Quite apart from both being policemen, Sergeant Steele and Constable Fitzpatrick have several other important things in common, not the least of which is that for decades their memories have been completely trashed and dragged through the mud by Kelly admirers. Kelly sympathisers won’t ever concede this fact, blinded as they are to truth by their intense hatred of both of them, but they are also men whose reputations have recently been largely restored by a careful and thorough review of all the documentary evidence that relates to their cases, facts and understanding which will eventually get written into the updated accounts of the Outbreak and become part of the new and much more truthful Kelly history. Also included in the new history will be a revised assessment of another policeman, the subject of this post, SC Joseph Ladd Mayes.
Something else that Steele and Fitzpatrick share is that they both believed that they had been treated harshly and unfairly by the authorities, and both protested about their treatment and sought an opportunity to defend themselves. They also had in common enthusiastic support in the form of petitions signed by hundreds of members of the communities they served.
However, as I noted when I first wrote about Steele in March, at this point their stories differ markedly, because Steele’s request was granted, but Fitzpatrick’s was not. Steele was given his day in Court and the review board ‘unhesitatingly and unanimously’ threw out the charges against him, but Fitzpatrick was denied a hearing, the two petitions that supported him were ignored, and he never had his ‘day in Court’. No matter what you might think is the truth about the man, its unarguably a denial of natural justice not to grant an accused person a right of reply and an opportunity to defend himself. But that’s what happened.
When Fitzpatrick enquired of Standish why he had been sacked, he was told it was because his boss at Lancefield, Senior Constable Joseph Ladd Mayes, had told Standish that Fitzpatrick “was not fit to be in the police force, as I had associated with the lowest persons in Lancefield, and could not be trusted out of sight, and never did my duty.” Naturally this characterisation was disputed by Fitzpatrick.
Theres only one record I can find that illuminates Mayes interactions with Fitzpatrick at Lancefield, and it was described by Fitzpatrick at the RC :
“What was Senior-Constable Mayes’s charge against you ?”
Answer : “For neglect of duty.”
“And what else ?”
Answer: “I am speaking of this one charge at present.”
“What was the nature of the neglect?”
Answer: “There was an assault, one swagman struck another, and the swagman came and asked me to arrest this other man. I was in uniform at the time, and I declined to arrest him as I did not see the assault committed; and I said, ” If you swear an information and get a warrant I will arrest him, or if you give him in charge and sign the sheet I will arrest him.” He would not do either, and came and told Senior-Constable Mayes I would not arrest him. Mayes sent a foot man to arrest him, and he was brought up and fined by a justice of the peace; and Mayes reported me to Superintendent Hare, and he referred it to Sub-Inspector Baber, of Kilmore, and he came over and heard the case; and as far as I remember the minute on the charge exonerated me from all blame. That is one of the charges that has been brought against me.”
From this account, it appears Fitzpatrick attempted to follow due process and to uphold the rule of law, in refusing to accede to the demands of a ‘swagman’ that he arrest someone and charge him with an assault that Fitzpatrick had no knowledge of. Instead Fitzpatrick advised the complainant to follow due process, but the man complained to Mayes. Mayes ignored due process, arrested the man being complained of and then reported Fitzpatrick to Hare. Babers investigation apparently exonerated Fitzpatrick and Mayes was found to have been wrong, so likely resentment was now added to the suspicions and hostility he directed at Fitzpatrick from the moment of his arrival.
In fact SC Mayes had a reputation as a strict and uncompromising enforcer of the rules and regulations. His great grandson Dean Mayes has written a Blog about him HERE, and Dean recounts more than one episode during his career when Mayes had a major falling out with the rest of the force. A bit like Fitzpatrick, ironically enough, he seemed to have a knack for irritating his colleagues and being accused of things he hadn’t done. But, as this episode with the swagman shows, Mayes seemed to think that rules that applied to the ranks didn’t necessarily apply to him. So he reported Fitzpatrick for what he wrongly believed was an infringement but ignored due process himself when it came to the swagman.
There’s more from the RC that reveals the kind of arrogant and prejudiced man SC Mayes was. Mayes was interviewed by the RC on May 31st 1882, they were focussed on police training and Mayes said trainees ought to be trained to ride and fire on horseback. He then went on to discuss the quality of recruits and without prompting of any kind and for no particular reason mentioned Fitzpatrick, making comments we are all very familiar with, in which he exposes his intense bias against Fitzpatrick and his blind determination to get rid of him from the very beginning:
‘I found him such a worthless character that the men who recommended him and gave him a character to join the police force I consider committed a grave offence against the public. I had a great deal to do with the man. I had to report him on two or three different occasions, and after nearly disgracing the Police Department, I had a great deal to do to get rid of him, and at last had him dismissed.’
Notice that he doesn’t mention that at least one of his complaints was knocked back! A little further on (Q2484) he says something else we are all familiar with:
‘From the first time that Fitzpatrick came to me till I got rid of him I found him a thorough blackguard and quite unfit for the force.’
Its odd that he says Fitzpatrick nearly disgraced the department, because by then he would have seen the petitions from the community demonstrating the exact opposite : the community regarded Fitzpatrick as a good policeman and therefore enhanced the public image of policing. However, facts such as those were unable to penetrate Mayes prejudice.
