The Complete Inner History of the KellyGang and their Pursuers (42)

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The Victorian police were not only not sorry, but somewhat pleased, that the Kellys were so successful in locking up the New South Wales police at Jerilderie and assuming control of the town.

They recognised that, to some extent, the tables had been turned.  Anyhow, they could say that notwithstanding the boast, the New South Wales constables had suffered greater humiliation than the Victorian police.  The Kellys actually arrested the police, locked them up, and, by donning the police uniform, made themselves responsible for order in the town.

As police in charge of Jerilderie the Kellys were a huge success.  There was no rowdiness or drunkenness from Saturday night till Monday afternoon; although it may seem strange, it is nevertheless true that after the Kellys returned home they were not inconvenienced by the police, who were alleged to be pursuing them.  In fact, it seemed that the Victorian police had an intuitive understanding with the Kellys to the effect that each should give the other as wide as berth as possible.  They (the police) were afforded an excellent excuse for retiring from the pursuit, when the blacktrackers, refusing to continue to lead the police, announced that the Kellys were now close at hand.  This was bad enough, but what the police really objected to was the cowardice of the blackfellows in ordering the police to go first: “Kelly very soon now, you go catch ‘em.”

The police now decided to rely entirely on the employment of “spies.” But as the word “spy” has a nasty sound, the police spies were called “agents.” The first “spy” engaged was Aaron Sherritt.

When he was first approached by Supt Sadleir, after the “Charge of Sebastopol,” near Beechworth, Sherritt humiliated the officer by doubting his authority.  Supt Sadleir then called in Supt CH Nicolson, Assistant Chief Commissioner of Police.  Mr Nicolson endorsed the promises made to Sherritt by Supt Sadleir, but still Aaron Sherritt doubted the authority of both Sadleir and Nicolson.  Then Sherritt was introduced to Captain Standish, Chief Commissioner of Police.  The captain endorsed the promises made to Sherritt by Sadleir and Nicolson, and then Aaron Sherritt, who was at that time engaged to Joe Byrne’s sister, was appointed as a police spy.  His duties were to still pretend to be the most faithful friend of Joe Byrne and the Kellys, while he accepted service with the police to betray his intended brother-in-law for “blood-money.”

Sherritt fed the police with a constant supply of news of the outlaw’s plans.  Sherritt felt himself in very much the same position as some newspaper men.  He felt that he had to supply facts if available, but if facts were not available then fiction.  Sherritt displayed a good deal of skill in handling the police.  He did not get on too well with Supt Nicolson, whom he described as that “Crankie Scotchman.” But he completely hypmotised Supt Hare.  It was quite true that the police officials did not like this method of capturing the outlaws, but their slogan at the time appeared to be “Safety first”—that is, their own personal safety.  The Kellys were associated very little with Sherritt.  He practically had nothing to do with them.  But he had been the schoolmate and intimate acquaintance of Joe Byrne. 

While in the employ of the police Sherritt stole a horse from Mrs Byrne—Joe Byrne’s mother.  He brought the horse down to Greta and sold it to Mrs Skillion (Ned Kelly’s sister), to whom he gave the usual receipt.  Mrs Skillion soon discovered that the horse she had bought from Aaron Sherritt belonged to Mrs Byrne.  The latter reported the matter to the police, and took out a warrant for the arrest of the police spy—Aaron Sherritt.  This placed the police in an awkward predicament.  If justice were done, Sherritt would be sentenced to gaol for a term of years.  But as the police considered Sherritt’s services as a police spy were indispensable, they apparently controlled the course of justice and secured Sherritt’s discharge. 

A further example of police patronage in crime occurs in connection with John Sherritt Jr.  A sheep owner at Woolshed, near Beechworth, reported to the police that he had been losing sheep, and that he suspected some of the Sherritt family of stealing and killing them.  Constable Barry caught John Sherritt in the act of skinning a sheep, but no action was taken.  The attitude of the police authorities in this connection suggested that the police and the Sherritt family had a licence to commit crime.

This same sheep stealer was afterwards permitted, on the recommendation of Supt Hare, to join the police force.  In reference to this matter, Supt Hare, on oath before a Royal Commission, said:—

Question by Superintendent Nicolson—Do you not think that before you took Sherritt into the force you ought to have been very clear as to whom that sheep belonged that he was seen skinning by the constable?—No, I don’t think so.  My reasons are, for acting as I did, that through some means or other these men were thrown on the Government.  I do not know how, but when I returned to duty I found they were there, and I had to find the best means of disposing of them.  I made the suggestion, and Captain Standish said: “Find out everything you can.” I did, and reported to Captain Standish.  That is all I had to do in the matter. (RC16608)

Question by Superintendent Nicolson—Did you recommend their being taken into the force?—Yes, certainly, in the first instance; and when I made inquiries, I could find nothing tangible against them, and two clergymen and other old inhabitants of the district, with Mr Zincke, a member of Parliament, all gave these men (sheep stealers) an exemplary character. (RC16609)

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