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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XII page 5

Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


It was about this time that news was received by the police at Hamilton of the landing at a South Australian port of a considerable number of Chinese who were making their way to Victoria . Since Bret Harte first drew attention to the fact, it has been known that the ways of the Heathen Chinese are peculiar. There was no capitation tax in South Australia , but there was for Chinese landing at a Victorian port. I think the tax was ten pounds per head. There were about one hundred Chinese in the troop, and to save so large a sum, it was thought worth while to undertake the toilsome journey overland to Ballarat and Bendigo . They plodded patiently along day after day, crossing the border somewhere near Apsley under the lead of one of their own countrymen. This man had been in Victoria for some time before, and had acquainted himself with the road and marked out the stages. There were none sick or footsore amongst them, which showed how well their plans had been devised and carried out.

It was not until the Chinese reached Hamilton that the police interfered with them. There they were stopped, and payment of the tax demanded, but the only answer was, ‘No savee,’ and then they were brought before the magistrates. The sentence of two months imprisonment in Portland Gaol did not appear to disturb them in the least. They camped in the police paddock practically without guards to look after them, but they never thought of going out of bounds. Thence they were marched to Portland , where they encamped in the reserve for public gardens. This place their enforced labour turned from a wilderness into one of the beauty spots of the south. They never repined, they never lost patience, nor did they ever give a moment’s trouble; and when their sentence expired they marched away for their destination, placid and uncomplaining as if no wrong had been done to them.


It was also in the early ‘sixties that the quiet of Hamilton was disturbed by another irruption of strangers. The first Duffy Land Act, providing for free selection of Crown Lands, had just come into force, and the momentous question of parceling out the fertile lands of the Western District had to be faced. It was an anxious time for the existing occupiers - the squatters - and as the day when the balloting for first choice of blocks approached, most of the squatters of the district were represented personally or by their agents. There was another crowd, too, but of persons quite unknown in the neighbourhood, and who appeared to be acting under some sort of leadership. These people camped together close to the Court House, where the ballot was to be held, partly, I suppose, because they could not find accommodation in the town, and partly that they might be close at hand when proceedings opened. Long before the doors were thrown open, the strangers were massed round the entrance, for priority of application was understood to mean priority of choice. The office was crowded from the time it opened until far into night, when Mr Wrixon, the land officer, and his assistants had to cease work through sheer exhaustion. It seemed on this day, and the days that followed as if the strangers held possession, and the squatters were shut out while being stripped of all they possessed.

But there were wheels within wheels, the movements of which none but the initiated could see. Communications passed between the squatters and the leaders of the strange crowd, for I believe there were two leaders, one said to have been the late Colonel W C Smith, with the result that the squatters continued in undisturbed possession of their holdings, while not a single stranger was known to settle in the district at this time. It is true that when travelling through the district one occasionally saw a weatherboard hut on wheels in some lonely paddock. This was in compliance with the letter of the law, but the moveable hut did duty for many another block of land. The first Duffy Land Act was a failure.

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