Comment on the Police Beyond the Boundaries
5 August 1846 The Sydney Morning Herald
Lower Murrumbidgee, July 27.
Even in this remote quarter, much excitement has prevailed in reference to the departure of Sir George Gipps from our shores; but now that he has really left us, that excitement has given place to deep and intense interest for the probable policy of his nominated successor, in adjusting the momentous questions of "Crown Lands Occupation" and "Police beyond the Boundaries."
In the present unsettled state of the matter, the graziers experience a feeling of insecurity and dissatisfaction greater than any they have yet sustained; and it is to be earnestly hoped Sir Charles Fitzroy's first attention will be given to the adjustment of a question so deeply fraught with the vital interest of the whole community.
The discontinuance of the "border police" as a protective force, and the anticipated discharge of Commissioners of Crown Lands, forms the principal subject of interest and conversation with us, and the general feeling is strongly in favour of a thorough change in the disposition and organization of the "corps," if such a term maybe applied to a border police force so ridiculously constituted, and so thoroughly ineffective.
Some honourable members on the Government benches have appeared from their arguments on the late border police question to be quixotically sensitive for the safety of the squatters, and tremblingly alive to the dreadful consequences likely to result to the community beyond the boundaries by the withdrawal of the border troopers; but they should methinks first have made it apparent that the "border police" had effected a change in the moral condition of the people beyond the limits, or at least had preserved good order.
That they have neither done one nor the other, no one competent to judge, or who has been a resident for years in the bush will gainsay for a moment.
The moral condition of the people beyond the boundaries has improved in a wonderful degree, doubtless; but notwithstanding the fine-drawn periods of tho honourable members before named, this improvement has been wrought by the squatters themselves, unaided cither by commissioners or border policemen.
Let us look at the condition of the border population when commissioners were first appointed, and endeavour to account for the amelioration and improvement that condition has undergone since the period of their nomination, and the enrolment of a border police.
When the frequent ravages "by aboriginals of the interior rendered the establishment of a protective force necessary, (to insure the safety of the stock), the country beyond the limits of location was the resort of the most worthless and depraved characters, who sought the security of unexplored mountains and forests to protect them from the strong arm of the law, whilst prosecuting upon the property of respectable stockholders, within and without the limits, the most fearful and lawless depredations; (in the course of which they amassed immense herds of cattle) and so well organised was this society of scoundrels that detection was exceedingly difficult, and conviction almost impossible.
By the praiseworthy and indefatigable exertions of the graziers in person, these bands of border reivers were dispersed, and the principal of them convicted and trans- ported - (and here it is but just a compliment should be paid to Mr. Henry O'Brien, of Yass, who was the foremost and most persevering enemy to these nests of harpies, and by whose instrumentality, in this district at least, most of them were brought to the bar of justice.)
In this first grand step towards a change for the better, the commissioners and police had no share, nor is there on record, that I remember, a single instance of a conviction for felony by the instrumentality of the border police.
At this period most of the settlers beyond the limits were under the superintendence of ticket-of-leave overseers, and in many cases were managed by an assigned servant, who had gained to a greater degree than his fellows the confidence of his master, which confidence, it is needless to say, was generally abused.
There were few resident proprietors of respect- ability on any of the establishments; no magistrates; no assizes nearer than Sydney; a great disparity in the sexes and society, (if so important a term could or might he applied to a heterogeneous admixture of human beings without law, morality, or religion,) was a vile compound of vice and profligacy, sunk far below the average standard of human imperfections.
Very many of the servants of stock-holders were leagued with the numerous gangs of cattle-stealers, but on the dispersion of these last, (as I before said by the graziers themselves,) so much information was acquired by the proprietors, and the danger of a lax state of discipline or supervision so strikingly laid before them, that a perfect "succedaneum," if I may be allowed the term, took place.
The ticket-of-leave and assigned overseers gave place to the sons of proprietors, or respectable superintendents, many of them married and with families. The whole face of things speedily underwent a change; the aboriginals treated with humanity and kindness were converted from foes to friends; the filthy wigwam, gave place to a comparatively comfortable cot; the influences of woman's gentle sway softened the rugged, and restrained immorality; the garden smiled where late the forest frowned; the stubborn earth yielded her tribute to the hand of untiring industry, and the country "beyond the limits," the " city of refuge" for the lawless ruffian, and the most dishonest and depraved of the human species, was gradually brought under the influence of social and moral law, beneath which all vestiges of "things that were" are fading fast away.
This improvement has continued in an increased and increasing ratio to the present hour.
