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ORIGIN AND DESTRUCTION OF THE KELLY GANG.
The report of the Police Commission con- tains a sketch, divided into 15 chapters, of the antecedents, pursuit and destruction of the Kelly gang of outlaws. Some interest- ing information is conveyed respecting the settlement and antecedents in the colony of the Kelly family, and the causes leading up
to the outbreak.
The founder of the Kelly family, with numerous offshoots which spread and had their ramifications throughout the North- eastern district, is said to have been one James Quin, a native of Ireland, who, with his wife and family, arrived in Victoria in 1830. They settled in the first instance in Pascoevale, and subsequently in Wallan Wallan, where Quin took up some land. He proved successful in his farming operations, acquired a freehold of some land in the locality, which he was enabled to dispose of in 1863 for the sum of £2,000, with which he took up the Glenmore station, situate in a remote portion of the North-eastern district between Mansfield and Beechworth. Quin's family consisted of four sons and six daughters. Two of the sons, James and John, bore very bad characters while at Wallan Wallan, and it has been more than hinted by the police that the object of the elder Quin's migration to Glenmore was simply in order to escape the surveillance of the police in the Kilmore district, where he had rendered himself notorious as a cattle- stealer, and by removing back to the limits of civilisation and settlement, to secure for himself and associates a more extended field of operations. Ellen, the third daughter of James Quin, was married to John Kelly, the father of the outlaws. This Kelly was a convict, and was transported to Tasmania in 1841 for an agrarian outrage stated to have been shooting at a landlord with intent to murder. Kelly contracted acquaintance with the Quins at Wallan Wallan, where he worked as a bush carpenter, and doubtless to his connexion is attributable the general contamination of the family. He subse- quently turned his attention to gold digging, at which he was successful, and was enabled in time to purchase a small freehold at Beveridge. He here became noted as an expert cattle-stealer, and his place as the resort of criminals of the very worst class. In 1865 he was convicted of cattle-duffing and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He died shortly after his release from Kilmore gaol. At his death he left seven children, namely, Edward and Dan, the outlaws, James (who has been for many years a noted criminal), Mrs Gunn, Mrs. Skillian, Kate, and Grace. Mrs. Ellen Kelly, on the death of her husband, settled at Eleven-mile Creek, near Greta, where at present she resides with the younger portion of her family. From an early period her place was regarded as the rendezvous of cattle-stealers and disreputable characters, who had their ramifications throughout the district. Amongst those who were known to frequent her place was Power, the bushranger, who is said to have given Ned Kelly his first lesson in crime. Ned Kelly, the leader of the gang from his very youth was known to the police as an in- corrigible thief. He was implicated with Power, the bushranger, in two daring out- rages, but when arrested and tried, escaped conviction owing to want of sufficient identi- fication. There seems to have been no period of his career, from a child up to the time of his death, that he was not either in trouble or under the surveillance of the police. Dan, the second outlaw, was born in 1861, and from the time he was 15 years of age was a noted criminal. Joe Byrne, the third outlaw, was born in 1857, and was of Irish extraction and respect- able antecedents. He seems, however, from an early age to have developed cruel and vicious propensities, which frequently brought him into trouble. Steve Hart, the fourth member of the gang, was born m 1860, and was the second son of Richard Hart, of Three- mile Creek, near Wangaratta. Young Hart was of a wild and lawless disposition, and was known for many years prior to the out- break to be associated with a daring gang of cattle-stealers in the North-eastern dis- trict.
