Police Search Parties

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Police Search Parties

... one of the things of the KellyGang story

Victoria Police Museum

World Trade Centre , Melbourne


Importance of Police Search Parties

The police chased the KellyGang with large parties of men on horses. Many of these parties had up to 16 police and many thought that this was not the best way to chase 4 young men who were excellent bushmen. Related topics include -Early Years , Fitzpatrick Incident, Mansfield Murders , Sebastopol Cavalcade , Euroa Robbery , Jerilderie Robbery , Autum 1879 , Hare replaced by Nicolson , Spring 1879 Early 1880 , Death of Aaron Sherritt , Glenrowan Siege , Ned Kelly's Trial , Royal Commission ,

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Early Years Instructions to search parties. (RC163)(RC440)

Ass Com Nicolson said that Standish, the Chief Commissioner of Police had really nothing to do with issuing orders for the search . He was in charge of the district, and the men received full authority to act upon their discretion, and Nicolson was concerned to make the point that representations to the contrary are not correct. (RC457)

Search parties need to be co-ordinated. Why? (RC1346)

The varying importance of search parties is illustrated by the cost of provisions for them. (RC735)

Fitzpatrick Incident 15/04/1878 After the Fitzpatrick incident was committed by the KellyGang, steps were taken by Sup Sadleir to apprehend the Kellys-the two Kellys and the two others, who were then not known by name. After those efforts proved fruitless for a good many months, it was ultimately determined to start two search parties, well armed, in pursuit of the Kellys. One started from Mansfield, under the charge of Sergeant Kennedy, and the other from Wangaratta, under the charge of SConst Strachan Consts Shoebridge, Thom, and another,(RC3)

The country was divided up into districts (RC445)

Consts Lonigan and Fitzpatrick went ot from Benalla; Sup Sadleir had a party of police from Mansfield and a party from Greta, and Inspector Brook Smith had some from Beechworth. (RC12941)

Det Ward said that this was based on a plan he developed.(RC3111) Stringybark Creek Murders 26/10/1878 It would seem that the police had good information about the area where the KellyGang were in late October 1878. 9-jan-12c.html">Kelly met Sgt Kennedy in Mansfield on 24/10/78 and the Sgt asked him for extra weapons because they were going after the KellyGang.

Sgt Kennedy and his party of Lonigan, McIntyre and Scanlon left Mansfield on 25/10/1878? with instruction to search north through to near Wangaratta. Two other search parties were sent out at about the same time.See (RC14392) for Sup Sadleir's orders. See Sgt Kennedy for later orders. The party from the north was under SConst Strahan with Const Shoebridge, Thom and Ryan. The southern party under Sgt Kennedy was to start at Mansfield make their way throught Greta and the northan party under SConst Strahan was to make its way south to Mansfield. See also (RC1727)

The police response to the murders was immediate. Fresh police were sent up to the Kelly Country.

On 28/10/1878 SConsts Kelly, James, Consts Connor, Meehan, and another and I went out from Benalla on a search party. They went out through Greta and spent a night on Boggy Creek. (RC7980)

On 29/10/78 Const Faukliner and a search party left Wangaratta within instructions to go up the King River and to go through to Mansfield looking for the KellyGang. Ass Com Nicolson, SConst James and Sgt Steele also took search parties out. Within a week, they had scoured the Kelly country away behind on the south of the north-eastern and Beechworth road one way and another. Before coming in they had got news of those other two missing parties having turned up, and further particulars of the murders. Two parties that went from Wangaratta and the two parties from Benalla. (RC343). (Argus2/11/1878)

Ass Com Nicolson gave a detailed report of the routes of the search parties (RC676)

Search party to the Warby Ranges

Police responded to the murders by sending out many search parties (CHC)

Insp Brook Smith was criticied strongly by the Royal Commission for not following up on reports that the [[../K_kellys/K_KellyGang.html|KellyGang]]had passed under the One Mile Bridge at Wangaratta at about 4am on the morning of 3/11/1878 and headed into the Warby Ranges.

