Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter VI page 1
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
CHAPTER VI - BALLARAT IN THE EARLY FIFTIES (cont.)
GOLD AND PRISONERS ESCORTS
The Government Gold Escorts were instituted in the very earliest digging days. Some were manned by officers and soldiers belonging to one or other regiment quartered in Melbourne . The Ballarat Escort was manned by police, who made the journey weekly to Geelong , thence by steamer Citizen to Melbourne . It was one of the cheeriest of sights to look on the bounding horses, the blue and white uniforms of the guard, the sound of swords as they rattled in their steel scabbards, with the thought behind it all, 'There goes a hundred thousand pounds worth of gold', as the Escort streamed across the Flat. It was no uncommon thing to see private gold buyers like Jock Adams, of Buninyong, with three or four hundred ounces of gold in their valise, keeping close company with the Escort. This plan saved Escort fees, and at the same time furnished all the protection required. The late John A Wallace, of Quat Quatta, regularly followed this plan, often carrying as much as two thousand ounces on a led horse. Gold buying on the diggings must at one time have been a very profitable business, for, according to “posters” on trees and tent poles, the local price was two pounds ten per oz. This was before the banks cut into the trade.
One and sometimes two opened carts carried the gold in long iron boxes, each containing perhaps two thousand ounces. In later years larger vehicles were used for the conveyance of prisoners as well as gold. The Ballarat turnout was horsed by greys driven tandem fashion and, as tree-stumps and deep ruts abounded everywhere, accidents were of course to be expected. There was one startling experience where a cart was capsized, the wheels spinning in the air, the unhappy driver underneath, one iron box lying across his neck, another across his loins, while a third lay across his legs. The first concern was to steady the horses and prevent them injuring themselves, and the next thought was, where we could find another driver in the place of him who lay prone on the ground, the cart and boxes still lying over him? Quite leisurely these were removed, when up rose our driver. In a few minutes he was in his seat again as if nothing had happened.
The escorting the prisoners to Geelong Gaol was a risky and disagreeable job that we all disliked. Sometimes the prisoners made the journey on foot, in handcuffs only, in batches of about a dozen; at other times they were taken down in a sort of German waggon hired from George Sellick, the Buninyoung innkeeper. The first system was the most risky, for the journey to Geelong took several days, a halt being made each evening at any accommodation house that was found handy. From under the charge of Mr Chomley, late Chief Commissioner, one man escaped by jumping harlequin-like through a very small window out into the night. He was under sentence for horse-stealing. I came across this man some years later at Wangaratta as a ticket of leave holder - he had been re-arrested by the late G G Morton of Labona, one of the Cadets at the time - and found him a prematurely old and broken down man. He said that Pentridge under the Price regime had been too much for him.
The conveyance of prisoners by waggon had also its risks. The men were usually a very dangerous class, and the journey to Geelong had to be made in one day; night travelling, as we had learned from experience, was to be avoided at all costs. I was in charge on one occasion, and fortunately for myself had a seasoned old sub-officer with me. All sort of pretexts for delay were invented by the prisoners, who grew sullen when they were not allowed to have their own way, and it was quite dark when we reached the outskirts of Geelong . The prisoners now commenced singing cheerfully, which appeared to me a sign that they had submitted quietly to the inevitable. The streets were unlighted, and we could not distinguish one prisoner from another in the crowded vehicle. The old sergeant knew better than I did, and whispered to me that some mischief was afoot. I called in the troopers, the whole escort riding with drawn swords close beside the waggon. I was riding immediately behind when my horse suddenly sprang aside. A chance light showed a figure lying on the ground. It was one of our prisoners. The sergeant’s suspicions were correct. Under cover of the singing the prisoners had torn the bottom boards of the wagon in the hope of dropping through, one by one, without being observed. The failure of their plans made the prisoners so furious that nothing but the drawn swords of the police troopers riding alongside prevented them leaping from the waggon.
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