A KELLY INCIDENT
Our Wangaratta correspondent writes:― “In order to show the manner and extent of the terrorism which has so long prevailed in this district, I may mention an occurrence which took place in the immediate neighbourhood of Wangaratta some months ago. Even now the facts have not been disclosed by the police, but there is no longer any occasion for reticence. The family of Steve Hart, the outlaw, reside within about three miles of the town, close behind the racecourse. Before the arrival of the black trackers the gang occasionally visited Hart’s house. It is unnecessary to say it was under surveillance, but the band were kept so thoroughly posted up in the movements of the police that the watch was without result. About five or six months since a respectable man, employed by one of the largest traders in the town, in a paddock next the racecourse one night went out opossum shooting―rather a risky sport for the time and place. He was marked down and challenged, and after being disarmed was marched into the house. There he found the whole of the outlaws, who accused him of being a detective, placed him on his knees, and told him to prepare for instant death. Although naturally horror-stricken he succeeded in convincing his captors of the innocent character of himself and his employment, but still they hesitated. At length they warned him of the frightful fate that awaited him if he reported their visit, and made him solemnly swear that he would not mention his adventure for one month. Then having presented him with a £10-note still further to seal his lips, they let him go. So abject, however, was the man’s terror, that for the whole of the specified month he carried the note and the consuming secret about with him, and then only told his employer, who of course gave the information and the money to Sergeant Steele. The whole affair shows how bold the gang were and how secure and astute were the means they employed in carrying out their depredations. For it will be evident that to frighten the man out of his wits was a safer course for them than to murder him, and if he had appropriated any of the money his secret would most likely have died with him. One of the men who is said to have been in the house that night was at Glenrowan on the day of the fight, and affectionately kissed Ned Kelly while he lay wounded there. The district will never be in a state of peace or security until the nests of lawlessness are rooted out, and the sympathisers themselves stricken with the same terror which they have exercised so long and so ruthlessly. The appointment of a police magistrate to this district is greatly to be desired.”
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE KELLY GANG
(BY OUR SPECIAL REPORTER AT GLENROWAN)
The modus operandi adopted by the police in connexion with the unearthing and destruction of the Kelly gang is now the subject of a considerable amount of adverse criticism. There is no doubt that an inquiry into the whole business would be highly desirable, so that the facts might be clearly known and the authorities placed in a better position for dealing in the future with bushrangers. A reorganisation of the police force for the better control of the North-eastern district―to effect, in short, its subjugation to law and order, because that is really what has to be faced―is, indeed, imperatively necessary, and this, would be greatly assisted by a searching inquiry. The questions which arise at present, however, are, were the police justified in firing into the inn at Glenrowan when innocent persons were within its walls, and did they act properly in burning the building? In view of an inquiry these points may be regarded as to some extent sub judice, and it is therefore not intended to discuss them in this article; but as condemnatory letters have been written on the subject, the following remarks may be permitted, in fairness to the police and their officers. In the first place, then, it may be premised that the police in their efforts to capture the outlaws were heavily handicapped. The character of the country alone made their task a very difficult one, but in addition to that there were more persons actively engaged in keeping the gang concealed than there were policemen in pursuit. No one could have any idea of the number of the Kelly sympathisers without paying a visit to the district. Moreover, so powerful had the prestige of the gang become that the law-abiding and respectable residents of the district were, as a rule, more inclined to bear the displeasure of the police and of the public generally by keeping their mouths closed, than run the risk of offending the gang by giving the police any assistance. Notwithstanding this the police had latterly, and more immediately under Mr. Nicolson’s direction, prosecuted the search for the outlaws so vigorously and systematically, and were running them so hot a chase, that it was confidently expected by those who were behind the scenes that the gang would be run down during the next three weeks. Policemen in plain clothes were sent out secretly in all directions, sometimes singly, and sometimes in twos and threes, with instructions to leave no stone unturned in their peregrinations. In this way some constables, and particularly Constable Falkner, did some daring and effective service. The gang eventually felt that things were becoming too uncomfortable, and determined upon perpetrating a deed which would strike terror into the hearts of all who might be inclined to give information to the police. They could not, however, do