The Argus (34)
BEECHWORTH, JULY 1
The excitement caused by the capture of the Kelly gang is gradually subsiding, although the matter still remains the all absorbing topic of conversation. Mrs Barry and her daughters still remain here, and have not yet returned to their residences. Aaron Sherritt’s house remains untenanted. It will be remembered that at the inquest Mrs Barry said that Joe Byrne was talking to her about his mother, but she did not detail the conversation. It appears that Byrne asked Mrs Barry how long it was since she had seen his mother, and Mrs Barry replied not since Mrs —s funeral, mentioning the name of a neighbour who died some weeks previously. Byrne affected ignorance of the death, and denied having seen his mother for some time. What his object in misleading Mrs Barry was cannot, of course, be ascertained, but is known that he was at the house several times recently.
Some curiosity has been expressed as to the causes which led Aaron Sherritt to turn against the gang with all of whom he was once on terms of intimate friendship , and go over to the police. From inquiries, from the deceased man’s friends and relatives, it transpires that Sherritt was on several occasions served very shabbily by them, especially by Byrne. A mob of stolen horses or cattle would be put on Aaron Sherritt’s selection, and left there until they could conveniently be sold, and when these were realised upon none of the money was given to Sherritt. This led to bickering and gradually engendered the ill feeling which ultimately developed into hate.
In consequence of the controversy which it still carried on with much warmth, regarding the conduct of the police in Aaron Sherritt’s house on the night of his murder, the place itself has become an object of interest. The house is situated in the ranged at Sebastopol , about eight miles from Beechworth, at a spot exactly in a line with the ‘Devil’s Elbow.’ It is a one story weatherboard structure, with a shingle roof, and comprises two rooms. One of these rooms, which was used as a kitchen is 15 ft by about 9ft: and the other, the bedroom about 11ft by 9ft. There are two doors, one at the back, and the other at front, nearly opposite to each other. There is no passage formed through the house, both doors opening into the kitchen which is partitioned off from the bedroom by a wooden screen having a doorway cut in the centre of it. The partition does not reach to the ceiling, but there is a space of about 2 ½ ft. There is no door in the partition, the opening being covered by a piece of grey calico, which hangs down like a curtain. There are two windows, both of which are in the front of the house.
The bed on which the three constables were lying when the first shot was fired is a double iron one, and is placed directly beneath one window. In front of the other window is the table on which the candle was burning – an impromptu affair constructed of a zino lined packing case with boards laid upon it. Directly opposite the table is the fire, which is an open one, for burning logs of large dimensions. The chimney, as in most bush houses, is built out from the house, and is close to the back door. It is built of strong weather boards, the upper portion of the flue being constructed of pieces of kerosene tins. It was in the angle made by the lower portion of the chimney and the side of the house that Byrne stood when he made Weeks knock at the door.
From the position of the rooms, both doors of the house being open, it would be impossible to pass from the bedroom to the kitchen without being under two fires if a man were posted at each door. Whether the doors could not have been shut from the bedroom without any one leaving, by some one leaning over the top of the partition, is however a matter of question. The house is surrounded by large trees, affording excellent cover, and it would be almost impossible from the house to hit anyone concealed behind them.
Ned Kelly’s armour has been on view at the police camp all day, and has been inspected by many of the residents and visitors from Melbourne and elsewhere.
THE KELLY GANG AND THE POLICE
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS
Sir,—May I offer a few remarks bearing on the capture of the Kelly gang. There is, I think, little doubt that they, through foolhardiness and want of foresight, gave themselves into the hands of the police. They had plenty of opportunities to escape both before and during the fight, and it appears, from a paragraph in your yesterday’s issue, that but for the Chief Secretary ordering a special train, the police did not intend leaving Melbourne until the next day, thus displaying a fondness for warm beds and daylight and a reluctance to put the country to unnecessary expense that is quite touching. However, what I wish more particularly to draw attention to is this—from the reports I find there were some 30 or 40 prisoners in the house with the Kellys. These prisoners—men, women, and children—were not even given a chance to escape, but were fired on at once, and I think I may say that those that were killed were ruthlessly butchered. How would matters have stood had 20 of them been killed? After all what did the police do? They shot Byrne, and they wounded Ned Kelly, when he stood out to be shot at. It is doubtful whether the younger Kelly and Hart did not shoot themselves.
Everybody is, of course, highly pleased at the dispersion of the gang, but it seems a pity that such inhumanity was shown towards the harmless prisoners. The end of the encounter was as ruthlessly conducted as the beginning. Ned Kelly was in custody, Byrne was shot, and the other two outlaws supposed to be dead. Yet these 30 or 40 valiant policemen were quite easily restrained from rushing the place, and determined on burning it down, quite regardless of the fact, of which they were well aware, that there was a wounded prisoner inside. The police were, of course, quite right not to expose themselves more than was necessary, but their caution in this respect contrasts unfavourably with their reckless disregard for other people’s lives. I suppose the blacks would look upon the affair as a “dispersion.” What about the black that was wounded? Being a coloured gentleman, I suppose he does not count, as I have not seen him mentioned in the list of casualties. —Yours, &c.,
June 30. T. H. B.
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