Royal Commission report day 6 page 5

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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

1280 Who was the sergeant in charge?— I had a party of my own men, Bourke men. Senior-Constable Mills, who had been at Whittlesea, was in charge with me, and Senior-Constable Mays, now at Mansfield , was in charge of the upper camp. That duty was not only irksome but dangerous in the extreme. I never left my camp at night to take up my position but I felt anxious as to whether the outlaws might be in our watching place and open fire on us, and again when we returned to camp at daylight in the morning the outlaws might have taken up our position in the mountains, and shot the whole party without the slightest difficulty. My way of going to and from the watching place was this: I generally used to go ahead of the party and separate them. That is keep about twenty yards apart, get into the watching place myself first, and the men would follow, so that if one were shot, at any rate the others might be able to take the outlaws. That we carried on for five and twenty nights. I felt the responsibility myself very great, but the prospect of our meeting the outlaws cheered us all up, and so it went on day by day. We had great difficulties to contend with, first to supply ourselves with water, which is one of the chief things in a watch party. There was only one waterhole, and we used to have to carry our water with a can, and even then, from our position, we used to see Mrs. Bryne looking for our tracks, because policemen's tracks are always known all over the place. They have different boots and different shoes to their horses. We used to see this old woman go to the water and look for our tracks, and also look about the road. We had no fires, except occasionally when the men beseeched me to let them have a fire to boil tea, and then it was put out immediately. The nights were exceedingly cold.

1281 What month?— March. Some of the men were very much frozen when we left our places in the morning. However, I kept it up, but Mrs. Byrne by accident discovered our camp about the twentieth day. Aaron Sherritt's knowledge of the movements of the police was wonderful. He said he was the scout, or head-centre, of the district; that he could give me any information about the movements of my men in any part of the district. I said, “I do not believe you.” He said, “You may question me—try me if you like—and see if I do not.” So I asked him one day, “Can you tell me what has occurred the last few days, or the day before yesterday?” He said, “Yes; Detective Ward and another man rode out from Beechworth, a party of police have come into Eldorado, and some men through near Everton; but I do not know the particulars beyond than that there are some policemen there.” I said, “Now, Aaron, will you tell me how you got to know?” He said, “I will not.” I said, “Why; are you not in my confidence?” He said, “No; there are certain things I will not tell; I will tell nothing against myself to convict me, although I have been in all the crimes with the Kellys for years past.” It would take me a week to tell the half he said. All this time this man was faithful and true to me. I say he was a man of most wonderful endurance. He would go night after night without sleep in the coldest nights in winter. He would be under a tree without a particle of blanket of any sort in his shirt sleeves whilst my men were all lying wrapt up in furs in the middle of winter. This is an instance that occurred actually: I saw the man one night when the water was frozen on the creeks and I was frozen to death nearly. I came down and said, “Where is Aaron Sherritt?” and I saw a white thing lying under a tree, and there was Aaron without his coat. The men were covered up with all kinds of coats and furs, and waterproof coatings, and everything else, and this man was lying on the ground uncovered. I said, “You are mad, Aaron, lying there”; and he said, “I do not care about coats.”

1282 Do you know he was a constable's son himself?— Yes, his father was a constable in England . He was born on these mountains. I said to him on one occasion, “Can the outlaws endure as you are doing.” He said, “Ned Kelly would beat me into fits.” He said, “I can beat all the others; I am a better man than Joe Byrne, and I am a better man than Dan Kelly, and I am a better man than Steve Hart. I can lick those two youngsters to fits; I have always beaten Joe, but I look upon Ned Kelly as an extraordinary man; there is no man in the world like him, he is superhuman.” Frequently, when he has been lying by me at night, he said, “You will catch Joe, Steve, and the others”; and I said, “Why,” and he said, “He is too smart.” I said, “If he comes here, I will get him.” He said, “No, except you take great caution; do you think Ned ever goes in front? No, he sends the other three a hundred yards ahead.” I said why do they obey him, and do that; and he said, “He carried out his orders at the point of his pistol.” I said, “This must come to an end”; he said, “No; I look upon him as invulnerable, you can do nothing with him”; and that was the opinion of all his agents; nearly every one in the district thought him invincible. When the police had a row with any of the sympathizers they would always finish off by saying “I will tell Ned about you; he will make it hot for you some day,” never speaking about the others at all. I went back to Benalla after leaving this. Would you like me to state how my camp was discovered? (JJK)

