Queensland Police –

 Sharp Fight in the Street –

A Record of Commissioners –

The Police and Socialism –

An Echo of 1912



        It is not a good thing to be “up against” the police, and it is still less pleasant to have a reversed circumstance; but it is not because of any dread on either side that the police and I have always been on good terms.

        If it is conceivable that at any time I should be a candidate for Parliament I should put it forward, with a true politician’s puff on the chest, that I have always been a good friend of the police.

        On the other hand, I have had some warm friends in the force, and have some of them still. In making the claim to having been friendly, it is meant that privately and as a Press writer I have wrought sincerely to make the public appreciate what the force means to the country, and how very trying are their duties. That is all very well; but it wasn’t quite that effort that won me friendship. Years ago, “in the days when our beards were black,” the police sometimes had rough characters to deal with, and the rush of a mob on to a single constable or a couple of them was serious.

        One night at the corner of Queen and Edward Streets, where the A.M.P. Building stands, a senior constable and a constable were having a hot time with a prisoner, who was backed by a howling, half drunk mob. “Bill” Livesey and I had been round to the Elizabeth Street police quarters to have a word or two with that real white man, Sergeant Doyle – the father of Melba’s daughter in law – and, returning to Queen Street, we were soon in the thick of it. We were both very fit, and a few of the crowd joined us. Half a dozen willing peacemakers broke the crowd, and some of the crowd took with them rather disfiguring reminders. Livesey told me that in the Police Court next day, Pinnock, P.M., instead of his usual frown of indignation, gave the Press table quite a charming smile. He asked Livesey the names of his companions, and “Bill,” with his usual rejection of a friendly overture, said: “Brown, James, Robinson and Smith. “Papa” Pinnock merely said: “Well, perhaps you are right with one of them!”

        The outcome of that little rough and tumble was that Livesey and I might have jostled half the “force,” and only got a smile. However, I have not changed my opinion of the police, and I have seen some rough days with them on occasions. My attitude is that they are intensely arduous, full of danger, calling for the highest qualities of manhood, and that the country should see to it that their service have the best pay and the best conditions in the land. On the other side, the police should jealously guard their honour as well as the safety of the people, and that should a black sheep be discovered his comrades should run him out.

        David T. Seymour, formerly a Lieutenant in Her Majesty’s Foot, was the first Police Commissioner in Queensland. He was a disciplinarian, but knew no littlenesses. In Victoria, not long ago, there were men in plain clothes spying on the police. I know that because it was told me by an old comrade and a greatly distinguished soldier. Fancy asking Seymour to send out men to spy on his police!

        There was, however, no slackness in the force, and if an officer or man proved unworthy he got a very short shrift.

        But with Seymour his police were honourable until proved otherwise. And he would have been a mighty daring politician who would have interfered. But who can imagine men of the class we had in Parliament, in those days, trying to “push a barrow.” Between the Commissioner and the force, there was implicit confidence. I have never heard a word spoken of him save with deep respect. He is long since dead, and some good features of the force have been whittled away – little things and big things, and in the big things may be mentioned the relaxation which has led to the appearance of the trail of the politician. Seymour would have no political monkeying with his men.

The old Commissioner did a good deal of racing when he was not a very old Commissioner, and he was a fine judge of horseflesh, which, to be sure, was natural, for it was born in him, away on the Galway side of Ireland.

He married first a daughter of the Sheriff Anthony Brown, and had a big family of daughters, including the wife of the late General Sir Charles Hamilton Des Voeux, who, as Major Des Voeux, served on the staff of the Queensland forces. The second Mrs. Seymour was a Miss Stephenson, of Melbourne. From this marriage there were two boys, one died as a youngster, and the other is rather a well known engineer away up in the Federated Malay States – Kuala Lumpur, or some other benighted place.

W. E. Parry-Okeden, the second Commissioner, was a very tall Australian, who could ride a rough horse or pilot a winner in a steeplechase, could box almost too well for an amateur, could play excellent cricket, write a song and sing it to his own accompaniment, and was one of the best magistrates or bushman or public servants.

He won the first Derby at Gayndah, was master of a pack of hounds, and there are old folk up in the Burnett who still remember Willie Parry-Okeden, when he was, as the late John Connolly once said to me, “a wild young devil.”

When I knew him first he had come to Brisbane to succeed the late Sir Ralph Gore as Immigration Agent, and, with “Jack” O’Neill Brenan as his right hand man, managed the disposal of thousands of immigrants who were coming to Queensland.

