Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XI page 4
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
Henry Bowyer Lane was another magistrate and warden whom we frequently saw at Beechworth. His headquarters were at Yackandandah, some fifteen miles away, but as he had little or nothing to do at Yackandandah, he often found his way to Beechworth. He was Government Architect at Ballarat at the time of the Eureka trouble, and used to claim that the Government Camp there was saved by his skill in planing the defences. These defences consisted in lining the walls of the mess room with bags of oats and bales of hay, so that the officers could sit in some comfort and security at their meals, while being sniped by unfriendly diggers.
I have already alluded to the keenness of Frank Hare, who in my time was one of the junior police officers at Beechworth. Hare happened one day to be travelling by coach between Wangaratta and Benalla, when the mailman was found sitting disconsolate on the road side, his horse carried off and the mail bags cut open by a man who had stuck him up a few minutes before. Hare lost no time in starting in pursuit; he took out one of the coach horses and, mounting him bareback, scoured the country round but failed to find the thief, of whom something further will be told presently.
Hare had about this time another adventure which ended more successfully. He was spending the night at Dr Mackay’s house at Tarrawingie, and had just gone to bed in an outside room on the verandah, when he heard some person moving about near the front door, which was left unlocked, as was often the custom in country houses. While pulling on his cord riding pants, he saw a man enter by the door, and, as Hare followed, the man came rushing out into his arms, and then a long continued struggle between the two began. They rolled about on the flowerbeds, sometimes one on top, sometimes the other. At last Hare got his man under, and as he knelt astride of him he saw a drawn knife in his hand. Hare took hold of the man’s wrist with both hands to prevent him using the knife, when the fellow tried a grip with the free hand that would surely have ended the struggle had it come off. But the man could get no hold of the tightened pants, and Hare felt that the fight was won. Help came after a time, and the man was safely tied up. Dr Mackay used to tell that the signs of the struggle over his flower-beds were as if a team of bullocks had camped there. Unquestionably a struggle like this, carried on silently and in the dead of night, against a powerful and desperate opponent, marked Hare as a brave and determined man.
BILLY THE PUNTMAN
The mail robbery referred to above was traced to a rather comical scoundrel known as ‘Billy the Puntman.’ Billy used to work the punt on the Ovens River at Wangaratta, and took every possible opportunity to overcharge his customers. When any of these made complaint and pointed Billy to the authorised charges painted on the notice board, Billy’s answer was: ‘Oh, them’s out of date,’ and pulling out of his pocket some pieces of dirty crumpled paper would say: ‘Here’s the b--y act, read it for yourself.’ As no one could make out two consecutive words of the paper, the traveller had to pay and look pleasant.
Billy had the impudence to try this game on one occasion, and only one, when taking across the gold escort which, by Act of Parliament, was entitled to a free passage, and he would only submit when threatened with personal chastisement. Still he grumbled and grew profane every time. No one was sorry that he and his punt were no longer required when the new bridge was completed.
When Billy found his occupation gone he had to seek some other mode of life. The mails between Albury and Melbourne were then carried on horseback. This was, of course, a fact well known to Billy, who, in an evil hour, determined to do a little highway robbery on his own account. Curiously enough, the spot he fixed on was close to Greta, the home of the Kelly family of evil notoriety in later years - it must have been about the year when Ned Kelly, the future leader of the gang of bushrangers of 1878-80, was born. Hiding behind a tree Billy awaited the arrival of the mailman, stopped him and emptied the mail bags as already described. He made a pretty good haul in bank notes, and then hastened off to Albury for a great spree. There he was arrested, with the greater part of the plunder in his pockets.
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