Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XI page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

CHAPTER XI - BEECHWORTH in 1856 (cont.)


Beechworth, which later grew into such a pretty, well kept town, was in a very unfinished state when I saw it first in 1856. It was a long weary distance from Melbourne . It took me six days to make the journey on horseback. Our Church of England clergyman, who arrived about the same time, with wife and children, was much longer on the road, for he had to use a bullock dray.

The earliest banks were, I think, the Oriental, under the management of Falconer Larkworthy, who has been my life long friend, and is still living, and, the Bank of Victoria, under Stewart. The former did its business in a two roomed wooden cottage, and the Victoria in an equally unpretentious structure. But better banking buildings soon sprang up, besides fully equipped churches and hospital. There were no shops or private residences of any pretensions, and the Government quarters consisted of a row of slab huts lined with baize, designed in the shearers’ hut style of architecture. And yet Governors, Bishops, Deans, Judges, besides other illustrious visitors were somehow accommodated. There seemed to be no limit to the hospitality of the good people of Beechworth of those far away days.

The Government staff was not nearly so numerous as at Ballarat for economies had set in, but even then there was not work for all. There was one officer so incorrigibly idle that he could not be persuaded to do any work at all, so Satan, according to the proverb, found a job for him.

There was an elderly shanty-keeper at the Woolshed Creek commonly known as Mother Morrell. This old lady got into some trouble with the police and, not being quite sure about the solvency of the banks, handed her savings - some hundreds of pounds - to the Champion Idler for safe keeping while she was in retirement. Of course he speculated with the money; and equally of course lost it all. When, on her release, the facts were told to her she fainted, and on coming to again, picked up her bundle, and without one word of complaint started life afresh rather than bring her impudent friend into trouble. Mother Morrell’s shanty was well known in later years on Mount Lookout on the Omeo track, where it is hoped the game old lady throve as she deserved.

The country outside the mining centres was thinly inhabited, and one might ride twenty or more miles without getting sight even of any sort of habitation. I was one day travelling on the old track lying between Wodonga and Yackandandah, then very little used. It was a day of sweltering heat, and I was startled by hearing a woman’s cries for help as she rushed from the one solitary hut on this thirty-mile stretch of road. When I rode up she pointed to her husband, whose head and face were streaming blood, and told me that a few minutes before a naked man suddenly appeared at the door, stood there for an instant, snatched up a large water jug, and smashed it over the head of her husband as he sat, still weak and helpless after some severe illness. The naked man then ran through the hut, jumped the garden fence, striking the top rails with his shins, fell, and was up again and away. I followed in the direction in which the woman pointed, and after a short search found in the sandy flat the tracks of the man as he strode towards a creek; and a little farther, the man himself lying face downwards in about three feet of water. In those days people knew very little of the methods of reviving the apparently drowned. I certainly did lay the body face downwards and tried to empty it of water, but I asked myself at the time, and often thought since, what was the good of restoring a raving lunatic to life again? Had he recovered I should probably have had to shoot him to prevent further mischief. The story of this unhappy was man this:- He had been working with his mates in the early part of the day on their claim at Yackandandah; and the party, knocking off work at dinner-time, walked towards their tent. This man stopped on the way to tie his bootlace, as his friends supposed, and he was never seen again by them alive. He had stripped himself naked at the spot, and must have run stark naked in the blazing sun, in two hours, to the place twelve miles distant where he was found by me.

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