Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter X page 1
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
CHAPTER X - BEECHWORTH IN 1856 (cont.)
INDIGO DIGGINGS DISCOVERED
It was during my stay in Beechworth district that the Indigo diggings were discovered. A week or two before, I had ridden over the place without seeing anyone but a solitary shepherd; and then in so short a time there had collected some fourteen thousand people there, among them, of course, the usual sprinkling of bad hats.
One morning a German gardener was found lying murdered on the road. After selling his produce, he had been seen driving his team towards his home on the previous evening. There was no clue to the murderer. Some arrests were made on suspicion, and while inquiries were being carried on a man named Ryan, known to the police as a drunken Tasmanian convict, kept coming to the police camp repeating continually that the wrong men had been arrested. This he did day after day, until Superintendent P Le P Bookey, who had taken O’Hara Burke’s place, caused Ryan to be run into the lock-up with no other purpose than to keep him out of the way. But this did not keep Ryan silent, for he would persist in repeating that the men arrested were not guilty, but that certain two men who had passed through Indigo about the time of the murder were the real perpetrators. Ryan described the men, and said that they were travelling towards McCrae’s Punt, now known as Shepparton. These men were found, and, fortunately for themselves, were able to establish an alibi. Then suspicion fell on Ryan himself, and one night while he was in the lock-up he was seized with hysteria, and, thinking that he was dying, admitted his guilt, related the whole circumstances, and in due course was hanged. Some years later when visiting the Waxworks in Melbourne I saw the figure representing Ryan there. Its extraordinarily life-like resemblance was startling.
McIVOR PRIVATE ESCORT TRAGEDY
The fortnightly escort took away as many as twenty-thousand ounces on a single trip. I have related elsewhere the precautions taken by the police against any surprise attacks. The McIvor escort tragedy has been described. This experience was not lost on the police; and though reports of intended attacks were frequent, no attempt to interfere with our regular police escorts was ever made.
Apart however from any danger of this kind while travelling on the roads, the manner of stowing away the treasure at night, at some of the halting places, was the cause of some anxiety to myself and other officers in charge of gold escorts. At Wangaratta and Benalla, both halting places for the night, the doors of the rooms in which the treasure was placed had not even a latch. The boxes containing the gold were kept in the officers’ sleeping room, and my practice before turning in, was to place a number of these against the door, so that it could not be forced without my being disturbed - scarcely adequate security for some eighty thousand pounds’ worth of treasure. One felt, however, at theclose of each trip that ‘All’s well that ends well,’ and thought no more of the matter until the next time.
Another incident in my experience in the late ‘fifties shows that an escort officer’s lot was not altogether a happy one.
The gold receiver at Beechworth, Mr Melmoth Hall, had handed me over a certain number of boxes said to contain gold, and for which he obtained my receipt. These boxes were secured by counter sunk screws, over which were placed seals bearing the office stamp. The police responsibility ceased when the boxes were delivered over at the Treasury in Melbourne , with seals unbroken. This was done, but on examination of the contents by the Treasury a parcel of about one hundred ounces of gold was missing. O’Hara Burke, who was then in charge of the district, took an active part in the inquiry, and came to the conclusion that the missing parcel had never been despatched from the receiving office. Mr Hall shortly after retired from the public service, but the gold was never traced. The Government had of course to compensate the consignor. This was the only loss of the kind of any portion of the many millions of treasure entrusted to the police, which seems to me to be a very creditable record indeed.
A PROTECTOR OF CHINESE
Amongst the officials at Beechworth in my time was W H Drummond, Protector of Chinese. He had served with his regiment in India , and brought away from there some peculiar notions as to how people of eastern race could best be dealt with. There were many Chinese on the Beechworth diggings, who were occasionally troublesome, chiefly through fighting amongst themselves.
There was rather a serious disturbance one Sunday afternoon, to which I was called with such police as could be got together on short notice. The police began to separate the combatants, who were all Chinese, but Drummond, who was a very powerful fellow, followed his own method. He simply knocked down with a swinging blow on the jaw each Chinaman that came within his reach. When twitted afterwards on his methods as a ‘Protector’ of Chinese, he maintained that his system was the only effective one.
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