However, its Mayes next comment that blew me away, a remark I haven’t heard discussed before, one which reveals the extreme tunnel vision that completely and dangerously screwed up Mayes judgement :
‘Q2485. It is just possible that that man’s want of discretion in the discharge of his duties in that district may have led up to some of the subsequent troubles?
Mayes: I have not the slightest doubt of it; and, from enquiries I made in the neighbourhood of Greta and elsewhere, I have come to the conclusion that he was at the bottom of the whole of it-in fact, the originator of it. ‘
Here, Mayes admits to making enquiries about Fitzpatrick in Greta of all places, in the heart of Kelly sympathiser country, and, surprise surprise he ends up siding with the criminals! Mayes judgement in this instance was dangerously faulty, backing the lies of police enemies against one of his own, and saying that Fitzpatrick was the ‘originator’ of the outbreak was an outrage. According to Mayes it was all Fitzpatrick’s fault: ‘I have not the slightest doubt’ he said, but made no attempt to explain what his enquiries in Greta had revealed that would justify such a preposterous claim. Remarkably it wasn’t challenged at the RC. In fact, Mayes doesn’t seem to have ever produced any actual evidence to back up any of his hostile claims about Fitzpatrick. Instead, as he admitted himself, he ‘ had a great deal to do to get rid of him, and at last had him dismissed.’ It was blind hateful arrogant prejudice and not much else.
As can be seen with the swagman incident, in his hostile attitude to Fitzpatrick, his dismissal of the opinion of hundreds of petitioners who supported Fitzpatrick, and when expressing his very strong views about what kind of men ought to be recruited into the police force and how they should be trained, Mayes was an arrogant and dogmatic man who had a high regard for his own opinion, and little time for due process once he had made his mind up about something or someone. These traits may have been useful in the military-like organisation of the Victoria police force, and in managing the cave parties that was Mayes other claim-to-fame in the Kelly story, but when applied to Fitzpatrick’s case they resulted in a grave miscarriage of justice.
So, if Standish had allowed Fitzpatrick his day in court Mayes completely delusional belief that Fitzpatrick was the cause of the outbreak would have been exposed, his bullying and his personal vendetta against Fitzpatrick would have been exposed, his complaint about Fitzpatrick that resulted in Mayes being found to be wrong discussed, the petitioners testimonies would have been heard and Mayes may even have been disciplined or even sacked. But an enquiry would also have examined Standish’s own role in the dismissal, accepting Mayes word and not asking for evidence or requiring due process, so there was never any prospect that Standish would allow it. These days of course the gross conflict of interest involved in Standish making a decision about whether his own performance should be scrutinised would rule him out of the decision making process in relation to such an Enquiry, but in those days, the men in power had almost complete control. In fact it suited the upper echelons of the force to make Fitzpatrick the scapegoat for the outbreak, so his request for an Enquiry was denied, Mayes kept his job and his copybook remained free of the big black mark which he richly deserved for his abuse of Fitzpatrick.
22 Replies to “Should SC Mayes have been sacked?”
If ever a decent man was mercilessly vilified beyond belief, it was Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick. It is clear that Mayes was not acting in accordance with proper and accepted protocols, that Fitzpatrick rightly undertook in relation to the allegation of assault. Sub-Inspector Baber rightly cleared him, but it does not appear that any disciplinary action was taken against Mayes. Almost certainly, he should have been taken to task. The anti-police Kelly nuts continue to degrade Fitzpatrick, when in reality he was only doing his job, and doing it properly, both at the Kelly home where Ned and Ellen Kelly attacked him without provocation. One could say the same about Sgt Steele, but he was rightly cleared of the allegation that he fired at Margaret Reardon, much to the chagrin of the Kelly nuts who continue to ignore the facts.
I don’t get this, David. There’s nothing in Mayes’ service record to suggest he is the devious person you paint him to be . He seems to have been a good cop – as his great- grandson points out – referring to the Lilydale Bench’s comments forwarded to the Chief Commissioner expressing “their high appreciation of the zeal, skill and activity displayed by Senior Constable Mayes”. I don’t understand why he would have such reservations about a young constable without reason, except that, as you suggest, he was a nasty person.
I also note that Fitzpatrick wasn’t keen to talk about the other instances where Mayes had cause to take exception to his behaviour. So everything seems to hinge on Fitzpatrick’s defence of himself before the Commission over one incident – and we don’t get Mayes’ view of it.
I also don’t get why Police Command would want a scapegoat for the Kelly affair! Wouldn’t they have preferred an upstanding young constable who always did his duty very well – which you suggest was exactly what Fitzpatrick was?
I’ve always thought the most plausible explanation of a lot of Fitzpatrick’s behaviour was that, as the son of a convict, he had experienced the same social antagonism that the families of expirees endured, and that he had the same chip-on-his- shoulder that Kelly had. It explains his friendship-of-sorts with Kelly, and his inclination to hang out with those of his kind – alienated young folk like him – in Benalla, Sydney and Lancefield. It also explains his conflicted view of himself as an officer – not sure whether he was the fox or the hound. You won’t like that, I know, but it makes more sense than that the real villain in all this was Mayes.
Hi Perc, what is your source for suggesting that Fitzpatrick was the son of a convict?
Perc you’re putting a lot of words in my mouth!
