A. L. (Arthur Lincoln) Haydon.

The trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time online

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Online LibraryA. L. (Arthur Lincoln) HaydonThe trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time → online text (page 18 of 32)
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there was a High Constable in charge of the settlement. In
1836 this post was filled by Robert Day, his successors
being Henry Batman (1837), William Wright (1838), F.
A. Falkiner (1841), and Joseph Bloomfield (1848). A
few years before Mr. Latrobe received his commission as
Superintendent of the embryo colony the authorities at
Sydney had sent out Captain Lonsdale with a small very
small body of soldiers to assume charge of affairs. So far
as he may be regarded a chief of police Lonsdale represents
the first attempt at legally constituted authority.

The following memorandum, which appears in the
Captain's report to his superiors at Sydney, throws an
interesting light on the conditions prevailing in the settle-
ment. He says : " As to the state of order among the
people, I have no reason to doubt that they were as peaceable
as could reasonably be expected under the circumstances
in which they were placed, but I know that repeated repre-
sentations were made to the Sydney Government to the
contrary, of so strong a nature that Sir Richard Bourke
thought there was a probability of some resistance being
offered to his establishing authority in the place ; and
directed me to apply to Captain Hobson for the marines of
his ship, should I find the detachment of troops I took
with me insufficient. This, however, was perfectly useless,
the people were quite quiet, the only indication to the con-
trary was the simple circumstance of the printed proclama-
tions which I had caused to be posted up being torn down.



One of the first persons who made himself known to me was
Dr. Thomson, l who, with a formidable brace of pistols in
his belt, told me he was very glad I had arrived, as they
were in a most lawless state, and always hi dread of being
assaulted, or something to that effect."

The evolution of a police force from the more or less
military guard provided by the New South Wales Govern-
ment was only a matter of time. The expansion of the
colony brought with it the need for proper protective mea-
sures. In 1850 we find a regular body of mounted police in
Melbourne under Captain Sturt, the officer who subsequently
ran to earth the robbers of the gold-ship Nelson. After him
came Captain Mair, who joined the force in 1847, and was
appointed Commissioner and Paymaster in 1853. Prior to
this he had served in the New South Wales police. It was
during Captain Mair's occupation of office that the mounted
police were called upon to undertake the early pacification
of the goldfields, for which special duty black troopers were

In this connection we may note that the establishment
of a force of native mounted police dates to a much earlier
period. Soon after the opening of Port Phillip a New South
Wales officer named De Villiers attempted to form such a
corps, but the results were not satisfactory. This was in
1836 or 1837. About six years later Mr. Latrobe revived
the scheme, placing at the head of the corps an Englishman
named Dana, and the experiment is stated to have justified
itself. The establishment of the native mounted police,
as distinct from the border police, first appeared on the Port

1 This gentleman was the chief medical and religious officer and, accord-
ing to his own account, acted as police officer and arbitrator prior to
Captain Lonsdale's arrival. At this period Melbourne numbered about
150 souls,



Phillip estimates for 1843, when the sum of 2,675 5s. was
voted for their support. In a report from Dana, addressed
from "The Police Paddock, Menmi Creek, "to Superintendent
Latrobe, that officer wrote in high commendation of his little
force. The strength (in 1848) was twenty-seven, being
composed of a superintendent (Dana himself), an overseer
or sergeant, one native sergeant and twenty-four troopers.
Their uniform consisted of a green jacket with opossum skin
facings, black or green trousers with a red stripe, and a
green cap with a similar red stripe around it. The arms
carried were flint-lock carbines and bayonets.

