Royal Commission report day 15 page 4
The Royal Commission evidence for 4/5/1881
(see also introduction to day 15)
Inspector Montfort giving evidence
3551 There are papers in the office that will show the same evil extends all along the Dividing ranges, and from the late Superintendent Singleton, of New South Wales, showing that he could not send any party into the Tumberumba country of less than four; and I am sure we shall have all this trouble over again in the North-Eastern district or Omeo district, or the adjoining parts of New South Wales; have you a knowledge of the country I have referred to?— When I went to Wangaratta in 1862, the great trouble the police had then was with the Omeo mob of horse-stealers. They used to come across to Wangaratta, steal horses, go to Omeo and plant them in the ranges, and alter the brands, and then sell them in Melbourne or in New South Wales . I could mention the names of the parties. There is still the same complaint. That is why I considered the doing away with the Harrietville station was a great mistake at the time.
3552 Do you see the name “Tanner” there?— Yes.
3553 Will you read that letter from the Secretary for Lands, dated the 16th June 1879 ?— [The witness did so, as follows:—] “To Mr. William Tanner, Myrrhee. —Sir—Referring to your letter of the 9th instant, enquiring the reason why your application for 44a. 0r. 4p., parishes of Myrrhee and Tatong, was refused, I have the honor to inform you that the land in question was refused on the recommendation of the Police Department.”
3554 Do you consider that a desirable action to refuse a license and state it in that way?— If I answered that question in the affirmative it would be a reflection on the Lands Department, because they would have good grounds for refusing.
3555 I ask when those men are refused ground, do you think it desirable the public should become aware of the refusal because the police reported?— Certainly not. I think the greatest difficulty we have to contend with is undue publicity.
3556 As an experienced officer of many years standing, you think the power of the police to do that should not be exercised except with the very greatest caution, and with sufficient evidence before them?— I made my remarks with the understanding that every precaution possible would be used by the police before making any such recommendation. I assumed that. To begin with, I could not imagine an officer of police making such an assertion in a reckless manner, or without having very good grounds for it.
3557 Is there no such thing as a reformed criminal who would be perfectly competent to occupy land with advantage to himself and to the public?— Undoubtedly.
3558 Would it be desirable to throw any obstacles in his way merely from the fact of his having been convicted of crime?— Not merely that, but if he was in the habit afterwards of harboring criminals.
3559 If a man were convicted in a certain locality, and he had assistants in his crime when he was convicted, and if when he got out and had apparently reformed he wanted to select where his companions were, should he be allowed to go there and take land?— No, certainly not.
3560 You are going to the North-Eastern district?— Yes.
3561 There is an article in this morning's Age, which looks as if it had been inspired by one of the officers. Will you look at that—[handing a newspaper to the witness]—and tell me whether you do not think if an article such as that has come from the Police Department, it will tend to interfere greatly with the public service?— I think it is a very unfortunate thing that this article has appeared. I thought so when I read it this morning.
3562 Does that article appear as if it was inspired by some person in the Police Department?— I do not know who inspired it.
3563 From the information therein contained, could that reasonably have come, except through the Police Department to the public?— Shall I read it out?
3564 Yes?—[The witness read the article referred to as follows:—] “The feeling in the North-Eastern district that another gang of bushrangers is likely to break out before long is increasing, and the Acting Chief Commissioner of Police, under the advice of his officers stationed in that district, has taken the necessary steps to strengthen the force in the north-east, but at the same time it is generally admitted that the force will be in a worse position than before to effect the capture of any future gang, because of the diffidently that will be experienced to secure the services of any reliable and competent secret agents. The men who have been in the employ of the police heretofore have declined to act longer, because of the feet that their acts in the past have been made known by the publication of the evidence taken before the police commission. Many of them have already left the district, dreading violence from the sympathizers of the late Kelly gang. It was at first thought that the fate of the outlaws would deter others from following their example, but about three months ago the police at Benalla received secret information that a gang was in course of formation in the neighborhood of Greta. This was at first considered to be the result of empty boasts on the part of certain lawless inhabitants of the district, but more recently information has been received which has evidently caused the authorities to think it necessary to be prepared for any emergency. The number of police in the district has been very considerably reduced, the men having been sent to do duty in Melbourne during the Exhibition, but now it has been determined to strengthen the various stations on the North-Eastern line, and to establish other stations where it is considered desirable. It was rumored in Benalla on Monday that four valuable horses had been stolen from a farm close to Benalla, but there does not appear to be any real foundation for the rumor. The black trackers at present stationed in Benalla are believed by the authorities to be better men than their predecessors.”....
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