Life On The Job


Famous or Historic People

Lillian May Armfield [3 December 1884 - 26 August 1971] - Australia's First Detective

Portrait of Lillian Armfield 1930
Portrait of Lillian Armfield in 1930 [46 years of age]

Summary of her life:

Lillian May Armfield (1884-1971), policewoman, was born on 3 December 1884 at Mittagong, New South Wales, daughter of George Armfield, labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Wright. Educated locally, she wrote a clear hand, could spell and cope with arithmetical problems.

About 1907 she became a nurse at the Hospital for the Insane, Callan Park, Sydney, where she looked after female inmates.

Armfield Family 1910
A portrait of the Armfield family taken about 1910 when Lillian was visiting from Sydney. [Lillian would have been 26]
She is seated in the middle with her parents either side and her four siblings standing at the rear.

It is possible that the little girl pictured was Lillian's daughter [Source: Dr Leigh Straw being told by Lillian's family]
(Source: Daily Mail UK)


She left in 1915, favourably recommended by the medical superintendent for her competence and kindness to patients, to apply for a newly established post in the police force. When recruited as probationary special constable on 1 July 1915, she was 5 ft 7¾ ins (172 cm) tall, weighed 12 st. 10 lbs. (81 kg), and had light brown eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. She was described by her interviewing-officer as 'very intelligent, tactful, shrewd, capable … Character undoubtedly good and a very suitable candidate'.

Lillian Armfield was paid 7s. 6d. a day, no uniforms were provided and no overtime or expenses were allowed. After a year's probation she was enrolled as a special constable and was obliged to sign an agreement with James Mitchell, inspector-general of police, binding her to the same discipline as her male colleagues, but she was deprived of any right to compensation for injuries received in carrying out her duties and had to renounce all superannuation rights.

The experiment of Lillian Armfield's appointment was watched with interest overseas, for she was one of the first plain-clothes female detectives, exercising the same powers of arrest as male colleagues and working side by side with them. Although her work primarily concerned women and girls; it often led her into cases involving murder, rape, theft, drug-running, the white slave traffic—indeed the whole catalogue of crime. Often it led her into danger as when she disguised herself to gain admittance to suspected houses and, having done so, remained inside to open the door to the raiding police.

Although brave she was also sensible and recognized that discretion could be the better part, as when she picked up her skirts and ran for her life from 'Botany Mary' (a cocaine-runner caught in the act), who came after her with a red hot flat-iron. Lillian Armfield was much concerned with the social aspects of her work. Much of it was preventative, such as tracing runaway girls and inducing them to return to their homes before they came to serious harm, or warning young women of the dangers of a bullet-wound or razor-slash through associating with known criminals.

Lillian Armfield 1938

Although the value of her work was officially recognized, promotion was slow. By 1 November 1923 Lillian Armfield had become a special sergeant, 3rd class, and by 1 January 1943 had risen to 1st class.

In 1947 she was awarded the King's Police and Fire Service Medal for outstanding service and, after her retirement on 2 December 1949, aged 65, the Imperial Service Medal.

With Superintendent James Wilcox and Superintendent Gilbert Leary
With Superintendent James Wilcox and Superintendent Gilbert Leary
(Source: Jane Anderson)

She was presented with an illuminated address and £200 by the Lord Mayor of Sydney; the Police Department allowed her £455 6s. 5d. in lieu of extended leave of absence, but she received no superannuation.

In 1965 she was granted a special allowance of £3 10s. a week by the government of New South Wales, and relinquished her 10s. a week old-age pension. During her latter years she lived at the Methodist Hostel, Leichhardt; she died on 26 August 1971 at Lewisham Hospital, and was cremated with Church of England rites.
(Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

Did You Know?

Life Summary

Birth:
3 December 1884
Mittagong, New South Wales, Australia

Death:
26 August 1971
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence:
Anglican

Occupation:
Nurse (general)
Police officer - Sergeant

Awards:
King's Police and Fire Service Medal
Imperial Service Medal

Workplaces:
Hospital for the Insane (Callan Park, Sydney)
Police Force (NSW)

Experiences & Opportunities

"This is no ordinary police story. Lillian Armfield was one of two women appointed to the Women’s Police in Sydney in July 1915. They were the first female Australian police officers. Lillian also became the nation’s first female detective and was Chief of the Women’s Police until her retirement in 1949.

Lillian started talking more to the press in the 1930s, once her work was widely known in terms of the major cases she was involved in. When she first joined the job she was told to keep in the background and not give away details about her work.

Female officers were barred from marrying and when Lillian joined in 1915, they had to be single on entry. Only later were widows allowed to serve." (Source: Hachette)

The Mail, Adelaide Sat 8 Nov 1952

"A year or so ago, Sergeant Lillian Armfield, first policewoman in the British Empire and founder of the NSW Women Police, retired after almost 40 years'service.

She had risked her life scores of times in Sydney's razor gang era. Hundreds of way-ward girls owed their rehabilitation to her.

She was retired crippled with arthritis and with no pension simply "because women police don't get pensions, and to give her one would set a bad precedent."
(Source: Trove)

Lucy Wigmore played Lillian Armfield
Lucy Wigmore depicting Lillian Armfield in series Underbelly: Razor
(Source: Daily Mail UK)

"Lillian Armfield was a pearl-wearing, straight-talking former nurse who as Australia's first female detective took on some of the country's most dangerous gangsters armed only with a handbag.

