Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXIII page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)



I first made acquaintance with ‘Jack Williams’ in the early fifties, and he had then been already some years a detective. He was very illiterate, but a first-class man in his own special lines. He understood the ways of the old time criminals as no one else in the service did. He had great natural shrewdness, and his eyes and ears were always open. When any important or obscure crime was reported his counsel was always sought. ‘Dog-nosing,’ as he called ‘diagnosing,’ was an essential preliminary in every case, but his best results came from his alert and constant watchfulness.

In 1853, a retired officer of police named Brice was sitting one evening in the Rainbow Hotel, which stood at the corner of Swanston and Little Collins Streets, just opposite the old police lock-up. He was interested in the movements of a very flashily dressed man, whose manner was in keeping with his appearance. This person went stamping to and fro, cursing at landlord and servants because they could not change a twenty pound bank note. The banks were all closed, but still the man fumed on. Brice had no money of his own, but offered to try to get the note changed, if possible. He led the way across to the police-station, where he was known. Moving along the passage between the rows of cells, they brushed past Detective Jack Williams, who was making his usual survey of the prisoners in the cells. Jack took no special notice of the stranger, but his quick ears caught the sudden exclamation of one of the prisoners who was looking through the opening of his cell door: ‘By G---, they’ve got Dalton!’ Jack followed the two men, and, giving a signal to the watch-house keeper, flung himself on the stranger, who was armed with pistols all over him. The voice from the cell was right. It was the famous bushranger, who had been guilty of so many deeds of violence.


As will be seen, Williams, the old detective, played an important part in connection with the following very interesting story, for had it not been for his skill and knowledge, three out of the four criminals concerned would almost certainly have escaped justice.

For the principal facts in the scene now to be related I am indebted to the kindness of one of the two participators- Mr P de Jersey Grut-in a remarkably plucky defence, unarmed as they were, against the very determined attempt of four armed criminals to rob the bank of which they were in charge.

I am glad to be able to revive this story for the most part in the words of Mr de Jersey Grut themself. It was only by persistent and long continued appeals to that gentleman that he could be persuaded to speak of the affair at all. In response to my importunities, Mr de Jersey Grut says: ‘ Instead of giving you a set description of the attempt to rob the branch of the E S&A Chartered Bank, near the corner of George and Gertrude Streets, Fitzroy, I give you . . these few notes. At the moment of the attempt . . the only people in the office were John Dowling the manager, and myself the ledger-keeper. The bank revolver was not in the office, having been left upstairs in Dowling’s bedroom.

‘At about 20 minutes past 10 in the morning of 14th June, 1864, four men rushed in the bank - or, perhaps, it would be more correct to say three, as one of the men remained at the door (though in full view by me) to act, no doubt, as guard, while the business inside was being carried out. One man made for the manager’s parlour behind the public office, but was seized by Dowling as he entered the doorway of the room, fortunately in such a way that his wrist holding a revolver was so held that the revolver could not be pointed at Dowling. Dowling was unable, at the moment, to see the other men. At the same moment, one of them pointed his revolver at me . . For a few seconds I looked into his muzzle. Unhappily for the success of the enterprise, this second man took his eyes off me, and partly turned his head for a moment to see what the third man was doing. This gave me my opportunity, and I immediately flew at his throat to garrot him. Most fortunately for us the third and fourth men, seeing resistance, lost their nerve and fled. My man was very strongly built fellow; but I also, though only 19, was strong built, with a fairly good knowledge of wrestling as well as boxing. I had worked myself behind him, partly to avoid his pistol and partly to get the proper garrotting purchase . . A few seconds more and I would have strangled him, but at last he managed to fire over his left shoulder, full at my head, which, however, I very promptly shifted a fraction of a second before the shot was fired. The detonation so close to my ear was stunning, and I momentarily relaxed my grip, so that he was enabled to burst from me and rush for the door only a few feet off - with me after him, but he was through before I could seize him.

‘This closed what I might call the first phase of the fight, which cannot have lasted a minute, perhaps, from the first rush.

‘All this time, Dowling and the first man were struggling inside the manager’s room, and at the moment that the second man escaped from me I saw Tom Dowling (a pastoralist on a visit to his brother) enter from the private part of the building. Before going to assist the manager, I locked and barred the outer door so that the man inside should not escape, and almost at the same moment heard a shot fired inside. The robber, though unable to bring his weapon to bear on John Dowling, was able to do so on his brother. The bullet passed through the soft part of the palm of his hand. Then the two men secured the man’s wrist. At this moment I entered from the outer room and seized the blade of a long dagger held in his other hand. The fellow sagged the weapon back and forwards so that my hand was cut . . Turning to a table near by I took a long, heavy brass candlestick . . And hit him on the head. That finished the fight. Just then noises were heard at the door and on opening it several people came in, attracted by the firing, headed by a neighbouring grocer named Ross, armed with his cheese knife. The fact that the fight was then over does not detract from the courage he showed.’

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