On 6/11/1878 two search parties under Insp Brooke Smith and Det Kennedy left Wangaratta for Yarrawonga and Lake Rowan. The party split at Peechelba Brooke Smith's party went to Yarrawonga. (RC12361)

There were twenty-two in the main party including (RC12358)

Many people thought that this party should have started earlier. It was following up on news that the KellyGang passed through Wangaratta on 3/11/1878

Insp Brook Smith's party came across good tracks of the KellyGang in the Warby Ranges and on !!MISSING Const Johnson and his party found the police pack horse B87 from the Stringy Bark creek murders. (RC12400) see (RC17430)

The police party in the Warby Ranges included Sgt Steele and Consts Alexander, Dixon, Fitzpatrick, Hayes, Lawless, Twomey, Dixon and Cameron and perhaps Broderick and some local aboriginal trackers. Hunt from the Argus accompanied Brrok Smith.

On 12/11/1878 Insp Brooke Smith, Ass Com Nicolson, Sgt Steele, Sup Sadleir and search parties including Const Johnson met up and followed the tracks. They went almost directly north-the tracks were going for some few miles, and the tracks led into some thick scrub. The trackers were very slow, and did not appear to like to go into the scrub at all, the two trackers we had. We turned back the same line as we had gone, just came straight back to where we hand met them from Benalla and Wangaratta. (Argus13/11/78) (RC12476) (Argus14/11/78) (Argus15/11/78)

In total there were 50 to 60 mounted police and about 40 or 50 foot constables in the Kelly Country. Later that number was increased. (RC334)

Const Fitzpatrick was a member of the search party. (RC12956)

Sebastopol Cavalcade 7/11/1878 There was a report that the KellyGang had been sited at Sebastopol on 6/11/1878. The event known as the Sebastopol cavacade followed were a large force of police came together to search the place

Insp Brooke Smith led a search party to Peechelba on about 7/11/1878. SConst Mullane was part of the party. They stated from Wangaratta at about 3pm. There were fourteen or sixteen men, and the party divided here and Mullane's party went to Lake Rowan and Brooke Smith's party to Yarrawonga. (RC13534)

see also (Argus12/11/78) (Argus16/11/78) (Argus19/11/78) (Argus30/11/78)

Euroa Robbery Ass Com Nicolson was told that the KellyGang had left in the direction of Violet Town. The men had been looking for traces with a black fellow name Jemmy. The police at last crossed the rail way line and re crossed the line, and we got on the road running to the Murchison road, to the Strathbogie side of Euroa. The tracks turned down towards Euroa. The spur ran down from the Strathbogie range right down into the road, and the main road was a mile from it, and the paddock rail ran right into this part, leaving the face of the spur the boundary of the road. In the meantime Stevens and police. By and bye they lost the whole altogether. After a little pursuing on that road, trying to pick them up, the road at this time being very dusty, they picked up the tracks again at the side of the road some distance down. The tracks led to an open space on the right hand side, and then going towards the gate leading into a paddock alongside the railway and they branched off into the paddock. In the centre of the paddock these traces were lost. All this time we were in sight of Euroa, and all trace was lost; it was about mid day.

Ass Com Nicolson brought the men down. and could not make anything more of that. He brought them down to Euroa, took them to the police station to put their horses up. Then the enquiry was made, for the first time, at the bank, amongst all who could give any information or throw any light on the matter. At the same time he ordered dinner for the men at the hotel; and they had something to eat while the horses were feeding. The men were overpowered at this time (it was a very hot day) with fatigue and the heat, fatigue particularly, because most of them were the same men he had with him just two or three days before.

At the table the men actually fell asleep over their food with fatigue, in all sorts of attitudes, not drinking a drop or anything of the kind. Const Johnson, who was the strongest and hardiest man of the party, a most energetic man, went to sleep on the bush sofa at the side of the room, and the old man of the house-that is, the Euroa hotel-thought Johnson had a sunstroke, and he began practising upon him for that. The man was so dead asleep that he was not awaked, though they poured water over him.

