Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Appendix page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


By J Sadleir (ex Inspecting Superintendent)

(Read before the Historical Society of Victoria .)

I begin by inviting you to come with me in imagination to a spot on the banks of the River Yarra, where a group of three men are seated on a fallen tree discussing eagerly some subject of interest to them all. The date was 17th February, 1842 . The group consisted of two whites and an aboriginal, and the raising of a body native troopers was the subject of their discussion. The two white men were William Thomas, Protector of Aborigines, and Henry Pulteney Dana, an enterprising young Englishman, who, a few years before, had emigrated to Tasmania , then called Van Diemen’s Land , with letters of introduction to the Governor, Sir John Franklin. Finding life in Tasmania too dull, Dana had migrated to Port Phillip, where Mr La Trobe, the Superintendent, who had known him in England , employed him in the work of raising a corps of native troopers.

The third man of the group was Billabellary, chief of the Yarra tribe, and to him the two white men had made their proposals for help. Billabellary is described as being a very remarkable man - one far above the average of his race in good feeling and understanding. Mr Thomas says that Billabellary had saved his life and the lives of many white settlers, forbidding his followers to avenge themselves for any wrongs the settlers might have done them. Having heard what his companions had to say, he stipulated that he should be allowed a week to think the matter over. The Superintendent, Mr La Trobe, was always a good friend to the blacks, and no doubt Billabellary took this fact into consideration, for at the appointed time he returned, bringing with him sufficient recruits for the new service. The chief himself was the first to be enrolled, but finding the goose-step and other elementary exercises of the drill-ground derogatory to his position as chief, he was excused from actual service. Thus came to the birth the first organized branch of the police service of Victoria .

Henry Dana took command of the new corps, and established his headquarters at the spot still known as Stud Paddock, near Dandenong. Later on he was assisted by his younger brother, William Pulteney Dana, and by another officer named Walsh, a man of violent and jealous temper, of whom we shall hear further by and by.

I find that the duties of the native troopers were very diversified. They conveyed the mail and the Government treasure from place to place; they punished native outrages when occasion arose, but always under the direction of their white officer; they escorted the Superintendent of the province, Mr La Trobe, Bishop Perry, and other high officials, on their frequent tours through the country, and they kept a sharp look out for escaped prisoners from Van Diemen’s Land, who seemed for the most part to have favoured Westernport as a landing place.

Mr La Trobe was a humane man, and kept watch over the interests of the aboriginal population. He made many attempts to train up native children in the ways of civilization, but always with the same result - the youngsters ever found the bush ‘a calling’ them, and they yielded to its call. Mr La Trobe required, also, that all encounters between the aboriginals and Henry Dana’s troupers should be reported to him in full. Here is a specimen of one of these reports: -

‘ Melbourne , 23rd July, 1845 .

‘SIR,—I have the honour to report for your Honour’s information that, on Thursday, 11th inst., the natives attacked Messrs. Baillie and Hamilton’s station, on a lake about 15 miles from Mt Arapiles, and succeeding in driving off 600 of their sheep. Mr Baillie immediately proceeded to his station, and sent to me for assistance. I accordingly started in the night from Major Firebrace’s station with the detachment of my men stationed there, and arrived at Messrs Baillie and Hamilton’s station on the morning of the 12th inst.

‘After some difficulty we found the track of the sheep that the natives had driven away, and followed a distance of about 30 miles through extensive heath and scrub. At about this distance the advance of my party came up with a number of sheep with their legs broken, and at a distance of a mile found 200 sheep in a bush yard, and a little further came up with the natives with a number of sheep in their possession.

‘Upon our appearance the natives uttered a yell and commenced threatening us with their spears, and threw a number of waddies and other missiles at us. Finding my party in some danger, I ordered the men to fire, when three of the natives fell, and some were wounded. Mr Dudley, overseer to Major Firebrace, received a severe blow on the head during the struggle, but none of the rest were hurt. It is with very great satisfaction I have to report that the conduct of the men merited great praise for their coolness and determination on the occasion. The ringleader of the natives was cut down, after a long resistance, by Yupton, a corporal of the native police. The prisoner is badly wounded.

‘I have the honour to be,



‘To His Honour the Superintendent.’

It is a curious fact that the capabilities of the native as a tracker became a lost tradition in later days. Henry Dana held the powers of the natives in this respect in high esteem. He died, however, in 1852, before the police service was finally reorganized, and the tradition appears to have died with him. At any rate, some 27 years elapsed before native trackers were again employed in Victoria . This was when the Kelly bushrangers were ‘out.’

His younger brother assisted in the management of the corps. William Dana was a tall, fair-haired, handsome fellow of about 20 when he joined his brother at Dandenong, and he soon made a reputation for himself, if tradition is to be believed.

The ‘old-time’ bushranger was prepared to run risks that the more modern highwayman is not ready to take. In that fine Australian story, ‘Geoffrey Hamlyn’ , you will find an illustration of what I mean, where Captain Desborough and his police fought a pitched battle against Hawker and his gang of bushrangers. The William Dana of whom I speak is said to be Captain Desborough, the hero of the fight.

An entry in the records tells of the native troopers searching for a child, never to be recovered, carried off by the Westernport blacks. I made the acquaintance of the father of this child many years later. He never quite got over the horror of so cruel a loss. I find three such cases recorded at Dandenong alone. The thought of such perils must have pressed heavily on many a lonely family in those early days.

Another entry tells of an officer and party of troopers being sent to Flooding Creek to inquire into the reported killing of some blacks. The name Flooding Creek suggests that perhaps some may not recognize this place as the modern Sale , in Gippsland. Other old names have been changed, viz., ‘The Grange,’ ‘Maiden’s Punt,’ ‘Broken River,’ ‘The Ovens,’ etc, etc, that might very well have been allowed to stand. (‘The Grange,’ Hamilton; ‘Maiden’s Punt,’ Swanhill; ‘Broken River ,’ Benalla; ‘The Ovens’ Wangaratta ) Well, the killing of blacks just referred to occurred in this wise. Three brothers - Archie, Malcolm, and John Campbell - had made their home at Glencoe, near Flooding Creek. They had been always kind - perhaps injudiciously kind - to the blacks, and had allowed them to come freely about the homestead. The local chief was not a Billabellary - he was not a peacemaker - and he plotted with his tribesmen to loot the homestead, and, of course, to kill the occupants. The Campbells prepared for them, and when the attack began they let fly their solitary weapon, a small brass ship’s gun, loaded with powder only, for the Campbells did not desire to kill if they could avoid it. But when the blacks recovered from their fright, and prepared for a second attack, the Campbells did not care to take further risks. They loaded up with broken bottles, and whatever they could find handiest, with the result that the blacks never troubled the homestead at Glencoe again.

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