Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XIX page 1

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)



Very early on the morning of the 4th or 5th November - there is some difficulty about the precise date—four men on horse-back were seen galloping through the outskirts of Wangaratta. They were not identified positively as the four members of the Kelly gang, but those whose judgment was best worth having felt satisfied that the men were the Kellys, as subsequent events proved them to be. Inspector Smith, who was then at Wangaratta, received prompt information. The Inspector was so dilatory in starting and so bungled the whole business that the pursuit, as he conducted it, was hopeless. He appears not to have taken the information seriously, for he made no report to headquarters at all. His failure of duty was most unfortunate, since the gang and their horses were at the time completely knocked up, and prompt pursuit could scarcely have failed to effect the breaking up of the gang within a week of the murders at the Wombat range.

For some weeks, nothing further occurred of special interest in regard to the gang, who soon obtained fresh horses. Attempts were made once or twice to follow their tracks, but the only natives available were altogether useless for the purpose. The chief reliance had to be placed on scouts - persons who lived in localities likely to be frequented by the Kellys. Search parties were, however, sent out on the slightest information. Night parties watched on roads and at river crossings, but timorous travellers, who tried to bolt when challenged, had so many narrow escapes of being shot by the police that these night watches had to be greatly reduced. I was on one of these parties myself in the very centre of the Kelly country, when some travellers rode into our lines, but fortunately they halted to our challenge. Had they tried to ride away I hardly see what the police could have done but fire on them. Nothing could exceed the zeal of the men who were sent out on these night parties. The work was particularly trying; there was not only the strain of eager watchfulness through the long hours of darkness, but there was the fear lest some of the police might be too precipitate and do injury to innocent persons; or, by over caution, they might let the men they wanted pass through and escape. The officers had no doubt about the good sense of their sub-officers and men as a whole, but among so large a number some act of indiscretion was to be feared.

Here, to anticipate events a little, is an instance in which an entirely unexpected and indeed blameable act of imprudence spoiled a very promising night’s work.


A sub officer named Flood, stationed at Hedi on the King River, a locality near where some very special friends of the Kellys resided, reported that a letter had passed through the local post office, containing particulars of an arrangement made for a meeting of the Kellys and a Chinese gold buyer, on a certain night at a place known as Spink’s Crossing on the Ovens River, a very retired spot and seldom used. How Flood became possessed of this information was, I think, never particularly enquired into. It was said that he was very intimate with the local postmaster, and that he even on occasion took charge of the Post Office. Joe Byrne, one of the members of the Kelly gang, had lived much with Chinese and had picked up their language, and the particulars in the letter Flood had the privilege of reading were supposed to have been suggested by him. This was after the robbery of the Euroa Bank, from which, besides notes and coin, the Kellys had taken an ingot of gold. This gold they had found a difficulty in turning into cash, hence the proposed meeting with the Chinese gold buyer.

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