[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 SPY INDUSTRY.
On 12th December, 1878, Supt. Hare arrived at Benalla to succeed Supt. C. H. Nicolson, whose health broke down under the heavy strain which the pursuit of the Kellys entailed. Supt. Hare spent the first three or four weeks in going over the correspondence that had gone through the office, so as to make himself thoroughly conversant with what had been done by Mr. C. H. Nicolson.
Towards the end of December he had a good grip of the situation. The Kellys were as elusive as the rainbow as far as the police pursuit was concerned. Captain Standish, Supt. Hare, and Supt. Sadleir, after consultation, came to the conclusion that the best way to capture the outlaws was to arrest all those who had either favoured the Kellys or who had adversely commented on the actions and attitude of the police and the Government. And although no charge could be laid against these people, who were known to be active Kelly sympathisers, the Government, on the advice of Captain Standish, Supt. Hare and Supt. Sadleir, illegally and unlawfully deprived more than twenty freeman of their liberty, and in order to do so the Government, at the suggestion of the heads of the Police Department, violated one of the most cherished principles of civilised nations — the liberty of the subject. In giving evidence on oath Supt. Francis Augustus Hare is reported by the Government shorthand writers verbatim as follows:—
“The first month or so I did not go out with the search party. I remained at Benalla, and my time was fully taken up going about the district making inquiries and getting things in order. About this time all the sympathisers were arrested by the order of Captain Standish. We all acted together, Captain Standish, myself, and Mr. Sadleir. Captain Standish was there. He was in supreme command at the time. Those sympathisers gave us a great deal of trouble. I had to go some five or six or seven times to Beechworth every Friday afternoon, and remain there all day Saturday — sometimes all Sunday, because I could not get away on Sunday — applying for a remand, and fighting for it.”
Question: “What was the nature of the annoyance the sympathisers gave which led to their arrest?”
Supt. Hare: “I will state first what we did with reference to the arrest of those men, and upon what information. All the responsible men in charge of different stations who had been a long time in Benalla — the detectives and officers — were all collected at Benalla by Captain Standish’s orders. They (the different constables and officers and detectives) all went into a room, and were asked the names of the persons in the district whom they considered to be sympathisers. I had nothing to do with it, merely listening and taking down names that fell from the mouths of the men.”
Question: “Who asked the questions?”
Supt. Hare: “The whole party, Captain Standish and Mr. Sadleir, and I myself asked some.”
Question: “Did Captain Standish ask each constable: ‘Whom do you consider a sympathiser in your district, and so on?’”
Supt. Hare: “Captain Standish, Mr. Sadleir, and myself asked that. I knew nothing about the sympathisers, but one man came forward and said, ‘There is so and so Smith.’ ‘What did he do?’ ‘Well I know he is a useful friend of the Kellys. On one occasion I saw him follow us about.’ Then we said, ‘Put his name down.’ Then the detectives knew a great many men, and they went through the same process of inquiry, and so we selected a certain number of names.”
Question: “How many?”
Supt. Hare: “I should think about twenty. The Government were aware of the action we were taking, and it was with their consent we did all this. It was necessary for us to arrange to capture all the sympathisers in one day, because if we had not done so it would have been just as much difficulty in catching them as the Kellys; so it was done confidentially, and on a certain day all the men were arrested with but two or three exceptions. There was one case of a man, of the name of Ryan, of Lake Glenrowan. There were two brothers very much alike. We picked out one brother as being a great friend of the Kellys, and the two constables who went out to arrest this man saw what they thought to be the man, but it was really his brother, and when they found their mistake they let him go, he not knowing what was up; but, thinking there was something wrong, took a short cut, and they saw him galloping up to his brother, but the constables caught him before he got there. As to the cause of the arrest, it was found these sympathisers were annoying us in every possible way, watching every move we made. One or two men, I heard before I came up, were watching the police at all times. A man named Isaiah (‘Wild’) Wright was one.”
Question: “Were there any remarks about either of them besides watching?”
Supt. Hare: “I was not there; I know this was the substance of the complaint.”
