Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter VII page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


Amongst the traditions that have come down to us from the early days of Ballarat there is one showing that these roughs did not always have things their own way.

Russell Thomson was in his young days an officer in a British regiment. He suffered from deafness and, having severed his connection with the army, took to mining at Ballarat, his ‘mate’ being Mr Duncan Gillies, whose later career as a politician is well known to all Victorians. Thomson was peaceable and amiable, but did not like being imposed upon; and his strength and pluck were well known to his friends. The group of sculpture, “The Flight from Pompeii” , and other works of art that add so much to the attraction of the Ballarat Gardens were Thomson’s bequest to the city that he loved.

The following story is told of him:- While he and his partner were at work one day, some strangers appeared on their claim and tried to bounce and hustle them off. Thomson, not hearing what was said, went on quietly with his work until he saw that some mischief was intended. Seeing the leading spokesman, a stalwart Irishman, in animated controversy with his partner, Thomson came up to them, saying: “What is all this about, Duncan ?” On being told that the men had come to take possession of the claim, he asked on what grounds they did so. The leader said they had come to take it by force. “Oh, indeed,” said Thomson, “we will see about that,” and stripping off his coat he went straight for the bully, and gave him a dressing down that settled the dispute for good.


The blackened posts on which this hotel stood are shown in the sketch herewith. The original sketch itself was made by S T Gill. The burning was the first act of open revolt again the local authorities by the miners of Ballarat; the first stage in what Mr Henry Gyles Turner calls “Our Own Little Rebellion.” in his story of the Eureka Stockade. On October 6 th 1854 a man named Scobie was found dead outside the hotel with his scull broken, and after some delay by the authorities, Bentley, the landlord, was proceeded against before the Police Magistrate, John D’Ewes, and two other justices, Messrs Robert Rede and James Johnston, Goldfield Commissioners. Bentley was discharged against the protest of Commissioner Johnston. A meeting of miners, indignant at the miscarriage of justice as they supposed, was held on the 17 th October. The meeting got out of hand, and the hotel, which was of very combustible material, was set on fire and burned to the ground.


The folly of this enterprise is now recognised by all. I had left Ballarat for Melbourne shortly before the memorable day, 3rd December, 1854 , and therefore cannot speak from personal knowledge of the events of that day. That a few score undrilled and ill-equipped men should hope to overcome the military forces of the State and change its political constitution, was the wildest of dreams. A single volley from the ranks of the soldiers sent the silly sheep flying to the cover of their drill tent, hoping that they, being out of view of the soldiers, might be safe. Captain J D Carter, Inspector of Police, who was in charge of a party of police moving during the attack on the side of the Stockade near this tent has described to me the pell-mell flight into the tent, and the tragedy that followed. Clustered here together, the fire of the soldiers struck the insurgents down; and had not Carter signalled to the officer in charge of the troops to stop firing, scarcely one of the insurgents collected there could have escaped destruction. It must be remembered that the first volley was fired from the Stockade, knocking over Major Wyse and several privates; and it was natural and right that the soldiers should continue the attack until all resistance was manifestly overcome.

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