In succession to Captain Mair 1 the next head of the
mounted police was Mr. William Henry Fancourt Mitchell,
who had been Acting Colonial Secretary in Tasmania before
he came to Victoria to settle as a squatter. To this gentle-
man Mr. Latrobe turned when the need arose for reorganisa-
tion of the police force. Mr. Mitchell accepted the post of
Chief Commissioner that was offered him, and, with almost
unlimited powers of action, he quickly brought about a new
order of things. It was he who introduced the cadet system
by promising a number of smart young fellows commissions
and outfits as police cadets consequent on their passing
through a successful probation in hunting down bushrangers
and performing escort-duty. This scheme had a dual effect.
It served to stamp out highway robbery in the colony at the
same time that it trained an efficient body of officers for the

Chief Commissioner Mitchell, however, did not remain
in office more than a year. He went back to England on
leave of absence, and on returning to Australia entered

1 Captain Mair retired on half pay in 1868, and on full pension in



political life. In 1856 he was elected to the Legislative
Council, of which he subsequently became President, and hi
1875 his services were recognised by the bestowal of a knight-
hood. A fitting successor to Mr. Mitchell was found in
Captain Charles Macmahon, who had been appointed head
of the city police of Melbourne and Assistant Commissioner.
In 1854 this officer took control of affairs in his chief's
absence, in due course being appointed to the supreme

By the time that the digger troubles had culminated in
the Eureka Stockade episode the Victorian mounted police
were freed from their vexatious duties on the fields, and were
able to concentrate their energies on the suppression of
crimes of violence. These had increased considerably
within a year or two. The motley crew who found their
way into the colony in the wake of the genuine gold-seekers
provided no little sensation in the matter of " sticking up "
and robbing travellers. In 1853, to cite but one instance of
the kind, the Gold Escort from the Mclvor fields was stopped
and over 5,000 worth of gold was stolen. Three police
troopers, who rode with the cart, were all wounded, while
the driver was shot fatally. The robbers made away with
their booty into the bush, but a few months after the guilty
parties were arrested, and three of the five implicated were

In and around Melbourne cases of highway robbery were
so frequent as to arouse public indignation over the powerless-
ness of the police. The streets after dark were unsafe for
individuals, owing to the number of desperate characters
about. But with the hardened, stop-at-nothing criminals
were several amateurs who in the general terror saw a
chance to try their luck at the game. It could not have



been a genuine " tough " in the case of the Geelong resi-
dent whose experience was chronicled in the newspapers
of the time. This gentleman was returning home with a
bottle of brandy under his arm when he was suddenly sum-
moned to " Bail up ! " With the utmost sang-froid he drew
out the bottle in pistol fashion and presented it at the head
of the seeming bushranger with the words, " You bail up ! "
At this the other dropped his weapon and took to his heels,
but a peremptory command to " Stop or be shot dead ! "
checked his flight. Then the hero of this story, after decid-
ing that it was too much trouble to take his capture to the
lock-up, administered a sound drubbing to him, carrying off
the man's pistol as a trophy.

This incident reminds one of that other occasion when
" Thunderbolt " is said to have introduced a like touch of
comedy in an encounter with the police by scaring two
troopers with an empty ginger-beer bottle ! Much has been
made of this by those who have sought to belittle the
Australian mounted police, but even if it be true what does
it count for ? The bushrangers of those days had ample
experience of the pluck of the troopers when it came to
hand-grips. The redoubtable " Captain " Melville, one of
Victoria's highwaymen, once encountered a well-known
police officer who was riding through the bush alone and
unarmed. He carried off his prisoner to his "camp," where
two other men, his accomplices, were waiting. The officer
taunted Melville with his " bravery " in seizing him with
such a show of force. The " Captain " lost his temper, and,
snatching a revolver from his belt, pointed it at the other's

" If you say another word," he growled, " I'll blow your
brains out ! "



" Not you," answered the policeman coolly ; " you
daren't do it."

They remained eye to eye for some moments, then the

bushranger's hand dropped. " You're a plucky chap,

and no mistake ! " he said.

Melville treated his prize with more consideration after
this test of nerve, and probably did not begrudge the chance
of escape which afterwards offered and of which the police-
man promptly availed himself.

The rank and file, too, were not slow to show their mettle
when put to it. There is the right ring about the story of
the trooper who kept three bushrangers at bay until they
forced him from his cover. Although the odds were so
heavy against him he still refused to surrender, and he died
fighting with his back to a tree, having emptied his revolver
and accounted for one at least of his assailants.

