Royal Commission report day 23 page 10
The Royal Commission evidence for 31/5/1881
(see also introduction to day 23)
Sgt Steele giving evidence
8976 In consequence of that jealously that existed at the time you speak of, do you think that it would have a tendency to defeat the ends you had in view?— Well, it seemed as though it were intended that one party of police should catch the Kellys and no other.
8977 What effect had it on you when in the district–that is the question?— I do not understand the question.
8978 You have told us there was a feeling in the district about the Bourke district men, and you think it has died out. I then asked whether that feeling of jealousy had a tendency to prevent the capture of the Kellys at that time?— Well, so far as confining the search to one party of men, I should say it had.
8979 Were you prevented from searching in consequence of Bourke men being there?— I was not sent out, I merely went out in the ranges on my own account.
8980 Are you aware that the evidence shows that several of the search parties that went out with Mr. Hare, went out without definite information?— Yes, they may have gone just the same as I went out on several occasions myself.
8981 Were the Bourke men there on the 2nd November, when the Kellys crossed the line, as you described this morning?— No, I think they were not. I think some men had come up then.
8982 Were you quite satisfied with the information you obtained at that time that the Kellys were not far off then, and that you could have followed the tracks?— Yes, I think so.
8983 Is it a fact that you would not take that course because you had received definite instructions to proceed to another place by Mr. Sadleir?— Yes; but also because there was another party there in charge of Inspector Smith.
8984 Although you were positive you were close on the Kellys, you, as an officer having the charge of one sub-district, you would not disobey the orders of your superior officer?— I was not actually in charge of my sub-district then. I had come down from Mansfield then, and kind been in the ranges searching for several days before I had received my instructions from Mr. Sadleir, in consequence of information received by Mr. Nicolson of their being seen in the neighborhood of Rats' Castle. I was sent there because of my knowledge of that locality, I suppose. I was twelve years stationed there. When I arrived at Wangaratta I made the enquiries from the constable that was stationed in Wangaratta' at the train at one in the morning. I heard what he had to say, and when told that the tracks had gone under the bridge, and knowing the state of the water, I said, “No honest man would have done that. It must have been Steve Hart. Go and tell Mr. Smith; and he is sure to find them some place about the Warby ranges.” Hart's father and mother lived in that direction in the ranges.
8985 By the Commission— Suppose another gang of outlaws were in existence to-day, and you were at Beechworth, and your superior officer entrusted you with a body of men for the purpose of making a search for that gang, and sent you direct to Mansfield, and on the road, when you got in the neighborhood of Greta, new information came to you, and believed the gang were there close by, would you proceed to Mansfield or track the gang?— I would certainly follow them; and if the telegraph wire had been available I would have telegraphed to Mr. Sadleir, but it was one in the morning.
8986 Were you under such strict instructions from your superior officer that you could not act upon any information, however conclusive, that came to your knowledge during the time you were travelling from one place to another–would you be justified in disobeying that order and following the men?— I would use my own discretion.
8987 Never mind the discretion?— If I was certain it was the men I would certainly follow them.
8988 Were you not more convinced in your mind that the information that you obtained at that time was more likely to be the gang than you were when two of the gang were said to have been seen more recently by that private agent you spoke of?— No; I do not think it was a bit more reliable.
8989 Would you attach any blame to the superior officer for not taking early steps to take up the tracks from under the railway bridge?— Those tracks were made known early in the day to the police at Wangaratta. I was only acting there on my own responsibility. It was from the tracks I had seen and what my own mind had dictated. It was not even known then that Steve Hart was connected with the outlaws, or Byrne. It was men named Brown and King that were supposed to be with them, and I believe I was the first man that mentioned that it was not King, but Steve Hart. What made me come to the conclusion that it was them that were seen at this hour that morning was, Hart's father lived out in the direction they were going.....
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