I haven’t suggested anywhere ever that Fitzpatrick was “an upstanding young constable who always did his duty very well”. But we do know that he came well recommended, that he was not a womaniser or a drunk and that his record up to the time of the ‘Incident’ was unblemished. We also know that it was the Kellys who lied repeatedly about what happened that day, and as I wrote in the Blog, “no matter what you might think is the truth about the man, its unarguably a denial of natural justice not to grant an accused person a right of reply and an opportunity to defend himself.”
Nor have I suggested that Mayes ‘was the real villain in all this’. I said his style may have been well suited to managing the Cave parties, and I agree he had a long career in the Police service and was highly regarded. But I have serious misgivings over the way he handled Fitzpatrick. Believing he was in the main a good policeman doesnt preclude him from having been dogmatic and opinionated and judgemental, or from being wrong about Fitzpatrick!
Did you not think it a bad omen that he had decided Fitzpatrick was ‘a thorough blackguard’ from the first time he met him? Clearly at that point what he was relying on was goissip and little else. Dont you think it peculiar that he regarded Fitzpatricks original appointment ‘as a grave offence’ when at that time in his life there was no reason to think of him like that – other than gossip and hearsay originating with the Kellys? And you didnt remark on Mayes belief that Fitzpatrick was “the originator” of the entire outbreak? Surely that was an extreme and unjustified expression of blind prejudice against the man? The criminals were the originator of the outbreak – what the hell was Mayes thinking? And while we dont have Mayes view of the incident Fitzpatrick mentioned about the swagman, you wouldn’t want to suggest that under oath to the RC Fitzpatrick made that up and that the investigation DIDNT exonerate him?
And have you never heard the opinion expressed that Police hierarchy were so embarrassed by their serial failures to catch the Kelly Gang that Fitzpatrick was made a scapegoat? I dont think that thought is far fetched at all, but of course it was never the topic of telegrams or police memos. The unfair treatment that the hierarchy meeted out to Fitzpatrick is certainly consistent with that view of their behaviour., and if Dean Mayes Blog is to be believed, Joseph Ladd Mayes was a friend of Hare and Standish.
My point is that a big question mark hangs over Mayes head in relation to his involvement with Fitzpatrick, and I believe with good reason.
Well maybe, David, I have loosely interpreted your position. But you have said of Mayes that he was arrogant and dogmatic, with a high regard for his own opinion, with little time for due process, that he was abusive of Fitzpatrick, delusional, capable of blind hateful arrogant prejudice, and deserving of a rich black mark against his police record. Which you’d have to admit suggests he was a very poor policeman. On the other hand you point out that the Lancefield community regarded Fitzpatrick as a good policeman.
This would seem to leave the impression that Mayes is the villain, and Fitzpatrick the innocent bystander.
I still don’t understand why Mayles would behave so unreasonably, as you suggest he did. Was he lying about Fitzpatrick’s behaviour. Why ? You seem to be suggesting it was because of his own black heart. I think a clearer explanation is needed.
I also don’t understand the “scapegoat” argument at all. Why would they want a scapegoat? To bear the blame for their own failings – I don’t understand that thinking at all. So what’s their argument? – that if he hadn’t stuffed up they wouldn’t have ended looking foolish? I don’t get it at all.
Hi Perc, you have replied to David but overlooked my question – what is your source for suggesting that Fitzpatrick was the son of a convict? In Corfield’s “Kelly Encyclopaedia” Fitzpatrick is listed as born at Mt. Egerton, Victoria, the son of Charles Fitzpatrick, a carpenter, originally from Bristol. His mother was Jane, originally Jane Neilson. There is nothing about any convict ancestry, something that Corfield would have leapt at if there was anything anywhere about it, as he had nothing good to say about Fittzpatrick.
It seems you are placing considerable weight on your claim of his alleged but unsourced convict ancestry as “it explains his friendship-of-sorts with Kelly, and his inclination to hang out with those of his kind – alienated young folk like him – in Benalla, Sydney and Lancefield. It also explains his conflicted view of himself as an officer – not sure whether he was the fox or the hound.” These three claims in themselves seem speculative, and if there was no convict ancestry they don’t explain anything. Again, please provide a source for your suggestion that Fitzpatrick was the son of a convict.
Perc, you say Ive left the impression that Mayes is the villain and Fitzpatrick the innocent bystander – and yes thats more or less the impression I do want to create, – but only with reference to their interaction at Lancefield. I dont want to be asked to defend a claim that they were 100% villain and 100% innocent victim.
BUT would you not concede Mayes was wrong to say that the person who recommended Fitzpatricks admission into the police force (Crown prosecutor Charles Smyth ) “committed a grave offence against the public”? or that it was gross prejudice by Mayes to describe him, before even meeting him, as a thorough blackguard, and that it was ridiculous for Mayes to have accepted the Kelly mobs claim that Fitzpatrick was the ‘originator’ of the Outbreak?
What do these judgements tell us about Mayes would you say Perc?
I would say it shows he had judged Fitzpatrick and condemned him and was out to get him right from the start, on the basis of his uncritical acceptance of all the Kelly lies and vilifications of him. That was an appalling apse of judgement dont you think? Thats why Ive said he was arrogant and dogmatic with a high regard for his own opinion. But no I dont believe he was lying about Fitzpatrick – he repeated the lies he had heard about Fitzpatrick becasue for his own reasons he believed they were the truth about him.
