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Side of Authority
This page contains content from police and those who supported authority.

Assistant Commissioner Charles Hope Nicolson

The people of the



Importance of Inspecting Superintendent and honorary Assistant Commissioner Nicolson

I was second in command of the Victoria police to Standish, and with Hare commander of the police hunting after the KellyGang. Some people saw me as a dour Scot and the Royal Commission were, 'of opinion that on several occasions the conduct of Mr; Nicolson was not characterised by judgement and discretion.' They recommend that I be allowed to retire upon the same superannuation allowance as though he had attained the age of 55 years.

I led the police team against the KellyGang' ' from the time it was formed after the Mansfield Murders to just after the Euroa robbery and from mid 1879 until less than a month before the Glenrowan Siege. At that time my strategy was working and I was relieved by the Government for purely political reasons. The matter was not helped by the attitude toward me as shown by Commissioner Standish. The Royal Commission's decision was another indication of politics getting in the way.

I was once described as, 'Excessively reticent and not fast' and, 'He was so excessively reticent and mysterious at all times'

Links to the KellyGang below

Early Years , Power , Fitzpatrick Incident , Murders at Sringy Bark Creek , Sebastopol Cavalcade , Euroa Robbery ,in Melbourne , Jerilderie Robbery , First Cave Party , Hare replaced by Nicolson , Second Cave Party , Nicolson replaced by Hare, My relations with Commissioner Standish and with Sup Hare, Royal Commission , Early service , Later service , Family , Photograph

Links to the KellyGang

Early Years In 1855 I was appointed a lieutenant with the police

In 1858 I was appointed superintendent of the detective force in Melbourne

In the 1860's I moved from the detectives to officer in charge of the Kyneton District because of health problems

My relations with Standish altered after I left command of the detectives in about 1870 (RC666)

Arrest of Harry Power See Sup Hare's description of what went on at Harry Power's arrest. It shows Mr Hare's approach to me. But please see my side of the story. See also (RC3492) (RC16274)

In the late 1870s I was the Inspecting Superintendent and made extensive visits to all the police stations in North Eastern Victoria. Com Standish dismissed my work with the following words, 'I must say I did not attach much importance to any of your reports. They were all merely twaddle.' (RC197) see also (RC15906)

Dr Ford was looking after me at the time. (RC1587)

In the mid 1870s I opposed the reduction in the number of police stations in North Eastern Victoria (RC16308)

Sup Hare described how much I was earning at this time (RC1593)

Visit to Mrs Kelly

After Ned Kelly had been accused by James Whitty of stealing horses and cattle police including I became interested in interviewing Ned. In 1877 I started visiting Mrs Kelly's looking for Ned. This is my description of Mrs Kelly's home:

'I visited the notorious Mrs Kelly's on the road from hence to Benalla. She lived on a piece of cleared and partly cultivated land on the road-side, in an old wooden hut, with a large bark roof. The dwelling was divided into five apartments by partitions of blanketing, rags, &c. There were no men in the house, only children and two girls of about fourteen years of age, said to be her daughters. They all appeared to be existing in poverty and squalor.' (RC1024)

In my role as inspecting superintendent tried to address many problems in the Kelly Country including the trade in stolen stock between Victoria and New South Wales. See my letter, written in September 1877 to Supertintendent Singleton of the New South Wales police.(RC1041)

See also (Argus22/2/82)

. Fitzpatrick Incident 15/04/1878 I was in Sgt Steele's office in Wangaratta the morning after the incident. I took no immediate action but Steele made arrests before the day ended. Some people are unkind enough to suggest that I wanted Ned Kelly or some of the others to run so that we could get some publicity and support for the police. I continued on to Bright. (see also RC8817)

From September 1878 down to the Euroa robbery, I was engaged forming search parties, dividing the country off into sections, and going out myself with them in turn-not all, but some of them. (RC436)

. Murders at Stringy Bark Creek in the Wombat Ranges 26/10/1878 After the murder of Sgt Kennedy and his party I was sent up to take charge of the pursuit of the KellyGang on 28/10/1878. I arrived at Benalla that evening, I found that the town of Benalla, and even people along the railway line, were in a state of great excitement.(RC332) see also (CHC) but see (Argus29/10/78)

I organized and sent out search parties after the KellyGang under SConst James, Faulkiner and Sgt Steele to scour the country.

