Royal Commission report day 8 page 5 (2)

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The Royal Commission evidence for 5/4/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 8)

Francis Augustus Hare giving evidence

1501 continued

At places where there were no telegraph offices we sent private messengers to convey the information of the outrage at Beechworth, and to be on the alert also. I went myself to the railway station, which was about a mile or a mile and a quarter from the telegraph office, where we had been engaged the whole afternoon, and made arrangements with the station-master there about the engines, and how they were to be relieved at Wangaratta and the different places. I think there is a different style of engine used between Wangaratta and Beechworth to that between Benalla and Wangaratta. The station-master rendered me every assistance in his power, and complied with every request that I made. I arranged to have the trucks all ready for our horses, so that we would go up by the train that brought Mr. O'Connor and his men to Beechworth. I then returned to the telegraph office, where Mr. Sadleir had remained during my absence, and made arrangements for horses, provisions, and everything we would require, to go to Beechworth, as that was the nearest point that the railway went to Aaron Sherritt’s house. My idea was that we would get to Beechworth about daybreak in the morning, get on our horses at once, and go down to the Woolshed where Aaron Sherritt's house was situated, and end eavour to pick up what information we could there. I selected Senior-constable Kelly, and Constables Arthur, Barry, Gascoigne, Canny, Kirkham, and Phillips to accompany me, leaving a party behind us, already equipped, with two black trackers, for Mr. Sadleir, at Benalla, in case anything occurred whilst we were up at Beechworth. Having completed all my arrangements, I went and lay down to get two or three hours' sleep before I started. At one o'clock in the morning, I was at the railway station, had the horses put in the trucks, and waited the arriva1 of the special, which, I think, arrived about half-past one or two o'clock. Before the train arrived, Mr. Rawlins, a gentleman whom I had only once seen in my life before, asked me to allow him to travel in the train, as he had a free pass on the railways, and he would not be defrauding the Government. I told him I had no objection to his doing so. The train arrived shortly after this, with Mr. O'Connor, at Benalla, with his five “boys,” and I think there were four gentlemen of the press, and Mr. Rawlins and two ladies in the train also. One of the engineers at Benalla came to me before we started and told me that they wished me to put a man on the pilot engine, one of my men, to keep a look-out to see if there was anything wrong with the line. I selected Constable Barry. I did not put him, as is generally supposed, on the buffers in the front of the engine, but I put him alongside of the boiler, standing up, so that he could see at least ten or fifteen yards in advance of the engine-driver and stoker, ant1 I fastened straps so that he could hold on with them; I did not fasten his body. After this, there was some alteration as to the engine that was to act as pilot, and the next engineer declined to let the man go upon it. He said it was a very dangerous position to put a man in, and in case of anything occurring the man would be killed, and I withdrew him. The engine that brought up Mr. O'Connor's train went as pilot, as they kind broken their brake, and they attached a brake-van on to the engine. With reference to this pilot, I may state to you a bit of information that occurred not this time, but I have it in my recollection of the previous time of my being up there, and it will come in as the reason I took the pilot. About the time that the sympathizers were being remanded from week to week, we received a letter from some of the agents stating, with other information, that the outlaws intended to blow up the train with dynamite about a certain period. Just at this period alluded to, something went wrong with the telegraph wires; at a certain hour every night at Benalla the wires refused to act, they could not work them—there was no communication between Benalla and Beechworth, or, I should say, there was a stoppage between Tarrawingee and Beechworth. The Government were informed of it, and Mr. Woods, who was the Commissioner of Railways at the time, took steps to protect the line in certain dangerous places, and he had men watching them for some time—I think for three months they watched the horse-shoe bend coming down a very steep incline from Beechworth. They sent up the best telegraph men, who were enquiring into the stoppage and could not find the reason of it. Generally, it was supposed every night, a piece of wire was thrown over the main wire, and a ground connection made, and they could not work the wire. Men were sent every day to examine the line and nothing could be discovered, and they sent up some of the leading telegraph men in Melbourne to try and discover what was the cause of the stoppage, but to this day it has never been explained. On Friday evening, during this week I have alluded to, we were all going up to Beechworth, the police constables, the witnesses, and the reporters from Melbourne —a number of reporters were going up to Beechworth on that Friday evening, during the week the stoppage was going on, and when we heard about the dynamite. Mr. Sadleir was with me. Just as we were leaving Benalla, a message was sent to me that the wires had stopped working, and that there was no communication with Beechworth—that the same stoppage that had occurred all the week occurred on that night just as we were leaving Benalla. We had the train crowded, and we consulted together what was best to be done; we were in a great fix, and we decided we would go, at all events as far as Wangaratta, to see if the line was open between Benalla and Wangaratta, or between Wangaratta and Beechworth. There was no intermediate station between Beechworth and Wangaratta, and when I got to Wangaratta, the man said, “We cannot communicate with Beechworth, but we can with Benalla.”

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