The Last of the Bushrangers Chapter 8 page 8

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The Last of the Bushrangers by Sup Hare

(full text transcription)

Joe Byrne visits his mother?

One circumstance occurred whilst watching which I think worthy of relating. About ten o'clock at night we were all in our positions, I at the opening of the stock yard, lying under a post and rail fence with an old log fence at the bottom, as close to it as I could get, the men lying behind trees. There were sis of us in all. I heard the footsteps of a man coming down the track from the hills. The footsteps came closer and closer, until I saw the figure of a man step on to the rails just above me. At the moment I thought it was most likely to be Joe Byrne coming down to see his mother, and I was just in the act of springing up as he jumped down, when I remembered that Aaron was down at the house, and if it was one of the outlaws he would be able to give us notice. So I decided to let him pass me. He walked right through the midst of my men. Not one of them moved, because I had not moved. He went straight to the house. About two hours afterwards Aaron came to us. I waited to see if he would say if there was any one there or not. He did not. I asked him if there were any strangers at Mrs Byrne's. He said, "Yes, a man named Scotty, who lives up on the hills, came there." Somehow or other I fancy the man was Joe Byrne. I have no real reason for thinking so, but I do, and we let him slip past us. Aaron vowed it was not, but at the time Aaron was very partial towards his old school fellow, Joe Byrne, and frequently he used to ask me to give Joe a chance of his life if they came into the stock-yard, but he used to say," Of course if he fights and shoots at you, you must do the same to him."

Arrest of the Kelly Sympathizers

About this time it was deemed desirable to arrest a number of the sympathizers who were setting the police at open defiance. They were galloping round the search parties, watching the movements of the police and insulting the men. With the sanction of the Government, we decided to get together all the members of the force in charge of stations and allow them to submit the names of persons whom they knew to be Kelly sympathizers, aiding the gang by giving them information of our movements, and in other ways. The arrest was ordered of about twenty relatives and friends, and the arrests were made all over tube district on the same day. They were charged with aiding and abetting the Kelly gang, and were brought before the court and remanded for a week. No evidence was given beyond the fact that they were known to be Kelly sympathizers, but upon this statement the magistrates remanded them from time to time for seven days. They were in confinement for some two or three months, but still the Kellys were able to find ways and means of supporting themselves and keeping out of the clutches of the police. At last the police magistrate, Mr Foster, refused to remand them any longer, and discharged the whole of them. It was my painful duty, week after week, to go up to Beechworth every Friday and apply for a further remand for seven days, without being able to adduce a tittle of evidence against them. This move was a very unfortunate one. It did no good, and evoked sympathy for the men in custody. The police, I found out, had no evidence against these persons beyond the fact that they were known to be associates, relatives, and friends of the outlaws. Had the women been arrested, such as Kelly's sisters, the act might have done some good, but it was thought advisable not to interfere with the women. During the time I and several of the police were going up every Friday night to Beechworth to apply for the remand of the prisoners next morning, I had to take the constables who knew these sympathizers every week to Beechworth with me, for I never knew when the magistrates might call for some evidence, in default of which they might discharge the prisoners. As these men had been arrested we were determined to keep them as long as we could, in the hopes that the outlaws might get infuriated at all their friends being locked up on their account. but they took not the slightest notice of it.

Telegraph Operator

A few weeks before those arrested were discharged, some of our spies, or, as we used to call them, "agents," gave me information that the Kellys had procured some dynamite and intended blowing up the train out of revenge for our locking up these persons. I took no notice of the report. On one Monday night the telegraph operator at Benalla informed me that for some reason the wires would not act between Beechworth and Benalla. The break was somewhere between Wangaratta and Beechworth, and the stoppage occurred about nine o'clock. The following morning the lines were found to be working all right again. The same thing occurred on Tuesday, and on Wednesday night telegraph repairers from Melbourne were sent along the line, but could find nothing wrong. Still, each evening, exactly at nine o'clock, no messages could be sent, and sometimes the line stopped working in the middle of a message. Thursday night the same thing occurred, and yet the Line was not broken. One of the operators told me he believed the break was due to some one putting a piece of wire over the telegraph line and so making a ground connection. However, the cause was not discovered.

A risky Journey

Friday night came, and we were just starting for Beechworth by the passenger train at about eight o'clock , when the operator at Benalla sent a message to me at the platform, telling me that the wire had stopped at about seven thirty o'clock that night. I remembered then the information I had received about the line being blown up with dynamite. The officer in charge of the district and myself held a short consultation as to whether we should stop the train and inform the passengers of the danger impending. We, however, decided to get into the train and say nothing until we got to Wangaratta, when we could decide on the best course to adopt. We got into a carriage with two Roman Catholic priests who were chaffing us all the way up about not catching the Kellys. Still we said nothing about the information we received. At Wangaratta we decided to go on to Tarrawingee, as it was between that station and Beechworth the break in the line was known to be. When I got to Tarrawingee I went to the station master and told him to stop the train until I gave him permission to start. He said he had no authority to stop the train. I then took a constable to the engine driver and told the driver he was on no account to start without my permission, telling him at the same time of my suspicions. The officer in charge of the district and myself then called the telegraph operator whom we had in the carriage, and asked him if he could tell in any way whether the line was open between that station and Beechworth, as there was no telegraph office at Tarrawingee. The operator said if he could get up the pole and take the wire between his teeth he could tell. The difficulty was to get him up the pole, but we got a long spar and shoved him up, and he discovered connection was open again to Beechworth. The officer in charge of the district and myself then decided that we would let the train go on and say nothing at all to the passengers, who, during the detention at Tarrawingee, were calling out and grumbling at our keeping the train all that time. We got into the train and arrived safely at Beechworth, without the passengers knowing anything about the danger they had been in.

