Royal Commission report day 49 page 7

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Story of the KellyGang - the Royal Commission Report

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The Royal Commission evidence for 6/9/1881

(full text transcription)

(see introduction to day 49)

Sup John Sadleir giving evidence

16700 You have previously given in evidence about your being ready to start?— That is all in evidence. I next come to the events of the 28th June 1880 , the day on which the Kellys were captured. Having been called out of my sleep, as stated in my evidence, I got out of bed instantly, hurried on my clothes, and in less than ten minutes was on my horse, and rode straight to the Benalla post office, where I found Mr. Hare . This would be between half-past four a.m. and five o'clock . The only information I had from Mr. Hare was that the Kellys were shut up at Mrs. Jones 's hotel. Mr. Hare was growing faint from loss of blood, for his arm was not dressed, and I left without speaking further with him. When I left Mr. Hare I was aware of this fact only, that the Kellys were shut up at Mrs. Jones 's. I had heard nothing whatever about Constable Bracken escaping, nor of the escape of the other prisoners, so that I had no opportunity of learning from any of them the real state of things inside of Jones's hotel. I Dr. Nicholson or near the Benalla railway station, and gave him my horse to take him to the post office to dress Mr. Hare 's wound and to hasten back to come on with my party to Glenrowan, as it was reported there were others also wounded. While waiting for Dr. Nicholson at the railway station I procured a rope from the station master with the view of pulling down the chimneys of the hotel, but when we got to Glenrowan the shooting by the outlaws was too frequent and appeared too accurate to allow me to risk the lives of the police in this way. The hour of our starting from Benalla was about ten minutes after five o'clock. This is given in error by the printer of my report of 2nd July as the time of our arrival at Glenrowan. It was probably half-past five or twenty minutes to six when we got to Glenrowan. It was dark still when we arrived there. Senior-Constable Kelly came to me soon after. I asked him where the guards around the building were weakest, and I then sent Sergeant Whelan, who was the senior sergeant on the ground, to guard that side of the building. He had twelve constables with him for this work. I then asked for Mr. O'Connor, and on Sergeant Kelly leading me to where he was, I called, as that witness states, to Mr. O'Connor to come to me where I was standing in the open ground. Immediately before this time my party were being fired on by the outlaws. I did not observe it until my attention was called to it, and then, instead of taking cover myself, I told the Benalla police to do so and to disperse to their posts under Sergeant Whelan. Mr. O'Connor, when I called to him, asked me to come to him, and as my only object was to find out the position of affairs from him, it did not matter to me where I spoke to him. I remained with Mr. O'Connor for about fifteen or twenty minutes. His information to me was that the hotel was barricaded with furniture and bags of chaff and corn. We debated the question of forcing an entrance, and considered there was no way of doing it. Perhaps this will be the fittest place for me to explain why I sought my information from Mr. O'Connor instead of the senior member of the Victorian force. I think Captain Standish, Mr. Hare, Mr. Nicolson, and Mr. O'Connor himself all show that his position was recognized as that of an officer of police, just as one of ourselves, and this was what I thought of him too and it was therefore my duty to see him as the responsible officer up to that time. I did not wait to consider whether he were strictly speaking a Victorian or Queensland officer. After talking with Mr. O'Connor for fifteen or perhaps twenty minutes, I went to the south side of Jones's hotel, and came to Constable Gascoigne's post. I spoke for some time with this constable, as shown in the evidence. He told me he had to leave his first position, as the post at which he stood did not afford him sufficient cover. We talked of several matters, and he pointed out the direction of