The Argus (12)

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The Argus


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Immediately after the present Ministry were settled in office Chief Secretary, Mr Ramsay, in consultation with Mr Service, made a special investigation into the conduct of the police in connection with the Kelly outrage. Several interviews were held with Captain Standish, the chief commissioner. Mr Ramsay pointed out the length of time that had elapsed since the first outbreak had occurred, and intimated that unless a more effectual search for the outlaws took place it would be his duty to see that there was an immediate reorganisation of the police force. Various changes were made and movements adopted which were confidentially communicated to the press, but which it was not thought advisable in the interests of justice to make public. Among other recommendations that were adopted was the determination to withdraw the reward offered for information unless the Kellys were captured within a certain time, and there is no doubt that from what has since transpired this resolution has operated with good effect. When Superintendent Hare went to take charge of the Beechworth district he received orders from Mr Ramsay that the departmental routine must be set aside altogether, and that he was at liberty to pick his men and to make whatever arrangements he thought proper without interference from Melbourne , and that his expenses were not to be questioned by the department. In this way a great amount of energy has been latterly thrown into the search, and gradually the gang became aware that they were closely followed. Important information has, in fact, been in the hands of the police for some days past, and an outbreak in some direction was anticipated. News of the Beechworth outrage reached Melbourne on Sunday evening, and it was immediately communicated to the Chief Secretary. He found that the police did not purpose to start for the scene of the occurrence until the ordinary train on Monday morning, and he at once ordered a special train to start as early as possible on Sunday evening. It is now perfectly obvious that had this step not been taken, the old tale would have been repeated of another outrage and another disappearance of the gang. When the special arrived at Benalla, Superintendent Hare recommended that a pilot engine should sent in front, as he apprehended the bushrangers would endeavour to rip up the track, and this suggestion was acted upon. During yesterday morning Mr Ramsay communicated with Colonel Anderson, and made the suggestion that cannon should be sent up to batter down the house. He also telegraphed Superintendent Hare –‘Is it possible to construct a bullet proof shield or screen of deals backed with hardwood? This mounted on a dray might enable men to approach the house.’

As the day wore on, and it was doubtful whether the gang would be dislodged before dark, the Chief Secretary sent for Mr Ellery and asked him if he could proceed to Glenrowan by special train with the electric light, so as to prevent the escape of the murderers. Mr Ellery said that means could not be adopted in time to procure the light, and he also said that the light is so vivid and direct that it throws darks shadows, and probably would enable the bushrangers to escape rather than assist in effecting their capture. He recommended that bonfires be made round the building, which would lighten the space between them and it. This suggestion was also telegraphed to the officer in command.

Captain Standish was also directed by Mr Ramsay to proceed by special train with medical assistance, and Dr Chas Ryan was selected by the Chief Secretary to accompany Captain Standish on account of his experience in gunshot wounds, gained at the siege of Plevna and elsewhere.

When the news was first received Mr Ramsay telegraphed to Superintendent Hare on behalf of the Government, thanking him most heartily for his services, and requesting him in his name and on behalf of the Ministry to communicate his thanks to the men under his command.

It has been known for some time past that the Queensland black trackers were under orders to leave the colony, and that they were to have departed to day. Mr Ramsay telegraphed last week to the Queensland Chief Secretary, asking that they might be allowed to stop some short time longer but Mr Palmer refused. On Sunday, after the intelligence of the outbreak, Mr Ramsay telegraphed again, pointing out the importance of the men being allowed to remain and assist in the search, and Mr Palmer gave his consent. Yesterday Mr Palmer sent this further telegram:-

‘I replied hastily to your telegram last night, authorising you to detain O’Connor and the native troopers, and feel bound to say that, although O’Connor has never officially reported the fact, it has stated by Queenslanders who have been in Victoria that a general impression exits, both there and here, that a considerable amount of jealousy is felt by the Victorian police towards our men. I can assure you that unless out troopers, with their officers, are allowed to go to the front at once, there will be little use in calling upon them to do so after the white police have effected the tracks.-HS Palmer’

It may be mentioned that Superintendent Chomley is now in Queensland , having been sent there by Mr Ramsay to obtain black trackers to take the place of the men about to be withdrawn. Some inquiry into the cause of the discontent between the Queensland police and our own seems to be necessary,

Mr Ramsay received the following telegram from the Premier of New South Wales:- ‘Great satisfaction in prospect of the complete destruction of the Kelly gang. Congratulate your Government. – HS Parker

To this a suitable reply was sent.


