For about fifteen years Phillip Duffield worked as the ‘landing waiter’ for customs in Geraldton. His job was to monitor all the people who arrived at the port and ensure that they were not bringing contraband to the town.
Phillip took his job seriously. Such was his “surprising sagacity in diagnosing contraband and his incorruptible fervor in pursuing offenders” he soon became known to everyone as ‘Phil the Ferocious’.
In October 1880 a barque was moored in the bay which immediately raised Phil’s suspicions. He positioned himself at the shore end of the jetty and closely watched the vessel and anyone who came from it.
One day a bare-footed sailor came ashore in a boat from the vessel.
Without a care in the world he “boldly marched” down the jetty with an “ominous-looking sack, containing some suspiciously bulky article” hoisted over his shoulder. As he neared the notice board he observed Phil eyeing him dubiously.
Having reached the rail at the end of the jetty, the man immediately climbed over it with his bag and casually walked eastwards. Phil followed. The sailor walked faster. Phil increased his pace. The sailor started jogging. Phil likewise broke into a trot, and managed to catch up with the man on Marine Terrace.
Ere! Wot yer got in that bag? A nice run you’ve given me.
Why, the capting’s boots. I’m takin’ ’em up to Billy Miller’s for repairs.
The sailor then upended the sack and a pair of old, worn boots tumbled down onto the ground.
But then, wot the Lucifer did ye run for, ye omadhann? [foolish person]
It’s a free country, mate. The doctor told me to take plenty of leg exercise after bein’ cooped up in that old tub for six months.
Annoyed at having chased the man for no reason, Phil muttered to himself and returned to his post by the jetty.
Several days later the sailor again came ashore carrying a sack over his shoulder. He saw Phil watching him and this time he reached into it, pulled out another pair of old boots and taunted, “Hay, mister! ‘Ere’s another pair of contrabands. They’re the first mate’s this time. Aint’ ye comin’ for another canter?”
Phil ignored him and turned away, nonchalantly whistling to himself. Amused, the sailor walked confidently into town with the boots.
The barque eventually departed Geraldton and it was only after it had left that the story of how Phil the Ferocious had been duped spread among the townspeople. While it was true that the Captain’s boots were empty, the first mate’s were not. In a rather impressive feat of trickery, the sailor had relied on Phil’s embarrassment with the first pair of boots in order to overlook the second. In doing so, the man managed to get away with smuggling within them 25 pounds of the best tobacco and three hundred cigars.
- 1880 ‘UNDER THE VERANDAH.’, Victorian Express (Geraldton, WA : 1878 – 1894), 3 November, p. 3. , viewed 04 Dec 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212142601
- 1911 ‘Capricious Carpings’, Geraldton Express (WA : 1906 – 1919), 8 February, p. 3. , viewed 04 Dec 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210431574