the other police near him. He told me also that he thought the outlaws were in armour, and that the horses were shot some time before. It must have been some time after six a.m. when I left him and returned to Mr. O'Connor. I remained there only a few minutes, when I started to go round by Gascoigne's post again; but I saw that there was no cover on that side near enough to the building, so I returned, and went along the railway line towards the station—[ex plaining the position on the map]. The Commission will see that this was quite open ground, about eighty yards from the front windows of the hotel. I could not find my way over the open drains. It was too dark to attempt to jump across them; and it was there Constable Dwyer saw me, and my impression always has been that it was here he asked me to let him take my messages round. His words were, “Mr. Sadleir, do not you be running round; let me carry your messages.” In my evidence I spoke of the difficulty of going round, owing to the outlaws' fire and the cross-fire from the police. Some of the police stood as far away from the hotel as 100 yards or more. In fact, there was no seeing exactly where they were, except by an occasional flash, and to keep outside this circle would leave me just as ignorant as I was before of the real state of matters. I was desirous, too, of leisure to consider how to do the work that was before us. The only messages I have any recollection of giving Constable Dwyer were to see that the police were posted all around the building and to give the order to fire high. Nearly every witness has sworn to hearing this order; at any rate, after Dwyer left me, I came again to where Mr. O'Connor was. Up to this time, with occasional intervals, there were frequent shots by the outlaws and by the police too. I had fired a few shots myself at one of the outlaws, who appeared at the front, but finding that my bullets struck the fence, I fired no more shots from that position. When I heard the noise of the firing at Ned Kelly, as it turned out to be, and the calls of the police, I remember looking towards the building, thinking there was something up there, but could see nothing. The black boys were also looking out; and if the movements of the police were not observed by them, it is no wonder that I did not observe them. Constable Gascoigne, who was standing on the high ground, saw the police moving about, but did not know what was going on. Constable Canny, who was still nearer, did not recognize it either; and Constable Dwyer, who actually ran among the police who were closing in on Ned Kelly, did not take any notice of the affair until his attention was called to it by the reporters. The witnesses—Mr. Carrington, Dowsett, and some others—describe a fog or mist lying close to the ground, which will account for this; and, besides, there was some low scrub between my position and where the capture actually took place. Whether the sun had then risen or not—and I am quite satisfied it had not—the actual spot where the struggle took place would appear in deep shadow to any person looking from the opposite direction. Ned Kelly had scarcely reached the station when Constable Dwyer informed me of the capture, and I instantly went to see the prisoner, and finding the outlaws were firing at the van where we had him at first, I removed him to the station. After going to the station to see Ned Kelly, I never again returned to Mr O'Connor's position. It is important, I think, that I should trace more particularly the order and times of my movements from my arrival to the time of Kelly's capture. Say I arrived at Glenrowan at 5.30, or perhaps ten minutes later, that is allowing twenty-five minutes to travel the fifteen miles from Benalla. Then say twenty minutes spent speaking with Senior-Constable Kelly and Mr. O'Connor, would bring the time up to six o'clock . Then say twenty minutes' delay in going to Constable Gascoigne's position, speaking with him, and returning, would make the time twenty minutes past six. Say ten minutes then again with Mr. O'Connor, and perhaps ten minutes or more in the open ground when Constable Dwyer addressed me, would bring the time close up to seven a.m., or a very few minutes before the hour of the capture of Ned Kelly as fixed by most of the witnesses.