I personally took out the search party from Benalla to Winton ranges, Eleven-mile, Bald Hill, taking dividing range at back of Lloyd's, Barnett's, Delaney's, and Tanner's, and follow up left-hand side of the Fifteen-mile Creek to near head. Special attention was given to a lane at the head of Tanner's farm, leading to and from McBean's Swamp, known as Cart-road Gully. I had Const Strachan SConst Flood with me (RC676)

In justice to Captain Standish, I must say that what I did then was done entirely on my own responsibility, as he gave me full charge of the pursuit and told me he would hold me accountable.

On 30/11/1878 I went up to Wangaratta and on to Myrtleford to see what was going on there. (RC342)

I wrote Insp Brooke Smith about search parties on the 30th. (see text ) (RC17525) (Argus29/10/78)

On 2/11/1878 I interviewed Margarey on the Murray Flats, (Argus6/11/78) ( RC16901)

. Sebastopol Cavalcade 7/11/1878 Com Standish came up to Benalla to see me on the afternoon train from Melbourne. After our meeting we had dinner, at that time I received a telegram from Sup Sadleir telling us that the KellyGang had been at Sebastopol and that they were still there. The next morning we arrived in Beechworth and joined the others. A large body of mounted police left the railway station about 4 am on what has become known as the Sebastopol Cavalcade (Argus8/11/78) (RC11) (RC361) (RC1768) (CHC)

The 9 men, one tracker, Com Standish and I came up by to Beechworth by train from Benalla. (we travelled in a van) We met Sadlier and his men about 3 miles out of Beechworth. Standish and Sadleir rode together and I looked after the men and got them in order. (RC388) (RC15884)

Arrival at the Sherritt home

I was riding by myself with two or three men near me, when Mr. Sadleir came up and said to me, "Now Mr Nicolson, this is the house of the Sherritts;" you will do this and you will do that, and the outlaws are said to be here. This hut was backed by a large paddock. I turned to Mr. Sadleir and said, "You send some men into that paddock, and see the men do not escape by the back;" and I then galloped with a few men to the hut at full speed. I found the cavalcade was so noisy-we were expecting to get the KellyGang asleep-and I called to the men to come with me.(RC389) (RC681) (RC5703)

I rode down the entrance passage which I did full speed, threw my legs off my horse, and burst in the door. One of the men-Constable Bracken -attempted to pass in front of me. It has been my custom - a well-known custom in the police force-that no one should go before me on a30-dec-11s gun went off. I went suddenly from room to room. I have been accustomed to that sort of duty. I rushed into the next bedroom, whipped off the clothes, and ran to the next room and did the same, and so all through, and I found the whole thing was nothing.(RC403)

Chasing after the KellyGang. (Argus11/11/78)

Warby Ranges

At about 10pm on !!MISSING I met Insp Brook Smith and Const Johnson in Wangaratta after his search party had found the pack horse from Stringy Bark Creek (RC12417)

On 10/11/1878 I was at Fern Hills with my search party. (RC1994)

On the 10/11/1878 I accompanied Det Ward and SConst Strachan to meet another informant in Greta. (RC13840)

On 11/11/78 I met Supt Sadleir in Wangaratta (Argus12/11/78)

On 12/11/1878 I met up with Insp Brooke Smith in Wangaratta and went out with him and a large search party into the Warby Ranges. (RC12476) See also (Argus13/11/78) (RC412)

On 13/11/1878 after the police horse from the Stringy Bark Creek murders was found and brought into Wangaratta, I sent Insp Brooke Smith back to Beechworth with instructions to attend to the duties of his district and not interfere with the Kelly business any more. (RC415) (Argus15/11/78)

Com Standish said that I told him of the threat to the banks about 2 weeks prior to Euroa. This Sup Sadleir and I deny.(RC16) ( RC16695) - but see text of my telegram of 29/11/1878 to Sadleir (RC2925)

The Royal Commission examined the evidence about the threat to the banks in some detail and then decided to have a swipe at me in the following terms;

"Nevertheless it has not been satisfactorily proved, from the documents or the evidence submitted to your Commissioners, that Mr. Nicolson realized the danger and applied for reinforcements. " (RC2nd ReportIX)

