the basic wage for police, a six-day working week, travelling concessions, replacements for inferior Police uniform and boots, among many other things.

Whilst there were successes such as the 44-hour week in May 1926, the Great Depression brought fresh challenges with widespread public unrest, picketing and strikes. In December 1929, following the death of a young miner at Rothbury Colliery, the local mining community refused food and drink to police on-site. The officers were housed in a makeshift camp, in appalling conditions. Fortescue, who went on a site inspection, contracted food poisoning and was hospitalised for a week.

A sturdy advocate

During his 11 years in office, Bertram Fortescue worked tirelessly and successfully to improve police pay and reduce hours of duty. He was popular with members as well as the police force and government hierarchy. His funeral in 1931 was attended by hundreds of officers, who received special permission to do so from the Commissioner. According to newspaper reports, people lined the funeral route from George Street to Waverley Cemetery. Six Constables, all Police Association members, were his pall bearers.

The Chief Secretary Mr Gosling, the Attorney General Mr Lamaroi, the Commissioner of Police Mr Childs, ex-Commissioner James Mitchell, Fire Chief Superintendent Nance and numerous other high-ranking officials attended his funeral.

Mr Gosling paid tribute to Bertram, calling him “a sturdy advocate for the members of the force”.

“His relations with the Chief Secretary were always of a friendly and cordial nature, but when there was fighting to be done on behalf of the organisation, he always placed its interests first,” Mr Gosling said.

A short funeral service was conducted by the rector of St Lukes Church, Burwood. As well, a Masonic service was conducted by members of Lodge John Goulston, of which Mr Fortescue was a member.

Bertram Fortescue was survived by his step-daughter, Edith.

August 1930 Police News reported:

Excerpt from Police News Magazine circa August 1930
Excerpt from Police News Magazine circa August 1930

Nervous and Physical Break-down
Those who knew him best fully expected that Mr. Bert Fortescue, General Secretary of the Police Association, would have to take a long holiday or crack up. (!)
On July 10th he was ordered into a private hospital at Randwick suffering from a nervous and "physical break-down.
He has been suffering in various ways during the last two years. Influenza followed by bronchitis put him out or action for some time, and when he was convalescing he had a painful fall on the rocks at Clovelly while fishing. His feet shot out on a slippery weed-covered rock and he struck the back of his head and the lower end of his spine on the rock.
The spinal injury affected an older wound on one of his shins and he lost the sense of feeling in one foot.
To restore that he underwent a course of electrical massage which caused intense pain when it restored the feeling to his foot, and this, coupled with the worry of his daily work, which consisted largely of attending to members of his Association suffering from various grievances and fighting for them, brought about his prostration and further medical treatment.
Mr. Fortescue was granted leave for 35 days in order to have a health trip to the Pacific Islands.