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Nights of Crime

The Geelong Advertiser reported on two meetings held to help secure diggers’ holes from robbery at night.

18 February 1852
Published Source
Australian National Dictionary Centre, The Gold Rushes and Australian English: a resource for researchers, teachers and students, Australian National University, 2005, http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/res/aus_words/gold/index.php. Details
This material is provided by the Australian National Dictionary Centre, a joint project of the Australian National University and Oxford University Press Australia.


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FRIAR’S CREEK. Two meetings have been held in the Golden Gully to devise the best means for protecting the holes at night, which has resulted in the appointment of night watchmen armed, who are drafted from the respective parties in the locality for that service. The diggers are now convinced that to themselves they must look for protection, and without such precaution as above stated, there is no safety for property at all against the hordes of thieves infesting the diggings, who have and still do set law, order, and decency at defiance. For the protection of the honest man there is not the shadow of authority; he is driven back to first principles, and is obliged to repel brute attack by brute force. Society ere long will be resolved into its primitive elements, and thieves and honest men be warring like hostile tribes. Men are becoming accustomed to acts of violence, that but a few months ago they would have shuddered to contemplate. Pistols and guns are now familiar weapons, handled with the greatest nonchalance, charged and placed conveniently for use within arm’s reach of the sleeping man to be used as emergency may require, and as many guns are discharged preparatory to reloading every nightfall, as would provide arms for a small army. Use is everything, and hence a pistol is as common as an extinguisher was wont to be, and like an extinguisher is the last thing handled before turning in. Not a night passes without disturbance and robberies. Grog shops vomit out their besotted occupants brimful of blasphemies and obscenity, the staggering drunkard is watched, waylaid, robbed and maltreated; the proceeds ill-gotten are ill-spent, gambling precedes thieving, tossing up coppers for pound notes leads to fighting, and that to robbing again, and so the round of vice circles continually. Thieves are linked together in strong concert for evil; honest men are disunited and become their prey[;] and the government stands by listless as a disinterested spectator, having no community of feeling with either party and reckless whether vice or virtue gained the predominancy. True, when urged by some extraordinary outrage, if any outrage can be extraordinary where the whole gamut of crime has been run down, the government officers will burn down a tent and destroy the spirits, but a remedy to the present state of affairs must not be sought in a bonfire or the destruction of a gallon or two of rum[:] the disease is too dangerous, and deeply rooted to be eradicated by sacking a tent or firing a case of gin. The government has deserted its people. It may be asked in excuse for its lethargy what can it do in the present juncture of affairs? Can you point out any remedy, any mode of action that it can follow,—if not, why grumble? To these queries it may be replied with justice, that a government which cannot provide for an emergency, but is only equal to the common jog-trot pace of every day circumstances, is a government only in name, and fails in the very essential requisite of its constitution, wanting which it is worthless—a mere mumbo jumbo of shreds and patches, and no more. What avail excuses when life and property is unsafe? The doctrine of I can’t help it, never saved an individual, nor will it serve a government. "Laisser aller" is the motto of a sluggard; a regime of this kind might suit a nation of Sloths; but where enterprise is rife and crime culminating, the reins of government may be snatched from a sleepy "Rip Van Winkle" of a driver, and assumed by some one more capable of managing the restive teams. If the government sleep much longer—but that cannot be except the gold has mesmerised them, and if I mistake not Dr Elliotson believes it to possess that power, and if so there will be a second edition of the "Seven Sleepers of Christendom," and there is "no help in them." On Thursday, another seizure of spirits was made on Friar’s Creek, four men were taken and handcuffed, two were afterwards released, one was detained on a previous charge of rescuing a prisoner, and the fourth man seeing the police busily occupied, very coolly walked away towards some tents at the base of a high range, up which he started with the handcuffs still upon him, and made his escape without being observed by the vigilant officers. The same evening a party of police paid a visit to another tent suspected of being a sly-grog selling establishment, which was searched, but nothing was found to implicate the parties residing there. A crowd had collected, the police were jeered at for their ill success; one of the police asked for some water, which the occupant of the tent refused to give him, some wrangling ensued, the crowd increased, and amongst others was a young man named George Stratford. Geelong Advertiser, 18 February 1852