In a copy of the " Police Regulations " for 1856 we find
particulars of the uniform of that period. The dress of the
mounted men was modelled after that of the New South
Wales troopers, comprising blue cloth jacket, waterproof
cape, cloak, blue cloth trousers (white for summer wear),
white cotton or buckskin gloves, a jumper, neck scarf, and
Wellington or Napoleon boots. A black leather cap was
worn, with a detachable white cover. A note is added to the
effect that the jumper must be used only in quarters, while
the constable was on fatigue or other duty of a similar
nature, or while patrolling in the bush or doing escort duty.
On all other occasions the jacket was to be worn.

Each mounted man in addition was to supply himself
with sword-belt, cap pouch, trouser straps, military and
bush spurs, and the outfit necessary for grooming his horse.

The uniform of "officers included a blue cloth single-


breasted frock coat, with standing collar and service buttons;
an overcoat of like fashion ; blue cloth trousers with black
lace stripe down the sides, white cloth being adopted for the
summer ; white cotton or buckskin gloves ; high riding boots
of the usual pattern ; and a blue cloth cap with patent
leather peak and black lace band. The cap was provided
with an oil-skin or leather cover for winter, and a white
cover for summer use. An old-fashioned touch was given
to the dress by the wearing of a stock, or black silk necker-

Experience showed that the cloth trousers tore too easily,
and they were in time replaced by serge ones of more strength.
The riding pants, as now, were made of narrow-rib Bedford
cord, such as is worn by the trooper police of other States.
A later modification was the adoption of a helmet in place of
the old type mounted police cap, which was of the following

r^ ~^\

Police carbines, / \ pistols and swords
were the arms car- L \ ried ; swords, how-
ever, being used only for parade occasions.

Captain Macmahon resigned the post of Chief Commis-
sioner in 1858, to enter Parliament shortly after. 1 He was
succeeded by Captain Frederick Charles Standish, another
retired Army officer who had come out to Australia. Captain
Standish reached Victoria in 1852, and two years later
was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Goldfields at
Sandhurst. He afterwards became Chinese Protector, from
which position he was transferred to the command of the

In the twenty odd years of Captain Standish 's tenure of

1 He became Speaker of the Assembly in 1871 and received the honour
of knighthood in 1875.



office the most striking events were the outbreaks of the
bushranger Power and the Kelly gang. The story of the
latter has been told at some length elsewhere, that of Power
may be dealt with here. For many months this ruffian
terrorised the Ovens and Beech worth districts, with one
excursion into New South Wales, and at the last gave
the mounted police one of the most exciting chases on

An Irishman by birth, Harry Power began his criminal
career in Victoria as a horse-thief. It was soon evident
that he was one of the smartest hands at the game, being a
first-class rider and a skilled bushman. The police had the
utmost difficulty in bringing him to book. Power's undoing
was his firing at a constable who called upon him to show
the receipt of a horse he was riding. The animal was a
stolen one, as the policeman well knew. For " wounding
with intent," Power received a sentence of fourteen years'
imprisonment, but before the term had expired he had
regained his freedom. The escape was effected by conceal-
ing himself in a heap of rubbish which he and other convicts
at Pentridge Gaol were dumping on some waste ground
outside the prison walls. Before his absence had been noted
the missing man had crept out from his hiding-place and
made off into the country. A raid on a farmhouse provided
him with fresh clothes, while for a weapon he relied upon the
blade of an old sheep-shears tied to the end of a long stick.
This formidable " persuader " soon brought him into posses-
sion of a pistol, which he took from a wayfarer, and Power
forthwith started on his career as a bushranger.

As was only to be expected from such an adept in crime,
Power made his plans carefully. He employed an efficient
service of bush telegraphs, but beyond these had no com-



panion in his raids. It was a boast of his that he would
never make a confidant of man or woman. One of his youth-
ful aids at this time, it is interesting to note, was Ned Kelly,
the sharp-witted youngster keeping him well-posted in police
intelligence. By this means, and by his remarkable daring,
the bushranger performed some " sticking up " exploits in the
grand manner. Single-handed he would hold up a stage
coach, and make the passengers empty their pockets before
him on the road one by one, each victim then being directed
to a certain spot (usually a fallen log) where he was under
the cover of Power's gun. On one such occasion, it is
stated, he plundered no fewer than thirty people, whom he
kept for hours sitting by the roadside.

