Royal Commission report day 5 page 2

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The Royal Commission evidence for 30/3/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 5 )

Stanhope O'Connor giving evidence.

1110 What date was that?- I have no date, but some time about the time the plough-boards were taken, I think; it was after this breaking of the line; it was drawing near the close-about April, I suppose, I would not be sure. He told me to be in readiness to start at any moment, as he knew that the Kellys were within a certain radius, and he was only waiting for information that would point to the exact spot where they were last seen to enable us to pick up their tracks; and I have not the least doubt that if Mr. Nicolson had been allowed to remain, the outlaws would have been easily taken. Everything was pointing to the fact; information of a much fresher date was continually coming to hand; and at last, about a week before Mr. Nicolson was removed, an informer actually saw Joe Byrne and spoke to him. We got word about twelve hours after she saw him, but we had some four or six hours' heavy rain between. We, Mr. Nicolson, Mr. Sadleir, and myself, proceeded to Beechworth, and there saw Aaron Sherritt, who begged and prayed of Mr. Nicolson not to go out, as he himself had tried to follow the tracks of Joe Byrne, and found that they went from where Joe was seen to his (Byrne's) mother's house, and from thence on to a main road, and were lost on the road, occasioned by the rain which had washed them out. He also said, if we did not get the outlaws, they would know who had given the information, and would come and murder him and his connections. Mr. Nicolson was very anxious to go out, as he considered it would probably be his last chance, and after working so hard for such a long time he did not like to give it up; but he asked the opinion of all present, namely, Superintendent Sadleir, myself, Senior-constable Mullane, and Detective Ward, and we all said we considered it would not be justifiable to risk the lives of the informers under the circumstances. This occurred just in the last week of Mr. Nicolson's being up there. As nearly all our agents were in this portion of the district, we still hoped to have another chance, and we thought we should, too, when, on the 31st of May, an agent, whose name I will call --, sent in word that he had seen Joe Byrne up a gully about a mile from his (Byrne's) mother's house. We started out at once, took train to the nearest point-Everton; thence by horseback to a certain paddock, about two miles, I think, from the spot where the outlaw had been seen; thence by foot to the exact place. We got the man's track, and, after following it for some distance, found it was only a man collecting cows. The tracks went from one side of the gully to the other, turning down the cattle, and eventually a mob of tracks went down the gully towards Mrs. Byrne's house, followed by this track. You can always tell when they are driving, because the man's tracks are on top of the cattle. Aaron Sherritt, who had met us near Everton, and who he acted as guide and accompanied us on the trip, saw at once that it was Joe Byrne's brother, Patsey, who was very like the outlaw. We returned to Benalla, and Mr. Nicolson was superseded by Mr. Hare the next day, the 2nd of June 1880. I may here state that hardly a fortnight passed but Captain Standish was ordering and counter-ordering Mr. Nicolson, sometimes demanding him to reduce the number of his men, at other times he was not to employ such and such a person, or not to put police here or police there, until I often wondered Mr. Nicolson did not pitch the whole thing up; but, as he often said to me, all his private feelings were sunk out of sight, and therefore, for the public good, he stuck to the work. Before I conclude this part of my evidence, I wish to refer you to the part of my published report in which I state- "He made a series of communications to the Queensland Government, tending to depreciate me and to remove the men from my control and supervision. This was done without my knowledge and, consequently, I had no opportunity of explaining to my Commissioner." Captain Standish's communications were these, and I may state that I applied for them to the Queensland Government, whom I am representing officially now, and they evidently misunderstood, and sent me the wrong letters, not the ones I asked for; so, if the Commission wish for them, it will be fully a fortnight before I can get them.

1111 It will be well to get them?- Very good. In this office there is some correspondence it would be well to get, which will bear me out in what I say in reference to taking over the boy, named Moses, from my command to the Victorian Government's. Captain Standish asked the Queensland Government for my men to remain without me, and without letting me know that he was so doing, and when this was refused, be he applied again for two or three of my men, and was again refused; but he was allowed to retain one trooper, the one which I had enlisted in Victoria. Subsequently my Government, through my Commissioner, informed me that of course they never thought that Captain Standish would have taken this man from under my command while we remained on duty in Victoria; but Captain Standish did not lose a minute, but sent up orders to Mr. Nicolson to take the man over at once, without any reference to me. This was not in the letter, but I mean the order came to Mr. Nicolson. I immediately reported the matter to my Government, recommending for this act of discourtesy our immediate withdrawal, and I was recalled accordingly. That is my evidence in chief up to the time of Mr. Nicolson's removal. Mr. Hare superseded Mr. Nicolson on the 2nd of June 1880, when, in the presence of Mr. Sadleir and myself, he (Mr. Nicolson) handed over the documents, papers, &c., of the office. We all talked together for some time, and then Mr. Nicolson and Mr. Hare went to work. I remained some time longer. ...

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