1283 You had better do so?— It was discovered by accident in an extraordinary manner. Two days before it was discovered.

1284 You said it was about the twentieth day out?— Yes, and I remained about five days after. One of the party in the upper camp (it was a very hot day) was induced to sneak down to a water-course, say a mile and a half away, and he was carrying a bucket in his hand. Directly this occurred Mrs. Byrne got information. She sent for Aaron Sherritt immediately, and said, “There is a party in the mountains here; go and look for them tomorrow.” Sherritt said, “All right; I have not seen anything of them.” She said, “No, but a man like a constable was seen walking with a bucket towards the creek, and I myself went to that creek, and I found where there was some soap. The fellow had washed his hands there, and he had been whittling a bit of stick “; and she produced this stick to Aaron, and said some one was sitting there, and believed it was one of those constables. Aaron said, “All right; I will go and look for them.” Next day he went back and said, “I have been in every direction, and cannot find them at all.” On the Sunday morning we were lying in our camp—that was a day or two after—and the sentry who was on guard, about nine o'clock in the morning (we were all asleep except the sentry on watch), he came down to where I was lying, and said, “Mr. Hare” I said, “What is the matter?” and he said, “The old woman is in our camp, and Aaron is lying down at the lowest point, and she has seen him.” I jumped up and saw the old woman's back walking out of the camp, and I watched her away till she got over the brow of the hill; and I rushed down to Aaron, and said, “Good heavens! you are discovered; the old woman has seen you. “He had his hat over his face, and I put my hat and coat over him to change his style of dress, with a white helmet, and I said, “Cut away to some place so as to prove an alibi if you have been seen.” He went away and showed himself in some other part of the district. He came back that evening, and he said he was in a mortal funk for fear the old woman had seen him. He took a flute and went down to the house, and said that broke the ice. He said on his return, “She has lost her faith in me, but she did not recognise me. She said, ‘A pretty fellow you are, going to search; I found the men in the mountains to-day.” He said, “I am all right; I am still on terms of intimacy with the others in the house.” I said, “How did the old woman find us?” Aaron said, “Because one of the men left a sardine tin on the rock,” she saw it across the valley. We watched her going down the hill, and on the opposite side there was a hill across the valley; and I saw her walking straight across to something white on the rock, and she told Aaron Sherritt when she was up at the rock that she saw something glistening, and she came across and found the sardine tin, and found our men in the camp. She told Aaron Sherritt— “If she could only find out the number of men in the camp, she would get Joe to shoot any number under fifteen or twenty. She said, “There must be a great number of men there, because of the way the ground is beaten about, but I only saw one man lying there. “The same thing occurred again the next morning. The sentry saw the old woman again, and I called the sergeant, and said, “We had better give her a fright.” The sentry saw her going, right over us, up the range, to peer over a rock, to look down upon us. I said to Senior-Constable Mills, who was with me, “Go up and give the old woman a fright,” and he went up in the direction she was going, and hid behind a rock, where he could see her. She used to go crawling along like a rabbit, and only show her head over the rocks. At last she passed the rock where the constable was hidden behind, but he was on the one side and she on the other, he followed her, and directly she got away about a yard or two he gave a tremendous yell, and jumped on her. The old woman lost her presence of mind, and almost fainted, and said, “What! what! I am only looking for cattle,” and then sue soon recovered her assurance, and got impertinent, and said, “I will get my son to shoot the whole lot of you....

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