When arresting the Ryan referred to at Lake Rowan Hotel, the police at first arrested Mr. John Ryan, who had only one leg and an artificial cork leg. The police discovered that their prisoner was not the man they wanted; he was the man with the cork leg. Constable Gibson took the one-legged prisoner’s horse and rode three miles out to Joe Ryan’s farm. He came upon Joe Ryan where the latter was burning off, and said to him, “Your brother John has met with a nasty accident; his horse fell with him and he is at the Lake Rowan Hotel.” Mr. Joe Ryan hastily put the bridle on his horse, jumped on him, and, without changing his clothes, raced to the Lake Rowan Hotel. Constable Gibson kept up with him. When approaching the hotel Joe Ryan asked, “Where is my brother?” “In the bar parlour,” replied Gibson, and Joe Ryan hastily tied his horse to the fence and rushed into the bar parlour. He saw a number of policemen there. His brother was amongst them. As soon as he entered the room one of the constables laid his hand on Joe Ryan’s shoulder and said, “I arrest you as a sympathiser of the Kellys!” and Joe Ryan was handcuffed and put on a coach to be taken to Benalla. Just as the coach was about to start, one of the young men at the hotel mounted the step of the coach and wished Joe Ryan good luck. Constable Gibson cautioned the young man to come down, or he would kick his ——. Joe Ryan replied if he had the handcuffs off the police would not dare put a hand on his young friend, Mr. D. Wall.
Supt. Hare, continuing, said:—
“About five or six days before the Jerilderie robbery, Aaron Sherritt came to Benalla (that was the first time I had ever seen Aaron Sherritt), and asked to see Captain Standish. He was away from Benalla. I explained to Aaron who I was, and asked him what he wanted Captain Standish for. He said, ‘I have some important information to give him and I wish to speak to him privately.’ I told him Captain Standish would not be back that night. I led Aaron to believe I did not care to hear his news, but kept him engaged in conversation; I heard his name and knew who he was. Captain Standish informed me when he returned that he had never seen him either from the day that he spoke to him at the Sebastopol affair at Mrs. Byrne’s, which Mr. Nicolson referred to. Some time after — about an hour — Sherritt said, ‘I think I can trust you with my information’; and then he told me that on the previous afternoon, about two o’clock, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly came to his selection. This is not Mrs. Sherritt’s house; Aaron was not at that time living with his mother, he was living on his own selection; it was midway between Mrs. Sherritt’s and Mrs. Byrne’s. He said Joe Byrne came to him whilst he was working on his selection. He told me Joe Byrne jumped off his horse, and that he had always been his most intimate acquaintance; he said he came and sat down beside him; he had been his school fellow and with him in crime nearly all their lives; he said Dan Kelly was very suspicious, and would not get off his horse, and did not get near him, and he said they sat talking for a long time, and then asked him to join them, as they were going across the Murray, and intended going to Goulburn, in New South Wales, where the Kellys had a cousin. He said they urged him to go for a long time as a scout. Sherritt never told me at that time that they were going to stick up a bank. He told me he refused to go with them, and after some pressing Joe Byrne said, ‘Well, Aaron, you are perfectly right; why should you get yourself into this trouble and mix yourself up with us.’ He said they were talking to him for about half an hour, but kept looking round and watching every move that was made. I do not remember any further conversation then. I told him not to go into the town. He was a remarkable looking man. If he walked down Collins-street everybody would have stared at him — his walk, his appearance and everything else was remarkable. I said, ‘Be careful, now you are in Benalla, that you are not seen here; do not go into the town, but get some hotel near the railway station.’ I gave him £2 for coming down to give this information.”
Question: “Did he advise you to take any steps to prevent the Kellys going to New South Wales?”
Supt. Hare: “No; he merely came down to give the information to Captain Standish. He led me to believe they were going to leave the colony, and he gave me the brands of the two horses that the outlaws were riding — Joe Byrne was riding a magnificent grey horse, and the other a bay.”
The Kellys had suspected that Aaron Sherritt was a police spy, and Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly called on him and gave him the story of a visit to Goulburn, New South Wales, after they had completed their plans to go to Jerilderie, which was in a very different direction. They pressed Aaron Sherritt to join them to test how deeply he was involved with the police. The Kellys were right, and their plans were well laid. The police spy put the police on the wrong trail. While the police were making all arrangements to intercept the Kellys from going to Goulburn, they went to Jerilderie without meeting any opposition.
Supt. Hare had established a party of police in a cave to watch Mrs. Byrne’s house. The party was supposed to be unknown to anyone except to the police themselves. However, Mrs. Byrne had discovered them. She came across the police asleep in their camp, and Aaron Sherritt with them. She watched for more definite information, and was attacked by the police.
CHIVALRY OF THE POLICE.
