Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter IV page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


Here are two ketches of early Ballarat as it was when Fox’s Cadets arrived there on January 6 th, 1853 . The artist was Mr. James Meek, whose hand-drawn maps were well known not very many years ago. The illustrations are entirely true representations of things that existed when James Meek made his sketches. There were then no other buildings on Ballarat save Mr Paddy Welch’s store, almost adjoining Meek’s store shown in the sketch. The structure shown in the police camp view was the police stables, a more recent erection, formed of slabs, with bark roof, being little more than a rough shed.

For those who might be interested in the history of Ballarat City it may be as well to say that Meek’s store faced Lydiard Street, on the west side of which it stood, near the corner of that street and Mair Street.

The view of the police camp should also be interesting to the antiquary. It represents, except in one respect, the appearance of the camp and the actual position of the Government tents precisely as I saw them on January 6 th, 1853 , the date of our arrival, the only alteration being that the tree to which the prisoners were secured had been cut down. Prisoners were still secured, however, to the trunk as it lay where it fell.


It must not be thought that the Police were guilty of inhumanity in thus securing their prisoners. They had no choice in the matter, for there was no other possible way to deal with them. Many of these prisoners were men charged with serious crime, and the Police could take no risks. Within a month or two a lock-up was erected. If its single cell was somewhat crowded occasionally, the prisoners were at least protected from the weather. It is worth noting that there had been no escapes from the very primitive method shown in the sketch, while a whole batch of prisoners, one Chinaman alone excepted, escaped from the newly-erected lock-up. This occurred not from any weakness in the new structure, but from the connivance of the military pensioners who were on guard at the time. There were some fifty of these pensioners on the camp under the command of Colonel Russell and Lieutenant Bayliss. These were old and worn-out men who had been discharged from various regiments in Van Diemen’s Land ; but, feeble as they were, the Victorian Government was glad to have them for what they were worth.

It was soon discovered that the cadets alone were fit to be entrusted with work to which any serious responsibility was attached. Their honesty was unquestionable - a virtue conspicuous by its absence in the few old-time police that still remained - they were more intelligent and obedient to instructions, and, notwithstanding their inexperience, they did really good work. Some filled confidential positions on the camp; others were placed on duty in squads of halfadozen on new ‘rushes’ in the neighbourhood. I myself saw the birth of the ‘rushes’ at Winter’s Flat and Canadian Gully - while others were told off for gold and prisoners’ escort duty between Ballarat and Melbourne. The late George Walstab, later a well-known journalist, was one of the escort of which I had charge a little later.

The camp sentries, until the differences between the diggers and the camp officials became acute, were provided from Colonel Russell’s company of military pensioners. These old fellows were up to all sorts of tricks. It was through their connivance that the thirteen prisoners referred to had escaped. Their officers’ chief trouble was to keep them from stealing off to the grog tents on the flat, from which they would be brought back, usually very drunk, by a Corporal’s Guard. When they wanted to spite the Colonel they simply ‘carried’ instead of ‘presenting’ arms when he passed their post. The question remained an open sore to the last: Russell claiming that as Commandant he was entitled to the ‘present’; the men, that his military rank being that of Major, for he was Colonel only by courtesy, he was entitled to the minor salute only. They further irritated him by saluting some of the civilian officers - commissioner and police, who had gained their favour.

Ximenes, one of the Police Officers, for some reason not in favour with the pensioners, had occasion one night to go a few yards away from his tent. As he returned the sentry demanded the password, which ‘Ximmy’ did not know. The sentry persisted, and, as ‘Ximmy’ bolted into his tent, drove his bayonet into the tentpole close behind him. Of course it was all a bit of spite, but the police officer took good care in future to learn the password.


Whatever difficulty the Government may have in collecting material for the rank and file of a Police Force, no difficulty was experienced evidently in finding candidates for the position of Police Magistrate, Gold Commissioner and other higher offices. The staff of officers at Ballarat about this time was enormous, and consisted of: - Eyre, Police Magistrate; Fenwick, Resident (i.e. Principal) Commissioner, with Bury, Sherard, Webster, Amos, Johnston (later for many years Judge at VRC Meetings), and Wilberforce, as Assistant Commissioners; Greene, Gold Receiver; George Webster, Commissariat Officer; Heise, Camp Medical Officer; and Lane, Government Architect. The police officers were Henry Foster, Superintendent, De Courcey Hamilton, J H Lydiard, Arnold , Vernon , and Chomley, Inspectors, and Ximenes, Inspector of slaughter yards. Large as this staff may appear, there was often remarkable pressure of work for at least some members of it. Fenwick, who was fussy, did little else than worry and irritate his fellow Commissioners; while Foster, the senior police officer, went on the opposite principle, for he tried to do pretty well the whole police work himself, much to the detriment of his juniors, who were in danger of sinking into indolent and idle ways. It was fortunate for them that calls requiring prompt attention were frequent, and thus these officers were not allowed to rust out altogether. I think, however, that on the whole this large staff found it more difficult to dispose of their leisure than of their work. Let one imagine these men without books, without newspapers, without the company of wives or female friends, and with no means of amusing themselves outside of their scantily-furnished messroom, and he will wonder that many more of them did not fall into evil ways.

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