Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter IX page 1
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
CHAPTER IX - TO BEECHWORTH IN 1856
It had been a season of floods, and the rivers in the North-eastern district were running very high. I had been quite ready for the journey of 170 miles to Beechworth for some weeks, but the Chief Commissioner, Captain Macmahon, decided that my departure from Melbourne should be delayed until the waters had gone down. The Chief, however, did not like to see any of his staff idle, and therefore put me to a course of mounted drill under Inspector Octavius Skinner Burton, an old officer from the Austrian service who had the oversight of such matters at the Richmond depot at the time.
The Beechworth gold escort, however, had to keep to its time-table regardless of floods, and had a very bad time amongst the backwaters of the Ovens River near Wangaratta. One trooper was drowned, and for some weeks afterwards a circuitous route via the Woolshed and El dorado Valley had to be followed, so as to avoid the flooded country. The body of the unfortunate trooper was never recovered, but many years later, when the Shire Council were removing gravel from the flat, his boot and spur were found embedded in the bank.
In October, 1856, I started in company with the Beechworth return gold escort, of which my friend Inspector G----- was in command. It was a six days’ journey on horseback, and would have been altogether pleasant but that I found my friend G----- not so temperate in his habits as when I first knew him. The stress of those early days, as he acknowledged with tears in his eyes, had been too much for him, as it had been for too many other promising young fellows. When we parted it was with assurances that he would strive against his fault. The last I heard of my friend, some years after, was that he was found dead beside his bed in the attitude of prayer. My first work on reaching Beechworth was to accompany the Governor of South Australia, Sir Richard Macdonnell, as a kind of police aide-de-camp in his tour through the district. The Governor and Lady Blanche, accompanied by Mr Beresford as private secretary, had come with the first steamer—the City of Melbourne, I think it was—that had ever made the trip to Albury. Captain Cadell had piloted them past the many shoals and snags. Cadell will be remembered as the pioneer of Murray navigation. The land tour was made on horseback, and the Governor, in his impetuous way, often dashed along ahead, leaving Lady Blanche and myself to bring up the rear-guard. Lady Blanche was a sweet, gentle creature, and seemed to me to bear with angelic patience the harsh temper of her lord.
Amongst the Beechworth police officers in 1856 was Francis Hare, in later years connected with the pursuit of the Kelly Gang of bushrangers. Hare was a native of Cape Colony , where his father, a retired military officer, had settled. When I first met Hare he looked a stripling - tall, lank, and ungainly. I soon found that he was full of enterprise and dash, clever and self confident, at this time ambitious only to excel as a police officer. Highway robberies were still frequent, and each reported case set Hare’s blood coursing through his veins as he started out in pursuit. He was seldom successful, but not through want of trying; rather, I think, through want of those practical, if less brilliant, qualities that stand for so much in every calling.
In those days, Beechworth was regarded as the Ultima Thule of North eastern Victorian. On its north-eastern and eastern sides it was hemmed in by mountain chains that extended right across to Omeo and Northern Gippsland, their few passes known only to a small band of horse stealers who had their homes in some of the rugged ranges near Omeo, and carried on their business under the leadership of a well known man named ‘Bogong Jack’ . Their methods were simple enough. They collected the best of the studs of such breeders as Edward Crook, Robert Firebrace, and William Pearson of Gippsland, drove the horses across the mountains into North eastern Victoria and Riverina, and, having disposed of them, returned, not empty by any means, but with the best mob of horses they could collect in these districts; and so the game went on. A smart sergeant of police named Reid, stationed at Omeo, managed to get a knowledge of the plans of ‘Bogong Jack’ and his friends and broke up the combine. This, however, was the work of later years.
ROBERT O’HARA BURKE
I first became acquainted with Robert O’Hara Burke in 1854, and a little later, when at Beechworth together, we became firm friends. Although there was something like thirteen years’ difference in age between us, I was one of the privileged few (for Burke was not a man of many friends) to be admitted to anything like intimacy with him. Disparity in age had probably something to do with his kindly feelings towards me, for it seemed a pleasure to him to draw me out and listen to my simple talk about things that then interested me most.
Burke had many excentric ways. In regard to dress and to his personal appearance he utterly disregarded fashion. I do not think he possessed a dress suit, nor even a white shirt. I know that he had to borrow from me a 'jumper' and other articles of uniform, when leading out an escort to meet Sir Henry Barkly, the then Governor, on his first visit to Beechworth. Although there were several old cavalrymen in the cavalcade, none looked do soldierlike as Burke. His ordinary dress was a slouched hat, short sac coat, without vest, flying open to the breeze, baggy trousers without braces and turned up at the heels, and slippers. He sometimes appeared on horseback in this fashion while drilling the mounted police, who, whatever they might think of their officer’s turn-out, soon discerned that they had a competent and strict instructor. It was this sort of thing that led many people misjudge Burke. They failed to see that, below the surface, there was much vigorous common sense, and thorough knowledge of official work.
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