CHIEF CONSTABLE OF NEWCASTLE POLICE
Situated in the Consecrated/West Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.
John Hooper Sabbage was born in 1817 in Mile End, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. He married Sarah Tily on November 30, 1844 in the parish church of St. Anne, Limehouse, also in Tower Hamlets and their marriage certificate indicates that, at this time, John was a cabinet maker. By the time of the 1851 Census, his life had changed somewhat and we find John living in English Street, Carlisle with Sarah and their two young sons, William and Henry and John is recorded as being a Superintendent of Police – a swift rise to the top of his new profession. Some ten years later, in 1861, the Census now records that John, by now 42 years of age was living in 15, Oxford Street, Newcastle, along with his wife, Sarah (40), his two sons, William (13) and Henry (11) and their House Servant, Ann Cooley (21).
John had been promoted by this time and he was now the Chief Constable of Newcastle Police. In describing his role as a Chief Constable, John offered an account of his daily duties to the Watch Committee as follows: “I attend my office at 9 o’clock in the morning and examine the reports and occurrences of the preceeding day, order summonses, transact business with the detective force, and persons desiring to see me. Attend the Police Court and remain, unless when unavoidably prevented, till all the prisoners have been tried; then drive around the town visiting stations, men etc., and to dinner at 4pm. In the evening I attend the office from half-past six o’clock till half-past eight or nine, during which time I may be engaged hearing complaints, preparing answers to letters, and attending to other matters requiring my attention. After which, I may attend the Theatre or other public place of amusement. In addition to the foregoing, I am at the head of the police fire brigade, and am liable to be called up at any hour in case of fire, and a general supervision over the whole force.”
A trawl from the newspaper reports of the time demonstrate that John adopted both a disciplinarian and a considered, thoughtful approach to his career, and his men. Despite his hard line reputation, John was obviously held in high regard, with the Daily Chronicle and Northern Counties Advertiser on Saturday, September 14, 1861, recounting that, “Last evening, the Inspectors and a few of the other officers and men of the Newcastle Police Force met in the Manors Police Court, to present Mr. John Sabbage, Chief Constable, with a mark of their esteem. The testimonial consisted of a handsome gilt clock, encased in a glass shade. The subject of the figures surmounting it is “Angels of Light”; and on a small plate in front are engraved the Borough Arms, underneath being the following inscription:-“‘Presented to John Sabbage, Esq., Chief Constable, by the officers and men of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Police Force, as a remark of respect, 1861.” The timepiece was furnished by Mr. Thompson, Royal Arcade, and was valued at £12 12s. The chair was occupied by Inspector Greaves, who briefly introduced the object of the meeting.“
“Inspector Potts made the presentation, remarking that they were assembled there in representative form, a small number of the force being present; but he assured Mr. Sabbage that the hearts of all who were absent were there. It was now five years since they were first connected with him, and during that time they had great and many reasons to be proud of the relationship which existed. In the course of those five years, nothing had ever occurred between the chief and his subordinates to cause any grief amongst any one of them. No doubt, he had duties to perform sometimes with great rigour, and they might have to bow to that to maintain the discipline of their service; but while they were only asked to obey good order and discipline, they had no cause to consider that it was an undue restriction from him as their chief constable, (Hear, hear). Remembering that he was in an exalted position compared to them, they had to be most delicate in approaching that officer in making him a present; but they asked on that occasion to do it with a proper degree of discretion. It was not by any means as a fetter upon him in exercising his duties upon them. They had contributed in procuring an article which they hoped would be of long duration to him and his family, and he might say it was one which was, perhaps, somewhat appropriate to a policeman’s life. During their short acquaintance with Mr. Sabbage, he had witnessed crime decrease every year, which was probably as important to the public as to them who laboured for its diminution. Mr. Potts concluded by expressing hope that the Chief Constable would receive the present as a sincere tribute of respect, and that he would convey to Mrs. Sabbage and his two youthful sons, the best wishes of the force for their future prosperity and welfare, (Loud cheers).