I had a discussion with Patrick Quinn about becoming an agent (Argus10/11/80)

. Euroa Robbery 10/12/1878 On Monday the 2nd, a week previous to the Euroa Bank robbery, I left Benalla for Wangaratta. On the Tuesday I went to Hedi and beyond, to Upper King, and took a party of men; I did not return to Wangaratta until the 4th. I came in from Fern Hill, and Benalla, and German's Creek, where the Kellys used to live, on Monday the 9th, that is the week following, the day before the Euroa robbery. Patrick Quinn came in and saw me on the day of the robbery. (RC17754) see (RC462) (RC473) (RC1994) (RC15825)

Sconst Kelly from Hedi, sent me a letter that had in some way or other fallen into his hands; and it revealed, apparently, a plan on the part of some persons on the River Murray to help the KellyGang to escape into New South Wales. We placed great importance on this and Sadleir and I decided to go to Albury to investigate. (RC483) See text of the letter. (RC1972)

See more about the letter (JJK)

See text of the letter that caused me to go to Albury (CHC)

On the day of the robbery I sent a telegram to Com Standish at about 5.45pm and did not here about any major disruption to the lines. I had recieved information from Pat Quinn that the KellyGang were up in the area near Wodonga (RC2nd reportXII) see also RC17705)

Meeting with Wyatt at the railway station

I met Mr Wyatt on the platform. He told me about things at Faithfull's Creek in some detail (RC489) (CHC)

I left Benalla for Wodonga on the 8pm train. See also (RC501) (RC5957)

I went north because I considered if the KellyGang were making north to cross the Murray River. If the KellyGang had damaged wires at Faithfull's Creek it was too late to pursue them from where the lines were broken down. It was the better to intercept them. (RC504)

When Sup Sadleir and I heard about the robbery we got a spring cart at Albury, and went across, and got back to the train; we went down in the train as far as Wangaratta. I ran from there to the hospital to get that black I had before. I found him too sick. I proceeded on to Benalla, and made my way as fast as I could down to the station, and got my horse, and despatched a telegram from Benalla to Mansfield. (RC524)

I eventually arrived at Faithfull's Creek and met up with my men.(Argus13/12/78) (RC537)

Chasing the KellyGang

See details of the police chase. (RC551)

I became exhausted chasing the KellyGang. This is what I told the Commission

At the time of the Euroa robbery I had worked so hard, being in want of leaders-in fact there was hardly a man there that could take us through the country, so that I had myself to go out and take a very active part in riding about with the men and camping out with them, instead of remaining at the principal points to wait for information and act upon it. Of course I had Mr. Sadleir at head-quarters, he not being able to go out through being a convalescent at that time. I had been exposed so much during the previous six weeks that I became quite worn out with fatigue, and my eyes became so bad that I could hardly see, indeed for a time I was perfectly blind in one eye. When I came to town I went straight to Dr. Gillbee, my medical man, and he took me at once over to consult Dr. Gray, who after that attended me. I paid my own medical expenses. In fact, I was so eager in the matter that I never thought of sending my bill to the Government. The state of my health was no exception, as many of the men who had been engaged in the pursuit were knocked up from the effects of it and several had to go into hospital. I was relieved by Captain Standish and Mr. Hare on the 13/12/1878. (RC16091)see also (Argus14/12/78) (RC552) (RC681) (CHC)

I met Com Standish on 12/12/1878 and we had a short convertaion, see details. I had no communication with Sup Hare or hand over. (RC576) (FH)

In charge of the Police Force in Melbourne

Back in Melbourne after my health returned I took over the job of running the force immediately. I found it interesting at the Royal Commission that Standish accused me of taking too long to attend to matters and leaving the office in a muddle but he never commented any concern to me. He even agreed at the Commission that he had not spoken to me but said that, he 'did not see the use of it' (RC258) (RC16068)

On 14/12/78 I had a long interview with the Chief Secretary. (Argus16/12/78) (SMH19/12/78)

I assured the press that the reward would not be paid to the police. A report from my doctor.(Argus17/12/78)

Letter in support of my work (Argus18/12/78)

When Standish came down to Melbourne he was loath to talk to me. (RC597) (RC16100)

. Jerilderie Robbery 10/2/1879 I was running the police headquarters in Melbourne at this time. The New South Wales police had been very critical of our efforts before the Jerilderie robbery. They even felt that they needed to strengthen patrols along the River Murray for fear that we could not control the KellyGang within Victoria. However when news of this robbery first broke the New South Wales police authorities sent telegrams all over the colony and sent out search parties as we were doing.

