return to normal view
The Lighter Side of My Official Life
by Sir Robert Anderson, 1910.
Full text below.


Our British Police System, and its success - The Police are "the servants of the public": this is peculiar to Great Britain - Reforms in Criminology - "Fitting the punishment to the crime" - The "humanitarians " - The amity between all classes in this country - The contrast between London and Paris in this respect - White Lodge and " Prince Eddy " - The influence of the Bible on national life and character - Queen Victoria's first visit to Ireland - Appointment to C.B. and an investiture at Windsor - Appointment to K.C.B. - Reasons for retiring from the public service.

IN a previous chapter I noticed briefly the organisation of the Metropolitan Police, as being the best exponent of the system on which Sir Robert Peel remodelled our Police Forces. And in this closing chapter I would notice with equal brevity one of the general causes to which the success of that system is due. I refer to the relations existing between Police officers and the public in this country.

In other lands the Police are regarded only as representing the Executive Government, whereas with us they belong to the people. And as a result of this, our Police are always ready to help the citizens, and can always count upon receiving help from them in return. Language is supposed to be subordinate to thought, whereas in fact our thoughts are usually influenced, and not infrequently controlled, by words. If, for example, we aver that the Police are the servants of the public, we may seem to be uttering a platitude, whereas we are really giving expression to a conception that is a peculiar characteristic of our national life. For other languages possess no word that is the precise equivalent of " servant " in the phrase in question. And if the conception existed the word would be there also.

No thoughtful person can fail to appreciate the influence of such a conception upon the various relationships of life. And its threatened destruction by the socialism and socialistic trade-unionism of the day is a national danger. The employees of our great railway companies, for example, are as really the servants of the public as are the officers of our Police Forces, and with such men a strike could be justified only in circumstances which in a higher sphere would justify a civil war. This may seem to be a mere digression, but it suggests the explanation of the strange and interesting fact that in the United States no such amity exists between the Police officer and the citizen as that which happily prevails with us. For while the Americans ostensibly share our language, the word " servant " has lost with them the special meaning it has with us. Ultra democratic theories of equality destroy not a little of the benefits which equality is supposed to ensure.

The value of sympathy between the Police and the public declares itself in every sphere of Police duty ; but in no way does it attract so much public notice as in the regulation of traffic and the management of crowds. For with us Police orders are regarded, not as directing what the people must do, but rather as intimating what they ought to do. And therefore such orders are enforced without violence and obeyed without resentment. And if this element be important in the maintenance of public order, its value is inestimable in relation to the other main branch, of Police duty-the prevention and detection of crime. To its influence is largely due the fact, noticed on a previous page, that in our great cities life and property are safer than in any other country.

But though our criminal statistics will compare favourably with those of our neighbours, they disclose an amount of crime which is distressing and discreditable. This is largely due, however, not to national vice, but to the effect of unwise laws unwisely administered. And drastic reforms in both spheres, such as would command the approval of all thoughtful people, would soon reduce our prison population, and immensely lessen the pecuniary cost of the nation's crime. In recent years much that is valuable has been achieved both in legislation and in administration. And if well-intentioned reforms fail to produce the results expected of them, it is partly because, instead of being framed upon intelligent principles, they are generally a concession to popular sentiment. We need to shake free once for all from the stupid and cruel punishment-of-crime system -an evil legacy from the pagan codes on which our law is based-and to recognise that punishment is merely a means to an end, and that the great end to be kept in view is the protection of the community. And this being so, the proper function of a criminal court is to deal with the offender in whatever way the interests of the community require. Any one, therefore, who plans and perpetrates a crime deliberately and in cold blood should be deemed an outlaw, and deprived of his liberty, not for a measured term, but indefinitely, until he can be released without danger to society.

The only way in which a human tribunal can really " make the punishment fit the crime " is by imposing a punishment of a nature akin to that of the offence. The application of this principle would have a marked effect in checking crimes of violence. But while a criminal has no respect for the sanctity of the person of his victim, we seem to have a morbid respect for the sanctity of the person of the culprit. This indeed is now pressed to such lengths that, as imprisonment is clearly undesirable for youthful offenders, it is proposed that, instead of punishing them, they should be afforded advantages of a kind that the State does not provide for youths who behave themselves. Most people would think that in many cases mischievous lads should be dismissed with a birching. But although this is the treatment accorded to a " Duke's son " at Eton or Harrow, the skin of a " cook's son " is deemed sacred.

