The Strongest Man in the Foorce

September 1, 2023
Senior Constable Thomas Waldron (photo: Herald Sun)

For ten years, from 1886 to 1896, Diamond Creek and its surrounding district was protected by an esteemed and well respected member of the Victorian Police Force.

Constable Thomas Waldron was sent to our district to help police and manage the camps between Research and Diamond Creek that housed the navvies constructing that section of the Watts River Aqueduct to carry water from the Watts River near Healesville to a reservoir being built near Preston.

During the previous year he had been policing the construction of a new railway at Wandong. An article in the Standard of Saturday 3rd October, 1885 gives some insight into how respected he was in the force. THAT famous athlete, Constable Waldron, who for the past three years has been stationed in Port Melbourne, yesterday received instruction to proceed to Wondong, whither he has been removed. A railway at present in course of construction at Wondong, and the police officer in charge requisitioned the Chief Commissioner for the assistance of a strongman, particularly asking for Constable Waldron. The request has been granted, and our local Hercules will soon make himself known and felt among any of the railway navvies who may chance to forget themselves.

In the years before Thomas arrived in Diamond Creek, he was specially picked out for work in rough and lawless districts. The Navvy camps were just that. The Police Department had determined that Navvies of the roughest class had literally taken possession of the district and it is freely admitted … that Waldron’s method of “arguing” with these men was wonderfully effective … Waldron has been seen to put a stop to a pitched fistic battle, in which over a dozen navvies took part, by the persuasive power of what he termed sometimes a “bit of shtick”, and at other times a “twig.” When the “schtick” would not suffice, Waldron would lay it down, seize hold of the combatants and throw them yards away in all directions, till they could not tell friends from enemies – not that they always cared much. At such times as this Waldron seldom arrested anybody; he believed in what he termed “summary jurisdiction.” Notwithstanding his strength, Waldron was noted as a man who avoided ill-treatment of his subjects, and kept an even temper; and he was very much respected.

Born in County Galway, Ireland, he only spoke his local Irish tongue until he moved to Manchester, England, at the age of 16 where he picked up English during his apprenticeship as an engineer. Thomas arrived in Melbourne in 1874 and for a time worked as a stoker in the gas works. His immense strength was realised when he joined the Garrision Artillery, on St Kilda Road, in 1876. This description in part of a tribute to Thomas in the Advocate of Saturday, 18th February 1899. In the barrack-yard every evening the young men of the garrison were accustomed to exercise themselves with weight-putting and other athletic feats, and the first day after Waldron’s arrival he came out of the barracks, and watched the evolutions of his comrades. At last they tired, and as ech man resumed his coat, he would throw the weight he was using into a bit wheelbarrow that stood at the door. The red-headed “gossoon” who stood on the steps had taken no part in the pastime, and as the last ponderous shot bumped into the barrow, the garrison joker winked at his messmates, and suggested to Waldron, that he might “have a try at the weights.” The new-comer, who was a man of only 5ft 10in high, strolled over to the barrow, and getting his palm beneath it slowly raised the whole of the accumulated weights above his head. The garrison stood paralysed. The strongest man among them could lift only one of the many weights which Waldron poised above him with ease, and from that day his fame was assured.

Thomas was transferred from Victorian Permanent Artillery to the Victorian Police Force in 1878 where he was regarded as an invaluable man to help deal with the violence that was prevalent at the time. He was said to use “summary jurisdiction” that proved a better deterrent that a prison sentence. Though such a powerful man, he was known for having a very genial disposition, with a quiet demeanor and was greatly liked and respected.

During his years in Diamond Creek Thomas was involved with the community, supporting local clubs and helping during sporting competitions.

It seems he was also good at reciting verse, it seem with some humour, as was reported when he was part of an evening at the Diamond Creek Literary Institute to assist in raising funds for cutting a new road through Mr. Mills’ paddock, at Upper Diamond Creek. In a program of songs, verse, readings and instrumental selections Mr. Waldron kept the house convulsed with “Manx’s Wonderful Cat,” and it is to be hoped his dog “Juno” will have committed some outrageous feats of digestion before another concert, so as to furnish matter for another oratorical display of our worthy friend.

When the Nillumbik Rifle Club held a rematch with Thoona Rifle Club in 1887, Thomas was there to support the Nillumbik team then acted as scrutineer for Thoona. In November 1888 he attended a meeting convened by Thomas Collins where he actively supported proposals to form a Brass Band at Nillumbik (Diamond Creek).

The annual Nillumbik Athletic Sports in April 1892 saw him competing and winning at Putting a Weight (56lbs), no doubt using his incredible strength to win over other contenders.

As the local police constable, Thomas regularly found himself at the Eltham Police Court. He was also an officer of the Heidelberg Shire Council, inspector of nuisances and responsible for the local pond where straying cattle and horses were kept. Indeed, it appears he was quite busy in that regard and some reports show he had a busy time keeping four-legged locals under control. January 1890 was one of those times – WANDERING CATTLE. Constable Waldron v. Catherine Ryan.Allowing cattle to wander. Constable Waldron stated the case. Four cows belonging to the defendant were wandering about the road, Diamond Creek, on the 11th inst. It was the second offence. Fine 1s for each cow, and 14s 2d costs. Same v. Jas. Norman.—Allowing three horses to wander on road, Diamond Creek. Fined 1s for each horse and 12s 2d costs. Same v. S. Reeves.—Allowing two cows to wander on the streets, Diamond Creek township, on the 15th inst. No appearance of defendant. Fined 1s for each cow and 6s 2d costs.

During the devastating bushfires that impacted Diamond Creek district in February 1893 Thomas worked hard alongside local men battling the blazes and saving people and property. The Argus of Saturday, 11th February reported that Constable Waldron, the local police officer, also worked hard to save property, having been out all day and night on Thursday with a party of about 50 men …

It must have been a wrench for Thomas Waldron to leave Diamond Creek in June 1896. A presentation evening was held for him on 17th June — On Thursday evening last the friends of Senior-Constable Waldron, who was for upwards of ten years stationed at Diamond Creek, and has been promoted to a higher position at the Carlton Police Station, met at the Royal Mail Hotel, Diamond Creek, for the purpose of presenting him with a substantial proof of their appreciation of the manner, in which he had discharged his duties during his stay in the district … Ex-councillor R. Wadeson occupied the chair, with the guest of the evening upon his right. After ample justice had been done to the eatable, the Chairman called upon the company to charge their glasses to drink to the toast. “Our Guest,” and in a neat and complimentary speech he presented Senior-Constable Waldron with a handsome gold chain and locket upon which was inscribed :— Presented to SENIOR-CONSTABLE WALDRON by his friends at Diamond Creek, June 1896. The toast was drunk with musical honours. The recipient responded, thanking the subscribers heartily for the handsome present he had received, and more especially for the hearty appreciation of the manner in which he had performed the duties of his office. Toasts, songs, recitations, and speeches followed in due course, and a very pleasant evening was spent by those present … The gathering wound up with “Auld Lang Syne” and the hearty wishes of the company for the future welfare and promotion of their Guest.

It was only three years later that sadly Thomas died leaving a widow but no children as well as three of his brothers who had emigrated to Australia with him. His death from dropsy was unexpected, and was reportedly from a bout of influenza. His funeral took place at Melbourne General Cemetery on Wednesday, 8th February 1899 and was largely attended. The police band, 20 strong, under Bandmaster T. Riley, headed the procession, which included about 150 constables, in uniform and plain clothes.

Senior Constable Thomas Waldron’s memorial can be found today at Melbourne General Cemetery.

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