The True Story of the KellyGang of Bushrangers Chapter 3 page 2

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Enough has probably been said, however, to explain the temptations and opportunities which the country offered to cattle and horse stealers, who were encouraged in their pursuits by the conduct of law abiding, honest stock owners almost as much as by nature. While comparatively very little of the country was fenced, cattle and horses belonging to different individuals were allowed to run together far from the homesteads, in the good land by the banks of creeks and rivers in the mountains, where their owners, who were, almost without exception, splendid bushmen, could periodically inspect them, and muster them when required. This casual system of grazing would have worked better than it did but for the fact that dishonest adventurers, who were also skilled bushmen, found it easy to muster other people’s stock. Having done so, they drove them away by devious mountain tracks to some distant market, generally in New South Wales, and disposed of them, often months before their owners knew that they had suffered loss. A favourite plan was to impound Victorian horses or cattle in the pounds of New South Wales border towns, purchase them for the trifle which impounded stock usually bring, and then resell them to innocent buyers, to whom the thieves were able to give an apparently good title. The police of New South Wales and Victoria, who were both well aware of the plan of operation, were in constant communication with one another, and effected many captures of adventurous horse and cattle stealers. Until the whole of the professional ‘duffing’ population was either safely under lock and key in the gaols, or, at least, had experienced a term there, and so lost caste with their admirers, who worshipped, and were only too ready to emulate unpunished ‘smartness’, the police felt that it would be futile to hope for a full measure of law and order in the district. The Kellys themselves were well known cattle thieves, with whom the police had considerable acquaintance. Mr Nicholson, the Victorian Inspecting Police Superintendent, on a visit to the North East two years before the murders, had reported specially upon the Kelly family, and had advised the removal of a police constable from the neighbourhood of Greta, a small township near which the Kellys lived, on the ground that a man of superior attainments was needed for such a responsible post. Portion of his report, dated April, 1877, is worth quoting. The Kellys’ house, it may be said, is about four miles distant from Greta, on the road to Benalla. Mr Nicholson writes as follows:- ‘I visited the notorious Mrs Kelly’s house on the road from hence to Benalla. She lived on a piece of cleared and partly cultivated land on the road-side, in an old wooden hut, with a large bark roof. The dwelling was divided into five apartments by partitions of blanketing, rugs, &c. There were no men in the house, only women and two girls of about fourteen years of age, said to be her daughters. They all appeared to be existing in poverty and squalor. She said her sons were out at work, but did not indicate where, and that their relatives seldom came near them. However, their communications with each other are known to the police. Until the gang referred to is rooted out of this neighbourhood, one of the most experienced and successful mounted constables in the district will be required in charge of Greta. I do not think the present arrangements are sufficient. Second class Sergeant Steele, of Wangaratta, keeps the offenders referred to under as good surveillance as the distance and means at his command will permit. But I submit that Constable Thom would hardly be able to cope with these men. At the same time some of these offenders may commit themselves foolishly some day, and may be apprehended and convicted in a very ordinary manner.’

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