Mr. Sabbage, in addressing the officers and men, assured them it was with feelings of great gratification, although with some diffidence, that he rose to thank them for the very beautiful timepiece which they had that day presented to him. Their mark of kindness upon that occasion would live long in his memory, and should be handed down to his children as evidence of the good feeling which existed between the police force of this ancient borough and himself in 1861, (Applause). He had no doubt, as Mr. Potts had stated, that some of his force might consider his discipline somewhat severe; but it was only to confide that strict attention to duty, and to maintain the police in that high standard to which the local press had so often referred. He said that in proportion to the number of men it contained, the force ranked second to none; and in all sincerity he felt proud in commanding so efficient and so fine a body of mem, (Cheers). Again, he thanked them for their kindness; and said it should be his constant study to discharge those duties, and maintain the police in that state of efficiency which would meet with the approval of the Mayor and Corporation of this town, and of the public at large, (Loud applause).“
Obviously, John’s ‘methods’ were working, with a report in the Newcastle Daily Journal, Friday, November 22, 1861, celebrating the annual police statistics for that year, saying “They are of the most satisfactory nature. Going back to the period of Mr. Sabbage’s appointment, they show that crime has been decreased to the most extraordinary extent of 50 per cent! So gratifying a circumstance, while proving the high efficiency of the police force, is highly creditable to the population of the town.”
In the Newcastle Courant, dated Friday, May 23, 1862, they report that, “The magistrates, at the suggestion of the chief constable, Mr. Sabbage, have decided upon establishing additional police offices in different parts of the town, for the convenience of the public, and facilitating police arrangements. Mr. Sabbage is now forming the following offices: one at St. Peters; another at George Street, Bentinck; and another at Brandling Place.”
Interestingly, in December 1862, the Newcastle Chronicle and Northern Counties Advertiser report of “Agitation in the Newcastle Police Force”, at a meeting of the Watch Committee in the Guildhall where “Constables not required to be on duty, stated the grievances they wished to have addressed and were, in effect, the inspection of clothes, insufficient leave of absence for tea and leisure, alleged injustice on the part of the chief constable, and unnecessary harshness on the part of the divisional inspectors…. on these points, a statement was laid before the committee, as to the duties and privileges of constables in other large towns in England…. clear that the Newcastle Force is in many respects more favourably dealt with than most forces in other towns. There duties are not heavier, nor are their privileges fewer. However, the recommendations of Mr. Sabbage are that one policeman from each division is exempt from duty on Sundays, seven days leave of absence on full pay be given, time allowed for tea is one hour and a quarter, all cases of drunkenness to be judged by the committee and a discretionary power is given to inspectors to allow men to go off duty at 4am. Furthermore, it is the wish of the Chief Constable that the superior officers on all occasions treat the constables under their command in a becoming and proper manner. In conclusion, Mr. Sabbage states that no one had more at heart the comfort and interest of the police force than he has.” So, John would appear to be a bit of a moderniser and visionary who obviously tried his best to improve working conditions for his men, whilst rearranging services to meet the demands and needs of the town, and still managing to reduce crime. What a bloke!!
