Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter IV page 2
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
During the period from January 1953 to May 1854 there were many changes in the personnel of the Government staff at Ballarat. Fenwick was relieved by J M Clow; and later Clow was relieved by Colonel Rede. The last-named had more savoir faire than his predecessors, both of whom had fallen out with the other officers. Eyre, who was the first Police Magistrate, was relieved by D’Ewes, who continued in office until the Ballarat outbreak, of which more later on.
At first Buninyong was the Government Headquarters. The first Police Magistrate, Eyre, and his clerk A P Akehurst, resided there. It was at Buninyong that the higher Courts were held, and it was in the gaol there that the prisoners under committal &c., were detained. Buninyong possessed another distinction; it was the place nearest to Ballarat where a glass of grog could legitimately be purchased, and thirsty men trudged along the 5 or 6 miles to get a glass of beer. This, of course, was before Bath ’s (now Craig’s) Hotel was opened.
It was not until 1853 that Ballarat was made the Official Centre of the district, so slow was the Government in recognising the new order of affairs. The higher Courts formerly sat at Buninyong as had been stated, and it was there that the pioneer barristers, Messrs. Ogier and Cope, the former still living at the age of 93 years, the latter afterwards County Court Judge, took up their abode. Mr Ocock, the first solicitor to practise at Ballarat, only visited Ballarat occasionally from Ballan, where he had his home. Later, the Messers Cutberth Bros came on the scene. There did not seem at first to be much occupation for these gentlemen. It was not until the general trade at Ballarat began to run on more regular lines, especially after the Eureka trouble, when a new mining code was established, that the lawyers came to their own. Hitherto all business was conducted on spot cash lines, and if the diggers had any differences between themselves, apart from mining disputes, they never thought of appealing to the Courts.
THE FIRST CRIMINAL COURT
The first sitting of this Court at Ballarat attracted much interest. At all times the “Knights of the Road” on their trial have special attraction for the curious, and as a relief from the monotony of their life, the diggers were glad to watch the cases day after day. Not that they felt any sympathy for offenders of this class, for the ‘Black Douglases,’ the ‘Three fingered Jacks,’ and the ‘Scotties’ of the period were regarded rightly as pests by every bona fide digger. He dare not leave his gold or his money in his tent, nor dare he venture with his valuables into the haunts of these men against whom he had to be on his guard day and night. In other countries such pests would have been shot down at sight. Britishers, however, are not much given to take the law in their own hands.
The difficulty referred to at the head of this paragraph was a very unusual one that might have led to some very awkward results. Everything was in order for the morrow’s Court. The Judge and the Crown Prosecutor had arrived, and there was a very full calendar.
The Crown Prosecutor on this occasion was a well known Melbourne barrister; he was entertained by the officers at their mess, but finding when dinner was over, that the noise and bustle interfered with the study of his briefs, he asked that he might be provided with some place where he could carry on his work without interruption. No such place could be found, for every tent was occupied. However, Henry Foster, the Superintendent of Police, solved the matter by fitting up in the store tent an impromptu table and seat made up of some spirit cases belonging to the Mess. As the other officers turned in late they saw the Crown Prosecutor’s light still burning, and there was nothing to disturb the stillness of the night but the tramp of the sentry.
It was as well perhaps that there was a sentry. The Store tent was a sort of sacred place in his eyes, for it contained all the coveted luxuries of the camp, and was taboo to all ordinary mortals. Not knowing why light should be continued there so late into the night, and hearing occasionally the cling of glass, the sentry watched the place curiously. Later on he peeped cautiously into the tent, where he saw the Crown Prosecutor stretched full length on the floor. Foster was called up, and there was great consternation in the camp, for it seemed hopeless that the representative of the Attorney General could appear at Court. This meant, it was thought, the risk of all the prisoners being discharged. A good constitution, however, helped by various buckets of cold water averted the crisis.
HENRY (TONY) FOSTER
It was with Henry, perhaps better known as Tony Foster that I as a Police Cadet had most to do. Foster seemed never at rest. He paid little attention to office work; allowed his juniors to do as they pleased, while he himself was dashing in and out after law-breakers, chiefly of the sly-grog selling tribe. He had a squad of special constables in whom he trusted, but these fellows played all sorts of tricks on him, with the result that all his plans miscarried. He was a simple soul who would believe no ill of his chosen men. At length constant failure wearied him, and he handed his precious crew over to my charge, nominating me at the same time for the rank of Sub Inspector. I knew the kind of men I had to do with, and went to work to the very best of my ability. But a youth of twenty had no show with such a set. They were corrupt beyond measure. I succeeded no better with then than Foster did, and grew heartily sick of the business. Towards the end of 1853 I called on the Chief Commissioner, Mr. (after Sir William) Mitchell, who, on hearing my evil report, broke up the squad, confirming me at the same time in my rank as Sub Inspector.
Foster was a most kindly fellow. He had had some medical training, and had practised for a time I believe in the Western District. It may be claimed for him that he was the founder of the Ballarat Hospital . At any rate he first made provision for sick miners on the Camp, where he set aside a large tent for their use.
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