[Editor: This is a chapter from The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers (5th edition, 1946) by J. J. Kenneally.]
FORMULATING A CAMPAIGN POLICY.
SHERRITT SENTENCED TO DEATH.
On one occasion the four outlaws were camped in a dry lagoon near the Broken River, below Benalla. Two contractors, Riggleson and Graham, were working on a big gum-tree which they had felled the previous day. The contractors were visited by two young men, one of whom was recognised as one of the outlaws. The young men chatted with the contractors for some time, and incidentally inquired if they (the contractors) had seen the police about lately. The reply was no, they had not seen any police in that quarter. The two young men were Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly. They kept looking about while conversing with the contractors. Quite suddenly Dan and Joe said, “So long,” and disappeared over the bank into the dry lagoon. A few minutes later the contractors saw four horsemen coming towards them from the direction of Benalla. They rode up to where these two men were working.
The four horsemen were now recognised as policemen. They inquired if the timber workers had seen any horsemen about. The contractors truthfully replied, “No.” Although they knew the Kellys were in the lagoon — within speaking distance — they had not seen them mounted, and although there was a reward of £8000 for their capture, the contractors, who were almost unknown to the Kellys, would not assist the police, even with the £8000 inducement. The police, after a few commonplace remarks, turned back to report at Benalla. The Kellys in their lagoon could have shot the four policemen, but instead of shooting they started off in the opposite direction mounted on four splendid horses. The contractors went down into the dry lagoon and saw that the Kellys had fed their horses on oats and chaff, but principally raw oats. This was the period when the average policemen felt convinced that the Kellys had left Victoria for one of the other colonies. On another occasion while the heads of the police department were at loggerheads the Kellys came into Benalla en route for the police paddock, and as the police officials were sampling well-matured whisky in Craven’s Hotel on one side of Bridge-street, the Kellys were also enjoying themselves in another hotel on the opposite side of the street.
They frequently discussed their plans for the future. The providore suggested that they should go on to Queensland. He would get them there one at a time. When they were safely landed in Queensland they could come together again. Dan Kelly was now about nineteen years of age and had already developed into a broad-shouldered young man. A few years retired from observation would so change his appearance and also that of Steve Hart, who was now twenty years of age, that neither of them would be easily identified. Joe Byrne was now just on twenty-three years, and with a few years in the tropical climate he, too, would not be recognised. Ned Kelly would only have to clean shave to defy the keenest eye to identify him. The Kellys took time to talk over this suggestion. They looked at it from various points of view, and finally it was turned down, on the ground that they would be strangers in a strange land. If they or any of them should be recognised they would not have the same whole-hearted support from the people in Queensland as they had where they were best known. It was better to work with the object of forcing the Victorian and New South Wales Governments to come to peace terms with them. They decided on the following programme:—
They should do some banks first. The Bank of New South Wales at Benalla was mentioned, and also the Dookie and Lake Rowan banks. The police would not expect an attack on any of the Benalla banks, and if the outlaws could so arrange their plans to draw practically the whole of the Benalla police away, the proposition would be as simple as shelling peas. After doing these banks, or at least two of them, they should try and capture the superintendents of police and take them to the ranges, and ask for an exchange of prisoners. The first thing was to secure their mother’s freedom, and also that of the others, Skillion and Williamson, who were unjustly convicted. Having secured their mother’s freedom by an exchange of prisoners, their next move would be for their own pardon. They would get some of their friends to remove to Melbourne and learn of the habits and customs of Lord Normanby, the Governor of Victoria. With this information their next move would be to kidnap the Governor, take him away to the ranges and hold him as hostage for a peace parley with the Service Ministry. These plans were well thought out, and their successful execution would have completely changed the history of Victoria and probably that of the other colonies also. The Kellys considered that if they could put their case before the Governor, while he was their prisoner, he would be converted into a sympathiser.
Everything looked favourable for an active campaign. Supt. Nicolson was to be recalled, and Supt. Hare would take his place. The Kellys knew that their friends would have very little difficulty in keeping Supt. Hare galloping about the country on a wild-goose chase. The feud that had now developed between Captain Standish and his favourite, Supt. Hare, on the one side, and Supt. Nicolson and his brother-in-law, Mr. O’Connor, on the other, would materially assist the friends and sympathisers of the Kellys in keeping the police department fully occupied in the North-Eastern district, while they (the Kellys) operated in the south and secured control of the Queen’s representative.
Joe Byrne now paid one of his numerous visits to Woolshed, and, notwithstanding that a party of police were there watching his mother’s house, he went home. His mother had some startling news for him. She said that, a few days ago, she had met Aaron Sherritt, and called him a traitor.
“What will Joe think of you now?” she said to Sherritt. She was very angry with Sherritt on account of his acting for the police against her son Joe. Sherritt said in reply, “I’ll shoot Joe Byrne, and I’ll . . . him before his body gets cold!” This threat to shoot Joe Byrne was not enough, but Sherritt used the foulest and most indecent expression he knew of as to what he would do with Joe Byrne’s dead body. Mrs. Byrne hastened away.
Joe was nettled somewhat on receipt of this information; but he quickly controlled himself, and said that he would take care Sherritt would not get the chance to shoot him and then commit an abominable outrage on his body. After getting a change of clothing and some refreshments, Joe Byrne left his mother’s house. He made for the camp, and on arrival there informed his mates of what Aaron Sherritt had said. Joe continued: “We will have a brush with the police some day and I may go out, but I do not want to leave that scoundrel behind me, to heap insults on my dear old mother. I say that Aaron Sherritt must be shot dead.”
Ned Kelly said that he never went anywhere with the intention to shoot anyone; but in a fair fight he was prepared to shoot and shoot to kill. “But in this case, Joe,” added Ned, “you may do as you like.” Dan Kelly agreed with Joe Byrne’s view. He was prepared, he said, to go with Joe and give Aaron Sherritt a dose of his own medicine, by shooting him, not only because he was a traitor, but because he was a low immoral scoundrel as well. Steve Hart took no part in discussing this sentence of death on Aaron Sherritt. It was now decided to start on their active campaign. Joe and Dan would go to Sebastopol on the following Friday night to locate Sherritt; stay all day Saturday in the neighbourhood of Sherritt’s and deal with this spy on Saturday evening. They would then hasten back and join Ned Kelly and Steve Hart at Glenrowan.
The shooting of Sherritt would create a great stir at Beechworth, and the police from Benalla would be sent up there by special train. Ned Kelly and Steve Hart would go down to Glenrowan, and with their own screw wrenches and spanners remove the rails at the curve just on the Wangaratta side of the Glenrowan cutting, a quarter of a mail from the railway station. Having removed the rails, they could then compel the stationmaster to stop the train at the platform. They then would await the arrival of Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne. The four outlaws would next get ready to capture the police train at Glenrowan railway station.
Dan Kelly was opposed to the Glenrowan visit and the lifting of the rails. He said it would be better to let the police go right on to Beechworth, while their Beechworth friends would supply numerous reports that the Kellys were not far away, and thus keep the police concentrated on Beechworth while they (the Kellys) operated at Benalla through the Bank of New South Wales.
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 186-192
[Editor: Corrected “SHERRETT SENTENCED” to “SHERRITT SENTENCED”.]