Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXII page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


Before the Longmore Commission had completed its inquiries I was placed in charge of the Ballarat District, and after a year or more of work there, I was called upon to take the superintendence of the Metropolitan District, the most important post in the service after that of Chief Commissioner. In fact, it often fell to my lot to take up the duties of this latter office also during the absence on leave of Mr Chomley.

I entered on my new work towards the close of 1833. Every street and right-of way was known to me from my service in previous years and, I might also add, the qualifications of almost every sub-officer doing duty in the city. Better still, I was familiar with every branch of city work as designed by my old friend S E Freeman, the most competent superintendent the Victorian service has ever seen. It was with some confidence, therefore, that I entered upon my charge.


But all that glitters is not gold. Instead of finding, as I hoped, that some speeding-up was all that was required, and some straightening out of ordinary mistakes, it soon became apparent that the city police had sunk to a depth of degeneracy and decay they had never reached before. I knew that the officer who had had the oversight of the Metropolitan District for several years, up to about twelve months before I took charge, was one who had a tarnished record. I also knew that before his time the control of the city police had often been in the hands of careless and unsuitable men, without any alarming falling away; but now, in 1883, I found myself face to face with the almost complete cessation of all effective work on the part of the great bulk of the sub-officers and men. There were, of course, as there always have been, some honourable exceptions, but the majority of sub -officers and men had ceased to do any real work. They mustered at the barracks, marched out to their beats, which they left to look after themselves until the time arrived for the return to barracks. How long this kind of thing had been going on I never found out; but some two or more years earlier a medical friend in Collins Street informed me that his family could not open their windows on a summer night, lest they should hear the chaffering and bargaining of men and women in the street, and that he never saw a constable on a beat. I advised him to send to Parliament House, where a constable was always to be found. My friend said that was not what he meant, for by sending his groom across the street to Martin’s Brewery, at any hour of the night, he could get half a dozen.

The position of police affairs in Melbourne in 1883 was this: Many of the sub officers had compromised themselves to the full knowledge of the constables, and thus lost all control of them, and the chief officer of the district paid no heed; rather did he put discouragement in the way of the few sub officers who made any honest effort to correct abuses. He had, in fact, so notoriously compromised his own position that he was no longer free to enforce discipline. How the evils I speak of were tolerated so long by the community I cannot explain.

When I took charge I had no suspicion that the trouble was so extensive, and it took some time to get at the facts. Inspector Henry Pewtress was in charge at Russell Street, and, competent as he was, could say no more than this - the great bulk of the police of the city were not doing their duty; and that with his limited staff of junior officers no improvement was possible. Altogether the position was very serious. It was clear that the sub-officers were failing in their duty; and, this being so, it followed that the constables—the men who actually do the real police work in the community - were shirking theirs.

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