Royal Commission report day 6 page 8

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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

1290 As there is a charge against certain officers of the police of not allowing the trackers to be used, you ought to give your views?— The narrative is this:—I started away with my party—I do not know the date, but the date Mr. O'Connor refers to. I do not know whether he left Benalla before me; but I went to the place where Aaron Sherritt told me the outlaws had been harbored after they committed the murders, and where they had been fed for three or four days by a man at Sandy Creek. That was between the Murray and the Warby ranges. We found no trace at all at this house. We searched an immense forest, known as the Ironbark country. After searching that, I worked up towards the Warby ranges; and, after a very very hard day's work, we got on the Wangaratta side of the Warby ranges. I was looking for a camp for the evening. It was just about sunset; and we came across a place with a paddock on the one side and a very hilly country on the other, with a track running between the two up into very very steep ranges. We were then about two miles from a well-known sympathizer's house—the man who had fed the Kellys after they left Wangaratta, about a week or so after the murders. Mr. Nicolson gave it in his evidence, they went through Wangaratta, and to this man's place for breakfast, and were tracked by Mr. Smith with his trackers passing the door and going into these very mountains. I had untied my 'possum-rug and laid it at the foot of a tree, and the cook had got the provisions ready—we lighted the fire and boiled the billy—and we were all sitting down at our meal (we never sat together, but sat about ten or fifteen yards apart, with our rides by our sides). I was just up the slope of the mountain, but still I was in a little glen as it were; and while we were eating our meal instantaneous1y every man jumped up and ran down to a thick brush fence. I said, “What is up?” One of them replied, “There are the Kellys, coming across straight for us.” When we arrived, we saw the tracks of two horses going up the hill; the tracks could not have been more than half an hour old, because the green pieces of grass which the horses had cut up were perfectly green and lying there. I jumped up and went in the direction the men had run to behind this fence, and I saw two young men galloping straight to where we were. I crouched behind the fence, and when they came between the line of men we had formed by this fence we all stood up at once, and one of my men recognized them to be the sons of the sympathizer whose house we were near, and of another sympathizer who lived near Greta, my men recognizing them both immediately. I said “What are you doing up here?” One of them said, “We saw some smoke, and we came up to see what it was.” I said, “Have you been up here to-day?” They said, “No, we have not.” I said, “Do you know anybody who has been up here to-day?” They replied, “No.” I said, “There are tracks of two horses gone up a very short time ago.” “They did not know anything,” he said. I said, “This track can come from nowhere but your house; cannot you explain what these two tracks are?” “No,” he said, “Ido not know anything about it.” And both became very impertinent, and began to bounce us. The man acting as my sergeant then—Senior-Constable Mays—came to me and said, “I am sure there is something up here, the Kellys are close on us here somewhere or other.” He said, “Let me go with them to the house.” I said, “All right, go down with them; leave half the party with me, and I will remain here and watch this pass, and you take those two fellows down, and when you get there keep everybody in the house for the night; do not allow anybody to leave the place at all.” One of the party that went with Mays, a man named Lawless, is a young fellow, short, not unlike Steve Hart.

