Royal Commission report day 6 page 4

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The Royal Commission evidence for 31/3/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 6 )

Francis Augustus Hare giving evidence

1271 Did he advise you to take any steps to prevent the Kellys going into New South Wales ?— No; he merely came down to give the information to Captain Standish. He led me to believe they were going to leave the colony, and he gave the brands of the two horses that the outlaws were riding—Joe Byrne was riding a magnificent grey horse, and the other a bay. (JJK)

1272 The impression he made on your mind was they were about leaving the colony?— Exactly.

1273 Did you think the information credible?— Certainly; his manner led me to believe it, and I shall tell you afterwards how it was corroborated. We then set to work.

1274 Who?— The officers, Mr. Sadleir and I. I at once informed Mr. Sadleir, and we set to work sending information to all police stations on the border.

1275 That night?— Yes, immediately, by telegraph, to all the border police on both sides of the river. There was a party of police at that time—or two parties, I am not quite certain—in charge of Senior-Constable Mullane and another, about Chiltern. It is a wide locality, however. One party I am certain of; and we started them up the Murray towards the Gravel Plains, in the direction where the Kellys' friends were known to be; and also it would be a likely crossing-place if they went over to Goulburn, because there is a chain of hills running right across the Murray—right across to Goulburn, in New South Wales. These men remained away for six or seven days. They had a long way to go, and before they returned the Jerilderie bank had been stuck up. I think, but I am not quite certain, that Senior-Constable Strachan was in the locality, and we sent him to some of the other crossing-places on the river.

1276 Who was the officer in charge of the special party you spoke of?— Senior-Constable Mullane, and I think Sergeant Steele was also sent out with the party; and we informed them of the brands of the horses, and gave every information in our power to the police of New South Wales, right up and down the river. The day after Sherritt had given me that information, we heard that Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly had been recognised—and had been seen late in the evening—that was, the evening of the day that he saw them riding horses of the description given to me by Sherritt, towards the Murray, which in every respect corroborated Sherritt's statement. The Jerilderie robbery took place on the 10th of February 1879. Directly we heard of it we sent parties to almost every crossing-place on the Murray . We got a telegram at Benalla about eight o'clock , informing us of the robbery, and we sent out, and watched every suspected place on our side, but no tidings could be obtained of their return. On the Saturday after the Jerilderie bank robbery—I think the 15th of February—I went to Beechworth, and there met Aaron Sherritt by appointment; Detective Ward made an appointment with him to meet me. I arrived at Beechworth at eleven o'clock on that night, Saturday, and I met him after that time. He told me that, on the previous Wednesday, Dan Kelly had called at Mrs. Byrne's house, and had his breakfast there; and told Mrs. Byrne that after the bank robbery the outlaws all divided and agreed to meet at a certain place; that he had kept his appointment, and he came to see if anything was wrong with the other men, as they did not keep their's. That afternoon of the Wednesday that Dan Kelly was at Mrs. Byrne's, we received information that Dan Kelly was seen riding towards the Buckland Gap, towards some very thick country there; that a man saw him, and I saw the man; he said he had not the slightest doubt it was Kelly, and that again corroborated what Sherritt said. Aaron Sherritt said to me, “Now you had better come to-morrow night. I have good reason to believe they will be at Mrs. Byrne's house—the other three men—you had better come and watch the place.” Of course, I had my doubt about Sherritt all the time, but still I thought he was true. He was acting fairly towards me, and it turned out to be the case, but all my men were suspicious of him, and they were afraid to see me go out with him, as I did frequently. The men all said, “You will come to grief with that man some day, he will 'sell' you to the Kellys.” I said, “I have the greatest confidence in him”; I deserved to be “sold” if I did not know a man when I saw him, as I had had opportunity of seeing Sherritt, and I agreed to go and watch Mrs. Byrne; this was about Saturday night, about twelve or one o'clock.

1277 What day?— The Saturday. I might say Detective Ward was present during the whole conversation. I made arrangements with Aaron where I would meet him, some distance out of Beechworth, on the following night, Sunday, at eight o'clock . Next day, Sunday, I went down to Eldorado, where there was a party of police in charge of Senior-Constable Strachan. I directed Strachan with his party to meet me at a certain place in the bush. I do not think I saw him himself, but one of his men; he was out at the time. I said, “Tell him to meet me at a certain spot”—an old hut that he knew, and the man I was speaking to knew— “at nine o'clock that night.” I then returned to Beechworth about 14 or 15 miles, and I was engaged all that day making other arrangements, in company with Detective Ward. Met Sherritt at the appointed place, and we then started to the place that I had directed the constables to meet at, but after waiting there for an hour—that is Ward, myself, and Sherritt—Sherritt said to me, “Mr. Hare, if we do not go at once, you will lose the chance of getting the gang.”

