Charles White spent his life collecting historical materials and writing a four part history of early Australia for the readers of his newspaper, the Bathurst Free Press. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1848 into a religious family. His father was a lay preacher and newspaper proprietor. He moved with his family to Bathurst where his father took over the Bathurst Free Press.
In time, Charles used the paper to publish his history of Early Australia as a serialisation. In 1890 he produced the eighteen part historical account of the Kelly Gang titled the History of Australian Bushranging. While White’s writing is self assured and arrogant, his account was one of the first to acknowledge the important role played by the native troopers from the Queensland Police Force. Charles White died in Randwick, Sydney, in 1922.
HISTORY OF THE FAMILY
As in New South Wales, so in Victoria, the last of the bushranging gangs was the worst. The leading members of the gang in each case were brothers, springing from a vicious stock. Each gang operated in a district where tribal ramifications were strong and numerous, and “telegraphs” and harbourers as plentiful as mushrooms on an old sheep station after autumn rain. The most sanguinary deed of each was the murder of a party of policemen, entrapped in a lonely part of the bush. But the Kellys were in every way better generals than the Clarkes—more systematic in their proceedings, having bolder conceptions, which they carried out in a more daring manner.
It will be remembered that the Chief Justice of New South Wales, when referring to the criminality of the Clarkes, spoke of it as the working of the old leaven of convictism. For this statement he was taken to task by not a few press writers, and was charged with vindictively recalling things which should be carefully buried and kept out of sight. But whatever was said concerning the Clarkes might have been said with absolute truth concerning the Kelly’s, who appear to have lived in an atmosphere of crime and luxuriated in robbery and violence. The family was, root and branch, morally diseased. “Red Kelly”, as the father was called, had been transported to Tasmania in 1841 for attempting to shoot his landlord, and arrived in Victoria early in the history of that colony, which received not a few of the worst of the Van Demonians. He was first heard of at Wallan, thirty miles from Melbourne, which was in those days considered quite an out-station. Here he became acquainted with a family named Quinn, who had settled in the same locality; and whatever else he may have been, there was no reason to doubt the statement then made that he possessed a violent temper and was given to frequent quarrels and brawls. This trait, according to the little that was known, did not predispose James Quinn in his favour, and Kelly’s visits to the house were discountenanced by him as the head of the family, although one of the daughters, the third, became violently attached to him. The two were married; after the marriage the Quinns became reconciled to the inevitable, as is usually the case, and the two families lived in amity; and when Quinn moved north to a station between Mansfield and Beechworth, called Glenmore, the Kellys went with him.
Finally, the whole party got as far as Greta, and there, and in that neighbourhood, Kellys, Quinns, and relations of other names were settled in such number as to form quite a formidable clan by themselves. As the younger members grew up it became thoroughly well known that they were engaged in an extensive system of cattle “duffing” — the colonial term for stealing. Squatters and others within a radius of many miles lost cattle and horses in great numbers, and were not slow to attribute the disappearance to the Quinns and their friends. Ned Kelly himself admitted that during his bushranging career he alone had stolen over two hundred and eighty horses; and he, be it remembered, was but one of a large gang. Numerous prosecutions were, not always successfully, instituted against various members of the confederation. It was generally known that the stolen stock was taken northwards, and disposed of mostly in New South Wales, but principally through the agency of the allies on the Border.
“Red” Kelly’s offspring consisted of three sons — James, Edward, and Daniel — and four daughters, one of the latter being Mrs. Skillian. At the time of the bushranging trouble there were two unmarried daughters, Kate and Grace, and of the former some romantic stories have been told. When Mrs. Kelly got into “trouble”, she had an infant in arms, and when the mother went to prison the baby had to go with her. “Red” Kelly himself died some time before his two sons, Ned and Dan, attained full development in the course of crime which was to end so disastrously to them and those with whom they were associated.
Ned Kelly commenced his criminal career when but a raw lad, and cattle “duffing” was the profession to which he was educated. When only about sixteen years of age he was arrested as an accomplice of a notorious bushranger named Power, for whose apprehension the Victorian Government had offered a large reward, and concerning whose exploits it is necessary that something should be said.
THE BUSHRANGER POWER
Harry Power, before making the acquaintance of Ned Kelly, had “put up” a rather heavy criminal record, and had been convicted several times of various offences, chiefly horse and cattle stealing; but imprisonment apparently served only to whet his appetite for further wrong-doing, and he became known as a confirmed law-breaker. The police had reason to know that he was a remarkably “smart” man, a splendid rider, a skilful bushman, and daring and reckless to a degree. When at liberty, he gave the police great trouble to catch him, and when caught, he gave his gaolers all they could do to keep him—in fact, more than they could do on one occasion, just prior to the commencement of his bushranging career, with which we have only now to deal.
He was undergoing a term of imprisonment in Pentridge Gaol, and was, with other prisoners, engaged during working hours in drawing rubbish in a small go-cart from the stockade outside the gaol. Power’s work was to assist in “drawing” the go-cart. There was a large heap of rubbish where the cart-loads had to be tipped; and as one of the loads which he had helped to draw was being emptied, Power quickly and quietly—without the knowledge of the sentries, although some of his fellow prisoners must have observed his movements—slid under the rubbish as it was shot down, and at once became part of the heap. The other prisoners drew the cart back, leaving Power 249concealed beneath the rubbish, and as they moved off for another load the sentries solemnly escorted them, ignorant of the fact that one of the “beasts of burden” was missing from the team. It was only when the men were being subsequently mustered that Power was missed, and immediate search was made for him, but without avail. He had seized a favourable opportunity, crept from his hiding place, and hurriedly made off.
The first concern of the escaped convict was to obtain a change of clothing, for he knew that such a thing as uninterrupted liberty while wearing gaol garb would be an impossibility. He stole a suit of clothes from the first farmhouse he came across, and at once decided to turn bushranger; but for this calling firearms as well as clothes were needed, and his next concern was to procure the requisite “shooting sticks.” For some time, however, he was unable to find what he wanted, and he started his bushranging career without gun, pistol, or revolver. Arm himself he did, nevertheless, but his solitary weapon was such as modern bushrangers, at least, would not think remarkably effective, although it was formidable enough for his purpose. Finding the blade of an old sheep shear, Power fastened it on a long stick and made a kind of lance, and with this he operated with some success. Before long, however, he came across an old traveller who possessed a revolver, and from him he took the more effective and easily handled weapon, at the same time relieving the traveller of his money.
Thus equipped, he proceeded to raid the country in a systematic manner, and committed so many robberies on the highway or from settlers’ houses that his name speedily became a terror to travellers and persons living in isolated localities in the Beechworth and other districts. He had secure hiding places in the mountains, and having secured some of the best horses procurable—of course, he did not buy one of them—he would go backward and forward, sometimes riding fully seventy miles in the day, and completely baffling the police.
Some very sensational stories were told concerning the bushranger’s operations when in full work on the road. One of these stories is worth re-telling. On one occasion he had “stuck up” several carriers on the Seymour Road, and. one of them refused to hand over his money, saying that nothing in the world would induce him to part with it. Power remonstrated with him, and said if he allowed him to pass without giving up his money, others might refuse to hand over theirs when bailed up, and his occupation would be gone, and the people would say he was afraid to shoot a man. “I will, therefore,” said he, “give you five minutes to think over the matter, and if after that time you still refuse, I will have to shoot you.” Power then went behind a tree, and said he prayed to God to soften the man’s heart; at the end of the stipulated time he went forward and again demanded the money, when the man handed it over without a murmur. This story is given on the authority of Superintendent Hare, who declared that he heard it from the bushranger’s lips.
Profiting by previous experiences, Power did not make a close confidant of any man or woman, and after his capture he attributed his immunity from arrest to his practice of working “on his own hook”. Being a thorough bushman, and well acquainted with the district, be did not need any guide or assistant in his nefarious work. For nearly two years he “held the bush” unhindered, although the police maintained an untiring search for him. At last information was supplied to the head of the Victorian police which was considered reliable, and as it was made by a man who was known to be intimate with the bushranger’s haunts, special arrangements were made for surprising Power. Who this man was is not to this day known to the public, for one of the conditions of the compact entered into by him to lead the hunters to Power’s hiding-place was that absolute secrecy as to his identity should be preserved. In their reports the police called this man L— (Ned’s uncle, Jack Lloyd), and we shall refer to him as L— in the future.
A squatter had been stuck up and robbed by Power, who took from him, in addition to other valuables, a much-prized gold watch. Subsequently the bushranger sent a message to the squatter to the effect that he could have the watch back for £15. Upon hearing of this offer the police officers who had command of the search parties in that locality determined to put the genuineness of the offer of help made by L— to the test. The Victorian Government had offered a reward of £500 for Power’s apprehension, and the police promised L— that he should have the whole of this amount if he conducted them to the bushranger’s hiding-place and enabled them to make the capture. After much demur, L— consented, and the party started from the squatter’s station into a lonely, mountainous part of the country, properly armed, and having the £15 which was to redeem the stolen watch. The party consisted of Superintendents Nicholson and Hare, one trooper, a black-tracker, and the mysterious guide; and it is just here that difficulty confronts the historian, whose chief desire is to set down nothing but the truth. Two accounts of the course taken and the things done by the party during this expedition have been published—one by Superintendent Hare and one by Superintendent Nicholson. In the narrative given by Superintendent Hare all the glory attaching to the expedition belonged to Superintendent Hare. In that given by Superintendent Nicholson many of the statements, pretensions and claims made by the first writer are disputed, and whatever glory there was has been equally divided, even the black-tracker receiving his fair share. The reader will be interested in the story of Superintendent Nicholson, as he told it in a letter to one of the leading Victorian papers so late as February. 1892. Mr. Nicholson introduced his narrative by the following letter to the editor:
“Sir,—I have endeavoured to condense into the following narrative every fact of importance connected with the capture of Power, the bushranger, omitting nothing, exaggerating nothing, and making no statement that is not capable of being verified on oath if necessary. I deeply regret that such a proceeding should have been forced upon me by the erroneous and misleading statements put forth by Mr. Hare in the third chapter of his ‘Last of the Bushrangers.’ But to have allowed these to pass without notification would have been to acquiesce in the falsification of history.”
And this is the story as told by him:—
The guide (L—), assisted by the sergeant, led us through the ranges, avoiding paths and traces of settlement as much as possible. Towards the end of the second day we camped in a secluded gully within six miles of the Quinn’s place, and L— was promptly despatched there with the view of visiting Power’s hiding-place if possible. He was provided with £15 in bank notes, which were first initialled by Mr. Hare, and with which he was to obtain from Power a certain gold watch and chain. The following evening after dark L— re-appeared in our camp and handed me the watch and chain, indicating thereby that he had been in Power’s company. The same evening at Mr. Hare’s special request I entrusted him with the watch, so that he might have the pleasure of returning it to the squatter. L—, who was a man of few words, laconically stated that he had lingered at the Quinn’s both coming and going, lest he should awaken their suspicions, and had succeeded in being taken to Power’s retreat on the range opposite their house, where he had an interview with the bushranger. We timed our start so as to pass through Quinn’s place not earlier than 2 a.m.
The Quinn’s house was situated on the edge of the King River, and on a flat lying between it and a crescent-shaped range. Immediately under and along the range and between it and the flat, ran a lagoon which was connected with the river by anabranches and other channels. The first and largest portion of the flat which we had to traverse was covered with timber and scrub, and the lesser portion, upon which the house was situated, was fenced in and under cultivation. These people had also fenced across the Government cattle track along the river; and further, the bridge across the lagoon, giving access to the range, was enclosed within their horse and cattle yards. We started from a point near the river, and when we began to cross the first five miles of the flat we found that our difficulties were only commencing. Owing to the heavy rain the flat itself was almost covered with water; the channels across it were full, and in many places deep, and the river was in a roaring flood, so that we could scarcely hear each other speak; and we had the timber and scrub to get through in the intense darkness which prevailed. We failed, but extricated ourselves, although with difficulty, and finally we were compelled to retrace our steps to the point whence we had started. After a short rest and consultation I decided that as no further time could be lost we must take the river as our guide, and this we did, keeping as close to the bank as possible. After a severe struggle of over five miles we were at last rewarded by being brought up suddenly by Quinn’s paddock fence. The portion of it I first recognised in the dark was that which projected over the bank into the river to keep the cattle out of the cultivation.
This in my opinion, was the most trying work we had to perform during the expedition, and here Sergeant Montfort particularly was of great use. We dismounted, planted our horses in the scrub, and after getting over the fence we cautiously passed the Quinn’s premises, crossing the bridge and reaching the foot of the range without causing any alarm. After proceeding along the base of the range, looking upwards for Power’s camp fire, but without catching the faintest glimpse of it, our guide, old L—, who had for some time been showing signs of succumbing to cold, fatigue, and terror, now collapsed, and declared himself unable to proceed one step further, and equally unable to recognise the hill on which was situated the outlaw’s lair. We also were then suffering from cold, fatigue, and want of food, and the night was still very dark and wet. I, therefore, proposed that all the party except myself should lie down and rest, and I undertook to watch, and to awaken them at daybreak. They lay down on the ground. After they had had a short sleep signs of approaching dawn appeared. I aroused them, and, although they had slept saturated with rain, they were all considerably refreshed, and one of them jocularly spoke of having dreamed of food. We resumed our search, silently and carefully scanning the shallow gullies on the side of the range from there upwards to where the gullies ended at the crest.
Here I received just such valuable aid from the blackfellow as I had expected. The range was clothed lightly with timber and scrub towards the top boulders, and rock cropped up, whereas at the bottom, amongst the finer soil, were some very large trees. I was looking among these latter for a hollow tree stump which had been described to me as “Power’s Watchbox” by young Ned Kelly, whom I had left behind me under the care of the police at Kyneton. (Old L—, I believe, also knew of this.) At last my attention was attracted by the stump of a large tree, the small branches and leaves apparently sprouting from it being brown, withered, and dead, offering a striking contrast to those of the other stumps, which were alive and green. Springing towards it, I found the withered branches came away in my hands, disclosing peep-holes cut in the hollow trunk, which they had served to mask. Inside was some dried grass strewn on the floor, but no bed, as Mr. Hare describes. At this time the blackfellow, who had been keeping near me, recognising that I had made a discovery, sprang towards me and looked at the tree.
Without speaking I glanced back to old L—, who was feebly following us, and I pointed to the stump; he silently signalled with his head and outstretched arms an affirmative gesture and disappeared. I never saw him again. It was then just daylight, and the mist was rolling up the hills, rendering it almost impossible in some places to distinguish it from smoke; but Donald, after one look, pointed straight up the gully, and, with dilated eyes and nostrils, uttered in a suppressed tone “Moke! Moke!” Notwithstanding what Mr. Hare has asserted in his published narratives, he was certainly not present when the above occurred, and he had no opportunity of examining the hollow tree-trunk until after Power’s arrest. Superintendent Hare and Sergeant Montfort were at that very time exploring a short distance off, and near a small swampy flat partially bordered with ti-tree, and on a lower level. I attracted their attention by a low hissing whistle. but knowing that there was not an instant to be lost, as Power might wake up at any moment, I did not wait for them, but commenced running up the gully. whilst Messrs. Hare and Montfort followed, making a short diagonal cut to get on my line, thereby leaving the tree-stump behind them, and at some distance on their left. As I ascended, a defined track became plain, and I then observed some distance above me a thin column of smoke rising among some boulders. A little more, and a few yards to the left of the line I was following, the small fire and a few cooking utensils around it appeared in view, close to a large boulder; and straight before me, what might have been taken for a small thicket of leafy green scrub, but the straightness of one or two of its outlines, as well as a foot in a clean worsted stocking projecting from the end next to the fire betrayed its artificial character. These were on a small plateau or shelf on the side of the range. With a twist of my shoulders, as I ran, I got rid of my loose peajacket, which was soaked and heavy with rain, and quickened my pace. The thicket was broadside to me, its entrance and the foot facing the fire.
Apprehensive lest the owner of the foot should escape either by the rear or far side, I waved my right arm to Superintendent Hare and Sergeant Montfort, who were still behind and below me, to go round, whilst I made a dash at the entrance, and throwing myself into the gunyah upon the prostrate body of the occupant, I seized and held him securely by the wrists until the Superintendent and the Sergeant appeared almost immediately, the former catching the man by his legs and Sergeant Montfort by his ankles. With one simultaneous heave we swung our prisoner outside, and then the Sergeant quietly handcuffed him.
The little structure, although low and narrow, was well put together and comfortable. It consisted of a good tough frame covered with blankets, and these were skilfully covered and concealed by leafy twigs and branches. There was a neat floor of small saplings about six inches above the ground upon which straw and blankets were spread. When I entered, Power, apparently asleep, was lying on his back, dressed excepting his coat and boots.
His revolver was loose by his side, and his double-barrelled gun loaded and cocked was slung from the ridge pole, the trigger within easy reach of his hand, and the muzzle sweeping the entrance, and not the track up which we had come, as Mr. Hare inaccurately states — indeed the track was at right angles to the gunyah. If any member of our party had attempted to draw Power out of his retreat by the ankles, as Mr. Hare describes, the rash experimentalist would have been blown to pieces. Fortunately, Power was unconscious of our approach owing to the ground being saturated by days of heavy rain, and therefore our footfalls were noiseless. Had there been any touching or pulling of Power’s legs before his wrists were secured—in short, had not the whole thing, after the blackfellow sighted the smoke, been done at a run, our party would have probably returned at least one short of its number, for although Power, after finding himself surprised and overpowered, did not behave to us like “a desperate ruffian”, as Mr. Hare designates him at the commencement of his historical romance—on the contrary—yet he was certainly not a man to be trifled with. We all partook of some of his breakfast, and hurried away, Sergeant Montfort and Donald to where we had planted the horses. More than once at this time, Superintendent Hare, very much elated, surprised me by seizing my hand and wringing it most effusively.
Mr. Hare would have it believed that he undertook the duty of escorting Power past the Quinn’s house, and armed with Power’s double-barrelled gun. This is one of the many amusing occasions upon which Mr. Hare borrows his facts from his imagination. He carried a light single-barrelled rifle of the Lancaster pattern, and wore a revolver as well. Before marching Power off I examined his gun, and finding it in good order armed myself with it, carrying it at “the ready” and at half cock. I also had my revolver. I led the way, followed at from six to ten yards by Superintendent Hare, with Power close in front of him. When near the house I observed three men standing near the porch, and another man known as “Red George” outside. I halted, turned round, and addressed Superintendent Hare and Power in a firm and distinct tone of voice, as follows:— “Mr. Hare, if any attempt is made to rescue the prisoner, or if he attempts to escape, shoot him.” Then turning towards the men about the porch I gave them to understand by my gestures how I was prepared to deal with them if necessary. We resumed our march, and for an instant a large bush intercepted our view, but when we cleared it and the porch came in sight again the men had disappeared, and in their places stood three rather tall women in black, who silently stared at us, but we caught sight of the men behind them, peeping over the women’s shoulders and under their arms. We passed on without exchanging a word. Poor Power gave his friends an inquiring wistful look, to which came no response.
We soon reached a spot outside the fence, where we were glad to find Sergeant Montfort, Donald, and the horses safe and sound and ready to proceed. I directed the sergeant to lead us to the selection of one W. Lally, from whom I hired a good horse and spring cart, and that evening we all reached Wangaratta with our prisoner, after another long dark ride; and although Sunday I was able to announce by telegram our success to the Chief Commissioner thus:— “Wangaratta. Sunday.—Power, alias Johnstone, was arrested this morning at 7.30, in the King River Ranges, on the Glenmore Run by Superintendents Nicholson and Hare and Sergeant Montfort, and is now in the Wangaratta watch-house.—(Signed) C. H. Nicholson.” This telegram was published by the Melbourne press next morning. On arrival we found that our clothes, as well as our hands, were turned one uniform colour, owing to the continued rain dripping upon us through the gum-trees for so many days. Whilst warming and drying ourselves before a blazing fire at the police quarters our plight became known to some of the inhabitants, who most kindly and considerately sent us clean, dry clothing, which we shared with Power. The latter, after being thoroughly dried, warmed, and refreshed, was provided with a comfortable bed in the watch-house. An armed sentry was placed on duty and we all gladly went to rest.
Subsequently, when Mr. Hare was confined to his room under the care of Dr. B. Hutchinson, then of Wangaratta, suffering from the effects of cold and exposure he had undergone, I drew up the official report of the affair by his bedside, and I directed him to append his signature next my own. In fact I could hardly refrain from asking Sergeant Montfort from doing likewise, only doing so would have been contrary to discipline. I here repeat that what was alluded to in my report and characterised in the press as “indistinct” and “vague” arose from my desire to avoid causing any invidious distinction being drawn between us three, as each had done his best, and each had contributed to the success of the expedition as far as his opportunities would allow, and again I was embarrassed by the necessity for avoiding any allusion which might lead to the discovery of the identity of our guide, L—, for this at that time would probably have cost him his life. After escorting our prisoner to Beechworth, I returned to Melbourne in company with Superintendent Hare. Soon after, on a vacancy occurring, I was transferred to the charge of the metropolitan district not as promotion, but by right of seniority, and also through being deemed suitable for the office.
From Wangaratta, Power was removed to Beechworth, where he was placed upon his trial for highway robbery, convicted, and sentenced to fifteen years in Pentridge Gaol. And this time the authorities took particular care of their prisoner. He served about fourteen years of the sentence, and was then released. He had evidently been quite cured of his bushranging proclivities by prison diet, prison quiet, and prison work, for he did not again transgress in that particular direction. After his release he found employment, and earned an honest livelihood, although he did not manifest any desire to keep the past hidden from public gaze, as he frequently “fought his battles o’er again” when in the presence of those who sought to learn from his own lips the story of his bushranging experiences. About six years after his release he left Melbourne under engagement with the showmen speculators who had fitted up the old convict hulk “Success” and floated her over to Sydney. Journeying overland he reached the Murray River, near Swan Hill, but he got no further, for one morning his dead body was found in the river.
HOW THE KELLY GANG WAS FORMED
Mention has been made of the fact that Ned Kelly was at one time associated with Power in his horse stealing and bushranging exploits; but in the latter he appears to have served only as a scout and occasional assistant, merely holding Power’s horse during the time he was overhauling his victims on the road. As a horse “lifter”, however, he had even a greater reputation than Power; horse-stealing was the calling to which he had devoted his life, and he followed that calling with untiring assiduity. He commenced his career by removing carriers’ and travellers’ horses during the night to a safe “plant,” 260where he would keep them until a reward was offered for their recovery, and then he would hand them over in the most innocent manner and claim the reward. Naturally, the next step was to horse-stealing pure and simple, any stray animal worth picking up being appropriated and kept in a secure place until an opportunity presented itself of turning it into money. Before he had fully grown a beard he became acquainted with prison life, and served several short sentences for horse-stealing, being recognised as a confirmed criminal by the authorities while yet in his teens—a circumstance which is not to be considered wonderful when the nature of his surroundings is taken into account. Although he was known to be connected with the escaped convict and bushranger who was causing such trouble, he was not called to account for any offence committed in Power’s company; and it was generally believed that the police had obtained from him the information which enabled them to track Power to his hiding place on the mountain—Power himself at one time entertaining that opinion—but the arresting Superintendents invariably denied any statement to that effect.
Power had been in gaol for about eight years, however, before what is known as the Kelly Gang of bushrangers was formed and began to operate openly, and although the influence and example of the older bushranger may have had something to do with shaping the subsequent career of the leader of that gang, it cannot be said that the one was the direct outcome of the other. But before proceeding to narrate the extraordinary doings of the gang, it is necessary that I should give a brief sketch of the earlier life of the different members.
I have already mentioned that Ned Kelly had two brothers and four sisters—Dan, Jim, Mrs. Gunn, Mrs. Skillian, Kate, and Grace. Dan Kelly was seven years younger than Ned, having been born in 1861, but from the time he was able to sit upon a horse he was more or less associated with his elder brother in criminal pursuits. The boy “lifters” were the terror of carriers and drovers who had to pass through the district in which they resided, and it is said that persons in charge of stock not infrequently went many miles out of the direct course in order to avoid Greta, fearing that some of their cattle would miss their proper destination if they attempted to pass through the “Kelly Country.” Night and day young Dan would prowl about looking for “game,” and knowing the bush intimately, he could at any time get away with that “game” when he found it, to some spot where it would be beyond reach of the proper owners. It will thus be seen that he was well qualified to act as his brother’s lieutenant, and, indeed, it was through him that the outbreak occurred.
The third member of the gang was a young fellow named Steve Hart, a native of Wangaratta, who had also made a name for himself as a horse thief, indulging in night prowling in search of stray animals. He was born in 1860, and was therefore a year older than Dan Kelly, who was his closest “chum” during the campaign, and his companion in death when it closed, the two falling together in the conflict with the police.
The fourth member of the gang was Joe Byrne, who was born at the Woolshed, near Beechworth, in 1857. He was a splendid sample of a young Australian, and had received a fairly good education, but abandoning himself to criminal pursuits had joined the Kelly boys in several of their horse-stealing raids. He had served one sentence of six months in Beechworth Gaol before joining the gang. Byrne acted as scribe to the party, reducing to writing the plans for the attacks upon banks and other contemplated robberies, which were rigidly adhered to.
These four formed the gang, but there were others associated with them as scouts and “telegraphs” and harbourers, whose names will appear as occasion arises for mentioning the service rendered by them. Aaron Sherritt was one of the most active of these assistants during one part of the campaign. He had attended the same school as Joe Byrne, and the intimacy that had grown up there was continued after school days were over, the two engaging in horse-stealing raids together, and forming close criminal business relationships with the Kellys. Sherritt was a native of Beechworth, his parents being most respectable people.
In March, 1878, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Dan Kelly on a charge of cattle stealing; and as it became known that he was at his mother’s house at Greta, a constable named Fitzpatrick, stationed at Benalla, proceeded thither to arrest him. Fitzpatrick’s version of what took place was that when he got to the house he found Dan Kelly there, and arrested him in the presence of his mother and sisters. He was proceeding to take his prisoner to Benalla, when he was asked to permit him first to take a meal, with which request he complied. While the meal was in progress, Ned Kelly, with Skillian, his brother-in-law, and a man named Williamson, came in, and Ned at once demanded if Fitzpatrick had a warrant for the arrest of Dan. The constable replied in the negative, and then Ned drew a revolver and declared that his brother should not be taken without one. Fitzpatrick pulled out his revolver to protect himself, and ensure the safe custody of his prisoner, when Ned Kelly fired and wounded him in the wrist, the result being that the revolver fell out of his hand and was secured by the Kellys. Fitzpatrick was then, according to his account, secured, and it was proposed to shoot him; but upon his solemnly promising to say nothing of the affair, he was allowed to go. The wound in his wrist was very trivial, and the bullet had been picked out with a knife before he reached Benalla. His promise of silence was not kept, and warrants were immediately issued against Ned Kelly for shooting with intent to murder, and against Dan Kelly, Skillian, Williamson, and Mrs. Kelly for aiding and abetting. When it was attempted to enforce these warrants, it was found that the brothers Kelly had disappeared; but the others named were arrested, tried, and sentenced each to lengthy terms of imprisonment, Fitzpatrick’s version of the occurrence at the house being accepted as correct.