A fascinating insight into crime in Newcastle is given in John’s annual report to the Watch Committee of the Corporation, which is reported in the Newcastle Guardian, Saturday, November 5, 1864. His report explains that, “In the year ending 29th September, 1864, we learn that 2,609 persons had been apprehended, showing an increase of 226 on the previous year. Of the 2,609, it is thus composed:- known thieves – 160 males, 105 females; prostitutes – 176; vagrants and tramps – 37 males, 13 females; habitual drunkards – 110 males, 60 females; suspicious characters – 109 males, 35 females; previous good character – 694 males, 194 females; character unknown- 623 males and 293 females. Analysing the offences, we find that of “assaults, aggravated, on women and children”, there have been 95, showing an increase of 6. “Drunkenness, and drunk and disorderly,” furnishes a large item, the total being 1,179 (697 males and 482 females) – increase 201. The next section notifies the degree of education of the prisoners, as follows:- Males who could both read and write – 886, females 324; read only – males 118, females 107; neither read nor write – males 729, females 445. 1,977 summonses were issued, comprising as follows:- Beershop keepers, 82; licensed victuallers, 75; wilful damage, 116; assaults, 698; borough bye-laws, 837; Nuisance Removal Act, 38; selling and exposing for sale unsound meat, 16; cruelty to animals, 17; Lodging House Act, 39; Wine License and Refreshment Act, 2; Lord’s Day Act (Trading), 16; drunkenness, 41. Of these cases, 402 were discharged; 1,575 of the defendants being summarily convicted. 403 places of business were found unsecure by the police and there were 49 fires during the year. Mr. Sabbage concludes by reporting that the police are attentive to their duties, and that the town is at present in a peaceable and orderly state.”
The Friday, July 6, 1866 edition of the Newcastle Daily Chronicle carries a violent account of an Irish riot on the Newcastle Town Moor, where John conducted the case for the prosecution. The prisoners had all been held in remand for a week prior to the hearing, and, variously, the 16 defendants (all of whom lived locally, but were of Irish descent) were charged with riotous behaviour and assault on the police. There is a great passage of text where, “Finley, who was about to join in the fight, was told to go away by a police officer. Finley then dealt a blow at the officer with a stick, and the latter seized hold of the man, and the crowd rushed in. Kelly then came up with a stick about 2 and a half feet long, with which he hit the policeman on the head. He then arrested Kelly, but the prisoner broke away and ran off from him but left his stick behind. It was a stick sharpened at one end and had been used for the purpose of pinning the tent to the ground. The Mayor (referring to the stick which was produced), said “That is a capital toothpick!!”, which resulted in laughter throughout the court.“ A later passage in the report describes “Hugh Berron, who was charged with the men last week, was not in the dock today, with Mr. Sabbage explaining that Berron was so ill in gaol from the injuries he received (during his arrest, I’m guessing) that he was not fit to attend.” Another excerpt describes how “Thomas O’Connor and Joseph Lloyd were running about the Moor, each armed with a stick, and shouting “To …. with Garibaldi and save the Pope”. When the policemen put in an appearance, the rioters ran in all directions …. as they dare not face the blues.” At the end of the proceedings, the Chief Constable applied for further remand of all the prisoners for a further week, which was granted, bail in all instances being refused!!
On Saturday, September 29, 1866, the Newcastle Guardian carries an interesting report in relation to ‘suspicious characters’ in that, “John Robinson, Jane Robinson, William Scott, and Christiana Scott, were brought up on remand, charged with being suspicious characters. The prisoners were apprehended by Detective Parker last week, a little time after their arrival in this town by the Leith steamer. Chief Constable Sabbage said he had written to the police authorities at Edinburgh, Leith, and Glasgow, and he had received replies from each, stating that the prisoners were well-known thieves. On the assurance that they would at once leave the town, the prisoners were discharged.” Different times, different ways of working – what an interesting career and life John must have had!!
The Newcastle Daily Journal, on Wednesday, November 27, 1867, carries a brief death announcement, as follows, “At 15, Oxford Street, on the 25th inst., aged 50, John Hooper Sabbage, Esq., Chief Constable of the borough of Newcastle upon Tyne.”
