Royal Commission second Report Part X ( page 13)

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The Royal Commission Second Report -Part X


Mr. Nicolson was relieved from duty in the North-Eastern district, owing to the state of his health, immediately after the Euroa bank robbery, and Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare took charge of operations. One of their first acts was to enforce the provisions of the Felons Apprehension Act by arresting a large number of the more notorious sympathizers. By the orders of Captain Standish the responsible sub-officers and men in charge of stations who had for any length of time been in the Benalla district were collected. They were asked the names of the persons suspected. Those were taken down by Mr. Hare, and, without any effort to obtain information for the purposes of the prosecution, the necessary legal machinery was put in motion to make the arrests. In making these arrests no proper discretion was exercised. Several persons were taken into custody against whom no evidence could be obtained, while a number of persons known or suspected of being in close and intimate relations with the gang were allowed to remain at large. As a consequence, when the cases were called on, remand after remand was applied for and granted, until finally the magisterial bench at Beechworth discharged the prisoners. Those apparently arbitrary proceedings were not salutary in their effects. They did violence to people's ideas of the liberty of the subject; they irritated and estranged probably many who might have been of service to the police; they failed to allay apprehensions of further outrages on the part of the gang, or to prevent them from obtaining the requisite supplies; they crippled the usefulness of the officers, who had to be called away from active duty in connection with the pursuit to attend the petty sessions at Beechworth, when remands were applied for; and, what was of more significance, the failure of the prosecutions led the public to believe that the conduct of affairs was mismanaged. The original intention of the gang, after the Wombat murders, seems to have been to leave the colony, but this object having been frustrated, owing to the flooding of the Murray , they returned to the vicinity of their homes. Finding that the police were utterly at fault as to their whereabouts, and were receiving no reliable information as to their movements - that they were simply exhausting their energies in dragooning the district on purposeless expeditions - the gang gained confidence, and settled down in the ranges, varying their retreats, as occasion arose, between the neighborhood of the King River, the Woolshed, near Sebastopol, and the Warby Ranges. The first detachment of the Garrison Artillery was forwarded from Melbourne to the North-Eastern district, 15th December 1878 , and were distributed in the townships along the line of railways where another raid on the banks was possible. In January reinforcements of the artillery were sent to Beechworth, and in March following it was deemed desirable to place a number also in Shepparton. A considerable accession of strength was thus made to the available police at the disposal of Superintendent Hare, who appears to have attended to field work while Captain Standish transacted office business. The first cave party was formed at this time, and was taken command of by Superintendent Hare in person. It was maintained for a month, during which the party endured considerable hardships, having to refrain concealed in the ranges in the neighborbood of the Woolshed during the day, and watch the but Mrs. Byrne at night, on the chance of pouncing on one or other of the outlaws. At the end of 25 days the camp of the police was discovered by Mrs. Byrne, whereupon, without having accomplished anything, Superintendent Hare returned to Benalla. At this period Aaron Sherritt, no doubt in the hope of securing the reward offered for the capture of the outlaws, attached himself to Mr. Hare and his party, and great reliance appears to have been placed upon his fidelity. His acquaintance with the movements of the police in all parts of the district, communicated by bush telegraphs, demonstrated his knowledge of the operations of the sympathizers, and doubtless of the movements of the gang; but he did not enable the authorities to thwart the outlaws' raid upon Jerilderie on the 10th of February 1879 . The daring with which this outrage was committed, and the impunity with which the gang were allowed to swoop down upon a township, to bail up the police, to rob one of the banks, and return to their haunts in Victoria, marked this episode as one of the most extraordinary in the whole career of the outlaws. Superintendent Hare conducted many search parties with vigor, and in addition to watching Byrne's house, kept active supervision over the houses of others who were supposed to be sympathizers. He undertook expeditions to the Warby Ranges ; he led search parties to Cleary's house, and to the Whorouly races respectively, on the strength of information supplied by agents, but without success. What Captain Standish accomplished by his personal supervision and direction of affairs in the district does not appear manifest. He was supposed to attend at the office during the day and act upon information received from scouts, but beyond having visited Mr. Hare and remained with him one night during the existence of the cave party he seems to have contented himself with rusticating peacefully in Benalla. Evidence has been given by several witnesses that the Chief Commissioner was not an ardent worker in connection with the Kelly business. He has been described as apathetic, and as seeking refuge in a novel when his officers referred to matters relating to the pursuit. Mr. Hare states that the Chief Commissioner was always willing to converse with him upon the subject, but other officers declare that the apathy of the Chief Commissioner was the subject of frequent conversation. As a matter of fact, when in July 1879 Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare returned to Melbourne, owing, as the former alleges, to the business of the head office being in a "frightful muddle," the authorities were uncertain whether the outlaws were actually in the colony or had gone northward, in the direction of Queensland. An analysis of the list of appearances during the time Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare were in charge shows that the number reported was 53. Of these, 23 are stated to have been untrue or unreliable; in five instances the news was considered too stale; in four, no steps were taken; inquiries were simply instituted in several cases, and in 13 alone were active measures adopted, without any practical outcome. .....

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