I am not sure why the scapegoat argument makes no sense to you. Police hierarchy were under the pump – its human nature to try to shift the blame for a stuff up onto someone else if you can find a candidate. And even if you might think an attempt to lay all the blame onto Fitzpatrick was not successful, that doesnt rule out the possibility that thats what they tried to do.
I say again “no matter what you might think is the truth about the man, its unarguably a denial of natural justice not to grant an accused person a right of reply and an opportunity to defend himself.”
The question is why wouldn’t they ( ie Standish – a friend of Mayes – and then Chomley ) allow him the opportunity to defend himself? Why wouldn’t it be because they didnt want to face scrutiny themselves? Do you not see some serious conflicts of interest there?
I really don’t understand the argument that Fitzpatrick was a scapegoat for police incompetence in the search for Kelly. How would sacking him take attention away from the public concern about the Force’s inability to capture the Kellys? I don’t get it. And Fitzpatrick had the forum of the Commission to make a case for himself but made no use of it. To be honest, I think they probably didn’t give him the time of day because they considered him a waste of space – rightly or wrongly. And they felt they had good evidence of that. I suppose they might have been embarrassed if every accusation against him was found to be false, but that would seem unlikely. There were apparently a pile of accusations.
And I think when you start with the presumption that Fitzpatrick was set-up it obscures the more probable explanation that Mayes was correct in his appraisal of Fitzpatrick’s character.
I’ll take up a bit of lockdown time….
It’s pretty obvious, as you say, that Mayes was determined to get Fitzpatrick out of the force. Your conjecture is that he did this out of some malice, because he was influenced by “Kelly nuts”, and/or he was in support of Police command who were scapegoating Fitzpatrick to avoid censure of themselves. The other possibility, of course, is that he genuinely regarded him as being unsuitable as a policeman.
Mayes was called before the Commission as a delegate of the Mounted Constables of the Bourke District, and was to give evidence concerning that district’s appraisal of the recruitment and training procedures of mounted constables. Mayes had been twenty three years in the force. He claimed experience of policing in England, Ireland and America. He was involved in the hunt for the Kellys, working closely with Supt. Hare on the Byrne Cave party and elsewhere. There is no question of his commitment to bringing Kelly in. He had received commendations for his service, and completed another fourteen years before retiring with the rank of Sergeant. While he had respect for Supt. Hare, he seems to have had a difficult relationship with, and some resentments of, police command, and in particular of some of his immediate superiors. All in all I would have thought he was someone in whom you would have placed considerable credence.
I don’t think its accurate to say Mayes inappropriately drops Fitzpatrick’s name into his evidence before the Commission. He refers to Fitzpatrick specifically in the context of his criticisms of recruitment and training. Fitzpatrick is, in his opinion, a cogent example of the consequences of poor recruitment practice and inadequate training. Mayes explains that acceptance into the Force required only the recommendation of some local “with any little political influence” who may or may not be a good judge of character or the qualities necessary to make a good officer. Mayes thought “a man should be of known respectability and a man of some respect for himself and his family, and not likely to commit an offence knowingly.” He then adds, as you note, “ From the first time that Fitzpatrick came to me till I got rid of him I found him a thorough blackguard and quite unfit for the force.” It is extremely strong criticism, and implies that in his view Fitzpatrick was entirely and irredeemably unsuited to police work – deceitful, and without honour or virtue.
And it does seem that Mayes had formed an opinion of Fitzpatrick prior to meeting him, as you suggest. I don’t think you seriously meant, though, that everyone “around Greta and elsewhere” was a “Kelly-nut”. The point Mayes is making is that many respectable people regarded the botched attempt to arrest Dan Kelly as unlikely to have occurred if an experienced, competent officer had been involved. Many people, including police, expressed a similar view, although much less aggressively. In saying Fitzpatrick instigated the Outbreak he was overstating the case, but it is interesting that in making that statement he was responding to a leading question from the Commission: “(2485) It is just possible that the man’s want of discretion in the discharge of his duties in that district may have led up to some of the subsequent troubles?” The Commission, had Fitzpatrick’s file before them, seem to have arrived at a similar view of Fitzpatrick prior to calling Mayes, and were seeking corroboration.
Fitzpatrick was called before the Commission well after Mayes, so he knew the sort of issues he needed to cover if he was to defend himself – there were the long list of negative statements about him provided by Mayes and others. The local Kilmore paper had reported that he had been dismissed for his” frivolous and conceited manner” and his “inattention to his duties”. Fitzpatrick acknowledged that it was because he “associated with the lowest persons in Lancefield, and could not be trusted out of sight, and never did my duty”. The Commission pointed out that he had been sent home from Sydney because he had associated with improper characters.
Fitzpatrick acknowledged that there were a lot of charges brought against him, but claimed they amounted to little: “I might have erred in small things”. Given the opportunity by the Commission to go through the accusations , though, Fitzpatrick chose to speak only of the “swaggie” incident, about which he could only say: “as far as I remember the minute on the charge exonerated me from all blame”, which is not a particularly confident response.
The petitions got up by Lancefield locals in support of Fitzpatrick are puzzling in that they couldn’t be further removed from the consistent observations made by those working with him. To the latter he was incompetent, lacking in judgement, etc etc., to the petitioners he was “one of the most efficient and obliging men in the force”!! One group says he is the worst of men, the other says he is among the very best. You can’t believe them both.
