Royal Commission report day 50 page 10

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Story of the KellyGang - the Royal Commission Report

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The Royal Commission evidence for 7/9/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 50)

[[../../people/peN_P/nicolsonPAC.html|Ass Com Charles Hope Nicolson]] giving evidence

16896 What was the object of your getting Sherritt's portrait taken?— Just to satisfy his mind. I could hardly convey to you what a coward this Sherritt is. He was in such a state of trepidation that lest he should be carried off we got the portraits taken, and told him if they ever got him and be was missed we would circulate those pictures round the country, telling the police about him, and warning them not to injure him; it was just to satisfy him. While on this subject, I may as well here state my reasons for refusing to have this man in the force. While Captain Standish was in Beechworth, at Kelly 's trial, the two Sherritts were brought to the office to be sworn in. This was the first I had heard of their even trying to get into the force. I refused to have them sworn, and sent them back to the depot. I wrote a memo. to Captain Standish on the subject, and he then told me he would think over the matter. I heard nothing more from him, and soon afterwards learned the men were constables, notwithstanding my protest and that of Detective Ward. I may mention that you have the file of papers before you, in which you will find the reasons I gave at the time for acting as I did. On the 9th of August 1880 , I say, “As I have declined to sign or to pass on this file, I beg to make the following explanation with reference to the attached memo. of the Chief Commissioner of Police, Z.1269, 4.8.80, attached. The Chief Commissioner is well aware that I have had peculiar opportunities of learning the character of the Sherritt family for ten months preceding the beginning of June last, and I have the strongest doubts of the suitability for the police force of the two sons referred to. The elder, John, was suspected of thwarting, if not betraying to the friends of the outlaws, the efforts of his since murdered brother Aaron to aid the police. I am not aware of any claim the Sherritt family can have upon the Government for the loss of their son Aaron, because long previous to his death he had left his father's house, taken to himself a wife with whom he lived apart from his parents, and was earning his own living, and I fail to see that the admission of these two young men into the police force will settle any difficulty in a claim which apparently also is groundless. I again take this opportunity of remonstrating with the Chief Commissioner against ignoring me, and especially the knowledge I possess in the matters concerning the Kelly gang, and the claims now being made upon the Government in connection therewith.” When this file was sought for to hand to the Commission, this document could not be found, and it turned up amongst Captain Standish 's private papers; it had been suppressed, if I may use such an expression. I did not interfere with these men as long as Captain Standish was connected with the service, but directly after he left I made my recommendation to the Chief Secretary. On the 4th October 1880, I said, “With reference to the attached file, I beg to refer to the document Z.1269, Chief Commissioner of Police, 4 August 1880, addressed to the Honorable the Chief Secretary, and requesting his sanction to appointing two brothers named Sherritt the police force. The document referred has the required authority endorsed upon it. The two brothers were admitted to the police force accordingly, and are now at the depot, Richmond . Previous to that last step, the matter came accidentally under my notice, and I wrote warning the Chief Commissioner against such a course, as I knew the Sherritts' character and their unfitness for admission to a police force. I also beg to refer to Detective Ward's attached report, in which he guardedly states that they are hardly persons he could recommend for the police. The Superintendent of the North-Eastern district has also informed me that he also objected to their admission. With reference to the character of those two young men, I am not aware that the' have ever been convicted of felony, but they are notorious as the associates of criminals, particularly of the late outlaw Byrne and the Kelly sympathizers. In fact, that was the reason they were useful to the police as spies. In fairness I must make a distinction between the younger brother, William , and the elder, John . The latter is the most objectionable man. If they are sent to any part of the colony where they are known, their fellow constables would not rely upon them. The public might even resist their authority, and magistrates could not rely upon their testimony. I beg to recommend that they be discharged and furnished with a small sum of money, sufficient to transport them to some distant place, as suggested by the detective.” Upon that the Chief Secretary approved of that course, and they were discharged. I knew that Sherritt was not honest, that he had stolen a saddle from his sister-in-law, and, as I have since learned, planted it in Byrne's farm; and young Byrne and his mother were arrested for the theft; and in my interviews with him it was apparent that he was quite unsuitable. Is this the kind of man to whom to entrust the protection of life and property, and whose word might any day take one's life away? As to his younger brother, I certainly know nothing tangible against him, except that he comes of the same family, and I considered neither of them fit for the service. On my becoming Acting Chief Commissioner of Police, I represented this to the Chief Secretary, and I should do precisely the same again. In a force in which men have so much power as in ours, particular care should be exercised as to the character of men taken on. If, as Sherritt and Captain Standish wish to represent that, I was afraid of the former, I would surely have placated him, whereas now I have made him and all his family my enemies for life. Mr. Hare has since stated that two constables saw the Sherritts killing a sheep, and that he made no enquiry as to whose it was. As to his discharge, Mr. Hare should have communicated it to him. Was I to retain him until his criminal instincts were proved. I may add to what I have said that I remonstrated also verbally with Captain Standish . I said to him- “You can see now I am telling you this sincerely, that I can have no motive whatever in it; on the contrary, I am turning these men against me. There will be an enquiry into this Kelly business, and these men, whom I have always treated kindly, and who have had a good feeling towards me, will turn round on me. I am making enemies to myself for the sake of the service.” Captain Standish seemed rather moved at the time, but I never heard anything more after that. I was never unfeeling or hard, or anything but kind to those men, and I did all I could to render their removal from the force as gentle as possible. It was a matter of the utmost pain and regret to me that I had to perform this duty. As to writing to Mr. Fosbery , I had known him for many years, and he was in Melbourne at the time, and when in my office I told him the story of those men. One of them had just left the room when Mr. Fosbery came in, and I asked him if he could find them employment in New South Wales , and he said no, that the objection was just as strong there as here. As to Mr. Seymour (the Chief Commissioner of Police of Queensland), I wrote to him and explained the whole matter only about the younger Sherritt, to whom I gave a letter of introduction to Mr. Seymour . He replied to this that he could not, under the circumetances, employ him. The charge made against me by Senior-Constable Johnston (questions 9608 et seq.) took me completely by surprise. As the Commission is aware, I left Wodonga from the Murray Flats on Tuesday the 5th of November 1878 , and stopped at Wangaratta that night, and met Messrs. Sadleir and Smith there. Next morning, early, I proceeded to Oxley, and returned to Benalla via Wangaratta, and at midnight proceeded to Beechworth, in company with Captain Standish , to go to Sebastopol . On the 7 th I was engaged at Sebastopol from daylight in the morning, and returned to Benalla that night. On the 8th I was detained at Benalla by correspondence. On the 9th I went to Wangaratta, and during the evening I heard from a most reliable source that the outlaws had abandoned the police horses on their way back from the Murray . The same evening I heard that the police had recovered one of the horses (B 87). I sent orders to keep the recovery of the horse quiet. Instead of that, I was very much annoyed at a later hour in the evening to see a party of police with a led horse come down the main street with much noise. On examining the horse I could see he had been abandoned for several days, perhaps a week. Next morning I went to Foote 's, on special duty, with Sergeant Steele and Senior-Constable Strachan, and did not return until 12 p.m. On the 11th I was engaged corresponding and considering reports of returned search parties, and as I then could plainly see that the men who had been out with Mr. Smith were very much dissatisfied, and that he was quite unfit for that work, as he had abandoned the pursuit while on what he believed to be a genuine track.....

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