Police Tactics

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

Police Tactics

... one of the things of the KellyGang story

Victoria Police Museum

World Trade Centre , Melbourne

Related topics include - Early years , Fitzpatrick incident , Murders at Stringy Bark Creek , Sebastopol cavalcade , Euroa robbery, Jerilderie robbery , Insp O'Connor & Queensland trackers arrive , Hare replaced by Nicolson , Second cave party , Nicolson replaced by Hare , plans to withdraw O'Connor and Queensland trackers, death of Aaron Sherritt , Glenrowan siege , Later , Royal Commission ,

Links to the KellyGang

Early Years In a real way the story of the KellyGang started with the rapid social change that from the 1840s to the 1880s saw the arrival of the squatters, the arrival of vast numbers of new arrivals with the discovery of gold, and the pressure from ex-miners and others to select land and split up the large squatting runs.

It also started with a police force officered with a significant number of ex army officers and gentlemen or exconvict guards who did not understand the Australian bush or the ordinary people. The problem was compounded by the wealthy land owners and merchants thinking that because they paid for the police, they should get the type of justice that they expected. This was not just a police problem. Many of the laws, especially for offences against property were harsh. The courts also participated in a system of law that thought little about rehabilitation and more about punishment.

The police saw the control of the young kids like the Greta and their continuing interest in horses as an important part of crime that needed special attention. A good horse was like great looking car and some were fascinated by grabbing a good horse and going for a joy ride. On the other hand there were always people who wanted to pay good money for a good horse. With the increasing population in the cities such as Beechworth and Sydney and Melbourne there was always a market for good quality cattle and north eastern Victoria provided the best country to finish animals off before they were sent off to the sale yards.

Powerful graziers and squatters like James Whitty were determined that the police would do the right thing. Police like Sgt Steele in Wangaratta and Sgt James Whelan from Benalla were happy to break the power of Ned Kelly and the Greta mob. They were supported by their superior officers, Assistant Commissioner Nicolson, and Sup Sadlier particularly

In 1877 Nicolson was the inspecting superintendent. His approach to the Greta Mob was simple. He told the Royal Commission, 'This was the cause of my instructions to the police generally; and I had expressed my opinion since that to the officer in charge of that district, that without oppressing the people, or worrying them in any way, that he should endeavor, whenever they commit any paltry crime, to bring them to justice, and send them to Pentridge even on a paltry sentence, the object being to take their prestige away from them, which has as good an effect as being sent into prison with very heavy sentences, because the prestige those men get up there from what is termed their flashness helped to keep them together, and that is a very good way of taking the flashness out of them.' (RC1028)

On 8/1/1878, black Wednesday, when the Government sacked many public servants, police and judges, the police who were left were with an urgency in their work to show that they could catch criminals. The hunt was intensified against people like Ned Kelly and the noose tightened around smaller people in the story like William Baumgarten.

Fitzpatrick Incident 15/04/1878 Police like Sgt Whelan may have also been prepared to let others like Const Fitzpatrick to have their head. This might explain why Fitzpatrick came to the Kelly home to arrest Dan Kelly by himself.

Others have been unkind enough to suggest that some senior police were not unhappy about the arrest of Mrs Kelly and the KellyGang's response. It stirred them up and showed that they were real criminals; men who were prepared to kill police. The Government should take notice of the police and give it the resources required to do the job.

Stringybark Creek Murders 26/10/1878 Were the Mansfield Murders just part of the police strategy. Certainly, the immediate response was to send every spare policeman to north Eastern Victoria to hunt the KellyGang. The Government also passed the Felons Apprehension Act that made the KellyGang outlaws and increased the reward to £200.

Assistant Commissioner Nicolson was appointed specifically to take charge of the hunt for the KellyGang . Prior to this search parties were sent out from Benalla in the north and Mansfield in the south. Search parties also operated from Wangaratta and Beechworth. It would also seem that Sgt Kennedy was acting on some good intelligence as to where the KellyGang might be. Perhaps that came from a helpful member of the community. Many people were horrified that the KellyGang might actually murder policement who were just doing their job.

After the Murders the police set off in pursuit. They ran the KellyGang to the River Murray but then lost them in the Warby Ranges. Search Parties and pursuit seemed to be the only way to catch the KellyGang.

After the Murders the KellyGang the police decided that the best strategy to use was to cut off the ability of the Kelly sister Maggie and Kate and other to feed the KellyGang. Of course the KellyGang could not understand what we were on about and they turned the story around in things like the Cameron Letter:

'they used to repeatedly rush into the house revolver in hand upset milk dishes, empty the flour out on the ground, break tins of eggs, and throw the meat out of the cask on to the floor, and dirty and destroy all the provisions, which can be proved and shove the girls in front of them into the rooms like dogs and abuse and insult them. Detective Ward and Constable Hayes took out their revolvers and threatened to shoot the girls and children, while Mrs Skillion was absent, the oldest being with her, the greatest murderers and ruffians would not be guilty of such an action.