If the two views are reconcilable in any way it would seem that Fitzpatrick maybe was a likeable lad, a smooth talker perhaps, but a disaster to work with because he lacked judgement, and therefore could not be trusted.
The new police commissioner, Chomley, had the final say: “in places where he was known before he joined the service … I have always heard him described as a liar and a larrikin”.
Reclaiming Fitzpatrick’s reputation is a tough ask, I reckon. A lot of people had long standing reservations about him. It isn’t just Mayes. And the question remains, why would they hold those views so firmly, vehemently even, if there wasn’t substance to them. Because they needed a scapegoat? Or that he was just bad news.
The Fitzpatrick family have said for years that Alexander was the son of Charles who was a Tasmanian expiree, which looks a possibility but probably difficult to prove, unless someone has done the work. If its true, it would explain a lot about the accusations made about his behaviour – and put him in a similar boat as Kelly.
That’s a very interesting assessment Perc. Over to you then Stuart!
Hi Peter, that’s a bit cheeky saying over to Stuart! I’m not the only one who thinks Fitzpatrick’s long bad reputation among the Kelly nuts arose unjustly. Now let us consider some points that Perc made:
Hi Perc, I too don’t think Fitzpatrick was a scapegoat for police failings in the search for Kelly. For a start, Perc is right to ask “How would sacking him take attention away from the public concern about the Force’s inability to capture the Kellys?” Fitzpatrick was sacked 27 April 1880, only two months before the gang was destroyed. Apart from the citizens of Lancefield petitioning for his restoration to duty, it is hard to see that anywhere else in Victoria noticed, or that the average Victorian gave him a second thought in regards to the Kelly hunt. Second, Fitzpatrick was actively involved in the Kelly hunt from around November 1878 until his deployment to NSW in early 1879, so a few months out and about on the Kelly hunt. His deployment was to watch the Sydney trains for the gang. Regardless of what happened in NSW or Lancefield, his sacking could hardly be held out as scapegoating given that the average Joe had probably forgotten he ever existed. This is because attention to his shooting by Kelly back in April 1878 was dwarfed by the Stringybark Creek murders, after which it is safe to safe Fitzpatrick was largely forgotten in the wake of that later outcry.
I also agree with you that “they [the Commission] probably didn’t give him the time of day because they considered him a waste of space – rightly or wrongly.” Nowhere that I can recall was he used as a scapegoat for police failing to catch the gang, regardless that he was mentioned rightly or wrongly as triggering the outbreak. (I think it was wrongly; the breaking of the Baumgarten horse stealing ring was the trigger for the outbreak. Fitzpatrick just happened to be the one who attempted to arrest Dan for whom a warrant was out. It could have been and sooner or later would have been any other officer given that a warrant was out for him.)
I don’t think Fitzpatrick was set-up, I think he was targeted by Mayes who had formed a hostile view of him before he was sent to Lancefield under Mayes. He was put under Mayes to be disciplined, and Mayes was a strict disciplinarian by all accounts. That does not make Mayes bad; and it does not make Fitzpatrick bad. What nis means is that in a two man police station, Mayes was set against Fitzpatrick from the get go and probably made his life hell for no other reason than Mayes’ pre-existing belief founded on popular hearsay that Fitzpatrick was responsible for the Kelly outbreak.
It seems clear that Mayes genuinely regarded him as being unsuitable as a policeman. As Perc said, Mayes “refers to Fitzpatrick specifically in the context of his criticisms of recruitment and training. Fitzpatrick is, in his opinion, a cogent example of the consequences of poor recruitment practice and inadequate training. Mayes explains that acceptance into the Force required only the recommendation of some local “with any little political influence” who may or may not be a good judge of character or the qualities necessary to make a good officer. Mayes thought “a man should be of known respectability and a man of some respect for himself and his family, and not likely to commit an offence knowingly.” He then adds, as you note, “From the first time that Fitzpatrick came to me till I got rid of him I found him a thorough blackguard and quite unfit for the force.” It is extremely strong criticism, and implies that in his view Fitzpatrick was entirely and irredeemably unsuited to police work – deceitful, and without honour or virtue.”
That seems a fair summary of Maye’s view of Fitzpatrick. There was no way such a relationship was going to work out in a two man police station. However, Mayes’ views were misfounded, built on gossip and rumour stemming from the Fitzpatrick incident that that well post-dated Fitzpatrick’s appointment to and early months in then Force. Remember that he was assessed as a good man about 3 months after the Fitzpatrick incident; and the favourable assessment of him by peers, e.g. McIntyre.
There is a misreading of the Commission in saying that “Fitzpatrick acknowledged that it was because he “associated with the lowest persons in Lancefield, and could not be trusted out of sight, and never did my duty”.” He did not; he denied that he had been seriously improper, and in that quote he was saying what another had said about him, not acknowledging any correctness about it. Yes, the Commission pointed out that he had been sent home from Sydney because he had associated with improper characters; but the only thing that is clear from the file relating to that is that by being disciplined in Sydney he had got up Standish’s nose, who thought Fitzpatrick had brought the Victoria Police into disrepute. Stuffed shirtism. The public service is still packed with petty minded pedants and autocrats in their secure, small minded paper-ridden world of silly rules and conformist behaviour control. I barely lasted a year in that environment decades ago.
