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Newsletter No 27      September 2003            Page 5

                                    -Constable James Slater and the Gold Valour Badge-
     By Paul Street

      There are many interesting untold tales in the files held at the P.R.O., Victoria.  Here is one of these, tales.  As I was looking at the Registry Book (of Correspondence for the Chief Secretary's Office), I found this handwritten note in it.  "P.Lynch, Dookie, urges that PC Slater be awarded one of the new Valour Badges for arresting Buchum Singh in December 1914.  Note: issue of medals cannot be made retrospectively." The story behind this note is a tale of murder, madness and unrewarded heroism.
      On December 1 1914, Butchum Singh visited the Police Station at Katamatite.  The 50-year-old fruit hawker had been born in Punjab,India and had lived in the district for 20 years.  He told Constable Albert Fowles that he believed people were trying to poison him.  He brought with him five bottles of milk, which he wanted tested for strychnine.
      On December 13, the hawker arrived at Youarang, where he often camped with his wagon and horses at a farm, on which lived David Pugsley with his pregnant wife, Lucinda, and their three children.  On the afternoon of December 15, the hawker had four horses and a foal grazing on the creek, which was a public reserve, but there was no food for them.  So Singh asked Pugsley if he could put his horses in Pugsley's paddock.  Pugsley refused, telling Singh that he had plenty of his own horses to eat his feed. Pugsley's refusal may have triggered the appalling events that were to follow.
      The next morning at 8am, Pugsley got up to feed his horses in a paddock about 400 metres from his house.  When he returned half an hour later, Pugsley found that his wife and their three children were all dead.  Each had been shot in the head as they lay in their beds and Butchum Singh had disappeared, leaving his wagon.  The surrounding police stations were told to be on the lookout for him.
      Constable Slater arrived at the Katamatite railway station on the train from Dookie at 2am.  James Nicholas Slater, who was born in Pine Hills Qld, on February 21 1884, had joined the Victoria Police Force on August 3, 1907, and had been stationed at Dookie since 1913.
      Acting on information received, Slater travelled in a gig with two other men to Mr. Albert's paddock, which was about 31/2 miles from the railway station.  On reaching the paddock, the two men remained in the gig while Slater met John Albert.  Butchum Singh had visited Albert's farm at 11.45am asking for bread and went away.  Albert hadn't learned of the murders until 2.30pm.
      Together they started searching for the mad hawker.  They found him sitting under a tree in Mitchell's paddock, which was about 1200 metres from Albert's home, Slater cautiously walked up to Butchum Singh, as the still loaded rifle was at the hawker's feet.  After talking to Butchum Singh for a while, Slater picked up the Winchester Repeating rifle and handed it to Mr. Tait who fired it.  The rifle still had seven bullets in it.  Then Slater arrested the hawker.  When Slater searched him, he found 32 more bullets on Butchum Singh.
      At his trial, it was revealed that Mrs Pugsley was one of the persons who Butchum Singh believed was poisoning him.  On February 16, 1915, he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and was ordered to be detained during the Govemor's pleasure.
      The Victoria Police Merit Badge was created in 1899. 84 badges were awarded up to 1930, of which 31 were retrospective awards. The award was also known as the Valor Badge.  The medal referred to as the "new Valour Badge" in the handwritten notes in the Registry was the Gold Valour Badge.  It was a special award, which was created in 1916, to honour nine policemen for their role in the arrest of armed burglars at the Trades Hall in Melbourne on October 1, 1915.
      The Medal is a Maltese cross, some with a ruby in each corner.  It has a circular laurel wreath inside which is a circle with the words "Victorian Police for Bravery" on a dark blue enamel background.  In the centre is a Tudor crown.  On top of the medal is the British Lion and is rimmed with gold.  The recipient's name and number is on the reverse of the medal.  Only 21 Gold Badges were ever awarded, from 1916 to 1922.
      There is an irony in the case of Constable Slater who was refused the medal on the grounds it couldn't be awarded retrospectively. When the last Gold Badge was awarded in 1922, it was to the Chief Commissioner Alexander Nicholson who had been awarded the Merit Badge for arresting an armed man after being twice wounded at Wendouree in 1898.  When he was promoted to the rank of Chief  Commissioner of Police in 1922, his Merit Badge was upgraded to the Gold Badge.
      Constable Slater remained at Dookie until 1921, and in the Victoria Police, rising to the rank of Sub Inspector and retiring in 1944.  He died in Camberwell, Victoria, on July 30 1970, at the age of 86, and was buried at the Burwood Cemetery.
      True Blue by Shirley Hardy-Wx and Ralph Stavely 1997
      PRO File: VPRS 30 Unit 1457 File 33
      The Argus
      Mrs Jean Slater (photo)

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