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Latest revision as of 23:52, 20 November 2015

Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)



Mr. (afterwards Sir) William H F Mitchell, was the first Chief Commissioner. He held office about one year only from January 1st, 1852. He was a man of good business capacity, but he had no previous experience of matters police or military. He did probably all that could be done in so short a rule, and under very trying circumstances, as I have already shown in an earlier chapter. He was better known in later years as President of the Legislative Council of Victoria.


Captain (afterwards Sir) Charles Macmahon, who succeeded Sir William Mitchell in 1854, had had a different training. He had served in a British cavalry regiment, and he brought to his work a knowledge of discipline that his predecessor did not posses. Sir Charles Macmahon was a diligent and painstaking worker, a strict disciplinarian, a high minded and honourable public servant. These all were qualities that the time specially required, and he exercised them effectively for the public good. He found the police force of Victoria in a state of chaos when he took charge in 1854, and left it, when he resigned office in 1858, started on right lines and in a very promising condition generally.

Sir Charles had, however, some of the vices of his military training. He was too much of a martinet and, what was more mischievous still, he did not trust his most capable officers sufficiently, not recognising that during these four or five years they too were acquiring practical experience. The fact is that many of them had a better knowledge of their work than their Chief had, occupied as he was in the general business of organisation. The mere show of activity, of fussiness even, had too great attraction for him, and led him into the error of exhibiting partiality for men like P H Smith, P le P Bookey, and a few others who were not at all deserving of his favour.

It must be admitted, however, that our chief was not without excuse. A very large proportion of those early officers were so self willed, so idle, or so unsteady, that it was a hopeless task to get any good service from them. A wiser man, possessing better knowledge of police work, might have weeded out these ‘bad hats.’ It happened to him, as it also did to Freeman, to find his authority weakened by want of support. Sir John O’Shannassy, the ministerial head of the service at the time, refused to carry out a very proper rule of discipline regarding an officer who was greatly in fault, and Sir Charles Macmahon resigned.


Captain Frederick Charles Standish was the next Chief Commissioner, and was appointed in September, 1858. His short service previously in the Royal Artillery did not seem to have left its mark upon him, for he showed few evidences of military training. He belonged to a high class English county family, had received a liberal education, and possessed many natural gifts that might have placed him in a higher position in public respect and favour than he ever reached. He was a man of wider views than his immediate predecessor and of fairer judgment. I doubt, however, whether he possessed as high a sense of duty. He was too much a man of pleasure to devote himself seriously to the work of his office, and his love of pleasure led him to form intimacies with some officers of like mind, and to think less of others who were much more worthy of regard. From the first, this mistake led to trouble, and lowered the tone and character of the service. It is a curious fact that those whom he most favoured were the men who at all times showed him least regard and who clouded the reputation of his later years. On the whole, however, he was regarded with a certain affection throughout the service generally; and in the early troubles in the sixties, and until towards the close of his official career the whole service, with few exceptions, was loyal to him.

Captain Standish was a strange mixture of weakness and of strength. His weakness I have already indicated. His strength was shown first in the ability with which he met, in 1862, the secret conspiracies and open attacks of malcontents in the service, supported by certain politicians. He stood intellectually on a far higher plane than his assailants.

I did not know him intimately until the later seventies, but some years earlier I noticed a certain unreliability, a disregard of voluntary official undertakings difficult to understand. His friends noticed, too, about this time a very peculiar irritability of temper inconsistent with his usual demeanour.

I have spoken of evil friendships, but his devotion to Frank Hare was of another kind - it was like the love of Jonathan for David. It was almost pathetic to see, during the months Captain Standish spent at Benalla in the Kelly time, how restless and uneasy he became were Hare out of his company. I have seen Standish on the top rail of fence watching anxiously for Hare’s return from a short ride of a mile or two. He said to me that he was in constant fear lest some accident should happen to him. Looking back on those days, I think I see in this exaggerated affection another symptom of that mental trouble under which he quite broke down a very few years later. Not that I desire to deny that Hare had some very fine and attractive qualities, but this inordinate affection had its ill effects in increasing Hare’s already too pronounced egotism, and in the case of Standish himself it led him into the most ill judged action of his career, the superseding of Nicolson by Hare at a most critical point in the Kelly pursuit.

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