See also (BWC)

Sebastopol Cavalcade 7/11/1878 Incidents like this when Commissioner Standish, Nicolson, Sadlier and a large group of mounted police came together to visit the Sherritt family and Mrs Byrne at Sebastopol were a public relations disaster. The press present were not complimentary about the police behaviour. The community were starting to turn against the police. Euroa Robbery 10/12/1878 The problem of a lack of reliable police intelligence was high lighted by Nicolson and Sadlier's late night train trip in the wrong direction, from Benalla north to Wodonga and Albury rather than south to Faithfull's Creek Station and Euroa. When they got there they organised police parties to ride in pursuit of the KellyGang . It took these parties some time to work out that the KellyGang's friends had laid false trails or rode all over the KellyGang's tracks. (RC553)

The Euroa incident is also important because it demonstrates a failure to use properly two technological advantages that should have helped the police, the telegraph and the railway. People knew that there was a problem with the telegraph wires at least by about lunch time on the day of the robbery. The repair men was dropped off from a train at Faithfull's Creek Station at about 2pm. This was several hours before the magistrate Mr Wyatt, tried to tell Nicolson and Sadleir about the break The train took these senior police officers off in the wrong direction. Later when the police in Benalla finally found out about the Euroa robbery, they could not load their horses into the old train carriages for some time. When they arrived at Faithfull's Creek Station they could not unload the horses and had to travel on to the platform at the Euroa railway station.

After being awake all night Nicolson finally arrived to take charge of the police search but he exhausted himself and his men within a few days and had to to be relieved by Commissioner Standish and Hare as the leaders of the hunt for the KellyGang. Standish decided to aggressively send out search parties any time he received any information.

The Chief Secretary wanted the police to change their searching tactics. Previously the search parties had been based in Benalla. He wanted them decentralised. There was also a debate on the use of the army.(Argus16/12/78) See also (Argus17/12/78)

In early 1879 Com Standish employed four agents in two different parties of two each. Sup Sadleir did not know what arrangements he made with them, and he did not know how much Standish paid them, but they turned out to be worthless. The police were at this time entirely dependent upon rumor for information, and we were then driven to fall back upon the Queensland trackers. Sup Hare proposed this-that we should send for them, and Com Standish was persuaded then to do it. (RC2035)

After the Jerilderie robbery, Com Standish agreed to a change in emphasis from mobile search parties to fixed watch parties near the homes of the members of the KellyGang. Sup Hare set up the search party near Mrs Byrne's home

The Royal Commission critized the police during this period for the lack of any real intelligence; "An analysis of the list of appearances during the time Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare were in charge shows that the number reported was 53. Of these, 23 are stated to have been untrue or unreliable; in five instances the news was considered too stale; in four, no steps were taken; inquiries were simply instituted in several cases, and in 13 alone were active measures adopted, without any practical outcome" (RC2nd reportX) see also(Argus21/4/79)

Standish and Hare replaced by Nicolson 6/7/1879 Ass Com Nicolson took a different approach. This is what he had to say:-

"..Finding that the system of galloping after the outlaws was thoroughly exhausted, had entirely failed, and that the police were daily falling in public estimation, and were becoming disheartened, as the whole colony were sneering at their efforts, and that they were unable to obtain information themselves, I determined to endeavor to regain the confidence of the inhabitants, and to employ secret agents to get information upon which the police could act.

"The people were afraid to trust the police with information lest it should be acted on in such a way that the outlaws could discover from whom it came, which is a common thing in police experience. My first efforts were directed to find if the outlaws were in the colony at all, and then to find their haunts and associates. The force of police at my disposal was greatly reduced and the artillery corps removed entirely, so that 1 determined not to remove the police until I had definite information, so as to make the most of the men I had and lull, the gang into a false sense of security.

"The printed list of appearances shows how I gradually got to know of the movements of the gang, also the difficulties I had to surmount (owing to the extreme suspicion, bush knowledge, and wariness of these men) to bring about an encounter with the police; and I saw I had a task before me which would probably take as much time as had already been spent in the pursuit of the gang. I enjoined the police to avoid any appearance of Kelly hunting, to go about their ordinary police duties-serving summonses, warrants, &c.-but I kept my subordinate officers well posted in all information which was requisite for them to know.

" I sent out picked men as watch parties where it could be done without the knowledge of the gang. By this system I got the gang so terrified that they did not know what I was doing or how much I knew, that they dare not break out, and were reduced to the greatest straits, so much so that latterly they were obliged to go and rob workmen's tents on the roads and in the bush for the necessities of life..." (RC16901)

The Royal Commission described Nicolson's approach to the hunt fot 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.

The relative merits of the two systems adopted by the police in connection with operations against the KellyGang, namely, that of search parties and of secret agents, have been frequently referred to in the course of the evidence. The name of Mr. Hare has been more particularly associated with the former, and that of Mr. Nicolson with the latter. As a matter of fact, however, both systems were employed conjointly as occasion arose, but, from instinct and peculiarity of temperament, Mr. Hare seems to have preferred the more active and military mode of prosecuting the pursuit; while Mr. Nicolson trusted principally to the effects likely to arise from having the outlaws surrounded with spies and informers." (RC2nd reportXII) See also (RC720) (RC1107) and Standish's view of the approach adopted by Nicolson (RC15972) see also (RC16000) (Argus2/7/1880) (Argus27/9/79)

Nicolson replaced by Hare 2/6/1880 Under Sup Hare police got new orders to say that they able to start after the KellyGang whenever they got information. They had to telegraph where they would likely be found and what direction they were going (RC3056)

Det Ward said that he had certain men at Beechworth, but they were employed in a certain position, and their instructions were very clear as to what they were to do if the Kellys came in their way: they were to wait for no officer; they had written instructions to shoot or capture in the best way they could, but not to lose a chance. It was my duty to communicate with the officer, as being head of the working of the Kelly business in that part of the district.(RC3089)

Initially the press praised the police after siege Glenrowan (OMA15/7/1880)

Royal Commission Insp Montfort supported police visiting the residences and converse with the inhabitants, friends and foes alike, so that, should they get information, their foes might not know where they got it. (RCApp1)

In the first report issued on 6 July 1881 the Royal Commission recommended the permanent employment of black trackers as an auxiliary branch of the police service

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