Sydney Morning Herald (27)
The appearance of the KellyGang on this side of the border affords an admirable opportunity for testing the efficiency of our police organisation, and for showing what kind of stuff the members of the force are made of. There seems to be no reason for doubting the correctness of the statement that the capture of the lock up and the telegraph office at Jerilderie was effected by these desperadoes. The exploit bears a family likeness to others committed by them, in its display of foresight, audacity, and management, and the comparative nearness of the place to the border, as well as to the Mansfield district where the gang murdered the police and are supposed to have kept themselves in hiding, helps, together with the fact that the Murray is easily crossable to support the presumption of their identity . Assuming that there is no mistake about the men their first act on this side in taking possession of the lock up, confining one of the two constables in a cell, and using the other like a decoy duck to avert suspicion can hardly be regarded as anything else than a direct challenge to our police to attempt what the police of Victoria have failed to accomplish.
The announcement that there is a large force well mounted and well armed on our side of the border, and that warnings have been promptly sent by telegram to all the stations in and near the frontier district is satisfactory, so far as it goes. There are both officers and men in the police of New South Wales who have done their duty well on former occasions, under circumstances of peril, and we look forward with confidence to the issue if the border should be watched so thoroughly on the southern side that the gang may be prevented from returning to the place where its members have so long been commanding sympathy and shelter. It was supposed, however, at one time, that the Victoria police force was an example of organisation and efficiency. When the new system was introduced into New South Wales it was formed to a large extent upon the Victorian model. But it would seem that, from some cause or other, the machinery of our neighbours has, on trial, been proved unequal to the strain put it; and it will be well if our own, after a period of comparative rest and peace, should be found ready at sudden notice to take the field upon a war footing. It is hoped that every member of the force will be stirred up to show that it is, alike be esprit de corps, and by a sense of duty. These men are the open enemies of society at large, but the special enemies of the policemen.
It is an acknowledged fact that the long freedom of the gang from arrest since the commission of the … murderous outrage, has been attributable to the large measure of sympathy and assistance constantly at their command. They must have received shelter, encouragement, support , and timely information of the movements of the police. Instead of their finding every man’s hand against them, it is the police who have felt the difficulty of carrying on operations in a practically hostile country. We say this, not with any idea of casting special discredit upon our neighbours character, but because almost exactly the same influences were at work to embarrass and discourage our own police during our own bushranging reign of terror. It may be well to inquire whether the tendencies then exhibited here have been wholly eradicated. Circumstances have brought them to the daylight in Victoria, and it is a question of interest whether they might not show themselves again with us if the circumstances should happen to be favourable, if the KELLY gang, for instance , should contrive to allude pursuit, establish itself in some more rugged and impracticable part of the country, and become a centre of attraction for the disaffected and the criminally disposed. It is a matter of urgent importance that these men should be hunted down and brought to justice speedily, not only in order that they may be punished, but in order that crime may not receive a stimulus and encouragement by the spectacle of violence triumphant, and the law battered. Respect for the law is maintained in the large degree rather by a belief in its power than by an approval of its rules and principles, and the weakening of this belief, even temporarily, is a public calamity. In communities like these where there is a scanty population scattered over a vast extent of territory, where the officers of justice are few and far between, and where there are numerous temptations to lawless acts, it is a dangerous thing to permit any sensible relaxation of the pressure of authority. Let a gang of robbers be able to defy the police for weeks together and to terrorise the population, and the evil-disposed will inevitably begin to ask themselves whether they have not been committing a great mistake in keeping within bounds whether, in shrinking from the supposed risk of breaking the law, they have not been like children, trembling before a hollow turnip with a candle in it.
We hope that not many days will pass before these robbers and murderers will have the opportunity of reflecting, under altered conditions, upon what they have done, and that after having enjoyed the luxury of shutting up a constable in his own cell, they will be able to study the question of bushranging and its results from a corresponding position . but should they evade capture, and yet remain within the territory of New South Wales , it will be a question for the Government to consider whether the Felons Apprehension Act of 1865 should not be temporally re enacted. The Victorian Parliament held it to be expedient to pass such a measure , in order that the capture of these very men might be facilitated. It was not though wise to wait until an epidemic of bushranging had broken out before resorting to so stringent a policy. And if these men have been driven across the border because, under the operation of that law, their own country was becoming too hot to hold them, it would be a mistake for us to allow ourselves to be deterred by squeamish feeling from taking similar steps for our own protection. It might not be necessary, perhaps, to revive the whole of the Act of 1865 we could hardly at present … the whole of the preamble, it might be desirable to describe the measure more clearly as one of prevention rather than of cure. But there could not be any valid objection to the issue in this colony of proclamations of outlawry against men who had outlawed across the order, if the formalities observed in the neighbouring colony were … followed out before our own authorities, under arrangements made between the two Governments.
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