Felons Apprehension Act

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Importance of the Felons Apprehension Act and Outlawry

The Governor proclaimed KellyGang outlaws in under the Felons Apprehension Act on 15/11/1878.

The proclamation was declared from the steps of the Mansfield Courthouse on that date.

What did the Felons Apprehension Act say


An Act to facilitate the tasting or apprehending of persons charged with certain felonies and the punishment of those by whom they are harbored. [Ist November 1878.] (Published as a Supplement to the ' Victoria Government Gazette' of Friday, Ist November 1878. )

WHEREAS of late divers persons charged with murder and other capital felonies availing themselves unduly of the protection afforded by law to accused persons before conviction and being harbored by evil-minded persons remain at large notwithstanding all available attempts to apprehend them and some of them being mounted armed and associated together have committed murders and have resisted and killed officers of justice whereby the lives and property of Her Majesty's subjects are in jeopardy and need better protection by law: Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Victoria in this present Parliament assembled an by the authority of the same as follows (that is to say):-

1. This Act shall be cited as the "Felons Apprehension Act 1878" and shall apply to all crimes committed and evidence taken and warrants issued and informations laid relating thereto as well before as after the passing of this Act.

2. Whenever after information made on oath before a justice of the peace and a warrant thereupon duly issued charging any person therein named or described with the commission of a felony punishable by law with death any judge of the Supreme Court on an application in chambers on behalf of the Attorney-General and upon being satisfied by affidavit of these facts and that the person charged is at large and will probably resist all attempts by the ordinary legal means to apprehend him may forthwith issue a bench warrant under the hand and seal of such judge for the apprehension of the person so charged in order to his answering and taking his trial and such judge may thereupon either immediately or at any time afterwards before the apprehension or surrender or after any escape from custody of the person so charged order a summons to be inserted in the Gazette requiring such person to surrender himself on or before a day and at a place specified to abide his trial for the crime of which he so stands accused Provided that the judge shall further direct the publication of such summons at such places and in such newspapers and generally in such manner and form m shall appear to him to be best calculated to bring such summons to the knowledge of the accused.

3. If the person so charged shall not surrender himself for trial pursuant to such summons or shall not be apprehended or being apprehended or having surrendered shall escape so that he shall not be in custody on the day specified in such summons he shall upon proof thereof by affidavit to the satisfaction of any judge of the Supreme Court and of the due publication of the summons be deemed outlawed and shall and may thereupon be adjudged and declared to be an outlaw accordingly by such judge by a declaration to that effect under his hand filed in the said Court of Record And if after proclamation by the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council of the fact of such adjudication shall have been published in the Government Gazette and in one or more Melbourne and one or more country newspapers such outlaw shall afterwards be found at large armed or there being reasonable ground to believe that he is armed it shall be lawful for any of Her Majesty's subjects whether a constable or not and without being accountable for the using of any deadly weapon in aid of such apprehension whether its use be preceded by a demand of surrender or not to apprehend or take such outlaw alive or dead.

4. The proclamation as published in the Government Gazette shall be evidence of the person named or described therein being and having been duly adjudged an outlaw for the purposes of this Act and the judge's summons as so published shall in like manner be evidence of the truth of the several matters stated therein.

5. If after such proclamation any person shall voluntarily and knowingly harbor conceal or receive or give any aid shelter or sustenance to such outlaw or provide him with fire-arms or any other weapon or with ammunition or any horse equipment or other assistance or directly or indirectly give or cause to be given to him or any of his accomplices information tending or with intent to facilitate the commission by him of further crime or to enable him to escape from justice or shall withhold information or give false information concerning such outlaw from or to any officer of police or constable in quest of such outlaw the person so offending shall be guilty of felony and being thereof convicted shall be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labor for such period not exceeding fifteen years as the Court shall determine and no allegation or proof by the party so offending that he was at the time under compulsion shall be deemed a defence unless he shall as soon as possible afterwards have gone before a justice of the peace or some officer of the Police Force and then to the best of his ability given full information respecting such outlaw and made a declaration on oath voluntarily and fully the facts connected with such compulsion.

