Royal Commission report day 37 page 5

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The Royal Commission evidence for 20/7/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 37)

Const Robert Alexander giving evidence

13082 You had better go on reading?— “Until June 1879; was then ordered on transfer to Milawa; while there assisted in guarding Oxley bank and regular police duty. In April 1880 was ordered on transfer to Beechworth. About the 3rd of June was sent to Aaron Sherritt 's house, Sebastopol, with three other constables, for the purpose of watching Mrs. Byrne's house, in case the outlaws should come there. My orders were if Byrne, the outlaw, should come alone to rush him, secure him, so that he could make no noise, and bring him into Beechworth; if the four should come, to shoot Ned Kelly by all means. Remember Superintendent Hare and Detective Ward's visit to Aaron Sherritt 's house on the 19th of June 1880 , about eight o'clock in the evening. Detective Ward came inside; speaking in a whispering manner said that Mr. Hare was outside, and for us to say that they were gone to watch Byrne's. Presently Mr. Hare came inside; while he and Constable Duross talking, Mrs. Sherritt came out and went towards where Sherritt and the others were cutting firewood in the bush. Did not hear the conversation between Mr. Hare and Constable Duross . Shortly after I was called inside, Mr. Hare asked me why I had not gone to watch Byrne's; said, ‘I always go with the others.’ ‘What way did we generally go?’ I said, ‘Sherritt leads the way across a creek and through the bush’ ‘And could I take him to where we were accustomed to watch ,’ said, ‘I could take him two ways, one way by a bridge near Julian's, the other by a foot-bridge just behind Byrne's house.’ Mr. Hare said, ‘We will go by the foot-bridge.’ We started, I leading the way, Mr. Hare and Constable Duross coming behind. When we had gone some distance from Sherritt's house, Mr. Hare asked me if Sherritt was true to us. Said, ‘Sometimes I thought he was; again, judging by his conversation, I thought different.’ When we had gone a little further, Mr. Hare said, ‘We cannot go by the foot-bridge, it is too light, some one will see us.’ I said, ‘The creek is close by.’ Waded across, found very great difficulty in leading the way, as there was no track. Did not say to Mr. Hare that I knew or could take him this way; still I was determined to do the best under the circumstances. Came near a hut, saw a light in it, stopped, and said, ‘We had better go round by the back.’ Led the way until I came to a track going towards the right; led on down this track about 150 yards; could then see, by the diggings close by, Mrs. Byrne's house was to the left. Came back along this track a short distance, then crossed over to where Sherritt and we ourselves used to watch, but found Armstrong, Dowling, and Sherritt were already there. I reckon the distance from Sherritt's house to Byrne's about two miles. After Mr. Hare had gone away, Duross spoke about having told Mr. Hare that the others had gone to watch Byrne's. I said he was very foolish to say so for the sake of Ward or any one else. Remember the 26th of June 1880 . I was in Sherritt's house that evening, having just had tea. Was in the bedroom with Constables Armstrong and Dowling; Armstrong , having his blanket spread over Sherritt's bed, had lain down; I and Dowling, having our blankets spread on the floor, were lain down also. Mrs. Barry , Mrs. Sherritt , and Sherritt himself were about having their tea in the sitting- room; Constable Duross was there also. Presently some one rapped at the back door, said, ‘ Aaron , I have lost my way’; the voice seemed to me like a German's. Sherritt did not seem in a hurry going to the door, for Mrs. Sherritt said, ‘Are you not going to show the man the way?’ Heard Sherritt walk towards the door. Duross came into the room where we were, and let down the calico screen attached above the door. Heard Sherritt and the German talking at the door, but did not take particular notice what they were saying. Presently a shot was fired, then another immediately after, from towards the back door. I sprang up, pulled the screen aside, saw the women jumping about and screaming; thought a revolver had fallen accidentally and gone off, frightening them, until Mrs. Barry sang out, ‘Joe, do not shoot me’; rushed back for the breech-loader, which I had left standing against the wall behind me along with my ammunition, the ammunition having been misplaced by some of the others in their hurry caused me about a minute's delay searching for it. Heard this person say, ‘I will not shoot you, Mrs. Barry ; open that door.’ Got up on a bag behind the partition wall (it was as high as the wall-plate and made of boards), in a position so that I could fire over it. Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Sherritt were both outside. Saw both doors were about half open, and they opened backwards towards the partition wall, so that I could not get a glimpse outside. There was also a log burning in the fireplace and a candle alight on the table. Heard this person talking to the women outside. Presently this person sang out, ‘Look out for that window in front.’ Some person in front answered, ‘All right’; there was a window in front side of bedroom and also one in sitting-room, but neither of those two persons were in doors. The walls were composed of weatherboards, overlapped and lined with saplings about the thickness of one's arm, might be six inches apart, the space between each filled up with clay; the roof was shingles. I said to Armstrong, ‘I cannot get a shot at that fellow,’ might shoot some of the civilians; then watched for an opportunity if this person in front should come in line with me and the front door, as I heard the women at the back of the house. Presently this person at the back said, 'If he does not come out, I will riddle the house.’ Mrs. Sherritt came in two or three times; wanted Duross to go outside. The last time she came inside said, in a loud tone of voice, he was wanted outside, then, in a low tone, for him not to go out. Heard a whistle and the words, ‘I will soon make you come out’; some shots were fired at the same time. This person said, ‘You must be a b— c — to guard yourself with a woman.’ I spoke to Armstrong that, if possible, we might be able to do something. Dowling said to keep quiet and not be talking—that they might hear us outside. Armstrong asked each of us if we would go outside; I and Dowling answered yes, but I could not hear what Duross said, for he was sitting at the end of the room (see form attached). I was sitting at right side of door, guarding front sitting-room door; Armstrong was lying on his chest, guarding back sitting-room door; Dowling was in a similar position. Armstrong said, ‘We will wait for a better chance.’ I said to Armstrong , ‘ Mr. Hare will be wild with us if we do not get a man’ (no outlaw). Armstrong made no direct reply just then, but frequently said our party was too small–if we kept our ground we would do very well. During this time, Mrs. Barry came inside two or three times, wanted Mrs. Sherritt to come outside; heard Mrs. Barry ask this person not to burn the house; the last time she came in Dowling advised her to go under the bed for safety. Presently this person sang out, ‘Come out, I will shoot you down like b—— dogs, I have plenty of ammunition.’ Armstrong said, ‘Will we surrender? boys, we will all die together.’ To my reckoning it would be between seven and eight o'clock then. During all this time I had no conversation with the women, expected to see the house in flames every minute, heard persons talking outside, thought the four outlaws were there and some of their friends also; saw Armstrong shut both doors by pushing them to with his breech-loader, the candle having burned out itself. I spoke to Mrs. Barry , she said, ‘Poor Aaron was shot.’ I did not think he was dead until then, thought he was pretending for fear they would shoot him. Mrs. Sherritt did not answer for some time. Still heard parties about from then until dawn. I and Armstrong wrapped the dead body in some blankets. When day was breaking, I went outside, saw a few branches of trees laid against one end of the house, but were too green to burn; also a small cask had been broken up and laid against front side of the house, but it was too damp to burn. Saw men's tracks about and also at a tree on the road side; saw mark of a bullet through front wall of bedroom, about two feet and a half from the ground; three or four had gone through back wall of bedroom, others having hit knots in the boards glanced off; one right through both doors. Armstrong said “ Boys, we will not separate, for they having stopped so long at Euroa and so long at Jerilderie, they are bound not to give in to us.’ Shortly after, a Chinaman happened to pass by, was called inside. Armstrong gave him some money if he would take a note to Mr. O'Donoghue , schoolmaster, at the Woolshed. Mr. O'Donoghue came, and said he would go to Beechworth. About half-an-hour he came back again, said his wife would not allow him to go, or something to that effect. Shortly after another person was asked if he would go to Beechworth, he said he would go by Wooragee. Armstrong gave him a note for Beechworth police, and he went away. Heard some of the women say there might be poison in the articles on the table (the table would be about a foot and a half from front door, right under the window). I am quite positive neither Joe Byrne nor Dan Kelly were inside the house during the night, nor any one else except those who were in it previously. None of the women, to my belief, were outside the house until about ten o'clock in the day. After waiting some considerable time for the Beechworth police, some others were asked if they would go, but refused; Armstrong then went himself. On that evening we were relieved by some constables from Beechworth. On Monday morning, 28th of June , was one of the Beechworth party which arrived in Glenrowan eight and nine o'clock . On arrival at the Glenrowan railway station, Superintendent Sadleir stationed us at the Wangaratta end of Mrs Jones 's hotel, and said to fire high, as there were civilians inside. I fired about ten shots at a port hole in back wall of kitchen and at the skillion. Was told the two outlaws were there. About half-an-hour before the fire occurred, was ordered by Senior-Constable Kelly to relieve the constable on guard in the room with ‘ Ned Kelly ’ and two civilians, who had been in the hotel; remained there until the proceedings closed.....

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