Mr Moors was the chief clerk in Melbourne. (RC693) . Standish and Hare replaced by Nicolson 6/7/1879 Standish selected me to take charge of the hunt for the KellyGang because I was next in seniority, although he had little faith in my energy (RC54) (RC711) (CHC) (Argus3/7/79)

My first day

I got very little information from Sup Hare when I arrived in Benalla to take over. It was only in the evening after dinner that I could get any conversation with him. I then found he had no news of the Kellys to give me beyond accounts of various search parties, they having gone out on slight or no information, which were in all cases fruitless. I found Mr. Hare had no information to give me, and I came to the conclusion that he did not then know if the outlaws were in Victoria or not. I soon meant to make a change in police tactics. (RC16901) (RC689) The following is Insp O'Connor's impression of the change

"He went about and had interviews with several persons who would be likely to have the ear of the Kellys or their friends, and succeeded in getting some to work for him as his agents and spies. He (Mr Nicolson) was not in the least reticent of his information to us-that is Mr. Sadleir and myself- but was always asking about it and advising with us both. "(RC1107)

Right from the start Standish and the Government restricted the funds and resources at my disposal and then complained that I did not go out in pursuit of the KellyGang.(RC57) (RC711) (RC15981) (RC16000)

In response I decided that the only approach that I could adopt was to protect the banks and leave the KellyGang to work out what I was doing. All the time I determined to use a network of agents to find out what they were really up to. As part of this approach I quickly worked out that they were based around Mrs Skillion's home near Greta but sent out information that directed attention towards the Strathbogie ranges.

I also set up a special force of police at my Benalla headquarters that could respond quickly and engaged a few local people in towns like Wodonga, Wangaratta, Bright and Mansfield who could assist the police if anything happened. I hopped that this would encourage the KellyGang to get over confident and make a mistake which we could respond to. It also lifted the spirits of my men. They were not running all over the country in all weather just getting more and more dispirited.

About this time one of the policemen shot the other in the Benalla barracks yard. I was appalled at the men's level of skill with firearms and I determined to do something about it. I also saw that our horses lived in the best of stable conditions. They were not ready to live on grass and or to pursue the KellyGang. Other measures I took were to station police permanently in the area, employ agents who were part of the local community, and watch the movements of sympathizers.

In July I started regular rifle practice for the officers stationed at Benalla. See my scores (RC1014)

On 23/7/1879 I visited James Wallace at the Oxley school. (RC14433)

On 26/7/1879 I found one of the KellyGang's camp sites. I had also heard reports of mould boards from ploughs being stolen. (RC746)

4/8/1879 I sent a report to Com Standish about the reduction in police, see text (RC873)

On 29/9/1879 Sup Sadleir informed me that one of his agents had seen the KellyGang near Oxley. Com Standish was appauled when I decided not to race after this information like a madman. In part I made that decision because Sadleir could not be sure of the spot where the agent saw the KellyGang.(RC64) (RC16699) (RC742)

The Royal Commission summarised the pressures that I was under in the following terms:

""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. " (RC2ndReportXII)

I decided that we needed information about the KellyGang and what they were doing. The Royal Commission reported favouably upon my decision to engage agents to provide information. They said:

"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."(RC2ndReportXII) (RC746)

Use of Agents

The Royal Commission made the following comment on the tactics I adopted to capture the KellyGang:

"The tactics adopted at this time appear peculiar, and, perhaps, account to some extent for the apparent listlessness of the police. Mr. Nicolson was desirous, he alleges, of lulling the gang into what he terms a false sense of security. He was gradually forming round them a cordon, not of police but of secret spies, and was anxious not to allow them to know of the information he possessed, or of the precise nature of his plans, lest they should leave the district - where he felt assured they would ultimately be taken - and seek refuge in the inaccessible region near Tomgroggin, in New South Wales. The immediate object was not so much to effect the capture as to guard against any renewal of a raid upon the banks." (RC2ndReportXII)

On 10/9/1879 my wife and son went to Beechworth and made some enquiries about the character of Aaron Sherritt, who was doing all he could to injure me. (RC17590)

I met John Sherritt for the first time at the Wangaratta show on 12/9/1879. Det Ward introduced us.see (RC15216) (RC15225)

In late September there was an incident with the agent Foote and Sadleir that was very disappointing.