1278 The constables did not come to the rendezvous?— They did not come to the rendezvous. He said, “I am confident of their being there to-night.” I was very much put out not meeting the police, so I turned round to Ward and said, “Will you stick to me if we go by ourselves ?” He replied, “I will, Mr. Hare.” I said to Sherritt, “All right, lead the way;” and we got on our horses and went through a terrible country—thick, scrubby, stony. I had never been through that country before. At, last, as we were riding along, Sherritt pulled up his horse and said, “Mr. Hare, do you see anything ?” I said, “No, I do not see anything.” He said, “Do you not see a fire ahead there ?” He was a little in advance of me, and on looking closer I saw a fire, and he said, “Those are the bushrangers, they have made a fire to-night, and they are camping there, and it is a thing I never knew them do before, they must have some drink in them, otherwise they would not make that fire so foolishly”; and said, “this is the bushranger's country, and no one but them would be out in this country.” We dismounted from our horses and made him do the same, sat down on the ground, and he turned to me and said, “Mr. Hare, what do you want me to do—what is the best to be done?” I said, “I think the best plan to do is to make certain the outlaws are at the fire, because if we know they are at the fire we know how to act. It may be anybody else; and you crawl up to it, take your boots off, and get as close as you can, and ascertain if you can hear voices or anything else.” He went away and left Ward and myself sitting, and we fastened our horses up behind. He remained away about ten minutes. He came back again walking, and Ward said to me, “ By God, we are sold.” I said, “What is the matter, Aaron ?” He said, “Mr. Hare, how far do you think that fire is from us”; and I said, “About 150 yards, I thought,” and he said, “It is nothing of the kind, it is three miles away. I said, “Nonsense, Aaron, you have sold me; you have gone and warned those fellows to be off.” He said, “No, come, get on your horses; where is the fire now?” He said “We will ride up to it.” We rode and rode and rode, until we got to the edge of a high bank—a precipice—and we found the fire was on the other side of the gully, the Woolshed diggings were between us and the fire on the hill above us”; and I said, “You are right—what is to be done?” and he said, “Hurry along as quick as you can, and come away from this mistake we have made, and come on towards Byrne's house.”

1279 Was there anybody but the three?— Nobody; the police never made their appearance. We then rode towards Mrs. Byrne's house. It was then about half-past twelve at night. We left our horses about half a mile from Mrs. Byrne's house, and we walked down to Mrs. Byrne's. We listened for some time from a distance, and we could hear no voices, but we saw a light in the house. Aaron Sherritt then crawled up to the house, and he listened under the window for five or six minutes, and there was no sound, and he returned to us. He then pointed out a spot to me in the bush, and said “That is where they tie up their horses when they come here,” and frequently after they had their meals at Mrs. Byrne's they lay down beside their horses at that spot. The three of us went through those bushes, and we saw nothing. We were very cautious in walking, and had to use the utmost caution. This spot he pointed out to me was previously told to me by Detective Eason or Brown when stationed up there, that they were shown the droppings of horses, and where the bark had been eaten off by the horses. I recognised that, and saw there another corroboration of Aaron Sherritt's statement to me. We then went down, the three of us, to the stockyard, and he said, “Now, Mr. Hare, if the outlaws come at all, they must come this way, through the stockyard, and towards the scrub I have shown you. We will wait here now till the morning for them.” We laid down watching that night until daylight, but saw no signs of anything. Aaron Sherritt said, “those men will be here. They have disappointed me to-night, but they will come within a day or two. Now, if you want the outlaws, you must watch this place.” I said, “All right, Aaron, we will watch it.” We then got on our horses and rode into Beechworth—about six or eight miles, I think—and I went into Beechworth to arrange for a permanent party to come out—not the Eldorado men—and we went out there to stay. I stayed there for 25 nights, watching all night and lying under a rock by day, with a party of men—I think I had seven men. At the same time, above us there was a wonderfully formed camp of the outlaws that they used to resort to, that Aaron Sherritt pointed out to me. It was most ingenious—a place impossible to be attacked. They could shoot any number of people coming up, and you could not touch them. I put four men in this camp. They were about one mile above me in the mountains. I formed a sort of a camp for myself—took our provisions there, about a mile away from Mrs. Byrne's, where we used to retire to every morning at daylight. The duty during this time was terribly irksome. We had no cover by day, lying under rocks, and sitting behind a tree all night.....

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