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4 corrections, most recently by PeggyAeschlimann - Show corrections

The Black Trackers and the

Kelly Gang.

The engagement by the Victorian Govern- ment of a body of Queensland native troopers, for the purpose of tracking the Kelly gang to their haunts, will be fresh in the memory of all who have taken interest in the attempts to capture those ruffians. The troopers left Queensland in February last year, when they were six in number, and were placed under the direction of Sub-inspector Stanhope O'Connor, of the Queensland Native Mounted Police. Their names are—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 is now only 24 years of age, and the youngest about 18, and some of them have been in the force seven or eight years, during which they have 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 many miles have they 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 pre- datory and murderous aboriginals, when these were attacked in their strongholds. It may seem an easy thing for troopers armed with rifles to attack and defeat a mob of aborigi- nals, but the spears of the blacks of tropical Queensland, with the aid of the wummera, are most terrible weapons, and carry almost certain death with them at a hundred yards. It requires no small amount of courage to face a shower of them, or to chase through long grass or thick scrub those who are cap- able of hurling them with almost scientific precision. The black troopers are said to be thoroughly reliable in cases of danger, when their confidence in their leaders is once estab- lished, and they then become good-natured and obliging in their manner, and as a rule temperate in their habits. Officers trust themselves with them hundreds of miles from

settlements, and obtain from them an insight

into bush life and tactics which no other people could provide them with. They are drilled regularly, and engage in cavalry exercises, and make excellent horse- men. The pay they receive is £3 a month each, with uniform and quarters, but out of the money they have to contribute something towards the cost of their rations. Those who

were engaged in the Kelly campaign received £3 a month, and had everything provided for

them. These men could follow fresh tracks

of men, horses, or cattle at a gallop, but un- fortunately in Victoria their powers of dis- cernment were not very frequently tested in the requisite direction. Notwithstanding this, their eagerness for pursuit remained un- abated, and on occasion they were instrumen- tal 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 fa- vourite, 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 des- cribed as a credit to any force. They seemed to be favourites with everyone who knew them, except the Kellys. After reach- ing Sydney the troopers proceeded direct by way of Wagga Wagga to Benalla, where their headquarters were established. Cap- tain Standish met them on their arrival there, and in two days after, Mr. O'Connor had been sworn in as a sub-inspector of the Vic- torian police, they were placed at 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 con- fidently 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, turned out to be those of ordinary travellers. Every mark that had a suspicion of the Kellys about 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 dis- tinctly. Unfortunately for the cause of jus- tice they could not move out of their quarters without creating a sensation. Their move- ments were at once telegraphed to the Kellys, who were quickly off to their fastnesses. The value of their aid was quickly recognised by the Victorian authorities, and on one occasion they had a slice of luck which compensated them for many dis- appointments. This transpired in connection with the Lancefield bank robbery. The troopers proceeded by special train to Kil- more, and then rode to Lancefield. Here it was stated that the two robbers had gone to a public-house and bought some provisions. Then tracks were quickly picked up and fol- lowed 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 then 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 head-quarters, 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. Up to this point the general arrangements for the capture of the Kellys were not of a very complete order. Plenty of intrepid men were available as well as plenty of energy, but much of the latter was misdirected. A report would arrive that the Kellys were in a certain locality, and imme- diately bodies of men were sent to scour that locality, but the Kellys, having got the alarm, were invariably non est. They never seemed inclined to show fight. Matters went on in a futile way until Mr. Nicholson, the assist- ant Commissioner of Police, was placed at the head of affairs. That gentleman pursued a fresh course, and so long as he was in au- thority, things seemed to progress. He re- cognised the fact that it would, on account of their numerous sympathisers, be almost im- possible to take the outlaws by surprise, and after appointing a number of men to act as detectives and agents, he prepared for meeting the gang with their own weapons—cunning and strategy. Things went on satisfactorily, and amongst the police it became known that the gang were getting short of money, and must break cover before long, when, to the surprise of every one, Mr. Nicholson was re- moved to Melbourne. Men who had failed signally in bringing the arrangements to any- thing near a successful issue were again put in charge. The gang admitted that in conse- quence of the pressure brought to bear upon them by Mr. Nicholson and his men, they would be compelled to break cover. They said that the secret way in which they were being hunted from place to place, made their lives miserable to them. They became weary of existence, and in constant dread of the black trackers, feeling that every movement they heard was their approach. We have seen that they shot Sherritt out of revenge for betraying them, and in

order to strike terror into the hearts of

others who would inform against them,

that they must have been pushed very closely towards the last. It was very generally known to the authorities that they were seldom in the Strathbogie Ranges, as was generally supposed. The opinion that these

constituted their retreat had not sufficient

grounds to find a resting-place in the minds of the police, who regarded the idea as a fiction, knowing well that the gang seldom moved any great distance from their friends. These, it was well known, supplied them with rations. For some reason, which we cannot explain, the black trackers were in Melbourne and on their way home when the

news of Sherritt's murder arrived. Mr.

