The Argus at KellyGang 20/10/1881 (3)

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Royal Commission's report- summary

A charge was made against the assistant commissioner in the course of the evidence of having despatched telegrams to the officer in charge at Mansfield , instructing him to send a search party in a direction the opposite of that which it was possible the outlaws could have taken. Of this charge Mr Nicolson is exonerated by the commission, an inspection of the original documents showing that his orders, if carried out, might have led to the Kellys being intercepted had they crossed the Strathbogie Ranges after the robbery at Euroa.

Special allusion is made in the report to two matters connected with the pursuit during the first period Mr Nicolson was in charge of the district. One is designated “the Sebastopol raid," and the other "Mr Brook Smith in pursuit." The former, which took place on the 7th November, 1878 , is described as an utter fiasco, calculated simply to excite ridicule, for which Inspector Sadleir is held directly responsible. As regards Inspector Brook Smith's pursuit of the Kellys in the Warby Ranges the report states: -

"The conduct of Inspector Brook Smith while in charge at this period cannot be too severely censured. The history of the expedition which started on the 6th November, 1878 , from Wangaratta, to search the Warby Ranges , discloses culpable negligence and incapacity on the part of Mr Smith, who was the officer in command. In the first place, he failed to take the proper steps with a view to the verification of the rumour that on the morning of the 3rd November the gang had been observed riding under the One-mile Bridge at Wangaratta, in the direction of the ranges. Two days were allowed to elapse before starting in pursuit. Then, when the unmistakable tracks of the outlaws were discovered, and Kennedy's horse found, this officer deliberately disobeyed orders by returning with his party to quarters. The following morning, from sheer laziness, he kept his men waiting from 4am till 7. The next day they had to start without him. With no other apparent object than that of retarding the pursuit he compelled his men to make unnecessary detours to follow up the tracks; he rode slowly, loitered in the rear, and altogether so conducted the affair that only one conclusion can be arrived at as regards his conduct, namely, that he was determined that his party should not overtake the outlaws. What renders his action all the more reprehensible is the fact that, upon no occasion throughout the pursuit, from the murders at the Wombat to the final affray at Glenrowan, was there presented a more favourable prospect of capturing the gang."

Sergeant Steele is also censured for not having on the morning of the 4th November, 1878, acted upon the information conveyed to him of the Kellys having been seen passing under the Wangaratta bridge, hastening in the direction of the Warby Ranges , with the horses of the murdered constables

The next branch of the report deals with the period during which Captain Standish and Superintendent Hare were in charge of the pursuit, Mr Nicolson having been relieved, owing to ill health, immediately after the Euroa Bank robbery. One of the first acts of Captain Standish on assuming the command was to enforce the provisions of the Felons Apprehension Act. His efforts in this direction are somewhat severely criticised by the commissioners, inasmuch as arrests were made without any reasonable grounds upon which to hope for a conviction. The arrests were made of a large number of persons simply upon suspicion, and there being, consequently, no evidence to go upon, remand after remand had to he applied for until the prisoners were finally discharged. The report says:-

“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 connexion 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 suppose that the conduct of affairs was mismanaged."

The gang finding that the police at this time were utterly at fault as to their whereabouts, and that they were simply dragooning the district on purposeless expeditions, they gradually gained confidence, and settled down in the ranges, where they secreted them-selves, varying their retreats as occasion arose between the neighbourhood of the King River, the Woolshed, near Sebastopol, and the Warby Ranges. In addition to a considerable accession of strength to the police of the district there were sent up at this time to guard the banks about 70 members of the Garrison Artillery, so that strong parties of police were enabled to traverse the district upon the receipt of information.

Captain Standish attended to the office business in Benalla, while field operations were entrusted to Superintendent Hare, who is admitted to have displayed considerable vigour in his conduct of affairs. His expeditions in search of the outlaws in the Warby Ranges, his formation of the hut party, his descent upon Cleary's house where the outlaws were said to be concealed, his attempt to capture the gang at the Whorouly races, are all alluded to in terms somewhat complimentarily, but Captain Standish's action at this period does not appear to have given the commissioners satisfaction. He is described as having, during the greater portion of the period he was in charge of the North-Eastern district, contented himself simply with rusticating peacefully in Benalla.

Allusion is made to the employment of Inspector O'Connor and the Queensland trackers, whose services are said to have been retained contrary to the wishes and judgment of the chief commissioner. The dissension which subsequently arose between the officers, and which originated between Mr O'Connor and one of the superintendents in charge, is mentioned as leading up to the serious estrangement between the chief commissioner and the officer of the Queensland contingent, and from the wording of the report it seems clear that the commission hold Captain Standish mainly responsible for those strained relations which admittedly existed amongst the officers connected with the pursuit of the Kelly gang.


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