Some particulars are given in the report of that portion of the North-eastern district known as the Kelly country, which is de- scribed as lying within that triangular tract between the points formed by the town- ships of Mansfield, Benalla, and Beech- worth, together with that area lying to the west of the railway line, embracing the vicinity of Lake Rowan, the Warby Ranges, and the Woolshed, extending in the direction of the Murray. This constitutes a large and diversified extent of territory, measuring about 16,000 square miles. Here the numerous branches of the families of the Quins, Lloyds, and Kellys took up selections, and for many years were a source of constant solicitude to the police authorities. Their stronghold appears to have been Glen- more, where the elder Quin had settled. His homestead lay directly in the track - the only one known in the early days - between Mansfield and the Murray. It was situated in a wild, inhospitable district, not far from the junction of the right and left branches of the King River. This track was principally used by the cattle-stealers, who carried on an extensive traffic between Vic- toria and New South Wales. It was in the vicinity of Glenmore that Power the bush- ranger was arrested in 1870. About that time Superintendents Nicolson and Hare, who had accomplished Power's capture, recommended to the chief commissioner the erection of a police station in that locality. A station was accordingly established, close to old Quin's homestead, and two con- stables stationed there with highly satisfac- tory results. The Quins and their associates made strenuous efforts to dislodge them. They burnt the stables attached to the sta- tion , they kept them constantly on the qui vive, and harassed them in every manner possible. Finding it impossible to dislodge the police, however, old Quin sold his station and cleared out of the district. In 1872 an effort was made to abolish the Glenmore sta- tion, but owing to the strong representa- tion made by influential residents in the neighbourhood, it was maintained. In 1872, however, it was abolished by Captain Standish, his reasons for doing so being the remote and sparsely popu- lated character of the neighbourhood, the absence of crime, and the necessity for police protection as was represented to him at the time in more populous localities. Much stress has been laid upon this act of the chief commissioner, and his abolition of the station has been pronounced by the commis- sioners as an error of judgment, and as in some degree instrumental in enabling the Kellys and their associates to defy the action of the police authorities. In addition to doing away with the Glenmore sta- tion, the commissioners complain of the strength of many police stations in the district being unnecessarily re- duced, of capable and experienced sub- officers being removed from important sta- tions, and replaced by others wholly incom- petent to cope with the general lawlessness which is said to have prevailed for years throughout the district. For many years previous to the outbreak scarcely a day passed without reports being received by the police of cattle having been stolen, and only in comparatively few instances were they recovered. The incident however, which more immediately produced the outbreak was the action of Constable Fitzpatrick, who on the 15th April, 1878 attempted to arrest Dan Kelly for horse-stealing. The circumstances connected with that incident are well known, but mention is made in the report of the fact that the warrant against Dan Kelly on this occasion was issued merely on suspicion of horsetealing, he and his cousin, Jack Lloyd, appearing to answer the description given of two men seen driving the stolen horses through the township of Chiltern. Jack Lloyd was subsequently arrested, but the case broke down, and he was discharged ; but owing to the resistance offered to Dan Kelly's arrest, and the assault made upon Fitzpatrick, the Kellys took to the bush. In June, 1878, Superintendent Sadleir was ap- pointed to the charge of the North-eastern
district. Urged by the police authorities in Melbourne, he took action in August of that year to arrest Ned and Dan Kelly, who were said to have been seen in the Strathbogie Ranges. Two parties of police were organ- ised, the one to start from Mansfield and work across the ranges in the direction of the flat country towards Holland's Creek, and the other from Greta, by which the locality in which the Kellys were said to be secreted would be thoroughly scoured. Of the facts connected with the despatch of those search parties and the murder of Kennedy and two of his companions by the Kellys, the public have been fully informed, and only a general reference is madeo to them in the report of the commission. The first intention of the murderers, after the Wombat tragedy, was to escape into New South Wales, as they were dintinctly traced from the scene of the outrage on to Greta, and thence to- wards Wangaratta in the direction of the Murray. The river was found at the time to
be so swollen as to be impassable, and the gang were consequently compelled to retrace their steps, and to seek refuge in the Warby Ranges.
