Royal Commission second Report Part XIV ( page 20)

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part XIV


Superintendent Hare having mastered the documents in the office which had a bearing upon the pursuit, and having also obtained every information and assistance from Superintendent Sadleir, proceeded to make his own arrangements. Reliable residents and constables in charge of stations were interviewed; scouts were despatched; secret agents communicated with, and what has become known as the hut party organized. Four constables under the direction of Detective Ward secreted in Aaron Sherritt's hut, at Sebastopol , with instructions to remain concealed during the day, and in the evening to proceed to Mrs Byrne's place and watch it at night, as the cave parties had done previously. From the evidence it is clear that the constables acted very indiscreetly, situated as Aaron Sherritt's hut was, in close proximity to the main road and within view of numerous dwellings in the neighborbood. The first impression of your Commissioners when they visited the scene of the murder was its unsuitability for such a purpose. Again, the constables were known to have gone out to cut wood during the daytime and were, there is every reason to believe, seen by the gang and their sympathizers in the vicinity. Whatever suspicions there may have been engendered in the minds of the outlaws as regards Aaron Sherritt's treachery towards them previously, the fact of his harboring the police in his hut was sufficient to seal his doom. On the evening of the 26th of June 1880, while the police were in the hut, and as they were about to start on their nocturnal watch, a knock was beard at the door, and a neighbor named Anton Wicks, as though he had been bushed, inquired the way to his home. The door was opened by Aaron Sherritt. That moment a shot was fired; a second followed; Aaron stepped back, and fell dead without uttering a word. Three of the constables at the time were in an inner room divided off from the main apartment by a slight partition, which only reached from the floor to the lower edge of the roof, a door composed of flimsy material being in the centre. The front and back doors faced each other. There were two small windows in the but, one giving light to the bedroom, the other to the kitchen. The but in reality consisted of only one room with a portion partitioned off for the purposes of a bedroom. Constable Duross was at the fire in the outer room when the knock was beard; he at once sought refuge in the bedroom, where he and his companions remained throughout the night. The murder was perpetrated by Joe Byrne, assisted by Dan Kelly. The outlaws made several inquiries as to the men concealed in the bedroom, but the evidence upon the subject is contradictory and unsatisfactory. The names of the police present were Constables Armstrong (in charge), Duross, Dowling, and Alexander. Never was there a more conspicuous instance of arrant cowardice than was exhibited by those men on the night of the murder. Instead of attacking the outlaws, or at least making some effort out of sheer regard for their manhood, if not for their official responsibility, they sought the protection for themselves which they should have afforded to others. Two of them, Armstrong and Dowling, lay prostrate on the floor, with their bodies partly concealed beneath a bed, under which they had thrust the wife of the murdered man, with their feet resting against her, so that she could not possibly escape, in the hope that her presence would deter the outlaws from shooting them or attempting, as they had threatened, to set fire to the place. The conduct of those constables throughout the night was characterized by shameful poltroonery, which, in the army, would have been punished by summary expulsion from the service with every accompanying mark of contempt and degradation. It was not until the afternoon of the following day that the authorities in Benalla and Melbourne became aware of the outrage. As soon as information of the murder was received, prompt action was taken. The black trackers, who, with Mr O'Connor, had been withdrawn from the district, preparatory to returning to Brisbane, were recalled, and despatched the same night by special train from Melbourne to Beechworth, the object being to utilize them in following the tracks of the outlaws from Sherritt's but, at Sebastopol, to the ranges in the vicinity, where the murderers were supposed to be concealed. .....

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