Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXVI page 3

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

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Many who knew Dalton have spoken of him as the greatest policeman the Victorian service has ever seen, greater than Summerhayes even. He was not as brilliant and showy perhaps, but he had some very solid qualities that the other did not possess.

Dalton began his service rather badly, but fortunately his officers, knowing his many good points, were forbearing and did not deal hardly with him, and their forbearance was amply repaid. He proved himself during his long career the staunchest and steadiest of men, until he died in harness in 1888. Had Dalton and some others that I think of as I write had a liberal education, and were their natural gifts cultivated and trained, it would be difficult to fix a limit to what they might have achieved. Faithful always to duty, truthful, of clear understanding, and diligent, they might have accomplished great things.

Dalton, though a keen thief-catcher, never pressed a point unfairly against his victims, no matter how bad they might have been; his testimony was accepted without question by Judges and Magistrates; lawyers like Ireland and Aspinall learned to leave him severely alone. Clever and quick witted as these advocates were, Dalton was equal to them on their own ground, and his dry humour and racy wit enabled him to score every time. It would be idle to try to reproduce in print such encounters as these. The man’s rich Irish brogue and his solemn expression of face while uttering something specially humorous and piquant, could only be reproduced by gramaphone and cinematograph.(Note. - The word ‘Larrikin,’ as applied to youthful rowdies, and now generally adopted throughout the Empire, can be traced back to Dalton . It first appeared in print in a police court report furnished by ‘Barney’ O’Hea, an Argus reporter, in the sixties. ) After all, it was not in this direction that Dalton’s best powers lay, but rather in the earnest and unfailing attention to his daily task. Just a few words further in illustration. A few hours before his death in 1888, I had occasion to visit his station at Royal Park . I saw him in uniform, and on his ordinary patrol. When he came into the office he looked deadly sick. I insisted on his sitting down and telling me of his condition. He said he had been feeling badly for several days, but thought he would do better by keeping at work. I urged him to go to bed; and cutting short my inspection, I sent an express request to the police surgeon to visit him. He found that Dalton had typhoid fever, from which he died very soon after.

I had intended adding many like sketches of other members of the Old Brigade, men not quite so picturesque perhaps, but still fully entitled to special mention in these simple annals. I find, however, that what has been already written does but feeble justice to those whose memory I should greatly desire to make permanent. My further sketches therefore will be short.

Men such as Sergeants (afterwards Superintendent) Pewtress, Fenton, and Manson, three of S E Freeman’s importations, were the salt of the service. Trained in the very best school, the London Metropolitan Police, they thoroughly understood their work and were alive to all the obligations of duty. The first-named, Mr Pewtress, is, I believe, the only one of the three still living. I have had occasion to mention him more than once in these Recollections. Sergeant Fenton was an interesting personality in other respects. He was a very devout man, and held public religious services regularly in his divisions. At one time I felt lest he should become so absorbed in this work as to give insufficient attention to police duties, and spoke to him on the subject. At first he seemed to think that I was attempting to interfere with his liberty of conscience, but he soon understood, and thanked me for my advice and warning. Fenton, on retiring from the service, had the ill fortune to enter into some sort of partnership with the notorious Dr Dowie, in connection with the Zion tabernacle in Fitzroy, through which he suffered serious loss.

To Sergeant John Manson might also be applied the term mutatis mutandis, ‘a devout soldier,’ that was applied to the messenger sent by the centurion of Caesarea to St Peter. By the way, how well spoken of in the New Testament were these Roman officers, so generous and courteous on occasion. So it was with many others besides Manson, who were all the better and all the more reliable for being devout. As for Manson I cannot imagine his scamping any duty that he might have to do. His daily work began at 4.45 in the morning and ended at 9 at night.

In 1864 at a time when there was serious disorganisation in the city, I found sub officers of mark, viz., Sergeants Fullarton (afterwards an Inspector under the City Council) and Perry (afterwards Superintendent), and two senior-constables named Flannigan. Fullarton and Perry were above the average in regard to education. The special forte of these two men was their reliability as disciplinarians, while the qualities of the Flannigans were best shown in their unceasing diligence. They all deserve mention as striking exceptions to the many ‘men on the job’ that were then about. One of the Flannigans was very keen after thieves. Originally a cabman, he had given so many proofs of this quality that the officer in charge, Frank Hare, induced him to join the police service.

Sergeant George Ellis, afterwards Superintendent, has been already referred to in these Recollections as one of the reliable sort, and such also was Sergeant T Curran, who well deserved his promotion to the higher rank.

There were three other sub officers whom I have already mentioned in connection with the Kelly bushranging troubles, but they deserve more particular notice here. These are Sergeants A L Steele, James Whelan and Michael Ward, afterwards Sub Inspector. Steele showed himself to most advantage when any dangerous or difficult piece of work had to be done. His conduct at the capture of the bushrangers at Glenrowan showed what he was. Without waiting for instructions he took up a position so close to the hotel where the gang were sheltered as to be in danger, not only from the Kelly fire, but also from the fire of his police comrades.

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