Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXIII page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

Three of the four would-be robbers having escaped, it is at this point that Detective Jack Williams’ part comes in.

The man made prisoner by the bank officers was entirely unknown to the detectives, and so they were without a clue as to his confederates. Every detective and, I suppose, every policeman in the city who felt any special interest in criminal work made it his business to see the prisoner, Williams excepted, for he was engaged at the time in work in the country. On his return he amused himself by making jokes at the cost of his fellow detectives; and when his turn came to see the prisoner, a puzzled look passed over Jack’s face for a few moments; but presently, turning to one of his companions, he said: ‘I have seen that chap before. I think I can get the others,’ and then told this story to his chief, C H Nicolson:

‘A few nights before the attempt on the bank, he (Williams) on his way home passed a shoemakers shop in Spring Street, near where the Princess Theatre now stands. He noticed that as soon as he came into the light from the shop window, the shoemaker, who was still at work, gave some signal to a man standing near. This man ducked behind a screen, but too late, for Williams keen glance had already taken a mental picture of him. It was the man captured by the bank officers. The shoemaker was himself known as one of the criminal class, a fact, no doubt, that impressed the circumstances more effectually on the old detective’s attention.

‘The rest was easy. Nicolson, the same evening, after quietly closing up with his own men the right-of-ways behind, drew up a body of uniform police opposite the shop window. The result was that the men who were wanted rushed into the arms of the detectives at the rear.’

On the following day, Superintendent Nicolson and some detectives captured two of the other men in a house in Little Bourke Street; and immediately after Detectives Williams and Powell arrested the remaining man in Romeo Lane .

Mr De Grut continues:

‘At the trial Travers Admanson prosecuted for the Crown. Woods, the first man whom we captured, was defended by Dr Sewell; Carver, who shot at me, by Aspinall; Phillips, the third man, by Dawson; and Anderson, the fourth man, by Howard Spensley. Woods and Carver were hanged (Woods singing a comic song on the scaffold), and Phillips and Anderson got 15 years hard labour each.’

The sentences were severe . . The fact is, owing to special circumstances, the affair excited a great and really a disproportionate amount of interest . . The papers at that very time had frequent reports of the successful doings of Hall’s gang of bushrangers, of Gilbert and Morgan (in New South Wales ), and Victorians were rather pleased at the contrast furnished by Victoria . Howard Willoughby’s letters from Western Australia on the convict system there were appearing in the Argus. (These letters made his first reputation as a journalist).

The Argus, referring to the prompt capture of three of the robbers, said that it showed in a remarkable manner the efficiency of our police force, and that it was ‘a matter of general congratulation to learn that so daring and unprecedented an attempt had been frustrated, and the principal ruffian captured by the courage and prompt presence of mind of two or three private gentlemen; and it will be not less so to-day to know that by the unwearied energy, the skilful management, and the well-directed efforts of our efficient police force, the rest of the band have been traced to their dens and brought out to the daylight. We have a sound and well-organised police force.’ ( The Argus was too general in its praise. The detective police under the direction of C H Nicolson were very efficient, but, as I have shown elsewhere, the uniform police in Melbourne were in a very parlous state in 1864.)

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