Now I will endeavor to bring before the Commission the difficulties of the business that the police had in hand, and that, excepting perhaps Mr. O'Connor, there was not a single person present who ever before had any experience of an affair of this character. I am not ashamed at all to acknowledge that the more I considered matters the more perplexing they appeared. I arrived at this determination almost immediately—that nothing could be done till daylight, except to keep the house guarded. Then the discovery of Kelly's armour on his arrest, which was about daylight, made matters much more difficult, and we were beside running very short of ammunition. It was then, in conversation with Dr. Nicholson (not the reporters, as I thought at first) and some others on the ground, that the sending for the gun was first mentioned. I would mention here that I saw Dr. Nicholson in town about six weeks ago, and, asking him about the business, he repeated the statement which I sent in the other day to verify any affidavit. I will see afterwards that an affidavit is handed in from him. It is very easy for people, wise after the affair, to laugh at this as an extravagant notion, but it appeared to be nothing of the sort then. The crowning difficulty of all was the presence of a large number of persons—whether innocent or not we could not tell —shut up in the house with the outlaws. That all reasonable precaution was taken for their safety even before I came on the ground is abundantly proved. But there can be no better proof of it than this—that not one person was hurt, after the very first volleys, by the police, except young Riordan, and he was deliberately shot in the belief that he was an outlaw. The police gave the prisoners plenty of opportunities of coming out up to ten o'clock in the day. The outlaws themselves were frequently called on to surrender, and there is abundant evidence that there was no want of humanity shown by the police as a body. There was no doubt some unnecessary and perhaps, some reckless firing, but, under such extraordinary circumstances, no officer could check this completely. Every constable was expected to shoot at the outlaws when a chance offered, unless they surrendered; and no one person could say whether a shot fired at any time before the prisoners came out, and especially during the darkness, was or was not at an outlaw. My express instructions, as stated by Senior-Constable Mullane and Constable Armstrong, who belonged to the same party as Duross Dowling, were:— “There are a number of innocent people in the house. If you fire at all, fire breast high. Firing is not really necessary at present, except the outlaws come to the doors or windows, and then the men can fire at them.” These instructions were given to these two constables, Duross and Dowling, and, if they mistook the plain language of their orders, or— which I believe to be the case—mixed up different occurrences in their evidence before the Commission, it is not my fault. Constable Gascoigne and Mr. Rawlins state that a flag of truce held out by the innocent persons was fired at. They say there was one shot by one of the trackers. This may have been so, but my own impression is altogether different. I was standing at the Wangaratta end of the hotel when word was given by the police in front that the prisoners were surrendering. Every person there, like myself, expected that the whole body, outlaws and all, were coming out, and I have a very distinct recollection that when the word was given there was complete silence for a considerable time. In fact, this occurred only a few minutes before I gave the final call that brought the innocent persons out. I know that some of the trackers were too forward during the day, and I had to check them myself. I shall not attempt to deal particularly with the contradictory evidence about my generalship that day. Mr. Carrington is the only witness who attempts anything like a distinct condemnation, and, if the Commission will scrutinize his evidence, page 362, they will see that it is wholly unreliable. I will ask the Commission to consider this particularly: I had no opportunity of cross-examining Mr. Carrington, although, at an early stage of the, proceedings, a promise was made to me of doing so. Mr. Carrington is known to have expressed himself adversely to me. The reason for not relying on his evidence there is his positive assertion, made within a few days of the occurrence, that Mrs. O'Connor and her sister went away in the train with Mr. Hare, although the fact was they remained at the station in the carriage for nearly five hours afterwards. It is something very remarkable that Mr. Carrington should not have seen those two ladies with whom he had travelled from Melbourne, and yet he observed all I had been doing, and was an absolute stranger to me. And to show, further, that this gentleman was laboring under some confusion of mind, or perhaps taken up with his own duties, he never saw Mr. O'Connor—in questions 10060 to 10065—from the time Mr. Hare left Glenrowan until the day he saw him before the Commission here. It could not be from not knowing Mr. O'Connor, for he had travelled with him all the way from Melbourne. Again, he says he heard of Joe Byrne's death, as I understand his evidence, three hours before any other person did. You will find that in his evidence too. Again, in question No. 10094, he says he never saw me in the field; and again, in questions No. 10152 and 10153 he says he heard at Benalla—what no one else heard—that the railway line was torn up, and logs placed across it. He says this came from fifty different persons, and not one of them can be found. Now, in alluding to Mr. Carrington's evidence, I wish to correct one statement of mine, that I had heard that he had absented himself from the field. I believe the information of which I speak was exaggerated, and I should like to withdraw that remark as regards him. And I would also say, as regards another remark of mine—my complaint about his letter being put in evidence—Mr. Hare has come forward privately, and expressed his regret that that letter was put in through his not observing that it reflected on the character of anyone else.

