The Last of the Bushrangers Chapter 8 page 5

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The Last of the Bushrangers by Sup Hare

(full text transcription)

A Letter from Joe Byrne

A number of letters fell into our hands written by the outlaws, most of them by Joe Byrne. He was, for a bushman, rather clever with his pen, but I do not intend to disclose how we became possessed of them. However, I got one addressed to Aaron Sherritt, Sheepwash Creek, near Beechworth. This was the address of his father. I opened it and could not understand a word of it, as it was written in bush slang. I at once went for my boy Tommy, as I christened him, for Aaron was too uncommon a name to be constantly using. In sending telegrams concerning him to the members of the force who knew him, I always called him Tommy, for had I used his name, every one would have guessed who Aaron was. As I said, I sent for Tommy, and met him on a large granite rock at the back of Beechworth. I showed the letter to him. He looked at me and said "How did you get this into your possession?" I said, "Never mind, read it to me; and who is it from?" He said, "Why, from Joe Byrne, of course." He sat down and read the letter without the least difficulty. I could not make head nor tail of it. I had the original, but I don't know what became of it. The purport of the letter was to the following effect. The writer told Aaron to be at the Whorouly races, which were to take place within a week, and where to meet him, at the back of the course, ordering him not to say a word about their going to the course. He also said that he had the black mare which Aaron had ridden in a steeplechase previously, and that the mare was in good order and sure to win. I asked Aaron what he thought best to be done? He said, "You must give me a good horse to ride to the races, and I will-assist in every way possible."

Whorouly Races

I consulted with my brother officer as to what was best to be done, and we decided to send the usual mounted constables in uniform, and we then selected three good riders amongst the men, who were unknown in the district, and sent them separately to the races. They were all splendid riders and magnificently mounted. The men and horses could have been backed against the Kelly gang, man for man, at anything. We also arranged that I should ride out myself and appear to take great interest in the races. I did go out, and saw the three constables in plain clothes. One had a table and was playing the three-card trick; another had erected an Aunt Sally, and was bawling out at the top of his voice, and the third kept on his horse riding about. I was more afraid of the third man than any of the others, because he was a most excitable fellow and bold, and as good a rider as ever sat on a horse, but with no discretion. He would have faced the four outlaws if he had had the chance, and shot them one after another if it were possible. I may as well give the names of these men. They were the most dashing of all my party. The first was Tommy Lawless the second, Faulkiner; the third, Johnstone; three pluckier fellows never trod the earth. My fear was that the mounted police on duty would arrest some of my men for gambling, as they were not known to each other; but they were not interfered with.

After Lawless had been playing his three card trick for some time, he thought he would enter his horse for the steeplechase that Aaron was supposed to ride in, thinking he would thus have a better opportunity of seeing everything all round the course. At the time appointed for this race to come off, we were all looking very anxiously for Aaron to turn up on the black mare, but alas, we were disappointed. I saw him anxiously looking out in the direction he thought the mare would appear from, but there were ho signs of it. Joe Byrne's brother (Paddy) was a good deal with Aaron all that day, but the subject of Joe was not mentioned by either of them to each other. Lawless rode in the steeplechase and won it, and that was the only bit of excitement during the day.

Another Disappointment

An incident occurred during the steeplechase that I must state, although it is against the discipline of my men. Just before the steeplechase started, Johnstone saw three men riding outside the course, he took it for granted they were the outlaws. Without a moment's consideration, he galloped off alone towards them. I saw him do this, as I was wondering who the men were, and at a glance saw they could not be the Kellys. Faulkner was at the time on his horse close beside me, in the middle of a crush. He looked at me. I shook my head, and he remained where he was. I walked quietly out of the crowd, and Faulkner followed me, and we saw Johnstone returning terribly ashamed of himself. He could give me no explanation of his conduct beyond saying he could not help himself. He thought the three men were the outlaws, and he made straight for them.

Aaron Sherritt was noticed by every one riding a magnificent horse which I had purchased a few days before. He was pointed out to me by several people as Kelly and Byrne's greatest friend. I was asked why I did not have him arrested for stealing the horse he was riding, as he never could afford to come honestly by such an animal. I pleaded ignorance about either man or horse.

At night a ball was to take place at a public-house near the racecourse. We thought probably some of the gang might put in an appearance there; but there was no sign of them again, and we had to return disappointed.

In writing this narrative I have not kept exactly to the order in which the things occurred. As I have no paper to refer to, I am simply trusting to memory. After a time all the men, both in my camp and the upper, came to believe most thoroughly in Aaron's honesty of purpose, as I had done from the beginning. He often told me that I had a kind of influence over him that no other man had ever had before, and he could not tell me a lie. We kept watching as from the first. Old Mrs. Byrne began to be very doubtful of Aaron, and treated him very coolly; still the daughter believed in him, and he continued his visits to the house. The old woman was constantly abusing him, and telling him that she thought he had thrown his old friend overboard and was working for the police. Yet, notwithstanding this, the whole of Kelly's friends used to confide in him, and tell him all the movements of the police in the district, which he would repeat to me.

One night he returned, as was his custom, to where I was watching. He appeared rather anxious, and said, "Is there any news of the Kellys?" I said, "No; why do you ask ?" He replied, "What is the meaning of all the activity that has taken place among the police to-day in different parts of the district ?" I said, "What do you mean ?" He replied, "This morning at four o’clock two men left Beechworth, and went in the direction of Woolshed. Three other men started early in the morning from Eldorado, going in the direction of Woolshed, and some three or four men started in the direction of Wangaratta." I was perfectly amazed at the organization of the sympathizers thus to have ascertained the movements of the police. I said, "Tommy, tell me how you get all this information." He replied, "I could not do that, but you would be perfectly astounded if you knew how much we know of the movements of the police."

To test whether his information was correct, I inquired, and found every word he said was true; but I never was able to find out how he obtained his information. I asked him if all the agents in the district knew as much as he did. His reply was, "Oh, yes, but I am the head over all of them."

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