Royal Commission report day 7 page 1

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The Royal Commission evidence for 1/4/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 7)

Sup Francis Augustus Hare giving evidence


The Hon. F. LONGMORE, M.L.A., in the Chair;

W. Anderson , Esq., M.L.A., G.W. Hall, Esq., M.L.A.,

.J.H. Graves , Esq., M.L.A., G.R. Fincham, Esq., M.L.A.

E.J. Dixon , Esq., J.P.,

1358 By the Commission. —Will you resume your narrative?— I was saying yesterday that I never threw away a chance any time I was up there, to my knowledge, and spared myself in no way. I was told when I returned to Benalla, after an unsuccessful search, that I was a great fool to go out so much— that I would kill myself.

1359 Who told you that?— Mr. Sadleir and Mr. O'Connor. One day we were talking over the matter, Mr. O'Connor said, “Captain Standish ought to be ashamed of himself, sending you out so much.” But I felt it was a disgrace to us (the police) that we could not catch the Kellys, and I strained every effort to succeed.

1360 Do you by the word “us” mean the police force of the colony generally, or yourselves individually?— The police force of the colony. So it went on, until at last the cold frosty nights did nearly kill me—sleeping without fires, and with little covering over myself and party. On several occasions our 'possum-rugs in the morning were hard frozen—we were obliged to put them before the fire before we could fold them up.

1361 Of course that does not refer to the time when you resumed duty, for that was on the 12th of December?— No, this was when I was doing the first work, about June.

1362 The winter of the season you were there?— Yes, I have been giving some anecdotes of the whole time I was out. I came in from my last trip about a week before I was relieved. I would draw attention to the fact that this was not an ordinary climate we were working in. We were up on the mountains, and on one occasion the men went for water in the morning to make some tea, and they found the creek frozen, running water, and we were lying within about a hundred yards of that. Mr. O’Connor in his evidence has stated something concerning a letter that was received by Aaron Sherritt from Joe Byrne—that he was to meet him at Whorouly races. I will tell the Commission the exact facts of the case. The letter was written in peculiar phraseology that none of us here could understand, and it had to be interpreted by Aaron Sherritt himself before we knew what it meant; but the purport of it was asking Aaron Sherritt to go over to Whorouly races—this is a small country racecourse on the Ovens—and to meet him, the writer—Joe Byrne—at a certain place, as he wanted him to ride his black mare in some hurdle race. I saw the letter, and beyond doubt it was in Byrne's handwriting, because we have seen a great many of his documents. I communicated with Captain Standish on the subject, and we (the officers) decided what was to be done. We arranged that I should take three of my best riders and pluckiest men, and go to the races myself. I selected three men unknown to the public in that part of the country, viz., Senior-Constable Johnson, Constable Lawless, and Constable Falkner. I told them what duty they would have to perform and the information that I had received, and directed them to ride singly, as if unknown to each other, on to the racecourse. Lawless I set up with an under-and-over table and dice, Johnson was got up as a bookmaker, and Falkner was to act the yokel and patronize the other two, the under-and-over place, and to make bets on the races. I myself drove down on to the course in a buggy and mixed among the people, and the ordinary police in uniform attended the races. I took all those precautions for the purpose of preventing anyone knowing. (JJK)

1363 Did Sherritt know?— Of course. He was there.

1364 Did he know the three men disguised?— Yes; he knew the arrangements altogether. I mixed amongst the people; and the ordinary constables in uniform did their duty, and did not know those men I had; and none of the mounted men on duty knew me, I think—they did not recognise me.

1365 The police did not arrest your three-card trick man?— No; in little country racecourses they are not so particular about little things of that sort—there is no money made. I merely give this statement to the Commission to show them that, if we had taken black-trackers there, no secrecy of any sort could have been observed—we might as well have stayed at home. Near where those races were held Joe Byrne's aunt resides; and one of his brothers was on the racecourse—came down from Sebastopol , where they lived; and a number of their greatest sympathizers were there also. There is another short incident with regard to this search that I want to give you. On one occasion, about the month of May, we received information from a very reliable source that the outlaws were about to visit one of their sympathizers, who lives at the foot of a very steep mountain and surrounded by mountains. A party of men was sent out by the officers, about ten o'clock , from Benalla, in a waggon, to within about two miles of this man's hut; I think it was in charge of Senior-Constable Mays. They approached the house some time in the morning—about two or three o'clock; had to go some distance round for fear of the dogs alarming the house that there was some one about; they succeeded in avoiding the dogs, and took up a very good position, just above the house, where they could look down upon it and see everything that was going on. About sunrise in the morning, they observed two boys, sons of this sympathizer, come out with a couple of dogs. They walked about for some time, and the men thought they were looking for cows. When suddenly the dogs came upon the tracks of the police, and followed them up the hill to within about ten yards of where they were lying. The dogs, directly they saw the men, stood there and barked. The boys came up, saw the men, and returned immediately to the house. The owner of the house then came up himself, and spoke to the men. He hand some words—I do not remember exactly what they were; however, he went back to his house, and immediately three shots were fired from the house, and there was a hollow trunk of a tree lying upon two logs, and an axe was taken and three distinct blows given upon this, evidently as a signal; and you could hear the echo resounding from all sides of the hills, both the three shots and the blows upon the timber.

1366 Nothing further came of that?— No, nothing further; the men left at once. Katey Kelly was there that morning at this house, and when she came out it was evident the whole thing was blown, through the shots and signals.

1367 Those signals, in your opinion, prevented the outlaws from visiting the hut?— Undoubtedly.

1368 Do you consider the object of those blows and shots was to warn them, being in the neighborhood, to clear out?— Yes. It was a signal no doubt.

1369 When Senior-Constable Mays reported to you, you came to the conclusion that he had acted wisely, as the outlaws had cleared out?— Yes; and I may say that sympathizer dogs and the dogs of the relations were a great nuisance to us. The next time I went to this spot, I appointed a man with a few baits and a bag, and told him to drop a bait here and there, and let any animal that liked pick it up. (JJK)

1370 Baits to destroy dogs?— Yes.

1371 Strychnine on a bit of meat?— Yes; but after that many of the dogs about the place you could not poison if you tried. They always had muzzles on day and night, and used to come into Benalla with the muzzles on. I have seen Mrs Skillian and Katey Kelly come into Benalla with dogs muzzled.

1372 What you want to convey to the Commission is this, that the Kellys were so supported by sympathizers that actually the dogs were trained so that, if strange horses came, the dogs would look out for the tracks and boys follow them up?— Yes, that is it.

1373 If, in your opinion, the signals you just spoke of were the means of preventing the outlaws approaching, you must have been cognizant of the fact that you were within a very easy distance of the outlaws at this particular period?— No; you do not know the situation of this place. There is a very high mountain, almost impossible to go up on one side, and the range runs in a kind of horseshoe right round this sympatbizer's house—He is at the foot of the gully, and there is only one main entrance to the place....

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