Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 28 November 1867, page 6
BUSHRANGING AND OUR POLICE SYSTEM.
BY A NATIVE TROOPER.
I was very glad the capture of the Clarkes was all over. Here were two men who could not be arrested for months, although the district was fairly swarming with police and detectives, one party running away from the other, and both sometimes running away from the bushrangers. If it had not been for myself and another in running the young chaps in Jingera to inform on them, I believe there would have been a worse gang out this day than any that we have yet seen, and that more blood would have been shed than could be dreamt of. It seemed to me as if the police authorities wanted them out, to keep up excitement. Clarke at first did not care for shooting the police, but one crime brings on another, and he had got to that pitch that he would have shot any one who came in his road. I am confident he would have had some more mates, and it would have taken years to put them down, unless the “system” had been departed from by the formation of special bush parties. Bushrangers must be fought according to their own tactics, and a bush party must expect to undergo many privations and many hardships before they can expect to succeed. If the police had continued to work the same system as before Carroll’s party, Wright’s, and other scouting parties were formed, the Clarkes would never have been taken. I consider that system bad, so far as the suppression of bushranging is concerned. I consider it a robbery to the country as the force stands now, and worse than if fifty bushrangers were out, because they rob for a living and only rob a few individuals in one locality, whereas the police system robs the state wholesale. It takes one half of the revenue to keep up a body of men that are quite out of their place. The force is established on the same footing as the Irish constabulary. The chief part of the force consists of men from the Irish or London constabulary. Most of them taken on are men just landed in the colony, mainly from the Irish police, never having touched a horse perhaps, let alone know how to manage one; and they have no idea of the bush, nor the ways of the people in this country. But they are taken on and sent to the police depot, Sydney, where they are kept three or four months at great expense to the country in teaching them to ride. I only speak about the mounted men, and personally I say nothing against any of them, horse or foot; I know many of them to be excellent men, as men in any way you take them, but they are placed in false positions when sent after bushrangers in a bush country of which they have no knowledge. As strangers, and acquainted with police duty, they do very well in towns and villages; in fact they are better for this kind of duty than the natives of the colony by far. But when it comes to country work, catching bushrangers in the mountains, it is a different thing. There may be found an exception now and then.
Well, to return to the drill. They are learnt to ride in a sort of a way, in about three months, under pay all the while; and they are learnt the use of the sword, quite a useless article, after the fashion of dragoons. The sword is quite useless at the present time for any practical police work. It serves merely to occupy the time of the men in cleaning and keeping them from idleness. Then they are learnt the rifle drill the only useful part in it, but though they are showed how to use it they are never practised in firing enough to hit the target at 200 yards. In fact there is very few of them that ever fired a shot till they were sent up in the bush to shoot robbers, and then when they come on him they blaze away anyhow, sometimes to the sky, thinking the noise will frighten if not kill. This has been well stated in those words of poetry on the late Sir Frederick Pottinger and his eight men when firing at Frank Gardiner in close quarters. This is such a bit of truthful verse, that I will repeat it.
“His warriors then, like valiant men,
With carbines blazed away,
While the whistling lead on its mission sped
But whither none could say.
For the snow white steed at gentle speed
Bore Gardiner from their view;
While Sir Frederick Pot, and all his lot,
Tried to pierce the robber through!”
Now, I don’t suppose those men ever fired a shot before, and so it is now with most of the men. They may be better now some of them by this time, but two, three, or four year ago, they were awful. Well, the first four months they are paid for nothing. But it is not only these men who have just joined. There’s the senior-sergeant with his large cheque to drill them, and he has some one to attend and wait upon him, as he attends on those above him and so on, to say nothing about the expenses for horse-flesh, fodder, saddles, shoeing, &c., to keep it up. It surprises me that the depot has not been looked to, for there are police employed as grooms to senior-sergeants. I was brought up in the bush and can ride almost any horse that could be found, but when I joined I was kept six weeks in Sydney learning to ride on a military saddle and use a rifle, but I never fired a shot out of it till I was sent to Jingera after Clarke when he broke out of gaol; but I knew how to use it, having served some time after Ben Hall’s gang as a special constable at Goulburn. It was after this they sent me to Sydney to be taken on the force. I had no idea they were going to teach me to ride but they did, and kept me there bumping about with long stirrups and fooleries till I could hardly ride at all. My theory for bush work is this :— There is not a district in any part of the colony but there are scores of young men, the sons of respectable storekeepers, graziers, and other settlers. They are men of intelligence, natives of the colony, whose time is occupied in stock riding, or other pursuits, but who are merely so occupied for want of something else to do. As an illustration, suppose one of those men was appointed the chief trooper in the district where he had been bred and born, with power to select his own half-dozen men. Can anyone suppose that a bushranger would exist in that district for a month?
Now I was drilled and equipped in the regular way and was sent out to catch Clarke. I never had any one with me at first, though I bailed him up behind a tree on one occasion, but I had to give him up on account of my revolver at first missing. I had a tracker with me but he would not come near after the first shot. He left me to the mercy of the two of them; but though I did not take them I took all sorts of care they did not take me. When my revolvers missed I was close to Clarke, and the moment my last cap missed fire he rushed at me like a tiger and called on me to surrender. I could do nothing. I dared not attempt to take him as he had a revolver in each hand and I saw the caps on the nipples plain enough. When he found I would not stand for him he made a rush to get his horse, but I knew he would have me then, so I galloped between him and ran the horses away, and while my eye was off him for a minute he disappeared — whither I could not tell; but I will own the truth — I got very frightened then, as I expected to be knocked off from behind every tree. I had only one fresh cap on, so I pushed home with his horses. If I had had a mate with me that day there would have been an end of the Clarkes. I could always find them if allowed my own way, but my superiors would have their way, and it was only once in the first twelve months we came on them in the official way, and then we made a mess of it.
