Sydney Morning Herald (23)

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Sydney Morning Herald


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The Chief Secretary (says the Argus of Monday) was engaged on Saturday in business connected with the pursuit of the Mansfield murderers and the protection of property from their depredations. Mr Nicolson, who was in town, had a long interview with the hon. gentleman, explaining what had been done in the past and the plan of operations for the future. Mr Berry is understood to have strongly pressed upon the police authorities the propriety of not endeavouring to conduct the search from one head centre, but to leave some parties at any rate liberty of action. Mr Nicolson reports that the men are all eager to meet with the gang, and that backwardness on their part is the last thing to be complained of. The men have done an immense amount of work lately, and many of them, as well as the horses, are knocked up by their exertions. He mentions, also, that one great difficulty the force has to cope with is the lack of information, for hitherto all that has been supplied them has had the effect - and in many cases it is believed intentionally - of misleading them as to the position and intention of the gang. There has been a difference of opinion about the employment of the local artillery force.

Captain Standish, desired that the men should be sent up in plain clothes, and should be under the orders of the police officers, to be utilized as might be convenient; while Colonel Anderson, submitted that if the men were sworn in as constables, and taken from the corps and put to novel work outside the rules of discipline, complications might arise. Mr Berry's decision was that the corps should be employed to garrison the townships about the ranges. Parties of seven or eight men will be stationed in each township under the command of a non-commissioned officer, and they will take their tents with them, and will mount guard and establish patrols. Mr Berry arrived at this decision in consequence of an urgent appeal having been made to him on behalf of the banks for protection to their property. The plan was put into operation at once. Colonel Anderson left town on Saturday evening by a pilot engine, to consult with Captain Standish at Benalla; and on Sunday morning a special train took a detachment of the local artillery, and dropped them by parties on the way.

The men take their breechloader rifles with them, and they are also armed with revolvers which have been borrowed from the navy. A great many offers of private assistance are received by the Chief Secretary. There is nothing to prevent private individuals undertaking the search in order to earn the heavy reward offered for the capture of the gang; but with regard to paid agencies, Mr Berry does not at present see his way to go beyond the police and the artillery force. The hon. gentleman inquired into the allegation which appeared in Saturday's Argus, that the widows and families of the murdered police have not yet received the allowance it was decided to give them. The statement is correct, and is consequent on some clerical blundering, which has not yet received a satisfactory explanation. By to-day the error will be rectified.

Mr Berry also passed a further amount of £100 on account of arms for the force, milking £1500 which has been expended in this direction. The amount must not be put down as altogether laid out on account of the Mansfield murderers. Their outbreak has made known the existence of a dangerous ruffianism and lawlessness in the rough north-eastern portions of the colony. The animosity of this semi-criminal population against the police has now blazed out, and the men on duty in this neighbourhood will in future have to carry arms and be practised in their use. The names of the two unknown offenders have now been ascertained beyond doubt to be Stephen Hart and Joseph Byrne.

Stephen Hart is described as being 20 or 21 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches in height, having fresh complexion, brown hair, and hazel eyes. He was convicted at Wangaratta in July, 1877, on 13 charges of illegally using horses, for which he received the very inadequate sentence of 12 months' imprisonment with hard labour. He got off lightly in consequence of never having been previously convicted.

Joseph Byrne is described as being 21 or 22 years of age, about 5 feet 10 inches in height, having fresh complexion, light brown hair, and blue eyes. He was convicted at Beechworth in May, 1876, for having meat unlawfully in his possession, and got a sentence of six months' imprisonment. This was also his first conviction. Byrne's mother lives in a hut, in the ranges, not far from the Rats' Castle. This was one of the huts searched by the police a few days after the police murders were committed. The clothes the offenders now wear are those which they appropriated from the hawker's cart, and are described as follows: Ned Kelly, gray tweed trousers and vest, dark coat, and drab felt hat; Dan Kelly, gray tweed trousers and vest, black coat, and white felt hat; Hart, dark gray tweed suit and white felt hat; and Byrne, light gray tweed suit and light felt hat. All the hats are supplied with elastic chin bands. Ned Kelly has now a long beard. The gang are armed with two double-barrelled guns, two single-barrelled guns, a Spencer rifle, and eight revolvers. '

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