But the Kellys and their friends gave altogether different versions of the story; they emphatically denied the truth of Fitzpatrick’s statements, and complained very bitterly that their relations were unjustly cast into prison on his unsupported evidence. One version was that no shooting at all took place, but that Fitzpatrick had concocted the whole affair in a spirit of revenge, because certain improper advances which he had made to one of the female members of the family had been rejected with considerable warmth; another was that Fitzpatrick never had Dan Kelly in charge, and that the arrest was resisted because of the absence of a warrant, and in a scuffle Fitzpatrick slightly wounded himself with his own revolver; and a third was that Mrs. Kelly took no part whatever in the affair, not being in the house at the time—that Skillian and Williamson were miles away at the time, and that Dan and Ned Kelly were alone concerned in what took place.
After the disappearance of Ned and Dan from the home at Greta, nothing more was heard of them for some months, although the Government offered £100 reward for their apprehension, and every effort was made by the police to capture them. It was then known that they had “taken to the bush” and there was a general impression that they were concerned in several cases of road robbery that took place about that time in remote portions of the district; but, reckless and daring though they were known to be, it was never for a moment thought that they were capable of the fearful crimes by which they were shortly to make themselves notorious.
THE MURDERS IN THE WOMBAT RANGES
Fully five months elapsed before the police managed to obtain any reliable information concerning the whereabouts of the two brothers, although every imaginable device was adopted to discover their hiding-place, which was supposed to be somewhere in the almost impenetrable ranges forming the watershed of the King and Broken Rivers. That they had made this their retreat was subsequently discovered, as was also the fact that they had not been idle during the time of their hiding. In the month of October the police received private information upon which some reliance could be placed that the Kellys were in the ranges at the head of the King River that they had been joined by two confederates, and that the four had raided several selectors’ huts at the points of settlement nearest their impenetrable retreat; further, that they were well mounted, and carried arms in the shape of rifles and revolvers. The names of the two confederates were not disclosed, and the police did not know them until some time after.
Acting upon the information supplied, the police authorities of the district organised two parties of troopers and secretly despatched them in the direction of the Wombat Ranges—one party starting from Greta and one from Mansfield, the two townships being about fifty miles apart. The Greta party consisted of five men, with Sergeant Steele in command, and the Mansfield party of four men—Sergeant Kennedy (in charge), and Constables Scanlan, Lonerigan, and McIntyre. Though the movements of the Mansfield party were supposed to be kept “dark,” it is thought that the mission and its object leaked out and was “telegraphed” to Ned Kelly and his mates by one of his numerous relatives—for the ranges were infested with a brotherhood of Kellys, Lloyds, Quinns, etc., who were always on the look out. It was broadly hinted at a later period that the man who had given information to the police had done so with an ulterior motive, and that as soon as the police began to move he caused the Kellys to be apprised of the fact. Be that as it may, however, it is beyond dispute that the Kellys knew when the party started out from Mansfield and that they waited for them, intending to take them by surprise when far beyond the reach of assistance, and remove them effectually out of their path.
Sergeant Kennedy and his men started out on their mission on the morning of 25th October, equipped with revolvers, one Spencer rifle, and a double-barrel gun (the two latter weapons having been lent to the police by a resident of the township, who had recognised the poverty of the equipment); also, a tent and sufficient provisions to last for a week. They reached Stringy Bark Creek, about twenty miles from Mansfield that evening and camped on an open space on the creek, pitching their tent near the ruins of two diggers’ huts, for the place had at one time been worked for gold. No special precautions were taken, as the party considered that they were still a good distance from the retreat of the bushrangers. The ranges round about were almost uninhabited, and the party were not quite sure whether they were on the watershed of the King or the Broken River; but both Kennedy and Scanlan knew the locality intimately. It was Kennedy’s intention to camp for a few days, patrol backwards into the ranges, and then shift the camp in.
About 6 a.m. next day Kennedy and Scanlan went down the creek to explore, and they stayed away nearly all day. It was McIntyre’s duty to cook, and he attended closely to camp work. During the forenoon some noise was heard, and McIntyre went out to have a look, but found nothing. He fired two shots out of his gun at a pair of parrots, and these were heard by Kelly, who must have been on the look-out. About 5 p.m. McIntyre was at the fire making the afternoon tea, and Lonerigan by him, when they were suddenly surprised with the cry, “Ball up! Throw up your arms!” They looked up and saw four armed men close to them. Three carried guns and Ned Kelly two rifles. Two of the men they did not know, but the fourth was the younger Kelly. The four were on foot. They had approached up the rises, and some flags or rushes had provided them with excellent cover until they got into the camp. McIntyre had left his revolver at the tent door, and was totally unarmed. He, therefore, held up his hands as directed, and faced round. Lonerigan started for shelter behind a tree, and at the same time put his hand upon his revolver; but before he had moved two paces, Ned Kelly shot him in the temple. He fell at once, and as he lay on the ground cried out, “Oh, Christ, I am shot!” He died in a few seconds.
Kelly then had McIntyre searched; when they found he was unarmed they let him drop his hands, and at once took possession of the police revolvers. Kelly remarked when he saw Lonerigan had been killed, “Dear, dear, what a pity that man tried to get away.” They then sat down to wait for the absentees. One of them told McIntyre to take some tea, and asked for tobacco. He supplied tobacco to two or three, and had a smoke himself. Dan Kelly suggested that he should be handcuffed, but Ned pointed to his rifle and said, “I have got something better here. Don’t you attempt to go; if you do I’ll track you to Mansfield, and shoot you at the police station.” Ned Kelly said he had never heard of Kennedy, but Scanlan was “a flash bastard.” McIntyre asked whether he was to be shot. Kelly replied, “No, why should I want to shoot you? Could I not have done it half an hour ago if I had wanted?”
He added, “At first I thought you were Constable Flood. If you had been, I would have roasted you in the fire. I suppose you came out to shoot me?” “No,” replied McIntyre, “we came to apprehend you.” “What,” said Kelly, “brings you here at all? It is a shame to see fine big strapping fellows like you in a lazy loafing billet like policemen.” Subsequently he told McIntyre if he was let go he must leave the police, and McIntyre said he would; it was then suggested that the best thing McIntyre could do was to get his comrades to surrender, for if they escaped he would be shot. “If you attempt to let them know we are here, you shall be shot at once,” said Kelly. “If you get them to surrender I will allow you all to go in the morning; but you will have to go on foot; for we want your horses. We will handcuff you at night, as we want to sleep.” McIntyre asked Kelly if he would promise faithfully not to shoot them if they surrendered, nor let his mates fire. Kelly said, “I won’t shoot them, but the rest can please themselves.” Kelly also stated that Fitzpatrick, the man who tried to arrest his brother in April, was the cause of all this; that his (Kelly’s) mother and the rest had been unjustly “lagged” at Beechworth.
Meanwhile they had been anxiously listening for Kennedy and Scanlan. At last sounds of their approach were heard, and the four bushrangers concealed themselves, three behind logs and one in the tent. They made McIntyre sit on a log, and Kelly said “Mind, I have a rifle for you if you give any alarm.” Kennedy and Scanlan shortly afterwards rode into the camp, and McIntyre went forward and said, “Sergeant, I think you had better dismount and surrender, as you are surrounded.” Kelly at the same time called out “Put up your hands!” Kennedy, thinking a jest was intended, smiled and put his hand on his revolver case; but he was speedily undeceived, for he was instantly fired at, but not hit. He then realised the hopelessness of his position, jumped off his horse, and cried out, “It’s all right! Stop it! Stop it!” Scanlan, who carried the Spencer rifle, jumped off also and tried to make for a tree; but before he could unsling his rifle he was shot down and never spoke again, dying where he fell.
Seizing a favourable moment while the gang were occupied with Kennedy, McIntyre jumped on Kennedy’s horse and galloped full speed down the creek, receiving as he rode the fire of the bushrangers, but without injury, although one shot struck the horse. As he rode away he heard shots exchanged between Kennedy and his assailants, but he did not wait to learn the issue of the fight. He galloped through the scrub for about two miles at full speed, and then met with a severe fall through the horse stumbling; but remounting he resumed his flight until the horse fell exhausted. With true bushman’s instinct he then took off the saddle and bridle, and sought a hiding-place some distance from the spot; and having found a large wombat hole in a dense part of the scrub he crept into it and decided to remain there until darkness set in, for he still feared pursuit. While lying in the hole he tore some leaves from his pocket-book and wrote a concise account of the tragedy of which he had been the witness, and then concealed the paper, his object being to leave a record that might at some future date clear up the mystery that would enshroud the fate of the whole party should the bushrangers succeed in overtaking and killing him. The account closed with the words “The Lord have mercy upon me!”
But daylight gave place to darkness, and the foes he feared had not come near. Then, having removed his boots to render his tracks less distinct should the Kellys search for him on the following morning, McIntyre left his hiding-place and set out on foot in the direction where safety lay. Walking steadily on, his mental agony outweighing his bodily suffering, at 3 o’clock next day be came in sight of a station; but to his horror he observed several horses standing near the place, one of which he felt sure was the animal that he had himself been using. He naturally concluded that the bushrangers had outstripped him, and were waiting at the station for him to come up; but seeing, on closer inspection, that the horses belonged to the place, he went up and told his news. With all speed the owner (McColl), drove the now thoroughly exhausted trooper into Mansfield, where he reported himself at headquarters and told his story.
Two hours or so later, Inspector Pewtress with several troopers and seven or eight civilian volunteers started for the scene of the murders, McIntyre and a guide being with the party, most of whom were provisioned for three or four days. The police had only four rifles between them, and two of these supplied by a civilian, but of regulation revolvers there was no lack, although McIntyre told the authorities that for an expedition against men like the Kellys, revolvers were comparatively useless, and that the police ought to be furnished with breechloaders. They reached the camp at two o’clock in the morning, and found the bodies of Scanlan and Lonerigan lying where they had fallen. The tent had been burned down, and everything removable had been taken away. There were four bullet wounds on Scanlan’s body and five on Lonerigan’s, three of the latter having evidently been fired into the dead body. Many months afterwards, Ned Kelly admitted that the extra shots had been fired by those of the gang who had not actually shot the policeman, in order that all might be equally implicated. Kennedy’s body was nowhere to be seen, although diligent search was made in every open spot, for the bush round the scene of the murder was made up of dense dead wattle saplings, so close together that a man could stand six feet off the track and not be seen. The search having proved unsuccessful, the bodies of the other two men were conveyed to Mansfield on the back of a pack horse, and on the following day they were interred after an inquest had been held. A monument was subsequently erected to their memory.
When reinforcements arrived from Melbourne, a stronger search party was organised to discover Kennedy’s body, and to pick up the tracks of the murderers and endeavour to run them down. On the third day of the search, the body was found not more than a quarter of a mile from the camp. Kelly afterwards declared that Kennedy fought determinedly and bravely, and did not fall until he had exhausted all the shots in his revolver; as he fell they all ran up to him, when he begged them to spare his life for the sake of his wife and children; but as they did not like to leave him in the bush in such a state they fired at and “finished” him. Aaron Sherritt—who was at that time and for several months subsequently in league with the murderers, but who afterwards sought to betray them and was killed by them at the door of his own hut—declared that Ned Kelly had told him Kennedy was the bravest man he had ever met, and that out of respect for him he walked back to the camp after shooting him, got a cloak and carefully covered up his body. In all probability this story was correct, as the body was covered by a cloak when found by the search party.
To say that the news of this triple murder sent a thrill of horror through the whole community but feebly expresses the effect produced; and in the same breath the public of Victoria denounced the murderers and the authorities—the latter for sending out troopers inadequately armed upon a mission so dangerous. Members of the force had complained from the outset that the arms supplied to them—chiefly revolvers—were unsuitable, and that sufficient ammunition even was not supplied; but no attempt to remedy the deficiency was made until after the death of the three policemen named; and then proper arms could not be purchased, the most suitable procurable being breechloading shot-guns, which the Government bought from a Melbourne gunmaker at a cost of about £8 apiece.
THE SEARCH FOR THE MURDERERS
Even before the bodies of the murdered men had been buried, all the available police of Victoria were being forwarded to the disturbed district, Superintendent Nicholson going thither to direct operations. The task of hunting down the murderers was evidently to be one of great difficulty, owing to the inaccessible nature of the country, which was mountain ranges densely covered with forests. The Government offered a reward of £200 a head for the murderers, and in a day or two increased this to £500 a head, the money to be paid whether the bushrangers were taken alive or dead; later still they doubled this amount. They also prepared and passed through Parliament an Outlawry Bill, under which any man charged with felony could be called upon by a judge to surrender, and to take his trial, and if he failed to surrender in due course, any person, without challenge, might “take such outlaw alive or dead.” And any person sheltering such outlaw, or aiding him with information, or withholding information from the police, rendered himself liable to fifteen years’ imprisonment. The Felons’ Apprehension Act which had been passed by the New South Wales Legislature during the reign of Ben Hall’s Gang had operated so beneficially that the Victorian Legislature did not scruple to pass one framed on similar lines.
At the instance of the Attorney-General an application was made by the Crown Solicitor to the Chief Justice on November 4th for orders requiring Edward and Daniel Kelly and their two associates to surrender themselves. The application was made under the Felons’ Apprehension Act, passed a few days before, and the necessary formalities having been gone through, his Honour granted an order against each of the gang calling upon them to surrender at Mansfield on or before Tuesday, November 12th, to stand their trial for murder. The orders or summonses were published next morning, but the accused failing to comply with them, were declared outlaws. The police authorities in town at this date appeared to give credence to the report that the bushrangers were lurking about the Rats’ Castle Ranges, near Indigo Creek, and reinforcements of police were sent to that district by special trains.
Although bulletins were received from different parts of the district day by day describing the proceedings of the search parties, no definite intelligence reached headquarters. The following despatch dated Benalla, November 5, is a fair sample of these daily accounts:—
A special party of men, who have been in reserve for several days, have just been ordered up the line. It is the impression of the police that the Kellys are still in the ranges north-east of this place. It has been ascertained that they have endeavoured to pass themselves off as police, with the assistance of the handcuffs and revolvers they got at the Wombat, but their youth and looks ought to be against them. One of Strahan’s party arrived from Mansfield to-day. They worked the ranges from the Wombat to the head of the west branch of the King, going along the top of the range. They were out for four days, and had a good deal of wet weather, but Saturday was fine, and they got an extensive view of the valley of the King from the high ground. The tracks seen were not recent, and doubtless were left by horsemen connected with stations beyond Mansfield. On one night they stopped at an old hut on the Wombat range.
They crossed the blazed track from Mansfield to Glenmore, but did not descend to Quinn’s haunts. News was circulated in Benalla yesterday to the effect that the Kellys had stuck up a store an the King River, between Glenmore and Whitfield. The statement was found to be correct, but the occurrence took place three weeks ago. The owner of the store tried to shut Kelly out, but at night the marauder forced a road in, and told him that if he ever barricaded his doors in that way again he would be shot. This man was so frightened at the threats he heard that he made no complaints to the police, and his relatives only mentioned the matter privately in the course of a visit to Benalla yesterday, so for his sake the name of the locality must be withheld. This will show how effectively the scattered settlements have been held in terror. To show how extensive the Kelly connection is, it may be mentioned that scarcely a day passes that we do not hear that some relative has been in Benalla.
The following extract from the report of a special correspondent of one of the Melbourne daily papers, dated from Benalla, November 7th, will further and more fully illustrate the character of the work the men had in hand:—
The police have had information respecting the Kelly gang in their possession during the past day or two, but it was not considered desirable to make use of it, owing to its doubtful character, until yesterday, when corroborative reports were received, and it was then felt that there was every probability of securing the ruffians. Superintendents Nicholson and Sadleir, having this knowledge in their possession, had arranged for a strong party to proceed to the district indicated, which, it may now be said, was about midway between Beechworth and Eldorado, on what is known as Reed’s Creek. Here are living two or three families who, if not directly connected with the Kelly gang by family ties, are known to be close friends of theirs, and the idea was to pay them a sudden domiciliary visit with the expectation of finding some of the gang with them. The matter was kept very secret. Captain Standish, the Chief Commissioner of Police, arrived at Benalla by the afternoon train yesterday to confer as to the best steps to be taken. As soon as Captain Standish arrived he was met by Mr. Nicholson. Mr. Sadleir having earlier in the day gone on to Beechworth to make the necessary arrangements, and as soon as the whole of the facts were laid before him he fully coincided with the views of his two officers, and it was arranged that the plan should be at once carried out. Unfortunately it has failed, but there can be no doubt that this is, in a great measure, due to the fact that the Kellys have their spies and sympathisers in all parts of the district, so that as soon as any information leaks out, or any movement is noticed, information is at once conveyed to them.
For instance, when Captain Standish arrived by the train in the evening, two of the Lloyds and Isaiah Wright were seen on the platform, and again subsequently, as will be seen later on, the same party inopportunely put in an appearance and attempted — by cutting the railway telegraph wires — to frustrate the object of the expedition. About 2 p.m. notice was sent quickly round to all the troopers available in Benalla to report themselves, with arms and horses. at the railway station at midnight, arrangements being at the same time made with the Railway Department to have a special train in readiness shortly after that hour to proceed to Beechworth; but when an attempt was made to communicate with that township it was found that the wires were cut, or at any rate thrown out of circuit, and it was also found that the line on the Melbourne side of Benalla was interrupted. However, after some delay, the special train got away about 1.30 a.m., and rapid progress was made to Beechworth, which place, after a few minutes’ stoppage at Wangaratta, was reached soon after three o’clock.
The train consisted of two horse trucks and the guard’s van. In the former were ten horses, and in the latter was the Chief Commissioner of Police, Superintendent Nicholson, nine troopers, and a black-tracker. Four of these men had been out in the ranges for several days previously, under the command of Sergeant Strachan, and had only returned to Benalla and gone to rest a few hours before they were again called upon to turn out for duty. The men were, however, on the alert, and not only ready but anxious for active duty again. It must be said that the appearance of the party in the van would not have given a stranger any idea of the usual smart appearance of the Victorian police force, for had such a crowd been met on a well-frequented thoroughfare there would have been a general desire to at once hand over any valuables that might be in the possession of the travellers without any cry of “Stand and deliver” being made. It should here be said that while the party was waiting on the platform for the train to get ready, three men were seen hanging about taking stock of the party. They were at once pounced upon, and being interrogated made some unsatisfactory replies, and were detained for the time. Beechworth was reached just as the cold grey dawn was showing over the eastern hills, and the party being here met by Superintendent Sadlier, quietly proceeded to the police camp, where they were reinforced by another strong body of police, until at last, when a departure was made, there were over thirty well-armed and determined men, together with two blacktrackers.
Rapid progress was made for a few miles along the southern road, and then a divergence was made to the left entering the timber, the men at the same time dividing into three parties, so as not only to push forward more rapidly, but cover as much ground as possible. The ground was anything but suitable for rapid progress, as in places it was quite rotten, the horses sinking at times up to their knees, while in other places patches of granite cropped up out of the soil, and this being smooth and slippery from the recent rains, rendered it necessary for every man to keep a tight hand on his bridle, more especially as the gun or rifle carried by each man was loaded, and in readiness for use. After a few miles of such work a halt was called, just as a clearing with a large slab hut was seen in the valley below. A short consultation was held between the officers, and then the place was surrounded by a cordon, while some half-dozen, with Superintendent Nicholson and Sadlier, went to pay a morning call at the house, where it was hoped to find the Kellys. A reserve of about a dozen men was kept in hand by Captain Standish. in order to give chase should the desperadoes break through the cordon drawn around them.
A few minutes of intense anxiety, and then the report of a gun was heard. This was quite enough. No necessity for any order to advance. Each man of the party, from the Chief Commissioner to the junior trooper, instinctively drove his spurs home, and a rush was made for the house. Logs that would have been looked at twice before leaping on another occasion were taken recklessly, rotten ground was plunged through, and a sharp turn round a paddock fence showed a nasty-looking rivulet, swollen with the late rains, and with very bad ground on the taking-off side. None of these were noticed, but each man, keeping a tight grip on his weapon with one hand and on his bridle with the other, galloped forward, the only anxiety being who should be in first, so as to join in the melee. The pace was terrific while it lasted, but when all pulled up at the door of the hut and rushed it, they found, to their disgust, that the Kellys were not there, and that the report they heard had been caused by the accidental discharge of one of the guns in the anxiety of the advance party to make sure of their expected prey, whom they supposed to be in the house. This one incident very plainly shows me that the remarks that have been made about the police not desiring to come to close quarters with the Kelly gang have been quite uncalled for. What I think is, that the men want to be held more strongly in check or some more valuable lives will be lost. That the men desire to meet the Kellys and their two confederates is very plain, and when the parties do meet, I fancy the four ruffians will never be brought in alive.
The house to which such an unceremonious visit had been paid was that of a man named Sherritt, who is well known to have long been intimately connected with the Kellys, and whose eldest daughter was to be married to one of the party now wanted by the police. The house and immediate vicinity were closely searched, but with no success. The birds had evidently received warning, and had taken their departure. Of course, the man Sherritt put on a virtuously indignant air, and asked whether he ought to be suspected of harbouring such persons, after having been in the police at home. As it was evident that nothing could be got at this place, a push was made for another selection some distance off, belonging to Sherritt. junr., a son of the last-visited individual. Upon entering this hut young Sherritt was not to be found, and from the appearance of the squalid den, the sole furniture of which consisted of a large bunk, a rough table, and stool, it was evident that neither the proprietor nor any of his acquaintances had been there that night. No time was lost in speculating upon possibilities, but the party pushed on over the ranges, and descending a precipitous and dangerous gorge over eight hundred feet, came upon a green valley known as Sebastopol, having a creek running through it, and overshadowed on either side by the high ranges known as the Woolshed Ranges. A sharp turn to the left brought us in front of a slab hut, situated in a nicely-cleared piece of land. This was the hut of Mrs. Byrne, who is also known to be most friendly to the Kellys, and is further said to be connected with another of the gang. She appeared at first greatly scared at seeing such a large party surround her house, but finding that she was not required, she became very bold and impudent. She could not, or probably would not, give any information, and, in fact, denied all knowledge of the Kellys.
It was now plain that information had been already forwarded to the gang that this locality was not safe for them and that they had consequently shifted their quarters, for those who speak on authority are certain, from the information afforded them, but which unfortunately arrived too late, that the Kellys have been about this part within the last few days. That they have not crossed the Murray is quite certain; but at present there is some doubt which direction they have taken, the general opinion being that they are doubling back to their old position. Whichever way they do take, they must sooner or later show themselves to obtain provisions, and be pounced upon. In the meantime, the police officers and men are working their hardest to secure the ruffians.
As nothing further could be done for the day, the whole of the men being pretty well tired with their last few days’ work, the party dispersed at Byrne’s hut, Captain Standish, his officers, and some of the men returning to Beechworth, while the others separated and went to the respective points where they are stationed, and from whence they were summoned. As showing the absurd character of the statements which are made to the police officers, it may be said that Dr. Cleary, of Beechworth, went to Superintendent Sadlier about half-past ten o’clock last night, and reported that while driving from Everton during the evening seven shots were fired at him, and he showed a small scratch as the effects of one of them. Of course, his extraordinary story was set down to the effect of imagination, but it shows how men who are supposed to be endowed with a little common sense may be carried away by the present scare. Captain Standish returned to town by the afternoon train. The men who were out to-day were greatly pleased to see him with them in the field.
Among the earlier police reports received were two intended to carry the impression that the outlaws had attempted to cross the Murray into New South Wales territory and then returned to find better shelter among their numerous relatives and friends among the Warby Ranges. The report ran that they had been traced to the Murray River, below Wodonga, about ninety miles from the scene of the murders, and had called at the house of a settler who knew them, having in use at the time the horses and arms belonging to the police. They tried to cross the river, but it was flooded, and after nearly getting drowned they made their way back. The police, it was said, received intelligence of these movements, but did not take action until too late. The whole country was in a state of flood at this time, and the next report was that the outlaws had been seen crossing the swollen creek at Wangaratta at daybreak.
The police in this case also refused at first to believe the report that the four men who had been seen going through the flood were the Kellys, and when they did take up the tracks, which were plainly visible on the soft ground, they were more than a day “behind the fair.” They followed the hoof-marks of the horses to the house of a well-known sympathiser, where they learned that the outlaws had breakfasted, and continuing the search into the Warby Ranges they came across poor Kennedy’s horse, which had been almost ridden to death and then abandoned. Then, as though the leader of the pursuing force (a small one from Wangaratta) appeared to think that a nearer acquaintance with the Kellys would be dangerous, the party returned to the station, taking the crippled horse back with them as sufficient spoil recovered.
In the earlier days of the search for the outlaws after the murder of the three policemen, discoveries were made in the locality of the outrage which clearly indicated that Kennedy and his companions were on the right track when surprised and shot down; and furnished evidence also of the fact that Kelly and his mates had abandoned themselves absolutely to a career which they knew must result in death to themselves and others. The following extract from the letter of a press correspondent who subsequently visited the spot will prove of interest here:—
Leaving Melbourne one day last week, I took train to Longwood, and from thence coached it to Mansfield, the township which derived so much notoriety through the outbreak of the Kelly gang. Procuring a horse well used to rough country, and obtaining the services of a guide, who, I may state, was intimately connected with the Kellys and their friends, and had undertaken to conduct me to several of their haunts, I started early in the morning from Mansfield, and, so as to avoid observation, made a slight detour before finally getting on the direct track to the Wombat Ranges. Thence we made our way across country to the scene of the police murders, which, I was informed. was near to the fortified hut of the outlaws. Traces of the murders are still visible; on every side are bullet-marked trees, and a few old posts of Walter Lynch’s hut can be noticed almost in the centre of the cleared space, which the Kellys and their confederates approached by creeping up under the shelter of the tufts of speargrass. Whether Kennedy was aware of it of not, all the time he was retreating and dodging from tree to tree, firing as best he could, and sternly contesting every inch of ground, he was making in almost a direct line for the hut in which the Kellys and their mates had lived for many months before they committed the crime which caused their outlawry.
A ride of about half a mile from the spot where Kennedy’s body was found brought me and my companion to the stronghold of the Kellys, situated on a small rise in the midst of a basin, bounded on the east by Ryan’s Creek, on the west by a very high and steep mountain, forming part of the Wombat Ranges, on the north by a small creek flowing down from between the hills, and on the south by a medium-sized ridge, which, however, is high enough to effectually conceal the hut from view in that direction. Reining in my horse on the crest of this ridge, and taking a glance at the scene which lay before me, I could not but be struck with wonderment that such a perfect settlement should have existed so long within half a dozen miles of selections without its existence being discovered. A farmer named Jebb lives within four, and another named Harrison within six miles of it, and yet neither—at least so they assert—were even aware that the Kellys were in the locality, although the latter must have lived on this spot many months, or they could never have got matters into such an improved state. The plateau contains altogether, I should say, about seventy acres, and this is fenced in on three sides (north, south, and east) by a sapling, dogleg, and brush fence, the west side requiring no fencing owing to the steepness of the hill which constitutes its boundary.