You say, “Fitzpatrick acknowledged that there were a lot of charges brought against him, but claimed they amounted to little: “I might have erred in small things”. Given the opportunity by the Commission to go through the accusations , though, Fitzpatrick chose to speak only of the “swaggie” incident, about which he could only say: “as far as I remember the minute on the charge exonerated me from all blame”, which is not a particularly confident response.”
But it is the only response needed. All he erred in were three or four small things, and he was exonerated by internal reports of two of them. He was late to meet a train one morning in Sydney while working 12 hour daily shifts. The horror, he slept in once. He was apparently exonerated from some swaggie incident which I haven’t found nay record of. The mystery of his Sydney escapade about someone’s stolen property is obscure and unlikely to be solved as to what actually happened. There is no doubt as he said that many policemen had done far worse and been retained – see Sadleir’s Recollections re cleaning up the police around Melbourne.
The petitions got up by Lancefield locals in support of Fitzpatrick are only puzzling if you believe the criticisms of the stuffed shirt upper ranks and the disciplinarian Mayes who stated that he had sought and succeeded in getting rid of Fitzpatrick. Clearly he did his duty at least 99% of the time and did well enough in it including “making a number of clever arrests” that well over a hundred local residents wanted him reinstated. It was never going to happen after Mayes had got rid of him. Anyone who has ever been disciplined by a public service ponce knows it is a no win situation and just a matter of time till the end. The same goes for bullies in school – it is always easier for a school to get rid of the victim by letting things go until they leave, than actively get rid of the bullies. That happens almost universally in Victorian schools and has for at least the last few decades. Find any principal who will admit that there is bullying in their school. You won’t, even if only because it potentially exposes them to liability.
Lastly, it may be that “the Fitzpatrick family have said for years that Alexander was the son of Charles who was a Tasmanian expiree.” The descendants most likely heard the same background of negative stories and rumours as Mayes or just gave up over time and generations under the weight of bad press and wrote him off as a black sheep without too much thought. As is clear from Ashmead’s 1922 “The Thorns and the Briars”, many from those were happy to forget about the past and move on. Clearly no-one has ever posted any evidence that convict ancestry was the case; the answer may be as simple as the popular wish to have a convict ancestor with appropriate misunderstandings of similar names or something.
But we should not assume because some descendants may say something that all descendants concur. Another Fitzpatrick descendant wrote on the Ancestry genealogy website. “Alexander Wilson Fitzpatrick was the Constable Fitzpatrick involved with the Ned Kelly saga. Much misleading information has been written about him and his role in the Ned Kelly story.” Also, when looking at what descendants say, you have only to look at the claims spouted in north-eastern newspapers over the last 20-30 years by descendants of Richard Shelton to see how wildly unhistorical tales of old are firmly believed as fact and taught to the current generation of youngsters. Saved from a raging torrent by champion young Ned, they say, not even tongue in cheek.
So all up, I agree with many of the points you have made in the first half of your lockdown blog, but have some issues with the second part. Cheers!
Stuart how do you reconcile your belief that Fitzpatrick wasn’t made a scapegoat with this sentence of yours from above:?
“Mayes was set against Fitzpatrick from the get go and probably made his life hell for no other reason than Mayes’ pre-existing belief founded on popular hearsay that Fitzpatrick was responsible for the Kelly outbreak.”
My understanding of the meaning of the word ‘scapegoat’ is that its about blame being attributed to someone for something he didn’t do. But that seems to be exactly what you’re saying Mayes did. Moreover as we all agree he formed that extreme opinion about Fitzpatrick – that he was a ‘blackguard’ – on the basis of hearsay and gossip, which is reprehensible wouldn’t you say?
You also say he (Fitzpatrick)got up the nose of Mayes friend Standish, who, as Chief Commissioner of Police was the one for whom the buck stopped. He wasn’t trying to deflect blame for being unable to catch the Kellys but for starting the whole thing in the first place, which as you said was Mayes view. Why wouldn’t it have been his friend Standish’s view as well… and then Chomleys? They weren’t concerned about the man in the street but their reputations in the circles of power in Melbourne and the Editorials in the newspapers.
Perc you mention the paradox of Mayes view and that of the petitioners and say “One group says he is the worst of men, the other says he is among the very best. You can’t believe them both.” Good point – so who would a neutral person believe? – the view of Mayes whose mind was made up before he had even met the man, on the basis of hearsay we know was mostly scurrilous nonsense, and as Stuart says, after that, Mayes being the kind man he was his opinion was never going to change – or that of the scores of petitioners who we assume had no preformed prejudices and met and interacted with him over many months? And, as you mention also Stuart, the views of others who met him like McIntyre . Thats a no brainer surely?
But perhaps youre right, this wasnt a widely held view but it certainly was Mayes little personal ego trip and perhaps an attempt to impress his mates higher up in the echelons of the police force? To me, Mayes treatment of Fitzpatrick stinks.
Hi David, I think the word scapegoat is being used in different ways. Mayes was clearly set against Fitzpatrick from the start based on Mayes’ incorrect and rumour-based beliefs about the Fitzpatrick triggered incident. The basis for those beliefs was the not unreasonable view that the Fitzpatrick incident triggered the Kelly outbreak. The Royal Commission 2nd Progress Report said as much. That does not make Fitzpatrick a scapegoat, as Mayes was a low rank constable or senior constable, not part of the hierarchy. I don’t think much weight can be given to the idea that Mayes was a friend of Standish even if Standish thought well of him. It is hard to picture Mayes in the Melbourne Club or at Standish’s home. Different worlds, I think.