On 17/10/79 I went to Wangaratta to search for the KellyGang. (Argus10/11/79) (Argus17/11/79)

On 10/11/1879 I produced a report about Insp Brooke Smith's health. See text. (RC16233)

James Wallace said that in about October Aaron Sherritt had problems with Det Ward and broke off contact with him, preferring to deal with me directly. May be. (RC14661)

On 13/11/1879 I saw Jack Sherritt in Beechworth after Dan Kelly had been to see him. (RC15574) (RC15750) (RC2ndReportXII)

The KellyGang were interested in another robbery. I got Jack Sherritt to tell them they would not get £20 in the Eldorado bank, that the Beechworth bank was too large, and that they might be able to get into one of the Wangaratta banks. (RC15617)

First Cave Party Second Cave Party 12/1879-4/1880 The Cave Party

In December 1879 I decided to arrange a party of police to hide in a cave near Mrs Byrne's home to watch for the arrival of the KellyGang. I gave the party their instructions. "Arrange for a party of four constables, with five days' provisions, to proceed to cave near Mrs. Byrne's, to rest during the day and come out at night, and watch Mrs. Byrne's but for Joe, to capture Joe outside going to or fro, without creating a noise, if possible; if that cannot be managed, to take him in the hut; and, in that case, arrest all those in the hut, the mother and all, and convey them as quietly as possible to Beechworth."(RC5255) ( See also Const Alexander and RC13855)

Where was the cave? (Argus22/7/81)

I gave slightly different instructions to Const Armstrong (RC12212)

I was concerned about whether the cave party was known about by the KellyGang. About 10 police were involved and the Sherritt family knew about the party. Between February and March 1880 I investigated, particulary at Wangaratta to see what could be done. (RC5270)

My orders were to arrange for a party of four constables, with five days' provisions, to proceed to cave near Mrs. Byrne's, to rest during the day and come out at night, and watch Mrs. Byrne's but for Joe, to capture Joe outside going to or fro, without creating a noise, if possible; if that cannot be managed, to take him in the hut; and, in that case, arrest all those in the hut, the mother and all, and convey them as quietly as possible to Beechworth.(RC5256)

There is reason to believe that, during the existence of the cave, the KellyGang frequently visited the Woolshed, and that being so it must be inferred either that the gang were in possession of the secret and carefully avoided Mrs. Byrne's house, or they visited the place, as has been asserted, unseen by the police, who were supposed to be on the watch. The testimony of the constables bears out the supposition that the men's presence in the cave was known for a considerable time before they were removed. (RC 2nd report XII) See also SConst Mullane and Det Ward. (RC1618)

I was ordered to remove the party, but I kept it going. I was also ordered by Com Standish to cease employing Aaron Sherritt, again I kept him on. (RC916)

The party was finally withdrawn on 2/4/1880.

Det Ward had a problem with the reports to me from the policemen who were engaged in this duty. (RC14112)

Decision to remove Me

Towards the end of April 1880 Com Standish a conversation with the then Chief Secretary, Mr. Ramsay, on the KellyGang business. He told Mr Ramsay that nothing was being done, and that, beyond employing unreliable spies, he did not see what good I would ever effect. A few days afterwards Ramsay told Standish that Cabinet had unanimously decided that I should be removed from my position, and that Mr. Hare should be sent in my place. I then arranged to have an interview with Mr Ramsay. Standish tried to control the interview and he stopped me from seeing the Chief Secretary without him being present. I remained in Melbourne, and went to see Sir James McCulloch at Flemington to ask him to go and see Mr Ramsay, and intercede on my behalf. (see also RC920) (RC953)

In late April I came down to see Mr Ramsay about keeping my job. Com Standish wanted to get rid of me. They sent me the following letter:

'My dear Nicolson, I should be glad to see you down here on Thursday to have a chat with you. Please come down by the evening train and come to my office the following day as early as convenient. I had a long interview with - this morning. He is of opinion that the outlaws are at present between the 11- mile and the scene of the murders on the Wombat ranges. I did not gain much intelligence. He spoke very frankly to me on various matters - Com Standish' (RC296)

