Chapter 12 [The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers, by J. J. Kenneally]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers (5th edition, 1946) by J. J. Kenneally.]



The Kellys arrived home from Jerilderie on February 12, 1879, and on that date a report was sent to the police that Dan Kelly was seen at Taylor’s Gap, near Beechworth. This report was not true. Other reports came in that the Kellys were at Urana, New South Wales, and at Rutherglen, in Victoria. The police were very much hampered by the numerous wild reports of the imaginary appearance of the Kellys in the most unlikely and impossible places. After the haul at Jerilderie the Victorian Government increased the reward to £4000, or £1000 for each of the outlaws. The New South Wales Government also offered £4000 reward for the outlaws, alive or dead. That made the sum total of the money on the heads of the outlaws £8000, or £2000 for each or any of them. The two Governments thought this huge sum would induce those who were in close touch with the Kellys to inform on them. It is an extraordinary fact that, notwithstanding this large reward, the Kellys lived at home on the Eleven-Mile Creek in comparative peace and security from the time of their return from Jerilderie to their destruction at Glenrowan.

Even at Glenrowan it is generally admitted that Mrs. Jones’ whisky was the major factor in the capture of the Kellys, yet, strange to say, Mrs. Jones not only received none of the reward, but she was arrested and charged with harbouring the Kellys. She was not their friend, and the Kellys knew it. As the Outlawry Act had lapsed before the alleged offence was committed, she was discharged.

The offer of the Queensland Government to send six blacktrackers, in charge of a senior constable, under Inspector O’Connor, was, after a good deal of delay, accepted. Captain Standish held the opinion that a subject race, such as the blacks, could not be superior to the white man in tracking. Now, however, he gave way, and the blacks arrived at Albury on March 6, 1879.

Mr. O’Connor gave an exhibition of the skill of his trackers to Captain Standish at Albury. The latter appeared to be fully convinced that the blacks were wonderful trackers. On March 8 Mr. O’Connor, Senior-Constable King, and his six trackers — Corporal Sambo, Troopers Hero, Johnny, Jimmy, Barney and Jack — arrived at the Benalla police barracks, which were to be their headquarters while tracking the outlaws.

The usefulness of the blacktrackers was destroyed by the absurd policy of the “Board of Officers” at Benalla, which effectively defeated Inspector O’Connor and his trackers, and crushed the ambition of those rank and file members of the force who had courage enough to encounter the Kellys to effect their arrest or destruction.

This position was made quite clear when Supt. Hare gave evidence on oath before the Royal Commission on March 31, 1881.

Question. — While you were in charge of the parties that were in pursuit of the Kellys can you say what were the instructions to the out-stations, such as Wangaratta? Could the men act on their own responsibility and go and follow any traces when they got them, or had they to remain in till they got instructions giving permission to go out? — No, their duty was to report the information they received to Benalla, where we had a “Board of Officers,” and it was referred to all of us. We considered what was best to be done, and if we so decided the men who got the information were sent off to inquire into it at once.

If the Wangaratta police were informed that the Kellys were at North Wangaratta, two miles away, the police were required to first consult the “Board of Officers” at Benalla before taking any action to capture the outlaws and earn the reward. If the “Board of Officers” decided that nothing should be done, as this Board frequently did, then the Wangaratta police could do nothing, and were expected to be contented with their “double-pay” as sufficient compensation for the ridicule and scorn heaped on them by the public.


Superintendent Hare, continuing his evidence on oath, said. — I may say that sympathisers’ dogs and dogs of relations were a great nuisance to us. . . . . The next time I went to the spot I appointed a man with a few baits in a bag, and told him to drop a bait here and there and let any animal that liked pick it up.

Question. — Baits to destroy dogs? — Yes.

Question. — Strychnine on a bit of meat? — Yes, but after that many of the dogs about the place you could not poison if you tried. They always had muzzles on day and night, and used to come into Benalla with the muzzles on. I have seen Mrs. Skillion and Kate Kelly come into Benalla with their dogs muzzled.