However, The Guardian, dated Saturday, November 30, 1867, carries a much more substantial report into the life, and death, of John, “We regret to announce the death of Chief Constable Sabbage, which event took place on Monday afternoon, at his house, 15, Oxford Street. He had not been able to attend his duties since Tuesday fortnight. It was at first thought that his illness was a cold, but it eventually proved to be gastric fever. For the last five days he was, for the most part, in a state of insensibility. He frequently talked about his duties, and gave instructions as to the prisoners committed for trial at the Assizes. He gradually got worse, until his medical attendants, Drs. Rayne and Hume, on Sunday gave up all hope of his recovery. Death terminated his sufferings shortly after four o’clock on Monday afternoon. He was 49 years of age. He leaves a widow and two sons. Mr. Sabbage was an exceedingly active and courteous chief constable. It was close upon eleven years since, at a salary of £350 per annum, (which is worth £26,350 now, according to the UK inflation calculator), he obtained the appointment in connection with the force in Newcastle, being successor to Mr. Dunne, now in the Westmoreland and Cumberland county constabulary. He occupied a similar position in the city of Carlisle for a period of seven years before coming to Newcastle. Before that time he was a sergeant in the London force, having risen from the position of a police officer. In Newcastle he had made many friends, who will regret his untimely decease. The members of the police force were greatly attached to him and it was with painful feelings that they learned their chief was no more. His warm disposition and unfailing urbanity endeared him to all those who best knew him, while his energy and perseverance won general respect.
On Wednesday the interment took place at Jesmond Old Cemetery. The procession was formed in Oxford Street, in front of the deceased’s residence, and consisted of a posse of police in advance, the hearse, four mourning coaches, several carriages, about 100 members of the force, and a detachment of the Shoeblack Brigade. The pall bearers were the four Inspectors: Mr. Amos, of the A division; Mr. Walter Scott, of the B division; Mr. Thomas Scott, of the C division; and Mr. Hall, of the D division. Mr. Sub-inspector Curtin, drill-inspector, was director of the police on the occasion. In the first mourning coach were Mr. William Sabbage and Mr. Henry Sabbage (sons of the late chief-constable), Mr. Ald. Ridley (chairman of the Watch Committee of the Corporation), and Mr. Henry Dobson, of London; in the second, Mr. E.D. Davis, Dr. Rayne, Dr. Hume, and Dr. Hardcastle; in the third, Mr. Swan and Mr. Dobson, chemists, Newcastle. Then followed the private carriage of Dr. Rayne; the Mayor’s carriage, containing his worship (Mr. Henry Angus), and the Sheriff (Mr. John Mawson); carriage containing Mr. Ald. Dodds, Mr. Philipson (Town Clerk), and Mr. Ald. Wilson; carriage containing Mr. Wm. Stewart, Mr. Harford, Mr. J. Angus, and Mr. Thos. Robinson; carriage containing Mr. Bannister and Mr. Whitfield; Major Spoor came next on horseback; and then 100 men belonging to the force, and Mr. George Edward Rogerson, chief clerk; Mr. Dixon, detective inspector; Mr. Anderson (detective), and Mr. Watson, police band master; and a few humble yet attached members of the Brigade of Shoeblacks, in charge of their painstaking master. Ald. Nichol, the Rev. R. Shepherd, chaplain, and Mr. Robins, governor of the gaol.
The Rev. C.A. Raines, incumbent of St. Peter’s, read the service in a very impressive manner. The arrangements were entrusted to Messrs. Bainbridge and Co., and Mr. Archbold, from that establishment, superintended in a satisfactory manner. The residents of many houses in the vicinity of Mr. Sabbage’s dwelling lowered the window blinds, and the route along New Bridge-street, Northumberland-street, and Cemetery-road was thronged with people.”
John was buried next to his colleague, Superintendent Robert Amos.
Records pertaining to John’s Will show that he had left effects totalling under £800. Following John’s death, the Watch Committee, chaired by Mr. H. Angus, the Mayor of Newcastle, held a meeting on Tuesday, December 24, 1867, to appoint a new Chief Constable. Captain W.C. Sylvester, who was Chief Constable of Salford at the time, was unanimously elected and appointed with an annual salary of £300, plus £50 allowance to find and keep a horse!!