Last week I boarded a Sydney Harbour ferry bound for Circular Quay. The area west of the Quay is known as ‘The Rocks’, Sydney’s historical precinct. If you are familiar with Sydney’s tourist hot spots you may imagine that on a fine autumn day such as it was, I may have had the Botanical Gardens in mind, but no, it was not a quiet stroll around the harbour’s magnificent foreshore I was considering, nor was it the Sir Stamford Hotel, where I have been known to drop in for high tea or a drink or two in the stylish bar. My interest lay elsewhere.
The Justice and Police Museum is no more than a five minute walk from Circular Quay. I have lost count of the number of times I have hurried past the museum on my way to somewhere else, always promising myself I would visit the complex of mid-nineteenth century sandstone buildings one day. (The museum has been home to the Water Police Court (1856), the Water Police Station (1858) and the Police Court (1886). The New South Wales Police left the site in 1985).
I was not disappointed by what I found. Fascinated by the wealth of archival crime scene photography, I studied mug shots of criminals who appeared happy to be having their photographs taken. I also took photographs and scribbled scratchy notes in my pocket notebook.
The museum collection has on display, weapons and other items seized during criminal investigations and used in training new constables. The collection also contains forensic evidence from some of the state’s most infamous crimes, including the Pyjama Girl murder.
I was especially interested in the collection relating to the bushrangers who terrorised the colony from the 1850s to the 1880s. These included weapons and other items which were alleged to have belonged to Ben Hall, Thunderbolt, the Kelly gang, the Clarke gang and Frank Gardiner.
A practice of the day was to cast plaster death masks of criminals shortly after execution. One such mask was on display. The mask belonged to Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, more poignant because he was known to have spent time in the Water Police Station.
On entering the charge room, the remand cells and the Magistrates Court the atmosphere was palpable, I could almost smell the fear and stench of unwashed bodies waiting their fate. My imagination ran riot. Plotline, characters, setting, theme. Here I go again. ‘Oh mind of mine be still!