Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XX page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

In other respect to the presence of these black boys added to the safety of the party, and to the expedition with which the work could be done. It has been related already how the ‘scratch’ trackers failed the police in the early days of the Kelly pursuit, even on tracks that any bushman could follow. These blacks did not fail because of losing the tracks, but because the tracks led towards cover where danger might be concealed. This was a very natural feeling, only had we understood these blacks and they had understood us as well as Sub Inspector O’Connor and his Queensland boys understood one another, there would not have been those early fiascos. Our scratch trackers would not tell us of their fears, but preferred taking us off the track altogether. Mr O’Connor’s boys were just as apprehensive as were the others of running up against the Kellys unawares, but on approaching a danger spot when following the enemy’s tracks, they were allowed to adopt their own tactics. One on each side of the cover would make a wide cast. If the tracks continued on the far side, a short whistle brought the rest of the party cantering up; if the tracks did not continue, then the enemy was marked down, and was likely to be himself ambushed.

The first time I saw the Queensland boys at work was when a police party went out, making a wide circle on the north side of the Wombat range. The hope was that we might cut the tracks of the Kellys passing to and fro between their various haunts. Some stale tracks were found which were difficult to follow. In some places the fallen leaves, blown about by the wind, covered all traces; in others where there was stony country, tracks were few and far between, and then little more than an occasional scratch of a horse’s shoe on a surface rock was to be seen, but these difficulties were overcome. It soon became evident that we were not on the tracks of the Kellys, but on those of men collecting stray sheep in the ranges.

On another occasion a respectable resident on the Upper King river sent word that he had come across traces of a horseman who, he thought, must be one of the Kellys. A forty mile ride brought us on the scene. In this instance the boys could follow without any trouble, though the signs were not easily to be seen by the white police. A sweat mark where the man had shaken a loose rail was visible to us whites only after long examination, the mark of a spur strap where he had dismounted to drink from a creek and other signs, these were all clear to the trackers. As the work proceeded the finding of a sheath-knife, of a horse-dung still warm, and other signs showed that we were coming close up to the man. It was time now to leave our horses and follow on foot. It was interesting to watch the movements of the boys, their nostrils distended with excitement as we crept close on their heels. Then one of the leading boys suddenly drew back, beckoning to the rest of the party to follow. On hands and knees the whole party came up and saw a bark hut some sixty yards distant. A few whispered words, and then a silent rush of police through the door of the hut, and a sleeping figure was soon held down by some eight pairs of hands. ‘By----, it is Dan Kelly,’ called out one of the police, but he was mistaken. The man was Mr John Morphy, the son of a Goldfield’s Commissioner whom I had known in former years. Of course it was rather startling for him to be thus suddenly pounced upon by a body of armed men, but my young friend soon recovered and shared with his visitors a junk of corned beef that he had prepared for his own dinner. When his lost sheath-knife was handed to him, and every movement of his recounted to him he was greatly surprised. Of course, matters of this kind came to the ears of the Kellys and added to their feelings of terror, lest the black boys should ever get upon their tracks.

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