The recklessness and audacity with which Power defied
the police goaded the authorities to exasperation. The most
expert bushmen in the country, and black trackers, were
alike unable to run him down. At last the Chief Commis-
sioner sent for Superintendent Hare. " I want you," he
said, " to go into the north-eastern district after Power.
Take any steps you wish, incur any expense advisable, but
get him." With these carte blanche instructions the superin-
tendent left Melbourne early in May of that year, 1870, on his

The mounted police party was composed of Superin-
tendents Hare and Nicholson, Sergeant Montf ord, and Native
Tracker Donald. It was only possible to get on the trail
of their quarry by suborning one of his " telegraphs," and the
desired opportunity soon offered itself. A man was found
whom a reward of 500 was sufficient to tempt. He pro-
mised to lead the police to Power's lair.

The bushranger's chosen hiding-place was in a ravine
among the ranges at the head of the King River. It was



guarded by the house of a family named Quinn, who gave
Power notice of any impending danger by cracking a stock-
whip. A number of dogs were about the place, but the best
sentinel of all was a peacock, which every night perched on a
rocky ridge at the entrance to the glen and screamed at the
approach of a stranger. Power believed himself to be abso-
lutely safe from a surprise attack with such invaluable
friends as these.

Guided by the betrayer L the party left Wangaratta

and stealthily made their way through the bush. It was
their plan to jump on Power in the darkness. Luckily for
the purpose it was a windy and rainy night, otherwise their
presence must have been detected by the animal watchers.
In the fierce gusty downpours the dogs and the peacock
sought shelter, and the police stole through the cordon un-
seen and unheard. What followed from this point has been
variously narrated by both Hare and Nicholson. According
to the former it was he who first saw the den wherein the
bushranger lay asleep, and who made the actual capture.
Later on, however, Superintendent Nicholson denied many
of the statements made by his brother officer, and gave the
following version to the press.

" After proceeding along the base of the range," he
says, " looking upwards for Power's camp fire, but without

catching the faintest glimpse of it, our guide, old L , who

had for some time been showing signs of succumbing to
cold, fatigue, and terror, now collapsed, and declared himself
unable to proceed one step farther, and equally unable to
recognise the hill on which was situated the outlaw's lair.
We also were then suffering from cold, fatigue, and want of
food, and the night was still very dark and wet. I therefore
proposed that all the party except myself should lie down



and rest, and I undertook to watch, and to awaken them at
daybreak. They lay down on the ground. After they had
had a short sleep I aroused them. We resumed our search,
silently and carefully scanning the shallow gullies on the side
of the range from there upwards to where the gullies ended
at the crest. The range was clothed lightly with timber and
scrub towards the top boulders, and rock cropped up, whereas
at the bottom, amongst the finer soil, were some very large
trees. I was looking among these latter for a hollow tree
stump which had been described to me as ' Power's Watch-
box ' by young Ned Kelly, whom I had left behind me
under the care of the police at Kyneton. At last my atten-
tion was attracted by the stump of a large tree, the small
branches and leaves apparently sprouting from it being
brown, withered, and dead, offering a striking contrast
to those of the other stumps, which were alive and green.
Springing towards it, I found the withered branches came
away in my hands, disclosing peep-holes cut in the hollow
trunk, which they had served to mask. Inside was some dried
grass strewn on the floor, but no bed, as Mr. Hare describes.
At this time the blackfellow, who had been keeping near
me, recognising that I had made a discovery, sprang to-
wards me and looked at the tree. Without speaking, I

glanced back to old L , who was feebly following us,

and I pointed to the stump ; he silently signalled with his
head and outstretched arms an affirmative gesture, and
disappeared. I never saw him again.

