The Argus at KellyGang 23/2/1882

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A private sitting, attended by a majority of the members of the Police Commission, was held on Tuesday, when a resolution was arrived at which was duly communicated to the press. The deliverance was oracular, but it must be added that it was unmeaning. "The commissioners record their confidence in their secretary. But if a majority of the number had not confidence in that officer, it is certain that he could not occupy his present position. Further, these wonderful gentlemen solemnly declare that in collating the evidence taken before them, the secretary only obeyed the instructions of the Hon J M GRANT, conveyed through the chairman of the Police Commission."

Whoever, it may be asked, supposed that the secretary would collate the evidence for Mr GRANT without orders from Mr GRANT? The question which was raised was whether the secretary was the man whom Mr GRANT should have selected for the purpose. We submitted not. On the contrary, we urged that the secretary was one of the last men in the world (ex-officio) to whom the Minister should have gone, and all that has occurred since that date goes to confirm the opinion.

Now that the memoranda have been published, Mr GRANT's conduct appears, indeed, more inexplicable than ever. The commissioners had brought up a report recommending the dismissal of some members of the police force, and the degradation of others. The officers and the men protested, accusing the commissioners, in point of fact, of blundering or unfairness. The Minister desired that the evidence should be collated in order that he might see who was right and who was wrong, and the person to whom he applies for assistance is the chairman of the commission. That is to say, the prosecutor is requested to prepare a summary of his own and of the defendant's case for the assistance of the judge. The idea is thoroughly congenial to Mr LONGMORE. "Our secretary, Mr J Williams, can do the work better " than any one else," he said , "he is the very man." And no doubt, from the Longmore stand point, there could not be a more admirable man for the purpose. What, however, about the other parties to the suit, namely, the police officers ? Was it likely that they would be satisfied with the reference ? We apprehend not, and it is passing strange that the obvious injustice to these gentlemen never occurred to Mr GRANT. Supposing that the case against the commission is true – as we believe it to be – and that the report contains a series of improper charges, based upon misleading references, can it be seriously supposed that the secretary would devote himself to an exposure of the errors and the bad faith of his employers?

We take one instance of the fairness and the accuracy of the "sketch." The secretary dissents from our criticism, and his remarks will show his qualifications for the duty thrust upon him. The "sketch" says :–

" Indeed the firing at this time by all accounts seems to have been indiscriminate, the blacks particularly being industrious in potting away at the premises. The prisoners in a state of terror, arranged to hold out a white handkerchief, at which several shots were immediately fired, a proceeding highly reprehensible, as the most untutored savage is supposed to respect the signal of surrender. The order was given to fire high, but not before one of Mrs Jones's children and a man named Martin Cherry were wounded, the latter fatally."

About this passage we wrote – "It is " so worded as to convey the impression that the police fired indiscriminately into the hotel after they knew that there were prisoners in it ; that they fired on the white flag, and that in consequence of this reckless conduct a child of Mrs Jones was wounded, and the man Martin Cherry was killed. This is the most serious and damaging passage in the report. But it is well known – no one denies the fact – that the child and the man Cherry were wounded by the volleys with which the police answered the fire suddenly opened upon them by the outlaws. The hotel was in the way. Screams told the police that there were people in the building, and orders were then given which prevented any of the prisoners from being hurt. The only person who was scratched by a bullet afterwards was the lad REARDON, who was shot as he was escaping in the darkness, because, not responding to a challenge, he was believed to be a bushranger." The secretary, leaving our main points untouched, contents himself with quoting a hearsay and unsupported statement that three bullets went through the white flag – a most improbable occurrence. Two eye-witnesses say that one shot was fired at the white flag by "Jackey, the tracker," and the witness quoted by Mr Williams says the shots came from the drain where the blacks were, and therefore there is no imputation unon the Victorian police. Further, the secretary says, "The Argus denies in " effect that there was indiscriminate " firing. " What we said was that no civilian was shot after the first volleys which were fired in ignorance of their presence. This is the fact, and not only is it concealed by the report, but the contrary impression is studiously conveyed, and surely nothing could be more unfair than this. The secretary ostentatiously furnishes us with a number of references, but not one of them showed that man, woman, or child was hurt by the alleged indiscriminate firing. Here is one. Inspector O'Connor is being questioned :–

1,168 – From the time you got the information till 11o'clock , when the prisoners were released, was there firing at the house by the police ? – Certainly there was; but it must not go out as if we were firing Into the 40 or 20 prisoners. Again, we are referred to 9,420. Constable Dwyer is under examination :–

9,420 How did you know that? – I heard Mr Sadleir calling out, "All you innocent people throw yourselves flat on the ground, and you will not be shot." That was Mr Sadleir's voice.

9,421. Were there shots then ? – Yes, there were shots from above and below, and the outlaws firing also and the same time I heard them call upon the civilians to come out and they would not be molested.

Again we are referred to Sergeant WHELAN :–

5,998. Was there heavy firing upon the house by the police ? – There was.

5,999. All round ? – All round, but it was sung out round about, from one to the other – "Fire high." That was before the people came out.

6,001. You are sure "fire high" was the order ? – Yes, I heard it pass round several times, and each time we used to cry out, "Come out, come out," for the people to   come out, and that they would not be touched or interfered with.

We have taken these references by chance and not by selection, and where, it may be asked, is the justification of the alleged sacrifice of life owing to the "indiscriminating fire of the police ? "

Until the secretary was asked to sit in judgment no allusion was made to him, but when he was selected for the task it became necessary in the public interests to discuss his qualifications. And the statement handed to the press should be sufficient to convince Mr Grant of the error he has made.

The secretary says –

I solemnly declare that I am not conscious of there being in the sketch any false statement of facts, unfounded insinuations or wilfully misleading references."

But the truth of the sketch is one of the issues to the tried. Is the author – or at least, the officer who adopts the document with enthusiasm – the person to be entrusted with the summing up of the evidence as to its bona fides? It should only be necessary to put such a question.

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