ASK A BLACKHEATH BOBBY!

Blackheath gets a Bobby.

Mr Plod, ready for action.

DID BLACKHEATH  REALLY NEED A BOBBY?

During the summer of 1892 the cash box was stolen from the general store in  the Blue Mountains village of Blackheath. There was an immediate  call to appoint a policeman. Not everyone was in favour of this step, as the  following  editorial shows;

Now  just as one swallow does not make a summer, I fail to see that one robbery makes this a place of crime, especially when there can be no doubt that the burglary previously alluded to was the work of strangers. There can be no valid reason why this peaceful and crimeless Mountains resort should be made a paradise for a lazy bobby to take his measured walk, wearing out Government boots and clothing by doing in their well known style…..nothing! 

Another argument  against the idea  was that any Mr Plod  stationed in  the ‘Heath’  might have died of boredom within a month.

Well of course  the powers that be had their way. Like it or not, Blackheath  got a bobby.  They built him a house, which still stands on the Great Western Highway.  It was constructed  on the site of the old, 1840’s convict stockade.  Apparently there were holding cells underneath, as well as a prisoner’s hut in the backyard. The house is now a bed and breakfast establishment.

Police cottage at Blackheath

Original police cottage.

The appointment of a bobby had some  amusing repercussions a few years later.

In 1895 there was a concert in the  village’s Albert Hall.  A comic called Mr Baster dressed up as a copper  and sang, ‘Ask a policeman’.   It went like this;

 

If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,

The proper city time, ask a policeman.

Every member of the force, has a watch and chain of course

Where he got it, from what source? Ask a policeman. 

It was a  much loved,  but slightly risqué  ditty;

Policeman song

Unfortunately the local Bobby’s two daughters, the Misses Hanley,  were present and  took great offence. They  got up and  walked out.  Before Mr Baster could leave the stage the  target of his humour  arrived and confiscated the songster’s  costume;  helmet, jacket…the lot!  The Blue Mountains Gazette  reported the incident with much humour;

‘Whether he will  be sentenced to death, or come under the provisions of the First Offender’ Act,  fitting punishment should be meted out to him for having committed so grievous  a crime as one at which he was caught red-handed, so to speak, at Blackheath.’ 

There were other newspaper reports suggesting that a collection had been taken up by locals to fund Mr Baster’s criminal case.

UPDATE – Next day, a rebuttel to the above report was published in the Sydney Times;

A telegram recently appeared in a daily paper to the effect that at a concert at Blackheath, a local resident, Mr J Baster, had contributed, in character, a song entitled ‘Ask a Policeman’, which gave such  offence  to two daughters of Sergeant Hanley that they left the hall, and that after the performance Sergeant Hanley came among the singers and  confiscated the police uniform worn by Basker and intended to summon him for wearing it.

We have received another version of this incident, which puts the matter in a very different light.  According to our informant, the Misses Hanley, who had themselves taken part in the concert, did not leave the hall on account of this song, but some time afterwards, owing to the conduct of some boys who were present offensively chaffing them on the subject. Sergeant Hanley himself, it is stated, also took not the slightest notice of the matter on that evening, but believing the uniform to be the property of the police department, next day made enquiries of the singer and asked him to hand it over , which he without demur. Sergeant Hanley then reported the fact to the police superintendent at Bathurst, and there the matter ended.

 It was not the only occasion that  Blackheathens have had a bit of fun at the expense of the village bobby. Recently I met  a born and bred resident  for coffee, and she pointed out a rusting sign in the main street. I think it dates from the 1960s.

As a supposedly observant writer type, I was shocked to think I have been walking under it  for 16 years and never noticed.

 

Blackheth police sign

Where to ask a policeman.

The arrow points to  historic Gardiner’s Hotel. The story was that the policeman of the day could always be found in the pub.

Gardiners Hotel Blackheath

Enquire within!

Must say I had a chuckle when I remembered the old song Mr Baster sang;

If beer you want, and stores are closed, go to the man in blue.

He’ll show you where the side door is, and tell you what to do.

CHOURUS

If you want to get a drink, ask a policeman,

He’ll manage it, I think, will a policeman.

He’ll find out the secret way, where you can, both night and day,

Get a cocktail right away, can a policeman!

Of course some wag took the joke even further, and  painted a gun-slinging Deputy on the sign.

 

Police sign at Blackheath

The  Blackheath lawman with his holsters.

Thus far, no-0ne has felt the need to take down the sign, which pleases me no end. Oh yes, the humour and spirit of Blackheath lives on.

Thankfully I have never had occasion to call on our  current bobby, who is stationed  in  nearby Wentworth Street.  You know what? I honestly  don’t remember  ever seeing a policeman in the village.  I thought I might  just pop in and ask him (or her)  the time. The sign is prominent enough.

 

Blackheath Police

This looks like the place.

Hmm, the building was like a little fortress. No way in at all, how odd.  Oh look, an intercom;

 

Police portal

                                         Hello, hello. Excuse me, Officer…do you have the time?

I had the feeling that if I pressed the button the poor bobby might collapse in shock. Or maybe  there was nobody in there at all?  A recorded voice might say; ‘For robbery,  please press 1. For assault and battery, please press 2 ….

So much easier in days when you could find Mr Plod  in the pub.

For more on the quirkiness of  the affectionately  dubbed ‘Bleakheath’

FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A MESSAGE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE THE BLACKHEATH BOBBY.

 

11 Comments
  1. Oh Pauline, please let me know if you hear from the current policeman.

  2. How I loved this…brings back memories of the local ‘cop’ in the small viallage that I grew up in. Funny, I remember his name, but not really what he looked like.. I have clear memories of his good looking son though, who used to meet me at Sunday school…
    Think I feel some research coming on!

  3. Oh, dear, dyslexic fingers strike again..

  4. Love the story. Especially love the couple of ditties. Keep presenting them Pauline and i will keep reading them. Thoroughly enjoy your short stories.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Diane. And thanks for taking the time to leave a message. I do love social history.

  5. Oh my goodness, I shall start looking at Blackheath and it’s residents in a new light now.

  6. Love your blog.
    We own ‘The George Hotel’ ex ‘St Mounts’ ex ‘The Pines’, located next to ‘Constables Cottage’ at 196 Great Western Highway, Blackheath.
    This was the original coppers residence built early 1890s. It had cells underneath and also a hut for prisoners in the backyard. Apparently they used to call out to the Hotel guests to let them out, and other things unprintable. Keep up the great stories.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Vicki. And thanks so much for the information. I’ll have to check it out!

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