The Argus at KellyGang 10/1/1882
THE POLICE COMMISSION
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS
Sir,-While desiring to acknowledge the great skill and fairness you have shown in dealing with the report of the police Commission, permit me to say a word in favour of the police who were in the hut at the time Sherritt was murdered.
The commission, having visited the spot, speak of its unsuitability as a place of concealment. A witness, Constable Barry, a man of tried bravery, and who had been engaged in simitar work, calls it a trap, from which the police could neither come out to fight nor retreat without the certainty of being shot. These men had every reason to believe that the whole four outlaws were around the hut, and that they remained so all night. At daylight the constables did turnout; but not thinking it well-to leave the hut, despatched two messengers, who returned again through fear, and then Constable Armstrong went into Beechworth alone. Again, at the coroner's inquest on Sherritt's body, the jury, after full consideration, exempted the police from blame, and the late chief commissioner, knowing all the circumstances, specially exonerates them in his evidence before the commission. The superintendent of the district, who is thoroughly conversant with the character of the men, and the false position in which they had been placed, shows his sense of their conduct by appointing two of them to the Glenrowan station immediately after the Kelly capture, and at a time when a fresh outbreak was considered imminent. A few nights after an attack, or at least a feint, was made by the sympathisers, and one of these men was the first to turn out, and he displayed on that occasion uncommon daring.
The evidence does not show, as suggested by the commission, that the constables detained the women in the hut for their own protection, but to prevent danger to the women themselves, who on several occasions were nearly shot by the police rushing into the hut in the darkness. Had it been possible, it would have been better to keep the women excluded altogether; but what I would point out is, that the motive actuating these constables was not the mean one suggested by the commission. It is true that in consequence of the bullets passing through the hut, some of the police laid down on the floor, keeping the women in the same position behind them; but the men lay facing the door, with their arms ready to meet the expected attack. There is nothing necessarily mean or cowardly in this.
To be consistent, the commission should take some notice of the way in which average human beings taken at a disadvantage and by surprise are liable to panic. Take, for instance, at Faithful's Creek, on the occasion of the Euroa bank robbery. The outlaws kept some five-and-twenty men under duress, but still with many opportunities of escape, if they had kept their wits about them, from 11 am on Monday to Tuesday night. So at Jerilderie. After taking the two constables by surprise on Saturday night, they remain in possession of the town until Monday night; and at Glenrowan, from Sunday morning until next day they kept some forty persons prisoners, and this with the certainty in view of the destruction of several lives through the line being torn up. Are all of these people to be called poltroons? And yet who can say for one moment that their case was as desperate as that of the four constables in Sherritt's hut?
Senior-constable Kelly refused to fill a position of no particular danger, and in order to insult his superior officer he is recommended for promotion. There has probably never been a military campaign without accidents of a similar sort occurring, but it is not the victims of an insuperable difficulty who are punished, but those who placed them in a position of disadvantage.
It matters little or nothing to me personally how these men may be dealt with, but I have a very strong feeling that the course urged by the commission is harsh and inconsiderate, and is likely to bear bad fruit in other ways. This must be my excuse for troubling you -Yours &c,
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