Cookson, 05 09 1911 2

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5 September 1911

(full text transcription)


"One time there were races on down there in the Kellys' time. A whole lot of prisoners were put in for being drunk, a nigger amongst them. The watch house-keeper in the morning went to search the cells. No nigger. Rushed for whisky, and sent men all over the place. Called his wife to substantiate the escape.


"Nell, didn't you see a man going over the fence?" "Yes." "And you tried to pull him back, and he was rushing?" "Yes." "Did he search all the cells, Nell? Got someone." "Yes; and when he opened that door the blackfellow jumped on him, and knocked the poor old man down." "Did you try this cell?" a man asked the watch house-keeper. "Oh what's the use. Didn't Nell see him killing me? Ask her. She knows more about it than I do."

"Well they opened that cell and there was the nigger, where he had been all the time. He hadn't escaped after all. Nell got a reputation after that.

"They were stirring times then and there was a lot of real sympathy for the Kellys when they were caught. They were good fellows apart from their crimes. And they would have made splendid soldiers. It's a pity they got a bad start. But I suppose we've all feel at times that the laws are not big enough to do us the even-handed justice that we are entitled to, and that the only way to get our rights is to lay down special laws of our own to fit the special occasion, and to enforse them with a shot-gun or something.

"But they were good business days. Look at these books."


And the jovial old storekeeper produced several ledgers , obviously old, but marvellously well preserved, and the entries, all in his own handwriting, were like copperplate.

Very interesting indeed were many of these entries. Much light they threw upon a great deal that has been allowed to remain uncertain as to who were or who were not agents of the police during the last 12 months or so of their campaign against the outlaws. Every payment out on account of the Government to those in the pay of the police is shown in these books. And from the individual accounts much may be learned respecting the tastes and predilections of the individuals. All of them seem to have been partial to alcohol. Aaron Sherritt's account shows a decided fondness for lollies. Many of the entries read mysteriously. They were meant to do so. Cryptic entries cover the large payments to the spies. Smaller disbursements appear as merchandise of various descriptions. But all the books have been kept with a neatness and method that are very rare in town or country. A few specimen pages are reproduced. They speak for themselves.




Most of the people who took prominent part in the hunting and ultimate capture of the Kelly bushrangers have gone to that bourne where the wicked cease from troubling and even a police constable may rest. Few only of the police survive.

Detective Ward, now partner in a prosperous private agency in Melbourne, is one of the exceptions. Ward had a very prominent part in the whole of the Kelly business. He it was who first arrested young Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt-an event from which the determination of Byrne to observe no more laws may be said to date. It was only a case of suspicion-the inability to account to the satisfaction of the constable for game of which the lads were found in possession. But it made one of them an outlaw eventually, and led to the other being shot dead at a time when he was playing the part of a friend to both the outlaws and the police-and, it is to be feared, betraying both.

This arrest dates from the opening of the Beechworth railway. The story may as well be told by Ward himself, as he related it:-

"I had been detailed to the escort to the Governor at the opening of the railway. I started early in the morning, and on the way came across Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt skinning a beast. I noted the brands and saw that the animal belonged to James Foley, of Black Springs. I knew both the lads. We couldn't get Foley to identify the beast, however. He said, 'Iwo hundreds of head of cattle, and if I do what you ask they won't leave me one.' At that time I was an inspector for the North Ovens Shire. After the opening of the railway I went to Sheep Station Creek. Here I arrested Sherritt with half a sheep in his possession that he couldn't account for. From there I went to the Devil's Elbow, and arrested Byrne on a similar charge. They could not prove ownership of the mutton, and went up for six months a piece.

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the previous day / next day . . . BW Cookson in the Sydney Sun index