The Complete Inner History of the KellyGang and their Pursuers (50)

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Mr O’Connor and his trackers went out on two occasions with Mr Hare, but with no results. At the end of June, 1879, Mr Hare acknowledged himself badly defeated by the outlaws. His health began to fail, and he asked to be relieved.

Supt CH Nicolson was sent to Benalla early in July, 1879, and was given a free hand in controlling the pursuit of the Kellys.

On taking over the Kelly hunt, Supt CH Nicolson decided to alter the plan of campaign.  Supt Hare rushed parties of police around on any rumour, and had his men and horses worn out after their returne from some of their trips.  Mr Nicolson changed all this.  He decided to lie in wait until some really good information came to hand, and to push forward with both men and horses in the pink of condition.

The Kellys, on the other hand, had developed a great fear of the blacktrackers.  They had been pursued very closely on one or two occasions, and they were very much struck with the accuracy and speed of the blacktrackers when following them.  On one occasion they saw a party of police in search of them.  Supt Hare was in charge, but he had no blacktrackers.  The police camped for the night.  One of the constables moved some distance away from the others to camp.  The Kellys, who were not very far away, approached the police camp cautiously, and took stock of the police horses and the number of men in the camp.  The Kellys would have annihilated the whole police party if they had been even one per cent as bloodthirsty as the daily papers had represented them to be.

This was shortly after the Jerilderie bank robbery; the Kellys did not want to disturb the peace, or to give definite information where they had been putting in their time, so they left the police to rest undisturbed.

On one of their expeditions with the blacktrackers the police were in hot pursuit, but had no idea they were so close to the Kellys.

The backtrackers were working with great enthusiasm.  The Kellys knew the police were in pursuit.  After they had travelled a long journey the trackers picked up their tracks.  The Kellys pushed on as fast as they could with their jaded horses; one horse knocked up, and had to be abandoned.  They pushed forward for about a quarter of a mile, and tied the rest of the horses up.  They gave these horses the balance of the horse feed which they had carried with them.  Having secured their horses, then they prepared to meet their enemies—the police—in a desperate fight for life.  They had one great advantage—the selecting of their battleground.  They decided to double back about twenty yards from the track by which they had come and parallel to it, and take up their position behind a big log about twenty-five yards from their disabled horse.  Their position gave them a good view of the disabled horse, and the track coming to him.  Ned gave instructions how they were to pick their men in the event of the police refusing to throw up their hands.  The outlaws were now ready.

They did not have to wait long to learn their fate.  They heard the blacktrackers coming, with about eight or nine policemen following close up.  The tracker who was about a dozen yards in the lead pulled up as he came to the abandoned horse.  The police looked surprised, and the tracker exclaimed, “Kelly very soon now, you go catch ‘im.” The officer in charge said quickly, “We’ll go back to the camp, and come out to-morrow,” and already started back with all possible speed.  Before the outlaws recovered from their surprise the police had retreated a good distance, but were still within range of their (the outlaws) rifles.  “Well,” said Ned, “that beats Banagher!” The Kellys fully expected to either have the pleasure of disarming the police and taking their horses, or putting up a real good fight.  Of course, they recognised that they had a great advantage over the police, who would not know in their surprise where the challenge came from when called upon to surrender.

The police duly reported that they were on the outlaws’ tracks sure enough, but owing to the cowardice of the blacktrackers, who refused to go on any further, they were very reluctantly compelled to return to the camp.

The Kellys paid a visit to the police paddock at Benalla and examined the police horses, but they did not come up to the outlaws’ requirements, and were not taken by them.  The Kellys wanted horses with some blood and breeding; the police horses were big, upstanding crossbreds that could show neither pace, nor endurance, and were described by Ned Kelly as a lot of scrubbers.

On Mr Nicolson taking over the management of the Kelly hunt he relied almost exclusively on the spies he employed.  He had to deal with a large volume of correspondence from these spies, and decide whether or not action should be taken.  The following were a few of his most prominent spies:—“Renwick”—Lawrence Kirwan, of Carbour; “Diseased Stock”—D Kennedy, Greta; “Tommy” (Aaron Sherritt); Moses (J Wallace), a school teacher.  The latter, after drawing £180 from the Police Department, was looked upon as a genuine friend of the outlaws, to whom it was alleged he regularly communicated full particulars of the police plans and movements.  This spy wrote volumes of reports, but they contained no tangible information of the whereabouts of the Kellys.  The spies, through their reports, were very optimistic, and continually promised the early capture of the outlaws.

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