Question. — What you want to convey to the Commission is this: That the Kellys were so supported by the sympathisers and actually the dogs were so trained that if strange horses came the dogs would look out for the trackers and boys follow them up? — Yes, that is it.

From the above it appears that even the dogs in the Greta district had no confidence in the police.

Superintendent Hare. — I wish to state another great difficulty we had to contend with — the want of young, smart and intelligent officers. We have plenty of officers in the force, but I think there is not one of them five years under my age. The junior officers are older than the seniors on the list, many of them; they have only been appointed these last four or five years. I myself, for instance. I do not think I should have been sent out on those parties; but I had a good knowledge of the country and was a fair bushman, and there was no one to take my place. My experience of twenty-seven years was surely likely to be of more service than being stuck in the bush, where, perhaps, a young officer would have done even better than I could do, because he was younger and had more dash in him; and I should have been left behind at headquarters to assist and to arrange things there. I felt myself when I was out that I should not have been out — that my services should have been more valuable inside.

This appears to be a candid admission that Supt. Hare was not fit to lead in the Kelly hunt.

Mr. Hare was very much under the influence of Aaron Sherritt. The latter told Hare that Joe Byrne had written to him (Sherritt), asking Aaron to meet him at the Whorougly races to ride Byrne’s black mare in the hurdle race. Supt. Hare was much impressed by this letter. Aaron Sherritt had arranged with some of his intimate friends to remain on the hill some distance from the racecourse, so that if Aaron signalled his friends could show themselves, and then disappear, while Aaron pointed them out to Supt. Hare as being the outlaws.

Supt. Hare, before the Commission:—

I will tell the Commission the exact facts of the case. The letter was written in peculiar phraseology that none of us here could understand, and it had to be interpreted by Aaron Sherritt himself before we knew what it meant; but the purport of it was asking Aaron Sherritt to go over to Whorougly races — this is a small country racecourse on the Ovens — and to meet him (the writer, Joe Byrne) at a certain place, as he wanted him to ride his black mare in some hurdle race. I saw the letter, and beyond doubt in Byrne’s handwriting, because we had seen a great many of his documents. I communicated with Captain Standish on the subject, and we (the officers) decided what was to be done. We arranged that I should take three of my best riders and pluckiest men and go to the races myself. I selected three men unknown to the public in that part of the country, viz., Senior-Constable Johnson, Constable Lawless and Constable Falkner. I told them what duty they would have to perform and the information that I had received, and directed them to ride singly, as if unknown to each other, on to the racecourse. Lawless I set up with an under-and-over table and dice. Johnson was got up as a bookmaker, and Falkner was to act the “yokel” and patronise the other two — the under-and-over place and to make bets on the races. I myself drove them down on to the course in a buggy and mixed among the people, and the ordinary police in uniform attend the races. I took all these precautions for the purpose of preventing anyone knowing.

Question. — Did Sherritt know? — Of course, he was there.

Question. — The police did not arrest your three-card trick man? — No; in little country racecourses they are not so particular about little things of that sort; there is no money made.

Many of the outlaws’ greatest sympathisers were on the Whorouly racecourse, and knew the three constables — the “Bookmaker,” the “Spieler,” and the “Yokel.” There is no doubt that there was a great need of young, intelligent officers with some dash. However, Supt. Hare’s “spielers” provided the Kellys’ sympathisers with a great deal of amusement, and these sympathisers were able to assure Ned Kelly and his mates that as long as Supt. Hare was in charge of the Kelly hunt the outlaws had nothing to fear and very little inconvenience to endure. The Kellys felt very comfortable as long as the “Board of Officers” had supreme control. Ned Kelly’s opinion of his pursuers was that an inquiry would soon be held, and that Captain Standish and Supt. Hare, Inspector Brook-Smith and Supt. Sadlier would be dismissed from the police force. He said that Supt. Nicolson was the only man who would survive such inquiry. It is interesting to know that as the result of the report of the Royal Commission, held after the execution of Ned Kelly, Captain Standish and Supts. Hare and Nicolson and Inspector Brook-Smith were retired from the force. The £8000 reward offered for the capture of the Kellys had a very demoralising effect on the “Board of Officers.” The capture of the Kellys was desired by these officers, but they were very jealous as to where they themselves would come in when the reward money would be allotted. This led to very serious quarrels among the heads, and, as the Kellys were not then stealing horses and were not injuring their neighbours, there was no local demand for greater police efficiency or activity. The results of these quarrels increased the public contempt for the valour of the police.

