Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXV page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

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Mr H M Chomley was the next Commissioner of Police. He had passed through all the grades of the service from the position of cadet, to which he was appointed in 1852. Had Frank Hare been wise enough, after the capture and destruction of the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan, to abstain from unjust reflections on Nicolson and others, he would, no doubt, have been appointed to the post with acclamation. But his mistakes made this impossible, and Mr Chomley was appointed in 1881.

Mr Chomley’s qualifications were not the same as those of his predecessors in office. These all possessed I think higher intellectual powers, but he had in a remarkable degree that which has been called the genius of commonsense and had had too, what they had not had, a long apprenticeship to police work. His career and his private character had been without blemish. His experience had all been in country work; of city police work he pretended to no special knowledge, and seldom interfered with the officer in charge of that particular branch.

Like other men, Mr Chomley of course had his limitations. He loved to get along peacefully, for he was of an easy-going disposition, and was ready occasionally to sacrifice a good deal as long as things went smoothly.

For example, when he was appointed Acting Chief Commissioner, an office senior to him in the service was supposed to be plotting against him in the hope of being himself appointed to the post. Mr Chomley should have known that this officer was an impossibility, for he was the one answerable for the disorganisation of the city police in the early eighties, as I have elsewhere endeavoured to described. I was shocked when Mr Chomley told me of his proposal - that this officer should be associated with him as Assistant Commissioner, and I strongly opposed anything of the kind. I said it would be a dishonour to the service; that the officer was so notoriously of ill repute that he should rather be called upon to retire from the service altogether. This was the course finally taken, fortunately for the interests of the whole police force.

I have elsewhere treated of the system of promotion by examination, and have shown its many unhappy and injurious results. This system had but one thing to commend it - it relieved the Chief Commissioner of all trouble and responsibility in the choice of persons to be promoted. The head of the department had simply to run his eye over the list of men who had passed the exam, perhaps years before, and, without regard to the fitness or unfitness of the senior man on the list, the appointment was made. No one knew better than Mr Chomley himself the danger inherent in such a system, of bringing about a dry-rot in the service. Now that more than a quarter of a century of the system has created what may be regarded as vested interests, a change might be difficult, still in my judgment a stronger man would long ago have brought the iniquitous thing to an end.

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