[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 conduct of the four constables who were entrusted with the protecting of Aaron Sherritt was officially described by the Royal Commission as follows:— “That the constables who formed the hut party on the night of Aaron Sherritt’s murder, viz., Henry Armstrong, Wm. Duross, Thomas P. Dowling, and Robert Alexander, were guilty of disobedience of orders and gross cowardice, and that the three latter — Constable Armstrong’s resignation having been accepted — be dismissed from the service.”
The evidence of these four men was not believed by the Royal Commission, but if either of them gave similar evidence against the Kellys the evidence would have been considered sufficient for a conviction and a heavy sentence.
After taking the handcuffs off Anton Weekes, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly hastened to join Ned Kelly and Steven Hart at Glenrowan, where they arrived early on Sunday morning. Ned Kelly and Steve Hart had already arrived at Glenrowan and went down to where the rails were to be lifted from the railway line. They applied their own spanners and screw wrenches to the nuts, but could not take a budge out of them. After working for some time to unscrew the bolts they had to give up in despair. This failure necessarily caused a serious alteration in their plan of campaign. The Kellys at first intended to capture the train quietly. By breaking the line at the curve, the stationmaster would be required to stop the train at the Glenrowan station, and as the police and trackers would not have expected such an attack they would not be in close touch with their guns and ammunition. The four outlaws in armour could, if resisted, rake the train from end to end. It the train refused to stop when a danger signal was flashed, then it would go over the bank; if the driver tried to run back, a quantity of blasting powder and fuse was supplied to blow up portion of the line in the rear of the train.
Ned and Steve first bailed up a number of navvies who were camped in tents near the stationmaster’s house at the railway gates, as they suspected there were detectives amongst them. They then bailed up Mrs. Jones’ Hotel. Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly had not yet arrived from Sherritt’s. The Kellys then stuck up the stationmaster, Mr. Stanistreet, and asked him if he could stop a special train with police and blacktrackers. The Kellys were not aware that the blacktrackers had already left Benalla en route for Queensland. Mr. Stanistreet replied that he could stop any passenger train, but would not guarantee to stop a special train carrying police and blacktrackers exactly where the Kellys might want it. This reply made it clear that there was no means of capturing a trainload of police unless the line was broken. Ned then went with Steve Hart and called up the platelayers. They roused Sullivan up, and met Reardon, who got up to see what was wrong, and ordered them to pull up the line a quarter of a mile from the railway station on the Wangaratta side of Glenrowan so that the train could go no further. Ned intended that the stationmaster should flash the danger signal to stop the train near the station, and tell the police to leave their firearms and horses in the train; that it was no use fighting, as the Kellys were in steel armour and could rake the train from end to end, and everything in it; that the best thing for them (police) to do was to walk out with their hands up and their lives would be spared. The plan was to capture the leaders and hold Supt. Hare and other leaders, such as O’Connor and the blacktrackers, as prisoners of war, and then request an exchange of prisoners. The Kellys would give up Hare and O’Connor upon the release of Mrs. Kelly, Mr. Skillion, and Williamson, the three who were innocent of the charge on which they had been convicted. This plan had to be abandoned on account of the difficulty of keeping their presence at Glenrowan a secret from the police. The alternative plan was to bail up everybody who happened to be in Glenrowan on Sunday, and get the train stopped about a mile on the Benalla side of Glenrowan, opposite the Glenrowan police station. The police were to be told by Curnow, the schoolmaster, that the Kellys were in the police barracks, so that while the police rushed to surround the police station the train would have to go on to Glenrowan to unload their horses, and the Kellys would capture the train and compel the engine driver to take the train back to Benalla and take the Kellys down the line to rob the banks. The police surrounding the barracks would be without horses and would be fairly stranded while the Kellys successfully carried out their plans. Ned Kelly had arranged that their (the police) horses, which they had brought to Glenrowan, were to be driven into the hills, and thereby effectively cut off means of transport for the police at Glenrowan. The four members of the Kelly gang drank freely, and it was this free indulgence in bad liquor that was responsible for their destruction.
SUNDAY AT GLENROWAN.
It was not until Sunday afternoon about 2.30 that the police headquarters in Benalla received word that Aaron Sherritt had been shot by Joe Byrne on Saturday evening at about 8. On receipt of this information Supt. Hare sent for Supt. Sadleir, and they held a consultation as to what was the best thing to do. Supt. Hare wired to Captain Standish, who was at Melbourne headquarters, requesting that Mr. O’Connor and his “boys” be sent up that Sunday night to get on the Kellys’ tracks while they were fresh. Captain Standish got in touch with the Chief Secretary (Mr. Ramsay), who in turn wired to the Queensland Government to allow Mr. O’Connor and the backtrackers to return. The Queensland Chief Secretary agreed, and Mr. O’Connor was at the Essendon railway station with his blacktrackers and equipment at 9.45 p.m. on Sunday, 27/6/1880. The train bringing Mr. O’Connor, his wife and her sister and a number of press representatives arrived at Benalla about one o’clock on Monday morning, June 28, 1880.