O'Connor, however, was requested to proceed to Beechworth and thence to Sherritt's house, with the view of picking up tracks, and he obeyed, with what result is generally 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 pre- sence at the annihilation of the gang. The ladies intended staying at Beechworth until the labours of the trackers were completed. It could scarcely be believed at first that the rails had been torn up, and the extent of Mr. Curnow's usefulness was not realised at the time it was exercised, as that gentleman almost immediately disappeared, and it was thought the gang were perpetrating a ruse.

When it was ascertained that it was on the other side of Glenrowan station the rails had been torn up, the special train proceeded on- ward to the platform, where the troopers alighted. Their horses were taken out to allow them to ride forward to ascertain the extent of the damage done, when Constable Bracken came to them and informed them that the Kellys were at hand. Jones's publichouse was situated about fifty yards from the line, and sixty from the station, so that the train was within easy range of the Kellys' fire. The premises consisted of three buildings—a main building, a detached kitchen, and a detached stable, in line with each other. Sub-inspector O'Connor and Mr. Hare and some six men rushed for- ward to the front door of the main building, but when they got within twenty yards their advance was checked by a raking volley from the verandah, where the bushrangers were stationed, and they were forced to seek cover.   The lynx-eyed trackers were placed at various points of shelter around the premises, and Mr. O'Connor took up a position in a creek about twenty yards from the front door. It appears that Mr. Hare was shot in the first volley, and that he exclaimed, "I am woun-   ded ; I am shot in the arm ; I must go back." He appeared very weak, and returned in a few minutes to the station, where he got into the carriage in which the ladies were seated. His wrist bled freely, but he recovered to some extent the effects of his wound. He wished to proceed to Benalla for surgical treatment by the pilot engine. This unfortunately had left the scene, the only engine remaining being that attached to the train. Fortunately for

Mr. Hare this was uncoupled from the car- riages, and when passing along a loop line that gentleman succeeded in springing on to it, and it at once proceeded to Benalla with him. The ladies, who were in great fear for their personal safety, were desirous also of returning to the same place, but were pre- vented doing so by the only means of locomo- tion being taken from them. They were thus compelled to remain at the station till the end of the conflict, and to see the bleeding Ned Kelly carried past them on the platform. After Mr. Hare had retired, sub-inspector O'Connor took charge. The outlaws could be distinctly seen in the moon-light firing away at the police, and it must have been in the return fire that Jones' children were acciden- tally shot. Mr. O'Connor heard the scream of a woman, whereupon he ordered his men to cease firing, and as soon as his order had been obeyed he cried out to the outlaws to "Let   out the women," and in a few minutes the women came out, one of them as they passed through the police lines, remarking, "We   have left them in there to fight it out." The prisoners were all in the kitchen, and so far as could be ascertained, no shots were directed against that, the police directing all their energies against the main building where they saw the flashes of the outlaws' rifles. They had no idea that there were any child- ren there. Byrne was killed by a bullet passing through the femoral artery as he was drinking many years success in the bush, and beyond falling down, he did not move after he was struck. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were seen alive at one of the windows a few minutes prior to the determination being arrived at to set fire to the building, and the idea in burning the place was to drive them into the open. They were evi- dently shot by the firing of the police, which covered constable Johnson's advance to the building with the straw. Old Cherry was known to the police to be in the kitchen and safe from their fire ; so that the report that he was taken out of the building is inaccu- rate. The kitchen in point of fact was standing when the police left the scene. By the way, it was known to the police authori- ties four months before the fight at Glen- rowan that the outlaws were fortifying them- selves with armour, and that they had tested the efficiency of this with bullets at ten paces, and it also transpired that the armour was made in the district by a man well known to the police, although the proofs were insufficient for a

conviction. The man was an intimate friend of the Kellys. That the outlaws were being well supplied with arms and ammunition was also well known. There is a rumour afloat that, at the time of their annihilation, the gang virtually were not outlaws, because the proclamation against them expired on the Saturday previous to the conflict, and had not been renewed by the following Monday, on which they were taken, but it is not likely to affect the issue. The black trackers are now

in Sydney, but will proceed homewards by steamer on Friday next, carrying with them some mementoes of the event in which they at least did not figure to disadvantage.