Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XVII page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

A more tragic accident happened on the same line of road at the place known at Martin’s Gap, between Mansfield and the beautifully-situated little township of Jamieson . Two teamsters were making their way to the diggings each with a cargo of explosives, when suddenly the leading dray, with all that appertained to it, was blown into space. Of the unfortunate driver, all that was left was a portion of one leg with boot still on, caught in the topmost branches of a tall tree, where I saw it still hanging many months after. The second team, though following quite close, escaped altogether. The police work, too, had for me a special interest. Like all places near the outskirts of civilization, the district furnished attractions to certain classes of people who were not to particular as to the way in which they supplied their larder, and whose instincts led them to settle down in quiet sequestered spots. The neighbourhood could boast of their Isaiah Wright, ‘Wild’ Wright as he was better known, and some others who had their special weaknesses. ‘Wild’ Wright when on his trial for some offence, gave notice to the Crown Prosecutor, Mr J T T Smith, to look out lest his favorite nag should disappear, and disappear it did. Wright was associated with Ned Kelly, who later became leader of the Kelly gang of bushrangers, but he was not deemed cautious enough to be trusted by Kelly when evil days fell upon the latter and he found himself an outlaw.

There were also near relations of the Kelly family who occupied the attention of the police a good deal, besides others who took up selections in out-of-the-way places east of the Strathbogie Range, and near the back country of Tolmie’s (Dueran) property, not far from the scene of the police murders by the Kelly gang in 1878. This last was really the danger spot of the Mansfield district. It was well that, although the shady characters who resided there were united against the police, they were disunited amongst themselves in other respects.

A curious side-light was thrown on this disunion in an inquiry held at Mansfield by Mr J A. Panton, Police Magistrate, into a vamped-up story by a local resident who sought to recover some damages from the Government. The people that might have been expected to support the claimant turned out to be opposed to him, and when I asked one of them, a man named Perkins, how this was so, he replied that the claimant was altogether too greedy, that they were full up of him, for he always insisted on keeping for himself the best parts of any beast they had ‘duffed’ together from Tolmie’s herd.

On taking charge of the district, I found there two men of remarkable merit - Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Senior Constable Frank James. The former was one of the unfortunate victims in the Wombat tragedy, of which further later on. These two men kept up an unceasing watchfulness in their respective sub-divisions. They were, by a natural instinct apparently, policemen of the best class, and had established themselves in the confidence of all decent people in the district. Had it not been for the efforts of these two men, the Mansfield district might easily have become a second ‘Kelly Country’ with its own independent gang of bushrangers.


The mountains appealed to Bishop Moorhouse so strongly that he undertook the journey from Marysville to Woods’ Point, alone and on foot. He had to cover, in two days, from fifty to sixty miles of very difficult road, with the prospect of finding only one place of accommodation on the journey. The Bishop acknowledged that he was pretty well knocked out at the end, and said he would not undertake such a tour again, but his labours were fully rewarded in the wondrous views and the loveliness of the scenery on every side along the route. The charms of Tommy’s Bend , and the wide prospect from Matlock, with Baw Baw and Mount Useful near, and range upon range in the distant south and east, were something to be remembered. The Bishop reached Mansfield in time for the Sunday service. The little church was filled, and the preacher, still wearied from his journey, delivered such a sermon as was not easily to be forgotten. The only ill effect of this fine sermon, delivered extempore and without notes, was that our resident parson, a man slow of speech, for a few Sundays afterwards inflicted some very tedious extempore discourses on his people until they rose against him and insisted on his return to the use of written sermons.

Bishop Moorhouse visited Mansfield a second time, but this was after the police murders, when his sympathies for the family of the deceased sergeant greatly impressed the people of Mansfield . When he reached Benalla, where I then lived, he showed special interest in the Queensland black trackers. Their throwing of the boomerang gave him great delight. The onlookers watched the Bishop as he dodged the return flight of the boomerangs, sometimes flinging himself flat on the ground, altogether enjoying the exhibition in a very unepiscopal way, and ‘tipping’ the black boys after every throw.

Next followed an exhibition of the tracking powers of the Boys. These Boys were shut up in their hut while a constable was sent to make a circuit in the forest quite out of view of every one, with instruction to drop pipes, knives and other odds and ends. On his return the Boys took up the trail and succeeded in picking up every article dropped by the constable. I shall have more to say about these Boys in a later chapter.

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