Should SC Mayes have been sacked?

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.

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One Reply to “Should SC Mayes have been sacked?”

  1. 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.

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