Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XII page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

Nearest to Hamilton were Achison, Ffrench of Monivae, Thomas Mackellar, of Strathkellar, and William Skene. Farther afield were S P Winter, of Murndal; John Coldham, of Grassdale, and his brother of Audley Station; and in other directions, John Mackersey, of Kenilworth, Robert Officer, of Rocklands—one of my dearest friends—Whittaker, of Longlands, near Harrow ; Daniel Ritchie, of Blackwood; Harry Eddington, of The Gums; Charles Gray, of Nareeb-Nareeb; MacKnight, and Irwin, etc. CAPTAIN WHITTAKER AND THE BUSHRANGER

The story is told of Captain Whittaker, the father of the Longlands family, and of his daughter, how they captured a bushranger who attempted to rob them. Captain Whittaker was sitting reading before a fire and his daughter sat in a recess behind the door, when the bushranger burst into the room and ordered Captain Whittaker to ‘bail up’, at the same time pointing a pistol at him. The old gentleman responded by mounting on a chair in order to reach his gun, which hung above the fireplace. The bushranger pressed close up to him when Miss Whittaker, whom he evidently had not seen, gripped the bushranger from behind so firmly that father and daughter together disarmed and strapped him up, and had the satisfaction of handing him over to the police. Captain Whittaker was an old Waterloo veteran, and his training and experience in war had fitted him for self defence. The bushranger came to a tragic end, for when being conveyed by boat from Portland to Melbourne he threw himself overboard, and, being weighted with heavy leg irons, he sank like a stone and was never seen again.

When I first met Robert Officer he was recovering from the effects of an encounter with a German whom he had engaged as a shearer. The German has disobeyed orders and was brought before the magistrates at Balmoral in order to have his engagement cancelled, as was the custom in such cases. When Officer returned to his home at Rocklands, he handed over charge of his horse and riding-whip to his groom. As he passed on towards the house the German sprang out upon him from behind a tree with a drawn knife in his hand. Officer defended himself with his fists as best he could, while the German kept slashing at him with the knife. So the fight continued until the groom again hove in sight, when Officer called him to bring his whip. With this he soon laid the German low. Next day the fellow showed such signs of punishment that Officer begged him off before the magistrates.


I had heard nothing about the snipe shooting the district provided, and I arrived at Hamilton without a gun, and this just at the very height of the season. It is not pleasant to be constantly borrowing a gun, more especially when the owner may require it for his own use. It happened just then that the blacks were holding a corroboree at Hamilton, and one of the mounted police named Thompson, an ex-gamekeeper, had seen one of them carrying a double ‘Joe Manton,’ and for a little over a pound I became possessed of the best gun in the district. It was certainly in a very rusty condition, but again Thompson came to the rescue, for he brought it to me cleaned and ‘browned’ as if new. Snipe were so plentiful that one’s friends ceased to care for them, and rather than carry on a useless destruction, I laid my gun aside long before the season closed. The birds were in greater multitude than I had ever seen them; and on one occasion when taking out Mr F A Powlett, Crown Lands Commissioner, who had come for a few days shooting, we saw birds in what were assuredly thousands, as they stood on the stones which formed the sides of the causeway leading across a swampy piece of road. Heavy rains had flooded their feeding-ground, and these stones formed the only dry places near. We got but a few birds, and most of these were lost on our way home. Even those we carried had fallen in the water, and as Powlett wished to take them with him to town we slung them by the necks to the hood of the trap to dry. The jerking of the trap wrung their heads off, and only those that happened to fall inside the buggy were recovered.


My first experience came to me at this time of what a blackfellow can do in a bush search where whites are hopelessly at a loss. The blacks of the Coleraine and Black Swamp (Balmoral) tribes were about to hold a corroboree at Hamilton . It was noticed that during the night they had unexpectedly dispersed, but no one thought any more of the matter until a report was received from Balmoral to the effect that a black known as Paunchy, belonging to the Coleraine tribe, had killed one of the Black Swamp men. As soon as the murder was committed the whole of the latter tribe had broken away from the camp and could not tell therefore how the body was disposed of; they could only say that if it was not burned in one of the camp fires it was certain to be buried in or near the camp. The police closely examined the ashes of every fire, but no sign whatever of human remains was found. Then the Balmoral police brought down a blackfellow to see what he could do. There was no use looking for tracks, as the whole place had been trodden for days by the police and people of the town. The blackfellow, when he arrived, made a close examination of the camp. The murder had evidently got on his nerves for he frequently looked startled as strangers began to collect and he had certainly a very scared look. Examining the camp he took up various positions to leeward, where he stood for a time, still as a statue. Then he would make a short sudden run towards the camp, when after a few repetitions of these short runs pointed to some blow flies resting on the ground where there had been one of the numerous fires. There, covered by a few inches of soil and ashes, was found the body of the murdered black.

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