The commissioners consider that the action of the police authorities immediately after the murders demonstrated an utter unpre- paredness for so grave an emergency. In the
North-Eastern district, comprising 11,000 square miles, there were found only about 50 mounted troopors, who were only armed with the simple regulation revolver, and a few Spencer rifles, scattered here and there amongst the police stations. The men were not only badly armed, but were indifferently mounted, many of them were bad horsemen, others were un- acquainted with bush life, scarcely any of them knew the country, and the majority were ignorant of the use of the more modern description of rifle. The Government of the day seconded the efforts of the police they passed the Felons Apprehension Act two nights after the murders at the Wombat, and gave Captain Standish carte blanche for any expenditure he might think necessary in order to capture or destroy the gang. Mr. Nicolson, assistant commissioner, was de- spatched to the scene of operations, and at once formed search parties of police with which to follow the outlaws upon the first intimation of their whereabouts. Two days after the murders a Pentridge prisoner named Wil-
liamson, who was implicated in the assault upon Constable Fitzpatrick, gave valuable information to the police. ln one communi-
cation he described the haunts of the Kellys, their probable whereabouts, and attached a rough sketch or plan of the spot where would be found a log where provisions for the out- laws would be concealed. In a second com- munication he informed the authorities that the Kellys were very likely to stick up the Seymour bank. Serious fault has been found by the commission with Messrs. Nicolson and Sadleir, who were working conjointly at this stage of the pursuit, for not having taken proper steps to utilise the informa- tion conveyed by the prisoner Williamson. The log, as described, was found when searched for, and Mrs. Skillion, the sister of the outlaws, was reported to be nightly en- gaged in conveying provisions to the gang, but no steps were taken to intercept her, and further, no adequate measures were adopted to prevent the outlaws from sticking up one of the banks in the North-Eastern district, although rumours of an intended raid were at that time in general circulation. Not only was the township of Euroa left comparatively without police protection, but on the very evening of the robbery Messrs. Nicolson and Sadleir both left head-quarters at Benalla, and proceeded to Albury upon a very unimportant mission, although warned by the information conveyed by Mr. Wyatt, P.M. , of the deliberate cutting of the telegraph wires at Faithful Creek station, and of other suspicious circumstances pointing to the Kellys being in the neighbourhood. The intimation of the robbery of the Euroa bank only reached Mr. Nicolson at midnight, when he was at Albury. He returned to Benalla by special train, and telegraphed in- structions to the various police stations throughout the district, with a view to co- operation in the pursuit of the outlaws. He reached Faithful Creek on the following morning about half past 8a.m., and imme- diately took up the tracks of the outlaws with what available men he had at his command. Those were followed some distance, but were soon lost, and the whole party was obliged to return to quarters completely exhausted. A charge was made against the assistant commissioner in the course of the evidence of having despatched telegrams to the officer in charge at Mansfield, instructing him to send a search party in a direction the opposite of that which it was possible the outlaws could have taken. Of this charge Mr. Nicolson is exonerated by the commission, an inspection of the original documents showing that his orders, if carried out, might have led to the Kellys being intercepted had they crossed the Strathbogie Ranges after the robbery at
Special allusion is made in the report to two matters connected with the pursuit during the first period Mr. Nicolson was in charge of the district. One is designated " the Sebastopol raid," and the other "Mr. Brook Smith in pursuit." The former, which took place on the 7th November, 1878, is described as an utter fiasco, calculated simply to excite ridicule, for which Inspector Sadleir is held directly responsible. As re- gards Inspector Brook Smith's pursuit of the Kellys in the Warby Ranges the report
"The conduct of Inspector Brook Smith whlle in charge at this period cannot be too severely censured. The history of the expedition which started on the 6th November, 1878, from Wangaratta, to search the Warby Ranges, discloses culpable negligence and in- capacity on the part of Mr. Smith, who was the officer in command. In the first place, he failed to take the proper steps with a view to the verification of the rumour that on the morning of the 3rd November the gang had been observed riding under the One-mile Brldge at Wangaratta, in the direction of the ranges. Two days were allowed to elapse before starting in pur- suit Then, when the unmlstakable tracks of the out- laws were discovered, and Kennedy's horse found, this officer deliberately disobeyed orders by returning with his party to quarters. The following morning, from sheer laziness, he kept his men waiting from 4a.m. till 7. The next day they had to start without him. With no other apparent object than that of retarding the pursuit he compelled his men to make unneces- sary detours to follow up the tracks; he rode slowly, loitered in the rear, and altogether so conducted the affair that only one conclusion can be arrived at as re- gards his conduct, namely, that he wass determined that his party should not overtake the outlaws. What renders his action all the more reprehenslble is the fact that, upon no occasion throughout the pursuit, from the murders at the Wombat to the final affray at Glenrowan, was there presented a more favourable prospect of capturing the gang."
