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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter VIII page 1

Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


 When I took up work in Melbourne as a Junior Sub-Inspector, in May 1854, I found Superintendent S E Freeman, father of our Colonel Freeman, busy in the task of organising a police force for the City. Freeman had arrived from London some months earlier in charge of a detachment of fifty trained men from the London police service. Freeman himself had had many years training in that best of all schools. He met with difficulties from the start; he was expected to organise the City Police on semi military lines, a futile notion as he well knew; but his chief difficulty lay in the quality of the junior officers with whom he was supplied. Most of these were brought to Melbourne to be under Freeman’s control, having already proved themselves in other districts hopelessly careless and inefficient. They were all considerably older than myself. Every one of these came to grief in later years; and if it had not been for Freeman’s fatherly consideration and kindness very probably my own fate would have been no better. From his example and precepts I learned the first principles of the obligations of duty. He had brought the proper methods of police work to a fine art. Those officers who submitted to his teaching found their work no longer irksome and tedious. To be commended by Freeman made one’s duty a real pleasure.

The defining of the ‘beats’ of the city, the division of duties, the system of discipline and oversight, and almost every item of every merit in the methods of city police work of to-day, are the fruits of Freeman’s teaching. It was soon found that other states were glad to get officers and men trained under Freeman to help in the organization of their own services.


Captain Charles Macmahon resigned the office of Chief Commissioner in 1858, and was succeeded by Captain F C Standish. In a later chapter I shall attempt to speak more in detail of the characteristics of these and other chiefs. The change did not work well for Freeman. Captain Standish was a man of fashion, while Freeman was a plain man, finding his main pleasure in his daily duties. The new Chief could exercise a very sound judgment with matters which had an interest for him, but he was not interested in Freeman, and he failed altogether in estimating the good work the latter had done and was still able to do. Freeman was set aside to make room for an officer who, though a gentleman and a nice pleasant fellow, had not the knowledge of police work that Freeman had.

My relations with Freeman during the two years and over that I served under him were very pleasant. I was ready to learn, and he was just as willing to teach. His zeal for the work that he loved so well was infectious, and I spent many profitable hours with him in his own quarters, when the work of the day was over. I fancy he must have regarded this as a kind of ‘rescue’ work by which to detach an inexperienced youth from over-much association with older men whom he considered careless and indifferent about their duties. Altogether for me things were going very pleasantly, for in 1856, Melbourne had become a tolerably agreeable place, for people had formed settled homes, and much of the discomfort of earlier days had passed away. The Collins Street ‘Block’ had become an institution; and there, and at Batman’s Hill, where the regimental band played in the afternoons, one met all the elite of the period. The male dandies preponderated greatly, and the few belles of the day were of course in great request. These numbered no more than half-a-dozen perhaps, one of the prettiest of whom, in the weeds of her second widowhood, looks to-day nearly as charming as she did fifty years ago. It was while ‘doing the Block’ one day that Mr Edmund Fosbery, then on the staff of the Chief Commissioner, in later year himself head of the New South Wales Police, informed me that orders had gone out for my transfer to Beechworth. He softened the unwelcomed news by telling me that I was selected for some specially responsible work there. This was on my old friend Freeman’s recommendation, as I found later, and was a special mark of his goodwill.

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