Immediately surrounding the hut some twenty acres have been cleared, the trees ringed, and the timber—principally swamp gum and peppermint—placed in heaps ready for burning. The ground had even been raked, so as to give every chance for the grass to grow, and the aspect of the whole place denotes that the Kellys had lived in this secluded retreat many a long day before the Wombat murders took place; and as a proof that someone knew of their existence, I may mention that on a large peppermint tree within a short distance from the hut the name of “J. Martain” has been carved in the sapwood of the tree after the sheet of bark had been taken off to put on the roof of the hut. In the creek flowing to the north of the hut a considerable amount of gold-digging has been done, sluicing being the principal means employed, and from appearances gold has been got in payable quantities, and the workings are of such an extent that it would be utterly impossible for any four men to carry them on under a period of several months.
Perhaps, however, the most startling sight of all is the appearance of the hut and its immediate surroundings. Imagine a house erected of bullet-proof logs, fully two feet in diameter, one on the top of the other, crossed at the ends after the fashion of a chock and log fence, and with a door six feet high by two feet six inches wide, made of stiff slabs and plated with iron nearly a quarter of an inch in thickness, which was loopholed to fire through. The door is on the north side, opposite the gold workings in the creek, and a well-built log chimney occupies the greater part of the west end of the hut. Such was the home of the Kelly gang for some months before the police murders. Its interior was fitted up just as substantially as its exterior, and in a manner calculated to stand a long siege, there having been every provision made for the storage of flour, beef, tea, sugar, and other necessaries of life; and to show that in fresh meat, at least, they were not wanting, we discovered portions of several carcases, together with seven or eight heads of cattle, with bullet holes in the centre of the forehead, lying outside the hut, which may have belonged to either “scrubbers” out of the ranges, or the fat bullock of some not far distant squatter or farmer, but most probably the latter.
Empty jam and sardine tins, old powder flasks, cap boxes, broken shovels, old billy cans, glass bottles, door hinges, and a great variety of other articles were to be seen all round the hut. But the crowning wonder of all was the evident pains taken by the Kellys to improve themselves as marksmen. In every direction—taking the hut as a standing-point—we saw trees which were marked with bullets, from five to fifty having been fired into each, at ranges varying from twenty to four hundred yards. The bullets, being afterwards chopped out, were melted down and converted again into their former state. On one small tree a circle of charcoal six inches in diameter had been traced, and into this two or three revolver bullets had been fired, one striking the black dot meant to represent the bullseye in the centre, and the other two being close to it. Some of the bullets had gone to a depth of four inches in the trees, and consequently a great deal of chopping had to be done to get them out; and there was abundant evidence, too, to prove that, the more practice the outlaws had, the more they improved in the use of the rifle and revolver, the shooting at some marks on the trees being very wide, and on others remarkably straight and dead into the bullseye.
I did not attempt to inspect the country in the vicinity of this stronghold of the outlaws. By the time I had taken a hurried sketch and picked up a few interesting relics, it became time to think of turning homewards; so, only waiting a few moments to inspect the track which led from the hut across the creek and over the gap towards Greta, my guide and I turned our horses’ heads southwards, and after a rather rough ride reached Mansfield late at night, from whence I took coach to Longwood next day, reaching Melbourne the same night, none the worse for my trip in the Kelly country.
THE RAID UPON EUROA
More than a month passed away in fruitless search, all that was returned to the public for the money expended in the wearisome hunt for the outlaws being “report” upon “report”, each of which conveyed intelligence of non-success, disheartened men, and knocked-up Government steeds. But the time had arrived for fresh interest to be created in the gang, for a greater display of police ingenuity and energy, and for public patience to be further exercised. Leaving their mountain fastnesses, Ned Kelly and his companions made a bold raid upon the township of Euroa, a small settlement on the main road between Melbourne and Sydney, and deliberately, in open day, “stuck up” the National Bank, emptying its coffers of all the gold and notes that were stored therein. Their plan of operations was cleverly arranged and carried out to the last detail in a remarkably cool and systematic manner.
The town at this time contained about three hundred inhabitants, and could boast of a police station, two or three hotels, and a number of other business places; it was the centre of a flourishing agricultural district, and the main line of railway between Melbourne and the Murray ran partly through the town. The Strathbogie Ranges, covered with thick scrub, lay at the back of the settlement, extending as far as Mansfield; but only experienced bushmen could easily cross the rugged, heavily-timbered belt.
About three miles from the township was a station owned by a settler named Younghusband, and it was here that the quartette first made their appearance, at noon on December 18th, 1878. One of the station hands named Fitzgerald was quietly eating his dinner in the men’s hut, when a man, apparently an ordinary bush hand, appeared at the door, and in a matter-of-fact tone of voice enquired if the manager was in. Fitzgerald replied in the negative, and suggested that if the stranger’s business was not very particular he might do instead of the manager. The stranger replied that it was of no consequence, and sauntered away. Fitzgerald continued eating his dinner, but upon looking up a few minutes after the man had left, he saw that there were now three rough-looking bushmen instead of one, that they were leading four very fine horses, and were on their way to the homestead, which was not far from the hut. Mrs. Fitzgerald happened to be at the homestead, and was rather surprised when two of the men walked in without invitation. In reply to her inquiry as to who they were, and what they wanted, one of them replied that he was Ned Kelly, and that he wanted refreshment for himself and his mates, and food for their horses, adding at the same time that there was no occasion for fear, as they would do no harm. At once Mrs. Fitzgerald called to her husband, who left his dinner and came over, to find himself face to face with his former visitor, and learn that the men were notorious bushrangers. Having learned from his wife that the bushrangers had demanded refreshment, and observing a revolver in Ned Kelly’s hand, Fitzgerald ordered dinner to be provided, at the same indicating where the horse-feed was to be found to Dan Kelly, who at once proceeded to bait the animals.
In the meantime the fourth outlaw had appeared on the scene, and while Joe Byrne stood outside the door as guard, Ned Kelly and Steve Hart interviewed the station hands as they came up for their dinner and made prisoners of them all, converting a detached storeroom into a temporary prison, in which all the “hands” belonging to the station, with Fitzgerald at their head, were marched one by one, the door being locked, and the prisoners told that they would not receive injury unless they interfered or attempted to escape.
Mr. Macauley, manager of the station, was greatly surprised as he approached the homestead on his return during the afternoon, at the quiet that reigned; and his surprise was increased when he learned the cause of it. Fitzgerald called out to him from the storeroom that the Kellys were in possession; at the same instant Ned Kelly came out of the house, and told the manager to bail up, informing him that they were not going to take anything, but had called at the station to get food and rest for their horses and sleep for themselves. Submitting to the inevitable, Macauley said they all might make themselves as comfortable as possible; and tea having been made, they partook of it together, although only two of the outlaws would sit down at a time, relieving each other in couples in keeping a look-out. They also made some of the prisoners taste the food before them—with what object may be easily understood.
Before nightfall another prisoner was made, a travelling hawker named Gloster, who called at the station to obtain water for his tea, after having unharnessed his horses and fixed his camp near the homestead. When told by Ned Kelly to bail up, Gloster at first took the command as a joke, but was speedily undeceived by a threat from Dan Kelly to shoot him where he stood; and after a little parlaying he consented to take his place in the storeroom with the other prisoners. The four robbers then proceeded to the hawker’s cart and chose each for himself a new suit of clothes, also taking some firearms that were in the cart; then they returned to the homestead and prepared to make themselves comfortable for the night, which they did by taking turns, two by two, at sleeping and watching.
On the following morning they were astir early, and told Macauley that they intended to stick up the Euroa Bank during the day: and that in order that intelligence of their presence at the station should not reach the township they must keep all parties close prisoners, with any others who might call at the homestead. At this time there were over twenty prisoners in the storeroom under lock and key, and four more were added before many hours had passed. About two o’clock in the afternoon a farmer named Casement drove up to the gate in his spring cart, with three other persons, Messrs. McDougal, Jennant, and Dudley. One of the visitors was in the act of opening the gate when the party were startled at an order to “bail up” from Ned Kelly and Byrne, the former being on horseback and the latter on foot. After some demur they complied, and found themselves in the company of the other prisoners, who, although weary of their enforced confinement, appeared rather pleased than otherwise at the addition to their numbers. Having seen their latest prisoners safely located, two of the bushrangers overhauled the cart and appropriated a rifle, a gun, and some bullets, powder and caps that Casement happened to have there.
Leaving Joe Byrne in charge of the prisoners (the women folk at the station were allowed to move about freely, but were closely watched), the other members of the gang procured axes and proceeded to cut down some of the telegraph posts on the railway; then they tore down a considerable length of the line, chopping away the wire for a good length so that it could not be easily or quickly repaired. While thus engaged they made another capture—four railway fettlers who had seen them destroying the line and gone forward to ascertain the reason, being enlightened and made prisoners at the same time. These men were marched up to the station and placed with the other captives, and then the gang made arrangements for visiting Euroa.
First getting Mr. Macauley to draw out a cheque for a small amount, they made Gloster’s lad hitch up the horse in the hawker’s covered cart; Ned Kelly drove that, Dan Kelly got into Casement’s vehicle, Hart mounted one of the saddle horses, and the expedition started for the township, leaving Byrne in charge of the prisoners, with a rifle in his hand, revolvers in his belt, and two other rifles within easy reach.
Shortly after the party had started, a train stopped opposite the station, and a telegraph line repairer alighted. A glance at the broken line was sufficient to show him that the break had not been caused accidentally and that he would be unable to repair it unaided, and he at once walked towards the homestead to procure assistance. Here he was challenged by Byrne, and speedily found himself under lock and key in the already overcrowded storeroom.
Meanwhile the bushrangers with the carts were approaching Euroa, and Hart had already reached the township, where he entered the hotel and had a meal without attracting attention. When the two Kellys drove up he joined them, and the three went direct to the National Bank. Ned Kelly drove up to the front door of the bank in one of the carts, jumped out, and fastened up the horse. At the same moment Dan Kelly drove the other cart in to the back yard of the bank, and Hart rode into the same place. Although after bank hours, the bank doors were open, as the station-master was frequently in the habit of getting drafts for Melbourne late in the day. Ned Kelly entered the front door of the bank, and at the same moment Dan Kelly and Hart entered by the back door. It so happened that all Mr. Scott’s (the manager’s) family were at the moment in one of the rooms of the house, as they were just preparing to go for a walk, while Mr. Scott himself was about to attend a funeral. On entering, Ned Kelly presented the cheque signed by Mr. Macauley; but as soon as the other two made their appearance he pulled out a revolver, announced himself as Kelly, and ordered Mr. Scott, Mr. Bradley (the accountant), and the two clerks to “bail up” and “put up their hands.” He then demanded the money from Mr. Bradley, who appealed to Mr. Scott whether he was to comply. Mr. Scott replied that he supposed they could not prevent the bushrangers from taking the money, but they would not give them anything. Kelly then helped himself to all the cash in use, amounting in all to £300 in specie and notes. They then prepared to visit the other part of the premises, leaving Hart to keep guard over the prisoners in the banking room.
They conducted themselves quietly enough. The ladies acted bravely, and there was no noise, which would have perhaps resulted in loss of life. As soon as Mrs. Scott discovered who her visitor was she told him that he was a better-looking man than she fancied he would be; but Ned Kelly passed over the compliment without remark, and told her to get herself and children and servants ready for a drive, as he was going to take them over to Younghusband’s station. He then returned to the banking room and said he knew very well they had not all the money; in spite of Mr. Scott’s protest he got the keys of the strong room, and proceeded to appropriate the reserve cash. This he packed up in a neat parcel with the other, also examining some of the bank notes and letters, and took one or two deeds of trifling importance, but left the bulk of the bills and securities untouched. The total sum taken was £1942, besides thirty ounces of gold.
All this time Mr. Scott’s family and the bank officials were under guard, and of course, as every thing was very quietly conducted, and it was after bank hours, no alarm was given. The party then started, Dan Kelly in the hawker’s cart with the clerks and one of the female servants leading the way. Then followed Mrs. Scott with her mother and seven children (the eldest of whom was thirteen years of age) in Mr. Scott’s buggy, which Ned Kelly had pressed into the service; Mrs. Scott acting as driver and being cautioned not to indulge in any “larks” on the road. After this came Ned Kelly with Mr. Scott and another servant, while Hart, on horseback, brought up the rear. The money was in the cart at the feet of Kelly. In this way the cavalcade went out of the town without attracting much attention. The total number of persons carried off was fifteen. The object of carrying them bodily away was to prevent the alarm being given at once, and as a matter of fact it was not known in Euroa what had occurred at the bank until after eleven o’clock that night, and then the direction taken by the bushrangers was a matter of mystery. Before leaving the bank Kelly secured the two revolvers on the premises, and also demanded and secured two other revolvers and two bags of cartridges, in all about eighty rounds.
At the station the manager and his clerks were placed in the storeroom, and the females joined those belonging to the homestead, the bushrangers shortly afterwards taking tea with them. After the horses had been saddled and brought round, Ned Kelly announced to those in the storeroom that they were about to leave, declaring at the same time that if any of the prisoners moved from the spot until three hours had passed he would afterwards hunt them out and shoot them; and he specially commanded Macauley to see that this injunction was carried out faithfully on pain of losing his life. The outlaws then mounted their horses and rode away at a rapid pace in the direction of Strathbogie Ranges, it being observed that Ned Kelly carried all the spoil. It was then past eight o’clock, and quite dark, and as it was thought probable that one of the gang would be on the watch, Mr. Macauley decided that no person should move from the station until the allotted time had passed. Shortly after eleven o’clock Mr. Scott and his charge started on the return journey to Euroa, reaching the place in safety and finding that no suspicion of the startling events that had occurred under their very noses had been entertained by his fellow-townsmen.
The other parties remained at the station during that night, and left early next morning for their several homes; but not before the police had commenced to move, for they were at work near the station at daylight endeavouring to pick up the tracks of the outlaws, hoping to get upon them while still fresh, and to follow them until they came up with the bushrangers themselves. In this, however, they were disappointed, for they found tracks leading in every direction; and then it became plain that the Kelly sympathisers had been at work before them, riding over the ground, first in one direction and then in another, in order to baffle the pursuers and throw them off the scent.
The raid was one of the boldest that had yet been made in Victoria by any bushranging gang, and the colonists were prepared to hear of other outrages of a like character at any moment. The bankers in the country towns were specially concerned, and revolvers became prominent articles of furniture in the managers’ rooms and under the serving counters. The police became wretchedly restive under the monotonous round of unsuccessful search journeys, and the unmerited abuse heaped upon them by civilians who thought failure to take the outlaws, or even to catch sight of them, was the result of inefficiency. And just at this time the Victorians passed through the very experience that had so worried New South Welshmen during the reign of Hall’s gang and the Clarkes. That four young fellows should set at defiance every effort of that mighty Engine of Civilisation—the police force—was one of the most extraordinary things of the age—as ridiculous as it was reproachful; and in the eyes of a large section of the public the police appeared greater offenders than the outlaws. But the police were not altogether to blame. They did their utmost to follow and capture, but were always at a disadvantage, having to carry on their work in places to which they had hitherto been total strangers, while the outlaws enjoyed the advantage of knowing every turning in the sombre fastnesses, and having scores of friends to serve them in a double capacity—informing them of every movement of their pursuers, and at the same time hiding the tracks they had made, and giving the police wrong information, or misleading them in a thousand and one different ways.
To stimulate the police to even greater exertions, and at the same time place a strong inducement before the Kelly sympathisers to turn informers and betray the outlaws, the Victorian Government increased the reward for their apprehension to £4000—or £1000 for each one taken. It was a big bait, but it was not so readily taken as the authorities appeared to anticipate. And still the fruitless search went on—days growing into weeks and weeks growing into months without any nearer approach being made to the accomplishment of the end desired. The press, which had boasted during the reign of the Hall gang that no bushranger could actively exist in Victoria, found its weapon turned against itself by contemporaries in New South Wales, and sought to ease the pain of its humiliation by “slating” the police of its own territory. And didn’t the Force in New South Wales chuckle over this turning of the tables! Even the blacktrackers of the elder colony made sport of the men who had boasted and failed.
At last a hope sprang up in the breasts of that section of the police which had set itself specially to work to bribe some of the Kelly sympathisers. One man, who was supposed to be a bosom friend of Ned Kelly, appeared inclined to “turn dog” on his former mate. This was Aaron Sherritt, who lived near Beechworth, and was known to have been one of the most active “telegraphs” of the gang, supplying them with information concerning the movements of the police and furnishing them with food. Sherritt was carefully approached by one of the leaders of the search parties, and after much persuasion consented to put the police on their track, the promise being made that he should receive the whole of the £4000 which the Government had offered for their capture if the information supplied by him resulted in their being taken.
The first piece of information supplied by Sherritt was that the gang had decided to cross the Border into New South Wales, and there “stick up” one of the banks—at Goulburn, he believed. He said that they had asked him to accompany them, but he had declined, and they had then set off without him. Subsequent inquiries proved that there was truth in Sherritt’s statement, for Byrne and Dan Kelly were reported to have been seen going in the direction of the Murray River, and to have called for provisions at a shanty where they were known. This information was conveyed to the police on the New South Wales side of the Murray, but although the river crossings were carefully guarded, no sign of the outlaws could be discovered; and the authorities decided that they had been deceived, and lived in daily expectation of hearing that an outrage had been committed at some place nearer what the bushrangers were pleased to call “home,” for they knew that they would not keep quiet for any length of time, especially as their last raid had been so successful. And sure enough, before ten days had elapsed, New South Wales and Victoria were both ringing with the news that another successful raid upon a small town had been made, and that another bank had been robbed.
THE RAID UPON JERILDERIE
Jerilderie was then a township with a population of about four hundred inhabitants, containing one bank, a police station, three or four hotels, and a telegraph office, in addition to the other ordinary business places of a bush village. It is about sixty miles from the Murray on the New South Wales side, and about ninety miles in a direct line from Mansfield.
At midnight on Saturday, the 9th of February, 1879, the four outlaws rode quietly into the town and surrounded the police station, which was occupied by Constables Devine and Richards, the former being in charge. The town was in darkness, and the constables, like the other inhabitants, were in bed asleep, when their slumbers where disturbed by hearing someone calling out that a murder had just been committed by a drunken man at Davidson’s hotel, and that the presence of the police was urgently required. Both constables hurriedly ran out to learn fuller particulars, when they were immediately secured, and, the key of the cell having been produced, were locked up together. Devine’s wife and children were then aroused and shut up in another part of the watchhouse, receiving an assurance that no harm would come to them if they remained quiet, but if they raised any alarm both the locked-up constables would be at once shot by Hart, who had been placed over them as sentry. Having thus secured the inmates of the lock-up the bushrangers brought their horses into the stable and fed and bedded them, after which they settled down for the night, a constant watch being kept by one or other of them over the prisoners.
During the Sunday nothing unusual occurred to disturb the quiet of the town or of the four ruffians who were already in possession of its custodians. It was the aim of the outlaws to make everything appear natural, in case any person acquainted with the lockup people and their duties might call and notice that there was either halt or hitch. Hence, Dan Kelly, Byrne, and Hart put on police uniform, and were prepared to act the part of policemen in charge. Mrs. Devine was permitted to move about freely during the day, but a close watch was kept on her movements, and she was not allowed to leave the station, except on one occasion, and that furnished its novelty. It appears she had undertaken the weekly task of preparing the little church with which she was connected for service every morning; when this became known to Ned Kelly he decided that she must perform that duty, and the good lady went about it with Byrne as her attendant and guard. During the afternoon Hart and Byrne made an excursion through the town, taking Constable Richards along with them, and as all three were dressed in police uniform they did not attract any attention, those who saw them doubtless concluding that Richards was simply showing two of his brethren from a distance the lions of the place. The object of the excursion was to enable the bushrangers to learn exactly the position of the different public-houses, bank, etc., with a view to speedy and easy operations on the following day. After perambulating the streets for about half an hour the trio returned to the station, and Richards was again placed under lock and key with Devine. No person called at the station during the day, and the prisoners and their keepers prepared to spend another quiet night at the station.
Early on Monday morning, Byrne, still dressed in police uniform, took two of the horses to the local farrier and had them shod. Then the Kellys began to think of business. Having securely locked up Constable Devine and his wife and children, they pressed Richards into their service as decoy, and at eleven o’clock started down town, Richards walking with the brothers Kelly, all in police clothing, and Hart and Byrne riding slowly on horseback behind them. The first place of call was the Royal Hotel, where they saw Cox, the landlord. Richards introduced Cox to Kelly, who said he wanted the rooms in the Royal, as he intended to rob the bank, but would not do anybody any harm. The bushrangers were then placed by Ned Kelly at the front part of the hotel, and as people went in for a drink they were seized and placed in a room, where Dan Kelly acted as sentinel. In the meantime Byrne busied himself in collecting all the servants from the back part of the establishment, making prisoners of them also; and everything being in readiness, they proceeded to honour the Bank of New South Wales with a call.
The bank building was near the hotel, and there were three officers engaged therein—Mr. Tarleton (manager), Mr. Living (accountant), and Mr. Mackin sub-accountant), and Living’s account is so clear and full that it may be quoted here:
About ten minutes past twelve on Monday morning I was sitting at my desk in the bank, when I heard footsteps approaching me from the direction of the bank door. I at first took no notice, thinking it was the manager, Mr. Tarleton. The footsteps continued approaching, when I turned round on the office stool and noticed a man approaching from the back door. I immediately accosted the fellow, who already had a revolver levelled at me, and on asking who he was and what right he had to enter the bank by the back way, he answered that he was Kelly, and ordered me to bail up. The fellow who afterwards turned out to be Byrne, ordered me to deliver up what firearms I had. I replied that I had none. Young Mackin, who was standing in front of the bank, then came in, when Byrne ordered me to jump over the counter, which I did. He then told me to come with him to Cox’s hotel, and remarked that they had all the police stuck up. We went into the hotel, where we met Ned Kelly, who asked for Mr. Tarleton, and was told that he was in his room. They went back to the bank, but could not find the manager in his room. Ned Kelly said to me, “You had better go and find him.” I then searched, and found the manager in his bath. I was at first a little alarmed at not finding the manager in his room, and at first thought that he had got some clue that the bushrangers were in the place, and cleared out. On finding the manager in his bath, I said to him, “We are stuck up; the Kellys are here, and the police are also stuck up.” Byrne then got Hart, and left him in charge of the manager, who was subsequently taken over to the room where all the others were kept prisoners. After he had got out of the bath, Ned Kelly came and took me into the bank, and asked me what money we had in it. I replied that there was between £600 and £700, when Kelly said, “You must have £10,000 in the bank.” I then handed him the teller’s cash, amounting to about £691.
Mr. Elliott, the schoolmaster, then came into the bank, and as soon as Kelly saw him he ordered him to jump over the counter. Mr. Elliott replied that he could not, but Kelly made him, and they then tried to put the money in a bag, but not having one sufficiently large, Ned Kelly went and brought a bag, and we put the money into it. Kelly asked if we had more money, and was answered “No.” Kelly then obtained the teller’s revolver, and again requested more money. He then went to the treasure drawer, and requested to know what was in it, and was told by me that it contained nothing of any value. Kelly insisted on its being opened, and one of the keys was given to him, but he could not open it, owing to the manager having the second key, which was required to open it. Byrne then wanted to break it open with a sledge hammer, but Kelly brought the manager from the Royal Hotel, and demanded the key, which was given to him, and the drawer was opened, when the sum of £1450 was taken out by Kelly and placed in a bag. Kelly then took down a large deed-box, and asked what it contained, and was told that the contents consisted of a few documents which were of no use. He replied that he would burn the contents, but Mr. Tarleton argued with him, and Kelly took one document and put it into the bag, and then expressed his intention of burning all the books in the office. He, however, left the rest of the papers, and said that he would come back and see if there were any deeds for town allotments.
The whole party then went into the Royal Hotel. Daniel Kelly was in the hotel, and Ned Kelly took two of the party out to the back of the hotel, where he made a fire and burned three or four of the bank books. In the meantime Mr. Rankin (a merchant and justice of the peace) and Mr. Gill (the local newspaper proprietor), seeing the bank door open, went in, and were immediately followed by Kelly, who ordered them to bail up. Both gentlemen at once made off, Mr. Rankin running into the hotel, and Mr. Gill in some other direction. Ned Kelly ran after Rankin and caught him in the hotel. Kelly caught him by the collar, and asked him why he ran away, at the same time telling him to go into the passage, and that he intended to shoot him. He took Mr. Rankin into the passage, and, after straightening him against the wall, levelled his revolver at him. Several persons called out to Kelly not to fire, and he did not. He then called Hart by the name of “Revenge,” and told him to shoot the first man that attempted any resistance, and told Rankin that if he attempted he would be the first shot. Kelly then asked for Gill, and took Richards and me with him to look for Gill. The policeman had his revolver with him, but Kelly had previously withdrawn the cartridges. They went up to Gill’s house and saw Mrs. Gill. Kelly said to her, “I have a statement here which contains a little act of my life, and I want it published by Mr. Gill; will you take it?” She refused to do so. I then took the paper, and promised to have it published, and asked to get one.
The party then went to McDougald’s hotel, where Kelly took a blood mare out of the stable, and remarked that he would take the animal, but would return it in three weeks. The party then went to the telegraph office, where they met Byrne, who had cut the wires. Ned Kelly then broke the insulators at the office with his revolver, and after this he took the postmaster and his assistant to the Royal Hotel and left the party there. Kelly then returned to the bank and obtained a saddle and a pair of riding trousers belonging to Mr. Tarleton, and also a gold chain and a gold watch. The saddle was then put on the mare, and Dan Kelly, mounting it, rode away, but returned in five minutes. Dan Kelly and Hart then both kept guard at the hotel, and Ned Kelly then informed the postmaster that if he attempted to mend the wires before next day, or offered any resistance, he would be shot. He also told Mr. Jefferson that he intended to take him a few miles in the bush and liberate him. He informed those present that he intended sticking up the Urana coach that night, and would shoot any one who attempted to give warning. Byrne still rode in the direction of the Murray with the money, and in the meantime Mr. Tarleton had succeeded in despatching a messenger to Urana to warn the bank manager there. The remaining part of the gang then rode in the direction of the police camp, and the party were liberated, and I started for Deniliquin.
The bank manager, Tarleton, gave some further particulars. He stated that at the time of the occurrence he had not long returned from a ride of forty miles, and was having a bath, when the teller came rushing into the bathroom and exclaimed that they were stuck up. Mr. Tarleton at first thought it was rubbish; but on seeing two men with revolvers he believed such to be the case. As soon as he came out of the bath, Hart pointed the pistol at him, and then searched his clothes. Mr. Tarleton then made some inquiries as to the movements of the Kelly gang, but Hart, answering one or two questions, replied in an angry voice that he had better cease asking such questions. Hart then took him into the hotel, and as he was going in he noticed Byrne strike the Chinese cook. He was placed with some others in the bar-parlour, where he was kept until taken back to the bank. Hart stood the whole time at the door of the room with revolvers, and evinced a strong desire to shoot somebody occasionally, if there was a little too much talking in the room. During his confinement in the room he was placed in such a position that he thinks he could have knocked Hart down, but on asking the policeman if he would back him up, he replied that Dan Kelly had them covered with his revolver, and if he happened to miss them he would be sure to kill some of the others. The gang then prepared to go, but before doing so Ned Kelly made a speech with the evident intention of exciting pity.