The feeling of alarm over the Kelly gang was so strong at this time, that had we raised an alarm the passenger traffic on the line would have been entirely stopped. I have often thought what a terrible thing it would have been if that train had been blown up, especially going over some of the steep embankments on the line to Beechworth. For months afterwards the Government placed men on watch to prevent the line being interfered with by the Kellys. I remember distinctly saying to my brother officers, "Well, whatever happens, we shall be in the thick of it, so they cannot blame us." I also remember the feeling of relief we both experienced when the train arrived safely at Beechworth. It was a terrible responsibility on our shoulders, and we had very little time to decide the best course to adopt, but fortunately the course we adopted turned out all right. few days after this occurrence I was told by one of our “agents" that arrangements had been made that night to blow up the train with dynamite, but the outlaws did not know how to use the cartridges that they had been supplied with, and they were afraid to make the attempt and fail and so resolved to defer the dynamite business to some future occasion.

Poisoned Baits

After leaving the cave party, as it was called, I went to Benalla and organized several search parties, took charge of one of them myself, and had no end of adventures. My principal place of searching was the Warby Ranges, and many a hard day have I spent in them. We were trying to keep a constant watch over the relatives of the outlaws, more especially over Kelly's sister, whose place was near Greta, within four or five miles of Glenrowan. The Warby Ranges run just to the back of Glenrowan. The constables used to watch the house to see if any one arrived or left during the night. Mrs Skillian and Katie were aware they were being watched, and nearly every night before they went to bed they would take their dogs and hunt round the bush within several hundred yards of their house. Very often the dogs discovered the police lying on the ground, and then commenced barking at them until the women came up. It appeared as if the dogs knew the police were their natural enemies. At first I used to make one of my men in the search party carry a lot of poisoned baits, and every now and then drop a bait in a likely place, but afterwards all the dogs went about day and night with muzzled on, which were only taken off when they were being fed.

Tom Lloyd

This puts me in mind of another incident in our search. Information came that the Kellys were expected on the following day, Sunday, to visit a cousin of theirs, Tom Lloyd, a man who was a notorious sympathizer, and who made no secret of it. Katie Kelly had been seen riding from her place to her cousin's with a large bundle in front of her saddle, which was supposed to be clean clothes, &c. for her brothers. I was not at Benalla when the news came in, but Aaron Sherritt happened to be there waiting for me, and Captain Standish sent out three men with Aaron to watch the place. They left Benalla in a wagon, and were driven out to within three miles of the spot where they intended watching. Lloyd lived in a house at the foot of a very high hill, in fact the mountains surrounded the house on three sides. Aaron and the three men kept off the road, and did not go within 300 yards of Lloyd's house. They took up their position in a thick clump of trees, and got there before daylight in the morning. They had a good view of Lloyd's house and the surrounding country. Shortly after daylight they saw a boy come out of the house and unfasten the dogs. They at first thought he was going to fetch the cows in to milk, but in a very short time they discovered that the boy had been sent out with the dogs to see if any one had been about the place during the night. To their horror they saw the dogs coming on their trail straight towards them, and they actually followed their footsteps into the clump of trees. One of the men jumped up, as they did not wish Aaron to be seen, and immediately the dogs began to bark. The boy ran back to the hut, and shortly afterwards the inmates came out and looked in the direction where the men had been hiding. Several shots were fired from the house, presumably as a signal, and Lloyd got an axe and struck a log of wood, which was so placed that when it was hit the sound was heard all round the hills. This also was supposed to be a signal of alarm in case the outlaws were anywhere in the neighbourhood. The men had to remain where they were all day, as it would never have done to have allowed Aaron to be seen with the police.

Off with the Old Love

Shortly after the cave party was broken up, Miss Byrne broke off her engagement with Aaron, and he was free to look out for some other girl. He suggested to me that he might try Katie Kelly, and see if she would engage herself to him. He went there, but Mrs Skillian objected to his being about the place. Katie and he got on very well, but she never mentioned her brother's name to him, nor he to her. They became very great friends. One night, when Mrs Skillian went to see a friend, she left Katie and Aaron in the house together. Aaron induced Katie to come out for a walk with him, and when Mrs Skillian returned she found them both away. She was most indignant, and went to the nearest police station, Oxley, and laid some charge against Aaron. The police constable went to the Kellys' house, and when Aaron saw him coming up to the door he bolted out the back way. The constable followed him, and fired a couple of shots, but could not overtake him. I received a report next day from the constable, who stated that to stop Aaron he had fired a shot at him. Aaron made his way to a schoolmaster's house that night, a place where the Kelly gang used to frequent. He borrowed a horse and rode into Beechworth, where he went straight to Detective Ward and reported the circumstance to him, asking the detective to wire to me to come up to see him at Beechworth, as he was afraid of being arrested by the police. This occurrence, strange to relate, never got into the press, and the constable at Oxley was very much surprised at the leniency shown towards Aaron. On one occasion Aaron came down to Benalla to see me. He was unobserved, arriving by train. I met him in the bush, on the banks of the Broken riven let dusk he went to the railway platform to await the train to Beechworth. When he was seen there, there was great excitement, as he was known to be Aaron Sherritt, the principal agent of the Kelly gang. A messenger was immediately sent to me in breathless haste to come quickly to the railway station. I pretended to be very much surprised, but, of course, Aaron did not recognize me nor I him, and I saw him leave by the train.

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