Royal Commission report day 23 page 3

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The Royal Commission evidence for 31/5/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 23)

Sgt Steele giving evidence

8834 Did you complain long before he was removed?— I think I spoke to Mr. Smith about a week or a fortnight before. He had some difficulty in getting a suitable man; and Senior-Constable Strahan, who was chosen to come, was a married man and at Snowy Creek, and could not be removed at once, but he was removed. I pointed out that Constable Thom was almost useless there.

8835 Could he ride?— Yes.

8836 In what did his inefficiency show itself?— He seemed to be on very intimate terms with some of the Kellys' friends, and I think he was an intemperate man.

8837 In fact, that he was a drunkard?— I cannot say exactly that I saw him absolutely drunk, but he used to come in a muddled state; he seemed to remain in a sort of stupid state for some time.

8838 Was there a want of activity and pluck about him?— Yes, he was a careless man, and he would converse with those men for hours about the bar of the public-horse, and at the same time, perhaps, their comrades were about the district on horseback.

8839 There was only this one man stationed at Greta at this time?— Only one.

8840 Who succeeded him?— Senior-Constable Strahan.

8841 How long did he remain before the station was abolished?— I could not exactly say. The station was abolished soon after the murders of the police, I think.

8842 Not before the murders?— No, I think it was after.

8843 In your opinion it was not only necessary that a better man than Thom should be station there then, but also that the Greta station ought to have been strengthened rather than abolished?— Certainly. I considered that one man was almost useless at a place like Greta. I did not think it was safe for him to go out. If I were there myself alone at Greta I would not feel disposed to knock about amongst those people.

8844 Instead of abolishing the station you would have increased the number of police constables if you had been in charge of it, even before the murders?— Before the murders, I certainly would. Greta and also Hedi should have been increased. There should hare been not less than two men at each of those stations. But I rather approved of abolishing the station after the murders, in order to give those men a little scope to knock about and place the police in a better position to get information.

8845 Do you think the murders would have been committed if the stations had been properly manned?— My impression is if the strength of the station had been kept up and active men placed there that it would have kept down the horsestealing and its results. Consequently the murders would not have been committed, and the Kellys would have been in gaol instead of out.

8846 In consequence of abolishing the station, the horsestealers and the men committing those outrages got ahead?— Yes.

8847 If vigilant action had been kept up there it is likely they would not have gone to this length?— Yes.

8848 How long was Senior-Constable Strahan there?— Only a short time before the shooting of Fitzpatrick.

8849 Do you know for certain where there was, before the murders at the Wombat, more than one police constable stationed at Greta?— Yes, just a short time before, I think Constable Ryan went there.

8850 You have answered as to what would have been the effect of efficient police supervision in the past–does that opinion exist in your mind as far as the district at present is concerned?— Yes. I think if the strength of the stations is kept up, and those men looked after, that it will, to a great extent, check horse stealing–particularly in a neighborhood like Greta, where it was carried on in such a barefaced manner that large mobs of horses were taken from the farmers' paddocks, and taken by Greta.

8851 With proper police supervision in the North-Eastern district you think there is no probability of another gang like the Kellys taking the bush?— No. I do not think so. I think the reason they would take the bush at present would be if there was any charge preferred against any character up there. I think there are only two or three of those; and if they were wanted by the police and there was a likelihood of their being arrested and sent to a long term of imprisonment for horsestealing, I believe they would turn out but only just a few that are up there; I do not think there are more than three or four that would try it. I think they would prefer getting their living by work rather than by taking the bush, from what they have already experienced.

8852 It has been stated that there are a very large number of young men in that district who have never been known to perform any description of work; do you know that of your own knowledge?— No.

8853 Do you believe that from your own experience of the district?— I think when they have attained a certain age they go to shearing, and then return to their friends and idle about for a few months in the year; but they all work more or less, I think.

8854 Have the constables at other stations just as good an opportunity of arresting horsestealers as at Greta; they have to pass through other districts?— Yes, but those men kept the bush; they used to take to the back country and get into the ranges. The Kellys used to cross at night, generally moonlight, and get them out of the district; and sometimes draw up fictitious receipts and produce them to the police as they did at the Baumgartens. Through discrepancies in the receipts and enquiries we found afterwards that those receipts were forgeries.....

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