Horse and Cattle stealing

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Horse stealing was like taking a sports car for a spin today. The sport of young men who wanted adventure and a way to show off to the girls. All horses were branded with their owner's mark, but they could often be altered. An F can soon be made into an E and so on. Stolen horses could also be hidden amongst the mobs of horses that lived on most of the properties and 'borrowed' when needed.(CHC) (Argus16/12/78) (Argus10/8/80) (BWC) (BWC)

Cattle brought good money as nice fresh meat for the local miners. They could also be fatterened on the good grass lands of North Eastern Victoria and sold for good prices in the cities of Melbourne and even driven overland all the way to Sydney

The Kelly family was accused by the police of living largely by stealing horses and cattle.

The trade in stolen horses and cattle was brisk across the Murray River between Victoria and New South Wales. It also led the authorities to have long debates about the advantages and disadvantages of maintaining police stations in out of the way places like Glenmore. Such out of the way places became good places to keep stolen stock. A mob could be lost in a mountain valley or on the high planes for long periods.

Sgt Steele told the Royal Commission that Greta lost more horses than most other places, 'there were more horses stolen from there than any other part of the district. They would take large mobs, sometimes fourteen or fifteen plough horses from farmers. I think from Mr Whitty there was that number taken one night; and Ned Kelly, when he got over in the neighborhood of Bungowanna, New South Wales, was not known there, and they imagined it was some person travelling with horses for sale or for the market' (RC8855)

Com Standish told the Royal Commission that the whole sale system of cattle-stealing was the principal crime of the district.(RC180) (see also RC8854) (RC15789)

Sup Sadleir was concerned with the way people altered brands on horses

' No; there is so much chopping and changing, and altering of brands, that unless the owner drops upon his own horse, no person can know it by description. They are so clever at altering the brands that even when the brands are being described to the police, as I have seen at Benalla, it is not until you have shaved closely that you can see the brand was tampered with. They use brands dipped in scalding water, and cigar ends, and are up to all sorts of tricks that we know nothing about.' (RC2984)

How were police horses branded (Argus7/11/78)


Horse and Cattle duffers at KellyGang

Horse stealing incidents

In 1871 Wild Wright stole a horse from a property called Maindample near Mansfield and gave it to Ned Kelly. Ned was arrested over ihis incident in Wangaratta and sent of to Beechworth Goal

In January 1876 Ned Kelly was charged by John Quinn of Glenmore with stealing a chestnut mare and foal. Later Michael Woodward was charged with the same offence and he was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

In 1877 Ned Kelly went to join his uncles John and William Quinn near Glenmore. Ned tells the story of the bull he sold to Lydicker in Cameron letter

How to fix a brand. Brands were used to mark the ownership of horses and cattle.6-dec-11t altering brands to suit their needs. See (FH)

The Gazette has a lot of entries of horses being impounded. In many cases it would seem that they resulted from disputes between neighbours and animals trespassing

Other incidents

There were some domestic cases (Ensign11/9/1874)

In 1877 Nicolson reported that horses were taken over the Murray River when it was low. The animals were often impounded in New South Wales where they were 'recovered', but the offenders, said to be New South Wales men, are never convicted. A form of horse laundering. He said he could see no difficulty in bringing those offenders to justice, if the Ovens district police could make systematic arrangements with the co-operation of the well-known Mr. Singleton, who is in command of the New South Wales police, Albury district. (RC1040) (RC16222)

The police great trouble with the Omeo mob of horse-stealers from the 1860s on. They used to come across to Wangaratta, steal horses, go to Omeo and plant them in the ranges, and alter the brands, and then sell them in Melbourne or in New South Wales.(RC3551)

It was still continuing after the time of the KellyGang. (Argus4/3/78) (Argus3/5/81)

Royal Commissions comments

The Royal Commission included the follwing comments as part of its report

"For many years anterior to the outbreak offences against the person were of frequent occurrence in the North-Eastern district. It was the scene of the exploits of many notorious criminals and bushrangers, and horse and cattle stealing was carried on systematically by gangs of thieves who acted in concert on both sides of the River Murray. Those engaged in the traffic were associated with the families of the Quins, the Lloyds, and the Kellys, and constituted a "ring" that became a standing menace to the respectable and law-abiding people of the district.

A return compiled from official documents shows the extent to which cattle stealing prevailed in the Kelly country for eight years prior to the outbreak. In 1871 the number of cases of cattle stealing reported was 101; 1872, 108; 1873, 97; 1874, 80; 1875, 93; 1876, 130; 1877, 132; and 1878, 101. It is true that a certain percentage of the animals missing, and reported as having been stolen, were subsequently found, but there seems every reason to conclude that in the majority of instances horses disappearing, if not permanently appropriated by the criminal classes, were freely taken and utilized as occasion served, and were then turned adrift into the bush, where they were sometimes recovered by the owner.

The plan frequently adopted was to drive mobs of stolen cattle from Victoria across the Murray, where they were impounded by the New South Wales police. In due course they were disposed of, when the thieves attended the sale, and purchased the animals at a nominal price. Fortified against prosecution by possessing the sale note obtained from the poundkeeper, they retraced their steps to their homes, carrying with them the fruits of their criminal enterprise.

Cattle stealers across the border pursued a similar system, driving the cattle lifted in New South Wales into Victoria, purchasing them when sold by the poundkeepers, effacing the brands, and taking them back to the districts from which they had been stolen.

In 1877, Inspecting Superintendent Nicolson drew attention to the prevalence of this description of crime in the North-Eastern district, which drew forth a strong remonstrance from Captain Standish, addressed to the officers in charge of the North-Eastern district.

Numerous witnesses, notably Captain Standish and the Hon. J. H. Graves, have deposed to the almost incredible extent to which for many years cattle stealing was carried on with impunity in the North-Eastern district; nevertheless, not only was the Glenmore station abolished, but the strength of many other police stations in the district was reduced. Further, excellent and experienced members of the force were removed from important centres and replaced by others wholly incompetent and unacquainted with the district." (RC2nd reportII)