And the same principle of adapting penalties to crimes might be applied with marked effect in regard to offences against property. When a thief steals a purse or a teapot it may be right to imprison him for so many months or years. But if nobody laughs when a judge describes this as " fitting the punishment to the sin " it is proof that people have no sense of humour. For what kinship is there between stealing a teapot and being shut up in gaol ? Fitting the penalty to the offence was a distinctive feature of the Divine law of the Theocracy. For under that law the interests of the citizen who incurred loss by a crime received full recognition, and his right to restitution or compensation was enforced against the offender. If this principle were adopted in English law it would go far to put an end to deliberate crimes against property ; and the mere fact that in certain cases it would be inoperative is no argument against its application generally.

The interests and rights of the law-abiding ought to be the first care of the State in all legislation respecting crime, whereas, in fact, they are ignored. And while the humanitarians have maudlin tears for the sorrows of the criminals, they seem to have no thought for their victims. This, I may add, is not a class question ; for in the majority of crimes against property the sufferers are people by whom the loss incurred, though intrinsically small, is deeply felt.

The friendship which happily exists between our Police Forces and the public is in keeping with the relations which have hitherto existed between all classes of the community in this country. In these respects the contrast between London and Paris is extraordinary. Instead of enlarging on this by way of an essay, I will exemplify it by lapsing again into personal narrative. When I attended the Paris Congres Penilenliaire of 1895, I explained to the Prefet, on calling to pay my respects to him, that I was present in no official or representative character. But a Police Commissioner has only to visit France in order to discover what an important personage he is ! M. Lepine " placed the Police of Paris at my disposal," and I availed myself of his courtesy to see " Paris under the pavement."

One night in particular, which I spent in visiting the common lodging-houses, was a revelation to me. Not in districts where the professional apache holds sway, but even in central Paris, I saw strata of the population that amply accounted for the street barricades whenever an émeute occurs-men who live as far apart from the bourgeoisie by whom they are surrounded, as though they were separated from them by a thousand miles of territory. On entering one of these houses I asked my escort one of the best-known officers of the Sureté - whether I might not pass up the stairs alone. He begged me to do so. On the first floor I found a large unfurnished room the floor of which was literally covered with sleeping men. Presently one of them awoke, and his exclamation on seeing me roused the mass. They sprang up and glared at me like wild beasts. Though I am not specially timid I quailed before them. I was reminded of what Dr. John Paton, of the New Hebrides, once told me of his experiences in confronting a horde of cannibals. In one minute I should have been, metaphorically speaking, swallowed by these savages, and everything belonging to me would have been distributed among them. But the moment the Police inspector appeared beside me, they all collapsed again upon the floor.

And now for a London scene. When Lord Iveagh (Sir Edward Guinness he then was) made his princely grant to provide better quarters for such folk in the Metropolis, he naturally wished to know what the existing common lodging-houses were like, and I brought him to the East End one night on a visit of inspection. We were accompanied by the trustees of his benefaction-Lord Rowton and my old college friend, Lord Rathmore ; and Sir Schomberg Macdonnell also was with us. At a Court function men could not be more punctilious about precedence than were my friends when, on entering the first house we visited, I motioned them to go up the stairs. The honour was clearly with Lord Rowton, and he bravely faced the danger. " Hullo, old chap, what are you doing here?" was the exclamation we heard when he had reached the main room at the top of the staircase. For there was his friend and mine, the late Edward Trotter, who told me that he devoted an evening now and then to visiting the house and chatting with the men. "The fellows like it," was his genial comment on his own words. The denizens of our common lodging-houses shake hands with people who shake hands with Royalty ! Such is life in this land of ours. How long it is to continue depends upon the Socialists, and upon the neo-Radicalism which truckles to them. And the fact that the first " Royal progress " of the new reign was a visit to the London Hospital gives fresh proof that it is not in this vicarious way only that the poor are in touch with the Palace. This sort of neighbourliness, which smooths away everything that is harmful in class distinction, is a characteristic feature of our national life.