1291 He was a policeman?— Yes; Constable Lawless. As those four men approached the dwelling-house the whole household came out—that is, the daughters, the father, and mother, and everybody connected with the house; they could see the men coming a long distance, four armed men and those two young fellows riding beside them, and the people stood at the door and were all talking together. When the men approached within about fifty or eighty yards, Mays thought that they recognized that they were not the outlaws but that they were police. Lawless saw a man walking down to the end of the garden, and he went down towards them. When he got near the bank—there was a creek there, or a bathing place—this man called out, “Is that you, Hart?” Lawless replied, “No, what Hart do you think it is?” and his reply was “Steve,” of course meaning the outlaw. Lawless answered, “No, I am not Steve, nor yet any of the Harts.” Upon that the man looked round full at him; and turned; deadly pale and said, “Oh, I thought it was some of the bushrangers coming down upon me.” Lawless took him up to Sergeant Mays, and narrated this story to him, and they consulted together what was best to be done, and decided upon sending up to me at once, and to give me this information, and to beg of me to come down. I went down, and immediately I got there I saw the dangerous duty imposed upon me and the position I was put in. I had never been into this house, but I was afraid that some of the men that I had put round the house might shoot some inoffensive individual coming in there not being an outlaw; so I took Bellis and went out a long distance away from the house, so that I could challenge anybody that came up until I got the people who might come between me and the house, and I told the other men to surround the house itself and put two of the trustworthy men on the other side where there was a road coming in. I gave them the most positive orders that not a shot was to be fired at anybody until I had given the order or fired a shot myself. The night was bitterly cold; it was a white frost; and we lay there, out in this exposed place, until about six o’clock the next morning. At about three o'clock in the morning, I consulted with my sergeant, and we considered it best to send into Wangaratta at once, which was only about eight or nine miles off, to get out four additional men. I did so, and four men came out. The party was in charge, I think, of Senior-Constable Kelly. I told him that I was certain that the outlaws were somewhere near, and to keep a watch over the place all the next day, and until I ordered him to withdraw; to allow not a soul to enter or depart from the house until he got orders from me. Directly daylight broke we returned to where we left our camp. We had some breakfast, saddled and mounted our horses, and went into the mountains. We followed the two tracks we saw the previous evening for some miles—and both Bellis and Canny were capital trackers, of course not equal to blacks, but very good for European trackers—and we went on to the tracks for a considerable time. We found the tracks first on one side and then another. The men all begged of me to let us abandon our horses, leave them behind, so that we could follow the tracks quietly, and no noise occur. I did so, and we walked on and on, and we found other tracks joining in, and they lost the tracks once or twice. When we were going on these tracks the men, all of them excellent men, called out, “Mr. Hare, do you hear any voices ahead?” running up to me. I would say, “No.” Another would come and say, “Let us rush forward, I hear voices.” I said, “I hear no voices at all.” However, I complied with their wish, and said, “Let us run on these tracks, as far as we can;” and we went on, and about one o'clock we came to a dead standstill; they had lost all tracks, and we could go no further. We then had to return and pick up our horses. We took a long circuit. That afternoon we rode for hours, and that night we made back again to the same place where we had been the previous evening. We did not take our pack-horses; we left them in the paddock, and we went into camp. The next morning I went right through the ranges, the dense part, to get on to the Winton side of the Warby ranges. We were having some lunch, and one of the men went up to a hut; and the owner of this hut said, “You police have been camping on the top of that high mountain a night or two ago, or the night before last.” And we said we were not there at all. She said, “Nonsense, my husband and I saw the fire on the top of that sugar-loaf cone.” He said “No,” I went up to the hut to see the woman; she described what she and her husband had seen, the fire up there, and I knew it could not have been the police, and no person would go up there for amusement. The next morning we made straight for this hill; it was a very difficult hill to ascend, nothing but sharp rocks standing on end, and when I got as far as the horses could go, I told the men to separate out and surround the hill and go to the top as quickly as they could. We got on the top, and when we got there we found some embers and some fire; the fire was not quite out; it appeared as if it was a place where the fire had been made between two rocks, and the whole place, which might have been camped on, had been set on fire by some she-oak trees that had been burning there. We searched all the ranges about there, and that night we camped where we did the previous evening, or where this woman gave us the information. Next morning we got up and I saw another hill, not in the direction I had been, which was towards the Ovens River , apparently north. I took down the men towards Glenrowan, and there was a very high point of a hill there. We got to the foot of it, and I said, “Suppose we go and search at the top here, and see what we can find.” We rode as far as we could, and I divided the men to surround the hill in the same manner as the other hill. Being a very heavy weight myself, not being active on my legs at my time of life, I made my horse do a great deal more work than the men made their horses do, and by so doing I got on the top of the hill first. I looked round me to see if I could find any traces of the outlaws, and there I saw a fresh track as if done a few minutes before I had been there, and where a man had slidden down with his heel off the rock; the moss was lying at the bottom as if he had slipped down. I did nothing; I sat there till all the men came up. I said, “Look here, men, what is that?” and the man Bellis came forward and said, “That is the heel of a man.” “Well,” I said, “where is the man, can you follow it? “He said, “I will try,” and he went some distance and pulled up, and said, “I have lost the track, sir.” I then said to the men, “We must get these fellows, they are not far off from us, the country is thick no doubt.” And I made another attempt, and I got up to another high hill, the same as was done in the other. I should here state that on the top of each of those hills I found stones recently removed and standing on their edge, some of them, perhaps one or two, on top of another, some recently moved, the ground fresh under it, as you can see when a stone is moved, and other places perhaps two or three put together. I asked Canny and Bellis, who knew the country well, “Can you inform me what is the reason of these stones being moved?” and they could give no satisfactory reason, they had had no experience of the kind. At every hill we found the same thing, the stones removed. On this other hill there was the same thing, and I found tracks on the top of it. Those were the circumstances under which I sent word to Captain Standish on the two occasions the information I had got, and about what I was doing, and upon that he wrote up to Mr. Sadleir Mr. O'Connor. I did not ask him to do so. They were at that time up at the head of the King River .


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