Of course, Supt. Hare and his men were not afraid of an unarmed old woman, and apparently they were sufficiently demoralised to attack her. The age of chivalry, as far as this police party was concerned, had gone.
Let Superintendent Hare tell what he and his men did. In giving evidence on oath Superintendent F. A. Hare said: “The sentry saw the old woman (Mrs. Byrne) again, and I called the sergeant, and said, ‘We had better give her a fright.’ The sentry saw her going right over us, up the range, to peer over a rock to look down upon us. I said to Senior-Constable Mills, who was with me, ‘Go up and give the old woman a fright,’ and he went up in the direction she was going, and hid behind a rock, where he could see her. She used to go crawling along like a rabbit, and only show her head over the rocks. At last she passed the rock where the constable was hidden, but he was on one side and she on the other. He followed her, and directly she got about a yard or two he gave a tremendous yell and jumped on her. The old woman lost her presence of mind, and almost fainted, and said, ‘What? What? I am only looking for cattle,’ and then she soon recovered her assurance and got impertinent, and said, ‘I will get my son to shoot the whole lot of you’.” (If the old lady had been armed, it is certain that Senior-Constable Mills would not have dared to jump on her. It was no wonder, therefore, that the police were severely censured for their failure to get in touch with the Kellys, and the success achieved by Supt. Hare and his party in avoiding the Kelly Gang was severely commented on by some of the Melbourne papers.)
Continuing his evidence on oath, Supt. Hare said: “The duty was arduous and great responsibility was thrown upon the leader. There was a great deal of work to be done by day and night. Some of the Melbourne papers used to describe our life as a pleasant picnic. I never asked the men to do anything that I did not share the work with them myself.”
After describing the strenuousness of the police party’s life, especially in packing up, Superintendent Hare continued on oath: “Once or twice we were very near them (the Kellys), but they managed to escape us in the mountains. In sending parties out in search of the gang my idea was that we should compel them to be continually on the watch; and I did not like to give them undisputed possession of the country in which they lived by keeping my men out of it. (This evidence admits a state of war.) The outlaws knew all our movements, although some of their sympathisers were in gaol, and our party could be tracked by themselves or friends for any distance. Ned Kelly knew all our camps in the Warby Ranges; and when going to Beechworth with one of the constables of my party, he (Ned Kelly) told him of all our movements, and described the men who used to go and look for the horses at daylight. He said there were two young men who used to go out and get the horses. Each man had his own work to do in the search party, and directly I called them in the morning the two used to go and catch the horses. One man was told off to light the fire and boil the billy of tea; the others had to pack up the swags — the hardest work we had. It took a long time to pack up everything we were carrying. Ned Kelly described the men and everything we did.”
Supt. Hare’s evidence gives the impression that the police parties were as cumbersome as a travelling circus, with all the packing up that had to be done.
Sometimes the police search parties or picnic parties used to put a great deal of energy into the tracking of another police party, and persuade themselves that they were right on the Kellys.
Here is an example given in evidence by Supt. Hare:— “I said to the men with me: ‘To-morrow, instead of going down that river (the Ovens), there to where the tracks lead, let us work back to see where they come from.’ They all agreed it was a very good idea (they knew they would be much safer, even on double pay, to see where the tracks came from), because we could tell whether they were the police, the outlaws, or the time they were made if we knew where they came from. Moses (Queensland tracker) picked up the tracks next morning, and went back again and worked them back, and when he got to a certain place, where there were two big stones, he said, ‘Take off saddle here,’ and I said, ‘Where?’ and he said, ‘Here, one fellow saddle here, and one fellow there.’ And we all jumped off our horses, and we found first an empty tin, such as we used to have preserved meat in — it was of the same description as we had — and then I found another one, and found a police strap, a Government strap, and the men came to the conclusion that it was Senior-Constable Kelly’s party, because when I had removed him from the house where he had charge of I told him to go and form a camp in the mountains so that he could watch the house, and we gave them some of our provisions — he had none at the time. He came from Wangaratta without any provisions; and we recognised that these were the tins we had given him before. I subsequently made inquiries, and I found this was the very camp, and that he had gone down the tracks towards the Ovens, and had gone up that way to Wangaratta.”
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 117-124
[Editor: Added a full stop after “about twenty”. Changed a single quotation mark to a double quotation mark before “In the bar”. Added a closing bracket after “Melbourne papers.”.]