Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XV page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


In October of this year I was instructed to take charge of the Gippsland district. It was joyous news, for, like Job, I was at the time covered with boils from head to foot, the outcome of over-work, and was very glad to get away from all the preparations and excitement connected with the expected visit of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. I did not feel sure that I should not be recalled to assist, until the steamer Murray (Captain Patrick) loosed from her moorings and sailed for Bairnsdale and Clydebank via Lakes Entrance. I managed to get some rest lying face downwards on deck throughout the voyage. How sweet once again was the scent of the gum trees and the odour of the bush, compared with smoky and disease haunted Melbourne .

Somehow I had come to think of Gippsland as a place so remote and so difficult of access as to be occupied by a few pioneers only, who lived roughly, and had not settled themselves in permanent and comfortable quarters. We certainly knew two families already settled there—those of W H Foster, PM, and H C Stavely, Treasury Paymaster, but it came as a surprise to find in Sale and the surrounding district several well equipped and comfortable homes, whose occupants it was a privilege to meet and to form friendship with later on.

I remember, during my first Sunday in Sale , being struck as the congregation of the Anglican Church broke up - not before, as my friend Stavely suggested - at the number of really beautiful young women, charmingly dressed, who could not fail to be attractive in any assemblage. I hope if any of these who still survive should read this veracious history they will pardon the liberty I take of recording their names here. There were, first, the representatives of the Cunningham family of Fulton , three of them married, their mother scarcely less attractive than her beautiful daughters, two of whom are now English Countesses. There were the Misses Peck, Sibbald (2), besides representatives of the families of Mewburn Park and Fulham, and of the Patterson household. I could mention others, but perhaps I have already presumed far enough.


The officer whose place I took in Gippsland was Captain Edgar Slade, R.N. Like most sailors he was a poor horseman, and, on that account, had seldom been able to visit the more remote stations in his district. He had established his headquarters at Alberton, at the southern extremity of Gippsland. He and others who had interests in South Gippsland put up a hard fight to have Port Albert made the chief town of the district. The opening of the Lakes Entrance however settled the point decisively in favour of Sale . For this reason Slade had to take up his residence at Sale , and was required also to visit his distant northern stations more regularly.

It cannot be said that Slade was a very efficient police officer. Yet it was remarkable how well his subordinates carried out their duties. These happened to be a good class of men who seldom abused the freedom allowed them; and when questions of discipline did crop up, Slade dealt with them fairly and judiciously enough.

As it is with criminals, one making horse stealing his speciality, another burglary, and in the bad old times, a few bold and adventurous spirits taking to bushranging, so it is with police—one man is specially interested in looking up horse stealers, another burglars, another forgers, another the snapper-up of unconsidered triflers. One constable named Shoebridge, whom I knew in early years, never failed to bring to account the sneak thief, the shop-lifter and others in a small way of nefarious business. A sort of instinct led him direct to pick out the right one amongst such small fry, but with higher game he was not successful. For the bush policeman, now that bushranging appears to have died out, the highest game is the horse-stealer. Horse-stealing has always been near akin to bushranging; it is but a step and often a very easy step to the latter, as the story of bush criminals in Australia shows. Happily, horse-stealing, too, like bushranging, is greatly on the wane, though there may be a few parts in Eastern and North-eastern Victoria that still require watching.

In some early chapters it has been shown that the Omeo district contained many criminals of a bad type, who, had they but a leader, such as Hawker (described by Henry Kingsley), might easily have developed into something equally bad, had it not been for the efforts of one sub-officer of police and the two or three troopers under his charge.

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