An interesting experience in 1894 impressed this upon me in a striking way. I returned to London in August after a pleasant three weeks' holiday in the Western Highlands of Scotland -a holiday during which I was so busy idling that I had no time even to read the newspapers. And on the very day of my return I received privately a letter telling me of things that were being said in the Anarchist clubs about " Prince Eddy," as the letter called him, who was then at White Lodge during the absence abroad of the Duke and Duchess of Teck and the Duke and Duchess of York. On riding out to Richmond Park next morning I ascertained that the ménage at the Lodge was in all respects like that of a country house when "the family are away " ; and the nurse might be seen any day walking unattended in the Park, with her baby charge in her arms. What a delightful picture of the peace and security of life in this favoured land !

On explaining the object of my visit to the lady in charge at White Lodge, I received her cordial consent to certain Police measures which it seemed desirable to adopt. My fear was lest these measures should be talked about and attract notice in the newspapers, as this could not fail to annoy and alarm their Royal Highnesses. But happily this was averted. My visits to the Lodge passed as visits of friendship to the lady in charge ; and the nurse, who was taken into our confidence, gladly fell in with our arrangements, and was always keenly appreciative of my unfeigned admiration for " her precious charge," as she called him.

When the Duke and Duchess of Teck returned to England I wrote to say I should do myself the honour of calling to explain my action, and on the 26th of September I had my last ride to White Lodge. Princess Mary received me most graciously, and expressed her gratitude instead of taking me to task for my interference. And I was plied with questions respecting the care of the baby Prince on the return of the Duke and Duchess of York to their residence at St. James's Palace. That was a matter, I said, on which I could not speak it must be dealt with by the Secretary of State and the Chief Commissioner. But had I not been dealing with it during the last three weeks ? Yes, but the circumstances were so exceptional that I had taken the liberty of acting to some extent as an amicus. That was precisely what her Royal Highness wished : would I speak to her freely on the subject ? And so I found myself discussing what might or might not be done respecting the infant Prince's daily outings. Appeals were made to me to withdraw my objection to the nurse's taking him into the Green Park for his daily airing. Surely no one would hurt the child? But I pleaded that while even the humblest of our own people would act as a bodyguard to protect any member of the Royal family, we had to take account of the presence of foreign Anarchists who are criminal outlaws.

As I rode back to town that day I thought much of the proof all this afforded of the relations existing between the Palace and the People. Happy England ! Was there another capital in all Europe in which the suggestion would be entertained that an infant Prince in the direct line of succession to the throne might be daily carried by its nurse in the public park?

What explanation can be given of the fact that such friendly relations bind together all classes of the community, from Princes of the Blood to the poorest of the people? It is a national tradition, we shall be told. No doubt ; but how is such a tradition to be accounted for ? It must be due to some cause which, if not peculiar to Great Britain, has operated here with peculiar force. The cause, moreover, must be adequate to the effects ; and therefore to talk of the Anglo-Saxon race, or the climate, or our insular position, would be absurd. Only one such cause can be suggested. A process of negative induction will point us to the influence of the Bible in moulding our national life and character. For in a wholly peculiar sense and degree we have been for centuries " the people of the Book."' And this conclusion receives striking confirmation from the, fact that present-day tendencies to class hatred and class war have developed side by side with a movement to disparage the Bible, and to dethrone it from the place it has held for so many generations in the estimation of the British people.

The foregoing references to Royalty bring up memories of the first and last occasions on which I came in any special way under Royal notice. And, lapsing once again into my anecdotage, I will give rein to my pen respecting them. When Queen Victoria first visited Ireland, my father was a member of the Dublin Corporation-for in those days the Corporation was composed of prominent citizens-and he smuggled me in under the folds of his gown to witness the presentation of the municipal address. I was but a very small child, and I may mention that at that stage of my life my chief grievance was my mother's refusal to allow me to be shorn of ringlets that covered my neck, giving me the appearance of a girl in boy's clothes. Ireland was not used to State functions in those days, and at a critical juncture the mounted escort got out of hand and encroached on the ground occupied by the municipal dignitaries. For the moment confusion reigned. I was driven from my hiding-place into the open, and finding myself in the public gaze, like the Derby dog at Epsom, to the amusement of everybody I ran across and " took cover " behind the Queen.

The last occasion was nearly half a century later. One of the pleasant surprises of my official life was the receipt on December 28, 1895, of the following autograph letter from the Prime Minister:

"DEAR MR. ANDERSON,- It gives me great pleasure to be authorised to inform you that the Queen has been pleased to approve that you should be created a Companion of the Bath on the occasion of the New Year, in recognition of the valuable services which you have rendered the community during your tenure of the office of Assistant Commissioner of Police. And it affords me great satisfaction to be the instrument of making known to you Her Majesty's gracious intention.

