Royal Commission report day 31 page 7

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The Royal Commission evidence for 16/6/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 31)

[[../../people/peN_P/oconnorPinsp.html|Insp Stanhope O'Connor]] 'giving evidence'

11980 By the Commission— Arising out of the question as to whether your black trackers are considered more efficient in small detachments or singly for tracking purposes, what is your opinion?— It is a fact, not an opinion, that the men are more efficient in small bodies.

11981 Of how many?— Of not less than five or six.

11982 Do they become less efficient if they are detached in twos?— They become thoroughly demoralised. They are peculiar men, and require a great deal of drilling to keep them up in a good state of efficiency. They require to be kept together, to have their friends and connections in the same barracks to make them contented, and that is often a great cause of two, or four, or five men not agreeing—that they are really enemies in their own country, and very often in Queensland it results in murder.

11983 The fact is, you consider It is better for men to belong to the same tribe?— No, I do not say that. We never do that in Queensland . There must be two men of a detachment of the same tribe, but neighbouring tribes have blood relationships, and those are friends—they are great friends, and if you get two of those men, they will remain and be as jolly and cheerful as possible.

11984 How long were you in Queensland ?— I think eight years.

11985 Connected with the black trackers all the time?— Yes. I was up in the northern portion of Queensland , the Conway Barracks, near Bowen, at first, and I left that after twelve months, and went up to Palmer goldfields.

11986 So you are thoroughly acquainted with them?— Yes.

11987 Do they all speak English?— When you enlist a man he does not; you must teach him.

11988 Do you understand the language?— There are so many tribes. I understand a good deal of it, but one of the rules of the service is never to allow the men to speak in any way except in English. We take them out with the old troopers, and teach them their work.

11989 The old black trackers?— Yes; troopers we always call them in Queensland . It takes three years to make a man efficient. Very often these men are found to be utterly useless. I have had black boys who got lost half a mile from the barracks in Queensland . It is the general rule that they are good trackers, but there are exceptions.

11990 Is it not from the fact that they have very quick senses of hearing and sight they become so expert?— They have got undoubtedly quick sight, but their hearing I would not say.

11991 The sense of smell, is that very acute?— It is.

11992 Do you think an English boy might be trained in the same way?— No.

11993 Not born in Queensland?— No; they get very good, but the very best white tracker I ever knew could not come up to the worst black tracker I ever had.

11994 What is the difference?— It is sight, nothing but sight. I had one boy in this detachment named Johnny; he was wilhout doubt—all the officers I know said—the best boy they ever saw for tracking — for picking up a track. I was out with him on one occasion (there had been a horrible murder committed) with another officer who had a detachment of eight men, and I had my detachment of eight men. This boy Johnny fell to the rear, while we were looking for the tracks, and the fifteen other troopers passed in a line, and the boy Johnny as he passed up to me pulled up, and said to me, “ Marmie, there is the track.” I pulled up, and could not believe the boy, and I got off the track and I measured fifteen paces to where he saw the track from where he pulled up. The other men had all passed it and not seen it, and where he pointed it out to me I could not see it till he got off and traced it with his finger.

11995 What does “Marmie “ mean?— It is an old Queensland black word, meaning “ Mister.” All native police officers are called “ Marmies.” I wish the following document in reference to the trackers to be inserted if permissible.

11996 The Chairman— Very well. [The same was handed in, as follows :]—“Police Department' Melbourne , 27th May 1881 Sir,—In reply to your telegram of yesterday enquiring as to the working of the Queensland trackers, I beg to state—

1 . That the party of trackers who accompanied the expedition of 11th March 1879 , as well as one in the following April, showed great skill in tracking. This is not merely my impression, but my actual observation of their work. On one of these trips the tracks were very faint indeed, and could not have been followed without the aid of the trackers. On the other trip the tracks were much more plain and recent, and as it was supposed that they were those of the outlaws, and that the offenders were not far ahead, a good opportunity was furnished of judging of the spirit of the trackers when danger was to be apprehended. On this point, too, their conduct was satisfactory.

2 . Referring to your enquiry as to whether the trackers work better in twos or threes or all together, I am clearly of opinion that where the pursuit is of an armed band, as were the Kelly gang, it is idle to expect a very few trackers to follow tracks into cover. With the full party the case is different, especially if they rely on one another, and are directed by a person who understands them and their work. Then one or two can be placed in advance on each wing, and they are almost certain to discover any ambush without them selves being seen. This gives the men actually on the tracks perfect confidence. If the offenders are discovered in concealnent, the scouts will inform the whole party of their exact position. If the offenders are still moving, their tracks will probably be observed by the scouts, when the rest of the party is signalled to, and the work is thus greatly expedited. For ordinary tracking, where no dangerous resistance is expected, two trackers, and often one alone, will be found sufficient for the work. The above particulars show the result of my own experience so far as it has gone; and having made it my care during the last few years to consult various persons well versed in the business, I have found a singular unanimity of opinion to the same effect.—I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant, J. SADLEIR' Superintendent of Police. The Secretary

Royal Police Commission.”

The witness withdrew. ....

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