Sergeant Steele is also censured for not having on the morning of the 4th Novem- ber, 1878, acted upon the information con- veyed to him of the Kellys having been seen passing under the Wangaratta bridge, hastening in the direction of the Warby Ranges, with the horses of the murdered
The next branch of the report deals with the period during which Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare were in charge of the pursuit, Mr. Nicolson having been re- lieved, owing to ill health, immediately after the Euroa Bank robbery. One of the first acts of Captain Standish on assuming the command was to enforce the provisions of the Felons Apprehension Act. His efforts in this direction are somewhat severely criti- cised by the commissioners, inasmuch as arrests were made without any reasonable grounds upon which to hope for a conviction. The arrests were made of a large number of persons simply upon suspicion, and there being, consequently, no evidence to go upon, remand after remand had to he applied for until the prisoners were finally discharged. The report says :-
" Those apparently arbitrary proceedings were not salutary in their effects. They did violence to people s ideas of the liberty of the subject. They irritated and estranged, probably, many who might have been of service to the police; they failed to allay apprehensions of further outrages on the part of the gang, or to prevent them from obtalning the requisite supplies, they crippled the usefulness of the officers, who had to be called away from active duty in connexion with the pursuit to attend the petty sessions at Beechworth, when remands were applied for, and, what was of more significance, the failure of the prosecutions led the public to suppose that the conduct of affairs was mismanaged."
The gang finding that the police at this time were utterly at fault as to their where- abouts, and that they were simply dragooning the district on purposeless expeditions, they gradually gained confidence, and settled
down in the ranges, where they secreted them- selves, varying their retreats as occasion arose between the neighbourhood of the King River, the Woolshed, near Sebastopol, and the Warby Ranges. In addition to a considerable accession of strength to the police of the district there were sent up at this time to guard the banks about 70 members of the Garrison Artillery, so that strong parties of police were enabled to traverse the district upon the receipt of information. Captain Standish attended to the office business in Benalla, while field operations were entrusted to Superintendent Hare, who is admitted to have displayed considerable vigour in his conduct of affairs. His expeditions in search of the outlaws in the Warby Ranges, his formation of the hut party, his descent upon Cleary's house where the outlaws were said to be concealed, his attempt to capture the gang at the Whorouly races, are all alluded to in terms somewhat complimentarily, but Captain Standish's action at this period does not appear to have given the commissioners satisfaction. He is described aa having, during the greater portion of the period he was in charge of the North-Eastern dis- trict, contented himself simply with rusticating peacefully in Benalla. Allusion is made to the employment of Inspector O'Connor and the Queensland trackers, whose services are said to have been retained con- trary to the wishes and judgment of the chief commissioner. The dissension which subse- quently arose between the officers, and which originated between Mr. O'Connor and one of the superintendents in charge, is mentioned as leading up to the serious estrangement be- tween the chief commissioner and the officer of the Queensland contingent, and from the wording of the report it seems clear that the commission hold Captain Standish mainly responsible for those strained relations which admittedly existed amongst the officers connected with the pur- suit of the Kelly gang. Having remained in charge of the district for nearly seven months, the chief commissioner and Super- intendent Hare returned to Melbourne, and were relieved by Mr. Nicolson. Captain Standish alleges as his reason for leaving Benalla that during his absence the affairs of the head office had fallen into a frightful
muddle, owing to the incapacity of the assistant commissioner. Immediately upon Mr. Nicolson taking charge of the pursuit, very large reductions were made in the num- ber of police stationed in the district, and in the amount allowed for expenditure in connexion with the pursuit. The Gar- rison Artillery were also withdrawn, and thus situated, Mr Nicolson had re- course to the system of employing secret agents, and abandoning search parties, which he, in common with Superintendent Sadleir, looked upon as mere fooling. At the time that Captain Standish and Superin- tendent Hare withdrew, in June, 1879, the prospect of capturing the outlaws appeared more remote than ever "The alarm," the commissioners urge, " caused by the daring outrages of the gang, had to some extent subsided, but a strong feeling of indignation prevailed throughout the country at the prospect presented of four young men, three of them only about 20 years of age, defying all the resources and power of the Govern- ment, and remaining in almost undisturbed tranquillity in what one of them described as their mountain home. Mr. Nicolson's peculiar mode of dealing with the outlaws is