Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XIX page 4

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


This last expedition left Nicolson worn out and suffering from inflamed eyes, and Frank Hare took his place as principal officer in charge of the Kelly pursuit. Both officers were my senior in rank, and were men with whom I could readily co-operate. I felt Hare gave too much attention to the sending out of search parties on the mere hope of their coming across the Kellys. He certainly did not spare himself, and he shared with his men all the discomforts of camping out, but his fault, as I have always thought, was in confining his efforts to this one line and dispensing with the use of secret agents. He did indeed use Aaron Sherritt, if Sherritt did not use him, but he had none of the skill and patience of Nicolson in handling aids of this sort.


As I have related, it was while Nicolson and I were conferring with a New South Wales officer at Albury that the news of the Euroa Bank robbery reached us. The New South Wales officer could not conceal his satisfaction that the exploit had occurred in Victoria , and not in his own territory. Not that he boasted of any superiority; he simply rejoiced at his own good luck, and attempted to offer us such sympathy as decency required. The robbery of the bank at Jerilderie, however, more than equalised matters, for on the night of Saturday, February 8th, 1879, the Kellys by a ruse got hold of the two police stationed in the town, and locked them up in their own cell. They had called the two police out of their beds late at night, saying that a murder had just been committed. The police came out undressed and unarmed, and were an easy prey to the four armed bushrangers. It was a clever piece of strategy, no doubt, but one might ask - What of the two or three hundred residents of the town? Were not they to be reckoned with?

The Kellys moved about amongst these people all through the next day, Sunday, but remained incognito until Monday morning. Then they declared themselves as the Kelly bushrangers and proceeded at once to rob the local bank, the manager of which they found in his bath naked and unarmed. Then they shut up a few of the town people in a room in a public house, leaving the other inhabitants free to do as they pleased; and, having cut the telegraph wires, felt themselves free to frisk about the town, not as a united band, but singly, enjoying the sociability of the goods people of Jerilderie and entertaining them with stories of their prowess.

We are told in Bible history that the patriarch Abraham, when pleading for the cities of the Plain, asked - that if there were fifty righteous men therein the cities might be saved; step by step reducing the numbers until he thought he got near enough to zero to make things safe. So we might imagine some Britisher in his pride of race saying there are in Jerilderie fifty, forty, and so on until he reached below Abraham’s minimum, saying surely there are five men of sufficient pluck to resent the indignity of having their town laid under tribute by four hooligans who moved carelessly to and fro. The fact is that one bold man, armed with say a double gun, could have picked them off one by one. Jerilderie had not that one man within its bounds that day!

There was, however, one person who stood manfully to his special line of duty - the telegraph officer at Jerilderie. I regret that I cannot give his name. The Kellys kept a watchful key on him, and time after time, in spite of threats, he endeavoured to get his line into working order, until they broke up his instruments altogether.

It is not very likely, perhaps, that such a tribulation as the Kelly outbreak will fall on the people of Australia ever again, but, should such a thing happen, it might be well to remember, that a crowd of persons submitting themselves as easy victims to lawlessness of the kind run a very serious risk should an armed body of police come upon the scene. The terror suffered a year later at Glenrowan by those who so feebly submitted to the Kellys furnishes an object lesson that ought not to be forgotten.

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