Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XVIII page 5

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

Late on the evening of the 6th I happened to reach Beechworth. Senior Constable (afterwards Superintendent) James had joined me in the afternoon and rode with me to Beechworth. It was bright moonlight as we entered the camp, and we were surprised at seeing the place overrun with armed men. I knew there were but one or two police on the camp, and I called in a low voice to James to ‘look out’ , not knowing what we had before us. We were both armed, of course, but as we advanced James recognised the men as residents of the town. We then discovered that Constable Keating, one of the two men of the station, acting in a very prompt and creditable manner, had collected this party of young townspeople to follow up the information the man from Sherritt’s house had brought. After interviewing this man I was satisfied that he had seen the Kellys right enough, and that it was desirable a search should at once be undertaken. Having arranged by telegram for additional police to be sent up to Beechworth during the night, I thanked the volunteers for responding so readily to Constable Keating’s call, and let them return to their homes. A large party of police answered to my summons, including the Chief Commissioner and Mr Nicolson. The press reporters who happened to be in the district at the time had also joined the party.

A very early start was made under the guidance of the informant, with blackened face to help towards his incognito, and at dawn we came within view of Sherritt’s house. Here Mr Nicolson took charge of the attack. He picked out a few constables who stood near and desired me to do the same, and approaching the house on opposite sides we galloped up to it. There was a fence on my side which my horse refused, but on the second attempt he got over. This gave Nicolson, who found no obstruction, a few yards’ advantage. As I came up with him he and one of the constables of his party, Constable Bracken, were putting the shoulders to the door of the house to force it in, when a shot was fired. For the moment I thought that the shot was from inside the house, for the light was still bad. Then the door gave way, and we found ourselves inside a rambling sort of building without windows, and so dark within that nothing could be seen for the first few moments. The room in which I found myself was lined with bunks, the top row of bunks so high that one could not see whether they were occupied without climbing up. I passed round the bunks, with my hat placed on the point of my rifle level with the upper row, preferring that the bullets which were momentarily expected should find my hat when my head was not in it. These precautions were unnecessary, however, for, as we discovered after, the gang had already passed through Wangaratta on their way to the mountain country around Greta. If they had been at home, most of the attacking party would have gone down before we could have used our weapons. Naturally one would like to have a fair show in a fight, and when discussing the affair afterwards with Nicolson he said what I believe was true enough, that he had been doing this sort of thing all his life without coming to any harm. It certainly was a plucky bit of leadership on his part.

It was hard enough to bear disappointments such as these arising from what may be called bad luck, but the next piece of intelligence that came to the knowledge to the senior officers was of a different sort, reflecting very gravely on the efficiency of one of our junior officers. The expedition to Sherritt’s house that I have just described, took place on the 6th November, on information two or three days old, and neither Nicolson nor myself had any knowledge of any later appearance of the Kellys than that of the 3rd, when they were seen at Sherritt’s house by our Beechworth informant.

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