The Kellys took complete possession of Glenrowan and almost everybody in the town except their special friends. There were two hotels in Glenrowan, viz., McDonald’s, on the Greta or eastern side on the railway station, and Mrs. Jones’ hotel, on the western side of the railway station. McDonald was a genuine friend of the Kellys, and therefore his place was not utilised to stick up the town. Mrs. Jones, on the other hand, was an enemy; she was regarded by them as a police spy. It was therefore necessary to take charge of her and her hotel. The men and women at first were sent to the stationmaster’s house, and then after the rails were taken up the men, women, and children were imprisoned at Jones’ hotel. The full list of prisoners totalled 62. On Sunday morning Steve Hart was much the worse for liquor, but late on in the day he sobered up. He was in charge of the stationmaster’s wife and children at the gatehouse.
The Kellys treated the prisoners well, and the day was put in with sports in the hotel yard. Ned Kelly joined in hop, step and jump with the prisoners, and used a revolver in each hand as dumbbells. Others whiled away the time card-playing. At night a room was cleared for a dance, and “all went as merry as a marriage bell.”
Between 9 and 10 p.m. Ned Kelly, Joe Byrne, Thomas Curnow, the schoolmaster, and his brother-in-law, Dave Mortimer, E. Reynolds, and R. Gribbens, went down to the police barracks to “arrest” Constable Bracken. The police barracks were situated a mile from Glenrowan towards Benalla on the main Melbourne-to-Sydney road. Ned and Joe rode and wore their armour; Reynolds, the postmaster, and Gribbens, who was staying at Reynolds’, walked. Dave Mortimer also rode. The post office was close to the barracks. When they got near the barracks Curnow, who was driving his buggy, in which were his wife and sister and little Alex. Reynolds, aged seven, the son of the postmaster, and the others were told to remain about 30 yards away. Ned dismounted and told Mortimer to do the same. Dave Mortimer was told to go up to the door of the police barracks and knock. He did as directed. Joe Byrne remained some little distance away. Knocking and calling failed to attract the constable’s attention. Ned consulted with Joe Byrne for a few seconds, and then took little Alex. Reynolds and his father to the back of the barracks. Mr. Reynolds called Constable Bracken, and after a while the latter came to the door with his double-barrelled gun in his hand ready for action. As Bracken opened the back door he was covered by Ned Kelly and ordered to throw up his hands. Bracken obeyed, and Ned took charge of Bracken’s gun, revolver, and horse. Bracken was ordered to mount the horse, which Ned, riding his own horse, led by a halter. Ned told Curnow that he may go home with his family, and he was also told to stop the train. Curnow was ordered when he stopped the train to tell the police in the train that the Kellys were in charge of the police barracks. The rest of the party, with Ned and Joe Byrne, went back to Mrs. Jones’ hotel. It was now between 11 and 12 o’clock midnight. Mrs. Jones was overheard by Ned telling one of the line repairers to be a man and escape, while she would keep Ned Kelly engaged. The railway line repairer refused to take the risk. Although there was no actual drunkenness, still the Kellys and some of their prisoners spent a good deal of money at Mrs. Jones’ on drink, most of which was considered as dangerous as “chain lightning,” and the Kellys were somewhat muddled.
The Kellys now decided to let their prisoners go home, as they themselves intended to prepare for action. Dan Kelly told their prisoners that they could now go. Just then Mrs. Jones said, “You are not to go yet; Kelly is to give you a lecture.” So the people who had got up to leave turned back into the hotel again. Mrs. Jones came in and said, “Kelly will give you all a lecture before you go.”
While in conversation with some of the men Ned was interrupted by Joe Byrne, who came in and said, “The train is coming.” The Kellys had one room reserved for themselves, in which they kept their armour. They now entered this room and hurried to dress in their armour. The prisoners could hear the rattle of steel. Mrs. Jones’ interruption for a lecture prevented the civilians from getting away.
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 207-213
navvies = plural of navvy: an unskilled labourer, especially one employed on major civil engineering projects; from navigations (canals), as many construction workers were employed on widespread canal-building schemes in 18th century Britain (thus, navigation workers came to be colloquially known as “navvies”)
[Editor: Corrected “enginedriver” to “engine driver”; “wire to Queensland” to “wired to the Queensland”.]