Royal Commission report day 23 page 4

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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

8855 You mean that Greta is the key of the whole district?— No; but at that time there were more horses stolen from there than any other part of the district. They would take large mobs, sometimes fourteen or fifteen plough horses from farmers. I think from Mr. Whitty there was that number taken one night; and Ned Kelly, when he got over in the neighborhood of Bungowanna , New South Wales , was not known there, and they imagined it was some person travelling with horses for sale or for the market.

8856 Will you proceed with your narrative where you left off?— I was stating that I received information of the murder of the police at the Wombat on the 28th of October 1878 . I started with a party of police for the head of the King River and Rose. I met a party of police on the King, and went on into Mansfield . On Sunday the 1st November 1878 I left for Benalla; I arrived at eight p.m. There was a special train in readiness for me when I arrived there. I started with a large party of men for Beechworth, in order to search the ranges about Rats' Castle and the Main Divide, between Yackandandah and Middle Creek, where the outlaws were supposed to have been seen. It would be Monday the 2nd of November when I arrived at Beechworth. Before leaving Benalla there was a rumor of the outlaws having gone through Wangaratta, seen by a young fellow named - passing at the back of the hospital, and going under the One-mile railway bridge. I spoke to Mr. Sadleir about this. I cannot give the exact words, or say whether I went to him on hearing it, or whether he heard it at the same time; but we spoke over this matter, and he told me to go on to Wangaratta–the train was at my disposal, I could delay it for half an hour or an hour it I considered it necessary–and to see if there was anything in this rumor. Mr. Sadleir told me that Mr.Brook Smith was at Wangaratta with a party of men, and that if there was anything in it I could send word to him and then go on. I arrived at Wangaratta at one a.m. in the morning. I saw Constable Twomey; he met me at the railway platform at Wangaratta. I asked him if this rumor was true that I heard about the men passing through. He said that they had seen the tracks; he had just been down at the back of the hospital to the One-mile bridge, and there were the tracks of the horses right enough there, and that the boy saw the men driving pack-horses at four o'clock in the morning just at grey in the morning. He told me the horses were shod, some of them, and with very large feet, and that he had tracked them in the direction stated by the boy. I asked him when they heard about it, and what was done, and he said nothing had been done so far. I then told him that it was undoubtedly the outlaws, and it was owing to the flooded state of the creek at that time–the water was bank and bank; and it was evidently Steve Hart who had piloted them under the bridge. There was a narrow ledge under the bridge that no man could keep unless he knew the bridge well, and I was aware that Steve Hart was well acquainted with that ledge. They would have been swamped in the creek otherwise. I told him my opinion was the outlaws would make for the Warby ranges, and to go up at once and report the matter to Mr. Smith. I then proceeded to carry out my instructions at Rats' Castle and the Main Divide. (Argus12/11/81)

8857 Do you know anything of what occurred, whether Mr. Brook Smith got that information?— I believe he did. That is my impression–that is only hearsay. I was told he did. I wish to point out that this is the occasion on which Mr. Hare and Constable Falkiner wanted to make it appear that I turned my back on the outlaws, and went in an opposite direction when I received information. I noticed that Falkiner was cross-examined to say who this sergeant was. He was one of my parry, and he and Mr. Hare knew exactly my instruction, and it struck me the evidence was given with a view of conveying a bad impression to the Commission.

8858 Have you seen the printed official evidence?— No, only the newspaper reports. It is in Constable Falkiner's evidence, when he was cross-examined by Mr. Hare. I refer to this matter, because I think it could have been fully explained at the time.

8859 Could you on your own responsibly have pursued those tracks?— If I had disobeyed the orders I had received; there was the possibility it might not have been them.

8860 I understood you to say that Mr. Sadleir's instructions to you were to proceed in a certain direction, but not to confine you to any particular course?— He informed me that Mr. Smith was at Wangaratta with a party of men, and if there was anything in the rumor to send word to Mr. Smith, and to go on and carry out my instructions.

8861 Then the Commission understands that there was a party to fulfil that duty?— There was a large party of men at Wangaratta, I would have been only too happy to stop there and follow them up, because I think it was the best information received during the whole pursuit of the Kellys.

8862 You think you would not have been at liberty to proceed?—I ran a great risk. If they turned up at Rats' Castle afterwards, and I had disobeyed any instructions, I would have been in a rather peculiar position with my superior officers.

8863 You say you were thoroughly convinced, from your own knowledge of the circumstances there at the bridge, that those were the outlaws–would you not therefore have been justified in proceeding at once with the force at your command?— No, I think not. Had there not been a party of police at Wangaratta I would have taken the responsibility on myself, but Mr. Smith was there with a large party of men at the time, and I sent up word by a constable to tell him that it was undoubtedly the outlaws, that Steve Hart had piloted them over the bridge; and I added, “Start at four in the morning, and you are bound to catch them on the Warby ranges.”

8864 Is it your impression now that if the police there had immediately proceeded and followed up those tracks, that they would have succeeded in capturing them?— It would be a hard thing to say. They might have followed them and eventually come on the horses.....

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