On 26/4/80 I was down in Melbourne fighting for my job with the Chief Secretay Mr Ramsay and Com Standish. The meeting ended with Ramsay agreeing to me staying on for another month. At this time Standish cut me and accused me of not following up Mrs Sherritt report of a citing of the KellyGang. (RC71) (RC291)

I came down again in late May and had another meeting with Mr Ramsay. That was against Standish's wishes. (RC941)

On 19/5/1880 I wrote to Com Standish about my recent meeting with Hon Ramsay, the Chief Secretary, see text (RC915)

The Royal Commision reported that I took no pains to conceal the opinion that my removal in June 1880, although ostensibly the direct act of the Executive, was in reality the result of official intrigue. (RC2nd reportXIII) see also (RC2922) (JJK)

News from Agents

The "diseased stock" letter, dated 20th May 1880, told me that the KellyGang wanted the stolen mould-boards to make armour. That letter it was stated, "a break out may be expected, as feed is getting scarce." This gave me hope that the "beginning of end" was approaching. The outlaws were evidently preparing for a raid, and it was only necessary to be prepared to receive them. I felt embittered about being so when he found myself obliged to give up the pursuit of the KellyGang. (RC2nd reportXII) See also (RC1597)

On 29/5/1880 I went up to Beechworth with Sup Sadeir and Insp O'Connon and saw one of my agents, Mrs Sherritt Sen. She had seen Joe Byrne at Sebastopol on the 26th. As a result I arranged for Aaron Sherritt to watch Mrs Byrne's place (RC799)

Also got Det Ward see one of my agents, Renwick. (RC13860)

On 30/5/1880 I decided that we should get out and do something. We put the horses on the train in Benalla and got off at Everton and went off and met Aaron Sherritt. (RC801) (RC13860).

On 1/6/1880 Const Armstrong and his party were sent to Aaron Sherritts. (RC13860)

I recalled them on 2/6/1880. (RC2690)

The diseased stock agent wrote to me on 13/7/1880 and again on 16/3/1881. (RC2997)

Nicolson replaced by Hare 2/6/1880 I had only 5 agents at this time(RC2635)

The first hand over interview between Sup Hare and myself at Benalla was at about half-past eleven or twelve and lasted for about 20 minutes. (RC2522)

I sent my last telegram dismissing my agents at 6.47pm, see text.(RC2695) See also (Kilmore10/6/18780)

Hare critised me for the information that I gave him at our hand over at Benalla on 2/6/1880. The Royal Commission made some conclusions about what actually happened at that meeting (RC2ndreportXIII)

On 30/6/1880 I asked for a commission of inquiry. (RC886)

I had a meeting with Ned Kelly after he was taken down to Melbourne. (RC803)

. My relations with Sup Hare At the Royal Commission I responded to Sup Hare's criticism. Things were not good during our time in charge of the hunt for the KellyGang, but things went from bad to worse as the Royal Commission continued. I was replaced largely because of my difficulties with Commissioner Standish and his Melbourne Club friends. I managed to hold my courage for most of the Royal Commission but as the inquiry neared its end and it became clear that the politician were looking for victims. Sup Hare made much of 'his' arrest of the bushranger Harry Power so lets start with wound from 1870 (see my comments about Hare's role in the arrest of Harry Power at Power). My comments about Commissioner Standish follows.

Here are my other comments about Mr Hare

" .... The next incident to which I will refer is the interview between Mr. Hare and myself, on the 2nd June 1880, when I handed over charge of the pursuit to him. Mr. Hare, I am sorry to say, has grossly misrepresented what occurred at that interview; and I will now detail my recollection of the facts of it, as they occurred.

I had previously received notice that Mr. Hare would relieve me on the 2nd June; and as I had prepared a statement showing the financial accounts of the agents employed by me in the pursuit of the Kellys, that account gave the names of all my agents, and that they had been paid to date. I arrived at the office at an early hour that morning.