6. In any presentment under the last preceding section it shall be sufficient to describe the offence in the words of the said section and to allege that the person in respect of whom or whose accomplice such offence was committed was an outlaw within the meaning of this Act without alleging by what means or in what pardon manner the person on trial harbored or aided or gave arms sustenance or information to the outlaw or what in particular was the aid sustenance shelter equipment information or other matter in question.

7. Any justice of the peace or officer of the Police Force having reasonable cause to suspect that an outlaw or accused person summoned under the provisions of this Act is concealed or harbored in or on any dwelling-house or premises may alone or accompanied by any persons acting in his aid and either by day or by night demand admission into and if refused admission may break and enter such dwelling-house or premises and therein apprehend every person whom he shall have reasonable ground for believing to be such outlaw or accused person and may thereupon seize all arms found in or on such house or premises and also apprehend all persons found in or about the same whom such justice or officer shall have reasonable ground for believing to have concealed harbored or otherwise succoured or assisted such outlaw or accused person. And all persons and arms so apprehended and seized shall be forthwith taken before some convenient justice of the peace to be further dealt with and disposed of according to law.

8. It shall be lawful after any such proclamation as aforesaid for any police officer or constable in the pursuit of any such outlaw in the name of Her Majesty to demand and take and use any horses not being in actual employment on the road arms saddles forage sustenance equipments or ammunition required for the purposes of such pursuit. And if the owner of such property shall not agree as to the amount of compensation to be made for the use of such property then the amount of such compensation shall be determined in the Supreme Court according to the amount claimed in an action to be brought by the claimant against Her Majesty under the provisions of The Crown Remedies and Liabilities Statute 1865.

9. No conveyance or transfer of land or goods by any such outlaw or accused person after the issue of a warrant for his apprehension and before his conviction if he shall be convicted shall be any effect whatever.

10. This Act shall continue in force until the end of the next Session of Parliament.


By Authority: John Farres, Government Printer.

Short title and operation of Act After information laid for any capital crime a judge may cause the accused to be summoned Effect of not surrendering where the accused remains at large Proclarmation to be evidence of the outlaw

Harboring or aiding offenders after summons Form of presentment under previous section Justice or officer of police may search for suspected felons Police may take horses, &c. To prevent fraudulent conveyance of property Duration of Act

Passage of the Bill in the Victorian Parliament

Pressure to pass this type of legislation (Argus14/12/78)

The Victorian Parliament passed the Felons Apprehension on 30/10/1878(Age31/10/78)

See a description of what the Act does (Argus31/10/78)

Affidavit by Com Standish requiring the KellyGang to surrender (Argus5/11/78)

Court at Mansfield stayed open for the KellyGang to surrender (Argus13/11/78)

Affidavit by Com Standish to the effect that the KellyGang had no surrended (Argus14/11/78)

The KellyGang became outlaws; the last steps (Argus16/11/78)

People even spoke about transpotation as an answer. (Alexandra16/11/1878)

Use of the Felons Apprehension Act

In accordance with the Act the Chief Justice, on application from the Solicitor General, issued a warrant and granted an order calling upon the KellyGang severally to surrender and to take their trial for murder. See text (CHC)

Commissioner Standish took action against a number of people under the Felons Apprehension Act as sympathizers and had them loked up on remand in the Beechworth Gaol for several months in early 1879.

McBean conducted a Magisterial Inquiry into Joe Byrne's death. Com Standish, the police Commissioner was also on the bench. They found that he was shot as an outlaw. The evidence of Const McIntyre was taken, the proclamation of the Government declaring them outlaws, the whole of the official papers from the Gazette were shown and read before the magistrate. (RC2905)

The Act did not really work (Argus5/5/79) (Argus30/12/78) see also sympathisers

When did the Act end (JJK)