Royal Commission report day 6 page 7

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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

1286 You were convinced that the Kellys had not been there at all?— I could see no traces whatever of them. The party that I always took out with me were chiefly men from my own district that is to say the Bourke district with the exception of a man named Canny, who was taken on account of his knowing the country and also the personal appearance of the outlaws, and another man named Bellis, who was a wonderful bushman, accustomed to bush life. He was a kangaroo hunter by profession, and made a capital living by shooting kangaroos. He has not joined the police. Many of the men taken on at that time joined the police, but this man did not; he is now a selector; and is living near Yarrawonga. I would like very much if the Commission would summon him, as he was an expert, a thorough bushman in every respect. He is a wonderfully acute and intelligent man. His evidence would be of more value than the constables or any of the men who were with me. By taking out my own men on all occasions with me gave some dissatisfaction amongst the men at Benalla.

1287 Jealousy?— Yes; but I knew my men and they knew me, and I could depend upon them if we happened to fall in with the outlaws. The duty was arduous, and great responsibility was thrown upon the leader. There was a great deal of work to be done by day and night. Some of the Melbourne papers used to describe our life as a pleasant pic-nic. I never asked the men to do anything that I did not share the work with them myself. We had always to keep guard of a night over the men who were asleep, and also watch the horses whilst grazing—the feed for our horses was a great difficulty with us, and the poor beasts, after carrying us all day, had to be turned out often in a rocky mountain without any grass, and frequently in long sour stuff that they could not touch. Frequently after we arrived in camp I would send a couple of men out on the tops of the high mountains to watch for fires—distant fires—and do the same at daylight next morning. I used to catch and saddle my own horse every morning, and unsaddle him in the evening. I called the men myself every morning when it was time to get up. We used to get up about daylight, pack the swags, put them on the pack-horses, and have our breakfast. I assisted in this every morning. I or my men never slept in a tent all the while we were out, nor had a fire after dark, with the exception of two or three occasions. By my assisting the men in everything I kept them all in good spirits. I put myself on the same level with them in every respect, and I am sure every man that ever went out with me would tell the Commission the same tale. I had no difficulty in keeping the men in good spirits, and I had a splendid party with me. They deserved success, but unfortunately we did not meet with-it; but I feel assured, notwithstanding all that has been said about my manner of working, that, had I not been taken ill, we must eventually have come across the gang. Once or twice we were very near them, but they managed to escape us in the mountains; in sending parties out in search of the gang my idea was that we would compel them to be constantly on the watch; and I did not like to give them undisputed possession of the country in which they lived by keeping my men out of it. If anything, my men were too anxious to meet the outlaws, and used to implore me to let them have a fire at night, but I pointed out the danger to them of this, of the gang creeping down and firing upon them whilst they were standing round the fire. Their reply was, “One or two of us may fall, no doubt, but we shall get them notwithstanding.” The excitement kept them up, because we never lay down of a night but we might have to fight for our lives before morning; also by day, when searching the mountains, with rocks as big as this room, we might at any moment be fired on. The outlaws knew all our movements, and our party could be tracked by themselves or friends for any distance. Ned Kelly knew all our camps in the Warby ranges; and when going to Beechworth with one of the constables of my party he told him of all our movements, and described the men who used to go and look for the horses at daylight. He said there were two men who used to go out and get the horses. Each man had his own work to do in the search party, and directly I called them in the morning the two men used to go and catch the horses. One man was told off to light the fire and boil the billy of tea, the others had to pack up the swags—the hardest work we had. It took a long time to pack up everything we were carrying. Ned Kelly described the men and everything we did.

1288 Then you mean it was at night you did not light fires?— I never did light a fire after dark, with but two or three exceptions.

1289 You did in the morning to make the tea?— Yes; then we squashed it over directly after the billy had been boiled. Our search parties generally consisted of seven or eight men. Some used to think it was far too many, but to make an allowance for two or three to be shot down at the first volley the remaining men would be little enough to contend against the gang. In my opinion, I think the way the trackers were used was wrong, having to carry about such a quantity of camp equipage, without any Victorian police—there was an officer, sub-officer, and six black-trackers. I can only remember being out once with them, but Mr. O'Connor says twice; he is no doubt right, but I only recollect once. I did not approve of the way they were worked. I may be wrong in my ideas; Mr. Sadleir quite differed from me, and I believe Mr. Nicolson does also. I merely give my opinion. I have had a good deal of experience at the Cape of Good Hope with blacks, tracking cattle and deer, and I imagine I know their powers as well as anyone. The New South Wales police often use them, but not in a body. One or two blackfellows go with the police, and hunt down an offender a distance of hundreds of miles. They could not do this if they were hampered with a crowd of men and baggage. I think the blacks most useful in a certain way, and I feel certain if I had had a blackfellow on one occasion I would have got the outlaws. This was the occasion in which Mr. O'Connor yesterday mentioned that he was sent for by Captain Standish when he had good information. If you wish I will explain the circumstances; it will be another narrative of what we had to contend against....

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