Royal Commission second Report Part IX ( page 12)

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part IX


The authorities received from the prisoner Williamson another important statement, dated 15th November 1878 , in which it was intimated that the Kelly gang would probably attack one of the banks at Seymour . This information was communicated to Superintendent Hare on the 26th November, and that officer took immediate steps in his own district to guard against such an eventuality. On the 28th the document reached the hands of the officers in Benalla, and on the following day Mr. Nicolson telegraphed to the Chief Commissioner, suggesting that the police at Seymour should be reinforced. It seems clear that at this time rumors were current that one or other of the banks in the district would he robbed; and it has not been satisfactorily shown that Mr. Nicolson or Mr. Sadleir took any precautions to frustrate an attempt of that nature if made in the North-Eastern district. Indeed, their action indicates that they were either ignorant of the rumors or attached no importance to them, although the witness Patrick Quin asserts, in the course of his evidence, that some time prior to the robbery he informed the Assistant Commissioner not only as to the locality in which the Kellys were secreted, but that one of the banks at Bright, Avenel, or Euroa would probably be attacked. That the force at the command of the officers in charge of the district was inadequate to resist the threatened raid in every centre of population in the district was apparent. Nevertheless it has not been satisfactorily proved, from the documents or the evidence submitted to your Commissioners, that Mr. Nicolson realized the danger and applied for reinforcements. There is a document, dated some eight or nine months later, written by Mr. Sadleir, in which he alleges that application had been made to the Chief Commissioner for additional police prior to the attack upon Euroa, and Mr. Nicolson, in cross-examination, reiterates the statement, but beyond these mere assertions we have no proof that any special effort was made at this time to protect the banks in the North-Eastern district.

Further, at a very critical juncture, and in the teeth of the most emphatic warning, both officers left head quarters at Benalla and proceeded to Albury on the 9th December 1878 . The journey thither appears to have been the result of a ruse on the part of the sympathizers of the gang. The precise object of the officers in starting was simply to reconnoitre by daylight the crossing of the Murray , near Albury, where it was stated by a supposed reliable agent that the Kellys were expected to pass. Before starting an incident occurred which might have induced them to pause, if not to forego their intention. Mr. Wyatt, P.M., arrived from Euroa by the evening train, bringing with him incontestable proofs that the telegraph wires in the vicinity of the township had been deliberately cut, and direct communication with Melbourne destroyed. Mr. Wyatt appears to have argued the matter out in his own mind, from all the circumstances which came under his notice, that the cutting of the wires was probably the work of the Kelly gang; and as soon as he observed Mr. Nicolson on the platform, at Benalla, he at once communicated to him his suspicions. Unfortunately Mr. Wyatt had warned the driver of the engine and others in the train by which he had arrived not to disclose any information they possessed on the subject, so that, when they were interrogated by Superintendent Sadleir as to whether there was anything wrong down the line, they returned a distinct negative. The warning of the police magistrate was disregarded. Turning to him, Mr. Nicolson said, "it will not alter our plans," and, getting into the train, he and Mr. Sadleir took their departure for Albury. When passing Glenrowan station another incident occurred, which appears to have attracted the attention of Mr. Sadleir. When the train arrived at Glenrowan, Mr. Sadleir observed a suspected sympathizer and scout of the gang watching their movements; and, from his action and the expression of his face, it was evident that something unusual was stirring. This fact flashed through Mr. Sadleir's mind in the train on the journey to Albury, but he neglected to communicate with Sergeant Whelan, at Benalla, so as to place him on the qui vive, as he might have done on arriving at Wangaratta or at any of the stations along the line. A strange and unfortunate fatality appears to have attached itself to every phase of this remarkable episode. There was, at the time of the robbery, virtually no police protection in Euroa. The constable, the only one stationed there, had been absent from the township during the day; and it was not until late in the evening, when doing duty at the railway station, he ascertained that the outrage had been committed, whereupon he leaped into the train and proceeded to Benalla. It seem also clear that for some days prior to the raid the outlaws were either in the township or secreted in its neighborhood, and that their scouts gave them full information of its unprotected condition, so that they could push their audacity to any limits without fear of molestation.

Mr. Nicolson was at Albury when, at midnight , he received intelligence of the robbery, and he took steps to return immediately by special train. En route he issued instructions to the several police stations, in order to ensure co-operation in the pursuit. Some stress has been laid upon the telegrams despatched to Sub-Inspector Pewtress, conveying instructions as to the course he should adopt; but - apart from the fact that if any doubt existed in the mind of Mr. Pewtress as to the propriety of acting upon the orders received he had full power to decide for himself what was best to be done - a careful scrutiny of the telegrams does not bear out the allegation that the Mansfield contingent were instructed to proceed in a direction the opposite to that in which there was a possibility of the gang with their plunder being encountered. The efforts made to follow up the tracks by Mr. Nicolson and his search party on the day following the robbery proved utterly futile, and they were compelled, from sheer exhaustion and inability to trace the outlaws, to return to quarters in the afternoon. ....

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