Where you use the word scapegoat in the feature article it is in quite a different context: “it suited the upper echelons of the force to make Fitzpatrick the scapegoat for the outbreak”; and again in response to Perc, the opinion “that Police hierarchy were so embarrassed by their serial failures to catch the Kelly Gang that Fitzpatrick was made a scapegoat”. As you say, “the meaning of the word ‘scapegoat’ is that it’s about blame being attributed to someone for something he didn’t do”. While the hierarchy may have scapegoated Fitzpatrick (I say ‘may’ because I see no clear evidence that it did scapegoat him, just that they wanted to get rid of him as an embarrassment), I think it is a stretch to use the word scapegoat to describe Mayes’ hostility to Fitzpatrick. I fear this discussion point is descending into semantics over the word scapegoat, so may leave it here. All my point was, is that scapegoating is probably the wrong word for this situation in which he was gotten rid of, but not used as a public scapegoat in the tradition that someone takes the blame for an event and is publicly shamed for it. I think it would be incorrect to say that hierarchy blamed Fitzpatrick for the failure of the Kelly hunt.
However, I agree that Mayes treatment of Fitzpatrick stinks.
[…] recent days I have been made aware of a June 2021 post by obstetrician and amatuer historian David MacFarlane. MacFarlane has, for several years […]
For the benefit of your regular reading audience, I will open by introducing myself. My name is Dean Mayes and I am the great great grandson of the late 1st Class Sergeant Joseph Ladd Mayes who served in the Victoria Police Force between 1858 and 1895.
I note your recent communication with me via social media and your unlocking of the comment thread on this discussion. For that, I appreciate to opportunity to respond.
It was my original intention to comment here however I have decided, owing to the significant work I have had to undertake in order to provide that response, to post my response at my own website.
I invite your audience to view my response at the following link;
Nonsense I say. Alex Fitzpatrick brought shame to the uniform. I read somewhere by whom I’m not sure that Alex was bad to the bone as was his father and younger brother. Drunken criminals the lot were. Alex’s older brother was a cop of 30 years, he didn’t exactly have a clean record either. I will find the link and share
Please do find the link and post it. My suspicion is that no such link exists.
[…] Sergeant Joseph Ladd Mayes verses Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick” in which I addressed the assessment by obstetrician David MacFarlane of my great great grandfather’s conduct during the Kelly Affair and his later sacking of Constable Alexander […]
I must say I’m a little confused now.
Was Mayes’ issue with Fitzpatrick his failure (‘neglect of duty’) to arrest one swagman for assault (as he told RC) or a failure to bring two swagmen – Byrne and Murphy – for potentially aiding Ned Kelly on the Lancefield to Kilmore Rd?
Does the police file on Byrne and Murphy make any mention of one reporting the other for assault?
Did one of them dob on the other following the fight? Are they even the same men?
Yes Thomas Dean Mayes post is confusing on that point and I asked him for clarification on that matter several days ago but so far he has not responded. He appears to have conflated two seperate incidents, one being the report of one swagman being assaulted by another, and the other being two swagmen with no animosity mentioned between them who were visited by a possible Ned Kelly. His already weak argument collapses completely if he cant prove these two incidents involved the same pair of swagmen. He may have realised this now, and so doesnt want to answer my question!
In Dean Mayes’ post, “Defending History: Sergeant Joseph Ladd Mayes verses Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick”, he writes to David,
“You have referred to the Lancefield petitions appealing for the reinstatement of ex-Constable Fitzpatrick. I have wrestled with the narrative around the Lancefield petitions since I was first made aware of them in 2020 and I have reviewed one of those two petitions which is publicly available. A search and various enquiries as to the existence of the second petition have, thus far, turned up nothing so I will only address the publicly available petition here. Reading through the document, one can count 107 signatures in total – far less than the purported 200 signatures that you have advanced in your various defences of ex-Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick – and a small proportion of the total population of the Lancefield & Romsey District at the time of the petition’s writing.”
First, whatever happened at Lancefield in 1880 is of absolutely no importance to consideration of the Fitzpatrick Incident and what happened at the Kelly’s house in 1878. Nothing in Dean Mayes’ response to David has anything to do with that incident and its subsequent warping by police-hating Kelly enthusiasts. It seems to boil down to an argument that his ancestor was an excellent and well regarded policeman – and so too was Fitzpatrick – and no-one has disputed that. But being an excellent and well regarded policeman does not mean that he was right about the Fitzpatrick incident. Nothing in Dean’s post challenges anything about my Redeeming Fitzpatrick article.
Second, Dean seems in his post to doubt the existence of the second petition to reinstate Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick spoke of petitions plural in his Royal Commission testimony, Q. 12910, and says they were signed by 200 respectable citizens of Mansfield and Romsey including nine Justices of the Peace; see also Q.12923.