"Special Constable' Armfield, who joined the New South Wales police in 1915, went up against Sydney's razor gangs of the 1920s and 1930s without a baton, handcuffs or gun."
(Source: Daily Mail UK)

"Lillian had nothing more than her handbag and fists to protect herself. It seemed ludicrous to Lillian that she couldn’t carry a weapon like her male colleagues did. " (Source: SMH)

For over thirty years, Armfield served as a female police detective, mainly working in the localities of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. At first a probationary special constable, Armfield was not provided with a uniform, or paid for overtime and ancillary expenses as her male colleagues were. Unlike her male colleagues, she also experienced discrimination in terms of recompense for injuries sustained in the line of duty and had no superannuation benefit rights at the end of her career.

During that long and distinguished career, Armfield confronted the darker side of Sydney's often violent criminal underworld, confronting murder, rape and human trafficking. She was a nemesis of female underworld ringleaders like Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, associated with the razor gang violence of the 1920s and also served as a social worker, warning younger women of bullet wound injuries or razor slashing from associating with male criminals. She was a contemporary of legendary Sydney police officers Ray 'the blizzard' Blissett and Frank Farrell.

Despite her valour and dedication, Lillian Armfield was not given adequate recognition during her career as a police professional. She was only slowly promoted, becoming a Special Sergeant (Third Class) in 1923, and Special Sergeant (First Class) in 1943. She was in charge of all NSW Policewomen until her retirement.

For most of her police career, it was known that she was the only NSW Policewoman approved to carry a service revolver (as female officers were not officially given guns until the 1970s).

Her life story, Rugged Angel - The Amazing Career of Policewoman Lillian Armfield, was published in 1961 and became a best-seller. It was written by Vince Kelly, a noted Sydney journalist.

In 2001, Armfield was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

In August 2011 the series Underbelly: Razor included a storyline depicting Armfield. This part was played by Lucy Wigmore. (Source: Wikipedia)

In March 2018, Dr Leigh Straw published "Lillian Armfield: How Australia’s First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force"

Leigh Straw
Published 27 March 2018

Links:

Australian Dictionary of Biography

ADB
Lillian Armfield - Lady Detective

Lady Detective
Sydney Morning Herald 25 March 2018

SMH
Jane Anderson

Jane Anderson
ABC - Fierce Girls: Lillian Armfield - the girl who fought the baddies [Audio: Listen]

Fierce Girls
Conversations with Richard Fidler
17 April 2018 [Audio: 52 mins]
& 8 March 2019 with Dr Leigh Straw


Conversations
Obituaries Australia

Obits Australia
Researching Australia's First Female Detective

Researching
Daily Mail UK 15 April 2018 
(Lots of pictures)

Daily Mail UK
 

 

YouTube: Breaking News | How Australia's first female detective took on Sydney's worst crooks. [A badly constructed video with no real connection between the words spoken and the repeated images in the background].
https://youtu.be/vJnw1kbz-uc

 

 

 

 

Activities

Ruth Park: The Harp in the South/ Poor Man's Orange - How much have things changed for Women?

 High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

PhilosophyPhilosophy

 

1. Ruth Park wrote two books The Harp in the South (1948) and Poor Man's Orange (1949).  These books follow the story of the Darcy family living in Surrey Hills, an inner poor suburb of Sydney during the Post Depression.

This is the area that Lillian worked and lived in.

Harp in the South Poor Man's Orange

Individually, you are to read either book [you can use Audible and get one of the books for free https://www.audible.com.au ] but first look at the following excerpt:

Harp In The South / Poor Man's Orange Excerpt
https://youtu.be/DQIZveT7oyQ

2. Analyse either of Ruth Park's books:

  • Focus on the topic
  • What is the author's idea?
  • What is the plot?
  • Who are the characters and how are they connected?
  • What is the tone?
  • What writing style was used?
  • What devices does Ruth Park use to narrate her story?

3. Write a Literary Analysis Essay using EssayDragon as a guide.

4. Reflection

Reflection.

"Is there any situation that you would find difficult to cope with after examining one of Ruth Park's books? Why? Why not?"

Discussion

5. Discuss as a class: "What do you think life would have been like for Lillian? How do you think she would have coped with the situations you and your class found or thought they would find difficult to cope with?"

 

 

Issues of Gender!

High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

PhilosophyPhilosophy

 

1. In groups of 4 - 5 students, read the following excerpt from Leigh Straw's Lillian Armfield: How Australia's First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force (2018)  Reading

"Issues of gender are crucial to the text. Many readers will recognise the stories of being passed over, of being dismissed and of having credit for good work given to a male colleague. In an especially disgusting act of discrimination, when Armfield retired in December 1949 after nearly thirty-five years of distinguished service, she was denied a pension on the grounds that: “Lillian had joined the police six months older than the cut-off age, making her ineligible for membership in the Police Force Pensions Fund” (p. 232). In 1965, when Lillian was eighty, the New South Wales Government attempted, belatedly, to redress the issue and granted her a “special pension in recognition of her services” (without impacting upon her Commonwealth pension) (p. 233)."

 

2. Here is an infographic from the Australian Human Rights Commission. Examine it closely! What surprised you?

Human Rights Commission

Did You Know?

On average, Australian women have to work an extra 56 days a year to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.
(Source: Australian Human Rights Commission)

3. Go to Did You Know on the Police Officer Information page and read the information there.

4. Using the stimulus material provided above, conduct a Community of Inquiry into Gender Discrimination in Australia in Lillian Armfield's time and compare it to today.

Community of Inquiry

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