Cookson, 05 09 1911 3
5 September 1911
THE NUCLEUS OF THE GANG
"They were sent to Beechworth gaol. There they met some notorious New South Wales criminals-and also Ned Jim Kelly. There is no doubt that it was while the three of them were serving their sentences that they arranged the systematic scheme of stock-lifting and sale that they subsequently put into execution. The idea was a most promising one. It was that the New South Wales robbers should steal in their own State and the Kellys confine their thefts to Victoria. In each case the booty way to be driven across the border into the other State, and sold by the confederate there.
"It is surprising how well the scheme worked. There was little or no trouble in getting rid of the stock. The owners knew they were being robbed, and had shrewd suspicions as to the identity of the thieves. But they were afraid to speak. There is the same fear amongst stock-owners to-day. Well the New South Wales thieves used to drive the horses and cattle to Howlong. That was the rendezvous. The Kellys took their stock there by way of the Woolshed and the Pilot Range. They had ample paddock space-in deed all their arrangements were as perfect as is any properly-conducted business.
"This nefarious trade went on briskly and profitably for a couple of years, during which none of the thieves were even caught. The Victorian horses were sold at Jerilderie principally, and the thieves worked so quickly that the stolen animals would hardly be missed in one State by the time they had been sold in another.
"But this could not go on for ever. There was bound to be a mistake made some time or other. And it was Byrne that made it. A stolen horse was found in his paddock at Barnawartha. He couldn't account for it beyond that he got it from a man whom he didn't know. From the description he gave a warrant was issued for Ned Kelly's arrest but he could not be found. In 1878 I was sent to the north-eastern district to arrest Ned. I left Melbourne with a man who knew the district as well as I did. After three months search I discovered one of his haunts, and sent to Mr Standish for men from Benalla and Mansfield. I told him the Kellys would be found at the head of the King River. But as a matter of fact, they were then at the other side of the Dividing Range. Several parties of police scoured the country, but without success. About nine miles from Moylen I met a party of troopers, who told me that Scanlon and Lonergan had been shot, and that Kennedy was missing.
"Fresh bodies of police were obtained and the whole country was searched. We heard that the bushrangers crossed the Ovens River, and that they intended to go to New South Wales.
(The failure of the police to follow and capture the Kellys at this stage is strongly commented on in the Royal Commission report )
"A few days after the murders we went right up the Wombat Ranges, and found the horses of the men who were killed. There was a great sensation then. All the police in the district were turned out. Chief Commissioner Standish came down from Melbourne. The entire country was searched thoroughly. But the first word we got of our men was that they had stuck up the bank at Euroa, cut the telegraph wires, and got clear away. I went in charge of a party, and found the wires all cut and down. But there was no sign of the robbers.
"The pursuit was very difficult. In fact the difficulties were unique. It is all very well to criticise the police for the things they didn't do. But just consider the very difficult nature of the country, the fact that the whole district was full of the Kelly's friends and sympathisers, and the fact that those who were not their friends were afraid to say anything about them. And, remember, that whenever they robbed a bank they distributed the booty amongst their friends. There was general prosperity in some of those places after a bank robbery.
"Six months of searching proved resutless. Then Superintendent Hare had a try-but found nothing in three months. After that matters settled down into a regular careful, systematic watch for the robbers. We engaged several spies - Aaron Sherritt was one I had the whole charge of the operations, including the new 'secret service'
"All likely places were watched but nothing came of it all.
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