During the day the outlaws paid periodical visits to the other hotels, having “soft” drinks, and treating everyone civilly. Hart took a new saddle from the saddler’s, and several watches were taken, but afterwards returned. Two police horses were taken, and other horses wanted; but the residents begged, as they belonged to women, that they should be left, and Kelly did not take them. The telegraph operators, with a number of others, were taken prisoners to the lock-up, and were not let out until 7 p.m. Eight telegraph poles were cut, and Byrne took possession of the office. He overhauled all the telegrams sent that day.
In his harangue to the crowd before leaving the town, Ned Kelly referred to the affair which took place at his mother’s hut when Constable Fitzpatrick was shot in the wrist. He declared that Fitzpatrick was the aggressor, and that he received his wound when Dan’s arrest was being resented. The documents which he handed to Mr. Living, and which he said he wanted Mr. Gill to publish in his paper, purported to be a history of his life. They were subsequently handed over to the Victorian Government. In this so-called history (which was doubtless written by Byrne, the scribe of the gang) Kelly was made to pose as a martyr to police interference and persecution. He said his criminal career commenced when he was only. fourteen years old, and received a sentence of three months’ imprisonment for, as he put it, “using a neighbour’s horse without his consent.” Then other convictions followed rapidly, and “the police became a nuisance to the family.” He declared that his brother Dan was innocent when Fitzpatrick came to arrest him, and that he was wounded by his own revolver going off in a scuffle with Dan. Referring to the murder of the constables in the Wombat Ranges, he admitted that the gang surprised them and showed them no mercy, but they shot the constables because they believed the constables had come out to shoot them.
The bushrangers did not all leave Jerilderie together. Byrne, as already stated, started first, leading a pack horse with the bank treasure strapped across the saddle. Shortly afterwards Ned Kelly started, also leading a spare horse, one of those taken from the police stables, but he returned to Cox’s hotel and told the prisoners they were at liberty to leave, but that Constables Devine and Richards were not to be released from the lock-up for some hours. He told those at the public-house that none of the gang need have any fear of being shot, for if one of them fell the lives of every person in the town would be taken as revenge. Dan Kelly and Hart amused themselves before leaving by galloping up and down the street, brandishing their revolvers and shouting at the top of their voices, “Hurrah, for the good old times of Morgan and Ben Hall!”—a sentiment which appeared to please some of the persons who heard them, for they indulged in a feeble cheer. They then also left the town, of which they had held possession for two whole days.
From a threat Ned Kelly had made during the Monday that he would stick up the Urana coach before he left the district, the Jerilderites had concluded that the gang had gone to Urana, and that they would shortly hear of outrages having been committed there. But they were out in their reckoning, for Kelly and his mates appear to have made all haste to cross the border back into their own territory before the news of their outrage on the New South Wales side had been widely circulated. As soon as telegraphic communication had been restored the startling news of the raid was flashed along the wires, and the police at every centre in the south were quickly on the alert. At Wagga Wagga and Albury fears were entertained that the outlaws would pay the banks there a flying visit, and police were told off to guard those establishments, while other members of the force went out in search of the visitors who had so successfully evaded capture by the Victorian police. Word was sent to every station near the river, and a close watch was kept upon the several crossings; but the excitement waned as the days passed, and no news of the outlaws could be gained. Then all doubt was set at rest by a report from the Victorian police that at least one of the Kellys had been seen riding back in the mountains some fifteen miles from Beechworth.
It will be readily imagined that the news of the raid upon Jerilderie put the authorities and police of New South Wales in a ferment of excitement. The Inspector-General of Police in Sydney at once wired to all the frontier stations warning and instructing them, and at the same time dispatched a number of mounted men from Sydney to assist the local constabulary on the border. Unfortunately, however, the Murray waters were very low, and being crossable at almost any point along a distance of one hundred miles or so, the chances of intercepting the outlaws on their journey back were considered remarkably slight. The probabilities are that Ned Kelly and his mates had crossed the river before the river stations had heard of the outrage at Jerilderie; in any case, as we have seen, they got back into their old quarters near Beechworth without difficulty.
The Government of New South Wales also took action, and joined with that of Victoria in offering stronger inducements for the capture of the gang. Parliament happened to be sitting at the time, and shortly after the news of the Jerilderie outrage had reached Sydney, Sir Henry Parkes, Premier, enlightened the House concerning the steps he had taken on behalf of the Government. He read the following letter which he had forwarded to the Chief Secretary of Victoria:—
Colonial Secretary’s Office,
Sydney, 14th, February, 1879.
Sir,—I have the honour to inform you, in reference to the appearance in this colony of Edward Kelly and his associates recently outlawed under a law of Victoria, that the Government are about to decide on extreme measures, with the hope of arresting the course of these desperados. It appears to me that the two colonies should unite in their efforts to vindicate the law now that the crimes of the outlaws have become common to both; and with this view I venture to suggest that the reward for their apprehension should be a joint reward, and that the police in the Border districts should act in concert.
The banks in Sydney chiefly concerned in the Border trade propose to contribute £1000 towards a reward, and the Government is prepared to contribute £3000, making a total of £4000. If a like sum was raised in Melbourne, the joint reward would amount to £8000, or £2000 for each of the four outlaws.
If the information of the next few days should confirm that which we at present possess as to the whereabouts of the outlaws, this Government will seek to obtain from Parliament under a suspension of the standing orders, special powers for dealing with these and any similar class of criminals, the object of which will be to secure the possession of them dead or alive.
I hope your Government will concur in these suggestions for united action; and in that case may I ask you to inform me of your concurrence by telegram, as I hope that by the time you receive this communication we shall be in a position to take decisive steps. I think it will be best, for the present, to regard this communication as confidential.
In reply to this he received two telegrams, as follows:
We cordially reciprocate your offer of co-operation, and agree to increase the reward to £8000—£2000 for each outlaw; the Victorian Government being responsible for £4000, concurs in the proposal that the police on the border should act in concert.
Have published increased reward in “Gazette” to-night, and also notified the intention of the New South Wales Government to add an equal amount.
The Assembly endorsed the action of the Premier, and next day the following notification was published in the “Government Gazette”:
Whereas Edward Kelly, Daniel Kelly, Stephen Hart, and Joseph Byrne have been declared outlaws in the colony of Victoria: And whereas warrants have been issued by Mr. James Bambrick, J.P., at Wodonga, Victoria, charging Edward Kelly, Daniel Kelly, and two men whose names were then unknown, with the wilful murder of Michael Scanlan, police constable of the colony of Victoria, and the said warrants have been duly endorsed by Captain Brownrigg, Police Magistrate at Albury: and whereas Victorian warrants duly backed for execution in New South Wales, were subsequently granted for the apprehension of Joseph Byrne and Stephen Hart, charging them with the murder of the aforesaid Michael Scanlan: And whereas the above-named offenders are still at large, and have recently committed divers felonies in the colony of New South Wales: Now, therefore, I, Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, the Governor aforesaid, do, by this my proclamation, issued with the advice of the Executive Council, hereby notify that a reward of £4000 will be paid—three-fourths by the Government of New South Wales, and one-fourth by certain banks trading in the colony—for the apprehension of the above-named four offenders, or a reward of £2000 for the apprehension of any one of them; and that in addition to the above reward a similar reward of £4000 has been offered by the Government of Victoria; and I further notify that the said reward will be equitably apportioned between any person giving information which shall lead to the apprehension of the offenders and any members of the police force or other persons who may actually effect such apprehension or assist thereat; and that if, in attempting to effect the capture of the said offenders, any member of the police force should be wounded, thereby incapacitating him from earning a livelihood, he will be pensioned; or in the event of any member of the police force losing his life in the execution of such duty, his widow or family depending upon him for support will be provided for by the Government.
There was thus a price of £8000 upon the heads of the Kelly gang, or £2000 upon the head of each; and it was thought that this was a large enough sum to tempt even the greatest friend of the Kellys, outside their immediate family circles, to betray them, should the opportunity for doing so present itself. But many months were yet to elapse before the course of the outlaws was brought to an end; and in the meantime they sought to strike terror into the heart of any friend who might think of betraying them by shooting—in a manner hereafter to be described—one whom they had good reason to suspect of treachery.
In addition to offering the reward stated above, the New South Wales Government introduced and carried through Parliament a Felons’ Apprehension Act, similar to the temporary measure which had been passed during the reign of Ben Hall and his mates. This Act, however, was made permanent, and provided that any men outlawed in a neighbouring colony might be outlawed in New South Wales. Thus it was sought to hedge Ned Kelly and his mates about with difficulties insuperable. But neither the large reward on the one hand nor the double outlawry on the other appeared sufficient to bring the daring quartette or either of them within the reach of the “arm of the law”.
For fully sixteen months after the Governments of the two colonies had joined in offering this large reward the Kellys remained passive, and all the efforts put forth by the Victorian police, whose energies were devoted almost exclusively to the work, were futile. So silent were the outlaws, so skilfully did they evade observation, and so “close” were their friends, that many persons believed they must have escaped from the district, if not the colony. To tell the full story of unsuccessful searching would take some time, and the telling would serve no good purpose, save, perhaps, to illustrate the absence of the proper manhunting instincts in the leaders of the police forces; but some portions of it may be told, as they serve to illustrate the hardships of the life which the majority of the subordinate members of the force were subjected to.
One of the first things done after the return of the gang from Jerilderie was to arrest a number of those who were known or suspected to be their friends and sympathisers and assistants; but although they were kept in custody for some time, being repeatedly remanded for that purpose, nothing definite could be proved against them, and they were eventually released. Long excursions were made into the bush where the outlaws were supposed to be in hiding, tedious night watches were set over the houses of their relatives, the services of experienced blacktrackers from Queensland were called into requisition, and—what was thought to be the best movement of all—the man Sherritt was induced to place himself at the command of the leader of one of the search parties, the whole of the reward of £4,000 offered by the Victorian Government being promised him if the outlaws were captured through his instrumentality. But neither watching nor tracking were of any avail; and the search parties were literally worn down to a condition of despair.
Aaron Sherritt appears to have kept faith with the men to whom he had undertaken to betray his former comrades, and besides conducting them to retreats which were evidently used by the outlaws in the mountain fastnesses, he watched with them, while still keeping on friendly terms with the relatives of the gang, particularly with Joe Byrne’s mother and sister, at whose house he was a frequent visitor, being the accepted lover of the girl. He was playing a very dangerous game, and was well aware that he carried his life in his hands, but he trusted to his native cunning to keep the knowledge of his treachery from the people who still trusted in him. How he failed in his endeavour, and the fate that befell him when the outlaws became aware of his unfaithfulness to them and the sale of his services to the police, will be told later on.
The following brief narrative of the efforts Sherritt put forth in assisting one of the police parties will show conclusively that he was not playing a “double game” as far as the police were concerned. Shortly after the Jerilderie outrage, Superintendent Hare sought Sherritt out and an arrangement was made for him to conduct the police to a favourite camp of the bushrangers in the mountains at the back of Mrs. Byrne’s house, he having expressed an opinion that Kelly and his mates would hasten thither from the Murray. He declared that this spot was known only to the bushrangers, and suggested that hiding in the mountain by day and watching Mrs. Byrne’s house by night would be the surest means of catching the outlaws, who were sure to visit Joe’s mother sooner or later. The police took blankets and provisions with them, and prepared for a lengthy watch. Lying securely hidden in the mountain retreat during the day, alternately sleeping and watching, after dusk they would, one by one, creep down to Mrs. Byrne’s stockyard, take up positions behind trees, and lie there watching until daybreak next morning, when they would again steal back to the camp. Sherritt was with them a great part of the time, and spent most of his evenings in the house with the old lady and her daughter, the information gleaned during his stay there being at a later hour given to the superintendent; but occasionally he would leave the camp and go to his hut in the ranges or to his father’s house, which was between the camp and Beechworth.
The position of the police was not by any means a pleasant one. The weather was very cold, but they dare not make a fire at the camp for fear of the smoke being seen by the Byrnes or the bushrangers, if they were in the locality; and as they could not cook their food they were compelled to live upon monotonous fare of water, bread, and preserved beef. And added to these discomforts there was an ever-present fear that the outlaws or some of their scouts might unexpectedly come upon them when in camp or watching near the house, in which case they knew what to expect.
For nearly a month the watchers stayed at this place, hoping that the expected visitors would put in an appearance. But their hopes grew fainter as the weeks went by, and they were at last rudely destroyed by the discovery of their hiding-place by Mrs. Byrne. Here is Superintendent Hare’s account of the occurrence:
On the last morning of my stay there, Aaron, who had been watching with us all the night, came into camp with us. It was a Sunday morning. After we had a meal, each of us lay down in the spots we had selected and fell asleep. I was the highest up the hill, and could look down upon all the others. Near me sat the sentry, and Aaron had lain down the furthest down the hill in a hollow below a large rock. At about eight o’clock in the morning, the sentry, without moving from his post, called me and said the old woman, meaning Mrs. Byrne, was in the camp. I sat up in my cave and looked out, and saw her stealing up. She stood up for a few moments, saw articles lying about the camp, then came a few steps further on, looked down in the direction of where one of the men was lying, then halted for a moment, and retreated. The camp was so situated that unless a person got within a yard or two of it he could not be seen. I watched her, and did not even let her know that we had seen her. Directly she left I jumped up and went to see who it was she had seen, and to my horror I found it to be poor Aaron. I called him up. He was lying partly on his side, and I was not certain she could have recognised who it was. I told Aaron what had happened, and he turned deadly pale, and huge drops of perspiration broke out on his face. He could scarcely speak, and said, “Now I am a dead man.” I told him the best thing he could do now was to be off as hard as he could, and go and show himself to some of his friends, so that if Mrs. Byrne had recognised him he could prove an alibi, and convince her she was mistaken.
Aaron always wore a peculiar dress, and would have been known by anyone at a distance. His dress consisted of a white shirt, a pair of trousers, and long boots, with his trousers tucked inside. The first thing I did before I let him leave the camp was to send the sentry over the hill to see if anything could be seen of the old woman. He returned in a few minutes and pointed her out on a hill opposite to us.
I should here describe the formation of the country we were bidden in to make myself understood. We were on the one side of a deep gully, with high hills, quite impassable to horsemen, in front and behind us. A road or track ran at the foot of the gully, and on one side of the track, about a hundred yards from the bottom of this gully, was our watching-place, about half a mile from Mrs. Byrne’s house. We remained quite quiet, and watched her go up the opposite hill to something white that was on a rock. This was her shawl, which she had left behind. It afterwards turned out that she was searching for the police in the mountains, and when she got to the spot where we saw her pick up her shawl she had noticed a sardine tin on the rock in our camp shining in the sun. This had been inadvertently left there after breakfast. When she saw this shining thing, she left her shawl and went to see what it was, and after being in our camp, she returned and picked up the shawl (this she afterwards told Aaron). I put a watch over her, and saw her come flown the hill again.
When she was out of sight I put my hat and great-coat on Aaron, and started him off over the back of our camp, so that if the old woman had seen him walking away she could not recognise him. When he was gone, we set ourselves to watch the old woman closely, as she was bent on finding out how many men we had there. She was evidently under the impression that she had not been seen by anyone in the camp. She descended the hill and commenced ascending the hill behind us. We could see her crawling down the hill upon her hands and knees, evidently with the object of looking into our camp to see what she could. I told Senior-constable Mills to go up the hill and give her a good fright and drive her off. He ascended the hill in the direction he saw her coming down, unobserved by her, and lay behind a rock with his rifle in his hand. The old woman came down to the very rock he had taken shelter behind, and just as she was going to take a good observation of our camp the senior-constable sprang upon her and roared out. She almost died of fright. She had not the slightest idea anyone was near her. For a moment she shook from head to foot, but soon recovered herself, and began to slang the senior-constable, and told him she would get her son with the Kellys to shoot the lot of us, as he did Kennedy’s party. After some conversation she left and went back to her home.
Nothing transpired that day until dusk, when Aaron re-appeared as usual. I asked him what he had done with himself after leaving me that morning. He said that he had gone to an intimate friend of his and shown himself, and some time afterwards had drawn attention to the early hour at which he had called. I asked him what he intended doing—if he meant to go that evening to see his young woman. He said, “Oh yes; I must go and see if the old woman recognised me this morning.” I said, “Don’t you funk it?” He replied artfully, “But I must find out if she knows it was me.” He went on, “I have brought a penny whistle, and I will commence playing it within a hundred yards from the house, and perhaps my girl may come out to meet me, and I can find out from her whether the old woman has said anything about me.”
He left us just as we were going to the watching-place, and about twelve o’clock came as usual and sat down beside me. He told me that he went with his whistle straight to the door of the house, but his young woman did not come out to meet him. He walked inside and continued playing. When he got inside there was a strange man (a neighbour) in the room. The old woman said nothing to him, but he said, “I watched her countenance, and I felt sure she had not recognised me.” After a little while the old woman went outside, and he followed her. She said, “A nice trick you have been playing on me.” He said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Who could have put the police into that camp in the mountains but you?” He replied, “I don’t know what you mean.” She told him how she had discovered our camp, and said there were thirty men in it. He pleaded ignorance, but she said she felt certain that he knew all about it. She asked him how it was that she could find us out and he could not. He replied he could not tell, and she said, “Well, you go there to-morrow and see for yourself.”
From that time I thought it was useless my remaining there any longer, but all my men begged me to stay, and so did Aaron. I stayed for two nights longer, but two old women discovered our watching-place. My men and Aaron pleaded that Mrs. Byrne had no means of communicating with the outlaws, as she did not know where they were to be found, and they were sure to seek Aaron out before going to her place. However, I could not see the use of staying any longer, so I left, though the men remained for two or three weeks longer. I was not sorry to leave the spot.
Other search parties and watchers were equally unsuccessful, and yet, as was proved subsequently, the outlaws were not at any time far distant from the district in which their numerous friends resided. Other “agents” supposed to be in the confidence of the Kellys, either directly or indirectly, were employed by the police, but although some of these furnished information of their movements occasionally—information that was evidently reliable—the police appeared unable to make use of it in time, and they could never do more than obtain “traces.” On one occasion word was received by Sherritt in a letter which he had declared had come from Byrne, but which the police could not decipher, that the gang would be at certain races to be held in the district, that Byrne would run a favourite black steeplechase mare in one of the events, and requesting Sherritt to meet them at the back of the course in order that he might ride the horse. Picked members of the force were sent to the races in disguise, and Sherritt also attended, but not in their company.
The bushrangers did not “turn up”, however, and it is more than probable that they had sent this letter to test whether Aaron was true to them, they having, no doubt, heard by this time that he had been of late suspiciously friendly with the police. One of the disguised policemen rode in the race for which the black mare was supposed to have been entered and won it; but Aaron had no “seat,” except on the animal upon which he had ridden to the course, and he had to content himself with watching the running. Byrne’s brother was on the course, however, if Joe himself was absent, and although he and Aaron were much together nothing was said about the outlaws having arranged to be present. The probabilities are that they had learned from their friends that the police had gone to the races disguised, and if the letter to Aaron had been intended as a test the senders no doubt concluded that their former companion had really “turned dog.”
As a matter of course, the house of the Kelly’s at Greta, near Glenrowan, was made even a greater centre of secret observation by the police, the movements of Kate Kelly and her sister, Mrs. Skillian, being watched very closely. The sisters were splendid horsewoman, and were almost as well acquainted with the ranges as their brothers; and despite the watchfulness of the police they managed to hold communication with the outlaws and supply them with necessaries. A couple of instances illustrative of the “cuteness” of the sisters may here be given. They knew that the police were watching the house from hiding-places in the bush, and nearly every night before retiring they would let their dogs loose and hunt round the house for a distance of several hundred yards, and if any of the watchers were anywhere near, the barking of the dogs would soon reveal their hiding-place. Efforts were made by the police to poison the dogs, but they were frustrated by muzzles being placed on the animals so that they should not pick up any poisoned baits that might have been placed for them.
On one occasion Mrs. Skillian perpetrated a very, clever hoax upon a party of watchers, of whose proximity she had by some means become aware. The party had located themselves near her house during the darkness, and knowing that her movements would be observed, at about four o’clock in the. morning she went out into the paddock, caught and saddled her horse, and having tied a rather bulky bundle on her saddle, she mounted and set off in the direction of the Warby Ranges, which were immediately behind the residence. Without hesitation the policemen who were on the watch followed her on foot, congratulating themselves on having at last succeeded in catching the woman on one of her relief expeditions to the outlaws’ retreat. Pushing after her as speedily as they could, they saw her make for a steep gap in the mountains, and up this they toiled, fondly imagining that it would bring them somewhere near where the outlaws were in hiding. The reader may imagine their chagrin, however, when they reached the top and saw Mrs. Skillian seated on a log, calmly awaiting their approach with her thumb at her nose and her fingers spread out. The disappointed pursuers could not arrest her for any breach of the law; the most they could do was to examine the bundle on her saddle bow, and this turned out to be a harmless old tablecloth which she had made up into a parcel for the purpose of deceiving them.
Scores of reports of such wild-goose chases by one party and another of the police found their way into the press, and a running fire of contemptuous ridicule and angry reproach was kept up against the force, the heads of which were most unmercifully “slated” in newspaper articles and letters. It was about this time that the famed blacktrackers connected with the Queensland force were brought over and distributed among the different sections of searchers; but even these keen-eyed hunters could not bring the troopers and the outlaws together, although they on several occasions came upon tracks which had undoubtedly only recently been made by the latter. These dusky hunters were not looked upon altogether with favour by the Victorian police, and after they had been at work a little time reports that jealousy was interfering with efficient work began to be freely circulated. The subordinates, rather than the officers, appeared to be the disaffected parties in this case, however, for some of the latter were loud in their praises of the skill and energy of the blackfellows, and did not refrain from openly endorsing the action of the Government in having applied to the Queensland authorities for a loan of them.
The fact that the movements of the black-trackers were hampered in many instances by the men with whom they had been deputed to work at last reached the ears of the Queensland authorities, and as success had not attended, and was not likely to attend, their efforts in the Kelly country, a request was forwarded to the Victorian Government that they might be sent back to Queensland, where their services were in request. Shortly after this, therefore, they were withdrawn from active service, and were on the eve of their departure for Queensland when an event occurred which caused the Victorian Government to hurriedly call upon them again. But as the sequel will show, no further tracking was required from that point—the outlaws having fallen into a trap of their own making; a trap from which death formed the only door of escape.
THE MURDER OF AARON SHERRITT
As I have already intimated, the outlaws had by some means become suspicious of Sherritt, and as soon as they had made sure of the fact that their former sympathiser had sold himself to the police for the purpose of selling them, they proceeded to work out a cold-blooded plan of revenge. After the discovery by Mrs. Byrne of the party of police spies in the mountains, the old lady gave Sherritt clearly to understand that his visits to the house were not welcome, and the attachment between him and Joe’s sister was consequently broken off. That the thieving instinct was still strong upon Sherritt was proved by his stealing a horse from Mrs. Byrne.
This theft took place just previous to the rupture, and through that piece of knavery his services were very nearly lost to the police. For some time after the disappointed watchers had left the mountain retreat near Mrs. Byrne’s house, Sherritt remained in touch with Superintendent Hare, but that gentleman having gone to another part of the district for a time, a break was made in the connection, and before it was resumed Aaron had found another sweetheart, and had become a benedict, settling down as a married man about a mile from Mrs. Byrne’s residence.
It was still thought advisable to keep watch upon Mrs. Byrne’s house, and as no more convenient place for doing this was available than Sherritt’s house, the police became frequent visitors there—secret visitors, of course, although the Byrne family must have known that they were under constant surveillance, and that Aaron was lending himself to the hated members of the force. The plan adopted was for a party of three of four troopers to be hidden in Sherritt’s house during the day and creep out under shelter of the darkness and watch Byrne’s house from different positions during the night. But the work grew so monotonous that the police on watch grew very weary of their work, and evaded duty occasionally; and at last they made application to be allowed to visit Benalla for a time to recruit their health, the constant exposure during the wet nights having completely knocked them up. They were allowed to leave the place for a short time. They had only resumed duty a few days when they were brought into contact with the gang in a manner they had never anticipated.
Whether the hour had arrived for the nightly visit to Mrs. Byrne’s house or not does not appear, but it was dark and the constables were still in Sherritt’s hut, when on the Saturday night about eight o’clock the inmates were visited by a “surprise party” of a very objectionable kind. Aaron, his wife, his mother-in-law, and four police were in the hut (which consisted of two rooms) at the time, the three former being in the back room and the latter in a room at the front; when suddenly a voice was heard calling from outside the back door. Sherritt asked, “Who is there?” and the reply came, “Antonio Wicks, I have lost my way,” or something to that effect. Aaron recognised the voice as that of Wicks, who had a farm in the neighbourhood, and without any hesitation he opened the door and stood on the threshold to talk to the caller. There was a bright fire burning in the hut at the time, and standing as he did Aaron was in full view of anyone outside. Before he could distinguish anything in the darkness, a shot was fired and he was struck in the face. He staggered back into the centre of the room, and at once his assailant jumped to the doorway and fired a second shot, which struck him in the chest, and he fell dead upon the floor.
Then one of the women in the place recognised the murderer as Joe Byrne, and shortly afterwards saw and recognised Dan Kelly standing near the doorway with his rifle on his arm. The man Wicks was standing trembling near him, securely handcuffed; and it subsequently transpired that he had been secured and forced by Byrne and Dan Kelly to go to Aaron’s hut and call out to him, they knowing that when he heard Wick’s voice their intended victim would not apprehend any danger of a surprise, and they would then be able to dispose of him quickly and without any trouble. The murdered man never spoke after the shots were fired.
There was naturally great consternation in the hut when this tragedy happened. The attack completely paralysed the constables, who made no attempt to engage the men for whom they had been specially waiting for so many weary nights. They did not move from their hiding-place in the back room, and did not even fire a shot from their hiding-place, although an opportunity must have presented itself when Byrne jumped to the doorway to fire the second shot. Having finished Sherritt, the outlaws showed that they knew the police were in the house by calling upon them to come out, at the same time firing a volley into that part of the dwelling (it was a slab hut) in which they supposed the police were located. This they repeated several times, but as no answering fire was returned they threatened to burn the house down and roast the timid hunters who were there hidden. They did not carry out this threat, however, and although they stayed about the place until 6.30 next morning, giving the occupants an occasional hint that they were awake and active, they then quietly left and, as was afterwards discovered, rode off to Glenrowan to join Ned Kelly and Hart. When the constables had assured themselves that the outlaws had left the locality of Sherritt’s hut, one of their number stole out and made what haste he could to Beechworth to give information to his superior officer at the station there, and thus the whole army of police was once more set in motion.
Sherritt had very few friends to lament his death. He was known and feared by not a few of the residents of the Beechworth district, where he was looked upon as a most dangerous character, and up to the time when his treachery became known his only friends were the outlaws and their sympathisers. Naturally the latter rejoiced exceedingly that he had been so effectually “put out of the way” by Joe Byrne, for they themselves were in danger of being convicted under the Outlawry Act, should the arrest of the bushrangers remove the necessity for secret movements on Sherritt’s part; and there can be no doubt that he would have “peached” upon them as readily as he had upon the Kellys if the latter had been in safe custody. And the police did not look upon him altogether with favour, as witness the following statement of Superintendent Hare:
“It was doubtless a most fortunate occurrence that Aaron was shot by the outlaws; it was impossible to have reclaimed him, and the Government of the colony would not have assisted him in any way, and he would have gone back to his old course of life, and probably have spent his days in gaol; or he might have turned bushranger himself, when he would have been quite as dangerous a man as Edward Kelly himself.” And when mentioning that the Government had given the widow a comfortable allowance, the same officer laconically observed “she was much better off without him”.
