Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XIII page 5

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

A MILITARY SCARE Late one night a message came to Russell Street to the effect that some soldiers had broken out of barracks, and that it was feared they meant to wreak vengeance on the late Mr George Paton Smith for having spoken disparagingly in Parliament of the Military. There was no time to be lost, so I took out a cab full of constables to protect Mr Smith’s house from the expected attack. We knew only that Mr. Smith resided somewhere in Kew . I remember the weary hours of search, with tired cab horse, ending at length in quite unnecessarily disturbing a neighbourhood peacefully at sleep. It turned out that the soldiers were found drinking themselves drunk in some shady quarter of the city while we were on our expedition.


Mr (afterwards Sir) Archibald Michie was Minister of Justice from 1863–66. He was not afraid to see his Free Trade principles carried to their logical conclusion - in one direction at least. It was under his rule that it became lawful publicans to keep their houses open all through the night. The community may well be thankful that Mr Michie did not carry his principles so far as to allow every one to start a liquor shop, with the same freedom that he might start the business of a grocer or a tailor, a view he is said to have held.

I saw a great deal of the working of Mr Michie’s new system. The privilege of keeping open-house all night was confined nearly altogether to the most disreputable and worst-managed hotels in the City, and the natural and inevitable results soon became apparent. The streets were never free from drunken men and women. There was no time since the early diggings days when there was less security for life and property in the City. The experiment was a very disastrous one. Fortunately it lasted but a short time, and it is to be hoped will never be repeated.



Dr J G Beaney was amongst the leading surgeons in the Melbourne of his day. I speak more particularly of the middle ‘sixties.’ His skill in operation was acknowledged by all, though, so unfriendly critics alleged, he was apt to fail in his care of patients after they had been operated on.

Sergeant Abraham Fenton, who is elsewhere spoken of as one of Freeman’s fifty London police, was stationed at Collingwood, when the death of a young unmarried woman under suspicious circumstances was brought under his notice. Fenton reported the matter to his Superintendent, T H Lyttelton. The post mortem examination by Doctors Rudall and Pugh disclosed the fact that an illegal operation had been performed on the unfortunate young woman, and that although there were evidences of skill on the part of the operator, yet there were also proofs that little regard was shown by him to save the life of the woman.

Beaney had many friends, as also had the man known to be responsible for the condition of the young woman, and attempts were made to hush the matter up. Fenton, however, was not the sort of man to let such an affair rest, and by formal report and otherwise pressed for full investigation, with the result that there was prima facie evidence that in an adaptation of the lines of Robert Burns may thus be expressed -

‘The lass to Beaney came

To hide her shame,

He sent her to her long hame

To hide it there.’

On his first trial Beaney was defended by Mr Dawson. The jury could not agree, and on the second B C Aspinall had charge of the defence, Travers Adamson prosecuting for the Crown. Somehow it got abroad that if there was a clear verdict of ‘Guilty’, the last penalty of the law would be enforced.

Aspinall’s conduct of the defence was astute and able. His frequent interruptions disconcerted Adamson, the Crown Prosecutor, and he finally prepared a trap into which Adamson easily fell.

Aspinall had collected nearly all the black sheep of the medical profession around him. As the trial went on he directed these men to look up various ‘authorities’ , and altogether made a great show of an elaborate defence on the various anatomical and medical questions applicable to the case. He took good care that Adamson should see and hear everything.

To meet all such questions, Adamson called leading men like Tracy, Martin and others. There were just the men to hold independent and opposite opinions, on points that really had very little to do with the main facts at issue. When the evidence for the Crown was closed, Aspinall declined to call his witnesses, thus securing the right of the final address to the jury. He enlarged on the differences of views held by the chosen witnesses for the Crown, and the accused was acquitted.

It afterwards transpired that eleven jurymen were for the verdict of ‘Guilty’, but the solitary objector, Mr Alcock, the well-known billiard table manufacturer, was so completely and honestly impressed by Aspinall’s argument, he held out until the remaining jurymen gave in. It was a near thing.

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