Argus 8/9/1881 (2)
Nicolson giving evidence
Police parties were started from Wangaratta, Benalla, and Mansfield to intercept the outlaws without delay. As to the instructions sent to Mansfield which prevented the police there from taking certain action, he held that the officer at Mansfield, on ascertaining that he (Mr Nicolson) had left Benalla, and that it was only a clerk who was repeating his orders, ought to have acted on the later information he received on his own responsibility. A piece of mismanagement occurred here through an officer who was only acquainted with city work having been sent into the bush. He did not, however, intend by this to cast any rellection on Sub-inspector Pewtress, whose promotion was well earned. In leaving Euroa, however, the gang, as a matter of fact, did not take to the Strathbogie Ranges, but merely skirted them.
The police in pursuing them were quite at a loss for lack of competent trackers. When he (Mr Nicolson) returned to the North-Eastern district on the second occasion he determined his policy should be to scatter the outlaws, by making them believe that the police were just as ignorant of their whereabouts as were the public, and so to lull them into a false sense of security. Respecting Jack Sherritt's information of the 15th November, 1879, he did not get it until 9pm, when it was use- less for that night, as, if the police had acted on it then they would only have caused a disturbance, which would have made the gang leave that part of the country. Moreover, as bearing on the character of the information he might say that it was doubtful as the gang were too wary ever to make an appointment. Jack Sherritt was a very timid man. He was always afraid that the gang would compel him to act with them, and that he would be shot by the police. To subdue his fears had to get his likeness taken and circulated amongst the police so that they might know him and refrain from injuring him if he were ever impressed into the service of the outlaws. Had always opposed the Sherritt brothers being taken into the force on account of the character of their relatives and their antecedents.
Senior-constable Johnson's charge, that he was compelled to abandon tracks on the Warby Ranges , had completely taken him by surprise. The tracks could not as he said, lead into a scrub as there was no scrub there, and they were simply given up because they were lost by the trackers. Moreover, the whole matter was left in the hands of Johnson and his party, and witness gave no orders until Johnson gave up the job. Sergeant Steel was then despatched with a party to scour the ranges. Mr Brook Smith was then in charge at Wangaratta, and witness was so disgusted with his actions that he sent him to Beechworth, with instructions to interfere no more in the Kelly business. It was in consequence of witness's recommendation that the Baumgarten arrests for horse-stealing were made. He told Captain Standish at the time that he was astonished at the tone in which the police of the North- Eastern district spoke of horse-stealing, and suggested that he should return to the district. Captain Standish took no notice of his suggestion. It was he who formed the Glenmore station, and if it had been kept up it would have checked, if not prevented, the Kelly outbreak.
At the time of the Euroa outrage, the force was very much in want of leaders – of men who knew the country. Witness had consequently to go out himself, instead of remaining at the principal points where information was received. Eventually he was worn out, and laid aside with bad eyes. His successors (Captain Standish and Mr Hare) had large reinforcements, and the services of the black trackers, but when he relieved them again he came to the conclusion from what Mr Hare said, that it was not then known whether the outlaws were in Victoria or not. Under his (Mr Nicolson's) system he soon ascertained that they were here, and then, by secret agents and watch parties, he gradually but surely, reduced the gang to great strains – so much so that they were eventually obliged to rob workmen's tents for the bare necessities of life. During the last month of their career all their money was gone, and they were living on the sufferance of sympathisers, and he was certain he would encounter them soon. He was, however relieved at this critical point by Mr Hare.
The strained relations between Captain Standish and him self were the result of the former's jealousy. Yet witness always served the chief com- missioner loyally. Captain Standish was also on bad terms with Messrs Smith and Littleton , former inspecting superintendents It was well known that want of energy was not a trait of his (Mr Nicolson's) character. As to the charge that his management of the Kelly work was expensive, the returns showed that the contrary was the case. Mr Hare, by his plausible manner and glib tongue, succeeded in ingratiating himself with Captain Standish and Mr Ramsay and he was afforded means of catching the outlaws that he (witness) never had. He received carte blanche. Witness was hampered with orders. What Mr Hare had done to justify the then Government reposing unbounded confidence in him, was a mystery.
The ultimate destruction of the gang was mainly due to accident. Mr Ramsay was grossly misled by the head of the department and his (Mr Nicolson's) removal from the North-Eastern district was a great shame. Witness concluded by referring to certain reforms he had recommended at the Richmond Depot in 1876, but which Captain Standish declined to carry out and which were not effected until witness himself was made acting chief commissioner. These reforms related chiefly to the recruits being instructed to groom their horses in fatigue dress.
Mr Hare having cross-examined the witness as to his promotions and increases of salary, the commission adjourned until next (this) day at 11 o'clock
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