THE LAST EXPLOIT OF THE OUTLAWS
A few days before the visit to Sherritt’s hut Mrs. Byrne had boasted to one of her friends (who repeated the boast to the police) that “her boy” and his mates would shortly do something that should astonish, not only the people of Victoria, but of the world. We are about to see how that boast was fulfilled.
Having determined that Sherritt should die, with great cunning the gang planned to make his death and the manner of it the instrument of their further designs. They knew the police were in his house before the arrangement was made for the visit, and while the two told off for the murder were engaged in their work, the other two were proceeding to Glenrowan. Believing that the police would hasten away after the murder to give information, and that there would be a hurried and heavy outrush of police with the blacktrackers from Benalla to Beechworth, they planned to destroy the train with its living freight by tearing up the lines at Glenrowan, and having accomplished this and slaughtered those of their pursuers who might not be killed by the wrecking of the train, to obtain a fresh supply of arms and ammunition from the carriages, and then ride on to Benalla—a distance of about fifteen miles—set fire to the courthouse, release the prisoners in the gaol, rob the banks and the stores, and then make back to their haunts in the Strathbogie ranges. It will thus be seen how it was that they did not interfere with the telegraph lines when Sherritt was shot, as they had done when committing the raids upon Euroa and Jerilderie. They wanted the information to be sent to the more important stations, and they wanted the police to come along the line as fast as special trains could carry them.
The sole object of the bushrangers’ visit to Glenrowan appears to have been to murder the blacktrackers. The hatred which the leader of the gang had for them was very great, and it is certain that the fear of them had kept the gang quiet so long. Ned Kelly knew that the trackers had returned to Melbourne, and he correctly formed the opinion that as soon as the intelligence of the murder reached headquarter, they would be sent on with the police to the scene by special train.
Ned Kelly and Hart arrived at Glenrowan during the Saturday night, and at once commenced operations. The town was a very unpretentious place, containing only a few score inhabitants, two bush hotels, a police station, and a railway station. On the outskirts of the town lived a line-repairer named Reardon, and he was the first person to be made aware of the presence of the two outlaws. At about midnight he was awakened by a violent knocking at the door, and he at once jumped out of bed and inquired who wanted him at that hour of the night. The answer was the glint of a revolver barrel in his face and the voice of Ned Kelly saying, “Come with me, old fellow; I have a job for you,” at the same time making himself known to the startled man, and saying he and his mates had been at Beechworth and killed several people, and were now going to kill the police and black-trackers, who they knew would shortly arrive from Benalla. Reardon begged Kelly not to force him to assist in such a bloody work, but the outlaw said that if he did not come at once he would shoot him. Reardon then hurriedly dressed himself and prepared to follow Kelly, but immediately after starting his custodian told him to go back and tell the “missus and kids” to dress too and accompany them, as they might be away for some time, and during their absence the woman might raise an alarm. This Reardon did, and the whole family prepared to follow Kelly up to the railway station, whither he said he was bound.
In the meantime Steve Hart had been on the same mission as Kelly, and had succeeded in rousing up two or three other line-repairers (Reardon being the ganger), and when Kelly arrived with his batch he immediately gave the women and children into the custody of Hart, and leading the men away (under threats of immediate death if they did not obey his orders) made them open the tool-box, get the necessary tools, and march in front of him till they came to a spot half a mile from the station. Here he superintended the pulling up of two lengths of rails. The spot was admirably situated for the purpose for which the villain intended it. At the extreme end of a large cutting the line took a very sharp curve, crossing a deep ravine, over which was erected a sort of culvert. It was on the top of the embankment over this ravine that the rails were torn up.
After two hours’ work a huge gap was made in the line, and the men were marched by Kelly into Glenrowan. Hart had marched with those under his charge to the house of the stationmaster (John Stanistreet), situated at the gates about a hundred yards from the station; and having roused the stationmaster he enlightened him as to their mission, and made a convenience of his house as a prison, there being several men who had been called up on the road, together with the women and children under Hart’s care. When Ned Kelly returned he made some inquiries concerning the signalling of trains, and particularly how the train was stopped by the signal lamps. Stanistreet enlightened him so far as to say, “White means right, and red wrong, and green generally come along.” “There is a train coming,” said Kelly, “and you will give no signal”; at the same time saying to Hart, “Watch his face, and if he gives any signal shoot him.” After daylight on Sunday morning every passer-by was hailed and sent into the stationmaster’s house to keep the other prisoners company, even little children on their way to school having to share the common fate. During the Sunday no less than seventeen persons were compulsorily lodged in Stanistreet’s house, and until darkness set in no further movement was made.
The exact hour of Dan Kelly’s and Byrne’s arrival at Glenrowan was not known, but they must have reached the place early in the morning, and immediately joined their companions, and relieved each other in standing guard over the prisoners, who were allowed to go outside occasionally, but were every moment kept under the strictest surveillance by one member or other of the gang. They did not treat their prisoners harshly, although they gave them to understand that any attempt to escape or raise an alarm would be attended by instant death.
The outlaws evidently anticipated that the special train would arrive during the Sunday, and they grew very anxious as the hours went by without any signs of its coming. At about midday all the male prisoners except the stationmaster were removed from Stanistreet’s house to the hotel kept by a Mrs. Jones, about one hundred yards from the house; here the bailing up process continued, all persons coming near being compelled to enter and take their places with the other prisoners. The only constable of the township, named Bracken, became a prisoner soon after the arrival of Byrne and Dan Kelly on the scene, his capture having been effected in a very simple manner. Taking with him one of the lads who had been intercepted and detained, and who was well known to the constable, Ned Kelly proceeded to Bracken’s house, and told the lad to call out that his father wanted to see the constable. At once the door was opened, and Bracken stood on the threshold, but only to find himself covered with a revolver, and to hear Ned Kelly commanding him to come at once with him. Being unarmed and taken completely by surprise, the constable had no choice in the matter, and having warned Mrs. Bracken that her husband would be shot if she left the station or raised any alarm, Kelly conducted his prisoner to Jones’ hotel, which was already more than comfortably full, there being no less than sixty-two persons there, including some whom Bracken recognised as well-known sympathisers of the outlaws.
Confident of their power over their prisoners, and knowing that any attempt to arrange a rush upon them would speedily be communicated to them by one or other of their friends in the crowd, the outlaws did not keep them under lock and key, but allowed them during the day to wander about between the hotel and the station; but they were always on the alert and ready for any emergency. The male prisoners could get as much grog as they wished at the hotel, and Ned Kelly gave them to understand that he wished them to make themselves as comfortable as possible, and during the afternoon one or two of the gang joined them in some jumping contests in the yard. Ned Kelly prided himself upon his ability in this class of athletics, and made his jumps with weights in the shape of a revolver in each hand; but one of the prisoners covered a distance which the leader of the gang could not beat, although he tried to do so three or four times. At last he took off his coat, and failing then also, Byrne remarked, “You seem a bit off today, Ned.” “Yes,” replied Kelly, “I’m a bit handicapped; these fellows are a little too good for me.” It was then seen that he wore a plate of armour under his waistcoat, covering his front and back—the plate being of wrought iron about a quarter of an inch in thickness. It was subsequently discovered that each of the outlaws was provided with similar coats of mail, and that they had head coverings made of the same material, ready to put on when the time for fighting came.
One of the prisoners was Mr. Curnow, the Glenrowan schoolmaster, and as he is the hero of the whole series of subsequent events, his account is worth giving in full. The following is his statement:—
On Sunday morning, 27th of June, 1880, I determined to take my wife, sister, and child out for a drive along the road from Glenrowan to Greta. We left the school in a buggy about eleven o’clock in the morning, accompanied by David Mortimer, my brother-in-law, who rode on horseback. When we got in sight of Mrs. Jones’ hotel, and opposite the railway crossing, through which we intended to pass, we noticed a number of people about the hotel, and at the crossing. I said, “Mrs. Jones must be dead; she has been very ill.” As we got near the hotel a man ran out of it towards Mrs. Jones’ stable, distant about twenty yards from the hotel. I drove past the hotel to the crossing, and, seeing Mr. Stanistreet, asked him, “What’s the matter?” He replied, “The Kellys are here; you can’t go through.” I thought he was joking, and made a motion to drive through the gates, when a man on horseback, who blocked up the crossing, and was talking to a young man whom I knew to be named Delaney, wheeled round his horse and said to me, “Who are you?” I then saw that he had revolvers in his belt, and was convinced of the truth of Mr. Stanistreet’s statement that the Kellys were there. I replied that I was the teacher at Glenrowan. He said, “Oh, you are the schoolmaster here, are you? And who are those?”—pointing to my wife, sister, and brother-in-law. I told him. He then said, “Where are you going?” I answered, “Out for a drive.” He then said, “I am sorry, but I must detain you,” and directed us to get out of the buggy, which we did. He then turned to Delaney again and resumed his conversation with him. I afterwards found that the man who addressed me was Ned Kelly, the outlaw. I noticed another armed man near Kelly, and I afterwards found out that he was Byrne.
When we got out of the buggy I led the horse off the crossing, and tied him to the railway fence alongside, directing Mrs. and Miss Curnow to go into Mr. Stanistreet’s house, which they did. As soon as I had fastened the horse I joined Mr. and Mrs. Stanistreet and others, who, I was told, had been taken prisoners by the gang, and was informed by them that Glenrowan had been stuck up since three o’clock that morning, and that the gang had forced Reardon and others to tear up part of the railway line beyond the station for the purpose of wrecking a special train of police and blacktrackers which, the outlaws said, would pass through Glenrowan. Some person—I believe it was one of the boys who had been bailed up by the gang—then told me that the Kellys had been at Beechworth during the previous night, and had shot several policemen.
After some further conversation we all listened to what Ned Kelly was saying to Delaney. The outlaw was accusing Delaney of having, some short time previously, ridden a horse from Greta into Wangaratta to oblige a policeman, and of having sought admission into the police force. He threatened to shoot Delaney for this, and pointed a revolver at him several times. Ned Kelly declared to all of us who were listening to him that he would have the life of anyone who aided the police in any way, or who even showed a friendly feeling for them, and declared that he could and would find them out. He said that a law was made rendering it a crime for anyone to help them (the outlaws), and that he would make it a crime for anyone to aid the police against the Kelly gang. The women who were listening to what Kelly was saying asked him to let Delaney off. After keeping Delaney in a state of extreme terror for about half an hour the outlaw made him promise never again to seek admission into the police force, and finally said, “I forgive you this time; but mind you be careful for the future.” Byrne then produced a bottle of brandy, and offered some in a tumbler to all adults there.
Some accepted it. Byrne drank some himself, and gave Delaney two-thirds of a bottle, which he drank. Ned Kelly refused to take any, and directed some of his boy prisoners to take my horse and buggy into Mrs. Jones’ yard, which they did.
Ned Kelly and Byrne then went from the railway crossing to Mrs. Jones’ hotel, preceded by the majority of their male prisoners, and I was with them. When we reached Mrs. Jones’ there were, including those who had just been taken over, about fifty persons in and about the hotel, all of whom appeared to be prisoners of the gang. We were allowed to go about in the hotel, except in one room, which the outlaws used, and of which they kept the key, and we were allowed outside, but were forbidden to leave the premises. Dan Kelly, a short time after I entered the hotel, asked me to have a drink, and I drank with him at the bar. I said to him that I had been told they had been at Beechworth during the previous night and had shot several police. I asked him whether it was true. He replied that they had been near Beechworth last night and had done some shooting, and that they had “turned the devils out,” alluding to the police. Byrne came to the bar, and, looking at Dan Kelly’s glass said, “Be careful, old man.” Dan replied, “All right,” and poured water into his brandy. While talking with Byrne and Dan Kelly I expressed surprise at Glenrowan being stuck up by them, and they said they had come to Glenrowan in order to wreck a special train of inspectors, police, and blacktrackers which would pass through Glenrowan to Beechworth to take up their trail from there. They said that they had ridden hard across country, often being up to the saddle-girths in water, to get to Glenrowan, and that they had had the line taken up at a dangerous part, and were going to send the train and its occupants to hell.
About one o’clock I was standing in the yard of Jones’ hotel, thinking of the intentions of the gang, and I keenly felt that it was my duty to do anything that I could to prevent the outrage which the outlaws had planned from being accomplished, and I determined that I would try to do so. While standing in the yard Dan Kelly came out of the hotel and asked me to go inside and have a dance. I said that I could not dance in the boots I had on. Ned Kelly then came out of the hotel, and hearing me object to dance because of my boots, said, “Come on, never mind your boots.” I said to him that it was awkward to me to dance in those boots, as I was lame, but that I would dance with pleasure if he would go to the school with me to get a pair of dancing boots. It flashed across my mind that in passing the Glenrowan barracks to reach my house, Bracken, the trooper stationed there, might see us, and be able to give an alarm. I knew that Bracken had been stationed at Greta, and felt sure that he would recognise Ned Kelly. He (Ned Kelly) said that he would go, and we were getting ready when Dan Kelly interfered and said that Ned had better stay behind and let him and Byrne go with me. Someone else also urged Ned Kelly not to go away, and said that my house was near the police barracks. Ned Kelly turned to me, and asked if it was. I said, “Yes, we shall have to pass the barracks; I had forgotten that.” He then said that he would not go, and I went into the hotel, and danced with Dan Kelly.
After we had finished dancing Ned Kelly said that he would go down to the police barracks and bring Bracken, and Reynolds the postmaster, up to Jones’. I laughed at him, and said that I would rather he did it than I, and asked to be allowed to accompany him when he went, and to take home my wife, sister, and child. He gave me no reply. The intention to do something to baffle the murderous designs of the gang grew on me, and I resolved to do my utmost to gain the confidence of the outlaws, and to make them believe me to be a sympathiser with them. I saw clearly that unless I succeeded in doing this I should not be able to get their permission to go home with my wife, child, and sister, and consequently should not be able to do anything to prevent the destruction of the special train and its occupants by giving information to the police at Benalla, which I purposed doing if I could induce the outlaws to allow me and mine to go home. The outlaws kept a very sharp watch on their prisoners without seeming to do so.
About three o’clock in the afternoon Ned Kelly and Dan caused several of their prisoners to engage in jumping, and in the hop, step, and jump Ned Kelly joined with them, using a revolver in each hand as weights. After the jumping was concluded I left Jones’ and went to Mrs. Stanistreet’s house to see my wife and sister. They came out to see me, and, noticing the red llama scarf wrapped round my sister caused me to think, “What a splendid danger signal that would make!” The idea of stopping the train by means of it then entered my mind, and made me still more anxious for liberty. I went in to my wife and sister into Stanistreet’s house and saw Hart lying down on a sofa. He had three loaded guns by his side. He complained to me of having swollen and painful feet, caused, he said, by not having had his boots off for several days and nights. I advised him to bathe them in hot water, and asked for some for him. It was brought, and he followed my advice.
Shortly after, Mr. Stanistreet and I were walking about at the back of the house, and Mr. Stanistreet expressed a wish that an alarm could be given. Mrs. Stanistreet came out to us, and I asked them if they thought it would be wrong to break a promise given to the outlaws. They said it would not. I then asked Mr. Stanistreet if the outlaws had taken his revolver from him. He said they had not. I saw what use this fact could be made of by me in my efforts to gain the confidence of the outlaws, and to make them believe that they could safely allow me to go home. I said to Mr. and Mrs. Stanistreet that we had better go inside, for I was afraid of being suspected by the gang if they saw us in private conversation, and we did so. I do not know whether Mr. and Mrs. Stanistreet suspected the use I intended making of my liberty if I got it; but afterwards I heard Mrs. Stanistreet saying to Ned Kelly that he ought to allow me to take home my sister, who was in delicate health.
I was sitting in Mr. Stanistreet’s when Dan Kelly came in inquiring for a small parcel in a bag, which he had lost. He seemed very anxious about it, and examined the house throughout in search of it. He could not find it, and went to McDonald’s hotel to see if it was there. He came back unsuccessful, and I went to Jones’ with him, and he searched there, but failed to find it. When he gave up searching for it, I requested him to tell Ned I wanted to speak to him. I was near the door of Jones’ kitchen then. He went into the hotel and brought Ned out, and I told him that Mr. Stanistreet possessed a loaded revolver from the railway department, and advised them for their safety to obtain it, as someone might get it and do them an injury. They thanked me, and I perceived that I had in a great measure obtained their confidence by telling them this.
About dusk I heard Ned Kelly saying to Mrs. Jones (they were standing between the hotel and the kitchen, which was a detached building) that he was going down to the police barracks to capture Bracken, and that he was going to take her daughter to call him out. Mrs. Jones asked him not to take her. Ned Kelly said that he did not intend to shoot Bracken, and that her daughter must go. I advanced to them, and said to Ned Kelly that I thought it would be better for them to take Dave Mortimer, my brother-in-law, to call Bracken out, because Bracken knew his voice well, and by hearing it would suspect nothing. Ned Kelly, after a pause, said that he would do so. He then went to Mrs. Jones’ stables, and I followed him and asked him if he would allow me to take my party home when he went down to Bracken; and I assured him that he had no cause for fearing me, as I was with him heart and soul. He replied, “I know it, and can see it,” and he acceded to my request. I went over to Mrs. Stanistreet and brought my wife and sister over to Mrs. Jones’, and took them into the kitchen. Ned Kelly said that we must wait until he was ready to go. I found, on going back to Jones’, that a log fire had been made on the Wangaratta side of the hotel yard, and that many of the prisoners of the gang were standing round it.
It was then dark. Other prisoners were in the hotel, and the outlaws encouraged them to amuse themselves by cardplaying. I waited with my wife and sister in Jones’ kitchen for, I believe, two or three hours before Ned Kelly directed me to put my horse in the buggy. He and Byrne then went into the room which they had reserved for their own use. I drove to the front of Jones’ hotel and put my wife and sister and Alec Reynolds, the son of the postmaster at Glenrowan, who was about seven years of age, into the buggy. Ned Kelly directed me to take the little boy with us. We were kept waiting in front of the hotel for about an hour. Ned Kelly then came to us on horseback and told me to drive on.
It was then, I believe, about ten o’clock. As we got into the road I found that we were accompanied by Ned Kelly, Byrne, and my brother-in-law, and R. Gibbins on foot, both of whom resided with Mr. Reynolds, the Glenrowan postmaster. On the road down, Ned Kelly said that he was going to fill the ruts with the carcases of the police. The outlaws had each a light-coloured overcoat on, and I was amazed at the bulky appearance which they presented. I had then no knowledge that the outlaws possessed iron armour. Each one carried a bundle in front of him, and in one hand a gun or rifle.
We reached the barracks, and were directed by Ned Kelly to halt about twenty yards distant from the front door of the building. Ned Kelly got off his horse and fastened him to a fence near, ordering my brother-in-law to do the same, and he did so. Kelly then ordered him to go to the barracks door and knock, which he did. Ned Kelly got behind an angle of the walls, and levelled his rifle, either at Dave Mortimer or at the door. No reply came to the knocking or calling, though they were often and loudly repeated at Ned Kelly’s whispered command. When I saw Kelly level his rifle I told my party to get out of the buggy, which they did, and I advanced to my horse’s head, for I thought Kelly might fire. I was then about seven or eight yards from Kelly. No result being produced by either knocking or calling, Ned Kelly left his position and advanced to Byrne, directing me, in an undertone, to call Mortimer away, which I did, and he came. Byrne, who had remained near us, and Ned Kelly then spoke to each other, and Kelly took Alec Reynolds, the postmaster’s son, and Mr. Reynolds, and passed with them into Reynolds’ yard.
We neither saw nor heard anything, I think, for more than an hour, when Ned Kelly appeared, having Bracken, E. Reynolds, and Bracken’s horse with him. Kelly stopped when he reached us, and ordered Bracken to mount the horse brought round, and Bracken did so. Ned Kelly put a halter on the horse, which he kept hold of, saying, “I can’t trust you with a bridle, Bracken.” Bracken said to Ned Kelly that had he not been ill in bed all day he (Kelly) would not have taken him easily, and that if the horse he was on was what it used to be, it would take more than Ned Kelly to keep him a prisoner. Ned Kelly and Byrne then mounted their horses, and I and my party got into the buggy.
It was then, I believe, between eleven and twelve o’clock. Ned Kelly then said I could go home and take my party with me. He directed me to “go quietly to bed, and not to dream too loud,” and intimated that if I acted otherwise we would get shot, as one of them would be down at our place during the night to see that we were all right. I then left them and drove home, distant from the barracks one or two hundred yards, leaving the outlaws and their captives ready to start back to the railway station. As soon as we were out of hearing of the outlaws I announced to my wife and sister my intention to go to Benalla and give information as to the intentions and whereabouts of the outlaws. They both anxiously and earnestly opposed my purpose, saying that it was not at all likely that we should be allowed to come home unless some of the agents of the gang were watching; that I should not be able to reach Benalla, as I should be shot on the road by spies, and that, even if I succeeded, we should be hunted out and shot.
But at this point in Curnow’s story I must make a break, in order that the sequence of events may not be disturbed; and to this end reference must be made to the movements of the police, who had been apprised of the re-appearance of the outlaws near Beechworth and the murder of Sherritt many hours before the events narrated by Curnow had taken place.
HOW THE SPECIAL TRAIN WAS SAVED
The first news of Sherritt’s murder appears to have been received in Melbourne on the Sunday afternoon by the Chief Secretary, who immediately communicated with Captain Standish, Chief Commissioner of Police, with whom he consulted. The result of that consultation was the decision to at once dispatch a special train with police to Beechworth—just what the outlaws expected would be done—previous experience having proved that if they allowed the Kellys to get a good start all the police in the country would not be able to come up with them, or even track them to their retreat. The Minister for Railways was informed of the decision arrived at, and within a short time a special train was placed at the disposal of the now restless authorities, the object being to get the black-trackers, who, as the reader will remember, had been withdrawn from the Kelly country, preparatory to returning to Queensland, back to Benalla, in order that they might accompany Superintendent Hare and the men under him to Beechworth. Word was sent to that officer that the special would arrive at Benalla shortly after midnight, and having gathered a company of police from the different stations Hare was prepared to join the special immediately upon its arrival, or run with it in another special containing his men, horses, ammunition, etc., to Beechworth—which station they expected to reach about four o’clock in the morning (Monday)—when men and horses would be unshipped and a start at once made for Sherritt’s, where the black-trackers could pick up the tracks and follow the outlaws.
Before the special left the head station at Melbourne a party of five reporters connected with the city press had been told off for the journey in search of news. Owing to the engines being all cold when the call for the special was made, a start was not effected until a quarter past ten; but once started, no time was lost on the road. At Essendon Inspector O’Connor and his five black-trackers were picked up, together with two ladies—Mrs. O’Connor and her sister—who seized the opportunity as a favourable one for an exciting run to Beechworth. It proved more exciting than the ladies anticipated or desired.
Benalla was reached at half past one o’clock, a delay having taken place on the road by the special running through a closed gate near Craigieburn. Superintendent Hare was in waiting at the station with eight men and seventeen horses, and these having been “carriaged” for the hurried journey, a consultation was held as to the best mode of procedure—for rumours were already afloat that at some spot between that point and Beechworth the Kellys had been at work with dynamite, and had blown up portions of the line; and although all this appeared to be pure conjecture, both the railway officials and the police officers decided that every precaution should be taken to avoid falling into a trap. The moon was shining brightly at the time, and Superintendent Hare decided that one of the troopers should for the nonce be elevated to the position of advance guard; so arrangements were made for Constable Barry to be strapped to the brass rod which ran alongside the engine, and standing on the side-plate in front thus secured a constant lookout. But this plan was abandoned for a better one. A spare engine on the station was utilised as a pilot, and was sent on in advance, the arrangement being made that it should keep at a distance of about a hundred and fifty yards in front of the train. Inspector O’Connor, Superintendent Hare, and the two ladies occupied one compartment, the five reporters another, and the police and trackers a third; and after a little delay a start was made, the intention being not to pull up until Wangaratta was reached, a station about twenty-three miles from Benalla, fourteen miles from Glenrowan, and about fifty miles from Beechworth.
The special had not gone more than about twelve miles from Benalla, however, when the occupants, who were by this time settling down for the journey, were startled by a sudden stoppage. In a moment they were all on the alert, making anxious inquiries as to the cause of the interruption. A shrill whistle from the pilot engine and the exposure of danger signals had caused the driver of the special to bring the train to a sudden stand, and no sooner had this been done than Superintendent Hare seized his rifle, clambered down from the carriage, and proceeded towards the pilot engine, which was also stationary on the line. On the way he met the guard, who was returning with a story both strange and startling. He said that as he was driving along he saw a red light on the line; pulling up to ascertain what it was, a man who said he was a schoolmaster had rushed forward and told him that Glenrowan was in the possession of the Kelly gang, who had torn up the line just beyond the station for the purpose of destroying the special when it came along.
The man, he said, had refused to stop, and had disappeared into the forest as soon as he had delivered his sensational piece of information, saying that he must return to his wife, and could not even wait to see the superintendent. The news was soon imparted to the occupants of the special, who did not know how to accept it, as the man who had supplied it made off in a manner that was in itself suspicious. It was decided, however, to push on a little further, Glenrowan station being only about a mile distant, but to exercise the utmost care and keep even a more vigilant look-out. The five representatives of the press realised that they were on the border of sensational developments, and thinking that some stray bullets might find their way into their compartment if there was an engagement, they piled up the cushions of the carriage against the windows and extinguished the light. Calling three of his men, Superintendent Hare with them got on the pilot engine, and placed four other men on the engine of the special, both being coupled together, and half the men facing one side of the line and half the other side. In this way the train steamed slowly and almost noiselessly along, until they came to Glenrowan station, which they found in total darkness and without occupants.
Here again, however, I must make a break, in order that the remainder of Curnow’s story may be given. His wife and sister, it will be remembered, stoutly opposed his purpose of giving warning to the police at Benalla—fourteen miles distant—on account of the risk to both themselves and him; but his mind was set upon the task, and this is his version of how he accomplished it:—
While the discussion was going on, and supper was being got ready, I quietly prepared everything, including the red llama scarf, candles, and matches, to go to Benalla, intending to keep as close to the railway line as I could, in case of the special coming before I could reach there. I declared to my wife that I did not intend to go by the road—that I meant to keep as close to the line as possible, in order to be safer. At last my sister gave way, but my wife worked herself into such an excited and hysterical state that she declared that she would not leave the house—that if I would go she would stay there, and she, the baby, and my sister would be murdered. I wanted to take them to my mother-in-law’s farm, about one-third of a mile from my place, for safety while I was away. At length Mrs. Curnow consented to go to her mother’s to obtain advice, and we were momentarily expecting the promised visit from one of the gang. I left the doors unlocked, and wrote a note, leaving it on the table, stating that we had gone to Mrs. Mortimer’s to obtain medicine, as Mrs. Curnow was taken ill. My sister wore her red llama scarf at my request. When we got there Mrs. Curnow was exceedingly anxious to get home again, and would not stay there, and we went back. I succeeded in persuading Mrs. Curnow to go to bed, and my sister and I told her I had given up my project.
