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Royal Commission second Report Part XII ( page 15)

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part XII


When, in July 1879, Mr. Nicolson resumed charge of the pursuit, the prospect of capturing the outlaws appeared more remote than ever. The alarm caused by the daring outrages of the gang had to some extent subsided, but a strong feeling of indignation prevailed throughout the country at the spectacle presented of four young men, three of them only about twenty years of age, defying all the resources and powers of the Government, and remaining in almost undisturbed tranquillity in what one of them described as their mountain home. As indicating the condition of the district and the influences at work to shield and assist the gang, it may he mentioned that not even the offer of £8,000 for their capture, to any appreciable degree, facilitated the operations of the police. Weary of the delay in effecting the capture, and concerned at the enormous outlay incidental to the pursuit, pressure appears to have been brought to bear immediately on Mr. Nicolson taking charge to effect reductions. The Garrison Artillery were gradually withdrawn, while the strength of the police in the district was also considerably reduced, as will be seen from the following returns:-

Number of Officers and Police stationed in the North-Eastern district and the extra expenditure incurred during the period Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare were in charge, and for the seven months after Mr. Nicolson resumed command.

Men Extra Expenditure Men Extra Expenditure
December 1878 217 £2,197 July 1879 156 £1,049
January 1879 201 1,748 August 1879 153 1,057
February 1879 213 1,856 September 1879 155 707
March 1879 196 2,296 October 1879 155 860
April 1879 198 1,433 November 1879 154 356
May 1879 191 1,342 December 1879 155 497
June 1879 174 1,180 January 1880 157 440

It must be borne in mind that these returns are irrespective of the Garrison Artillery, who were stationed in the district while Captain Standish remained in Benalla, and whose presence and co-operation were no doubt of great importance at that time. Prior to the Euroa bank robbery Mr. Nicolson appears to have lost faith in utility of search parties exclusively; and his coadjutor, Superintendent Sadleir, emphatically pronounced the system to be mere "fooling." The Assistant Commissioner thus explains the position in which he was placed at this juncture, and the steps which he found it necessary to take. "I set to and reorganized the men on this basis, and adopted the view that, with the materials at my command, my best course to adopt was to secure places from outrage where there was treasure, so that the outlaws would be baffled in any attempt to replenish their coffers. I stationed a small body of men at Wodonga, under Sergeant Harkin, another at Wangaratta, under Sergeant Steele, another at Bright, under Senior-Constable Shoebridge, and the same at Mansfield , under Sub-Inspectors Toohey and Pewtress. At each of these there was barely strength enough for a search party, but they could make up a fair party - seven or eight - by calling in men from neighboring stations. The only place where a complete search party was kept was Benalla. "I instructed the police throughout the district to arrange to get quietly from two to four townsmen of the right sort who would turn out and aid them in the case of an attack." Mr. Nicolson adds, that he had not carte blanche for expenditure as Captain Standish had. He had no money placed to his credit. He paid the accounts and all other expenses out of his own pocket, which were afterwards refunded. Large economies were also effected as regards the keep and hiring of horses and the expenses attached to the use of buggies by those engaged by the police. At the same time systematic efforts were made throughout the district to induce the well-disposed portion of the population to aid the police by every means in their power, and to afford any information respecting the outlaws that might come to their knowledge. This in time began to bear good fruit. At first the intelligence gleaned would be about a month old, then it was reduced to a fortnight, in time about a week, and sometimes a day only would elapse, before the receipt of news of the appearance of the gang, or the doings of their sympathizers. In fact the Assistant Commissioner appears at this time to have relied almost solely upon secret agents for information, and a reference to the list of reported appearances shows that his plan of operations so far was producing some effect. It was not, however, until he had been six weeks in charge that he obtained positive and reliable information that the Kellys were in the district. Special stress has been laid upon several incidents which mark the administration of affairs by Mr. Nicolson, to which it is desirable notice should be directed. On the 27th September 1879 , Superintendent Sadleir, while at Wangaratta, was informed by the agent known as Foote that on the previous night he had seen Ned Kelly and the other members of the gang in the bush. They were on foot, and of their identity there could not be any doubt. Mr. Nicolson, on being informed of this, at once telegraphed to Mr. Sadleir, from Benalla, instructing him to bring the man down. This order was not complied with, Mr. Sadleir explaining that he had left his informant drinking at a public house, and that he would himself be able to find the precise spot where the outlaws had been seen. Upon being questioned upon this point, Mr. Sadleir's knowledge was found to be vague; and Mr. Nicolson, under the circumstances, took no action. This was the occasion upon which the search party had assembled in the barrack yard at Benalla, with their horses saddled and ready to start, when at the last moment they were ordered back to quarters. In the following memo., dated 30th September 1879 , Mr. Nicolson thus explains to the Chief Commissioner his reasons for adopting this course:- ....

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