Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XVII page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir


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These were not eventful years, for me at last. A change of policy by the McCulloch Government to the reduction of districts, and consequent to a re-arrangement of officers, in the early part of 1871, it was my lot to be told off to take charge of the Kyneton sub-district. It was a costly move, but one had learned to bear these things patiently. I found my work at Kyneton pleasant enough, and the people of the district hospitable and kind. But there soon appeared the stormy petrel of my career - my friend Kabat. For some reason that I have forgotten, he retired from the charge of Russell Street , the headquarters of the metropolitan division, and I was called to take his place. It was but a short sojourn, for promotion to the rank of Superintendent came in 1874 and my removal to the Upper Goulburn district, of which I then took charge. This district was regarded by previous officers as one of the undesirable commands, but I found it full of interest. It included such places as Jamieson, Gaffney’s Creek, Woods’ Point, Jericho and Marysville, right in amongst the mountains, besides some stations in less hilly parts. My early home had been amongst hills, and in my active days I never looked at a mountain without feeling a desire to climb to its summit. In spite of the exceeding roughness of the roads, and on occasions cold and stormy weather, the views from Matlock and other mountain tops never failed to reward one for the difficulties of the way. There were also lovely views from Mansfield , the headquarters of the district, especially the view of Mount Buller with its ever changing hues. The early traditions of hospitality still held good with the settlers throughout the district. It is true that when wearied after a long day’s ride I often preferred “mine ease at mine in”; this does not detract, however, from the kindness with which the resident settlers received one when any chance brought one to their homes. The names of Alfred Chenery, Hastings Cuningham, Dr Rowe, D T Stodart, Tolmie, and many others at once recur to memory.

The following description of one main road will give some idea of the difficulties that early travellers had to content with: -


In the early sixties when gold was discovered at Woods’ Point, an attempt was made to use what is still called the Yarra track, as the line of communication between Melbourne and the new goldfield. This track, after reaching Marysville, commenced the ascent to the summit of a spur that continued at a moderately even level until it joined the main divide at Matlock. The first six miles, from Marysville to Tommy’s Bend, led up a steep and continuous incline, and over this portion the Government had constructed a well-formed metal road, while the remaining forty or fifty miles were simply cleared of timber. But the road was never found quite practicable. The summit of the spur was composed of deep rich soil, which practically never dried - in its least sodden state, the ‘glue pot’ stage, it was at its worst - and there were so many accidents and delays that its use for general traffic was abandoned. Cobb & Co, with their usual enterprise, had put on a line of coaches, but this, too, was given up when one of their coaches and its team of horses fell into a ravine, and met with a grievous smash. The leaders shied at an old lady in a bright red cloak, as she sat by the roadside waiting to take her place in the coach, and dragged the other horses and coach into the gully.

Even the metalled road at the Marysville end had its dangers, as I learned by personal experience in the descent from Tommy’s Bend . In spite of a powerful brake, twice I was compelled to run the horses and trap into the bank on the upper side to avoid disaster. I suppose even to this day there may be found, all over the unmade parts of the Yarra track, the wreckage of vehicles that became fixed in the deep mud, or were overwhelmed in the winter snows and were left derelict.

To find a road fit for general traffic a wide cast had to be made, and finally the teamsters, for they it is who mostly decided such matters, chose the route via Longwood and Mansfield. There is no hardier and more patient and plodding worker than the genuine teamster. His horse and his wagon are his own, and he knows to a nicety what load his horses are equal to.

This new track was over firm ground, but there were some very stiff pinches, sufficient to try the mettle of both horses and men, such as the hills known as the ‘Flour Bag’ and ‘Frenchman’s.’ The actual roadway, cut out of the mountain side, was not more than eight feet or so wide, with steep unguarded precipices on the lower side. Of course, accidents did occasionally occur, but the wonder is they were not much more frequent.


The teamsters did not travel alone, for there were many places where double-banking was a necessity, and six or more horses in single file might often be seen hauling one load over some bad pinch, for the mountain roads were too narrow to admit of two horses working abreast. At a word from the driver the whole team would throw themselves into the collar and put their full power into the effort.

It was to such a team that one of the accidents of which I speak occurred. The puddles in the track were found frozen in the morning, and the whole of the combined teams were put on. Unfortunately, the brake was hard on, and instead of shifting the load the leading horses, slipping on the frozen puddles, swung themselves over the edge into the ravine, carrying the entire string of horses, dray, driver, and all, with them. Strange to tell, when help arrived, the driver was found unhurt - jammed under a log on which the dray rested, and the horses uninjured, but the cargo - cases of spirits mostly - was badly broken up. The plucky driver cleared a track from the spot where the dray had lodged, and facing the horses up hill contrived somehow to replace the dray again on the road from which it had fallen.

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