Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter III page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


The police camp was situated at the north-east corner of the Richmond Paddock, at the junction of Punt Road and Wellington Parade, where the State School now stands. There was but one house between Richmond and Melbourne , that of the Lieutenant-Governor, Mr La Trobe, at Jolimont. There was no East Melbourne; Bishopscourt stood alone, looking on an unfenced uncultivated wild, now the Fitzroy Gardens, and the Richmond of today was represented by the Star and Garter Hotel, which I believe still stands.

The Cadets, mounted and foot, were divided into detachments, each under its own special officer. Fox was one of these officers, and after some hesitation I agreed to throw in my lot with him. I found already collected on the camp various detachments - the whole body of Cadets numbered about 250 - nice, well bred fellows, for the most part, and of various callings. There were barristers, attorneys, exbank managers, medical students; others had seen service in one or other of the continental military forces. One had been a colonel in the Turkish service, another had served with De Lacy Evans in Spain , while others had seen service in the Austrian Army, and used to tell in broken English of the fighting they had shared in.

These Cadets were the only material the Government found available at the time to do the work of the police force, and a very serviceable body they soon proved themselves. Some of them from the first, like C H Nicolson and a few others of whom I may speak more in detail later on, showed remarkable aptitude as thief catchers; some, after a longer probation, became effective and reliable workers; while others, too many of them, alas, went down before the hard living and general extravagance of those early days. There remain now but a very few representatives of the Old Brigade. Messrs John H Lydiard and Reginald Green are the only survivors known to the writer.

There was urgent need for police both in town and country. Melbourne , ill-lighted as it was, was particularly unsafe at night. The old police force, whatever it had been worth, was broken up; the town swarmed with criminals from Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales . Victoria was perhaps too young to have its own brood at the time. I fancy the criminals looked upon ‘New Chums’ as their natural prey, as being too timid and unseasoned to offer much resistance, as many unquestionably were.

Here is an instance. A young probationer at our camp had been to Melbourne to take over his outfit. He did not know how his cavalry sword should be worn, so he carried it in his hand, bound up with the rest of his equipment. It was dark as he made his way to camp, when on turning Dr Howitt’s corner at the top of Collins Street a man sprang out at him to rob him. The young probationer dropped his outfit, sword and all, and bolted. But he soon got over his first fright and returned to face the enemy. To his great surprise, and no doubt to his great satisfaction, he found the fellow had disappeared, leaving the articles where they had fallen. We all knew Stapylton to be a really plucky young fellow in spite of his sudden weakness.

A somewhat like experience happened on a stormy night about this time (November 1852) to another young man and myself as, on a very dark night, we entered what is now known as the Fitzroy Gardens . Three men came running after us, threatening and calling on us to stand. We preferred moving on, our only weapons being a couple of bottles of beer each, while the others carried sticks and possible other weapons too. We could see our foes only during the momentary gleams of lighting, sometimes fifty yards or more distant, sometimes nearer, as they made short rushes towards us. The same light served us to maintain our distance until, venturing too far, my friend and I both tumbled into the creek, smashing the bottles as we fell. The noise brought the fellows to the spot. However, we clambered quickly out again; and as we were making off we heard their curses as they too tumbled in. So ended the hunt. I know this does not sound very heroic, but what could two unarmed new chums do under the circumstances but clear out? From this digression I return to our life on the Richmond Cadet Camp.

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