The Complete Inner History of the KellyGang and their Pursuers (62)

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The conduct of the four constables who were entrusted with the protecting of Aaron Sherritt was officially described by the Royal Commission as follows:—“That the constables who formed the hut party on the night of Aaron Sherritt’s murder— viz., Henry Armstrong, Wm Duross, Thomas P Dowling, and Robert Alexander—were guilty of disobedience of orders and gross cowardice, and that the three latter—Constable Armstrong’s resignation having been accepted—be dismissed from the service.” (RC)

The evidence of these four men was not believed by the Royal Commission, but if either of them gave similar evidence against the Kellys the evidence would have been considered sufficient for a conviction and a heavy sentence.

After taking the handcuffs off Anton Weekes Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly hastened to join Ned Kelly and Steve Hart at Glenrowan, where they arrived early on Sunday morning.  Ned Kelly and Steve Hart had already arrived at Glenrowan and went down to where the rails were to be lifted from the railway line.  They applied their own spanners and screw wrenches to the nuts, but could not take a budge out of them.  After working for some time to unscrew the bolts they had to give up in despair.  This failure necessarily caused a serious alteration in their plan of campaign.  The Kellys, at first, intended to capture the train quietly.  By breaking the lline at the curve, the stationmaster would be required to stop the train at the Glenrowan station, and as the police and trackers would not have expected such an attack they would not be in close touch with their guns and ammunition.  The four outlaws in armour could, if resisted, rake the train from end to end.  It the train refused to stop when a danger signal was flashed, then it would go over the bank; if the driver tried to run back, a quantity of blasting powder and fuse was supplied to blow up portion of the line in the rear of the train.

Ned and Steve first bailed up a number of navvies who were camped in tents near the stationmaster’s house at the railway gates, as they suspected there were detectives amongst them.  They then bailed up Mrs Jones’ hotel.  Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly had not yet arrived from Sherritt’s.  The Kellys then stuck up the stationmaster, Mr Stanistreet, and asked him if he could stop a special train with police and blacktrackers.  The Kellys were not aware that the blacktrackers had already left Benalla en route for Queensland.  Mr Stanistreet replied that he could stop any passenger train, but would not guarantee to stop a special train carrying police and blacktrackers exactly where the Kellys might want it.  This reply made it clear that there was no means of capturing a trainload of police unless the line was broken.  Ned then went with Steve Hart and called up the platelayers. 

They roused Sullivan up and met Reardon, who got up to see what was wrong, and ordered them to pull up the line a quarter of a mile from the railway station on the Wangaratta side of Glenrowan so that the train could go no further.  Ned intended that the stationmaster should flash the danger signal to stop the train near the station, and tell the police to leave their firearms and horses in the train; that it was no use fighting, as the Kellys were in steel armour and could rake the train from end to end, and everything in it; that the best thing for them (police) to do was to walk out with their hands up and their lives would be spared. 

The plan was to capture the leaders and hold Supt.  Hare and other leaders, such as O’Connor and the blacktrackers, as prisoners of war, and then request an exchange of prisoners.  The Kellys would give up Hare and O’Connor upon the release of Mrs Kelly, Mr Skillion, and Williamson, the three who were innocent of the charge on which they had been convicted.  This plan had to be abandoned on account of the difficulty of keeping their presence at Glenrowan a secret from the police.  The alternative plan was to bail up everybody who happened to be in Glenrowan on Sunday, and get the train stopped about a mile on the Benalla side of Glenrowan, opposite the Glenrowan police station.  The police were to be told by Curnow, the schoolmaster, that the Kellys were in the police barracks, so that while the police rushed to surround the police station the train would have to go on to Glenrowan to unload their horses, and the Kellys would capture the train and compel the engine driver to take the train back to Benalla and take the Kellys down the line to rob the banks.  The police surrounding the barracks would be without horses and would be fairly stranded while the Kellys successfully carried out their plans.  Ned Kelly had arranged that their (the police) horses, which they had brought to Glenrowan, were to be driven into the hills, and thereby effectively cut off means of transport for the police at Glenrowan.  The four members of the Kelly gang drank freely, and it was this free indulgence in bad liquor that was responsible for their destruction.

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