Then he became Under Secretary to the Home administrator, and under his control the police were happy and safe, and as in Seymour’s days, never felt the hard hand unless there was some discreditable business. Being an outback man, he had great sympathy for the police in the Far North, and in the wilderness of the West. Also he was a great judge of men. We were together when he was practically the whole law out in the Winton district during the bush workers’ strike of 1894, and I was special correspondent of the “Courier,” and we were together  in 1989-99 at Gatton, when we were all busy trying to solve the mystery of a great tragedy near that town.

He was a man to win not only respect, but affection and confidence, and those were the sentiments of the force towards him.

I had nearly forgotten to say that, prior to his appointment as Immigration Agent, Parry-Okeden was police magistrate at Charleville and other Western towns, where he was the idol of the younger generation.

And he was also a special Commissioner to New Guinea with my old friend, General Kenneth McKay, of New South Wales, and with Kinnaird Rose (afterwards editor of the “Courier”) on a commission in connection, I think, with the prisons, and aboriginals, and a lot of other things, in the North of Queensland.

Of course, Parry-Okeden is now getting on in years, over 83, I think, but he comes of a tough stock, good, sound Dorset folk – Parry-Okedens and Uvedales – and in 1871 I met some of them at Weymouth. The family had only been in Dorset a little matter of, so it was told me by a historian – 600 years. But, after all, what is that to the ancestry which runs back to Tutankhamen and other gentlemen who predeceased him, and of whom one may, without disrespect, speak of as old? (Note: Mr Parry-Okeden since this was written, died, and was laid to his rest in the Bulimba Cemetery.)

When Mr. Parry-Okeden retired from the Commissioner –ship, the vacancy was filled by the appointment of Major William Geoffrey Cahill, C.M.G., V.D., who came to Queensland in 1878, after a short training in the Royal Irish Constabulary. He was Under Secretary of the Department of Justice here, and joined “Thynne’s” Corporations, the Queensland Volunteer Rifles, rising to the rank of Major. He gave up his command in 1905, when he was appointed Commissioner of Police, which office he held until 1917 when he went out, as his predecessors had done, on a pension.

        Now, Major Cahill is a very remarkable man. He comes from Roscommon, and, like most Irishmen, and especially Roman Catholic Irishmen, he is extremely punctilious and conservative. May I mention, in passing, that, with one exception, the Irish Roman Catholic is the most conservative man I know, and the exception is the English Catholic. They are absolute Tories, born to and bred to conservatism, and I know it from relations of my own. People say that so many of the Irish Catholics in Queensland are Labour men. That is because so many of them are manual workers. They go Labour because of its industrial bearing; not because they believe in its general politics. Who has ever heard of a Socialist Archbishop, or bishop or priest? Socialism has been condemned from His Holiness the Pope downwards. I am not a politician, but do not say these things for political reasons, but simply because they are true, and there was a temptation to say them, because I desired it to be understood that Major Cahill is by training, as well as temperament, a Conservative. He may vote Labour for all I know. That would not affect my summing up of his general view of life. It certainly would not affect my regard for him, my deep respect and affection. Cahill is outwardly stern, reserved, and, and somewhat inclined to be a martinet; but many gallons of water have ebbed and flowed under Victoria Bridge since he and I first foregathered, and every time and all the time he has proved a heart of gold. A heart of gold! Surely that is a Roscommon phrase. And he is very sensitive – too sensitive for a Commissioner of Police under present circumstances, with politicians and others doing all in their power to break down discipline. And some of the police are helping and glorying in it more’s the pity.

        The Department of Justice has turned out some very brilliant men – the deeply lamented Mr. Justice McCawley, the Chief Justice of Queensland, among them; but very few, if any, have shone more in administration than Major W. G. Cahill. He made the Department of Justice a model. Into his military work he took the same thoroughness. A smarter officer and a smarter looking officer could not be found in the Australian forces. Tall, lithe, well setup, and strikingly handsome. Major Cahill was quite the conventional soldier. He was a student of military history and modern tactics, and trained many Queenslanders to take seriously the defence of their country.

        often we met on manoeuvres and after long and tiring days, and there was ever that conspicuous mark of the good soldier- care for the comfort and safety of his men. As Commissioner of Police he was the same, He would not tolerate the “go –as – you- please” style of things. The police force of Queensland was never more efficient than under Major Cahill, and he instituted a well appreciated system of recognizing especially brave, or otherwise commendable service. The scheme of breeding police horses was extended, and the necessary country in the Springsure district secured during his regime.

