This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Timess in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Where necessary paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. — David Skilton
Samuel is ambivalent about policemen and their morals, and there is probably little consensus on the subject at this date. Tipcat is a boys’ street game played with two pieces of wood, the one to be struck at, and sharpened at either end, and the other a stick with which to strike it.
ET me candidly, as a preliminary, say that I entertain a profound degree of regard for policemen, sir – that is, when they are in uniform. Of course, sir, you know that very ancient story anent a child-witness in a court of justice who, upon the magistrate asking her, ‘What do they do with bad people who tell stories, my child?’ timidly but readily replied, ‘They mak' policemen on 'em, sir.’ Well, sir, there is no truth whatever in this, of course. Next to his Holiness the Pope (I belong on one side to a Catholic family, sir, and therefore cannot be charged, I think, with throwing out any skits upon the chief occupant of the Vatican) the most infallible people I know of are policemen in general. Let any member of the force be asked as to a given event (which may, or may not, have occurred) and he will say variously, ‘I saw it, yer washup,’ or ‘I seen it with my own heyes, yer ludship,’ or ‘I saw it myself,’ and there is an end of the matter – he did see it, of course, even if he saw it double. But next to his regard for veracity, the average policeman's strongest point is his dignity. Is he not ‘the stern guardian of the law?’ Is he not the personified representative of law and order? Do not little boys tremble at his approach – except when they throw brickbats at him from behind a wall? Are not susceptible servant girls credited with the keenest admiration of him – an admiration which often takes the form of edible love offerings – given at someone else's expense? If two or three semi-ragged men are gathered together in converse, and he somewhat aggressively tells them to ‘move on,’ do they slink away abashed? Believe me, that however ignorant and stupid a man may be he has no sooner donned the helmet and tunic of the force than he rises in the barometer of his own dignity at least a thousand degrees. We are a law-abiding people, sir, and however much such ones as are of the humbler classes may scoff at a policeman in his private garb, however much we may despise him and laugh at his beard in a metaphorical sense, he has only to don the garb of authority to make us refrain even from arguing with him. Perhaps it is that his arguments only take one form when he is on duty. He usually cuts short all attempts at discussion by saying, ‘Now then, you'd better be off home,’ or ‘If you say much more I will take you where I can find yer’ (this is a stock police joke of the grim order), and there comes the end of the matter. The only occasion upon which he will consent to even parley with an ordinary man is when he is on night duty and the ordinary man is going home with a bottle of strong waters in his back coat pocket. It is astonishing what a regard night policemen have for men with bottles – and the disposition to share them. Ultra-dramatic is the furtive manner in which a policeman will glance round to see that there are no unsympathetic observers – when the friendly neck of a bottle is within a few inches of his nose. Wicked or malicious wags have been known, sir, to take a base advantage of his weakness by giving him strongly medicated liquids, but such practices are greatly to be deprecated.
‘Yah! Who stole the cold mutton?’
Take him for all in all, I should say that the policeman likes night duty best. The darkness of the night is grateful to him; the fierce light of publicity which beats about him and other great men is then dimmed, and if a little stimulating refreshment seems desirable he can obtain it without being seen of all men. By-the-way, perhaps you have never seen him enter a public-house. He goes through the portals in a bustling, I must-make-inquiries-into-this sort of way, as though he were in search of somebody or something. In point of fact, he is in search of something – he wishes to conceal something about his person. He orders the something, and then he very slowly lifts the lappets of his coat. He may be either restlessly toying with his handcuffs, or he not impossibly be feeling in his pockets for the necessary means of payment, but at the same he darts an eager and anxious look of inquiry into the eyes of the man who is ‘waiting,’ as the phrase goes. Seldom indeed is it that he does not then, at a nod from the being at the other side of the counter, withdraw his hand from the aforesaid lappets –minus anything in the said hand. Then again, night duty does not make many demands upon his attention. How can he see when anything nefarious is going on when the night is pitch dark? But he can see when there is a jovial party taking place at a house, and it is ten to one on him, under such circumstances, that he will make some ingenious excuse for visiting the back regions and the kitchen – of course on duty. Then again it is quite possible that he may find a few doors open, and on giving a warning will receive a little gratuity for his services. And there are peaceful, hilarious, confused and by no means teetotal gentlemen to direct into the right path – generously disposed gentlemen who call him ‘offisher,’ shake him many times by the hand, and fork out their available loose silver to mark the esteem in which they hold him. And are there not such chances as that he may get a sovereign for a shilling, an accident that he no doubt would scorn to mention, for does he not value himself and his services far beyond the extent of the nimble shilling? Under such circumstances he must feel that he is not alone a policeman, but a humanitarian also. Yes, night duty has its advantages: it enables the weed-loving member of the force to retire into an obscure doorway, and blow a cheering whiff or two from his pipe, far apart from the bustling of the world and the prying discipline of the sergeant. And during a portion of the day the night policeman can slumber, and can then stroll out in the mufti and play quoits or some other exhilarating game, by way of repairing the exhaustion begotten of long vigils.
