The following is a copy from the news report of the government inquiry into the conditions of the police services in Australia in 1835.
The Committee (consisting of the Colonial Secretary, the Attorney General, Mr Berry, H. H. M’Arthur, and Mr Bell ) was appointed to “..enquire into and report upon the establishment and strength of the Police Force and all it’s branches, to what extent it may be expedient to maintain it, and the expense it will occasion, and to enquire into the capacity and condition of the Gaols in the colony, and to report what additional buildings appear to be required, and the probably expense of providing them..” .
Tuesday 9th of June 1835.
W. H. Dutton, Esq, J. P, called in and examined:
I am a member of the bench at Yass Plains. The district extends in the direction of Goulburn as far as Gunnong, twenty two miles; to the southward it embraces Gunderoo, distant eighteen miles; to the northwest it extends over Burrawa Plains, and to the westward it reaches as far as the most distant stations.
The population amounts to between three to four thousand persons.
The police force of the whole district at present consists of one constable and one scourger, who acts occasionally as constable.
There is no court house, jail, or lock-up house in the district.
The Court is at present held in a blacksmith’s shop.
We secure prisoners by handcuffs and leg-irons, and by fastening them to a post in a hut, in which the constable is obliged to keep watch; notwithstanding all these precautions, they some-times manage to escape.
The weekly average of cases brought before the Bench is fourteen or fifteen, and they are likely to be more numerous ere long, as the population of the district is rapidly increasing.
I think that we generally have not as many convict cases to decide as free ones.
Suitors or complaintants have to travel to our Bench from Mr Warby’s station on the Murrumbidgee, a distance of eighty miles; from Mr Rose’s station, twenty miles further of; and from Maneroo Plains, which are no less than one hundred and ten miles from Yass.
I consider that an addition to the police force of Yass is very necessary; if it consisted of one district constable, three ordinary constables, a scourger and two lock-up keepers, I think it would be quite sufficient, provided a detachment of mounted police were also stationed at Yass. One lock-up keeper is required at Yass, and the other for a lock-up house, which I strongly recommend to be erected, at Gunnong, where one constable should also be stationed.
Two objects of great importance would be gained from this plan:-first, a safe place for custody, during the night, of prisoners sent under escort from Yass to Goulburn, would be provided, – and secondly, the constable from Yass, being relived by one stationed here from the charge of the prisoners (for the remainder of the journey to Goulburn) would be enabled to return quickly to his station, and the necessity which at present exists for his absence for four or five days, and for his travelling the great distance of one hundred and ten miles, will be obviated.
There are three unpaid magistrates in the district ,two of these gentlemen are brothers, and this causes inconvenience to them whenever they are personally interested in any case, particularly during my absence from the district during five months of the year.
I reside in the district during the remaining seven months of the year, and attend the bench pretty regularly, one of the other two magistrates is very regular in his attendance throughout the year.
But as our various pursuits call us away frequently to a great distance, and for very uncertain periods of time, the Bench is sometimes without a magistrate at all, and very often with only one. I have frequently been obliged to remand cases that have been brought from places forty or fifty miles off, not having, as a single magistrate, power to decide on them; the parties complaining in these cases would have to travel fifty five miles farther to Goulburn before they could find a full Bench.
Before the establishment of a Bench at Yass, I have frequently had to submit to much insolence and misconduct from my assigned servants rather than take them as far as Goulburn for punishment; and I am also confident that many masters in the district, who are far distant from the Bench, still submit to similar treatment from servants from the same motives.
We have no clerk, I consider one quite indispensable; my brother magistrates and myself have been frequently employed in taking depositions from nine o’clock in the morning till five in the afternoon.
There are no mounted police in the Yass district; but I understand that six troopers are soon to be stationed there; this number of men would be quite sufficient, but to enable them to perform the duty properly and efficiently, they should be provided with three spare horses; the spare horses are rendered necessary by want of hard fodder in that part of the country in which they are likely to be employed, which circumstances would make a rest 14 or 15 days necessary for the horses after any protracted duty in the bush.
We find considerable difficulty in obtaining property men to serve as constables. Persons of the character we would selected will not serve for the pay allowed; the duty to be performed is also more onerous and irksome than is required from them in private service,
where they are better paid and more agreeably situated. I would prefer ticket-of-leave men as constables to any other class of people.
I regret to add that there can be but little doubt of the fact of food and shelter being readily afforded to bushrangers, in many instances, in this district by squatters, and the facility with which men becoming free can, as such, occupy Crown lands in the immediate vicinity of their former masters; or, as ticket-of-leave holders, hiring themselves as labourers and stock-keepers with squatters already established, has become a source of great and increasing evil. These persons are almost invariably the instigators and promoters of crime -receivers of stolen property, illegal vendors of spirits, and harbourers of runaways, bushrangers and vagrants. The congeniality of habits between master and man, the absence of all restraints, and the predatory life they led whilst collecting stolen cattle, has a charm for them which even considerably higher wages in the service of respectable employers will not induce them to quit. They keep up a constant intercourse with our assigned servants, and knowing the weak points of each establishment, seize
their opportunity and commit depredations, particularly upon cattle, with impunity. I am convinced that all the petty pilfering occurring on our properties might be traced, directly or indirectly to the agency of these squatters. I would strongly recommend the necessity
of placing all unauthorised occupants of crown lands under the surveilance of the various Benches. Let each occupant be imperatively required to produce certificates as to character, signed by not less than two magistrates, he should also be obliged to state the intended nature of his pursuits, and prove to the satisfaction of the Bench, that he has the means of earning his livelihood honestly in the avocation he proposes to follow.
These certificates might be renewed annually. At the same time it is necessary that power should be given to magistrates to eject all persons from Crown lands whose conduct is proved to be disorderly or suspicious.
The constant vigilance of police, is, in my opinion, particularly requisite here, since being on the immediate confines of the located part of the colony, runaways endeavour to reach it from the supposed security they enjoy in the outer stations.
Those from Bathurst almost invariably follow the Abercrombie and the Lachlan to Murrumbidgee. The country, however, being open, pursuit is easy and intelligence would be more rapidly conveyed to a paid magistrate than an unpaid one. The appointment of a stipendiary magistrate would also, with a few exceptions, always enable us to form a Bench, at all events the changes of escape from the want of a second magistrate, would be materially lessened, and the characters we have to deal with are adept in art of calculating such chances.
I should consider such an appointment as highly beneficial to the district in general, and I am convinced the number of cases would be fewer, and the necessity for punishment more rare.