The petitions are quoted, discussed and referenced in Ian Macfarlane’s meticulously detailed book, “The Kelly Gang Unmasked”. Dean ridicules David by scoffing several times at the idea that David conducted a “careful review” of the evidence in this discussion, and says he has counted only 107 signatures on the only one he can find, yet hasn’t bothered to track down the second petition at VPRO before coming out all guns blazing about a “purported 200 signatures” as though David (or Fitzpatrick) made it up.
Dean effectively writes off the fact that the petitions were signed by respectable citizens including several Justices of the Peace, by saying the signatories were from only a small percentage of the population of the district. That has nothing to do with their weight. An inspection of the files shows that the second petition was forwarded by then lawyer Alfred Deakin, who later became Prime Minister. It seems rather elitist to dismiss consideration of the worth of a petition on the grounds of numbers of signatories. The signatories also include lawyers and comprise largely farmers and business owners, not layabout riff-raff such as the Kelly nuts claim Fitzpatrick hung around with.
Dean asks, “While I acknowledge that petitions have been discussed by a number of historians, the following questions have to be asked. Who instigated those petitions? Were the instigators of the petitions motivated by a genuine concern for the treatment of ex-Constable Fitzpatrick or was there some other motivation at play? Was ex-Constable Fitzpatrick malleable enough to allow criminal activity in and around Lancefield to go unchecked and the instigators of the petition feared losing a “useful idiot”? Did the signatories to the petition even know what they were signing?” Read MacFarlane’s Kelly Gang Unmasked and my Redeeming Fitzpatrick article again; it’s all there. And no, the signatories were not the sort of illiterate bumpkins that Kelly attracted then and now.
He also asks, “Significantly – why is the case that Maurice Casey’s signature appears on the petition – the same Maurice Casey who reported ex-Constable Fitzpatrick for threatening behaviour towards him and his family and the attempted sexual assault of his daughter Hannah?” Fair question, you’d have to timeline it. If his claim was from before the petition, maybe he had been wrong and realised it. Some questions are unsolvable at such a distance.
Dean asks, “If there was such an antipathy towards Senior Constable Mayes, why did he remain in the Lancefield District until his retirement in 1895? Why was he, by all publicly available accounts, highly regarded by the Lancefield community?” There is nothing in the petitions or elsewhere about any antipathy to Mayes, whom he notes was commended for his service. The petitions were to reinstate Fitzpatrick as a good copper, not to get rid of Mayes who was also a good copper.
Dean’s second post, The Fitzpatrick Petition – More Questions than Answers, comprises a letter by his ancestor Senior Constable Mayes of 11 May 1880 regarding one of the Fitzpatrick petitions. It says, “I beg to report for the information of the Superintendent that ex-Constable Fitzpatrick is at the present time and has been since last Tuesday canvassing this district with a petition for signatures that he proposes having presented to the Chief Secretary for his reappointment to the Police Force. It appears by the slip of paper attached that ex-Constable Fitzpatrick considers himself unjustly dealt with.”
The slip of paper is a newspaper article from the district which says, “Ex-Constable Fitzpatrick – We are sure a large majority of the public of the Lancefield district who had any acquaintance with Mounted Constable Fitzpatrick whilst stationed here will, with us, be sorry to hear of his discharge from the Victorian police force. The ex-constable whilst resident here appeared to be an intelligent and efficient member of the force, and his many social qualities in private life gained him many friends, who are no interesting themselves on his behalf with a view to his reinstatement. Several prominent residents of the district have prepared a petition for presentation to the Chief Secretary, which is rapidly being signed by the inhabitants of the entire district praying for Mr. Fitzpatrick’s re-appointment. We understand that the ex-constable believes that he has been unjustly dealt with and attributes his discharge to certain reports which reached the Chief Commissioner, the truthfulness of which he asserts he can disprove. Such being the case we hope that Mr Fitzpatrick’s friends will be successfully in their endeavours to have a worthy officer replaced in his position.”
In other words, Fitzpatrick wanted the opportunity which most people would call due process, to put his case. This was denied him as he stated to the Royal Commission, Q. 12893. He was denied due process to appeal his dismissal, let that sink in. And one of the district newspapers vouched for him in print, and wished him well with his petition for reinstatement. Let that sink in. It is not about Mayes vs Fitzpatrick. It is about whether Fitzpatrick was treated fairly in his dismissal and appeal. He was not. The newspaper article is further testament to Fitzpatrick’s good reputation in the district. Both Mayes and Fitzpatrick appear to have been good, popular, competent and capable policemen. What’s the problem with that?
Thank you Stuart. I would suggest you repost this comment to Dean Mayes Blog. He and his supporters need to read it.
You will have seen Dean Mayes constructing a conspiracy theory about the petitions, suggesting, because he was unable to find it that Fitzpatrick lied about the existence of the second one and suggesting there was something dark and sinister about Fitzpatrick involving himself in getting signatures. The reality is of course that Fitzpatricks job, reputation and future were on the line and if he felt hard done by he was absolutely entitled to seek justice and to go about getting community support for his cause. There was nothing at all inappropriate about his involvement in the Petitions.
It really surprised me that Dean Mayes posted that Editorial comment about the petitions, and I had to wonder if he understood it, because it completely blows his conspiracy theory about them right out of the water, unless he is going to go on and imply – as he and other Kelly conspiracy theorists have about the signatories to the petitions – that the Editors at the newspaper also had threats made to them.
His position in regard to the Petitions is a shambles.
They all read this blog.