Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XIII page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


Leopold Kabat, Inspector of Police, was my senior by a few days. We were not much thrown together at any time, but yet there were many coincidences in our careers. On several different occasions it was our lot to change places, until it became a sort of superstition with me, that when Kabat was about to be removed it was time that I, too, should prepare for a change. So it happened, in May, 1864, that, seeing mention in the press of his trouble through some ill-advised mining speculations, I took it as a warning that I too should prepare for a move. I was not surprised therefore when a few mails later I received orders to proceed to Melbourne . A journey by coach to Ballarat, occupying some eighteen consecutive hours in mid-winter, our family now consisted of four young children - was not a pleasant prospect; but our fellow-travellers were kind, especially Mr. Tom (perhaps better known as ‘Pop’) Seymour, who might be seen with a child on each arm to save them from the tossing about of the coach, as it bumped over the unformed roads.

When I reached Melbourne I found there had been many changes since I had left it nearly eight years before. Captain Macmahon was no longer Chief Commissioner. His place had been taken by Captain F C Standish; while Superintendent S E Freeman was succeeded by T H Lyttelton as officer in charge of the Metropolitan Police District; and Frank Hare, whom I first met at Beechworth in 1856, was Inspector in charge at Russell Street - the most important division in the district. Freeman had died some eighteen months before my return to Melbourne , and I soon discovered that the good work he had commenced and carried on was forgotten, and his ideals of duty altogether lost sight of.


It is necessary to go back a few years, even at the risk of some repetition, if this modest history of the Police Force of Victoria is to be in any sense complete.

In 1858 Captain (after Sir Charles) Macmahon was succeeded by Captain F. C. Standish as already noted; and about the same time, or shortly after, Superintendent Freeman began to show signs of failing powers, so much so that early in 1859 he was allowed six months leave of absence. For various reasons his illness was a grave misfortune, and led indirectly to some very serious results. The police service may be said to have been still in the making, and the withdrawal from actual duty at this critical time of the most competent officer the service had ever seen, seemed to put an end to further progress. The new Chief Commissioner lost a loyal and capable adviser, and was left in his inexperience to the influence of officers who were disloyal or incompetent, or worse. Freeman’s mantle had not fallen on any of those junior officers who had served under him. Inspector Page, who had accompanied him from London , was certainly a good useful officer, but he had not the qualities to fit him for a leading position. As for the others, they were not of the material of which anything very useful could be made.

During the absence on leave of Freeman, P H Smith, Inspecting Superintendent, was placed in charge of the city police and son after troubles began, that within a year or two ended in open insubordination, in which the inspecting superintendent himself was involved; but, as so often happens, punishment fell on the lesser fry, in the persons of some sergeants who were ignominiously dismissed from the service.

Matters were not allowed to settle down without the usual parliamentary squabble. Mr Fraser, the member for Creswick, exercising the privilege of Parliament, made use of some very fierce and uncomplimentary language, to which some one retorted in the press by calling Mr Fraser a ‘privileged ruffian.’ Backed by parliamentary influence, the malcontents in the service raked over every dustheap to find accusations against the head of the police force; and then followed successive parliamentary inquiries, as futile as these inquiries usually are. The whole proceedings furnish very painful study, and are redeemed only by the splendid ability with which Captain Standish, the Chief Commissioner, met the badgering of politicians, angry at finding themselves beguiled into a false position.

It is not contended here that these were the only troubles of the period, for there were other grave scandals. Two officers at the police depot were punished for irregularities in their public accounts, and some grave misconduct in connection with the management of the police hospital was brought to light. These matters had, however, all been dealt with by departmental inquiry before the parliamentary committee sat.

While the investigation of all these scandals failed altogether to show any personal connivance on the part of the Chief Commissioner, it cannot be said that he was wholly free from blame, for these troubles might have been avoided had he made a more careful choice of officers for positions of special importance.

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