Mr. Hare arrived at the office about half-past eleven, where Mr. Sadleir, Mr. O'Connor, and myself were waiting for him. The loose papers, such as telegrams, and so on, which I had myself read all over, were placed in heaps on the left. A few important papers I had filed, and put up, and docketed, and put in a drawer. There were only three or four packets of them. As the Commission is aware, I had previously written Mr. Hare in a kindly spirit on the subject of his taking charge of the pursuit. I have asked for that letter to be shown to the Commission, but Mr. Hare does not seem inclined to do so.

We all met cordially. I got up and shook hands cordially. Mr. Sadleir was behind the door, and then he shook hands with Mr. Sadleir, and then with Mr. O'Connor. The room is a very small one, not much larger than this table. We had a little conversation before proceeding to business. A considerable time before twelve o'clock, Mr. Hare and I sat down to our desk, like this, Mr. Sadleir and Mr. O'Connor remaining in the room.... We sat down to business at once, and never moved from our seats until we left that room; there was no going out and in.

After we had been sitting together for about twenty minutes to half an hour, Mr. O'Connor went out, being tired of the long story which he had heard so often before, and smoked outside the door, and Mr. Hare and I continued intently on our work till it was finished. I showed him the account I have mentioned. I also told him of Renwick, that I had brought Renwick down myself, the previous night, from the neighbourhood of Sheep Station Creek, Crawford's Paddock, and that Renwick was to meet him in the evening. I told him also of "Diseased Stock," handing him the papers, and, I believe, three letters -those were all I had. Mr. Hare, in his examination, spoke about six-there were only three, and they were in a foolscap envelope, with the envelopes pinned to each letter. I also told him of those men, and mentioned, no doubt, the particulars about the armour, and about its being bullet-proof. " (RC16862)

The Royal Commission found that the charge made by Superintendent Hare in his official report, dated 2nd July 1880 -Viz., that "Mr. Nicolson, Assistant Commissioner, gave me (Hare) no verbal information whatever when at Benalla" - has been disproved by the evidence (RC2ndReport)

See also (Argus30/12/81)

. My relations with Commissioner Standish

Commissioner Standish was supposed to be my boss and the leader of the Victoria Police. He accused me of most culpable procrastination and a want of generalship and he said that after a time he had no confidence in me (RC84). My response in part is:

"As to the relations which had existed between Captain Standish and myself for some time, I say that those relations were the effect of his jealousy of everything I did. The Commission had an opportunity of seeing the malice which Captain Standish bore me when he was examined; but I say, without fear of contradiction, that on no occasion did I allow my private feelings in this matter to interfere with my duty as an officer of police, and that I served Captain Standish as loyally as if he and I had never had a difference of opinion. In 1863 Captain Standish told Mr. Hare not to leave the colony, as if anything happened him he should have his place. This no doubt, was the motive of his conduct, not only to me but to almost every other inspecting superintendent before me.

...... It is true that when I succeeded Captain Standish and Mr. Hare in the North-Eastern district I had to feign a want of energy, as part of my system was to lull the gang into nothing was being done or known about the gang; but my evidence shows that even at that time I was almost continually on the move, but that I had to spend a good deal of my time in Benalla, as it was there the information used to he brought to me. The men felt the inaction of this period I have no doubt, as they had just been returned to ordinary duty from search parties in the bush, well equipped and provided, and having generally a very good time of it, in addition to free rations and extra pay. Theirs was a life of enjoyment while they were on the search parties, and, of course, under the system that I considered necessary for the service of the country they would feel the difference, living in the barracks on ordinary pay.

I think that, from the account of my career in the force which I have been obliged to give to-day, that want of energy is not a trait in my character, although my detractors have thought fit to try and turn the caution and discretion I endeavored to use into a charge of ineptness. As to the charge that my management was expensive, the return I have handed in, and which is printed at page 31 of the evidence, shows the expenditure incurred by Captain Standish and Mr. Hare, as well as when I had charge, and as the figures speak for themselves, I will not trouble the Commission on that head further.

It was apparent to me that the duty would probably occupy some time, which was another motive I had for reducing expenses. I got them as low as could be. My reason being not only general economy, but also that I knew that the case was one that would require considerable time to conclude. There are some incidents which have been referred to in the course of this enquiry which I think it my duty to explain. Unfortunately Mr. Hare and I have been, as it were, pitted against each other in this Kelly business, and a certain amount of bitterness has been caused thereby. Whether we are to blame for this or not remains with the Commission to say; but in my own defence I would point out that owing, no doubt, to some extent to Mr Hare's plausible manner and glib tongue, he succeeded in ingratiating himself so thoroughly with Captain Standish, and through Captain Standish with Mr. Ramsay, that he was afforded means of taking the Kellys which I never had. What use he made of those opportunities the Commission is aware of. He tells you himself.....

