YEAR OF DEATH
DETAILS OF DEATH
The first policeman to be murdered in the Port Phillip District (later the Colony of Victoria) was Constable Matthew Tomkin of Melbourne Police. Tomkin’s career as a Constable in Melbourne lasted 10 months. A former convict he was transported from Ireland in 1819 and was released in 1826. Tomkin served in the Sydney Police before his appointment to Melbourne. In early 1837 George Comerford a 19 year old convict escaped from custody with fellow prisoner Joseph Dignum. Together with other escapees they committed a series of robberies in the Port Phillip area before being recaptured. Comerford confessed to these crimes and also admitted that he and Dignum had killed seven accomplices for their loot. Comerford led a party of four police to the murder scene to collect evidence. On 30th December 1837 whilst returning to Melbourne the party realised that they had left some stores at the previous camp two members went back to retrieve the stores whilst Tomkin Comerford and Seargeant I Chinn proceeded to the next watering hole to set up camp. On arrival Sergeant Chinn began making a fire and left his musket with Constable Tomkin who put the weapon aside to pick up a piece of wood. Comerford who was not handcuffed (they had been removed by Constable Tomkin so that Comerford could more easily lead a horse) ran forward seized the firearm and ordered Constable Tomkin to stand back. However Constable Tomkin rushed towards him and Comerford shot him before running off. Sergeant Chinn on hearing the shot has returned to the camp and given chase but soon lost Comerford in the thick forest. Constable Tomkin died some three hours after being shot. The following day Comerford arrived at a cattle station at Mount Macedon where he unsuccessfully tried to involve three convicts in a scheme to murder local landowners. The men instead overpowered him and took him to the police. Comerford was later hanged for murdering Tomkin whilst Dignum was sentenced to life imprisonment on Norfolk Island for the murder of his seven accomplices.