Nicolson could not take the men out then. He got the men wakened up and got them into a large barrack sort of room, and allowed them to sleep there for an hour or two. It was bright moonlight weather; and about six o'clock had tea ready for them, and as soon as that was over we started away down the Murchison road to a place we had heard of that the KellyGang were likely to go to-two or three several places. It seemed when the KellyGang were at Faithfull's Creek that they were asking from one or two persons-a boy particularly-where a certain boy was living; and they learned this. Nicolson was pretty sure the KellyGang had gone north towards Murchison- due north. The police then searched all the suspicious places without any result. (RC551)

Sup Sadleir got together a party of police and struck across from Wangaratta by Glenrowan, under the Warby ranges to near Lake Rowan. He had one or two trackers with him, and he expected to get any tracks the KellyGang might have made on the way from Euroa to some of their old haunts. The police did find a track which was quite fresh during the previous night or very early that morning, but the trackers just led them perhaps twenty or thirty yards, and would not or could not follow it any further. Sadleir went in with some of the constables into the scrub ahead of where the tracks were stopped, in case there was any ambush there, but there was no use trying to work the tracker; they could get him to go no further. The police wanted to get to a farm house near Lake Rowan, to a friend of the Kellys. (RC2011)

On 12/12/1878 a police search party was sent into the Strathbogie ranges. Nicolson was too sick to go out with them.(RC553)(CHC)see also (Argus14/12/78) (Argus14/12/78) (Argus18/12/78) (Alexandra21/12/1878)(Argus27/12/78)

A party of police were put on Ryan's Creek, at Samaria and on the boundary between Tatong and Kilfera in January 1879 after the [[../../things/K_kellys/K_KellyGang.html|KellyGang]] had been cited at Greta. They were to watch at night. (RC2030)

Lots of other search parties were sent out (Argus17/12/78) (Argus16/1/79) (Argus21/1/79) (Argus23/1/79) (Argus25/1/79)

Const Faulkiner went out on nearly all Sup Hare's search parties. He always thought that they were out following up on information.

Faulkiner said, 'Any time we went out on information we went out nine or ten miles in a different direction and after dark returned another road to within a couple of miles of the suspected place, and tied the horses up and walked the rest and surrounded the place before daylight; but when out without information, we used to separate about 150 or 200 yards, as far apart as we could well reach, and cover the range across or the side of a hill.' Sometimes the members of the party were twenty or thirty yards, and in flat country as far as they could see each other.(RC5600)

Jerrilderie Robbery 10/2/1879 On about 4/2/1879 news was recieved that the KellyGang were about to head over the River Murray into New South Wales and up to Goulbourn. A search party was sent from Chiltern over Gravel Plains and then up in the direction of Goulboun. Before it got there news of the Jerilderie robbery came through. See Consts Mullane and Strahan.

After the Jerilderie robbery Aaron Sherritt had some dealings with Sup Hare. Following these and after discussions with Com Standish the homes of the members of the KellyGang were watched by standing parties. The camp near Mrs Byrne's home was set up by Sup Hare. It was maintained for about 25 days. Sup Hare was assisted by about 7 police. He described life in the camp in his book in the following words.

" Our daily life was as follows:- At dusk in the evening, one at a time, we used to leave our camp and make down to the stock-yard, I always leading the way, and the other men following. We had to be most careful where we trod, for fear of our tracks being seen on the following day. We each took up positions behind trees outside the stock-yard, I taking the opening into the yard myself. I had given orders to the men not to move from their positions until I called to them, no matter what happened. We were all lying about ten or fifteen yards apart. The nights were bitterly cold. Aaron used to spend his evenings at Mrs Byrne's with his young woman, and he obtained all the information they were possessed of, and when he left their house between twelve and one o'clock he used to lie down and watch with us. He always took up his position beside me, and used to relate all kinds of encouraging reports that he had obtained during the day as to the prospect of the Kellys turning up. Hardly a night that we took up our positions but we thought we should have some luck. As day broke in the morning we used to make back to our camp in the mountains in a very disappointed mood, walking singly, and avoiding the paths or soft places, so as not to leave any tracks behind us. "

