Spotlight: Notoriety (Geelong, 1853)

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 – 1856), Wednesday 5 January 1853, page 2

NOTORIETY. — Dragged from the sinks of crime into public notice, Captain Melville and his associate Roberts stand prominently forward, challenging notoriety. Every examination adds to the sum of their crime, and rumour, busily at work, invests them with fictitious attributes, to satisfy a morbid craving after depravity, the more palatable because the more debased, and having but one saving quality — that of unmistakable courage unmixed with cruelty. The poor wretch who pilfers a pocket handkerchief, and slinks away to some den, is looked upon with contempt, and is immured without pity; but matriculating in crime, and taking a higher degree at an assize, by becoming familiarised with violence and wrong doing, attains to notoriety, and falling into the clutches of the officers of the law, the handcuffed highwayman walks as proudly between the police, as Caractacus among the Roman soldiery. Neither Captain Melville nor Roberts attempt to deny the crimes imputed, nor even to extenuate them, but on the contrary rest content if they can elicit from a witness a proof of extra daring, or an instance of highwayman-like politeness, or Botany Bay generosity; robbing a man, and then returning him a small portion of the spoil, or taking credit to themselves for opening a spirit store, because they did not alarm the delicacy of the ladies. There is something truly edifying in the urbanity of Captain Melville, tendering his thanks to a witness, and expressing himself obliged at the mode in which the witness has given his testimony; or again, warning another against giving way to animosity, and impressing him with the obligation of the oath taken. Then again, how gentlemanly is his behaviour to the Bench — “gentlemen, will you favor me with taking down the last observation of the witness,” or, “gentlemen, I must object to Mr. Carman whispering there, he seems to be Crown Solicitor to this small community.” Melville smiles triumphantly, and Carman looks, as only Carman can look, whilst Captain Fyans remains apparently as immoveable as the late Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords. Roberts stands bolt upright, faces the court unflinchingly, and speaks in monosyllable, declines to cross-examine, and contents himself with asseverating that “It’s no use.” And the Captain’s talent is not confined to bye-play, he can speak like a true melodramatic hero, sonorously and boldly, here is his last speech — “Gentleman, the remarks I have to make are simply these, I am now lying under remand, and not having received the verdict of a jury I do not consider myself a prisoner of the Crown. I claim, then, to be admitted to the same privileges as others, and made appeal by letter to the magistrate. Those privileges have been refused to me by the jailor, and by a deputy clerk from Melbourne, holding some menial situation. I made then an appeal for an interview with a clergyman — a privilege that is allowed to those guilty of the blackest of crimes, and sentenced to the last penalty of the law — but they still continued to deny me; they said that there was no justification in the Prison Regulations for such favors, but they would not submit the rules to me for my inspection, nor would they allow me pen and paper to communicate with those who could compel them. I want to know if I am to be allowed pens, ink, and paper, and it is to ascertain that, I make this appeal as a prisoner, although not a convicted prisoner, to the Bench. I have made application to the jailor, and to some one calling himself a deputy clerk, who can take advantage of my position to insult me — little to his credit — and this, too, whilst I am under guard of steel and bullet. Why should I be selected as a victim to be exposed to petty venom and spleen. I have an appeal for interview with a clergyman nine times, and was met in the harshest, most brutish, manner by those in power. There is another subject, gentlemen, that I wish to speak of, regarding reflections that may be thrown at a certain family. It is necessary that the public should know that previous to the occasion when I was taken I introduced myself to that family as a gentleman of independence, and in that family I always conducted myself as a gentleman, guarding the least clue to my character, and it would be a pity and an injustice that my misdeeds should fall upon them.” After Mr. Strachan had promised that the complaints made should be submitted to the sitting magistrate, Captain Melville complained that they were subjected to solitary confinement.

Captain Fyans: So you shall be — we have no other secure places down here to keep you.

Captain Melville: I can tell you, then, that you will have to do that with fixed bayonets, your Worship.

Chief-Constable: Make way there! Stand back.

CAPTAIN MELVILLE AND THE BENCH. — The Rev. Mr. Warde, in reply to Captain Fyans on the subject of the application made by the prisoner, Captain Melville, distinctly stated that he should decline entering the cell of the prisoner, except accompanied by another person. The Rev. gentleman observed subsequently that he did not think the prisoner in his present state of mind fitted to receive the visit of a clergyman.

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