Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter V page 3

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

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It must not be thought, because the diggers at Ballarat and elsewhere were not satisfied with their treatment by the Government that therefore the local officers were to blame. It was natural enough that the diggers, who felt the pressure only through the action of these officers, should regard them with little favour, not knowing that they, no less than the diggers themselves, considered the Government regulations needlessly harsh and unreasonable; and that they were doing what they could to bring the central authorities over to their views. I know that this was a common topic of conversation when the local officers met together in the evenings. I do not pretend to say that the views of one so young and inexperienced as myself were specially asked for, but neither was I excluded from any of the discussions of my seniors, nor was any officer, now matter how junior he may have been, discouraged from relating any facts bearing on the subject. There were two things that impressed one in these talks, one was that the existing order of things was bound to lead to some serious trouble; and the other that it was believed that Sir William Stawell, the Attorney General and the leading spirit in the Government, stood in the way of any relaxation of the regulations. How far this latter assumption was based on fact I cannot say.

The restrictions under which persons carried on any business on the diggings were irritating and un-British. No man of whatever calling could put foot on the goldfields without first procuring a license for which at one time a fee of three pounds per month was demanded. If he opened a store, a druggist’s shop, or started a medical practice there were further fees; no liquors were to be sold, nor was liquor to be imported by any resident in quantities of less than two gallons.

The real trouble, however, raged round the collection of the miners’ licenses. With exceedingly few exceptions every officer engaged in this work wished to do it with the least amount of friction; but circumstances were sometimes too strong for them. The ill-will of the diggers towards the police shown in offensive cries such as 'Trap', 'Joe', &c., which flew like wildfire from place to place on the appearance of a constable, no matter what business he was bent on, was very provocative, but I don’t think much harm resulted; and besides, all 'digger hunts' - the name given to the expeditions for the examination of licenses - were conducted under the personal direction of responsible officers, who would certainly restrain any too excessive zeal of the men under them. I speak in this matter for the Ballarat authorities only, where there were no bullies of the David Armstrong type.

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