In those days the favourite game played by school children was “the Kellys and the police,” and it happened that the Kellys invariably won.

After the arrival at Benalla of Inspector O’Connor and his party of blacktrackers a fresh start was made. The “Board of Officers” now comprised Captain Standish, Supt. Hare, Supt. Sadleir and Mr. O’Connor. These officers were now stationed at Benalla and the employment of an increased number of police spies was a special feature of the Board’s activities.

On March 11, 1879, Mr. O’Connor and his party of blacktrackers were out after the Kellys. They were accompanied by Supt. Sadleir and about six or seven Victorian police, making a party of about fourteen in all. Mr. O’Connor objected to so many being in the party. He wanted only two Victorian policemen who knew the country to accompany his party of trackers, but Captain Standish insisted on at least six or seven Victorian police going with the blacktrackers every time they went out. This large party could not move quickly, and the pack-horses required were a considerable hindrance. After being out for a week the whole party returned to the barracks on March 18. They did not come across the Kellys or their tracks, though they went up the Fern Hills and Holland branch of the Broken River. They came across some tracks which the trackers followed, but these tracks turned out to be the tracks of local stockmen in search of sheep and cattle.

The party returned on account of not being sufficiently supplied with necessaries, and one of the blacks — Corporal Sambo — had become very ill. The necessaries were food, blankets and clothing.

The next move by Mr. O’Connor and the blacks was not made till April 16, when they were accompanied by Supt. Sadleir and five or six white police. The whole party numbered sixteen men. This party went up the King River, and after being out for five days came to De Gamaro Station. Mr. O’Connor was there informed that one of the police horses taken from the police at Jerilderie had been discovered on the Black Range. The trackers were about to search for the tracks of this horse when a constable galloped up with a letter from Captain Standish, saying that if they were not on “anything good” it would be better to return. Mr. O’Connor and Supt. Sadleir conferred, and they decided to follow up the tracks of the Jerilderie police horse. They advised Captain Standish to this effect. Next day Captain Standish sent yet another message recalling the party to Benalla.

Mr. O’Connor and Supt. Sadleir both complained of the lack of interest taken by Captain Standish in the Kelly hunt.

In May, 1879, Captain Standish in official matters began to show his dislike to Mr. O’Connor, and wanted to take the blacktrackers from his command and place them in different townships — to split up the blacktrackers. Mr. O’Connor would not agree to this, and received the following wire from the Queensland Government:—

To Sub-Inspector O’Connor:— The Colonial Secretary desires that you will not separate yourself from your troopers, nor allow any to be detached from you. — C H Barron, pro Commissioner, May 13, 1879.

Shortly after this there was a breach between Captain Standish and Mr. O’Connor. The leading officers took sides. Captain Standish and Mr. Hare were on one side, and Supt. Nicolson and Mr. O’Connor were on the other side. Supt. Sadleir tactfully took a neutral position.

The Kellys also adopted a neutral attitude and successfully evaded contact with either of the two factions in the police force.

As a result of official disagreements, Mr. O’Connor and his blacktrackers were not allowed to go to the races — the Whorouly races, where Supt. Hare’s “Bookmaker,” “Spieler,” and “Yokel” were doing good business to the immense enjoyment of the friends and sympathisers of the Kellys.

J. J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers, Melbourne: J. Roy Stevens, 5th edition, 1946 [first published 1929], pages 159-166

Editor’s notes:
Whorouly = a town in north-eastern Victoria, located 35 kilometres (22 miles) south-east of Wangaratta

[Editor: Corrected “later appeared” to “latter appeared”; “six of seven” to “six or seven”. Inserted a question mark after “Did Sherritt know”.]

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