My sister engaged my wife’s attention while I went out to harness my horse to go, for I could not rest, and felt that I must perform what was clearly my duty. I heard the train coming in the distance as I was harnessing my horse, and I immediately caught up the candle, scarf, and matches, and ran down the line to meet the train. I ran on until I got to where I could see straight before me some distance along the line, and where those in the train would be able to see the danger-signal. I then lit the candle and held it behind the red scarf.
As the guard’s van got opposite me I caught sight of the guard, who shouted, “What’s the matter?” I yelled, “The Kellys!” and the pilot engine then stopped a little past me, and the guard got down. I told the guard of the line being torn up just beyond the station, and of the Kelly gang lying in wait at the station for the special train of police. He said a special train was behind him, and he would go to the station and then pull up. I cried, “No, no; don’t you do that, or you will get shot.” He then said he would go back and stop the special, which was coming on. He asked me who I was, and I told him I was the school-teacher there, and requested him not to divulge who it was that stopped and warned him, as I was doing it at the risk of my life. He promised to keep my name secret. He asked me to jump in the van, but I declined, as my wife and sister were without protection. The pilot engine whistled several times while I was talking to the guard.
The pilot went back, and I hastened home and found Mrs. Curnow had been almost insane while I was stopping the train, and had been made worse by the whistling of the pilot engine. She would not leave the house after I had stopped the train, and we blew out the lights to seem to be in bed. My sister hid the red scarf and my wet clothes, and we were going to deny that it was I who had stopped the train, if one of the outlaws came down to us.
THE CONFLICT AT THE HOTEL
As soon as the engine and special train had crept up to the station the order was given by the officer in charge, and the troopers, black-trackers, and pressmen silently but swiftly took up their positions on the platform; but not a soul was to be seen—a circumstance which served to satisfy the police that there must be something in the schoolmaster’s story. Observing a light in the stationmaster’s house, about a hundred yards from the platform, Superintendent Hare told the men to keep a sharp lookout while he went over; and reaching the house he knocked at the window. Mrs. Stanistreet opened the door, but for a time was too hysterical to answer the question as to the whereabouts of her husband. At length, however, she gave Hare to understand that he had been taken over to Jones’ hotel by Dan Kelly about ten minutes previously. Hare at once returned to the platform, and having told the men what Mrs. Stanistreet had said, he ordered the horses to be immediately taken from the train. But he had barely given the order when Constable Bracken rushed breathlessly up to the platform from the back and said that the bushrangers were over at the hotel, and unless the police went there immediately they would be gone, and further explaining that he had only just escaped from the hotel by a skilful piece of manoeuvring. Seizing their arms and ammunition, and leaving the horses where they were, the whole of the party ran forward in the direction of the hotel, which by the path they followed was some two hundred yards distant. Hare was leading, and the men following as best they could, when their forward movement received a sudden check. They were within twenty paces of the hotel, which was in darkness, when they were greeted with a volley, evidently fired from the verandah, full in their faces.
Only one of the bullets, however, found its billet, and that was in Hare’s left wrist, which it fairly shattered. It is not clear that the shot was intended for Hare, although it is natural that the outlaws from cover of the verandah should see the advantage of “winging” the leader; and, whether intended or not, it was very effectually done, for after returning the fire, in company with his men, Hare had to retire from the field to the station, where one of the pressmen bound up his wounded wrist and stopped the haemorrhage. The attacking party were at a great disadvantage, for while they could not see the outlaws, who were under the verandah or near it, they were in the open, and in clear view, the moon not having yet gone down. The shot that struck the Superintendent was fired by Ned Kelly from about a yard in front of the verandah, and having fired he stepped back under the verandah, calling out to the police as they discharged their pieces, “Fire away, you beggars, you can’t hurt us.” For some minutes there was a rapid and continuous exchange of shots, and it was evident that the outlaws were using repeating rifles and revolvers. Before leaving to have his wounded arm bound up Superintendent Hare ordered his men to cease firing and surround the house, not getting too near or needlessly exposing themselves, for he noticed that the outlaws had gone inside, and from the shrieks of women and the cries of children proceeding from the hotel the police concluded that innocent persons were being injured by the bullets, which were penetrating the weatherboard walls of the building. Shortly after this the wounded Superintendent, who was becoming weak through loss of blood, placed Inspector O’Connor in charge of the police, and started on the return journey to Benalla on one of the engines to obtain surgical aid and to send more police.
Further particulars of this unique conflict may be given in the words of the special reporter of the Melbourne “Age,” who was on the ground during the whole of the time.
A long and tedious interval followed, during which time Mr. Stanistreet, the station-master, suddenly left the hotel, where he had been kept prisoner with the other residents of Glenrowan. He walked boldly away, and had a narrow escape of being shot by the police, but he saved himself by proclaiming that he was the station-master. He reported that the gang were still in the house, and that the shots of the police had struck the daughter of Mrs. Jones, a girl fourteen years of age, on the head, whilst the son, a boy of nine years, was wounded on the hip. Very soon after this, painful, hysterical screams of terror were heard from Mrs. Jones and a Mrs. Reardon, both of whom were walking about the place, disregarding the danger to be feared from the volleys which the police, at short intervals, poured into the hotel. Mrs. Jones’ grief occasionally took the form of vindictiveness towards the police, whom she called murderers.
The police frequently called upon the women to come away, but they hesitated, and Mrs. Reardon and her son were afraid to accompany Mr. Stanistreet to the station. The poor woman was carrying a baby only a few months old in her arms, and she eventually ran to the station, where she received every kindness from the persons there assembled. She was then in a very terrified condition, and told the following story:— “My husband is a platelayer, employed on the railway, and we live about a mile from the station on the Benalla side. At three o’clock on Sunday morning we were all in bed. We were aroused by Ned Kelly, who knocked at the door and told my husband, when he opened it, to surrender. He advised us to dress, and I did so.
They had also made a prisoner of Sullivan, another platelayer, and Kelly brought us to the station, where I was kept for some hours. Kelly took my husband and Sullivan down the line in order to tear up the line and destroy the train with the police. He was afterwards taken to the hotel. There are a lot of innocent people in there now, and they are frightened to come out, for fear the police will kill them. Amongst those who are in there are—James and Michael Reardon, my husband and son; Catherine and William Reinson, John and Patrick Delaney (who are here coursing), W. S. Cooke (a labourer), Martin Cherry (a platelayer), John Larkins (a farmer), Edward Reynolds (the brother of the postmaster), Robert Gibbins, the brothers Meanliffe, and other strangers I do not know.
When the poor woman had completed her story, the firing of the police became very brisk, and it was replied to by the desperadoes in the hotel. Senior-constable Kelly at that juncture found a rifle stained with blood lying on the side of the hill, and this led to the supposition that one of the gang had been wounded, and had escaped through the forest towards Morgan’s Look-out. Just then nine police with Superintendent Sadlier and Dr. Hutchinson came from Benalla; and almost immediately after seven policemen under Sergeant Steele arrived from Wangaratta. The alarm had been given there by Trooper Bracken, who caught a horse and rode the ten miles in a surprisingly short space of time. The conduct of Bracken and the promptitude of the Wangaratta police is to be highly commended. Just before their arrival a heavy volley was poured into the hotel by the police.
According to the statement of some of the prisoners, afterwards made, that volley proved fatal to Joe Byrne, who was standing close to young Delaney drinking a nobbler of whisky at the bar, when he was shot in the groin. He was then carried to the back of the building, where he gradually sank and died a painful death. This fact was unknown to the police.
The morning broke beautiful and clear. The police were disposed all round the hotel, when they were beset by a danger in the rear. Ned Kelly was the cause. It appears that he was the man who shot Mr. Hare, and he himself was wounded in the arm by the fire that was returned. He could not without danger get into the hotel, so he sprang upon his horse, and during the excitement which followed he got away towards Morgan’s Look-out; but it was not the intention of the bold ruffian to desert his comrades, and he returned to fight his way to them. It was nearly eight o’clock when his tall figure was seen close behind the line of police. At first it was thought he was a blackfellow. He carried a grey coat over his arm, and walked coolly and slowly among the police. His head, chest, back, and sides were all protected with heavy plates of quarter-inch iron. When within easy distance of Senior-constable Kelly, who was watching him, he fired. The police then knew who he was, and Sergeant Steele, Senior-constable Kelly, and Mr. Dowsett (a railway guard) fired on the ruffian. The contest became one which, from its remarkable nature, almost baffles description. Nine police joined in the conflict and fired point-blank at Kelly; but although, in consequence of the way in which he staggered, it was apparent that many of the shots hit him, yet he always recovered himself, and, tapping his breast, laughed derisively at his opponents, as he coolly returned the fire, fighting only with a revolver. It appeared as if he was a fiend with a charmed life.
For half an hour this strange contest was carried on, and then Sergeant Steele rapidly closed in on him, and when within only about ten yards of him fired two shots into his legs, which brought the outlaw down. He was only wounded, and appeared still determined to carry on the desperate conflict, but Steele bravely rushed him and seized the hand in which he held his revolver, the only weapon with which he was armed. He fired one shot after this, but without effect. When on the ground he roared with savage ferocity, cursing the police vehemently. He was stripped of his armour, and then became quite submissive, and was borne to the railway station by Sergeant Steele, Constable Dwyer, and two representatives of the Melbourne press.
…At the railway station Kelly appeared to be very weak from loss of blood, and some brandy was given him. He was examined in the guard’s van by Dr. Nicholson and Dr. Hutchinson, who found that he was suffering from two bullet wounds in the left arm, a bullet in the right foot near the right toe, and two wounds in the right leg, those inflicted by Sergeant Steele.
The outlaw was quite composed, and in answer to inquiries he made the following statement:
“What I intended to do, and in fact was just about doing, was to go down with some of my mates and meet the special train, and rake it with shot. The train, however, came before I expected, and I had to return to the hotel. I thought the train would go on, and on that account I had the rails pulled up, so that these black-trackers might be settled. It does not much matter what brought me to Glenrowan. I do not know, or I do not say. It does not seem much any way. If I liked, I could have got away last night. I got into the bush with my grey mare, and laid there all night. I had a good chance, but I wanted to see the thing end. When the police fired the first round I got wounded in the foot. It was the left one. Shortly afterwards I was shot through the left arm. It was in the front of the house where I received these injuries. I don’t care what people say about Sergeant Kennedy’s death. I have made my statement as to it, and if they don’t believe me I can’t help it. At all events, I am satisfied Scanlan was not shot kneeling. That is not true, as he never got off his horse. At the commencement of the affair this morning I fired three or four shots from the front of Jones’ hotel, but I do not know who I was firing at. I only fired when I saw flashes. I then cleared for the bush, but remained there near the hotel all night. Two constables passed close by me talking, and I could have shot them before they had time to shout if I liked. I could have shot several constables at one time. I was a good distance away, but I came back again. I have got a charge of duck-shot in my leg. Why don’t the police use bullets instead of duck-shot? One of the policemen that was firing at me was a splendid shot; I don’t know his name. Perhaps I would have done better if I had cleared away on my grey mare. It was just like blows from a man’s fist receiving the bullets on my armour. I wanted to fire into the carriages, only the police started on us too quickly. I knew the police would come, and I expected them.”
The policeman whom Ned Kelly described as “a splendid shot,” was Constable James Arthur, and this is the account he gave of the encounter:—
I was one of the party of police which arrived at Glenrowan with the special train, and was just behind Superintendent Hare when he was shot; after that Hare asked Sergeant Kelly to place the men. He did so, and took me round to the north-western side of the hotel. We crawled under what shelter we could find. I paused behind a tree, about one hundred yards from the hotel. There was a bush close to the tree. I kneeled down to get a good look at the hotel, and in doing so I put my hand on a revolving rifle, which was covered with blood. A skull cap was close beside it. I was startled, and could not speak to draw attention.
Sergeant Kelly picked it up, and formed the opinion that one of the outlaws had passed that way just previously, and hearing a sort of ringing noise listened, but could not see or hear anything. I have no doubt Ned Kelly was near. He told me afterwards he was. He said he could have shot both me and Kelly. I moved from that place to a log within eighty yards of the house, into which I commenced to fire. Sergeant Kelly left me there, and a bullet from the hut tore up the ground underneath my stomach. I consequently determined to go to another part of the log. It was very cold, and I filled my pipe to have a smoke. Just at daybreak I was in the act of lighting my pipe, when I heard Ned Kelly coming behind me.
His extraordinary appearance so startled me that I let the pipe drop out of my mouth, and gazed at the strange object for a minute, not knowing but that it was a madman who had conceived the idea of storming the hotel with a nail-can on his head. I then said to him, “Go back you d— fool, you will get shot.” The figure replied, “I could shoot you sonny,” and at that moment fired his revolver at me, but missed. He evidently was crippled, and did not take proper aim. We were then only between twenty and thirty yards apart. I levelled my Martini rifle, and fired at his helmet, thinking I would knock it off. It only staggered him slightly. An opening in the helmet looked like a huge mouth, and I fired at that and hit him again. He still came on. I fired a third shot at his body, and heard it hum off him. I was completely astonished, and could not understand what the object I was firing at was.
The men around me appeared astonished too. Someone said, “He is a madman!” Dowsett, the railway guard, said, “He is the devil!” Sergeant Kelly exclaimed “Look out, boys, he is the bunyip!” At once I sought shelter, and tried to get round at the back. I did so because I found it was no use firing at him in front. Before I could succeed in doing so Sergeant Steele ran up from behind and shot him. When I shot at him first Sergeant Steele thought I had made a mistake, and called to me to stop firing. After he had been captured, Kelly shook his fist at me and swore.
Concerning the proceedings before and during the siege of the hotel, further particulars are obtained from a very succinct account given by Mr. Mortimer, Curnow’s brother-in-law. After describing how Constable Bracken was arrested by Ned Kelly, he says:—
Byrne was with Kelly, and Curnow asked Ned if he would allow him to go home with his wife. Kelly replied “Oh, yes, you may go home and have a sleep, but mind you don’t dream too loud.” Having given this warning to him, he was permitted to go home. I do not know how he heard that the line had been torn up, but suppose he heard it at the hotel, and after he obtained his liberty he determined to warn the train of the danger. Reynolds, Bracken, and myself were taken back to the hotel. We all then heard that the line had been torn up. The whole of the members of the gang were very jolly, and Ned told us that he had come there to settle the black-trackers, and that he would be on the spot when the train run over the culvert, and would shoot all who were not killed. We knew that we could do nothing, and therefore did not take any steps to warn those on the train of their danger. Every member of the gang was then sober. They showed us their armour, and seemed to think the police could do them no harm. At half-past two on Monday morning, Ned Kelly said something to the effect that he did not think the special train was coming, and I then asked him if we could go home. He said “yes,” and I thanked him.
We could all then have gone, with perhaps the exception of Bracken, but we foolishly stopped listening to the remarks of Kelly. Just then, Dan Kelly, who had been standing outside, rushed in and said “Ned, here comes the — train.” Our opportunity of escape was gone. Ned Kelly rushed out and commenced to examine his firearms. He spoke to one of the gang, and then left on horseback. Byrne locked the doors, and I believe that Bracken then succeeded in stealing the key. Ned Kelly returned in a few minutes, but remained outside. He asked some of the others to come out with him, but none of them did so. Just then we heard the train stopped at the station, and it became apparent that the gang expected that they would have to fight. Almost immediately the firing commenced, and we dropped on the floor. The bullets whizzed through the weatherboards in all directions. Our feelings at that time were indescribable. The poor women and children were screaming with terror, and every man in the house was saying his prayers.
Poor little Johnny Jones was shot almost at once, and I put my fingers in my ears so as not to hear his screams of agony, and the lamentations of his mother and Mrs. Reardon, who had a baby in her arms. We could do nothing, and the bullets continued to whistle through the building. I do not think the police were right in acting as they did. We were frightened of them, and not of the bushrangers. It was Joe Byrne who cursed and swore at the police. He seemed perfectly reckless of his life. But the three of them got into an inside room into which the bullets seldom penetrated. We frequently called to the police to stop firing, but we dared not go to the door, and I suppose they did not hear us. Miss Jones was slightly wounded by a bullet, and when Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Reardon with the children ran out, Reardon and his son attempted to follow, but as soon as the police saw the figures one of the men fired. Young Reardon was hit by a bullet in the shoulder, and he and his father ran back into the house. One of the men carried young Jones away, and succeeded in passing the police without being fired on. Dan Kelly told us that we had better remain in the house, because the police would shoot us if we attempted to leave. Someone said to him, “You had better go out and surrender,” and he replied, “We will never surrender, but most likely we will leave directly.” I think they intended to do so, but shortly after five o’clock in the morning, Byrne was shot. He had just walked into the bar, and was drinking a glass of whisky, when a ball struck him in the groin. I heard him fall, and saw the blood spurting from him. I think he died very soon. This seemed to dishearten Dan Kelly and Hart. They had been calling for Ned all night, and now renewed their calls for him.
We had not seen the leader of the gang since the firing commenced, and did not know where he had gone to. Dan and Hart went into the inside room, and I heard one say to the other, “What shall we do?” I did not hear the reply; but Reardon said he thought they intended to commit suicide. We prayed for daylight, thinking that we might then escape, but even when morning broke, we dared not venture out. It must have been at this time that poor Martin Sherry was shot. He was sitting on the floor of the kitchen at the time. There were two other men with him, but they were protected by bags of oats, behind which they were sitting. During the morning, Dan Kelly told them that Ned Kelly had been shot. After that one of our company held a white handkerchief out of the door, and we all ran out. Poor Sherry could not move, and he was left behind. He was a decent, honest man.
In answer to the remark of one of the police that he must have wanted to kill the people in the train, Kelly replied, “Yes, of course I did. God help them, they would have got shot all the same. Would they not have tried to kill me?” This account accurately describes what took place up to the capture of Ned Kelly, but Sergeant Steele, in the story told by him, enters more into detail. He says:—
I arrived from Wangaratta with five men about 5 a.m. (Monday). We were at once challenged by the police, and answered “Wangaratta police.” My men were then distributed around the hut, and I got to the tree near the back door of the hut (hotel). There was no firing then. A woman and child came to the back door screaming, and I told the woman if she ran in quick she would not be molested. A man then came to the door, and I told him to throw up his arms or I would fire on him. He was only about twenty-five yards distant. The man stooped and an towards the stable, and I fired. He then turned and ran back to the house, and I fired again. I am certain I hit him with the second shot, as he screamed and fell against the door. There was then some hot firing, and the bullets whistled all round me. The firing was kept up for some time, and some of the men behind me called out. It was then breaking day. I looked round and saw a man stalking down. I thought he was a blackfellow, and called on the others to be careful. I then saw him present a revolver and fire at the police. I could see the bullets hitting him and staggering him for a moment, with no further effect. I therefore thought he had armour on, and determined to have a close shot at him. I ran towards him, and when within ten yards of him he saw me and turned round to fire at me. I then fired at his legs and he staggered, but he still tried to aim at me. I then fired the second barrel on his legs. We were then in the open. He fell, and cried, “I’m done, I’m done.” I ran up to him then, and he again tried to shoot me, but I caught the revolver and pushed it down. I was behind him, and he could not turn on me quick enough to shoot me. Whilst I held the revolver away from me he fired the revolver. Senior-constable Kelly then came up and assisted me to secure him; so did O’Dwyer, and a host of others at once followed. We only found one revolver on him, and a bag of ammunition. We divested him of his armour. I was strained after the scuffle which ensued.
Senior-constable Kelly stated that he and Constable Arthur crawled towards the house during the earlier hours of the morning, and took a position behind a tree about fifty yards from the back door, where they kept watch and fired upon anyone they saw attempting to leave the hut. They saw four horses tied up at the back door ready saddled for use, and these they at once shot to prevent the escape of the outlaws. When Ned Kelly bore down upon them and began firing, the police at once gave all their attention to him, and at one time no less than ten rifles were pelting their bullets at his impenetrable breast. After he was captured the senior-constable asked him where the murdered Sergeant Kennedy’s watch was but he refused to say, declaring that he did not like to tell about it.
After his capture, the leader of the gang abandoned himself to the circumstances, and became very quiet, conversing with one and another of his captors in a calm matter-of-fact way. It was soon found that he was utterly disabled, having been shot in the left leg, left foot, and twice in the region of the groin, but no bullet had penetrated his armour, although it bore many indentations. Having had his wounds dressed by Doctor Nicholson, he was left at the station in charge of half-a-dozen constables, and there for once in his life went through the experience which the great men and mighty of the earth invariably have to undergo when visiting places where news-hunting reporters ply their calling—he was “interviewed.” Every word that fell from his lips was looked upon as precious, and was hurriedly transferred to notebooks, to be worked up into a connected story for the different newspapers, which would have lost some of their best reporters had his designs upon the special train succeeded. While the constables kept guard and the reporters scribbled over the captured outlaw’s couch, the officers returned to their positions near the hotel to superintend the attack upon the building, which was still proceeding, having learned from Ned Kelly that all his mates were still in the place with the crowd of men, women, and children whom they had taken there on the previous evening.
PROCEEDINGS WITHIN THE HOTEL
It is necessary at this stage that the reader should know something of what transpired in the hotel after Constable Bracken had been taken prisoner and, plucky Curnow had gone home with his women-folk; and I cannot do better than quote from the narrative given by one of the unfortunate prisoners who was compelled to share the dangers of injury or sudden death from the pelting bullets of the police during the long hours of the siege. Here is his story:
About half-past one or two o’clock on Monday morning, the word went round that the Kellys were going to clear out, they having got sick of waiting for the train; at the same time they thought that perhaps the police had got word of their being there, and were going to surprise them from a different direction. The announcement that they were going away was received on all sides with evident satisfaction, as despite the rather novel experience, and the fun that we were most undoubtedly having, many, in fact, I may say all, were longing for a good sound sleep and a rest. Upon making enquiries from Ned Kelly as to whether the report was true or not, he said, “Yes, my boy” (he always addressed me familiarly), “we are off directly, and when we are gone you can clear out as soon as you like.” I felt this rather comforting at any rate, and made arrangements to go home at once. When all was in readiness to go, and all waiting for them to clear out, Ned Kelly came out of the room where they had stacked all their accoutrements, and called out, “Everybody come into the dining-room; I have something to say, and want everybody to hear it.” We all crushed in after him, wondering what it might be that he was going to say. After a few preliminaries, such as mounting a chair and getting off again, he proceeded:
“First, I wish to tell you all that if I should hear of any one of you present here to-night telling the police of any of our doings or sayings, or showing the way we left, or in fact telling anything whatever about us, I shall make it my duty to visit them some day and have a settling with them, and I can promise you that it will not be such a settling as I had this day with young Delaney there. I let him off, but, by God, I’ll not let any more off the same way; so you know what to expect from me if any of you should let out any of our plans that you have heard here. I am not a bit afraid of the police, and know that if they alone hunted me I would never be taken; but what I am really afraid of is those Queensland black-trackers; those boys I honestly fear, for I know what they can do; they can track me over bare stones. and a white man stands no chance with them at all; it was mainly to kill those —— that I tore up those rails down there, and in fact what brought me here. I knew very well that when they heard that we were down at Beechworth, they would pack those incarnate devils after us, and I was prepared to meet them, but only half way; I can’t make out what has delayed that train, and think they must have taken a different route. but again I don’t see how they are to get there, especially as they are not accustomed to the country. No. I think they have got information of our being here, and are leaving it till they are positive. Well, anyhow, let them come when they like; we are ready for them even now. I suppose some of you people would like to know what I have been doing lately, and how I have managed to escape capture so long. Well, I don’t mind telling you a little. It can’t do any harm, and it will pass away a few minutes.
A lot of people imagine that after robbing the Euroa bank, and before sticking up the Jerilderie, that we were out of funds, and had to stick up the Jerilderie bank to supply ourselves. Nothing of the sort. I had no more intention of robbing the Jerilderie bank a fortnight before than I have now of flying. What brought us to Jerilderie was this. I was after that infernal scoundrel Sullivan that turned Queen’s evidence in New Zealand. I heard that he came up the north-eastern, and was told of his being at Rutherglen. I followed him there, but he was too quick for me, and had gone on to Uralla. Up to Uralla we went, and found that he had gone to Wagga, and there we lost sight of him. We thought he had gone up Hay way from there, and consequently made for there, but abandoned the chase. And when coming home through Jerilderie it struck us to stick up the bank, which we did, as you all know. I don’t know how much money we took away from either Jerilderie or Euroa, but a considerable deal more than they said in the papers. Anyhow, we lost sight of Sullivan, and I would sooner have met him than have robbed a dozen banks. I consider him to be one of the greatest villains unhung, and moreover the first time I come across him the Lord pity him. I won’t shoot the hound—it is too good for such as he—but I will hang, draw, and quarter him—kill him by inches. I have not given him up yet, and will hunt the —— till I die. I will give £500 to the man who tells me where he is. I don’t want to have him brought to me, only to be told where he is. I would follow him to England if I knew he was there. After coming down from Jerilderie I took a trip to Melbourne and bought some firearms—these revolvers and some Winchester rifles, besides as much ammunition as we wanted—”
Kelly’s narrative was broken off rather short, as at this moment the shrill whistle of a train was distinctly heard a short distance from where we were. “By God!” exclaimed Kelly, “that b— Curnow has deceived us!” and at once jumping down from his seat he hurried outside, and there mounting his horse he rode down to where the train was stopped, returning in a few minutes. He said, “Yes, Curnow has stopped the train and told the police, and they are now coming up here, so we must be ready. “Dan,” addressing his brother, “you keep your eye on these folk whilst we get ready, and then you can fix yourself up afterwards.”
So saying, he led the others into their arsenal—if you can call it such—and there they immediately put their armour on, and generally got themselves in readiness for the fray. We could hear the knocking of the armour and the smothered curses when a thing would not fit to their satisfaction. In a comparatively short space of time they emerged from the room clad in their sombre armour. This was the first time that I had seen the men in their “full dress,” and the thought inwardly struck me that the police would stand a very poor show indeed when opposed to these desperate men, clad as they were in what seemed complete armour.
Whilst Dan Kelly was “doing his toilet” Ned gave us a bit of advice—viz., he ordered all the lights to be put out, the fire to be extinguished, and generally to make the place look as natural as possible; and he also told us that there would be some heavy firing, and the best thing we could do was to lie down as close to the floor as possible, and on no account try to escape, as by so doing we ran the double risk of being taken for one of the gang by the police, and for one of the police by some of the gang.
We heard the train slowly steam into the station, the officers giving orders, and the noise made by the horses getting out of the trucks, and then we could distinctly hear the police walk down the line to Mr. Stanistreet’s house and ask some questions. Mrs. Stanistreet immediately told them that the Kellys were up in Jones’ hotel, and had half the town with them, and then closed the door in their faces.
The excitement now waxed intense as we heard the police outside, in front of the hotel. After a delay of a few moments, one of the police called out to the Kellys—who were by this time arranged in a row on the verandah—to surrender in the Queen’s name. “Surrender, be d—!” they called out, rattling the points of their revolvers on their iron breasts, “you can shoot at us for six months and never hurt us.”
