The True Story of the KellyGang of Bushrangers Chapter 16 page 5

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During September Sherritt had other interviews with Joe Byrne, who also called at his mother’s house and left £2 as payment to Sherritt for services in connection with the letter. It was during this month that Mr Nicolson abandoned the proposed search near Greta, after making preparations for it. Again in November Sherritt was in communication with the outlaws through Joe Byrne, meeting him on one occasion in the scrubby ranges near Peechelba. Byrne’s spurs were covered with blood, and he appeared to have ridden hard. He seemed to be troubled in his mind about the murder of Kennedy and hinted at another projected bank robbery, trying to persuade Sherritt to join the gang as a scout. Shortly after this the outlaws apparently grew suspicious of Sherritt, for Dan Kelly called at the Sherritts’ house and searched it with a revolver in his hand, but without finding the agent who was working in a paddock near by. On hearing of Dan Kelly’s visit he hid himself until dark, and then rode into Beechworth and told Mr Nicolson who happened to be there. Sherritt was instructed to conceal his fear of the gang and endeavour to remain on good terms with them, which he did, and soon Joe Byrne again visited him at his hut. He thanked him for his services in posting various letters and putting up in different places certain caricatures of the police, and also mentioned that he and Ned were discussing rival plans for sticking up one of the Beechworth banks. His own was to visit a bank at night when the manager was in bed, and he did not care if blood were shed over it. He looked worried and was very thin. Their horses, he said, were poor, but his own grey was still the best. A woman who was in the party suggested that he should give himself up and turn informer against the others in the hope of a pardon, but he refused, saying that people would say that he was worse than Sullivan (a former notorious murderer and bushranger who gave Queen’s evidence) and hunt him out of the colony.

On this information the police took special measures to protect the Beechworth banks, and Mr Nicolson established a watch party in a cave above Mrs Sherritt’s house. The existence of this party, he believed, was an absolute secret in the district, but Mr Hare heard of it at the Melbourne Depot from a constable who must have been in communication with one of its members, and Mr Hare spoke of it to Captain Standish, telling him that everyone knew where Mr Nicolson’s men were concealed. Accordingly, Captain Standish, who frequently visited Benalla, worried Mr Nicolson much about the matter, and finally ordered him to withdraw the cave party after it had been out some weeks unknown, so Mr Nicolson still believed, to the outlaws, and likely to surprise them in the gully at any time. Since Mr Nicolson had been in charge he was aware that the Kellys’ sisters were constantly making purchases of stores in Benalla, which he believed were for the outlaws’ use, and which were paid for by Bank of New South Wales notes with an earthy smell, suggesting that they had been buried somewhere to conceal them. It was practically certain that they were part of the proceeds of the Jerilderie robbery, but nothing could be proved, and though it was also known that Mrs Skillion and one of the Lloyds bought large quantities of ammunition at a leading Melbourne gun shop no steps were taken against them. The ammunition purchased was clearly intended for the Kellys’ use, as it was for the kind needed for the Spencer rifles taken from Kennedy’s party and another more modern make of rifle taken from the New South Wales police at Jerilderie. The train in which Lloyd and Mrs Skillion travelled was on one occasion searched, but no ammunition was found. They had either thrown it from the window at a spot which they could visit later, or left it behind to be forwarded by another train.

At the beginning of the new year Mr Nicolson had good reason to believe that the outlaws were getting near the end of their tether. Reports came to hand that they were growing thin and wearied from anxiety and fatigue. Owing to fear of the trackers they very seldom rode, but went on foot to places where their horses were brought to them when they wished to make a move. By day they concealed themselves in the long grass and rushes by the Greta swamp and prowled about at night, in their desire to avoid recognition seldom even carrying their rifles. Mr Nicolson and Mr Sadlier were well satisfied with the work of the last six months, and though there were complaints in the press from time to time about their failure to capture the Kellys, knowing what they did, they kept their own counsel. For many months, in spite of reduced police strength, the Kellys had not ventured upon outrage of any kind, and the officers saw good reason to hope that early in 1880 would come about the downfall of the gang.

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