Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XIII page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


The selection of T H Lyttelton as City Superintendent, to take the place of S E Freeman, was not a great success. Lyttelton by birth and education was a gentleman, and was one of the very senior officers, but he was wanting in some of the qualities requisite for so important a position. He was not careful in his conduct in private life, and he never seemed to take his duties quite seriously. There is this to be said, however, the Chief Commissioner had at the time a very limited choice, for amongst all the other superintendents there was only one, and he was junior to Lyttelton, who could be considered possible. This was Kirk, an officer of great promise, whose worth was recognised generally throughout the service.

THE CITY POLICE, 1864 to 1867

When recalled to Melbourne to take up the duties of a junior officer in the city, I found the experience I had already gained under S E Freeman of very great advantage. When I came under his command in 1854 Freeman’s powers were at their best. I had seen the planing of the police beats, the division of day and night duties, the methods of supervision and the whole system of city work as all these things came fresh from his hands; and above all I had the supreme benefit of his example and of constant intercourse with him. He would be a dull learner indeed who would not gain many and great advantages from such opportunities as thus had. I was in a position, therefore to take up with some confidence the work to which I was recalled.

I found that Hare had been wearing himself out trying to do the work of the City alone, or with the assistance of officers who, as he often said, were of more hindrance to him than help. Hare was certainly the best officer that could have been chosen for the important charge at Russell Street . He had passed with credit through the disturbances of a few years before, and was conspicuous for his zeal and diligence. He and I have often sat late into the night discussing our work in all its aspects.

To me as junior officer fell the supervision of the police in their actual work on beat duty. This is the crux of the whole business. If the constables diligently do their part there can be nothing seriously wrong in other things, and Hare therefore was very anxious to have my report, especially as regarded the night duties.

During the first night or two I occupied myself in a general oversight of the work, acquainting myself with some new methods that had been adopted, endeavouring to take stock of the sub-officers and testing the working of the system of ‘Points’ that had lately been adopted, with the result that I had nothing particular to report. When I carried on my inspections at other hours regardless of these ‘Points’ (By the term ‘Points’ it meant certain fixed points or spots of each beat or cluster of beats, where each sub-officer and constable is expected to be at certain fixed hours during his turn of duty - a very useful plan in many ways, but not without its dangers.) the irregularities were very numerous. I do not know that Lyttelton concerned himself very much with these proofs of disorder. Hare, on the other hand, took matters very much to heart, finding that in spite of his efforts, things were going very wrong indeed; and when later on he was offered some other position more to his taste, he was glad to accept it, and I then took his place.

There was, however, no need for discouragement, for when the word went out that the constables were now being closely looked after there was great improvement at once. The men were on the whole a very good lot, and responded readily to the pressure of discipline. There was specially good material among the sub-officers. There had been some slackness no doubt with these as with others, partly from the want of technical knowledge on the part of their officers, and partly from the evil influences of the disorders of a few years before. But now a fresh start was made, which, thanks to S E Freeman’s teaching, I was able to help along; and the general result was such an improvement in the conduct of the City Police as I had scarcely expected to see.

No one should expect to get through one’s life work without running up against difficulties and hindrances of various sorts. If one happens to be in advance of public opinion generally, he will find snags in his way, especially if it should be that his superiors in authority are as far behind as he may consider himself in advance of it. I have given an instance of this in a previous chapter, where I have shown that the ‘lambing down’ of shearers was generally thought to be a reasonable, if not quite lawful, proceeding. To illustrate these somewhat cryptic remarks, some further instances may be given.

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