The late pecuniary embarrassments of the colony have driven numerous proprietors of the first respectability (many of them magistrates) to take up their residences, with their wives and families, upon their stations, and now female society of the most refined and refining order is to be met with in all directions throughout the interior, and in those places where honourable members are so prone to believe and assert, nothing but "anarchy" prevails, social, moral, and religious obligations are held as sacred as in crowded cities, although the libelled and exiled resident of the " back woods" is called upon to perform them in a barked cottage and the retirement of the bush, where neither gorgeous architecture, nor the pealing organ, can remind him of his duties by striking his senses and exciting his imagination, and where neither "pomp nor vanity" can influence him.
He acts as a responsible being, and endeavours by his example to propagate and nourish those principles, the exercise of which can alone exalt him in creation as the "noblest work of God."
The state of society beyond the boundaries speaks highly for the moral credit of the squatters, but is not appreciated by those who decry it as "anarchical."
It has arrived at that state which requires the establishment of proper institutions to preserve it, and too much must not be expected from the settlers, unassisted by the indispensible auxiliaries of a well organised police, and civil and religious institutions.
These are all loudly called for; and we trust the people beyond the limits will not again be affronted or defrauded by the enrolment (for all purposes) of such a police as that which has just now been disbanded.
They took no part in converting the original anarchy of the borders into good rule, nor have they been instrumental in maintaining the order the graziers themselves established.
The Attorney-General would perhaps be sur- prised to observe personally the gratification manifested by all proprietors when the subject of the disbanding of the border police is introduced; and he would, I feel assured, be at once convinced no evil will ensue to society by their withdrawal.
Mr. Wentworth has attacked them in a way which I do not think he was warranted in doing, notwithstanding their general uselessness. It was the system and not the men that rendered that form of police a failure. I never heard they were considered "thieves," or "the only thieves in the district," as Mr. Wentworth.
I have known them do some good service, and I am also cognizant of some shameful conduct of which they have been guilty; but these are exceptions, and not the rule.
They were generally harmless and useless for evil or good, and it was not to be wondered at.
They were selected from a class to whom "a fellow-feeling made them wondrous kind," and in putting the law in force upon others, their own sense of error, and the knowledge of their position as prisoners of the Crown destroyed their independence of principle, and lessened their moral powers of action.
In this light alone they - must be regarded as having been very unfit for policemen, and any but the ultra-moralist will feel disposed to afford them some sympathy as occupying an anomalous position.
But in addition to this they received at first no pay, and even their creature comforts were niggardly doled out; they were sent on patrol without any supervision, and (under all the circumstances), it is not wonderful they should prove obnoxious to bribery and corruption, and ultimately merge into nothingness.
It would have been wonderful had it been other- wise. The system was bad throughout, and we hope will never be revived.
Mr. Windeyers proposition for establishing "petty sessions" throughout the interior, with a few stationary mounted constables attached to the different courthouses, will answer us well, although it is doubtless the fact that a patrolling police is best suited to the borders; but until this can be properly organized and properly officered, it is far better we should know where to find a constable and a magistrate when we want one, than have to wait for twelve months for the Commissioner and his " troopers" to parade by our stations.
There would be little necessity at present even for a patrol beyond the limits, if the Government would consent to the enrolment of a yeomanry, to act solely in cases of emergency under the magistrates.
Hundreds of respectable young men would be found to join such a corps instantly, and who in cases of bushranging could "do the state some service."
Whatever good intentions (those "paving stones" of the infernal regions!) may have been exercised in the formation of a border police, with a Commissioner at their head, it is nevertheless the fact that the troopers and officers alike have signally failed of the probably desired effect, and have done no more than established the act by which they were enrolled as the "page of folly" in our colonial statute book.
The Commissioners themselves have degenerated into mere tax gatherers in their official duties, and from the possession of unlimited power have arrogated to themselves so much importance, and played off so many "fantastic tricks before high heaven,'' that if the "angels" have not "wept" it is I presume merely because their risible rather than their lachrymel nerves have been acted upon by these vagaries beyond their boundaries.
There is no person over the borders, however insignificant he may be, who does not hold a "border policeman" in thorough contempt, or who look upon a Commissioner as other than a mere official peacock, of whose proportions the troopers are the tail, and without which the dignity of the said bird is shorn of all its glory.
In saying this I am not to be understood as impugning the character of the Commissioners as gentlemen.
I speak of them only as a body of public officers, exercising powers injurious not only to the country but themselves, for the unchecked and uncontrolled possession of such is calculated not only to oppress and injure the ruled, but to debase and subvert the natural character of the ruler.
An attempt is being made by a Commissioner in this quarter, (but not in this district,) to get up a subscription for the maintenance of the border police of which he has had the control; but the public feeling has been so strongly opposed to it, that doubtless it has failed.
We have gone on virtually with- out a police force for years; let us wait a little longer, and we shall probably have one properly organized and competent to effect good; but as the character of the police must ever influence that of the people, when we do get such a force, let us hope it will be composed of men of irreproachable character, at least in so far as character may be estimated by public observation.