said to account for the apparent listlessness of the police at this stage. He made the most of the materials at his command, but his evident design was to lull the outlaws into a false sense of security, to induce them to believe that the police were utterly at fault in every attempt to trace their whereabouts, to surround them with a cordon of spies and informers, and to be ready in the event of their leaving their fastnesses to pounce down upon and capture the entire gang at one blow. When Captain Standish returned to Melbourne the authorities were without speci- fic information as to whether the Kellys were really in the country, or had gone northward to Queensland. Six weeks after Mr. Nicolson took charge he received reliable information of tbe gang being secreted in the ranges near Greta. He appears, however, to have taken no action to capture them beyond subsidising the informers to continue to serve the police, and keep them supplied with the latest in- telligence regarding the movements of the gang. There are several incidents con- nected with Mr Nicolson's administration at this period enlarged upon in the report. Allusion is made to the fact of a search party that had been organised to start from Benalla in September, 1879, having been disbanded under somewhat remarkable circumstances, and for which the assistant commissioner is hlamed by Captain Standish. Mr. Nicolson's explanation is given in the report, and from this the blame seems to be placed upon the shoulders of Mr. Sadleir, who
had neglected to bring with him the informer who would have led the police to the spot where the Kellys had been seen. The relations of Mr. Nicolson with Jack Sherritt are also dealt with, more particularly the interview which is said to have taken place between Sherritt and the assistant-commissioner on the 13th No- vember, 1879, when the police were informed that Dan Kelly had called at Sherritt's hut about 7 o'clock, and had promised to call again at 8. An effort appears to have been made to throw discredit upon the statement made by the informer, who, when before the commission, declared that on the night in question the entire gang had called at his place at 8 o'clock, and that had Mr. Nicolson acted promptly upon the informa- tion then given the outlaws might have been captured. The commissioners appear to think that the balance of testimony is in favor of Mr. Nicolson's statement, who maintained that it was not until 9 o'clock that Jack Sherritt came into Beech- worth, and that it was then too late to take any action. About April, 1880, in- telligence was received by the police of the robbery of mould boards of ploughs in the vicinity of Greta and Oxley, and the in- quiries made proved that the thieves were the members of the Kelly gang. About a month later the secret agent known as "diseased stock" wrote a letter to the assis- tant commissioner intimating that the object of the outlaws in stealing the mould-boards was to manufacture armour preparatory to making another raid on one of the banks.
The circumstance which it is supposed had the effect of inducing the authorities to with- draw Mr Nicolson from the North-Eastern district was the receipt of an anonymous letter forwarded to Mr. Graves, the member for the district, and forwarded by that gentle- man to the chief commissioner of police. In that document the character and conduct of Mr. Nicolson were unsparingly criticised in connexion with the pursuit. It was for- warded to Mr. Nicolson for explanation, and in a week afterwards that officer received
notice of the intention of the Government to supersede him. The writer of the letter was suspected by Mr. Nicolson to be the school- master, James Wallace, whose conduct in connexion with the outlaws forms the subject of a special recommendation on the part of the commissioners. Wallace denied, when under examination, that he wrote the letter in question, but in a communication sub- sequently addressed to the commissioners he stated that it had been concocted by Jack Sherritt and the outlaws in order to have Mr. Nicolson removed from the district. In referring to the causes of Mr. Nicolson's re- moval, the report says -
" The assistant commissioner takes no pains to conceal his opinion that his removal in June, 1880, although ostensibly the direct act of the Executive, was in reality the result of official intrigue. What- ever may have been the influences at worst-whether, as Mr Ramsay declared, the decision of the Govern- ment meant no more than a desire for a change of bowlers, or, as has been insinuated, Captain Standish, for reasons of his own, was respon- sible for the move-of this there cannot be a doubt, that there was thereby revealed the exist- ence of acrimonious feelings amongst the officers-of jealousy, distrust, and personal rivalry, of which nothing previously had been positively known, al-
though perhaps suspected. There is no gainsaying the fact that the recall of Mr. Nicolson implied dis- satisfaction, if not censure, but the fact of his having rcceived a month's grace at a time when, according to his own account, he was in daily anticipation of capturing the Kellys, indicates some consideration for his feelings. Public servants are not always the best judges of the motives which actuate a Government in adopting a particular policy, and, unfortunately, private interests and individuals must often be sacri- ficed to public expediency."
