Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXVI page 4

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

Sergeant Whelan’s qualities were of a different kind; modest and unassuming, he was a perfect encyclopaedia of all useful knowledge relating to the bushrangers, their habits, their associates and friends. His diligence, his fidelity, his wisdom in counsel, for he was being consulted continually by Nicolson, Hare and myself - were amazing. He had the oversight and ordering of numerous police coming and going, as well as the feeding of their horses, a business that in other hands might easily have fallen into confusion. If the officers wanted him at any time between daybreak and midnight , the mere mention of his name brought Whelan to their side. It was through his intervention that the serviced of the ‘Diseased Stock Agent,’ whose story I have elsewhere told, were secured. Yet Steele and Whelan, men of such proved efficiency, and of educational attainments above the average of their rank, were barred by a stupid system from advancement, and dunces were sent to take command over them. No wonder they were glad to retire from the service.

Sergeant, afterwards Sub Inspector, Ward was another of the men who proved themselves so useful in the Kelly campaign. Before the actual outbreak of the Kelly bushrangers, Ward had been for many weeks beating up their haunts. He probably did not realize the risks he was incurring, for it is very certain that if the Kellys had run up against him they would have made short work with him. Still more useful was his work in the Beechworth division of the Kelly country. Like Whelan, he seemed to know more of the people who might be serviceable to the police than anyone else. And he knew the ‘cronks’ too, those plausible fellows who could not be trusted. Officially, he was rated as a detective, but during the Kelly troubles he worked with the uniform police. When a scout was wanted, or a sharp reliable man was required to test some doubtful piece of information, Ward seemed to have the person fitted for the occasion always ready to hand. I do not know why it was, but Mr Longmore and his fellows on the Police Commission of 1881, made fierce efforts to do damage to Ward and Steele, but happily without success.



One of these, a man named Robinson, passed out of my ken as far back as 1854; the other, Dowling, some ten years later. They differed in many ways from the others I have mentioned, and from each other.

Robinson was a Canadian by birth, and was remarkably tall. I think he must have come from gentle folk. I am not sure that he was not one of the early cadet corps, but he was too moody and silent to speak much about himself. He found the company in the Ballarat barrack-room distasteful and took his pleasures, such as they were, alone. These were the days when they were very strained relations between the miners and the ‘Camp’ - a word meant to represent the government officials who were gathered together in their special quarters.

I do not know what it was about Robinson that aroused the interest of his officers. Perhaps it was his remarkable height, perhaps it was his reticence and a certain air about him having seen better days. Not that he was a degenerate by any means, for he was a fine steady young fellow, who did whatever work was required of him in a ready if not quite cheerful way.

‘What has Robinson been doing to day?’ was a question often asked in the messroom, until the novelty of the thing wore off, for he was constantly doing sensational things, in a way peculiar to himself.

After the lapse of nearly sixty years, it is only the small things than I can call to mind, for the reason, probably, of their frequent recurrence. Here, for instance, is one of the ways in which Robinson filled in his spare time. It was his practice to saunter out of camp, in uniform of course, and stroll along in an absent-minded sort of way among the diggers, and, of course, the cry of ‘Joe,’ ‘Joe,’ was soon raised. Robinson understood nothing of the affront intended, and went on unheeding. It was some time before it broke in upon him that he was the object of derision. When at last he asked what was meant, there were fresh insults. He enquired how he had offended, but there was again the cry, ‘Joe!’ Robinson was about to turn sadly away, when one of the miners came up and offered some fresh rudeness. Even to Robinson’s forbearance there was a limit, and, taking hold of the offender, he began to lead him towards the camp, when the man’s mate interfered. There was a short scuffle, and out of the melee emerged Robinson, holding two subdued and astonished diggers at arms length as they reluctantly headed towards the old log lockup. This kind of thing became a sort of daily entertainment with Robinson, in spite of warning as to the danger of such exploits single-handed. But in time the miners learned due respect for the man, and left him severely alone. Robinson after a time was removed to Carngham, and I lost sight of him, as I have said.

Some twenty-eight years later, I happened to visit the late Mr Philip Russell at his home near Carnham, when Robinson’s name cropped up. Mr Russell had a long list of similar exploits to relate about him, and seemed to have formed a special personal regard for him. He considered Robinson the most efficient policeman he had ever known.


Constable Patrick Dowling was one of the Melbourne City Police in the sixties. He was a quiet, easy-going fellow, roughly built and of awkward gait, although he had served, if I remember aright, in the Royal Irish Constabulary. The official records of those early days were so badly kept that they furnish little or no help, and one has accordingly to speak from the recollection chiefly. There is one bald record, viz, that Dowling had received a reward for stopping a runaway horse. He was one of the police who wore down the Collingwood cabbies of those days whose delight it was to drive down the long slope in Burke Street , from Spring to Elizabeth Streets, at a furious pace. The driving was absolutely reckless, especially at night, when there was the least chance of the driver being recognised. The driving was like what one sees in the progress of a fire brigade detachment hurrying to a big fire, the driver shouting, the foot-passengers crying out with alarm as they fled before the reckless cabby.

This evil practice had to be corrected, and to that end Frank Hare, who was then Inspector in charge, selected a few resolute plucky constables, to whom he gave charge of the business. Dowling had already given proofs of fitness for this particular work, and would most certainly be one of the first to volunteer for it, for there was just the spice of danger in the work that had attractions for him. However this may have been, the work was done effectively. As cabby approached at his best speed, the constable by a short quick run alongside managed to get hold of the horse’s bit and succeeded usually in stopping the horse so suddenly that the driver, who was generally half drunk, found himself flung out over the dash-board, followed by a night’s lodging in the police lock-up or in the hospital.

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