William Henry Willshire, Adelaide born, joined the South Australian police in 1878 and in 1882 was posted to central Australia. Two years later he led a detachment of native police to suppress Aboriginal attacks on European settlers, their stock and property. Willshire’s command operated ruthlessly against Aboriginal resistance. Allegations of unethical behaviour and unwarranted violence resulted in a government inquiry into Willshire’s actions in 1890, which exonerated him. Next year, charged with ordering his native police to kill two Aboriginal men on Tempe Downs Station near Alice Springs, he was tried for murder. Defended by John Downer, a former premier and attorney-general, he was found not guilty and following some postings in the south, returned to the Northern Territory in 1893. His writings from the period reveal an ardent nationalist and poor observer of Aboriginal people and customs.  

By Robert Foster

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 30 June 2015.

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