Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXVI page 2
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
The curious thing was that no other police had any luck in this way. I asked Du Vernet one day the secret of his success. He claimed no special credit; anyone, he thought, should be able to distinguish amongst a crowd of working miners with their round shoulders and heavy gait, the man who had been for years in the hands of the drill-sergeant. In cases where he was in doubt about his man, he had adopted some such expedient as saying suddenly: ‘Your shoulder knot is undone,’ when up went the soldier’s hand to set it right. But I do not think Du Vernet was without other sources of information. His good looks and taking ways had won the admiration of the female shanty-keepers, young and old, and these were just the sort of persons who were in the way of picking up odds and ends of information that a man like Du Vernet knew how to use.
He was promoted to the rank of Sub Inspector in 1858, and two years later trouble came upon him - it was the result of an act of foolish indiscretion - and to the great regret of his brothers officers, he was compelled to leave the service. His offence, such as it was, did not prevent Mr Edmund Fosbery, for many years head of the New South Wales police, for securing his appointment as Sub Inspector in that service.
SERGEANT THOMAS SUMMERHAYES
For all-round ability, for zeal and diligence, for skill as a thief catcher, Summerhayes had in his best days no superior. It was in 1864 that I first came across Summerhayes, who was then a Sergeant in the Melbourne City Police. He had served in the police of Liverpool , and after joining our service here, he at once began to show his qualities.
When the city police parade for duty each night, the reports of crime for the day are read out to them. These reports are read hurriedly, without remark, and the practice it is to be feared is too often regarded as mere formality. On one occasion the particulars of a murder case - I think at Daylesford - were given, with a description of a ‘suspect,’ the chief peculiarity about the latter being that he had a broken front tooth. While being marched away with his squad Summerhayes, who was then a constable, had his attention attracted to a man standing at the bar of a public house. It was but a momentary glance, and slipping unnoticed out of the ranks and entering the bar, he forced open the mouth of the man. He proved to be the Daylesford murderer.
One night shortly after, I was going my rounds, and had just passed the Argus office, when I heard loud calls for police. I hurried toward Russell Street , where I found a constable holding on to the door of Davidson’s grocery shop. He said that two men who were still inside had broken into the place, and he begged me to hold to the door while he lit his bull’s eye lantern. Almost at the same moment Summerhayes came running to the place, buttoning his vest and jumper as he ran. He had been in bed in his private quarters nearly half a mile distant, when a ‘friend’ tapped at his window saying: ‘They have got into Davidson’s.’ It is only experts like Summerhayes that have such ‘friends.’
An officer going his rounds at night takes the sub-officer of the section with him when he can find one, for it greatly facilitates his work, I have used the words ‘when he can find one,’ for, in 1864 only two years before, I spent four solid hours one night without finding a sub officer or constable. But affairs had greatly improved in the meantime. Picking up Summerhayes, as I have said, I took him with me. There were many matters of police interest that I desired to speak of with him. But his diffidence always kept him a pace or two in the rear, so that one had to speak over one’s shoulder. Finding that some question I had put remained without answer, I turned round, but Summerhayes was nowhere in sight. I searched and waited, and searched again, but still could find no sign. At length, when passing a public house, I heard loud voices from within, and on going in I found Summerhayes gripping two men, one with each hand, and a bag of stolen goods lying at their feet. Summerhayes, in fact, ran the best detectives very close.
Another incident of an entirely different kind remains to be told. I was not an eye-witness, and can only relate the circumstances, as they were told me. On the day appointed for the laying of the foundation-stone of the new Town Hall in Melbourne , in October, 1867, a great crowd had assembled in Swanston Street . The chief attraction was of course H R H the Duke of Edinburgh. While the people waited, there was an unrehearsed scene which afforded them a great interest and delight; a tipsy sailor was seen to ascend the temporary flagstaff at the Town Hall hand over hand until he stood on the cross trees. It was a rather rickety structure, and seemed likely enough to give way as the sailor danced and played various pranks. He became the more defiant when called on to come down. Summerhayes was one of the police keeping order in the street. He left the street without consulting anyone, and in the next moment was seen climbing up the flag staff. The sailor drew his knife and tried to slash at the sergeant’s hands as the latter gripped him by the leg. The excitement of the crowd may be imagined. They yelled and shouted some ‘barracking’ for Jack, some for the sergeant, until the weight of the latter prevailed, and they slid down together out of view. Summerhayes received a great ovation as he re-appeared in the street. He himself regarded his action as part of his day’s work.
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