        Major Cahill did great service to this State in the general strike of 1912. Certainly pretty drastic action was taken, but it was either that or handing over the city to the rabble, including some dangerous men, who were inconspicuously prompting violence, and with whom the strike leaders had no sympathy whatever. However, the strike demonstrations were assuming ugly shape, when the Commissioner took action and cleared the streets. We had a lively hour or so, no one was killed, a few received bumps and the Commissioner’s horse went down with him, and he sustained a nasty injury to the leg. He and his police were much abused by the extremists; but we have since seen the police out with drawn sabres dashing at a few score of tumultuous returned soldiers, who were exasperated at Bolshevist displays and violence by aliens under a Labour Government. And there were also foot police out with ball cartridge and fixed bayonets – and the only men wounded by them were the Chief Police Magistrate and Major Cahill’s successor in the Commissionership.

        After the 1912 strike there were threats that when Labour got into power the first job would be to “sack Cahill.”

        Well, Labour came into power in 1915, and it was in 1917 that Major Cahill retired at the age of 63, and mainly on account of the injury he received. Meanwhile he had received the thanks of the Government of the day, of the Press, and of the people, and the late Sir William Macgregor, who was Governor of the State at the time, sent a very warm letter of praise. Then came recognition from the King, and the bestowal of the Companionship of St. Michael and St. George.

        When Major Cahill retired in 1917, I was on the other side of the world “doing my bit,” and it was with sincere regret that I learned that the State was losing his services. However, he is still bright, and alert, and comes often into town from his beautiful home right on the hill top at Wilston, a wonderful outlook to the ranges of the hinterland, and away to the east over fold upon fold of forest land to the blue breast of the gleaming seas.

        Another of my friends was F. C. Urquhart, of the police, who was the fourth Commissioner, and later Administrator of the Northern Territory. Urquhart is a bushman, and a poet, and a very brainy man, and determined. He is an old Northerner, having gone over to the Native Police from the telegraph Service in 1882. From the Native Police he was transferred or “evolved” into the ordinary “force,” and he had there a long and successful career. When he went out on pension, he was snapped up by the Commonwealth Government to Administrator of the Northern Territory.

        I saw Urquhart at his best in failure. Under Parry-Okeden, and as head of the Criminal Investigation Department, as he then was, he had the main job in seeking to unravel the mystery of the Gatton tragedy of Christmas time in 1898. It is said that the police, in the event of a crime, can only act upon the evidence available to trace the guilty person or persons. That is not correct. At Gatton, Urquhart followed out suggestion after suggestion, and clue after clue, without success; but then he would think, strive to reconstruct the whole affair from incentive to the covering up of the line of escape, build up and diligently search theories – but it was all to no purpose, unless it was that a certain man had “done the job.” Perhaps it may now be said that Urquhart and I shared the belief that the certain man was guilty; but evidence was against us. Evidence. however, gets a twist at times. Them while we were at Gatton, there came a Woolloongabba tragedy, and the murder of the boy Hill near Oxley, and, on the whole of the three crimes, the police were beaten. Urquhart, as head of the Criminal Investigation Department, came in for the bulk of the blame. He was to be the scapegoat; but we had a Home Secretary who did not clamour for the despatch of Urquhart into the wilderness with the police sins of omission on his shoulders.  That was Colonel Foxton, C.M.G., V.D. He asked me to see him as I had been at Gatton for about a month, and he questioned me closely about Urquhart. I could confidently say that a keener and more earnest man had never been o a job of the kind, and I put it to Foxton: “Can you suggest that there is a weakness in the department? Do you think thatu1 has not the ability to work out the mystery of these crimes, or do you think that a chain of adverse circumstance – peculiar coincidences – has not blotted out direct evidence?”

        As a fact, we knew who murdered the boy Hill, and the brute was goaled for other crimes; and we had a pretty good idea as to the bloody hand behind the Gatton tragedy, and Foxton knew these things also.

        A searching enquiry did not “whitewash” the police, but reestablished the force in public confidence, and Urquhart became Chief Inspector, and then, in turn, took the blue ribbon of the service.

        At Gatton, we saw Douglas-Douglas, too, at times, but Galbraith was right hand man to Urquhart, and he knew so much of the tragedy there as any one, save the perpetrator of it.

        Douglas was also at Mitchell when i went out in 1902 to the Keniff Country with the police under Inspector Dillon – my old Cooktown friend, who used to regale us with chicken when the Chinese witnesses at the courts insisted that their form of oath was in chopping off the head of a cock.

        That Gatton story is, perhaps, as vivid in Urquhart’s mind as in mine. It was the biggest outside thing while he was chief of the C.I. Department, and it was rough that he could not clear it up. The country rang with it. From every part of Australia came suggestions – some valuable, some weirdly tinctured with occultism, and some just silly. Urquhart had some sense of humour. He showed me one day a letter, which said, “Take a divining rod, and follow it, prayerfully, silently, and it will lead you to the very spot where the criminals are hidden, and it will point to the ringleader.”

        We secured a divining twig, and followed it. It was a very hot, dry day, and it led us to Fred. English’s bar!