Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XX page 4
Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir
SOME ARM CHAIR ADVISERS
During this period of quietude on the part of the Kelly gang the people of the district began to think the gang had left the country. The Chief Commissioner of Police, who was informed of the news brought in by our scouts, professed to be anxious, but had nothing practical to suggest. Mr John Woods, Minister for Railways, was one who was specially impatient of delay. Some advisers, men who should have known better, submitted a plan that was expected to make short work of the Kelly pursuit. The plan was simplicity itself. Each mountain was to be surrounded by a cordon of several hundred police and military, who would then march to its summit, where - it was assumed the gang would be waiting capture. It was admitted that it would take some days to move the men into position, then would follow the ascent to the top where the Kellys, looking on at all these preparations, would kindly remain rather than more away to one of the many scores of other mountain ranges within their reach.
Though the police did not see their way to following this sage suggestion, it must not be supposed that they were inactive in other directions. On the contrary, as the news brought in became more definite as to the Kellys running short of money, and the consequent urging of their friends to make fresh haul, so also the police became more on the alert, their plans more definite and complete, and the more sanguine became the local officers that a crisis was approaching which, they hoped, would be the beginning of the end.
A DISTURBING ELEMENT
The news coming in from the scouts was, as already said, regularly communicated to the Chief Commissioner of Police in Melbourne . It is strange that as matters became more critical, and the long-hoped-for success of Nicolson’s plans grew more and more promising, this particular moment should be chosen for a change of leaders. Mr Robert Ramsay was at this time - June 1880 - Chief Secretary, and therefore ministerial head of the police department. For some reason he resolved to send Hare to Benalla to take the place of Nicolson as senior officer in charge of the Kelly pursuit. In this he was supported by the Chief Commissioner of Police, who was an admirer of Hare. His regard for Hare had become an infatuation, a mild form of insanity, it may even be said. Hare had before tried his hand at the Kelly business and failed very badly. He declared later that his being sent this second time to replace Nicolson was not of his seeking. This may be true in the letter but not in the spirit, and the change of officers at this very critical time was a dangerous experiment that quite easily might have led to very injurious results. I was so convinced of the imprudence of making any change, that I wrote privately to Hare as soon as the report reached me, begging of him to keep out of the business by any means. He took all I said in good part, but persisted in following the line of his own ambition.
SHORTLY BEFORE GLENROWAN
On June 2nd, 1880 , Hare took up his work at Benalla for the second time, but seemed sorry that I had not approved of his coming. This did not however prevent our working together in perfect good will. Sub Inspector O’Connor and his Queensland boys were still at Benalla, but their position was made so difficult that Mr O’Connor applied to his Government to be recalled, with his boys, and on June 24th they left Benalla. I had nothing but admiration for Hare’s zeal, yet there were matters on which we had opposite views. For instance he placed four police in Aaron Sherritt’s hut, not far from the home of Joe Byrne, one of the gang, in the expectation that they could remain there week after week, without being discovered. I was quite sure that any such expectation was futile, and I endeavoured, but in vain, to dissuade him from the undertaking. Men could not I knew be kept concealed in a two-roomed hut which was already occupied by Sherritt and his wife, especially as the place stood open to a main road. The end was - Sherritt was shot dead at his own door, and the four police found themselves under fire from the bushrangers and in a trap from which there was no escape. The four police finally got away unhurt, but they were branded with a disgrace that they did not quite deserve. This, however, is anticipating events by a few days.
On the afternoon of June 24th, the same day on which Sub Inspector O’Connor and his Queensland boys left for Melbourne on their way to Brisbane , the DSA made his appearance at the police camp at Benalla. He had not heard of the change of officers, and he was somewhat put out at finding Hare, whom he did not know, in the place of Nicolson, for whom he had been working so long. He had a very important, not to say startling, story to tell. The Kellys were now entirely out of funds and their ‘friends’ , who had been sharing in the loot from Euroa and Jerilderie, were putting pressure on them, and a fresh exploit was to be expected immediately. The Kellys had provided themselves with bullet-proof armour which they had tested with their own riffles, and part of their plan was to effect something that would cause the ears of the Australian world to tingle. Further questions brought out the statement that the breast plates of one of the suits of armour had been shot at on its concave side, and it stood the test, showing only the dent where struck by the bullet. I do not quite know what the man thought of the reception he met with. Hare treated him with scorn, dismissed him from all further service, and, turning to me, remarked: ‘If this is the sort of person Nicolson and you have been upon, it is no wonder you have not caught the Kellys.’ This occurred three days before the Kellys appeared in armour at Glenrowan.
On the afternoon of Sunday, the 27th, a messenger came to me from Hare with news of the killing of Aaron Sherritt and the discomfiture of the police in this man’s hut. I found him greatly disturbed, and expecting evidently the natural ‘I told you so’ from me. It was not a time, however, for any personal feeling of this kind, and we together set to work. The first thing I proposed was to get O’Connor and his boys, who were still in Melbourne , back again. The Chief Commissioner was at the Melbourne end of the telegraph line, but neither he nor Hare, both of whom had had differences with O’Connor, cared to ask him to return. I then sent a request from myself personally, to which O’Connor at once responded, as he would no doubt, had the others appealed to him.
Later in the day, finding that Hare was suffering from a cold, I proposed that I should take his place, but he was then as always too eager for the fray to consent, and determined to go to Beechworth himself, there to pick up the tracks near Sherritt’s. By this time the DSA’s warning was having more meaning for us. What was most to be feared, as I thought, was the wrecking of the train conveying the police party. I recommended the use of a pilot engine. Hare did not understand the term at first, but on its meaning being explained he at once assented.
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