‘We never take no bribes.’
Regarding the abnormal amativeness of the policeman's character, I must confess myself a sceptic. I do not think that he enjoys half so many suppers in the kitchen at our expense as do the young men of our joiners, plumbers, and our painters. They have leisure and opportunity to wait and watch till arrives the fateful moment when they shall be invited to enter and to enjoy themselves without fear of interruption. 'Tis not so with the policeman. He, by a system which he must strongly deprecate, has to report himself periodically at stated places, and his love dalliances must therefore be short and well calculated to provoke indigestion – without it be that he, false man, carries away with him in his pocket the little items of sustenance offered in the spirit of affection, in order that he may subsequently present a portion of them to his ‘missis’ at home. It is seldom,! believe, that a policeman on night duty pleads guilty to the impeachment of marriage, and to this circumstance we may attribute the fact that many a knuckle-end of a joint or portion of a toothsome bird finds its way to the larder of a constable. Fortunately for him, the authorities, with a kindly forethought for which he may be truly thankful, have provided him with most ample and capacious pockets – pockets in which can be removed almost anything short of a wringing machine or grand piano.
The noble ‘Special Constable.’
Of the intelligence of the average policeman as a detector of crime and unearther of criminals I must confess I have not a super-exalted opinion. By a strange fatalism (for surely it must be that) a policeman is seldom about when a murder or a robbery or a violent assault is being committed, but, on the other hand, if a man has a fit (drunken or otherwise) and flops into the street, if a man is having a little domestic altercation with his wife on the doorstep, if a dog without a muzzle happens to be taking a stroll, or if a little boy is wickedly playing tipcat on the footpath – the officer's presence is painfully (to the parties concerned) apparent. A sort of instinct seems to tell him that one or other of these notable occurrences is taking place, or that some abandoned boy is undermining the foundations of a building by playing marbles near its base, and it is singular indeed that the same mental beacon light does not flash before him when anything serious is in the air. The policeman is, when he has a case, invariably a straightforward witness. On questions of identity, for instance, he is never wrong – any man who has ever had the misfortune to stand in the dock knows that.
‘ ‘Well, I calls that uncommon kind of Mary. Ill take this home to the missis.’
The night may be never so dark – he saw the prisoner most distinctly under a lamp. Criminals always go and stand under lamps, I have noticed, when they are about any evil work – that is by the policeman's account. He is never troubled by any of those silly and troublesome doubts which assail other men; he always knows that his case is a straight one, and he also knows that the more cases he carries to a successful issue the greater probability will be his chance of promotion. He has the confidence of his superiors, and he knows better, as a rule, than to abuse it by swearing anything in favour of a man who is charged with anything. He is a lamblike being in the eyes of nine justices out of ten; if he is assaulted, it is always ‘brutally,’ and although the prisoner who has maltreated him seems on entering the doors of the charge office not to have a scratch on him, yet it is a matter for observation that the same prisoner very often next morning, on standing upon the dock, shows fearful and wonderful marks of conflict. Possibly the brutal fellow has been running his head against the walls of his dungeon – or haply against the truncheon of a policeman who has paid him an unwelcome visit in his cell.
Last modified 7 February 2022