I would like to tell you a story about my paternal great grandfather who was a police constable in the far north eastern region of New South Wales from 1880 to 1916. In 1900 he fell victim to a slight misadventure which caused him some notoriety in the district. At the time, he was stationed in Casino, a small town about 30 or so miles inland from the coast. In September of that year he was escorting a prisoner from Lismore to the Casino Goal when the prisoner got away from him and escaped into the bush. This incident was widely reported in the newspapers both locally and further afield. It appears that it even prompted some amusement in the town. It was reported in one of the local newspapers that a cartoon depicting the event had been displayed in the front window of the local Town Hall. However, the incident was treated seriously by his superiors and he was charged with neglect of duty and required to appear in the Lismore Police Court to answer the charges. During the court proceedings the details of the incident were given. A prisoner, after his conviction of assault in the Lismore Court, was being escorted to Casino to serve his sentence. Halfway between Lismore and Casino the prisoner was handed over to the care of my great grandfather. During the journey, when they reached a place called Naughton’s Gap on the Casino road, they turned down a short track. There was dense scrub along this track and when they got to the top of a small hill the prisoner rushed his horse in front of the constable. While trying to catch up, the constable’s horse stumbled several times and the prisoner, taking advantage of this, jumped off his horse and escaped into the thick scrub. My great grandfather said he went into the scrub looking for the prisoner but was unable to find him.
My great grandfather was fined 2 pounds 4 shillings for this incident because the court said that the evidence showed neglect on his part. A number of factors went against him in the case. It was shown that he had not been using a halter and leading the prisoner’s horse as was the usual procedure with prisoners who were considered troublesome. Also, he had failed to follow instructions. When the prisoner had been handed over to him he had been given instructions stating that as the prisoner was considered “crafty and treacherous” care should be taken with him. However, my great grand father was not completely disgraced by the incident because it was noted in the court that he was held in high esteem as a painstaking constable.
A number of years later in March 1906 my poor great grandfather was unfortunate enough to be involved in another prisoner escape. This time two prisoners escaped. My great grandfather was now working in Lismore and was the police constable in charge of the Lismore “lock up”. Two prisoners who had been charged with burglary were under his supervision in the “lock up”. They were in the exercise yard at 7pm when he checked on them but when he returned between 7.30pm and 7.45pm they were gone and one of the bars on the top of the yard had been bent so that they could slip through and escape. They were later arrested in the Lismore township and it was reported that upon their arrest they stated that it was Saturday night and they were just having a night out.
My great grandfather was again required to appear in court to answer a charge of neglect of duty. This time the case was dismissed because it was stated by the court that the bars through which the men escaped were hollow and could be prised apart in a minute and that also there should be a guard at all times over prisoners charged with serious offences. At the time that this incident occurred my great grandfather was often called away from the cells because his duties also included answering the telephone in other parts of the police station as well as doing the rounds of the town on “town duty”.
When I was a child I did hear my grandfather sometimes jokingly refer to a family member who was a policeman and had allowed a prisoner to escape, but there was never much detail given and I had no idea that he was referring to his own father, my great grandfather. However, many many years later when I became interested in my family history and began to do my research I discovered the wonders of Trove and was able to discover the real story behind the rather vague one that I had heard as a child. Just by typing my family surname into the Trove search page I was able to come up with a wealth of information about this story. Trove certainly enables us to bring our ancestors to life. I attended a seminar on Saturday on a completely different subject and one of the presenters kept reminding us that Trove is our friend. I couldn’t agree with her more.
The seminar I refer to was organised by The Genealogical Society of Queensland and the topic was Ireland: Church, Famine and Immigration. My great grandfather, the police constable, was born in London in 1856 and came to Australia on the Ben Cruachan in 1878. His life was vastly different from the people we heard about at the seminar on Saturday. His father was a barrister and he was brought up in a fairly well to do family. It appears that he came to Australia for adventure rather than as a result of poverty, famine or criminal conviction. However, amongst my paternal ancestors who came to Australia, he is the exception rather than the rule because all the other ancestors were Irish and came to Australia as convicts and refugees from famine and poverty.
The seminar was extremely interesting and informative and gave me lots of clues for further research. I will let you know in future blogs of all the gems I am sure I will be able to find as a result of attending this seminar.
As for my great grandfather the police constable. If he had any other misadventures in his line of duty I am yet to discover them. He continued as a police constable in charge of the Lismore “lock up” until a few months before his death in 1916 at the relatively young age of 59.