Described by police as ‘one of the most daring burglars we have had in Sydney for a great number of years’1, Patrick Roach was an inveterate thief and a vicious thug. He was quick with his fists, bashing the drunks he robbed for the cash in their pockets, young constables patrolling the streets, and his long-suffering wife, Edith. He was well known to police and residents around Glebe, where he lived, and the surrounding suburbs of Darlington, Ultimo and Chippendale, and was frequently charged with committing crimes ‘in company’; his list of accomplices during the 1920s and 1930s reads like a who’s who of Sydney’s underworld.

Roach first appears in official police records in 1920, at the age of 17, and faced court twice that year on charges of stealing, and shooting with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm; he was acquitted of the second charge.

  • 1. Truth (Sydney), 19 February 1922.
Dual mugshot, man seated and man standing with hat on.

1921 was a busy year for Roach, who appeared before the courts on at least three separate, serious charges. In May, Roach, along with his older brother Richard and accomplice Henry Robert Gray, was discovered by police in a house in Darlington with a quantity of serge fabric, silk hose and felt hats; the haul was valued at over £1000. Police discovered that the David Jones warehouse in Glebe had been raided by thieves just half an hour earlier. A fourth member of the gang, Charles John Scott, was picked up by police on suspicion of involvement. Although the goods were identified as those missing from the warehouse, none of the suspects was found guilty or served any jail time on this charge. While Richard Roach disappears from the police records at this point, Gray, who already had an extensive juvenile record for theft, continued to rack up similar charges throughout the 1920s, under various aliases.

Black and white mugshot of three seated men.

In September, Patrick Roach and known thief and thug Reuben Holmes were suspected of bashing a taxi driver. Thought to have been hit with an iron bar, the victim had a fracture at the base of his skull and doctors doubted he would survive. Some newspaper reports suggested that the three men had been drinking and a fight broke out over a card game. Roach and Holmes were found not guilty.

Black and white mugshot of two standing men.

Clearly the David Jones warehouse proved too conveniently located and the goods it housed too tempting. In November, just six months after the previous break-in, a ‘quintette of sinners’ led by 19-year-old Roach were charged with breaking into the warehouse and stealing 13 rolls of blue serge fabric valued at £1000. Each member of the crew had previous criminal convictions or dealings with police, and this time the police had the evidence they needed. In court, Detective Sedgwick stated that:

Roach was undoubtedly the leader of this gang of crooks that had terrorised the Glebe district for years. Stolen stuff had been repeatedly traced to his possession but hitherto the police had never been able to dig up sufficient evidence to ensure a conviction, even of receiving.

Truth (Sydney), 19 February 1922.

All of the gang members were found guilty of receiving, with four sentenced to jail time.

A ‘quintette of sinners’

  • Dual mugshot, man seated and man standing with hat on.
  • Dual mugshot in black and white; man seated and then man standing, with hat on.
  • Dual mugshot in black and white; man seated and then man standing, with hat on.
  • Dual mugshot in black and white; man seated and then man standing, with hat on.
  • Dual mugshot in black and white; man seated and then man standing, with hat on.

In May 1924, Roach was released from Bathurst Gaol. Within months he was again before the courts, alongside Edward McDermot and Albert Edwards, charged with viciously assaulting Charles William Smith, a tram conductor, and robbing him of a watch and money to the value of £2 7s, including £1 of government money. In the witness box, however, Smith was unable to identify the accused. Despite suggestions of collusion, including a wink between the victim and the defendants, without this critical evidence the trio were found not guilty by direction of the judge.

In the following months, Roach was involved in a series of assaults, robberies and break-ins, including an assault on a police officer, most of the offences committed with one or two accomplices. He was sent back to jail for three years.

 

I consider [Thomas] Craig one of the worst criminals. He is a convicted thief. Every time I have seen him he has been in company with the very worst type of criminal at large.

The Sun (Sydney), 16 January 1928.

In the early hours of 31 December 1927, police raided a house in Maroubra, arresting six men and a woman on charges of vagrancy and for being found in a house in the company of reputed thieves. Among this ragtag bunch was Roach. Several of those arrested alongside him also feature in the Specials collection; Thomas Craig, William Thompson and Aiden Feutrill were photographed a few weeks later among another familiar group of thugs and underworld figures following another police raid on a house frequented by thieves.

  • Black and white mugshot of four men standing with hats on.
  • Black and white mugshot of six men standing in line, all with hats on.

Detective Delaney described all seven of the defendants as reputed thieves of the assault and robbery class and alleged that they mixed with members of the underworld. All the male defendants gave evidence of having worked as wharf labourers and the charges were dismissed, although Feutrill was fined £20 for being in possession of an unlicensed revolver. Later that year, Roach was found guilty of two counts of assaulting police and returned to jail. Released on 24 December 1928, he was back in jail for a month in January 1929 after assaulting his wife and giving her a black eye.

On 29 March 1930, two police constables were brutally assaulted by a group of men in Shepherd Street, Chippendale, while a crowd of 500 people looked on. According to newspaper reports, only one young boy ran off to get help. Roach, John Finnie, William Wilson McRitchie (alias William Roache, ‘Sausage’ Rogers), William Joseph Harrison (alias William Harrison, Boo Boo Harrison) and Thomas William Law were arrested and charged with assault. Again, Roach and his gang, some of whom feature in previous arrests and charges alongside Roach, were acquitted of the charges.

Mugshot of three men standing.