The True Story of the KellyGang of Bushrangers Chapter 17 page 1

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About the middle of April 1880, Mr Nicolson received notice that he was to be superseded in the command. Naturally this information was most mortifying to him, as he expected that his labours were shortly going to have fruition, and he felt very bitter against Captain Standish, who, he considered, had belittled his efforts and hampered him in many ways in his work, and now recommended his recall. He immediately went to Melbourne, had some warm words with the Chief Commissioner, and on urgent appeal to the Chief Secretary, Mr Ramsay, obtained an extension of time until the end of May. Matters were growing worse and worse for the outlaws. All their horses were knocked up and most of them abandoned. Their friends, disappointed by their inactivity, were grumbling, and urging that they must ‘do’ another bank in order to reward the faithful. They seldom dared to appear together, and their active aids and assistants were said to be reduced to about four, while the people willing to inform against were growing in numbers. During April the watch party had been removed from the cave near Mrs Byrne’s and there were reports that the outlaws again sometimes visited her. In February Mr Nicolson had learnt of the theft of plough shares and mould boards from several farms in the neighbourhood of Oxley, about nine miles from Wangaratta, and on May 20 he received a letter giving a startling explanation of the theft. This letter is worth quotation as an example of the terms in which the agents wrote to the police whom they addressed by fictitious names, while also using assumed signatures themselves. This agent - usually known among the police as ‘the diseased stock’ man - since this description of the outlaws was always used in correspondence with him, in his assumed character as an inspector of stock wrote as follows:

‘Greta, May 20, 1880. Mr William Charles Balfour, Benalla. Dear Sir, - Nothing definite re the diseased stock of this locality. I have made careful inspection, but did not find (sic) exact source of disease. I have seen and spoke to --- and --- on Tuesday, who were fencing near home. All others I have not been able to see. Missing portions of cultivators, described as jackets, are now being worked and fit splendidly. Tested previous to using, and proof at ten yards. I shall be in Wangaratta on Monday, before when I may learn how to treat the disease. I am perfectly satisfied that it is where last indicated, but in what region I can’t discover. A break out may be anticipated, as feed is getting very scarce. Five are now bad. I will post a note giving any bad symptoms I may perceive from Wangaratta on Monday and Tuesday at latest, and will wait on you for news how to proceed on a day which I shall then state, before end of the week. Other animals are, I fear, diseased. Yours faithfully, B C W.’

The gist of this communication is that the stolen portions of the ploughs were being converted into armour for the Kellys. That it fitted splendidly, and was proof against bullets at a range of ten yards. Also that a break out on the part of the outlaws might be very shortly expected.

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