Tom Breaks the Law

Subtitled,   A Fishy Tale from Traralgon  in south-eastern Victoria

I had posted this story earlier in the year but I didn’t link it to Sepia Saturday at the time so perhaps you haven’t seen it. But it fits in to this week’s theme of All Things Criminal so I will re-blog it.

In February 1916 the fishing in the river at Traralgon in Gippsland was going well and was reported in the Gippsland Farmer’s Journal on February 8th, mentioning Bandmaster Tom Tansey and two of the bandsmen.

Feb 1916 fishing Traralgon 1But lthe following year it was a completely different story.

In the Australian song Waltzing Matilda the trooper comes riding down on his thoroughbred to the billabong and asks the swagman to show him the stolen Jumbuck (sheep) that he has stowed in his tuckerbag

In this story the policeman rode down to the riverbank and asks the fisherman to show him the undersized trout that he has stowed in his tuckerbag. On Feb 27th 1917 the Traralgon Record screamed the heading

Heading feb 27 1917The local resident in question was the town’s Bandmaster, Tom Tansey, one of the local “fisher folk” who “betook themselves” to the banks of the Traralgon Creek to fish but not observing the regulations as to size.

Even the Bairnsdale Advertiser on March 3rd, 1917, gave a full report.

… and there espied John T. Tansey dangling a rod and line in the placid waters of that stream near Koornalla. The inspectors approached the fisherman and the constable remarked. “Hullo, got any fish. Mr Tansey, ?” The angler confessed that he had “one:” and on being asked to produce it for inspection he fumbled about his bag and then presented one about 14 or 15 inches long. That’s well over the size,”said the Constable “You’ve got some more there, let’s see them.” The sportsman demurred but on being pressed produced another fish, ..

Gradually more and more fish were produced from the bag, all of them undersized, i.e. less than 11 inches long. The Constable took possession of the fish and promptly took them to the local butter factory so they could later be presented in court in a nice fresh state as evidence of Tom’s naughty deed. He was brought to court in front of three local magisgrates, and was fined £2 plus costs.

What the newspaper doesn’t say is that Tom and at least one of the magistrates knew each other. Dr McLean was President of the Town Band, of which Tom was bandmaster, and may have played a part in bringing Tom to Traralgon. Dr MacLean had come to the town in 1904. as a young doctor, fresh from the Geelong Hospital and was the only doctor in Traralgon during the years of the First World War. He had also played football for.Geelong

So he had been living in Geelong at the same time as Tom, when Tom was well known for his skill as a brass instrument player. Tom had been winiing medals for his solo performances at the National Band Championships at the beginning of C20th, a time when the bandsmen were revered in the same way that pop idols are nowadays. When the Geelong Town Band was leaving for competitons crowds would follow them as they marched up the street to the railway station and greet them on their return.

Here they are in the same photo when the Traralgon Band and Members made a presentation to Dr McLean. with Dr McLean in the centre, Tom with his medals to the left and a young Hilda Tansey at the top.

McLean PresentationIt is interesting to wonder if the news of Tom’s fishing trip made it back to his mother, in England, or to his younger brother William. At the time William was Gamekeeper at Cotterstock House in Northhamptonshire. Tom and William, oppposite ends of a spectrum but half a world apart. What would William have done if he had been inspecting the creek and had come across Tom fishing ! And as a bit of trivia, Cotterstock House is where the movie Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliffe was filmed.

Transcript from the Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle, Saturday, March 3rd, 1917

UNDERSIZED FISH.
TRARALGON RESIDENT PROSECUTED
For some time past, says the Record, there has been a suspicion amongst members of the Traralgon, Fish and Game Protection Society that all the “fisher folk” Who betook themselves to the banks of the creek for the ostensible purpose of fishing for trout were not observing the regulations as to size ,of the fish they took from the creek. During last month Constable Lineen, an inspector of the Fisheries Department, and Christian Stammers, an honorary Inspector, paid a visit to the upper reaches of the Traralgon Creek and there espied John T. Tansey dangling a rod and line in the placid waters of that stream near Koornalla. The inspectors approached the fisherman and the constable remarked. “Hullo, got any fish. Mr Tansey, The angler confessed that he had “one:” and on being asked to produce it for inspection he fumbled about his bag and then presented one about 14 or 15 inches long. That’s well over the size,”s aid the Constable “‘You’ve got some more there, let’s see them.” The sportsman demurred but on being pressed, produced another fish. “That seems to be undersized remarked the constable. “Have you any more ?” “Uh, no” replied the fisherman “only a salmon trout”. “Well, let’s see it” persisted the policeman. A trout, somewhat smaller than the other one was produced. The constable informed the angler that he would have to take possession of the fish. He measured them in the angler’s presence, one measuring 10 inches and the other 9 ½ inches in length and both were cleaned and ready for cooking. In explanation of having these fish in his possession the fisherman said he had caught several smaller ones and had thrown them back, but the two in question were so badly hooked that they died when the hook was extracted and he put them in his bag. Such was the summary of the evidence given at the petty sessions when Tansey was called upon to answer to a charge of being in possession of certain fish of a less length than that prescribed by section 28 of the Fisheries Act, the said fish being indigenous to Victoria. Defendant was fined £2 with £14/- costs.

More Criminal Tales and more Non-Criminal Tales are to be seen on Sepia Saturday.

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14 thoughts on “Tom Breaks the Law

  1. La Nightingail

    Oh that naughty John Tansey & his (heavens-to-Betsy) undersized fish! Was his story of their being too badly hurt to throw back, true? Or was he just ignoring the law? Having fished myself, I know it’s quite possible for a fish to be too hurt by a hook to survive if thrown back. So what should a good conscientious angler do in such a case? It hardly seems prudent to throw a dead fish back in the water. But the question in John Tansey’s case is – was he telling the truth? Fishermen HAVE been known to tell tall tales. :))

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  2. Mike Brubaker

    In the golden age of newspapers when they were the only source for news, misdemeanors like this got blow out of proportion just to fill space. Even better when they involved the local folk. How long do you suppose this “crime” stayed in the local memory of fish stories?

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  3. Karen S.

    Interesting story, as fishing stories go, and I may not fish all that much, but I’ve always wondered why there have to be so many rules when it comes to fishing, or should I say catching. It makes a person real nervous when you don’t know all the rules!

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  4. Barbara

    This is such a fascinating post beautifully put together. I did wonder where it was going when I read “the Constable took possession of the fish and promptly took them to the local butter factory” reading that I assumed the fish were to be used in production of the butter! Thank goodness it was only in an effort to keep them fresh.

    Thank you for coming to visit my blog you’ve certainly given me something to think about re the pink and blue two-piece. The problem is I’m not sure how I can find out, anyone that might have remembered is no longer around, and even if I manage to find a photo, I assume it will be in black-and-white – still that might give a clue of some sort.

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  5. jofeath

    Actually I did see this piece earlier, and Lorraine’s amusing comment. It goes to prove the truth of the saying ‘it’s not what you know but who you know”, at least in this context!

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  6. Caminante

    Here in Lanzarote, you have to have a licence for angling in the sea! If you are going to have a criminal in your family tree, catching undersized fish isn’t really up there with murder!

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  7. Pingback: A School near a Police Paddock – Murtoa | Bound for Australia

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