Joseph Ladd Mayes’ career trajectory was already on the rise – even as the events of the Kelly Affair were playing out. He received his first promotion in 1879, as the hunt for the Kelly Gang was ramping up. His promotion to Senior Constable was recommended by Superintendent Francis Hare for his steadfast duty during the Cave Party operations and the sorties into the Warby Ranges.
Despite the protestations of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick and the purported petitions from the townsfolk of Lancefield urging his reinstatement, Fitzpatrick’s dismissal by Joseph Ladd did not affect Joseph Ladd’s position at Lancefield. If anything, he flourished, cementing himself as a popular community identity – an uncompromising lawman for sure – but a fair one. In the period from 1879 to 1885, local newspaper reports illustrate the esteem in which he was held by the community and his successes in maintaining law and order.
In May 1885 Joseph Ladd was again promoted to Sergeant 2nd Class. On this occasion the recommendation came from the Bench of Magistrates in Lilydale, Victoria and they forwarded their testimonial to the Chief Commissioner in Melbourne expressing;
“their high appreciation of the zeal, skill and activity displayed by Senior Constable Mayes” ~ Service Record of JL Mayes 1885.
Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, the specter of Small-pox loomed large as a global threat with numerous outbreaks causing mass mortality and and panic. Australia, though relatively isolated, did not escape the hand of Small-pox and it endured several encounters with the virulent disease.
From 1885, concerns in Melbourne were heightened when reports of new cases from global hotspots reached Australia’s shores and authorities were warned to be vigilant. Ships from countries in South East Asia, the Sub Continent and South America sailing into busy ports like Melbourne were flagged as a risk to public safety.
The Victorian government acted, ordering the halt of vessels at the Port Phillip Heads, diverting them to Portsea and Sorrento for inspection. Realizing they had a potential disaster on their hands, a quarantine station was established at the naval base of Point Nepean to house affected persons.
As cases of small-pox were confirmed, reports began appearing the pages of the metropolitan dailies. Fearing a panic, the government ordered a drastic security operation at the Point Nepean facility and the Victoria Police seconded senior officers from around Melbourne to head up the response.
A review of the print media from the time places Joseph Ladd Mayes at the Point Nepean facility overseeing a large contingent of officers. Reports tell of a military-styled response to the burgeoning crisis, with Joseph Ladd instituting strict protocols to contain the spread of the virus and prevent quarantined individuals from escaping.
Perhaps unintentionally, he became the focus of the Melbourne’s print media with frequent descriptions of the “genial” but by the book sergeant being the bulwark against a Small-pox pandemic. Indeed so strict was Joseph Ladd, no communication came into or out of the facility unless he gave his assent.
The risks those under his command must have been front of mind. The ramifications of Small-pox were a life and death equation. The virus is so contagious, just one infected person has the potential to cause an epidemic. Australia at the time, wasn’t producing its own supply of vaccine and had to rely on a supply from England. In light of the evolving global situation, a stable supply from the UK wasn’t guarantee.
And then, Joseph Ladd himself became infected.
Exactly when it was he succumbed is not clear but he was to become a “guest” of the Point Nepean facility. The course of Small-pox in humans can last for three to four weeks or until the last scabs from smallpox lesions resolve, (leaving pitted scars in their wake). For surviving victims, it can result in permanent disablement, limb deformities associated with smallpox induced arthritis, necrosis of the skin and blindness.
The ordeal for Eugenie and the children would have been terrible. Once more, Joseph Ladd’s duty had taken him a considerable distance away from them for long stretches and that commitment to duty had threatened his life. Scant information was released from the quarantine facility – at the express order of Joseph Ladd himself – so it’s not clear how grave his condition became. One can only imagine the long days and nights of worry for Eugenie and the children.
Fortunately, as recorded in a short article in the Kyneton Observer (Saturday 3 January 1891), Joseph Ladd prevailed and, true to his character, he resumed his duties as the commander of the Point Nepean facility. The relief for his family and the wider public is perhaps best illustrated in the words of the Observer journalist who triumphant declared Joseph Ladd, “The Small-Pox Proof Sergeant”.
From the first reports of inflected vessels in 1887, Joseph Ladd, along with a roster of sergeants, routinely became the Victoria Police’s point man at Point Nepean until February 1895 when major policing operations were wound down. The crisis contained, a small three man contingent remained at the quarantine station.
Joseph Ladd return to Lancefield, much to the relief of his wife and children. The greater Lancefield community having come to regard their lawman highly, welcomed his presence back in their rural hamlet.