Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXVII page 1

From KellyGang
Jump to: navigation, search

Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


A youth of 19 finding himself in 1852 at the antipodes straight from a quiet, well ordered home, without friends, may well be regarded as greatly in need of help and guidance. If he is self-assertive and conceited, wisdom might say that such an one stands most in need of help. My besetting sin, in those early days at any rate, was not in this direction.

The help I speak of was not of the social kind, though of this I received more than I deserved or hoped for, limited enough as some more socially inclined persons might regard them, but exactly of the kind that suited my own tastes and circumstances. I shall not, therefore, speak particularly of those who treated me to hospitality and kindnesses in this direction. These good friends hold a very warm place in my affections. But I prefer to speak, rather, of those whose goodwill and kindly wisdom were directed towards the building up of the character of a young man greatly in need of their good offices.

My first help came from the Commandant of the Cadet Corps I joined in 1852, Captain Jared Fox. It was not much to boast of, either on the part of the giver or receiver. The time was the morning of Boxing Day, and my only merit was that I had not got drunk the night before, as all the rest of the corps had, including the Commandant himself. The latter was too seedy to carry on the morning’s drill, as were also the several cadets he called upon to take his place pro tem, and when he found that I succeeded in the work, he promoted me on the spot.

My next benefactor was Sir William Mitchell, Chief Commissioner at the time. I had been appointed acting Sub Inspector - still on the pay of a cadet - in order to take charge of a squad of scoundrels, called detectives, who took tips under my very nose. Sir William agreed with me that the charge was one no gentleman should be required to undertake, and he immediately disbanded the squad, and appointed me to the full rank and pay of Sub-Inspector. This was on January, 1st, 1854 , yet I was not happy. With increased authority came greatly increased responsibilities. It is seldom that a man of 21 can be considered wise, yet I found myself wise enough to know that I was not wise. There were few, however, of my seniors of whom there was anything worth learning, though some of these, by self-assertion, made a brave pretence of knowledge. Probably they were inwardly as uncomfortable as I was, but for all I could see they appeared in my eyes at the time much more wise and competent than myself. This feeling helped to reduce the very slender stock of self-confidence that I possessed, and added to a natural diffidence that I had not the art to conceal.

This leads me to the relation of the next incident in my callow days that gave me considerable gratification and encouragement. Inspector Robert McCulloch and I were chatting together one day, when another officer, T E L -----, senior to myself joined us. McCulloch had had some police experience in South Australia , and was one of the two or three officers then in the Victorian service who had any practical knowledge of police work. L---- was one of the bumptious and pretentious sort. He began to banter me somewhat rudely on my diffidence and what he styled my over-modesty, when McCulloch cut him short by saying very bluntly, ‘You are an ass, L---, not to see that Sadleir has twice the good sense that you have.’ I hope McCulloch was right, for I soon came to learn that L--- had no good sense at all. My champion did not stop at that point, but poured out into my willing ears a valuable flood of wise and wholesome counsel. Youthful diffidence and simplicity make their appeal to all good and considerate men of riper age. Such, at least, has been my experience.

It was a night of great festivity very early in the fifties at our mess at Ballarat. There were several illustrious visitors, amongst them Captain (after General Sir Andrew) Clarke and Captain Pasley, both holding high professional office under Government. As I have said, the evening was a festive one and there was much license in song and speech. Those who were ever much in the company of John D’Ewes, Walter Brackenbury, or Gordon Evans, all camp officials of the time, will easily understand.

There were some of the company, however, who preferred the fresher atmosphere outside the mess-room, amongst these, Captains Clarke and Pasley. I well remember the fine intellectual appearance of Captain Clarke’s face, and especially the fine expression of his lustrous eyes as he looked in the fading light over the striking scene on The Flat to Mount Warrenheip in the distance. It was at about this hour that the miners discharged and reloaded their revolvers according to their custom, filling the evening air with reports as if the skirmishers of an army of soldiers were at work.

It was not Captain Clarke, however, who was my good Samaritan, but his friend Pasley who took a seat beside me, and after a few preliminaries, alluded to the scene we had just left. He hoped that I would never learn to like such scenes, and spoke to me of some of the aims that a young man should set before himself in life. I met Pasley but once or twice after, and found that he still took an interest in my welfare. He had seen much of the world in comparison with myself, and though what I have related may seem of small account, yet I can say with the wise man, ‘A word in season, how good it is.’

Of the men who have helped, Samuel Edward Freeman, Superintendent of Metropolitan Police, deserves a prominent place. Henry Foster, my ‘Super’ at Ballarat, kind and good fellow that he was, was not helpful in the training of men just beginning their work in life, though he could be exceedingly active himself. With Freeman it was different. He not only loved and did his share of work, but he understood every detail of it. Further, if his junior officers did not do their share there was a row. There were many rows, for with one exception-that of Sub-Inspector Martin Page, one of the London police brought out under Freeman--all the juniors were in constant trouble. They were careless, stubborn or unteachable. I have seen some of these officers suspended from duty twice in a day. Freeman did not regard me as stubborn or unteachable, but I was one of the careless ones. He tried sharpness, which had its effect, no doubt - Freeman could be severe and stern - and he also tried kindly and fatherly counsel, to my great gain. For I count it a very great gain to anyone starting in the work of life, to learn something of what the term Duty means, to learn to like his work, commonplace as it may seem, and to be placed under one who is a past-master at the work, and is ready to communicate freely all he knows.

The benefactors of whom I have spoken came into the first three or four years of my official life, a very critical time for many reasons. If I except a friendship with Robert O’Hara Burke, and later with C H Nicolson -the latter an example of men who love their work - during the ensuing forty years or so I had to play a lone hand, sometimes against very adverse influences. Not that I have any grounds for personal complaint, since my advancement in the service was quite as rapid as I had any right to expect. It is true, nevertheless, that during those forty years I learned as much from my juniors in the service as I did from any of my seniors, so few there were of these seniors really interested in their work.

See previous page / next page

 ! The text has been retyped from a microfiche copy of the original.

We have taken care to reproduce this document but areas of the original text may been damaged.

We also apologise for any typographical errors.

the previous chapter/ next Appendix . . . Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer index