Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXVI page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


It is said that it is the drill sergeant who has made the British Army, and so, in a sense, it may be said that it is the sub officer of police on whom the efficiency of the police service depends. He it is who gets or should get the best results out of the constables who, as I have pointed out elsewhere, are those who actually do the work.

I have helped in the training of some first class sub officers. Some I have found ready to hand; some I have helped to recover lost ground who in evil days and under adverse circumstances failed to maintain their first estate. I know well how hopeless many a hard task would have been for me, could I not have reckoned on the aid of such men. These good fellows went about their work as if they loved it, as I am sure they did. Many of them were men of quite brilliant natural gifts; and all of them, with the reasonable support of their superiors, could be relied on to do their work well. Without this support - like Samson without his locks - they became like other men. There is indeed no better work a superior officer can set himself, than that of perfecting his ‘subs,’ and inspiring them with confidence in his support.

In the following short sketches I speak only of those men whom I knew best, all of them members of the Uniform Police, for with the Detective branch I have had little more than a nodding acquittance, so to speak.


When I came across Power in 1856 he was then stationed at Wodonga. This town, by the way, has not fulfilled its early promise, but has been left far behind by Albury just across the river on the New South Wales side, the advance of the latter town being due no doubt to the benefits of Free Trade under Sir George Reid’s regime.

In 1856 Power was a busy man, for he was policeman, sub officer of Customs, and I know not what else. He has been already mentioned in these Recollections, but, at the risk of repetition, I venture on this short summary of his character as it appeared to me.

To look at Power one might easily take him to be a commonplace, perhaps even a dull man, but in reality he was most acute and observant. In his day Wodonga was the junction of many lines of communication between Victoria and New South Wales , and was the crossing place for wandering diggers, cattle-men and other travellers. On these wayfarers he kept a constant eye. News travelled slowly in those days, for there was no telegraph and a weekly mail only, but when tardy information of some crime did reach him, Power was usually able to say with confidence whether suspects had or had not passed his way; while as regards Customs affairs Hannify, the chief Custom officer, seemed to rely altogether on him.

In my sketch elsewhere of O’Hara Burke I have mentioned a case in which a Police Magistrate, one of the very few black sheep of the public service, and a local pound keeper were found to be dividing between them moneys that should have passed into the State Treasury. It was Power who made the discovery. The scheme was entirely outside the lines of ordinary police observation, but Power knew no such limits when he was on the scent of any kind of roguery, neither did he fear to impeach so great a magnate as a Police Magistrate when he found him tripping. It is still a mystery how Power came by his information. He had never seen the magistrate, who held his court thirty miles away, where he was supposed to check the pound keeper’s books, neither, one may be sure, did the pound keeper confide in him, yet he was able to place before his Superintendent, O’Hara Burke, full details of the wrongdoing of both. It was not Power’s fault that there was no formal prosecution, for the Magistrate fled the State and the records and books were destroyed before Power could secure them. After 1859, having left the North-Eastern District, I quite lost sight of this very able sub officer.


It was in 1856 also that I first made acquaintance with Du Vernet. He was a dashing handsome man of 25, a scion of a French-Canadian family that has produced more than one man of mark. He had joined the Victorian service as a cadet in 53, but when the cadets ceased to be a separate corps Du Vernet, instead of leaving the service as so many cadets did, elected to remain with the rank of Sergeant.

I have not selected Du Vernet as a sample of the strict disciplinarian, for his forte did not lie in this direction. Indeed, it has to be admitted that it was his disregard of discipline, being tempted in an evil hour by some Delilah, that led to his downfall.

Du Vernet had a natural instinct for police work of nearly every kind. The common thief, the horse stealer, the highway man, and the military deserter all received his best attention, and learned to respect and fear this young and capable sergeant of police.

The Woolshed diggings, near Beechworth, in 1856 was a very busy place, the rich alluvial discoveries attracted very many thousands of people, with the usual company of camp followers, men and women, who did not work but lived instead on the industry of others. It was here that Du Vernet first made a name for himself. He was the means of bringing more criminals before the Courts than any other half-dozen police throughout the district, Sergeant Power excepted. He did more. He made his work profitable to himself in a perfectly legitimate way.

At the time of which I write, the Beechworth gold mines were among those most remote from the metropolis, and it was for this reason, as I suppose, that military deserters made their way thither. The military authorities found it difficult to keep able-bodied men at a shilling a day, when an ordinary laborer could earn a pound, and the leakage became something serious. The two regiments - the 12th and the 40th, if I remember correctly - were the sufferers. With the view of checking this evil a standing reward of five pounds was offered for the arrest of each deserter. I have known Du Vernet to bring into camp as many as five of these in one week, representing the sum of twenty-five pounds, his honest earnings for extras in that short time.

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