Royal Commission report day 50 page 8

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Story of the KellyGang - the Royal Commission Report

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The Royal Commission evidence for 7/9/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 50)

[[../../people/peN_P/nicolsonPAC.html|Ass Com Charles Hope Nicolson]] giving evidence

16894 The first was before you went out?— The first I sent before I went. [A number telegrams referring to the matter in question were read over by the Commission, and a plan was exhibited and explained, to show the successive steps taken.] Further telegraphic correspondence between those places was conducted, I believe, after I left by the clerk, Senior-Constable Maude, and Sub-Inspector Pewtress. The senior-constable in my absence acted to the best of his ability, and I attach no blame to him at all, and I assume the responsibility of what he did. I do not see anything to blame in him in the least; but what I wish to point out to the Commission is this, that the officer in charge at Mansfield, when ascertaining that one by those telegrams, and that the clerk only was repeating my original instructions, should have acted on his own better and later information, there being no instructions from me to the contrary. I do not by this statement mean to throw any reflection whatever upon Sub-Inspector Pewtress; but it was an instance of mismanagement to station members of the force who had spent the best parts of their lives in Melbourne, in outlying bush stations, without due consideration for their suitability. As the Commission is aware, Mr. Pewtress was sent to Mansfield a short time previously upon well-earned promotion, after a service of 20 years' foot duty in Melbourne . Now had there been instead of Mr. Pewtress an experienced old officer or sub-officer of mounted police, and he found I had gone by the telegrams, and that he was merely corresponding with a boy, he would have known what to have done, and, instead of making a grievance of it, he would; if he thought it necessary, put his best foot forward, and have acted on any better information or better judgment if he thought fit. I believed that the gang neither came from nor returned to the Strathbogie Ranges, and such belief has since turned out to be correct; two of them were back in the neighborhood of Greta before morning of the 11th, and I have heard, on good authority, that the other two were within a few miles of Yarrawonga, in Devereux's paddock, on the night of the 11th. I also have learned that the police pursuit of them without skilled trackers was vain. We had one tracker who was notorious for his uselessness-a man who had been dismissed by Senior-Constable James, he was perfectly useless; that was the only man available for me that morning.

On my return to that district, in June 1879, I did not discourage the popular fiction that the Strathbogie Ranges were favorite haunts of the outlaws, as I desired to draw public attention from their real haunts, and also to flatter the gang that the police were as ignorant as the public. It was the policy of Mr. Sadleir and myself to keep up this idea of the Strathbogie Ranges , so as to draw them away, but we knew perfectly well they could not make that their haunt-it is not country fit for it. They never came out of Strathbogie to attack Faithfull’s Creek, nor did they return there, but they skirted them in each case. The gang got away from Faithfull's station about 8.30 p.m on the night of the 10th, and the police could not track them until daylight next morning. I was on the ground about eight o'clock next morning. There was no time lost, especially as before I arrived the police had endeavored to follow the tracks of the outlaws but without success, as, owing to the extreme dryness of the ground, tracking was an impossibility except to such skilled trackers as the Queensland blacks, who were then not in the colony. Before I arrived at Euroa I had sent from Wangaratta a party of police, under either Sergeant Steele or Senior-Constable Strachan, to intercept the outlaws in the Greta country. I had also sent Mr. Sadleir with a party from Wangaratta towards Lake Rowan and the adjoining country. Mr. Sadleir, as the Commission is aware, has stated, what I believe to be the fact, that he got on to the tracks of two of the outlaws, but, owing to the incapacity of the trackers he also had with him, he lost the tracks and had to give up the pursuit.

As to the charge made that I neglected the information given by Jack Sherritt , on the 13th day of November 1879, I will inform the Commission of the facts as they occurred. About nine o'clock in the evening I was informed that Jack Sherritt was in the office, and wished to see me-I cannot tell who came for me, whether it was Ward or Mullane, or who it was; but I remember finding myself in the office, and Jack Sherritt sitting on a small safe in the room. I went at once, and Jack told me that on that afternoon, late, his sister came to Crawford's paddock, where he was working, and told him that Dan Kelly had called at the Sherritts' house, inquiring for him. Dan was told that he was out; but, not being satisfied, he insisted on searching the rooms with a revolver in his hand. Jack Sherritt was afraid that Dan had come to take him away with the gang as their scout, and he (Jack Sherritt) hid himself until dark, when he caught his horse, which was grazing near, and came in to tell the police. Jack Sherritt remained in the office until eleven o'clock , when (in order to account for his absence from home) I sent him down to Julien’s with 10s. to spend, in order that the gang might hear of it and so acquit him of hiding from them. That was what I was afraid about, his timidity as to meeting them, and I wished to remove any risk of their thinking that he was intentionally avoiding them. Jack Sherritt did not then say that Dan Kelly said he would return at eight o'clock , or any other particular time. He now says that the whole gang called at his mother's at eight o'clock that evening. And, although he remained in my employment for a considerable time afterwards, he never reported to the police that the gang or any one of them had called at his mother's on the night in question. To my knowledge I never heard of any such thing before. In his declaration of the 22nd day of October 1880, in referring to this matter, he states that— “Dan Kelly did come at the hour appointed and went away again ;” but he makes no mention of the whole gang having called. As I before stated, I did not get Jack Sherritt's information until nine o'clock and I then considered that the only result of sending police down there that night would be to create a disturbance, which would reach the ears of the gang and cause them to abandon that part of the country in which they appeared to be settling, and to take signal vengeance on the Sherritts. The gang were never known to make and keep an appointment during the whole time they were out, as if they had they must have been captured long before they were destroyed. They were too knowing for any such thing. Both Senior-Constable Mullane and Detective Ward have but a faint recollection of what occurred that evening, but if we had been informed that the gang, or any one of them, had made an appointment, that would have been an occurrence which certainly would not have escaped their memory. You know what sort of a man Mullane is, as well as Ward , and I am sure you can hardly imagine, if such a thing occurred, that Mullane could have forgotten it. I therefore think that the Commission will have little difficulty in coming to the conclusion that Jack Sherritt's declaration and evidence are concocted to injure me, in revenge for my having recommended his discharge from the police force....

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