Royal Commission report day 32 page 9

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The Royal Commission evidence for 21/6/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 32)

[[../../people/peA/armstrongHPC.html|Const Henry Armstrong]] 'giving evidence'

12206 In the occupation of Sherritt's hut, was it a matter of conversation with you and your comrades as to not keeping an outside guard?— It was immediately by the road, and we could not, during the day, keep one up; but, if I had permission, I would have kept one at night.

12207 Was it ever a matter that suggested itself to your mind, the inexpediency of not ordering an outside guard at night?— No, I cannot say it was. I said once to Sherritt, “It is a strange thing Ward gave us instructions to keep no sentry,” and Sherritt said, “Ward is a good-natured -- fool; he has got no brains.” I had been so long in the bush, and round Sebastopol , I was beginning to feel no surprise, and not knowing the outlaws were in the country.

12208 That not being expressed by your comrades, did it ever strike you to report that in writing to your superior officer, you being in charge?— No.

12209 Did you ever verbally mention it?— No, I simply did what I was told, that was all.

12210 Water was not very abundant in the place; was there any water in the building at the time the attack was made?— No, only a little that was made into tea.

12211 Not a bucket?— No.

12212 Were you out with any search parties under Mr. Brook Smith?— Yes. I am independent of any officers now. My instructions, in going to the cave, from Mr. Nicolson were— “Should the outlaws go to Byrne's, let you all fire on the tall man; that will be Ned, and then you will have so many boys to deal with. But should Byrne come alone, take him alive if possible, convey him to Beechworth by night; or if you cannot convey him by night, keep him all day until the following night. That is with a view of using him to assist in the capture of the three remaining outlaws.” I have also heard how Mr. Nicolson was called a cranky Scotchman by Sherritt. Well, I will state what Sherritt said of Mr. Nicolson to me before death. He said, “ Nicolson is as cute as a fox; he would know your thinking. He would walk into the mouth of a cannon. I parted with him in Benalla, good friends, and he shook hands with me. This is his cap he gave us; I am wearing it; he gave his cap to me on leaving Benalla.” I will ask permission to make reference to Mr. Hare's visit that time, as short as I possibly can. Mr. Hare, in his evidence, said the outlaws did not know the police were in the hut, or they would have gone there. The outlaws asked for Jim Dixon, he is a constable, then stationed at Millewa, thirty miles away. Dixon was not in the hut at the time, but he had been in the Nicolson party some four or five months before with me. Their asking for him is a sufficient guarantee that he must have been seen by some person who conveyed the news to the outlaws. He must have been seen by the outlaws; and he joined as a probationary constable, and had a special down on me. Provision came out of Beechworth in the middle of daylight; that was wrong. There are several houses in view of the hut; they would have all known that Sherritt and the wife could not have consumed all the provision there.

12213 How often did they come?— Once a week, or every ten days. Mrs. Byrne has also stated, I believe to Constable Alexander now at Cashel, that her son Denny tracked us in the sand for a hundred yards every morning to and from the hut. Straps, I am also informed, have been found; I lost a strap myself at Byrne's. I am convinced the outlaws knew we were there.

12214 In fact they came there to shoot the lot of you?— I can state the admission Ned made to me, Ned Kelly. I escorted him to Melbourne with Inspector Baber and two constables. He said, “Was Senior-Constable Johnson in the hut when Sherritt was shot?” I said, “No; why do you ask me that, Ned?” He asked me if I tortured Sherritt. He said, “What men were there?” I said, “I am sorry to say I was.” He said, “To have gone out in you light would have been foolhardihood; you would have all been shot but one. It was not our game to shoot you all. We wanted one man to go in and draw the police away from the barracks.” There is no doubt whatever but that the outlaws knew we were there. Mr. Hare said, in reference to young Byrne's mare, that we did all we could have done. Sherritt was not there that night. About the lie that has been spoken of, I believe it was through good nature at the time that Ward told us to tell it. Mr. Hare said one constable took him astray wilfully. Well, that constable could not find the way if we were to go there again. He dare not keep on the track, for fear of leaving tracks, at night. I could only find it by going a mile out of the way by Byrne's Gap. He could not find the way. Though I was seventy-five nights there, I could find the way only by going a mile away. The constable told me only for a guess he never would have found it.

12215 About the Byrnes, how did they conduct themselves?— I cannot say of my own knowledge, but Sherritt told me they had a great deal of cattle about after the Jerilderie robbery. They were poor before that. They have got land there. I do not think they have got any land fenced in from the Government. There is a great plain, a common or reserve, I fancy.

12216 Up to the time of the robberies they were poor?— Yes....

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