Royal Commission second Report Part V ( page 8)

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part V


The action of the police immediately after the Wombat murders proved the utter unpreparedness of the authorities for so grave an emergency. The constables were found armed with revolvers that, under the circumstances, were comparatively useless. A few rifles were scattered throughout the district, but such was the inadequacy of the armament available that, upon the departure of Kennedy on his fatal expedition, the station at Mansfield was almost completely denuded of weapons. The parties who went out to search for the bodies of the murdered men were wretchedly equipped, and, before starting, the whole township had to be searched in order to obtain arms. The majority of the police were unacquainted with the use of the more modern description of rifle, and were, in many instances, notoriously had bushmen, and ignorant of the country in which they had to search for the outlaws. Some also were indifferent horsemen. As soon as information reached Melbourne of the Wombat murders, the Hon. Graham Berry, who was then Chief Secretary, gave the Chief Commissioner carte blanche, as regarded expense, to enable him to cope with the situation. Some Spencer repeating rifles that were in store were forwarded, and reinforcements were despatched to the scene of operations. Mr. Nicolson, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, who had done good service in the capture of bushrangers in the early days of the gold diggings, was specially selected to take charge of the pursuit. On arriving in Benalla, he found the township in a state of intense excitement, which was shared in more or less by the general community. At this time the mounted police in the North-Eastern district, which embraced an area of 11,000 square miles, numbered only about 50 mounted men, and the reinforcements came to hand slowly. Having visited the more important stations, Mr. Nicolson proceeded to form search parties with whom to scour the country according as information was received as to the supposed whereabouts of the gang. The officers in the district at this time, in addition to Mr. Nicolson and Mr. Sadleir, were Inspector B. Smith and Sub-Inspector Pewtress. Mr. Smith, as subsequent events proved, was quite inefficient for the work, and Mr. Pewtress was wholly unsuited for bush duty. The police parties sent in pursuit in the first instance returned to quarters without success, and no reliable information appears to have been obtainable as to the whereabouts of the gang. The Government, it must be said, exhibited a commendable zeal and promptitude in seconding the efforts of the police. The better to facilitate their object, the Felons Apprehension Act was passed through the Legislature at one sitting. The measure was based upon one that in New South Wales was found very effectual in stamping out bushranging. Its provisions were directed against not only the outlaws, but also against all those who wilfully harbored, assisted, or otherwise sympathized with them; and, doubtless, had it been judiciously administered, the object aimed at would soon have been achieved.. .....

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