Believe me,
Yours very truly,

There was no investiture that year till after the Birthday, and when at last the date was settled, my name was overlooked. I called on Sir Albert Woods about it, but he told me that the mistake could not be rectified without submitting my case specially to the Queen, and this he could not do. But he sought to soothe me by the assurance that the omission would in no way delay my receiving the decoration. To which I made answer, not without some heat, that its value in my estimation depended on receiving it from Her Majesty in person. Garter was so impressed by my words that he did what he had told me could not be done, and I received a command to lunch at Windsor Castle on the 3rd of July.

The investiture followed the luncheon. And the dearth of ceremony was really an embarrassing element in the function. At Buckingham Palace the Sovereign is enthroned on such occasions, and one becomes almost an automaton ; whereas at Windsor I found the Queen seated in an arm-chair in the middle of the drawing-room. Sir Harry Johnston, who went in immediately before me, told me on coming out that Her Majesty seemed to be annoyed about something or other ; and the moment I entered I recognised what he meant. This was not fitted to steady one's nerves, but the cloud passed away before I left the room. When, after placing the decoration on my breast, the Queen gave me her hand, my enthusiastic loyalty and veneration for Her Majesty betrayed me into giving it a real kiss instead of the purely ceremonial touch expected on such occasions, and an amused smile lit up Her Majesty's face as I bowed myself out. But the chagrin I felt at my lapse was entirely relieved when Sir Fleetwood Edwards followed me into the corridor with a hurried, " Anderson, the Queen wants to know something more about you. What shall I say ? "

After I left office, I received another letter from Lord Salisbury, in which he said : " I am very glad to be authorised to inform you that the King has been pleased to mark his satisfaction at the successful conduct of the duties which you have so lately relinquished, by conferring upon you the rank of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath." There was no element of surprise in the pleasure this letter gave me ; for two years before the Secretary of State had informed me that this honour awaited me whenever I wished to retire. In his letter to that effect Sir Matthew Ridley went on to say that he would not hear of my resigning at that time, and, indeed, he had no doubt that my term of office would extend beyond his own. And he added that " circumstances " prevented the realisation of his wish to get me the honour at once.

It was not till after my retirement that I discovered what those " circumstances " were opposition in a quarter to which I should have confidently looked for help in any matter of the kind. But in these closing pages I have no wish to call up painful memories. As the years go by I prefer to dwell upon the many kindnesses and benefits received during my official life from men upon whom I had no personal claim. Sir Matthew Ridley himself was of the number ; for I was not a private friend of his. But having been previously Under-Secretary of State, he was aware of the nature and extent of my services to Government in earlier years. And I have since learned that others who shared his knowledge of my work joined in speaking of me both in Downing Street and at the Palace.

I retired when I did for the excellent reason that after forty busy years I felt a strong desire for a more restful life. And, moreover, I had nothing to gain by remaining loner in office For, as the result of a conference between the Home Office and the Treasury, words had been introduced into an Act of Parliament to secure me a pension at a maximum rate. And in these circumstances, notwithstanding my knowledge of Treasury ways, I could not have imagined that that Department would violate such an arrangement. I had the best legal advice to the effect that I had the law on my side. But had I acted on that advice my chief object in resigning office would have been thwarted ; for litigation is more worrying even than Police work, and the Treasury would have given me plenty of it if I had gone to law to enforce my claim, So I put up with the loss, and banished the matter from my thoughts.

I have already told how, when "in my teens," I relinquished a business career in order to enter Dublin University; and I can still recall the delightful sense of rest and liberty I enjoyed the first day I spent in the quadrangles and park of Trinity College. I was reminded of that experience the day after my retirement from Scotland Yard, when I realised that at last I was freemaster of my own time, master of myself!

And now the time has come to lay down my pen and make my bow. The "graver reminiscences " alluded to in my introductory chapter may possibly have some historic interest, and prove of practical value to any who may hereafter be charged with duties such as those with which I was entrusted, first at Dublin Castle and afterwards at Whitehall. But the time for their publication has not arrived. And if this book fulfils the modest promise of its opening page I shall be content.


Advertise with us | Link to us | Privacy Policy | Copyright © Stephen P. Ryder & Johnno, 1996-2023 Thomas Schachner