Mr. Hare succeeded Mr. Nicolson on June 2, 1879, and the circumstances attending the interview which occurred on that occasion between those officers have been the subject of frequent reference during the examination, and are thus adverted to in the report -
"The interview between Mr. Nicolson and Super- intendent Hare on the 2nd of June, 1880, when the latter took over charge, is variously described by the witnesses who were present. Superintendent Hare emphatically declares, and inserted a statement to the same effect in his official report after the affray at Glenrowan, that the interview lasted only 10 minutes, implying thereby that Mr. Nicolson withheld from him all the necessary information. Mr.Sadleir speaks of a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes, but, in cross examination, goes further. Mr. O'Connor thinks that the interview lasted much longer, while Mr. Nicolson insists that Superintendent Hare remained with him in the office nearly an hour; that during that time he gave him all the information he possessed, and, in conclusion, asked Mr. Sadleir if he thought he had omitted anything. Mr. Hare, in support of his allegation, produces hi diary, and Mr. Nicolson relies to a great extent upon the corroborative fact that the train by which his successor arrived reached Benalla at half past 11, that it took him about half an hour to reach the police station , and it is admitted upon all hands that the interview did not terminate until 1 o'clock, when the officers adjourned to their hotel for luncheon. A more serious charge than that levelled by Mr. Hare against Mr. Nicolson it would be difficult to define, amounting as it does to disloyalty to the service and the country, and meanness and treachery to brother officers, and if Mr. Hare at the time considered Mr. Nicolson guilty of such conduct, it was his duty to have at once reported the circum- stances. He wrote, it appears, a private letter to Captain Standish informing him of his impressions, but such a course was not calculated to meet a case of such grave significance as Mr. Hare represents in his official report and evidence. The assistant-commis- ioner indignantly repudiates the charge under which he had been allowed to labour for over 12 months, and appeals to his long service, and the respect entertained towards him by his brother officers and men, in refuta- tion, urging that he would be even more criminal than the Kellys themselves if there were the least foundation for the charge."
The action of Superintendent Hare during the month he was in charge prior to the destruction of the gang is referred to briefly, bnt stress is laid upon the murder of Aaron Sherritt and the conduct of the constables who at the time were on duty in the hut. The report thus deals with the constables is
" The names of the police present were Constables Armstrong (in charge) Duross, Dowllng, and Alex- ander. Never was there a more conspicuous instance of arrant cowardice than was exhibited by those men on the night of the murder. Instead of attacking the outlaws, or at least making some effort out of sheer regard for their manhood, if not for their official responsibility, they sought the protection for them- selves which they should have afforded to others. Two of them-Armstrong and Dowling- lay prostrate on the floor, with their bodies partly concealed beneath a bed, under which they had thrust the wife of the murdered man, with their feet resting against her, so that she could not possibly escape, in the hope that her presence would deter the outlaws from shooting them, or attempting, as they had threatened, to set fire to the place. Their conduct throughout was charac- terised by shameful poltroonery, which, in the army, would have been punished by summary expulsion from the service with every accompanying mark of contempt and degradation."
The Glenrowan affray is treated circum- stantially, but there runs throughout apparently a vein of irony, the reverse of complimentary to the officers in charge. Superintendent Hare's sudden disappearance from the scene of action, Inspector O'Con- nor's self-immurement in a drain, the seeming nonchalance of Superintendent Sadleir, and his grotesque determination to bombard the wretched hut which the outlaws defended for nearly fourteen hours, are referred to in terms that imply something approaching to contemptuousness.