Royal Commission report day 37 page 26

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The Royal Commission evidence for 20/7/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 37)

Mr Enoch Downes sworn and examined

The Witness — Before giving evidence, I think it would be necessary not to publish it, because I am a truant officer travelling round the district, and it might injure me.

13490 By the Commission— It appears that you were at Byrne's house prior to the murder of Aaron Sherritt— will you tell what occurred?— I had to investigate a case of default for absence from school on the 12th November 1879. I went there on horseback, and Mrs. Byrne was in the garden, so we kind a little conversation. I asked about the reason of her boy's non-attendance at school, and cautioned her in case of any further default, and said there would be no prosecution that time, that I merely warned her against any further default. After that she asked me if I would go inside and have a cup of tea. Patrick Byrne put the horse in the garden, and I went inside and waited till she made a cup of tea, and stayed there about a couple of hours while the horse was feeding; so the conversation came up about the outlaws. I was a little cautions first to start the subject, but gradually it came up, and the Lancefield robbery was just on, and we were joking and talking away, and she got a little lively, and she said the Lancefield robbers must be a lot of fools to lose the money after they got it. Then it came to her own son and reference to him, and I said to her, “Well, your son had no reason to join the outlaws—the Kellys ; there is some excuse for them.” In fact, I spoke a little freely about the action of the judge in passing sentence on the Kellys ' mother at that time; I spoke feelingly on the action. I did not believe in the sentence, and I told her so very freely. I thought if policy had been used, or consideration for the mother shown, that two or three months would have been ample. So from that I spoke about her own son, that she was quite right in saving him if she could; well, she hesitated about that, and she did not know whether she would or not; and there was something I was satisfied about that caused her to make up her mind that she would let her son go. She said he had made his bed, and must lie in it—that was in reference to the horse-stealing case. She said it was a dodge of that Ward ; he was using all sorts of dodges to bring Joe back again to have revenge on Sherritt, but she said they would wait their own time, and I was satisfied from her words and actions that they intended to have Sherritt, and that Ward was not very safe. She said the horse-stealing case was a dodge to catch the outlaws; there was a horse-stealing case at the time against Sherritt by Mrs. Byrne . She said it was a dodge of that Ward , but it would not take, and of course she was very revengeful. I was satisfied from what she said that they would come back for Sherritt, and Ward was not very safe. I communicated that information to Detective Ward. My reasons for doing so—I hesitated at first, for I knew that the gang intended to have revenge on Ward for the course he had taken in attempting their capture, and it was on that account I gave the information, and the other reason that they intended to have Sherritt's life. I was not aware I was coming here to-day, or I would have brought the record of my visit, which is down at the Education office.

13491 You might send the record in at any time to us?— Yes.

13492 Was there anything else occurred that came under your notice with reference to the movements of the Kellys ?— No, there was nothing to show there about their movements—the only one thing that her son Patrick was there on one occasion when I visited her. On the first visit there was no evidence of their having any of the money. On the second occasion there was evidence; they had some of the stolen property. The other son had been engaged at Tumberumba. He told me when he was in the garden he had been working there—that is Tumberumba in New South Wales . That was shortly after the Jerilderie robbery.

13493 That son remained at home after?— Yes.

13494 What led you to believe they had the money?— There was a change about the place, and I had repeatedly seen them when I had been down the Woolshed. One occasion there was nobody there and I met the young fellows coming from Beechworth with drapery goods, and on another occasion I saw the improvements about the house. Another thing, so far as regards Mrs. Byrne 's action with Ward , I was satisfied that he was not very safe in going in that quarter. Since that, some time after, coming from the Woolshed, I saw Ward in the dusk of the evening going there. I thought to myself that he was rather foolish to go.

13495 They seemed to have a down on Ward ?— Yes, what I have said was her words.

13496 You did not hear anything particular just before Aaron Sherritt 's murder?— No. I was not aware that there was any dodge at all, but Mrs. Byrne was right in her surmises, but I told Ward that evening that there would be no fear of them coming back yet awhile for Sherritt. She said the dodge would not take, it was a matter of time.

13497 There was nothing further occurred within your knowledge or that you heard of just prior to the murder of Aaron Sherritt ?— No.

13498 This was the whole?— Yes

13499 You are through the district a good deal as truant officer?— Yes, I travel over Benambra the Ovens.

13500 You hear people's opinions pretty freely expressed?— Yes.

13501 Is there any idea that there is any probability of another outbreak?— I do not think so. There is a feeling of security. I do not think there is any idea of the sort; I think the idea is the other way.

13502 That they would not be safe at all in breaking out?— Yes. I must say those police who travel round the district, so far as the heads of the police in charge of various stations, I am firmly convinced that a better class of men for the position could not be chosen. Perhaps I am wrong in giving any opinion of that sort.

13503 No, not at all. You have been round through the district a good deal, and would hear information about the Kellys —hear people speaking about them?— Yes.

13504 Have you ever heard yet, in your rambles, anything certain as to who made the armour for the Kellys ?— No, I have not. It is out of my district; it is in Greta district.

13505 Are you sure?— Yes.

13506 Then you must have heard something?— Perhaps I am wrong in saying I never beard. I— gentleman told me the name of the person that made it—a blacksmith at Greta . It was merely a rumour.

13507 You simply had the opinion that they had the intention to murder Aaron Sherritt ?— I was certain of it.

13508 And you reported it as soon as possible?— I did of course; my district is not what is called the Kelly country.

The witness withdrew.....

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