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Royal Commission second Report Part XI ( page 14)

Story of the KellyGang - the Royal Commission

Second Report

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part XI

XI.-THE QUEENSLAND TRACKERS

Early in December 1878 Mr. D. T. Seymour, the Queensland Commissioner, offered to place a number of native trackers at the service of the Victorian Government. The proposal did not meet with acceptance at the hands of Captain Standish. After the Jerilderie raid, however, the necessity for employing skilled trackers became obvious, and the Chief Commissioner's objections were overcome upon the representations of his officers. A telegram, dated 15th February 1879 , was accordingly despatched to Mr. Seymour, at Brisbane , asking him to send down a party of eight trackers, under the command of a competent officer. The terms as regards remuneration and mode of working the contingent were soon arranged, and, on the 6th of March ensuing, Inspector O'Connor and his blacks arrived at Albury, where they were met by Captain Standish, who accompanied them the remainder of the journey to Benalla. Mr. O'Connor's instructions were that he was to obey the orders of Captain Standish, and co-operate with the members of the Victorian or New South Wales police, with whom he might be required to serve, while at the same time he was to communicate as opportunity arose with the Commissioner of Police in Brisbane . In fact, however Inspector O'Connor may have been regarded, he never held the position of an officer in the Victorian police. He stood in the relation of a volunteer, subject to the regulations and discipline of the force for the time being, simply holding the rank of an officer in a foreign service, his commission being recognised as a matter of courtesy by those with whom he was co-operating. In Mr. Seymour's memo., Inspector O'Connor was expressly informed that "he merely went as an assistant and that the conduct of affairs was entirely in the hands of Captain Standish and his officers; and that, in obeying orders, he freed himself from responsibility for anything beyond his own acts." Mr. O'Connor was not appointed to any particular position in the Victorian police; he was sworn in and remained exclusively in charge of the Queensland trackers. The arrangement was anomalous, and much of the difficulty and misunderstanding that afterwards arose might have been avoided had Mr. O'Connor been gazetted an officer in the Victorian police. For some months after the arrival of the Queensland trackers cordial relations appear to have subsisted between Captain Standish and Inspector O'Connor. Then dissension arose, and much bitterness of feeling was engendered in consequence of a personal quarrel with one of the officers. On the 11 th of March, a week after the arrival of the trackers, they were despatched with Mr. O'Connor in pursuit of the gang. As showing the friendly feeling entertained towards him at this period, it may be mentioned that he was placed in command of the party alluded to, although he was accompanied by Superintendent Sadleir, an officer of higher grade. Mr. O'Connor was desirous of going out with only a few Victorian troopers attached to his party, but the Chief Commissioner, for certain reasons, was averse to this arrangement, and sent a much larger number. This expedition, which was intended to test the powers of the trackers, resulted in demonstrating their usefulness to some extent; but, at the same time, it showed that, being natives of a warmer climate, they were not well adapted, even when supplied with suitable clothing and covering at night, to endure severe weather or the physical hardships incidental to carrying on operations in the ranges. They returned to quarters earlier than was expected, principally owing to this circumstance. Corporal Sambo, one of the contingent, died in a few days afterwards, having succumbed to the effects of congestion of the lungs. On the 16th of April following, Mr. O'Connor and his party again proceeded in pursuit, but on the fifth day out they were recalled by the Chief Commissioner for the purpose of placing the trackers at the disposal of Superintendent Hare, who was supposed to have obtained an important clue to the whereabouts of the gang in the Warby Ranges . This appears to have been the last occasion upon which, during the period Captain Standish remained in charge of the district, Inspector O'Connor went out in command of a party. This, together with the fact that the Chief Commissioner declined to work the trackers in accordance with the views of Mr. O'Connor, no doubt served to bring about the estrangement which arose between those officers. The Chief Commissioner at no time refrained from expressing his disparaging estimate of the value of the Queensland trackers. They had been engaged contrary to his wishes and his judgment. He believed them to be wholly unsuitable for tracking in broken and mountainous country, more especially as they required a considerable quantity of impedimenta, could work but slowly, and were therefore the more liable to attract observation. In a district like that in which the pursuit was conducted, and having to cope with men who frequently rode from 60 to 70 miles in one night, it was believed by Captain Standish that the trackers were utterly useless, and that their engagement was an idle expenditure of money. In withholding information from the officer in charge of the trackers, in connection with the search of Cleary's house, a slight was thereby implied; and, by making Superintendent Hare a party to the transaction, the Chief Commissioner adopted the most effectual means of sowing discord amongst the officers. He also deliberately informed Mr. O'Connor that he intended to catch the Kellys without his assistance; and, by his general demeanor, according to the evidence, displayed a want of kindly and generous feeling towards Mr. O'Connor, who as a stranger and a volunteer sent specially by the Government of a neighboring colony to assist the Victorian police, was the more entitled to courtesy and consideration. While Captain Standish entertained this opinion of the trackers, it must be noticed that Mr. Hare, Mr. Sadleir and other competent authorities who had practical experience of the value of their work, bore favorable testimony to their abilities and usefulness. .....

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