Becoming A Lawman

The colony of Victoria underwent a period of rapid expansion in the 1850’s owing to the gold rush that had taken hold in the Ballarat Gold Fields. Prospectors and fortune hunters, eager to capitalize on the potential riches to be found, poured into the colony from all over the world.

Among these arrivals were the young Mayes family, who alighted onto the Melbourne docks, no doubt exhausted from their long sea voyage. Eager to take advantage of the economic boom resulting from the gold, for the first six months in Victoria, Joseph Ladd put his agricultural skills to use, and sought employment as a gardener. Settling into a nascent city that was as vibrant and alive as Melbourne would have been both daunting and exciting.

Melbourne panorama c. 1854 – artist Robert Russell.

The family’s movements in this initial period have been difficult to clarify, however a tantalising clue has only become evident just recently (as at Feb. 2020). On his eventual police application form, Joseph Ladd lists his employer, a Mr. Ferguson and a referee, a Sir James Palmer.

It is highly likely, Joseph Ladd was citing Sir James Frederick Palmer, an English born medical practitioner who emigrated to Victoria, eventually becoming the Mayor of Melbourne and a legislator in the Victorian government. He was also one of the first champions of the Melbourne Hospital.

Sir James Frederick Palmer.

Palmer made his home at Richmond near the Yarra River and soon established Palmer’s Punt (near Hawthorn Bridge), thus making a steady income from the woodcarters of the Boroondara district. In 1851 largely at his instigation the punt was displaced by a wooden bridge. With prosperity he built a new house, Burwood, in Hawthorn near the bridge.

It is possible that Joseph Ladd gained employment as a gardener under Sir James Frederick Palmer at a time when Palmer was constructing his residence in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn and that Sir James was impressed enough by the young Joseph Ladd that he was willing to act as a referee later that year.

Victoria’s population during the 1850’s ballooned from a few hundred thousand to almost one million in the space of just a few years. While the economic activity transformed the colony, it experienced acute growing pains. Administration and beuracracy was unwieldy and struggled to provide the services the population needed. Infrastructure couldn’t keep pace, creating all kinds of logistical headaches. Into the colony, came a different kind of opportunity. Criminal activity flourished, from horse stealing and coach hold ups, petty crime, confidence tricks, rape and murder.

Victoria did have a disparate law enforcement instrument but it was populated by a unwieldy assortment of individuals, current and former military, private mercenaries, decent community men who were adequate to the task, but also many who were little better than the emerging criminal element.

Recognising the need for a state sanctioned Police, the government, in 1853, established what was to become known as the Victoria Police Force. It then embarked on an aggressive recruiting drive to cement a law and order presence across the colony to counter the crime wave.

As a boy Joseph Ladd had heard accounts of his great uncle, Joseph Mayes, who had served in the British military during the Napoleonic Wars. The elder Mayes had seen action at Talavera, Spain where the British & Spanish forces put down invading French in a battle that was a decisive moment in the years long conflict. So enamoured was the younger Joseph Ladd with his courageous relative – the only Mayes who had served in the military – he memorialized it in a family “Bible” that he would later hand down to his own son John. That bible existed until the 1930’s when, unfortunately, it was lost.

Perhaps seeing a chance to emulate the bold deeds of his great uncle, or at least, fulfill a desire to serve a cause greater than himself Joseph Ladd Mayes, decided to turn his back on a career as a Gardner. He answered the call from the government, presenting to the police barracks at Richmond and on the 20th of December 1858, he was sworn into the Victorian Police mounted constable – No. 1477.

JL Mayes in police uniform – (?) 1858.

A Police Department certificate records his swearing in. His initial salary was indexed at 9/6 per diem not including allowances. Of course, his citation Sir of James Palmer as a referee is prominent on the document.

Joseph Ladd probably spent 3 months at the Richmond depot receiving training as a mounted constable. The training itself was grueling, with cadets required to complete regular drills, maintain their horses, saddlery, uniforms and firearms. The accommodations at the Richmond depot were basic, consisting of canvas tents that saw up to 8 cadets sleeping side by side in cramped quarters. Joseph Ladd’s police record contains very little from this early period, save for a single entry in October, 1859 when he was cautioned for not having his police cap when turning out for gold escort duty – a regular assignment for young constables.

Mounted Police 1852 – S. T. Gill (1818-1880) Lithograph by Macartney & Galbraith; State Library Victoria Australia

As the gold rush in Ballarat drew vast numbers of prospectors and business owners, keen to capitalise on the economic opportunities there, the Victoria Police Force began focusing their resources. Reports of highway robberies, thefts from stores and tents were coming in regularly. Horse stealing had ramped up to epidemic proportions and even murders weren’t uncommon. The need for a motivated police presence at the gold fields was considered urgent.

Having completed his probation, Joseph Ladd, Marrian and their infant son Charles gathered up their belongings once more and were dispatched to Ballarat. It would be here, however, that the young Mayes family were experience significant hardship and tragedy.

Next: Early Trials & Bitter Triumphs…