" It was then just daylight, and the mist was rolling up
the hills, rendering it almost impossible in some places to
distinguish it from smoke ; but Donald, after one look,
pointed straight up the gully, and, with dilated eyes and
nostrils, uttered in a suppressed tone ' Moke ! Moke ! '



Hare and Montford were at that time exploring a short dis-
tance off. I attracted their attention by a low hissing
whistle, but knowing that there was not an instant to be lost,
as Power might wake up at any moment, I did not wait for
them, but commenced running up the gully, whilst Hare
and Montford followed, making a short diagonal cut to get
on my line. As I ascended, a defined track became plain,
and I then observed some distance above me a thin column
of smoke rising among some boulders. A little more, and a
few yards to the left of the line I was following, the small
fire and a few cooking utensils around it appeared in view,
close to a large boulder ; and straight before me, what might
have been taken for a small thicket of leafy green scrub, but
the straightness of one or two of its outlines, as well as a foot
in a clean worsted stocking projecting from the end next to
the fire, betrayed its artificial character. These were on a
small plateau or shelf on the side of the range.

" With a twist of my shoulders, as I ran, I got rid of
my loose pea-jacket, which was soaked and heavy with rain,
and quickened my pace. The thicket was broadside to me,
its entrance and the foot facing the fire. Apprehensive
lest the owner of the foot should escape either by the rear
or far side, I waved my right arm to Hare and Montford,
who were still behind and below me, to go round, whilst I
made a dash at the entrance, and throwing myself into the
gunyah upon the prostrate body of the occupant, I seized
and held him securely by the wrists until the Superintendent
and the Sergeant appeared almost immediately, the former
catching the man by his legs and Sergeant Montford by
mVankles. With one simultaneous heave we swung our
prisoner outside, and then the Sergeant quietly handcuffed



The structure in which Power had lain hid is described
as having been low and narrow, but well put together and
comfortable. It consisted of a good tough frame covered
with blankets, and these were skilfully concealed by leafy
twigs and branches. There was a neat floor of small saplings
about six inches above the ground, upon which straw and
blankets were spread. When the Superintendent entered,
Power lay half-dressed on his back, apparently asleep, with his
revolver by his side. A double-barrelled gun, loaded and
cocked, was slung from the ridge pole and so placed that
the trigger was within easy reach of its owner's hand im-
mediately he was roused. Mr. Hare averred that he seized
Power by the ankles and drew him out of the den ; Super-
intendent Nicholson declares this to have been impossible,
as it would have meant certain death for the aggressor.
Nicholson's account bears the impress of truth, and while
the honours of the capture may be shared fairly equally
by all concerned, the actual facts of the case were no doubt
as he stated.

Once arrested, Power gave no more trouble. He willingly
showed the police, who were nearly starving, where he kept
his provisions, and accompanied them to Wangaratta, where
he was safely locked up in a cell. It was a Sunday when the
party arrived in the township, and a crowd greeted their
arrival with the notorious bushranger. The latter waved
his hand coolly to the people. " They've caught Harry
Power," he cried out, " but they had to catch him asleep ! "

On being tried and convicted on four separate counts of
highway robbery, Power was sent into penal servitude for
fifteen years. This term he served in full, showing himself
to be a very tractable prisoner. It was during his incar-
ceration that a mutiny broke out among the convicts while

241 R


a large number of them were assembled in the gaol dining-
hall. The warders on duty had great difficulty in quelling
the disturbance, and seeing this Power offered to " lend a
hand." " Do what you can," said the chief warder, " and
I promise you I won't forget it." Seizing a big iron ladle
that was used for stirring the skilly, Power sailed into the
fray, and in a few minutes the ringleaders were laid out with
broken heads.

" I'm sorry if I've hurt 'em much, sir," explained Power,
when order was restored, " but you told me to do the best I

His good conduct in gaol was no mere pose assumed in
order to obtain a remission of his sentence. On his release
Power found honest employment without displaying any
tendency to revert to his old evil ways. His death occurred
in 1891, when he was drowned in the Murray River while
making an overland journey to Sydney.

The Special Commission which sat to inquire into the
conduct of the police hunt after the Kelly^ gang of bush-
rangers was responsible for the retirement of several officers
high in the service. Among others, as has been noted in an
earlier chapter, Captain Standish left the force on pension.
This was in 1880. For a time Superintendent Nicholson, as
senior officer, held the post of Acting Chief Commissioner
until a fresh appointment was made. Eventually Mr.
Hussey Malone Chomley, who had risen through the various

Online LibraryA. L. (Arthur Lincoln) HaydonThe trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time → online text (page 18 of 32)