O'Connor and Queensland trackers went out on our first patrol from Benalla on 11/3/1879 and returned on 18/3/1879. (Agrus19/3/79)

Autum 1879

Sup Hare formed a search party, about eight or nine mounted police with two or three pack-horses. They carried hammocks, some provisions and cooking utensils. He described how they used to work in the thick bushy country. They put a man who knew the country in the centre, and they would, from that centre, extend a line as far as they could according to the nature of the country, in the thick country leaving a distance of about ten yards from the first man, the next man ten yards from him, and so through all the men from right to left. As the country became open, they would leave a longer distance between, say 50 or 100 yards, and so search the whole country for miles and miles without being heard or making a noise, which was an important thing to observe. In going up steep mountains and gullies (and the ranges were very steep) they used to ride with the leading man about twenty yards ahead of the second man, which was generally Hare or the other leader. The police kept in a line, so that if an attack was made only one man would be killed, and the others could come up immediately. (RC1285) See also (FH) (CHC)

Sup Hare took a search party to Clearys around 25/5/1879 (RC1285)

At about this time Insp O'Connor and the Queensland trackers started going out with the search parties. They normally consisted of about fifteen or sixteen-five native trackers, O'Connor, Sadleir, and a senior-constable with the trackers, and five or six Victorian constables. (RC1082)

Inspector Brook Smith took out a search party from Corowa. (Argus1/7/79)

According to Const Faulkiner when the police received information, they generally went nine or ten miles in a different direction. They travelled off road some 150 or 200 yards apart, and kept in view of each other. Often they travelled at night so as to avoid meeting people. see also (RC5859)

In about June 1879 police received information that the [[../../things/K_kellys/K_KellyGang.html|KellyGang]] were at Bullocky, or at the head of Ryan's Creek. About five or six miles from Stringy Bark Creek where the the police were murdered. Constables Mooney, Hayes, Whitty, SConst Strahan and Detective Ward proceeded to there, and made search for three days. They did not find anything.(RC3042)

Const Gascoigne suggested that the best way would be for mounted police to go out with very little provisions, and no incumbrance, just a 'possum rug-something to sleep in-not to take a lot of packing on horses; no pack-horse at all, unless it is, a long journey, four or five men; and let them camp out, just the same as shearers, or any others; just take a saddle-bag with one or two days' provisions. (RC9641) See also (FH) (FH) (FH)

Hare replaced by Nicolson 6/7/1879 Prior to the Euroa bank robbery Mr. Nicolson appears to have lost faith in the utility of search parties exclusively; Superintendent Sadleir, emphatically pronounced the system to be mere "fooling." (RC2nd reportXII)

Ass Com Nicolson saw the need to give the men rifle practice. (RC1007. He also saw the need to re organise the way the search parties moved through the country. He told the Royal Commission, 'It is admitted as a general rule that a man cannot shoot with accuracy off a horse's back; of course the very heaving of its flanks would prevent that. I directed them also how to approach and engage with these men-a very simple matter. I just told them, keep twenty yards from each other, the leader and two or three men in front, the other two or three men under the senior-constable to run up at right angles in this way--driving them along by degrees till they close in on them and rush them) (RC1018)

Nicolson saw the need to look after the police horses. 'We inspected them thoroughly, and they kept condition exceedingly well-they were as muscular as possible. Whenever we observed a horse getting apparently sickly, which may happen with any horse, he was taken into the stable, and coddled up a little with oats and bran mash, and in a few days turned out with the rest. We kept the horses in such condition, because it was not advisable that horses that had to go out in pursuit of this gang should have heavy stable feeding, as they could not last above three days, whereas horses fed in this way, just as the outlaws fed theirs, all that had to be done was to turn them out to feed wherever they then were at night. I brought the horses up to that pitch, just as the outlaws were doing.' (RC730)

A large search party was sent out (Argus17/11/79)

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