Royal Commission Second Report Part XV ( page 21)

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part XV


The murder of Aaron Sherritt was designed as the prelude to the terrible tragedy by means of which the outlaws intended, as they had previously boasted, to astonish not only the Australian colonies but the whole world. It seems manifest that they had carefully thought out and matured their plan of operations. They proposed in the first place to shoot Aaron Sherritt. By this they rightly conjectured that they would, not only have wreaked their vengeance upon one who had betrayed them to the police, but would induce the authorities to despatch on the following day - Sunday - when there was no ordinary traffic on the line, a special train to Beechworth with the Queensland trackers and a large body of police. Next, it was determined to wreck this special train, and shoot any constable who might escape the effects of the disaster. Finally, the coast having been thus cleared, the gang were to proceed at once to Benalla or one of the townships in the district, rob one of the banks, and with the spoil retrace their steps to their previous haunts in the ranges. By one of those unforeseen accidents which often defeat the best laid schemes, execution of the latter portion of their programme was frustrated, and their career suddenly brought to a close. The murder was perpetrated by only two of the gang, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly. Their task accomplished, they rode with all speed across country to Glenrowan, where Ned Kelly and Steve Hart were occupied in preparing for the destruction of the train. The outlaws established themselves in Mrs. Jones's hotel, which stood in an oblique direction, about 40 yards south-west of the local railway station, and between the line and the Warby Ranges . Thither Ned Kelly and Hart conveyed the persons whom they had bailed up during the day, the intention being to keep them in duress until the special had passed. At an early hour on Sunday morning the rails were torn up by two men named Reardon and Sullivan, with a threat of being shot by Ned Kelly in case they refused to act as directed. The spot selected for the catastrophe is about 1000 yards north of the Glenrowan station, at a point where the line, after passing through a deep cutting, suddenly makes a sharp curve. Here there is on one side, to the west, a high embankment, which shuts out the view ahead as the point is approached; and on the other a steep declivity, down which it was intended to precipitate the train. The members of the gang were somewhat abstemious during the day. Steve Hart was drunk in the morning, but he soon recovered, and he alone appears to have taken any liquor to excess. They established very friendly relations with their prisoners, of whom, towards evening, there were no less than 62. They joined in outdoor sports, got up a dance during the night, played cards, indulged in some vocal music, and otherwise amused themselves while awaiting the arrival of the train which was expected to pass Glenrowan about midnight . Mr. Curnow, the local State school teacher, who, with his wife and sister-in-law, had been bailed up early in the afternoon, contrived by a show of sympathy to ingratiate himself into the good graces of the gang; and, under Providence, to his tact, coolness, and bravery, must be attributed the rescue of the special train and its occupants from destruction. Constable Bracken, who was stationed in the locality, was taken prisoner and conveyed to the hotel late in the evening. He appears to have acted with prudence throughout the trying circumstances in which he was placed. Mr. Curnow was released about midnight , and immediately took steps to warn the approaching special. He improvised a danger signal by placing a lighted match behind a scarlet mantle, and with this he set out along the line to meet the train. The special, containing Mr. O'Connor, his wife, and sister-in-law, five trackers, and several representatives of the press, arrived at Benalla at about half-past one o'clock. Here Superintendent Hare and a party of troopers joined them, and having procured a pilot engine to go in advance, a start was made for Beechworth at 2.10 a.m. On arriving within a mile and a half of Glenrowan, the pilot engine was observed to stop, and upon inquiry as to the cause, the information given by Mr. Curnow of the presence of the Kellys at Glenrowan, and of the rails having been torn up, was communicated to Superintendent Hare. After a consultation, it was decided to travel slowly and cautiously, and bring the train up to the

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