So you can see from the beginning of this tale, after I had estimated the capacities of my immediate superiors, I tried hard to deviate from the system and have my own way with one mate; but they would never let me. Sometimes I got out with the tracker but at first he was useless when it came to close quarters.
Well, it kept getting worse and worse up there. More men kept coming out and getting in one another’s way. Some smart fine-looking men, new arrivals in the colony came up in charge of a party, but they knew not what to do, where to go, or how to act. It was all chance work. Some-times they would run up against the boys, but they could always get away. One, now and then, would be taken, more by chance than anything else. There was no generalship except what was bad. Now, if two men were together who knew how to work, and were to go out their own way, two on one side of Jingera, and two on the other, taking it quiet, they would all have been taken at the commencement ; but no, that would not do. Many and many a time I could have played the boys into my hands, and with only one mate could have taken the lot of them, but that did not suit some. The fact is, I showed my cards before I was ready to play them, and so spoilt a chance for myself, for I never dreamt but it was intended to catch the bushrangers with as little delay as possible.
But I have run away from the point of expense I was bearing on. Well, too many men is one fault in the police, not only for expense, but they baffle one another when in the bush. If some smart young natives were taken in the force and found with good horses — men who could ride well — good bushmen, and men who could be depended on, as there are hundreds in every district who can be — then bushranging would cease. There is a fine lot of natives who are brought up respectably, and would go through fire and water to achieve anything they took in hand; for it must show itself to the reason of every man that a native — I don’t mean aboriginals — or a man who has been some time in the country, and had some experience in bush matters, will know how to go to work better than men just arrived in the country. The knowing of roads, the nature of the country, the haunts, and the people is very necessary. A clever bushman never wants you to show him the road. If he wants to make to a particular house suspected, he goes to it at once according to his own bush tactics. If a stranger he would beat about the bush, or he would call at some public-house or station and learn in the course of conversation that so-and-so’s hut is over at the Black Range, or some other place, on a certain creek or river. He will then ride away in some other direction and slew round and come out at this suspected place before any one knows anything about it and wait the time to strike a blow, and then strike the nail fair on the head. Then its done without any fuss or trouble. On the other hand put some of them policemen from Sydney on this duty and it takes them some time to find out who is the likeliest to harbour robbers or the person wanted. A bushman would tell in one night in a country house which way the wind blew. But your Sydney man newly arrived from Dublin or London must enquire the road, and if he finds it out he goes about his work in such a way that the people soon discover something’s up, and their bushranging friends soon hear that the police are coming, long before the police have found out which way to go. Then some of the friends keep an eye on the police to see when they start. All at once the imported policemen gets some one to show them the road — but while they are on the road to the house we will go inside and see what is doing. There is Tom Clarke — on supposition — courting the daughter and cutting a dash. The boy of the house, or some one, is up on the nearest ridge looking out. The signal is passed and some one runs inside saying, “Tommy, here’s the traps!” “All right,” says Tommy. “You watch them away, I’ll be at the little camp waiting for you.” So, just before the “traps” come in sight Tom comes out and mounts his nag and rides away. Up comes the imported police — a fine body of smart-made men — they are now full of importance, armed to the teeth, they search the house, turn it upside down — no one there — they grind their teeth, and then get some dinner and return to their station, watched all the while. And perhaps a startling telegraph is sent to Sydney full of nonsense. The “traps” then swear vengeance on Peter or Jack for running them on the wrong scent, by false information. By-and-bye Tommy hears, all from the “traps” swearing vengeance on the person by name — that Peter sent the traps out. Peter has to fly for his life, or Tommy will give him a touch up, and Tommy has friends who will give him a touch up too. Peter, or Jack, or Sam, after being thus suspected and, in danger say I’d like to crack a wood on Tommy and get him “nabbed” but them — new-chum traps let out everything you say. It gets to Braidwood and then over the country. I’ll never tell them anything again.”
But the bushman, if let alone, goes quietly out of the house, and soon sees the little game if any is going on, and comes down on them “on the quiet,” and so ends the affair; while on the other hand the play only begins, and begins with Tommy having a full knowledge of the sort of men pursuing him, and becomes gradually familiar with the stupid way in which they are commanded. A man must be stupid who persists in any line of tactics which invariably fail. Fifty men only, of the right sort, would stop all bushranging in this country, and save the expense of the hundreds of men in the force, and horses, who are now doing nothing. Some of them are right enough for large towns and for serving summonses, and general duty, on certain beats.
There is Thunderbolt in the northern districts, and he will reign until special scouring parties are formed, or until some good luck befalls the regular police. I have applied to go after him but was refused, because my system was not approved of; but the pursuit of Thunderbolt, as I have been after him once, may be the subject of future papers.
In the foregoing papers many things have been imperfectly sketched, and some mistakes have crept in, which I could have corrected if I had been able to remain in Sydney and revise; but my general object will be attained if what is written be the means of drawing the attention of those now in power to the present system of police which appears to my mind very unsuited for the bush work of Australia.
As this concludes nearly all I intended to say respecting the Southern district, the next letter or two will have reference to a little duty after Thunderbolt in the Northern districts.
TO BE CONTINUED.