The firing now began, but whether it was the police who began first or the Kellys I am not quite sure, as they seemed to begin together. Almost as soon as the firing began, we heard one of the Kellys exclaim, “My God, I’m shot.” It turned out to be Ned, who was shot both in the elbow and in the foot; but the firing did not seem to abate at all, both sides keeping up a brisk cannonade, meanwhile all us poor unfortunates lying down full on our faces and expecting every minute to be the last, when the firing abated, which it did at intervals. At this time Constable Bracken effected his escape from the house and found the police, and it was well that he did so, as both Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne came in immediately after and made repeated inquiries as to where he was. Their object was, no doubt, to shoot him, as they both seemed to be in a terrible rage when they were convinced that he had escaped. I made an attempt to get away, thinking, and no doubt rightly, that it was a little safer a bit farther away, when I was met at the door by Joe Byrne, who asked me where I was going.
I told him that I wanted to get away from the house. “Well,” he said, “you can go if you like, but if you take my advice you will stop where you are; the place is surrounded with police, and ten to one they will take you for one of us and shoot you. Stop inside and you will be all right.” Accordingly I went back again, though rather reluctantly, and had scarcely got inside when the firing began. Creeping on my hands and knees, I joined the others, and laid very low—very low indeed. There were about thirty or thirty-five in the room, not one of whom ever expected to get out alive. The position I occupied was just inside the parlour door against a couch, and in a good position should any chance arise of getting out. The bulk of those in the room were praying, and some few were sleeping, especially the young fellow who went asleep almost as soon as the firing commenced, and did not awaken till we were all leaving the place. However, again some of the more daring of those present got up and had a look outside, but only to be frightened back again by the shots which were being fired continually into the house by the police outside.
Young Reardon, who was lying next to me, feeling rather stiff from lying so long in one position, got up to turn round, and while doing so received a shot in his shoulder; he fell back moaning that he was killed, and calling on his father to come and see where the wound was. With the aid of a few matches we examined the wound; it seemed to be a revolver bullet that had struck him, the hole being a very small one. Of course we could do nothing for the poor fellow, and consequently he had to endure the pain. Almost immediately after young Reardon was shot, Mrs. Jones came running frantically into the room, crying and exclaiming that her son Jack was shot and was dying. She asked if there was a man in the room who would help her to carry him to bed. For a time nobody seemed to be anxious to run the risk of being shot to carry the boy to his bed. When Martin Cherry (who was afterwards shot dead himself) said to me, “Come on, lad, we’ll carry him in.” Accordingly Martin and myself followed Mrs. Jones to where her boy was, and taking him up we carried him to the back part of the house and laid him on the bed.
The wound was a frightful one, and even to our unpractised eyes it was easily seen that he could not long survive it; the bullet went in his left hip, and travelling in an upward direction came out in his right side through the ribs. After doing all we could for the poor lad, we again retired to our place of safety—if it could be called such. The firing now seemed to be more intense; as a matter of fact more police had in the meantime come to the scene of action, and of course every new arrival, as soon as he got into position, fired as many shots as he possibly could into the unfortunate building, with the hope of killing the bushrangers; one of the shots struck the clock on the mantelpiece and started it striking. It struck, I suppose, about forty before I began to count them, and then I counted sixty odd, when another shot shattered it and laid the fragments on the floor. I am not at all superstitious as a rule, but this I will say, that I looked upon that clock striking as a sort of a death knell. One of those in the room, thinking the fire-place a safe retreat, accordingly got up it, but upon seeing one of the bricks displaced by a Martini-Henry bullet, changed his mind, and once more joined the crowd upon the floor.
There were numerous suggestions from different people in the room as to a means of escape, some suggesting that we should all make a rush to the door, and, holding up our hands, call out to the police for protection. This seemed to savour of too much danger to the majority, and was abandoned. One daring individual suggested that we should borrow some arms from the Kellys and retaliate on the police. This again did not meet with much favour; and I question very much if the individual referred to was game enough to attempt it, should anyone be ready to join him. I forget the time exactly, but think it was about six o’clock in the morning, that Joe Byrne came into the room and asked how we were getting on. Several appealed to him to get them away, but he said, “Stop where you are; you are a great deal better off than we are.” He then went into the bar for the purpose, I think, of having a drink. Almost immediately I heard a dull thud, and turning around saw him lying at full length on the floor. He was the first of the gang to fall. The wound he received must have proved fatal in a few minutes after receiving it. He was lying about four feet from where I was situated, and his presence there did not in any way tend to re-assure me as to our own individual safety.
About an hour after Byrne paid the penalty of his crimes, someone in the room heard the police calling out to us, and on listening attentively we heard someone outside calling out that all civilians would be allowed ten minutes to get out. When it was explained to everybody that we were allowed a time to get away, some of them were so much terrified that they would not agree to it, saying that we were almost sure to be killed if we attempted to leave the place.
“Well,” I said, “We may as well be shot outside as in, and I for one am going,” and so saying I got up, and rushing to the door, which I opened, made at once for a covered spot which I knew of in front of the hotel. The example being set, the rest soon followed, and on making their appearance were called upon by the police to hold up their hands, and when they had got a short distance away from the hotel they were told to lie down on the ground and hold up their hands. In the meantime I had separated from the rest, and continuing my run, jumped into the drain inside the railway enclosure. As it happened I had jumped fairly into the midst of Inspector O’Connor’s detachment of black-trackers, who, immediately on seeing me, closed around and, presenting their revolvers to my head, called upon me to surrender. I explained, as well as I could under the circumstances, that I was not a bushranger, and seeing O’Connor, appealed to him. He released me from his men, and, instead of letting me go to some place of safety, made me go back the way I had come and join the rest, who by this time were lying on the ground, and being examined by the police. Accordingly I passed in front of the hotel again, and joined my comrades.
We were examined one by one by the police, and then allowed to take our own course. Naturally I made for the railway station, where there seemed to be a crowd, and was at once seized upon by reporters, who wanted to know what had passed inside. After satisfying these, I asked for something to eat, as it must be remembered that we had fasted for nearly twenty-four hours. The police were pretty well provided in the line of refreshments, and after satisfying the inner man I went round to the back part of the station buildings to see Ned Kelly, whom I had heard was captured before we had got out of the house. Coming into the room I saw him lying on his back on a stretcher, guarded by about six troopers. He seemed to be covered with blood, and looked very downhearted. I stood looking at him for a time, and was about to turn away, when he turned round and, looking me full in the face, said, “Well, I’m done for now, old man; my race is run,” and, falling back, seemed to go in a sort of faint. I left the room there, and, mingling with the crowd, waited the advent of further excitement. We had not to wait long, as the police, directly all the civilians had left the premises, commenced firing from all points into the hotel, with the hope of shooting the two surviving bushrangers. Byrne they knew was dead, for we told them that after getting out. Some idea of the amount of shooting that now took place may be gained when you consider that about forty-five or fifty police, each armed with a breech-loading rifle, were firing as quickly as they could into all parts of the house. Whilst the civilians were in the hotel the police had orders to fire high, but now the order was to fire where you liked, and there is no mistake about it they did fire where they liked. For a short time a few answering shots were heard from the building, but these soon relapsed, and for a long time before the place was set on fire no shots were heard from the inside.
The prisoners of the outlaws must have spent a terrible time in the hotel during the firing, and the marvel is that they were not, everyone of them, riddled by the bullets that poured through the windows and boarded walls of the place. It was a terrible risk they ran, and not a little obloquy was cast upon the police for what many persons considered reckless firing—endangering the lives of thirty persons in order to shoot three. For some of their subsequent proceedings also the police were soundly rated by the Melbourne press, as they were considered both injudicious and unnecessary.
HOW HART AND DAN KELLY FELL
Up to this point two of the outlaws have been accounted for—Ned Kelly lying bound at the railway station, and Byrne lying dead in the hotel. During the morning, and before the terror-stricken men and women had escaped from the hotel, more police arrived from the districts surrounding, most of the residents of the district living within sound of the firing having also gathered at the spot to witness the extraordinary conflict. Amongst these were not a few of the outlaws’ relatives and friends including one notorious sympathiser named Wild Wright, and one of the sisters of the Kellys—Mrs. Skillian, who was dressed in a dark riding habit trimmed with scarlet, and wearing a jaunty hat adorned with a conspicuous white feather.
Amongst those who left the hotel were two youths named McAuliffe, and when the police were examining the small crowd one by one, preparatory to giving them permission to leave, these two were taken into custody on suspicion of being Kelly sympathisers. They were handcuffed and sent up to the railway station for safe keeping. Young Reardon, who was severely wounded in the shoulder while in the hotel by a bullet fired from one of the rifles in the hands of the attacking party, was also sent up to the station for treatment by the doctors there.
Meanwhile a close watch was being kept upon the hotel, as it was feared that the two outlaws who were still alive might make a rush and get away; and a constant fire was kept up by the police, some of whom took up sheltered positions quite close to the building. For a time the fire was returned by the outlaws, but shortly after midday that firing ceased, and the attacking party thought that the outlaws had decided to keep quiet until darkness set in and then endeavour to make their escape. How to bring matters to a climax appeared to be a problem which the officers in command of the police had some difficulty in solving. They were afraid to rush the place, having good reason to believe that lives would be sacrificed in the assault, and to continue firing as they had been was simply a waste of ammunition. At last an inspiration came to the authorities in Melbourne, and they decided to make use of heavier metal than ordinary rifle bullets. They would blow the house down, using one of the heavy pieces of ordinance in Melbourne for that purpose. Accordingly a third special was started from Melbourne for Glenrowan, having on board a detachment of artillery under Colonel Anderson, and a 12-pounder field-piece and ammunition sufficient to blow a hole through the wall of a fortified city.
Further than this, the Colonial Secretary also advised by telegram that a wooden bullet-proof shield should be constructed to be fitted on a dray or waggon, under cover of which the attacking party might approach sufficiently near the building to ensure its destruction by the broadside that should be poured into it. And still further did the Chief Secretary go, so determined was he to do the thing effectually. Fearing that darkness might set in before the cannon could be brought to bear upon the wooden tenement, he communicated with Mr. Ellery, Government Astronomer of the colony, asking his advice as to the practicability of sending to the seat of war an electric-light apparatus to preserve the continuity of the besiegers’ work; but that gentleman discountenanced the project, explaining that even if the apparatus were placed on the ground it would take quite twenty-four hours to get into fair working order. Then Mr. Ramsay fell back upon a more primitive method, and by wire suggested to the men in command on the ground that huge bonfires should be lighted round the hotel when night set in, the light from which would serve a double purpose—preventing the escape of the outlaws and showing clearly to the gunner the object at which he should aim. It is creditable to the great mind that could plan the details of a destructive attack so cleverly that he could think of the possibility of other lives being sacrificed in the blowing-down process, and issue orders that before shooting the destructive bolt care should be taken to ascertain that the only occupants of the building were members of the gang.
But as it turned out, none of these carefully planned and elaborately offensive movements were needed. Before the 12-pounder had reached Benalla the Glenrowan citadel had been effectually stormed, and the uncaptured outlaws—or all that remained of them—were in the hands of the police. How the storming was accomplished may be briefly told.
While the instruments in the telegraph offices were clicking out their messages to and from headquarters, the officers in charge of the attacking party had decided upon a plan of their own for dislodging the outlaws. They would set fire to the building and burn it over the outlaws’ heads, so that they would either have to run from their shelter and be shot or captured, or remain under the roof and be roasted. They remained and were roasted.
There were about two hundred people at the railway station when this plan was conceived, some of them having been passengers by the ordinary midday through train from Melbourne, who had elected to make a break in the journey at Glenrowan when they discovered the startling developments that were there taking place. Amongst these arrivals was Rev. M. Gibney, Roman Catholic priest, of Perth, West Australia, who had been travelling through Victoria. Having heard on the road that the Kelly gang were at Glenrowan and that a desperate fight was going on between the outlaws and the police, he left the train when it reached the station, thinking that he might be of use in his clerical capacity. When he learned that Ned Kelly was at the station dangerously wounded, he proceeded at once to the room where the outlaw was lying and spoke to him in private. He says he found the wounded man very penitent, and when he asked him to say “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me,” he repeated the words most reverently and added “It is not today I began to say that.” Believing him at the time to be in a dying state, Father Gibney heard his confession and then anointed him; after which he proceeded to watch the storming party at work. He was with the police when Mrs. Skillian arrived on the scene, and he earnestly requested her to go to the hotel and persuade her brother and Hart to surrender; but she replied that although she would like to see her brother before he died, she would sooner see him burned in the house than ask him to surrender. Shortly after this the police made arrangements for burning down the hotel.
Senior-constable Johnson, having been authorised by Superintendent Sadlier to fire the house, visited one of the houses near and obtained a bundle of straw and a bottle of kerosene. He then pretended to the people about the railway station that he was going to feed the horses in the railway paddock. He accordingly went down in that direction, entered the bush, and made a detour round to the other side or end of the hotel. In his peregrination, and when passing round the other side of the rise beyond the hotel, he came across four men fully armed with guns and revolvers. He recognised none of them. Certainly they were not policemen, and the conclusion arrived at was that they were sympathisers waiting for an opportunity to assist the gang. Johnson saw at once that they were not friends, so he put the evasive question to them “Did you see two horses (a grey and a brown) pass here recently?” They replied in a surly manner that they had not, and he passed on down to the hotel. Rapidly approaching the building he placed the straw against the weatherboards, threw on the kerosene, and applied a lighted match, his companions meanwhile keeping up a heavy fire upon the place from the front and rear, in order to divert the attention of the outlaws from Johnson’s proceedings.
The fire speedily gained a hold upon the building, and in a very short time the flames were playing right up to the roof. But still the outlaws made no sign, and the police and spectators began to ask each other wonderingly: “Are they dead? or, have they escaped? or, do they mean to stay there till they’re roasted?” And at this moment a startling cry was raised—”Old Martin Cherry is still in the house!” Such was the case. In the rush from the hotel none of the other prisoners had given a thought to him in their anxiety to escape; and after that no opportunity had presented itself for him to leave the hotel, even if he had been able, for during the firing earlier in the day he had been badly wounded. The reader may imagine the feeling of horror that ran through the crowd at the thought that the helpless old man must die in the flames with the outlaws whose death the police were bent on compassing.
As the fire rapidly spread, and it was seen that the whole building would soon be enveloped in flames, the excitement among the crowd increased. Kate Kelly now came upon the scene and joined her sister, wailing in accents of deepest grief, “Oh, my poor, poor brother!” Then Mrs. Skillian rushed forward, declaring that she would see Dan before he died, and was rapidly making her way to the burning building when the police ordered her back. And at this juncture Father Gibney stepped forward and expressed his determination of saving Cherry if the old man was still alive. Holding the crucifix aloft, and amid the cheers of the crowd, the brave priest walked rapidly up to the door of the burning building, and was soon lost to view amidst the dense smoke. A moment later the whole structure appeared to burst into a blaze, masses of flame rushing out from the sides and the roof simultaneously. A shout of horror went up from the crowd, and a simultaneous movement was made towards the burning pile. Several policemen and others ran to the rear of the house, and rushed into the building through the back door; and shortly afterwards they emerged with Father Gibney in their midst, bearing in their arms the old man Cherry, who was in a dying condition, and the body of Joe Byrne.
By this time very little doubt remained concerning the fate of Dan Kelly and Hart. That portion of the hotel in which they were was burning most fiercely, and it was concluded that they must be dead. The fact was made plain when some of the rescue party affirmed that they had seen the forms of the two outlaws prostrate in the burning room, but had not been able to get to them. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to stand and wait until the fire had burnt itself out. Then a sickening sight presented itself. From the smouldering embers were raked out the two charred skeletons of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. How they had died could not be ascertained, and the spectators were left to conjecture whether they had been shot down by the police during one of the heavy fusilades or been suffocated by the smoke and heat, or whether each had shot the other or himself. The mystery has not been and never in this world will be cleared up. The bodies presented a horrible spectacle—nothing but the trunk and skull being left, and these almost burnt to a cinder. Their armour was found lying by their side, and although there was nothing about the remains to lead to their identification, the presence of the armour and other circumstances rendered doubt as to the identity of the dead men impossible. And the fact of the armour having been removed before death lends colour to the supposition that in their last spirit of desperation they took off the iron, so as to allow their own shots to take effect.
As to Byrne’s body, it was found in the entrance to the bar-room, which was on the east side of the house, and there was time to remove it from the building, but not before the right side was slightly scorched. The body likewise presented a dreadful appearance. It looked as if it had been ill-nourished. The thin face was black with smoke, and the arms were bent at right angles at the elbows, the stiffened joints below the elbows standing erect. The body was quite stiff, and its appearance and the position in which it was found, corroborated the statement that Byrne died early in the morning. He had a ring on his right hand, which had belonged to Constable Scanlan, who was murdered by the gang in the Wombat Ranges. The body was dressed in a blue sac coat, tweed striped trousers, crimean shirt, and very ill-fitting boots. Like Ned Kelly, Byrne wore a bushy beard.
Poor old Cherry, who had been too severely wounded to leave the house when the others did, was found by Father Gibney in an outer room at the rear of the building, and was dying when carried out. He was promptly removed to a short distance from the burning hotel, and laid on the ground, when Father Gibney administered to him the last sacrament. Cherry was insensible, and barely alive. He had evidently suffered much during the day, and death released him. He was born at Limerick, Ireland, and was sixty years old; was unmarried, was an old resident in the district, and was employed as a plate-layer, and resided about a mile from Glenrowan.
While the house was burning, some explosions were heard inside. These were alarming at first, but it was soon ascertained that they were cartridges bursting, and no damage was done by them. All that was left standing of the hotel were two brick chimneys, the lamp post, and the signboard, and these served for many days afterwards as forcible reminders to every traveller on the railway that the place they were passing had been the scene of a conflict unique in the history of Australia. The black ashes were covered in part by the sheets of corrugated iron that had formed the roof. The iron was pierced by innumerable bullet and slug holes, and on the chimneys also were a number of bullet marks, showing how fierce and constant the firing of the attacking party had been. The wrecks of two iron bedsteads, a sewing machine, and a few tin cans, some of which bore shot marks, were the only recognisable objects in the debris.
After the house had been burned, Ned Kelly’s three sisters and Tom Wright were allowed an interview with him at the station. Tom Wright, as well as the sisters, kissed the wounded man, and a brief conversation ensued, Ned Kelly having to a certain extent recovered from the exhaustion consequent on his wounds; at times his eyes were quite bright, and, although he was of course excessively weak, his remarkably powerful physique enabled him to talk rather freely. During the interview he stated:
“I was at last surrounded by the police, and only had a revolver, with which I fired four shots; but it was no good. I had half a mind to shoot myself. I loaded my rifle, but could not hold it after I was wounded. I had plenty of ammunition, but it was no good to me. I got shot in the arm, and told Byrne and Dan so. I could have got off, but when I saw them all pounding away I told Dan I would see it over and wait until morning.”
“What on earth induced you to go to the hotel?” inquired a spectator.
“We could not do it anywhere else,” replied Kelly, eyeing the spectators, who were strangers to him, suspiciously. “I would,” he continued, “have fought them in the train, or else upset it, if I had the chance. I did not care a — who was in it, but I knew on Sunday morning there would be no usual passengers. I first tackled the line, and could not pull it up, and then came to Glenrowan Station.”
“Since the Jerilderie affair,” remarked a spectator, “we thought you had gone to Queensland.”
“It would not do for everyone to think the same 374way,” was Kelly’s reply. “If I were once right again,” he continued, “I would go to the barracks and shoot everyone of the — traps, and not give one a chance.”
Mrs. Skillian to her brother: “It’s a wonder you did not keep behind a tree?”
Ned Kelly: “I had a chance at several policemen during the night, but declined to fire. My arm was broken the first fire. I got away into the bush and found my mare, and could have rushed away to beggary, but wanted to see the thing out, and remained in the bush.”
A sad scene ensued when Wild Wright led Mrs. Skillian to the horrible object which was all that remained of her brother Dan. She bent over it, raised a dirge-like cry, and wept bitterly. Dick Hart applied for the body of his brother, but was told he could not have it until after the postmortem examination.
Subsequently the charred remains of the two outlaws were taken to MacDonnell’s hotel, and here Dick Hart, the brother of Steve, openly dared the police (who were not present) to interfere in any way with the funerals, declaring that if they wanted the bodies back they would have to fight for them. Later on they were removed to Mrs. Skillian’s hut at Greta, and their arrival caused great excitement in the town among the numerous friends and relatives of the Kelly family residing in the locality. They were laid out on a table in the hut, which was soon crowded. So great was the rush that Mrs. Skillian lost her temper, and, seizing a gun, hustled the crowd out, and then allowed them to view the remains in couples. Many of the male sympathisers were armed, and, whilst in a drunken state, professed to be anxious for a brush with the police.
One of the relatives of the Kellys held up his hand over the remains and swore to Kate Kelly that he would be revenged for the slaughter of the gang. His name was subsequently given to the police. Lest any disturbance should take place in the district whilst the sympathisers were in this state of intoxication and excitement, Senior-constable Kelly and four troopers were sent on again to Glenrowan, and remained there some time; but beyond a little bluster, nothing occurred to warrant direct interference. The police were quite satisfied with what had been done in the direction of breaking up the gang; and having killed three of the principals and secured the fourth, ready for the hangman’s rope if he should recover from his wounds, they were disposed to pass over much that the gang’s sympathisers might say and do. No inquest was held upon these bodies, the police considering that it was wiser not to interfere until the excitement had cooled down.
An inquest was held upon Byrne’s body, but the proceedings were conducted so quietly that no one knew of the affair until it was over, and there were only two or three persons in the court house, where the inquiry was held. The inquiry was of a purely formal character, and a verdict of justifiable homicide was returned.
Old Cherry’s body was interred quietly at Benalla on the following Tuesday, as also was Byrne’s body, the police undertaking the interment of the latter, much against the wish of Byrne’s friends, who applied for the remains to be handed over to them, but met with a refusal, the reason of which was not clearly stated. During the forenoon the body of Byrne was brought out of the lock-up, where it lay, and slung up in an erect position on the outside of the door, the object being to have it photographed by an enterprising artist from Melbourne. The features were composed in a natural way, and were easily recognised. The face was small, with retreating forehead, blue eyes, the upper lip covered with a downy moustache, and a bushy beard covering his chin, whilst his hair had been recently cut. His figure was that of a tall, lithe young fellow. The spectacle, however, was very repulsive. The hands were clenched and covered with blood, whilst blood also covered his clothes. The police soon had the body removed from the public gaze. The officers, policemen, trackers, and civilians who were there at the barracks, and who were present at the encounter, were also photographed in a group.
During the day Detective Ward proceeded to Glenrowan, and on making some inquiries, discovered five of the horses of the gang stabled at Macdonnell’s Railway Hotel, which stood on the east side or the line opposite the scene of the fight. They had evidently been fasting ever since they had been stabled there, which of course was on the arrival of the gang two days before. Why Mr. Macdonnell did not give voluntary information to the police concerning the horses was not explained. The horses were all brought to Benalla, and two of them were identified as having been stolen within the previous fortnight from Mr. Ryan’s farm on the Major Plains. One of the two was ridden by Joe Byrne when he committed the murder of Sherritt, at the Woolshed, near Beechworth, on the Saturday. A third was recognised as a pack-horse belonging to Mr. Fitzsimmons, of Benalla, and was stolen from his farm, near Greta, about twelve days before. Ned Kelly’s grey mare was also caught, and brought on to Benalla. On one of the horses was found one of the Government saddles taken from the police horses on the occasion of the Mansfield murders. It may be here mentioned that the gang brought the pack-horses with them for the purpose of carrying their armour.
All the members of the gang were comfortably clad and wore boots which were evidently made to order. Ned Kelly had riding-boots, which showed well how he prided himself on having neat feet. When the doctor was dressing his wounds the boots had to be cut off, and it was found that he wore no socks. The gang all had the appearance of being well fed, and Byrne stated to one of their prisoners that they had always lived well, but that the want of sleep, which they had often to endure, was very trying.
NED KELLY'S TRIAL AND CONVICTION
Wounded so badly as he was, most of those who saw Ned Kelly concluded that he would not live to go to trial; but he was a man of remarkably strong physique, and by skilful nursing his health was again built up, in order that the law might have its full exercise in his formal trial, conviction, and execution.
On the evening of his capture he was carefully removed to Benalla, where the authorities had better means of guarding him and attending to his wants; and as it was thought desirable to get him away as quickly as possible from the locality where relatives and sympathisers abounded, lest those friends and sympathisers might make an attempt to rescue him from the police, arrangements were made to remove him to Melbourne without delay. On the Tuesday morning, June 29, therefore, at about eight o’clock, a spring cart emerged from the local police barracks and was driven down the street at a slow pace. It was accompanied by eight armed policemen on foot, and the curiosity of the townspeople was naturally excited as to what the vehicle contained. A peep over the side showed that inside, on a stretcher; lay the wounded outlaw. The police were conveying him to the railway station, and were all fully armed.
On the arrival of the train, Kelly was carried carefully to the guard’s van, and laid on the floor. Miss Lloyd, cousin of the outlaw, was the only relative present, and as the train left she cried without restraint. It was understood that he was to be conveyed to the hospital of the Melbourne Gaol. Just before Ned Kelly was taken away from Benalla, Senior-constable Kelly had a short interview with him, in his cell. The Senior-constable said, “Look here, Ned, now that it is all over, I want to ask you one question before you go, and that is—Did you shoot Constable Fitzpatrick, at Greta, when he went to arrest your brother?” The prisoner replied, “Yes, I did; I shot him in the wrist, and the statements which have been made that Fitzpatrick inflicted the wound himself are quite false.” This, it will be seen, bore out the statements made by Fitzpatrick, and subsequently by Kelly’s sister. It will be remembered that the shooting of Fitzpatrick was the original cause of Ned and Dan Kelly taking to the bush. The senior-constable also talked with the outlaw about the police murders. He told him that Mrs. Kennedy had telegraphed to know whether he had got a letter for her from her murdered husband. Ned Kelly replied that he had got no letter from Sergeant Kennedy, and that Kennedy never uttered a word after he was brought down, except “God forgive you.” “I shot him,” continued the outlaw. “He kept firing all the time, running from tree to tree, and tried to kill Byrne until his ammunition was done.”
After an affecting parting with his sisters at Benalla, Kelly left by the ordinary train for Melbourne. On the journey to Melbourne he maintained a very reticent and sullen demeanour, answering any questions which were put to him very gruffly. At each station on the road there was a great rush of people anxious to obtain a glimpse of him, and on being asked by Senior-constable Walsh if he had any objection to their crowding round the van and looking in, he replied that he had none. He seemed much refreshed by his sleep on the previous night. Dr. Ryan was very attentive, and many times during the journey attended to his wounds and administered stimulants to him. As soon as it became known that the notorious outlaw would arrive by the ordinary train from Benalla, a crowd gathered; but the police cleared the platform and yards, and the people congregated in the street, climbing on all stationary vehicles and to the windows of the houses opposite the station, in the hope of being able to obtain a good view of what was expected to occur. They were all disappointed, however, for it had been decided previously that he should not be taken from the train at that place. About fifty persons only had gathered at the North Melbourne station, and at two o’clock the ordinary train from the north-east steamed in. There were two brake-vans attached to it, the wounded outlaw being in the last one, lying on a pile of mattresses, and surrounded by about a dozen armed policemen. The well-guarded prisoner looked terribly emaciated, his spare countenance being rendered more wan by the terrible bruises with which it was covered—the effects of the bullets which struck the helmet he wore when he had the fight with the police. His utter helplessness was apparent at a glance, and as he lay on the floor of the van there was something horribly pitiful in his appearance.
