The Complete Inner History of the KellyGang and their Pursuers (46)

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The Kellys arrived home from Jerilderie on February 12, 1879, and on that date a report was sent to the police that Dan Kelly was seen at Taylor’s Gap, near Beechworth.  This report was not true.  Other reports came in that the Kellys were at Urana, New South Wales, and at Rutherglen, in Victoria.  The police were very much hampered by the numerous wild reports of the imaginary appearance of the Kellys in the most unlikely and impossible places.  After the haul at Jerilderie the Victorian Government increased the reward to £4000, or £1000 for each of the outlaws.  The New South Wales Government also offered £4000 reward for the outlaws, alive or dead.  That made the sum total of the money on the heads of the outlaws £8000, or £2000 for each or any of them.  The two Governments thought this huge sum would induce those who were in close touch with the Kellys to inform on them.  It is an extraordinary fact that, notwithstanding this large reward, the Kellys lived at home on the Eleven-Mile Creek in comparative peace and security from the time of their return from Jerilderie to their destruction at Glenrowan.

Even at Glenrowan it is generally admitted that Mrs Jones’ whisky was the major factor in the capture of the Kellys, yet, strange to say, Mrs Jones not only received none of the reward, but she was arrested and charged with harbouring the Kellys.  She was not their friend, and the Kellys knew it.  As the Outlawry Act had lapsed before the alleged offence was committed, she was discharged.

The offer of the Queensland Government to send six blacktrackers, in charge of a senior constable, under Inspector O’Connor, was, after a good deal of delay, accepted.  Captain Standish held the opinion that a subject race, such as the blacks, could not be superior to the white man in tracking.  Now, however, he gave way, and the blacks arrived at Albury on March 6, 1879.

Mr O’Connor gave an exhibition of the skill of his trackers to Captain Standish at Albury.  The latter appeared to be fully convinced that the blacks were wonderful trackers.  On March 8, Mr O’Connor, Senior-Constable King, and his six trackers—Corporal Sambo, Troopers Hero, Johnny, Jimmy, Barney and Jack—arrived at the Benalla police barracks, which were to be their headquarters while tracking the outlaws.

The usefulness of the blacktrackers was destroyed by the absurd policy of the “Board of Officers” at Benalla, which effectively defeated Inspector O’Connor and his trackers, and crushed the ambition of those rank and file members of the force who had courage enough to encounter the Kellys to effect their arrest or destruction.

This position was made quite clear when Supt.  Hare gave evidence on oath before the Royal Commission on March 31, 1881.

Question—While you were in charge of the parties that were in pursuit of the Kellys can you say what were the instructions to the out-stations, such as Wangaratta? Could the men act on their own responsibility and go and follow any traces when they got them, or had they to remain in till they got instructions giving permission to go out?—No, their duty was to report the information they received to Benalla, where we had a “Board of Officers,” and it was referred to all of us.  We considered what was best to be done, and if we so decided the men who got the information were sent off to inquire into it at once. (RC1345)

If the Wangaratta police were informed that the Kellys were at North Wangaratta, two miles away, the police were required to first consult the “Board of Officers” at Benalla before taking any action to capture the outlaws and earn the reward.  If the “Board of Officers” decided that nothing should be done, as this Board frequently did, then the Wangaratta police could do nothing, and were expected to be contented with their “double pay” as sufficient compensation for the ridicule and scorn heaped on them by the public.

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