Mr. Hare — I asked for it to be withdrawn, but it had been published. Had I noticed that it reflected on Mr. Sadleir I would not have put it in.

The witness — Up to the firing of the house I think there is nothing in my conduct requiring explanation. During the interval from Ned Kelly's capture I was continually in the field, excepting when I required to come to the railway station to receive or send a telegram and to see how Ned Kelly was getting on. The Commission is aware that the station is within a little more than 120 yards from where the outlaws were shut in, so that even there I could have directed matters in the field; but my interest lay altogether in the field, watching for any opportunity against the outlaws that would offer. The public have always considered—if they really did consider the matter at all—the public have always looked at it as strange that four outlaws at first, and then three, and subsequently two only, should keep over forty police at bay during the whole day. The fact is it was I who held back the police, in spite of their own eagerness to rush in and the urging by some foolish people in the crowd. There were some 400 or 500 private persons looking on, and we were under the fire of their criticism. There is nothing in my conduct that day gives me greater satisfaction than that, in spite of their importunity, I would not allow a single policeman to risk his life unnecessarily. I spoke to my friends on the ground. I said it was a very tame business, and I said the same in my report to the Government. We had the Kellys under our hands, and it would be my fault if any constable were disabled without sufficient reason. I had arranged a rush to take place before the day closed, and should the fire fail, and I myself would have been the first man to enter the house. As regards the burning of the house, there is no question, I think, of the propriety of that if you are to be guided by the evidence. I need say no more about that. The giving up the charred remains, too, is a matter of opinion, on which very little depends either way. I think my evidence and my report of 2nd July show that I did not act contrary to instructions. If you will compare my evidence on page 153 with my report, you will see the two are consistent. At this point I will correct two errors in that report in regard to this:— “It was known at this time that Martin Cherry was lying wounded in a detached building, shot by Ned Kelly early in the day—as it has since been ascertained—because he would not hold aside one of the window-blinds: and arrangements were made to rescue him before the flames could approach him.? Now the assertion I want to correct is this—that Cherry was shot by Ned Kelly . That was my impression at the time I wrote the report, and there are people yet who say so—a gentleman named to me at Benalla on our last visit that there are three persons that still stick to that; but I will take the police reports as conclusive on the matter that Cherry was not shot by Ned Kelly—that he was one of those wounded in the first volleys by the police. This matter was discovered when I was absent on a few days' leave at Geelong and I was not aware of it until later. There is another statement upon the next page:— “A man named George Metcalfe has also been forwarded by your instructions to Melbourne , for treatment to an injury received in the eye while the firing was going on.” That was the man's own statement to Captain Standish and myself, but, on further enquiries, I found that the injury was caused by Ned Kelly on the Sunday before the capture, the gun having accidentally gone off in his hands, and shot this man in the eye. The next thing I come to is the entries in Senior-Constable Kelly's record-sheet. The senior-constable himself says that, considering all the circumstances, the entries, taking good and bad, were reasonable and fair, and I think so too. Still, looking back on the amount of work Senior-Constable Kelly had done in the Kelly business, and the ordeal he had gone through at Glenrowan, I think I should have taken more into account the physical exhaustion and the reaction that followed such a long-continued strain. The Commission have proof that the practice of the department is is not to inform members of the force of entries of this sort in their record-sheets, whether good or bad. I venture to think the practice is a sound one, and I am certain I have never abused it. The opposite practice prevailed in the Irish constabulary, and was altered at the request of the police themselves. Mr. Winch says his practice is different. The Commission can easily test this statement; but I think I can say, from my certain knowledge, that Mr. Winch 's is not a correct statement. I think Mr. Winch is mistaken in what I meant. I do not mean to say he has wilfully told an untruth, but I think his statement does not represent it fairly to the Commission....

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