The crowd quickly surrounded the van, but the police soon cleared a passage. A stretcher was handed in, and the outlaw was placed upon it. Mattresses were then placed on a four-wheeled vehicle which stood outside the reserve, and he was carried on the shoulders of the policemen thither. Very little time was lost in placing him comfortably in the trap, but there was ample opportunity for the people to gratify their morbid curiosity; and the lower portion of the assembly did so, the while giving expressions to exclamations of pity. Then instructions were given to drive on, and the vehicle, followed by several others, proceeded up to Victoria-street, and thence to Melbourne gaol; and along all the line the city folk rushed to the doors as the escort passed, hoping to catch sight of the man whose deeds of daring and of blood had sent more than one thrill of horror through the community. Near the gaol an immense crowd of people was gathered, and an attempt was made to raise a cheer, but it was a very feeble one. No stoppage was made, and the large gates having been thrown open for the purpose, the cavalcade passed in and the gates were again closed. Precautions had been taken to guard against a rush by sympathisers and friends of the outlaw, a strong body of police being in attendance, but nothing of that kind was attempted. Within the gaol Kelly was received by the governor of the institution, Mr. Castieau; some warders and prisoners removed him from the cab to the hospital, where he was at once placed upon a water bed, which had been prepared for his reception. Dr. Shields, the medical officer of the gaol, was immediately communicated with, and on his arrival he took charge of the case. The Rev. P. J. Aylward was also permitted to see Kelly, and that gentleman kindly undertook to acquaint Mrs. Kelly, the mother of the bushranger, of the fate of Ned and his brother. He had not far to go to find her, for she was still in gaol, the sentence passed upon her for the part she had taken in the assault upon Constable Fitzpatrick in 1878 not having expired.
As a matter of fact, Mrs. Kelly had already been informed of the result of the Glenrowan attack, and had then stated that she was not at all surprised, as on the Saturday night she had dreamed that there had been a collision between the police and the gang, and that the “Bobbies” had been victorious. When she heard that “her boy Ned” was in the gaol hospital she manifested the greatest anxiety to see him. It was not deemed wise to allow the interview for a couple of days, but as soon as Ned Kelly had gained a little strength the request of Mrs. Kelly was complied with, and the meeting between mother and son took place, the governor of the gaol being present during the interview. Mrs. Kelly was allowed to remain with her son for nearly half an hour, and was very reluctant to leave him, until she was promised that another opportunity of seeing him would be afforded to her after he had been restored to a better state of health.
The imprisoned outlaw continued to improve, but several weeks elapsed before be was sufficiently recovered to be brought before the police court. He gave his guardians very little trouble, and in the matter of good behaviour under discipline he was a model prisoner. At last Dr. Shields, the visiting surgeon at the gaol, who had been in constant attendance upon him, announced that he was quite fit to undergo the ordeal of preliminary trial, and arrangements were at once made for his removal to Beechworth, that place having doubtless been chosen for the initial proceedings on account of its contiguity to the scene where the outrage with which he was to be charged occurred.
To Beechworth, therefore, he was taken by train, the guard’s van having been made comfortable for him, he being still unable to walk, in consequence of the wound in his foot and groin. The journey was accomplished in safety, and so secretly that only the few people who were on the platform at the Beechworth Station on other business became aware of the fact that such a distinguished traveller was on board. Before the case had been called on at the court, however, the public had been made aware of the proceedings about to take place, and shortly after the doors were opened the court was crowded, the galleries being filled with ladies. Kelly was conveyed to the court house secretly in a cab at eight o’clock a.m., and was kept in one of the rooms until the court opened at eleven o’clock, when he was carried into the dock and placed on a chair in full view of the crowd assembled.
The charge preferred was the murder of Constables Lonerigan and Scanlan at Stringy Bark Creek, on 26th October, 1878. Three legal gentlemen appeared for the Crown—Messrs. Smith, Chomley, and Garner—and one for the defence—Mr. D. Gaunson. An effort was made by the latter to obtain a remand for a week, but the Bench refused to grant the application, as they did also an application for Kelly’s relations to see the prisoner.
During the trial it was elicited that for a short time there was a fifth man in the gang, but that he was tried and it was found he would not do, and after being allowed to go was kept under strict surveillance. It also transpired that the armour worn by the outlaws was made near Greta. As previously stated, this armour was of a most substantial character. It was made of iron a quarter of an inch thick, and consisted of a long breast-plate, shoulder-plates, back-guard, and helmet. The helmet resembled a nail-can without a crown, and with a long slit at the elevation of the eyes for the wearer to look through. All the articles were believed to have been made by two men, one living near Greta and the other near Oxley. The iron was procured by the larceny of plough-shares, and larcenies of this kind having been rather frequent just previous to that time in the Kelly district, the police had begun to suspect that the gang were again preparing for action, although they could not understand what they and their friends could want with this part of the most commonly used implement of agriculture. Ned Kelly’s armour alone weighed ninety-seven pounds—a not by any means inconsiderable weight for an ordinary man to carry. After it was taken off him, five bullet marks were found in the helmet, nine on the back-plate, and one on the shoulder-plate; but these marks may not have been made by the police, for it was elicited during the trial that after the armour was made it was tested by firing ball at it from a distance of twenty yards.
Frequent and urgent appeals were made by the relatives and friends of the prisoner to be allowed to interview him, but those appeals, for reasons which must be manifest to every reader, were refused. The probability that some relative or sympathiser would attempt to provide him with a means of “cheating the gallows,” if opportunity offered, induced the authorities to take every precaution; and no person was allowed to approach the dock where he was seated, lest some deadly weapon or poison phial should be handed to him. Dick Hart, who attended the court, and the prisoner were observed to frequently exchange nods and smiles, and the prisoner was noticed on several occasions to “throw kisses” to a young woman in the gallery, who seized sly opportunities of responding to the silent act of endearment. A number of ladies had been accommodated with seats near the Bench, and these, with a curiosity natural to the sex, stared rather frequently at the prisoner, the latter in turn staring back at them until they were compelled to turn their glances in another direction, when Kelly quietly smiled to himself and looked away from them.
A committal followed as a matter of course, and two months thereafter Ned Kelly was again prominently before the public in the Melbourne Criminal Court being tried for the Mansfield murders. Judge Barry presided, and the court was crowded with spectators. Mr. Bindon appeared for the prisoner, who had evidently recovered his health, but who appeared very listless, and only occasionally displayed interest in the proceedings. At the commencement of the trial his counsel applied for a postponement, but the judge refused the application. The evidence taken was very voluminous, McIntyre again being the chief witness; and his evidence was most damning, remaining unshaken under remarkably keen cross-examination. The jury were not long in arriving at the verdict which the reader has already anticipated—guilty of wilful murder.
Ned Kelly heard the verdict without emotion, and when asked if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced against him he very coolly addressed the court in the following terms: “Well, it is rather too late for me to speak now. I thought of speaking this morning and all day, but there was little use. There is little use blaming anyone now. Nobody knew about my case except myself, and I wish I had insisted on being allowed to examine the witnesses myself. If I had examined them I am confident I would have thrown a different light on the case. It is not that I fear death; I fear it as little as to drink a cup of tea. On the evidence that has been given no juryman could have given any other verdict; that is my opinion. But, as I say, if I had examined the witnesses, I would have shown matters in a different light, because no man understood the case as I do myself. I do not blame anybody, neither Mr. Bindon nor Mr. Gaunson (who at an earlier stage had conducted the defence); but Mr. Bindon knew nothing about my case. I lay blame on myself that I did not get up yesterday and examine the witnesses; but I thought that if I did so it would look like bravado and flashness.”
The Judge then proceeded to pronounce sentence of death; and the following interrupted deliverance was made by him:—
His Honour: “Edward Kelly, the verdict pronounced by the jury is one which you must have fully expected.”
The prisoner: “Yes, under the circumstances.”
His Honour: “No circumstances that I can conceive could have altered the result of your trial.”
The prisoner: “Perhaps not from what you now conceive, but if you had heard me examine the witnesses it would have been different.”
His Honour: “I will give you credit for all the skill you appear to desire to assume.”
The prisoner: “No, I don’t wish to assume anything. There is no flashness or bravado about me. It is not that I want to save my life, but because I know I should have been capable of clearing myself of the charge, and I could have saved my life in spite of all against me.”
His Honour: “The facts are so numerous and so convincing, not only as regards the original offence with which you are charged. but with respect to a long series of transactions, 387covering a period of eighteen months, that no rational person would hesitate to arrive at any other conclusion but that the verdict of the jury is irresistible, and that it is right. I have no desire whatever to inflict upon you any personal remarks. It is not becoming that I should endeavour to aggravate the sufferings with which your mind must be sincerely agitated.”
The prisoner: “No; I don’t think that. My mind is as easy as the mind of any man in this world, as I am prepared to show before God and man.”
His Honour: “It is blasphemous for you to say that. You appear to revel in the idea of having put men to death.”
The prisoner: “More men than I have put men to death, but I am the last man in the world that would take a man’s life. Two years ago even if my own life was at stake—and I am confident, if I thought a man would shoot me—I would give him a chance of keeping his life, and would part rather with my own; but if I knew that through him innocent persons’ lives were at stake, I certainly would have to shoot him if he forced me to do so; but I would want to know that he was really going to take innocent life.”
His Honour: “Your statement involves a cruelly wicked charge of perjury against a phalanx of witnesses.”
The prisoner: “I dare say; but a day will come, at a bigger court than this, when we shall see which is right and which is wrong. No matter how long a man lives he is bound to come to judgment somewhere, and as well here as anywhere. It will be different the next time there is a Kelly trial, for they are not all killed. It would have been for the good of the Crown had I examined the witnesses, and I would have stopped a lot of the reward, I can assure you, and I don’t know but I won’t do it yet if allowed.”
His Honour: “An offence of this kind is of no ordinary character. Murders had been discovered which had been committed under circumstances of great atrocity. They proceeded from motives other than those which actuated you. They had their origin in many sources. Some have been committed from a sordid desire to take from others the property they had acquired; some from jealousy, some from a desire of revenge; but yours is a more aggravated crime, and one of larger proportions; for, with a party of men, you took arms against society, organised as it is for mutual protection and for respect of law.”
The prisoner: “That is how the evidence came out here. It appeared that I deliberately took up arms of my own accord, and induced the other three men to join me for the purpose of doing nothing but shooting down the police.”
His Honour: “In new communities, where the bonds of society are not so well linked together as in older countries, there is unfortunately a class which disregards the evil consequences of crime. Foolish, inconsiderate, ill-conducted, and unprincipled youths unfortunately abound, and unless they are made to consider the consequences of crime, they are led to imitate notorious felons whom they regard as self-made heroes. It is right, therefore, that they should be asked to consider and reflect upon what the life of a felon is. A felon who has cut himself off from all, and who declines all the affections, charities, and obligations of society, is as helpless and as degraded as a wild beast of the field; he has nowhere to lay his head; he has no one to prepare for him the comforts of life; he suspects his friends and he dreads his enemies. He is in constant alarm lest his pursuers should reach him, and his only hope is that he might lose his life in what he considers a glorious struggle for existence. That is the life of an outlaw or felon, and it would be well for those young men who are so foolish as to consider that it is brave of a man to sacrifice the lives of his fellow creatures in carrying out his own wild ideas, to see that it is a life to be avoided by every possible means, and to reflect that the unfortunate termination of a felon’s life is a miserable death. New South Wales joined with Victoria in providing ample inducement to persons to assist in having you and your companions apprehended; but by some spell—which I cannot understand, a spell which exists in all lawless communities, more or less, and which may be attributed either to a sympathy for the outlaws, or a dread of the consequences which would result from the performances of their duty—no persons were found who would be tempted by the reward or love of country, or the love of order, to give you up. The love of obedience to the law has been set aside, for reasons difficult to explain, and there is something extremely wrong in a country where a lawless band of men are able to live for eighteen months disturbing society. You are self-accused. The statement was made voluntarily by yourself that you and your companions committed attacks on two banks, and appropriated therefrom large sums of money amounting to several thousands of pounds. Further, I cannot conceal from myself the fact that an expenditure of £50,000 has been rendered necessary in consequence of acts with which you and your party have been connected. We have had samples of felons, such as Bradley and O’Connor, Clarkes, Gardiner, Melville, Morgan, Scott, and Smith, all of whom have come to ignominious deaths. Still the effect expected from their punishment has not been produced. This is much to be deplored. When such examples as these are so often repeated, society must be re-organised, or it must soon be seriously affected. Your unfortunate and miserable companions have died a death which probably you might rather envy, but you are not offered the opportunity.”
The prisoner: “I don’t think there is much proof they did die the death.”
His Honour: “In your case the law will be carried out by its officers. The gentlemen of the jury have done their duty, and my duty will be to forward to the proper quarter the notes of your trial, and to lay before the Executive all the circumstances connected with your trial that may be required. I can hold out to you no hope, and I do not see that I can entertain the slightest reason for saying that you can expect anything. I desire to spare you any more pain, and I absolve myself from saying anything willingly in any of my utterances that may have unnecessarily increased the agitation of your mind. I have now to pronounce your sentence.” His Honour then sentenced the prisoner to death in the ordinary form, ending with the usual words “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”
The court was then cleared, and the prisoner was removed to the Melbourne gaol. Everything was very quiet, and nothing approaching to any scene occurred, although some of Kelly’s relatives were in court at the time. In common with the other spectators they accepted the verdict and the sentence quite as a matter of course.
AGITATION FOR REPRIEVE
Of late years it has been an unusual thing for a criminal to go to the gallows in any English-speaking community without an effort being made to obtain a reprieve, and the greater the criminal generally the stronger the effort made on his behalf. In the case of Ned Kelly, before the day for his execution had been fixed, an agitation in this direction was commenced in Melbourne, the brothers Gaunson, one of whom, at least, was well known in legal and political circles, being the centre around which the agitators gathered, and from which the appeals for the reprieve of this king of robber-murderers issued. Public meetings were held, and deputations were formed to wait upon prominent members of the Government, while petitions many yards long were prepared and signed and presented. The following extracts from Melbourne newspapers of the day will give the reader a good idea of the extent of the movement among a certain class of the population:—
The agitation for the reprieve of Edward Kelly was continued yesterday by William Gaunson. The proposed procession of ladies to Government House was not a success; but during the morning about two hundred persons of both sexes turned out from the back slums of the city, and assembled at the Town Hall. They had the impudence to enter the building, but Sub-inspector Larmer, with some constables, soon appeared on the scene, and turned them out. William Gaunson, with Mrs. Skillian, Kate Kelly, James Kelly, and Wild Wright eventually arrived and set out for Government House, with the unwashed-looking mob at their heels. At Princes’ Bridge, Sub-inspector Larmer endeavoured to check the crowd, but not willing to use violence, he was obliged to let them pass. He, however, proceeded in front to the Domain gates, and had them closed. In the meantime Mr. Gaunson and his Kelly friends got into cabs. When the crowd reached the Domain gates they were refused admission; but, after a little discussion, the cabs and their occupants were admitted, and, drawing right up to Government House, the occupants, through Mr. Gaunson, requested an interview with the Governor. Captain Le Patourel, his Excellency’s Private Secretary, received Mr. Gaunson, and told him that the Governor would positively receive no deputation that day. He intimated, however, that the petitions which were spoken of could be sent to his Excellency at the Treasury up to two o’clock, the hour appointed for the meeting of the Executive.
The self-elected deputation then returned to town, and were followed by the crowd. Jim Kelly and Wild Wright, who returned on foot, were evidently objects of veneration to the mob, for they were accompanied by a large number of them through the streets to the Robert Burns Hotel in Lonsdale street West. Their loafing-looking retinue were not, however, satisfied with gazing at them in the streets, but they also besieged the hotel, crushing through the passages and into the rooms in order to feast still further their morbid curiosity; and yet these people were just the kind of persons who would rush, if they had the chance, to see Ned Kelly hung, and who would gloat over the event in the afternoon. William Gaunson attended at the Treasury with Mrs. Skillian and Kate Kelly, to await the decision of the Executive Council, as if it had not been given a week ago. Over one thousand idle persons collected at the same time opposite the building. Mr. Gaunson and the Kelly sisters were admitted to a retiring-room, and the former handed Captain Le Patourel the petitions he had been getting signed for presentation to the Governor, stating that they contained 34,434 signatures.
An examination of the petitions showed that they were signed principally in pencil, and by illiterate people, whilst whole pages were evidently written by one person. The Executive, of course, determined to adhere to their decision—that the convict shall be executed on Thursday morning. This having been communicated to the prisoner’s relatives, they left, and returned to the Robert Burns Hotel. They were accompanied, as before, by a crowd, and during the whole afternoon and evening the hotel was rushed. Immediately after their return Jim Kelly addressed the crowd from the door, and told them that it was not all over yet, a remark that was loudly cheered. The three Kellys, Wild Wright, and Mrs. Jones (the keeper of the Glenrowan Hotel which was destroyed) are all living at the Robert Burns Hotel. On Thursday last, when the sisters visited their brother in gaol, they stated that they were going home on Saturday, and were told that they could see the condemned man again before they left. Since then, however, the Gaunsons have started the present agitation, and the consequence is that the sisters remain in town, but do not seek another interview with their brother. Another mass meeting is to be held to-morrow night on the Supreme Court Reserve, and petitions are being sent by William Gaunson all over the colony for signature. The object of this meeting is to carry a resolution in favour of a reprieve, and to present it to the Chief Secretary.
All efforts made were unavailing, however, and the day having been fixed for the execution by the Executive, the dread sentence of the law was carried out within the precincts of the gaol in which the wounded outlaw had been nursed back to life.
On the day preceding that upon which it had been decided the public hangman should perform his duty, the gaoler visited Ned Kelly in his cell and informed him that he must prepare for the worst, as there was not the slightest hope of a reprieve. The outlaw himself had made frequent written appeals for clemency, protesting that he had never intended to shed blood, but had been compelled to do so in his own defence; and knowing what his relatives and friends had been doing in his behalf outside, he entertained sanguine hopes of reprieve.
Every hope was abandoned, however, before the fatal morning dawned, and he made an appearance of being resigned to the inevitable. After sentence of death had been pronounced, additional precautions were taken by the gaol authorities to ensure the safe custody of the condemned man. He was placed in one of the cells of the old wing, and irons were rivetted upon his legs, leather pads being placed round his ankles to prevent chafing. The cell had two doors — an outer one of solid iron and an inner one of iron bars. The outer door was always kept open, a lamp was kept burning overhead, and a warder was continually outside watching the prisoner. During the day he was allowed to walk in the adjoining yard for exercise, and on these occasions two warders had him under surveillance. He continued to maintain his indifferent demeanour for a day or two, professing to look forward to his execution without fear, but he was then evidently buoyed up with the hope of reprieve.
When he could get anyone to speak to, he indulged in “brag”, recounting his exploits and boasting of what he could have done when he was at liberty if he had pleased. Latterly, however, his talkativeness ceased, and he became morose and silent. Within the last few days of his life he dictated a number of letters for the Chief Secretary, in most of which he simply repeated his well-known garbled version of his career, and the spurious reasons he assigned for his crimes. He never, however, expressed any sorrow for his crimes; on the contrary, he always attempted to justify them. In his last communication he made a request that his body might be handed over to his friends — an application that was necessarily in vain. At his own request his portrait was taken for circulation among his friends.
The mother and sisters paid him a farewell visit on the evening of the last day of his imprisonment, but not in company. The old lady, who was still an inmate of the gaol, was brought to his cell, and her last words to him were, “Mind you die like a Kelly, Ned!”
He was hanged the next morning at ten o’clock: the formal inquest was held a couple of hours afterwards, and the body was then coffined ready for burial by the authorities on the following day. An immense crowd of persons had congregated outside the gaol, but there was no disturbance.
A few of the more dangerous sympathisers with the Kelly gang were prosecuted under the Felons’ Apprehension Act; but the great end of police effort — the destruction of the gang — having been compassed, the authorities did not trouble very much to bring to account the men and women who, while the outlaws were at large, acted as their “scouts”, emissaries, and providers. Mrs. Jones, the licensee of the house at Glenrowan which formed the last temporary shelter of the murderous quartette, was prosecuted, in company with one or two others, for harbouring; but the case was not pressed so severely as it would have been had the charge been preferred before Ned Kelly and his companions had been brought to their account. And the fate of the gang was a far more powerful deterrent of lawlessness in the district than any amount of police activity would have been.
Within a week from the execution, the colony, as far as bushranging was concerned, was at peace. That peace had certainly been purchased at great cost. Under proper administration in the police force, it should have been won more easily and at far less cost to the State. But although expressions of disfavour were heard in the Victorian Parliament when a return was submitted showing that the capture of the outlaws had involved an expenditure of about £40,000 — not counting the “pay” of those engaged in the search, and which amounted to an additional £75,000 — there was really very little complaining among the people from whose treasury the cheques had been drawn; for they saw that the necessity for capturing the ruffians who were working such terrible mischief in the community could not be weakened in the slightest degree by any monetary consideration. The preservation of the morality of the community, the protection of the people’s lives and property, and the vindication of the law, were matters of so high importance that they could not be weighed in golden scales.
Nevertheless, the fact remained that had the police force of Victoria, in its higher grades particularly, been more efficient, there would have been less expenditure of public money and, what is of far more importance, less sacrifice of human life.
THE BLACK-TRACKERS AND THEIR WORK
A brief reference to the Queensland blacktrackers, who were feared so greatly by the Kellys, and their work in this connection, will doubtless prove interesting to the reader. They were called “native troopers” in official circles, and they had been engaged by the Victorian Government for the purpose of tracking the bushrangers to their haunts. They were six in number, and were placed, as I have already stated, under the direction of Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor, of the Queensland Native Mounted Police. Their names were: Hero, Johnny, Jimmy, Jack, Barney, and Sambo, the latter being a corporal in the corps to which he was attached. Each man was armed with a Snider and a revolver, and wore a blue uniform with red facings. They were members of various tribes located in the south and north of Queensland respectively, and were enlisted for five years when they were quite young by Mr. O’Connor. The oldest was only 24 years of age, and the youngest about 18, and some of them had been in the force seven or eight years, during which they had seen some very active service, and over and over again demonstrated their capabilities as trackers. They were, indeed, the best of the kind that could be selected, and had frequently followed horse-stealers and cattle-duffers to their haunts. Their bravery was undoubted, for it was proved by conflicts with Chinese rioters in the north of Queensland, and with mobs of predatory and murderous aboriginals, when these were attacked in their strongholds. It might seem an easy thing for troopers armed with rifles to attack and defeat a mob of aboriginals, but the spears of the blacks of tropical Queensland, with the aid of wommeras, were most terrible weapons, and carried almost certain death with them at a hundred yards. It required no small amount of courage to face a shower of them, or to chase through long grass or thick scrub those who were capable of hurling them with almost scientific precision.
The pay the troopers received was £3 a month each, with uniform and quarters, but out of the money they had to contribute something towards the cost of their rations. Those who were engaged in the Kelly campaign received £3 a month, and had everything necessary provided for them. These men could follow fresh tracks of men, horses, or cattle at a gallop, but unfortunately in Victoria their powers of discernment were not very frequently tested in the requisite direction. Notwithstanding this, their eagerness for pursuit remained unabated, and on one occasion they were instrumental in bringing two marauders to justice. They were dreadfully sea-sick on the voyage to Sydney, and during his journey to Victoria, Corporal Sambo contracted congestion of the lungs, from which he died. This poor fellow was kindly attended to by one of the police of Victoria, with whom he was a great favourite, and was buried at Benalla. It speaks well for all of them that no complaints were made against any of them in Victoria, but that, on the contrary, they were described as a credit to any force. They seemed to be favourites with everyone who knew them, except the Kellys.
After reaching Sydney, the troopers proceeded direct by way of Wagga Wagga to Benalla, where their headquarters were established. Captain Standish met them on their arrival there, and two days after Mr. O’Connor had been sworn in as a Sub-inspector of the Victorian police, they were set to work, as the place in which they were located was in the midst of the Kelly district and populated with Kelly sympathisers. It was thought on their arrival that the gang were moving about in the district, and what were confidently affirmed to be their tracks were followed for four days, when they ran into a hut in the King River Ranges. Rain then fell and obliterated the tracks, and the troopers returned to Benalla in consequence. Whether the tracks were those of the gang was not proved. The troopers were placed on numerous other tracks, which, however, all turned out to be those of ordinary travellers. Every mark that had a suspicion of the Kellys about it was scrutinised with the deepest interest, but it could not be stated with confidence that the men were ever in pursuit of the outlaws. If they were, they were set to work too late—when the tracks had become too weatherworn to be read distinctly. Unfortunately for the cause of justice they could not move out of their quarters without creating a sensation. Their movements were at once telegraphed to the Kellys, who were quickly off to the fastnesses. The value of their aid was promptly recognised by the Victorian authorities, and on one occasion they had a slice of luck which compensated them for many disappointments. It transpired in connection with the Lancefield bank robbery.
The troopers proceeded by special train to Kilmore, and then rode to Lancefield. Here it was stated that the two robbers had gone to a public house and bought some provisions. Their tracks were quickly picked up, and followed along highways and byways and through paddocks to where the robbers had made a meal, and then on until it was ascertained that the men had hired a spring-cart and been driven to Sandhurst. A telegram explaining this was sent to that town, and the robbers, on arrival, found themselves in the hands of expectant police, who took care of them until they were tried and convicted. The troopers returned to headquarters, and were again subjected to false alarms. In one instance they travelled to a spot where it was said that the Kelly gang were taking down the telegraph wires, but they found only a company of reapers, whose reaping machine had got foul of a telegraph pole.
Ned Kelly and his associates made no secret of the fact that they were in constant dread of the trackers, whom they designated “bloody black devils,” and yet for some reason that has never been satisfactorily explained, Sub-Inspector O’Connor and his charges were in Melbourne and on their way home when the news of Sherritt’s murder reached headquarters. Mr. O’Connor, however, was at once requested to proceed to Beechworth and thence to Sherritt’s house, with the view of picking up tracks, and he obeyed, with the result already known. It was intended to make Beechworth the temporary headquarters of the troopers, and it was to that town the special train so fortunately stopped by Mr. Curnow was proceeding.
This accounts for the presence of Mrs. O’Connor and another lady in the train, and consequently their presence at the annihilation of the gang. The ladies intended staying at Beechworth until the labours of the trackers were completed; but the services of the latter were no longer required, the tragedy at Mrs. Jones’ public house at once putting an end to the career of the Kellys, and opening the way for the return of the trackers to their headquarters in Queensland. When the reward money of £8,000 was divided, each of the trackers received £50, and Sub-Inspector O’Connor £237 15s.