this without having the black trackers on their trail very soon afterwards, and they therefore planned that their destruction should follow the murder of Sherritt. It may be here mentioned that Sherritt was once a friend of the gang, and that his relatives are believed to be sympathisers. Through him the police once offered Byrne a pardon, or at least safety from the gallows, if he would turn Queen’s evidence. The offer was conveyed by Sherritt to Mrs. Byrne, who communicated it to her son, but the latter, it may be presumed, was never able to take advantage of it. But this is by the way. The gang were in the manner indicated above indirectly but truly driven out of their fastnesses by the tactics of the police. With regard, now, to the conduct of the police at Glenrowan, they at all events showed no lack of courage. When the special train was stopped by Mr. Curnow, Superintendent Hare was given to understand that the line had been torn up a short distance ahead, and that the gang were waiting for it in ambush. Mr. Hare thereupon determined to reconnoitre, so that the whole party might not fall into the trap. He therefore mounted the pilot engine with a constable, and advanced as far as the railway station. Seeing that the horses could be disembarked there, he returned and took the train on. When the horses were being taken out, Constable Bracken rushed into the midst of the party and exclaimed, “The Kellys are in Jones’s Hotel; surround them, surround them.” He also mentioned that there were many prisoners with them. “Come along, lads, at once,” said Mr. Hare, and he led the way. The men followed with alacrity, and when they were deploying on each side in front of the house a volley was fired on them from the verandah. The police, in the impule of the moment, fired back upon the figures on the verandah, and as long as they could get a glimpse of the bushrangers the firing was kept up warmly. This, however, only continued for a few minutes, and the excitement of the moment having passed, the police appeared to be more guarded in firing. Mr. Hare, having been wounded in the first brush, returned to the platform to have his wound bandaged, and then went back into the field, but had soon to return again through sheer weakness, caused by great loss of blood. When he was taken to Benalla for surgical treatment Senior-constable Kelly was understood to be left in charge, and he stationed the men in two’s all round the building. During the morning he kept passing from pair to pair, supplying ammunition where it was required and seeing all was right. On Mr. Stanistreet’s escape more particular information was received as to the prisoners. The firing on the part of the police was then materially decreased. Most of the shots were aimed at the roof of the building as could be seen by the direction of the flashes; but as the police were informed that the prisoners were all lying on the floor they fired at the moving figures of men when these were seen. It was fully expected that, in the darkness, the bushrangers would attempt to escape either by slinking away or coming out in the disguise of prisoners. When, therefore, persons did come out in the darkness shots were fired in the air to warn them back, and when they persisted they were challenged and examined before they were allowed to pass the lines. The boy Reardon was the only one shot at, and he was evidently mistaken for one of the outlaws. When the reinforcement arrived from Benalla Superintendent Sadleir took charge of the siege, and orders were given to always fire as high as a man’s breast. The mysterious appearance of Ned Kelly in the morning, and his ability to defy the bullets of the Martini-Henry rifle was enough to try the courage of any man, but the men who fought him never flinched. Then came the escape of the remaining prisoners, which was a very ticklish piece of business to manage, as there was every likelihood that the remaining bushrangers would endeavour to take some advantage of the opportunity, but it was satisfactorily accomplished. With regard to the burning of the house, the police had no certain information that Dan Kelly and Hart were dead. Indeed, several of the prisoners stated that when they left they saw the two standing alive in the passage. The question then arises would Mr. Sadlier have been justified in rushing the hut at the risk of losing several of his men when another course was open? Time was wearing on apace, and the police would have been blamed had they given the two outlaws supposed to be still alive the chance of another night for escaping. The building was therefore fired, and it was fully expected that the outlaws would thereby be compelled to come out and surrender. Steps were taken to rescue the wounded man Cherry, and as it happened, the outlaws had already met their fate. Whether it was judicious or not to give the friends the cinders which remained is a matter that is no doubt open to question, but to have afterwards attempted to secure them again by force would in all probability have led to more bloodshed.
On Saturday Superintendent Chomley, with the five black trackers he has engaged in Queensland to replace Mr. O’Connor’s “boys”, arrived in Benalla. They are to be permanently stationed there for tracking purposes. There names are Sergeant Jim Crow, Corporal Billy the nut, and Constables Peter Walsh, Paddy Brown, and Monkey Brown. All of them are fine-looking young fellows, and they are sorry they have been too late for the Kellys, as according to Sergeant Jim Crow, they would have liked “to see im fun.”