....when I relieved him, in July 1879, he did not know if the Kellys were in Victoria. I do not see what he has done to justify Mr. Ramsay in saying that the Government of that day had unbounded confidence in him, and that if he would take charge he should have carte blanche. In addition to this, I would point out some admissions made by him as to his career in the police force and the conduct of his pursuit of the Kellys. Although by no means inclined to hide his light under a bushel, the only memorable incidents in his career (putting aside his share in the capture of Power) to which he can point with pride are the arrest of a burglar who was armed and the intention to throw a man into the Murray who never turned up to be thrown in. Are either of these circumstances such as should inspire "unbounded confidence"? Under these circumstances, is it not to be wondered at that, having been "in" the capture of Power, Mr. Hare should claim all the credit of that capture? .....(RC16901) (See also RC642) (RC15775)

Com Standish spent most of his evidence on 31/8/1881 attacking me. see particulaly (RC16000) (RC16043) (RC16165) (RC16288) See also (Argus31/8/81) (Argus7/1/82) (Argus13/1/82) (Argus20/2/82)

Moving towards an inquiry; my view. (Argus8/12/80)

. Royal Commission I gave evidence to the Royal Commission on 24/3/1881 (RC325), 25/3/1881(RC676), 29/3/1881(RC916), 16/6/1881 (RC11997), 7/9/1881 (RC16861), 8/9/1881(RC17128), and 20/9/1881(RC17787a)

See the press reports of my evidence. (Argus25/3/81) (Argus28/3/81) (Argus28/3/81) (Argus29/3/81) (Argus30/3/81) (Argus30/6/81) (Argus8/9/81)

I wanted to be represented but the Commissioners would not let me (Argus19/3/81)

I tried to cross examine Standish. (RC174) (RC15778)

I kept a number of letters from the Diseased Stock Agent when he left Benalla but was happy to hand them over to the Royal Commission. (RC1444)

John Sherritt alledged that while he was giving evidence before the Royal Commission my was up in Beechworth and asked magistates and others to sign paper and to give evidence unfavorable to his character. While she was up there that was not the purpose of her visit. (RC16315)

The Royal Commission decided my fate in the following terms

"Mr. Nicolson, Assistant Commissioner, has shown himself in many respects a capable and zealous officer throughout his career in the force, but he labored under great difficulties through undue interference on the part of Captain Standish, and the jealousy occasioned by that officer's favoritism towards Superintendent Hare. (RC2ndReport) (JJK)

That the charge made by Superintendent Hare in his official report, dated 2nd July 1880 -Viz., that "Mr. Nicolson, Assistant Commissioner, gave me (Hare) no verbal information whatever when at Benalla" - has been disproved by the evidence. (RC2nd Report)

Press response to the Commission's report (Argus28/10/81) (Argus12/4/82)

Did I accept the Commissions views (Argus22/2/82)

I sent the Chief Secretary my response (Argus16/12/81)

See summary (Argus17/12/81)

I gave evidence to the second phase of the Royal Commission (Argus26/7/82)

Early Service I had to enforce licence hunts amongst the gold miners at Ballarat; (RC17129)

I was appointed Lieutenant in 1855. Recomm 703, Sub-Inspector in 1856 (RC703),

I was appointed Superintendent of Detectives in 1857 (RC703)

See more details of my career. (RCApp6) Later Service I was appointed Acting Chief Commissioner of Police in July 1880 (RC327)

After the Royal Commission I was reinstated as Superintendent by Cabinet pending my appointment as a stipendiary police magistrate (Argus3/3/82) (Argus4/3/82) (Argus17/4/82)

I died in 1889 (Argus1/8/89)


wife I married Helen Smith, daughter of a former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Hon John Thomas Smith. One of Helen's sisters, Louisa, was secretly married to to Insp O'Connor. (JJK)

children ....

home .. What happened to Nicolson's family What happened to Ass Con Nicolson's dairy, see RC17752) KellyGang