KELLYS commenced their career, is not easily surpassed, as a cold blooded and gratuitous atrocity, and yet the last effort of the gang has claims to be considered the most diabolical of any. The gang ascertained that aid was being given to the police by a young man who had once known them, and who had taken unto himself a wife and had built a house, and was gaining an honest living by work upon the land. On Saturday night last they decoyed AARON SHERRITT outside his hut, and shot down the unfortunate, unarmed, and helpless man thus taken by surprise as though he were a dog. Four policemen were in the hut and some women also, and the outlaws endeavoured top burn the place down. Failing in this they took to horse to returned to their haunts, but they had planned to perpetrate a further and more wicked mischief on their way. They anticipated that a special train would be despatched from Melbourne to the scene of the outrage, and they determined to rip up the rails and wreck the train, and thus take thirty or forty lives at a blow. Their motive in committing this crime was as senseless as was their object in the murder of the Kennedy party, for it was simply to get rid for a time of the black trackers, in whose place a dozen avenging parties would inevitably have started up. The treacherous slaying of the unhappy man SHERRITT can be understood. No doubt the outrage would strike terror into the hearts of all who might be disposed to assist the officers of justice, and it was to the interest of the gang to establish a terrorism in the district, but the wrecking of the train was purely gratuitous. If the gang had not made the effort they would have been back in their old hiding places in the Strathbogie Ranges long before the police could have been on their tracks, and thus they might have eluded pursuit as successfully as ever. But the exploit of wrecking a train and killing some of the trackers, and riding triumphantly away, would have told well with the criminal classes who sympathise with thieves and cut throats, and the gang determined upon making the effort. They set the trap and they fell into it. They could not leave because they had to watch the officials in order to prevent the train being signalled. They had to watch and wait to keep guard over the station master, and scrutinise his face with an intention of ‘blowing out his brains’ if he showed a disposition to warn his fellow officers that they were hurrying to destruction. But the train did not blindly dash into the pit dug for it. Superintendent HARE knew better than that. He anticipated a trick of the kind, and arranged that a pilot engine should run in front of the special, and that a watch should be kept from it on the track, and that precaution would have saved the force even if the alarm had not been given. But the alarm was given. A platelayer stopped the special outside of Glenrowan, and instead of seeing the train wrecked, the gang found the police upon them. A frightful tragedy had been averted, and justice had at last come to her own.

The scene which followed at Glenrowan is very pitiable. The fight with EDWARD KELLY was in the open, and this ruffian was captured without being killed, and without his having killed any one, though he fought with a home made iron armour upon him. The probability is that the precaution he had taken to save his life hampered his movements, and really led to a more easy capture than would otherwise have been the case. But the remainder of the gang were brought to bay in the hotel, where they had locked up their prisoners to prevent warning being given to the train, and from this shelter it was found difficult to dislodge them. We have to tell of children wounded and of civilians shot. BYRNE who, with a coward’s hand, had murdered the unsuspecting SHERRITT, fell first. Within six and thirty hours of the death of his last victim his fate was sealed. Then the hotel was fired, and HART and the younger KELLY were found dead. Whether they were killed before the conflagration or were killed by the flames appeared by the narrative of our special reporters who were present at the scene, shows that the outlaws were dead before the fire was kindled. Thus any maudlin sympathy which might have been provoked by the fate of the last of the band is avoided. Sympathy would have been maudlin, because it must be remembered that there was no occasion for the outlaws, if they were alive, to remain in the flames. They might have surrendered to justice, or they might have elected to flight for their lives in the open. The fire was lighted of course not to burn them, but to dislodge them from their cover, and in war it is a common thing to drive an enemy from his position of vantage by these tactics. The duty of the commanding officer was to capture or to kill outlaws, and not expose his own men to be murdered—for each man who fell was a sacrifice to the lawless gang, who had no right to make resistance, but who certainly would have shed more innocent blood if a rush had been attempted. The only pity is that so many of the gang have escaped the halter, which was their proper doom. That, however, cannot be avoided. The gang is blotted out, and that is everything. They leave behind them a melancholy array of widows and orphans; the bodies of some of their hapless victims still lie uncovered, appealing to Heaven as did the body of Abel. But every other consideration is merged in a deep sense of thankfulness that a disgrace is removed from Victoria , and that the men-wolves have perished, except the wretch who can survive his wounds only to expiate his crime on the gallows.

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