Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XIV page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)



I first met Aspinall in February, 1856, at Castlemaine, where he started on his professional career. He was a bright, clever and entertaining companion, but I did not see enough of him to say whether he showed promise then of becoming, as he did, one of the ablest advocates of his day, and a most brilliant humorist. It became the fashion to credit Aspinall with every good joke and witty saying that went the rounds in later years. His deep gruff voice set people laughing before his jokes were uttered. The Crown Prosecutors had often a bad time under a running fire of interjections from Aspinall when he was counsel for the defence. Travers Adamson simply went wild on such occasions, and often lost the thread of his argument, which was the very thing no doubt that suited Aspinall. I shall give but one specimen showing the readiness of Aspinall’s wit, and the liberty he sometimes took with the presiding judge.

The late C A Smyth was one of the regular prosecutors for the Crown, and he insisted that when his name was used it should be pronounced Smythe. This was a rule that Aspinall would not observe, but persisted in speaking of the Crown Prosecutor as Mr Smith.

In a certain case in which the two lawyers were engaged, and in which the late Judge Barry presided, His Honor in the course of his address to the jury had occasion to use the word myth, when Aspinall, in his deepest, gravest voice begged His Honor’s pardon, but would he, out of respect to his learned friend, he pleased to pronounce the word, myth? It was a great liberty to take with so dignified a judge, but His Honor managed to maintain his gravity notwithstanding the roar of laughter that filled the Court.

Aspinall, however, required his audience altogether to himself; otherwise he was silent. At a dinner given to Joseph Jefferson (Rip Van Winkle) by his friends here in the sixties - the great actor was himself a man of great humour - to do him special honour both Aspinall and his rival legal humorist, R D Ireland were invited as guests. It was expected that from such a combination there would be a flow of wit to set the table on a roar. But these two did not combine. Aspinall, as he was wont, opened with a few quips and cranks, but when Ireland cut in with some of his rollicking stories that made everybody roar, Aspinall became silent at once, and so remained throughout the evening. Many of Aspinall’s most brilliant sallies are not suitable for these modest pages. As a later legal wit used to say – the best jokes are unprintable.


Doctor McCarthy was a philanthropist who started an institution, somewhere out Northcote way, with the view of helping those who found the drink habit getting the mastery over them. His institution was the pioneer of many of the same kind since established. Amongst Dr McCarthy’s early patients was Mr Ireland , who volunteered to give the Northcote institution a trial. There was some legal fiction by which patients were supposed to be bound to remain under treatment as long as Mr McCarthy considered necessary. Ireland remained but one day, leaving next morning without the knowledge or consent of the head of the institution. He went straight before a Judge in Chambers and applied in person for a Writ of Habeas for the body of Richard Davies Ireland , to the great astonishment naturally of His Honor. While explanations were going on, Dr McCarthy came upon the scene. He wanted no legal intervention; moral suasion was in forte, and, turning to his illustrious patient, undertook to lengthen his days if he would continue under his care. ‘Devil a doubt of that,’ was the reply, ‘for the day I spent in your place was the longest day I ever spent in my life.’

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