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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Hare Letters: Nicolson versus Standish [Brian Stevenson]

It is great to have the letters of Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare available online! Though there are many gaps, as is usual with history, and many questions are raised – also as usual with history – the letters are both interesting and illuminating, providing as they do an insight into the mind of one of the key participants in the Kelly Outbreak.

There is the scope for quite a few blog posts in these letters, but I thought that I would start with one of the most important themes therein – the animosity between Superintendent Hare’s powerful ally, Police Commissioner Frederick C Standish, and the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Charles Hope Nicolson.  Standish hated Nicolson with a particular passion and criticisms of the ‘cranky Scotie’ abound in these pages.

Hare and Standish went back a long way, and knew each other decades before the Kelly Outbreak. The Under-Sheriff of the colony of Victoria, Frederick Call, who later would have dealings with Ned and Dan Kelly and the wretched hangman Upjohn (see my previous blog post on Upjohn’s life for details at recommended to Standish that Hare be promoted. (Special note: I don’t know what an Under-Sheriff does either.)

Standish wrote to Call on 29 September 1859 saying to him:

Though but slightly acquainted with Mr Hare, I am well aware that there is not a better or more efficient officer of Police in the Colony, and I wish it were in my power to place him in the position which you and others wish to see him in, and wh[ich] I may add, he is imminently [sic] fitted to fill.

Standish expressed regret for not being able to promote Hare, but said that he wished to see the present system of promotion based on seniority of service retained because ‘it is the fairest plan.’

A few years later Standish received a telegram from the New South Wales police stating that Hare could now obtain appointment as Superintendent in the Maitland District, but for reasons unknown, Hare remained in Victoria.

Fast forward to the Kelly Outbreak, and there is an interesting letter from Nicolson to Hare which was written a few days after Nicolson found himself ‘to be withdrawn from the Kelly business.’ Nicolson’s misery and humiliation is palpable and it is hard to not feel sympathy for someone who probably did not wear his heart on his sleeve too often. Nicolson felt ‘indignant and disgusted’ but apologized for thinking at first that Hare had had something to do with the replacement. He continued:

 I need not tell you what misery it has been to me to reside in this district so many months continuously … The absurdity and injustice of discrediting me because I have been up here for ten months will be apparent enough bye and by in calmer weather…I shall never be induced to go into such an affair again.

If Nicolson’s attitude to Hare was stoic, his reaction to Standish was unabashedly hostile. On 4 June 1880 he called on Standish and, as Standish related:

Nicolson called here yesterday and on my holding out my hand in the usual manner shoved both his into his hat and declined to accept it …His manner is mostly very insolent but I attribute it entirely to .. vanity and a suspicion of every body [sic] caused no doubt by mental aberration. I fully expect that he will go quite cranky.

In the same letter, Standish commented:

The late governing powers seem to have made a great hash of their last chance of capturing the gang! But what can one expect from a vainglorious lunatic like your predecessor?

Happily for Standish, Nicolson was packed off for an inspection tour to western Victoria. On 22 June 1880 he wrote to Hare:

The Cranky Scotie is now inspecting the Wimmera and Western Districts & it is a great blessing for me ot have him away from town.

Two days later, though, the absent Nicolson was causing trouble, showing some letters of a confidential nature to the Queensland import Stanhope O’Connor. We don’t know what was in them, but it was obviously enough to raise Standish’s ire:

The ACP [Assistant Commissioner of Police] is a dangerous sneak & I would not trust him further than I could throw a bull by the tail.

A few days later, the bad blood between Standish and Nicolson was a moot point with the destruction of the gang at Glenrowan. 

[Reminder: though it says posted by Sharon Hollingsworth, this was written wholly by Brian Stevenson, he just asked me to put it here for him as he is continuing to have technical difficulties in posting to the blog.]

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