Amongst the largest items in the Museum of Policing in Devon & Cornwall is an oil painting of Robert Cyril Morton Jenkins OBE KPM OStJ (b.1898 d.1973), the chief constable of Penzance Borough Police from 1937 to 1941. Painted by the Irish artist Stanhope A. Forbes RA, it was the centrepiece of the Newlyn School of Art’s 1939 Christmas art exhibition and was gifted to Devon & Cornwall Constabulary by Jenkins according to the terms of his will. Quite why Forbes, a resident of Newlyn and one of the region’s most renowned artists, would go to the effort of painting a portrait of a relatively unknown police officer is not known. However, thanks to Jenkins’ grandsons we know that the artist was known as ‘Daddy Forbes’ in the family, and within the family photo album there are two photographs of Forbes, hinting at a historic friendship between the two.
The subject of the painting led an interesting life. He was born in Chelsea in 1898 to Isabella Murray Morton Flint, a nurse at the Chelsea Hospital. His father’s identity is not known, something which eluded Jenkins in his own lifetime. He was adopted by the Jenkins family of Stalisfield, near Faversham in Kent, when he was still a baby, and as a young man worked on the family farm.
Jenkins joined the Army during the Great War (1914-1918). He served first in the 2/1 Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles and underwent outfitting and training at Broomfield Hall in Folkestone. Like many young men with patriotic inclinations, he lied about his age at the enlistment office. He later served in the 11th (Lewisham) Royal West Kent Regiment in France and Belgium and was Mentioned in Despatches.
Fresh out of the Army, Jenkins joined Canterbury City Police and was the force’s first post-war recruit. In his memoirs, he explains that as he was waiting in the police station reception to be interviewed, PC Jim Butcher walked by wearing a set of Egyptian Campaign medals. After four years in the Army, muscle memory kicked in and Jenkins snapped to attention and threw the officer a salute. Thereafter, he and Jim were friends for life!
In the days before structured police training programs, Jenkins learned his trade from the older officers around him, namely PC Bertie Inge, who acted as his tutor. Others, such as PCs George Smith and Harry Robinson, taught Jenkins how to get ‘stuck in’ when dealing with the rowdy types who preferred to negotiate with their fists. His first ever arrest as a young constable was that of Matty Hughes, a local troublemaker who was a handful when intoxicated but quite a docile man when sober. It was said that Hughes could be trusted to dutifully present himself at the prison gates without a police escort after sentencing!
Jenkins was an ambitious police officer, and was promoted to sergeant in 1924. In 1927 he underwent tuition in criminal investigations in London with the Metropolitan Police. He was promoted to inspector a year later, a position which, in a force as small as Canterbury City Police, was equal to that of deputy chief constable. By 1931 he aspired to lead his own force and applied for the position of chief constable of Rochester City Police but was unsuccessful. He applied for the same position again in 1933, again unsuccessfully.
Unmoved by these rejections, he persisted, and in 1936 applied for the chief constableship of Penzance Borough Police after learning that the incumbent, Harry Kenyon, was to retire. His first working day in Penzance was 1st January 1937. Earlier schooling on attachment at Scotland Yard rendered Jenkins well-equipped to rearrange the furniture in Penzance, and in his short tenure he introduced motor patrols and formed a Criminal Investigations Department (CID). His first arrest as chief constable of Penzance was of a drunken man who had just been sacked from his job as waiter at the Winter Garden Hall. Jenkins had just returned from a patrol of Wherrytown and saw the man arguing with two of his constables. Jenkins intervened and was thumped in the chest by the man.
When the Second World War broke out, Jenkins was designated as sub-controller for air raid precautions (ARP) and was solely responsible for organising the joint police, fire brigade, and civil defence service response to the inevitable attacks from the air.
Jenkins was recalled to Kent in 1941; the Home Office was greatly concerned about corrupt practices amongst members of Folkestone Borough Police, and Jenkins was drafted in to sort out the mess. In 1943, defence regulations resulted in the amalgamation of all of the Kent forces, and Jenkins was moved to Kent County Constabulary HQ as ACC. In 1952, he was temporarily installed as the chief constable of Newport Borough Police, another force which was plagued by corruption, to oversee the transition to a new permanent chief constable. He was made a serving Brother of the Venerable Order of St John in 1950, and was awarded the OBE in 1953. He was later promoted to DCC of Kent and was Acting Chief Constable at the time of his retirement in 1963. In the winter of his years, Jenkins backed his son Roy in a fruit-growing venture and was a founder member of R.C. Jenkins Ltd. The company purchased land at Court Lane Farm at Hadlow, Kent, and farmed apples on 63 acres of land. Jenkins is remembered by his family, friends, and colleagues as a man of smart bearing, always dressed immaculately and when off duty always wore a smart suit and a trilby hat. He was highly dedicated and put everything into his work. He lived with his wife Ethel in Bearsted, Maidstone, until his death in 1973.
The portrait of R.C.M. Jenkins travelled with him back to Kent in 1941 before passing into the ownership of Devon & Cornwall Constabulary according to the terms of his last will and testament. It was intended that the painting reside at Penzance Police Station as a tribute to Penzance Borough Police (which amalgamated with the Cornwall Constabulary in 1947), however it was instead put on display at the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary Museum at Middlemoor, Exeter. It later hung in the executive stairwell at Middlemoor (where it was first noticed by the author of this article) and then in the chief constable’s office. In 2018, it was loaned to Penlee Museum in Penzance and was displayed alongside Jenkins’ medals, before moving to its current home at Bodmin Police Station.
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