Captain Standish’s Royal Commission Testimony

The following is extracted from the 1881 Royal Commission into the police force, where the newly retired Captain Standish gave an account of his involvement in the Kelly pursuit. The extracts contain information directly relevant to the Glenrowan siege and the police that were placed to protect Aaron Sherritt.

Captain Standish (evidence given to RC 23/03/81)

“On Sunday the 27th of June 1880  I left my residence about a quarter past two. A few minutes after I had left a telegram arrived from Mr. Hare. I did not return to my abode till half-past four, when I found this telegram. It  was  announcing  the murder of Sherritt by  some  of  the  outlaws.    Mr. Hare requested me to communicate with Mr. O’Connor, who had come down to  Melbourne  on his way back to Queensland with the trackers, and to request him and urge upon him the propriety of assisting the department by returning at once to Beechworth.    On the receipt of this telegram I at once sent a letter out to Mr. O’Connor, who, I heard, was staying at Essendon; sent him it by a hansom, and immediately wrote a letter to Mr. Ramsay to inform him of this.    In  my  letter I said I had written to Mr. O’Connor; that I was not certain whether he would consent to go or not, but that if he did I should either send them up by the early morning train or by a special train if necessary.    Shortly  after Mr. Ramsay received this letter. In the meantime I had been down at the telegraph office to communicate  with  Mr. Hare,  and  I  returned  to  the club and I found Mr. Ramsay just arrived, and I talked the matter over with him; and I had not seen Mr. O’Connor, and was not certain whether he would go back; but he took me up to Mr.  Gillies’  place,  which was near Mr. Ramsay’s, and got for me an order for a special train. I returned to the club with this in my pocket, and just about this time Mr. O’Connor turned up.    I  told  him, and  asked  him  if  he was willing to go up; said it was a matter of great urgency; and  he, in a rather haw-haw way, said he did not see any objection, and said he would go; and I asked when he would be ready to go, and he said he would go this evening.    I  told  him I had an order for a special train and I would get it at once.    He  asked  me  to get the train to meet him at Essendon, as his black trackers were at the late John Thomas Smith’s place. I went down to the station and ordered the special train, and he left about half-past nine or ten; I do not know the time exactly.    About twenty minutes to six the following morning, Monday the 28th of June, I was asleep in bed when I was knocked up.    A telegram was handed to me, saying that Superintendent Hare and his party would join Mr. O’Connor at Benalla. Had encountered the outlaws at Glenrowan; that Superintendent Hare in the early part of the encounter had been shot through the wrist by the first shot. It was too late. I could not have possibly caught the early train, so I communicated at once with Mr. Ramsay, and got an order for a special train to take me up about nine o’clock. An hour before I was going to start I got a telegram announcing that Ned Kelly had been taken alive. A few minutes afterwards I went down to the railway station, and there I heard that Joe Byrne had been shot dead. I started by special train, and got to Benalla about two o’clock. There was an encumbrance on the line, and the special train could not go on. I went to the hotel at Benalla to see Superintendent Hare. I sat with him a short time, and then went back to the railway station, and was detained there till four o’clock. Just before the train left a telegram came down to say that the whole thing was over; the house had been burned, and the charred remains of Steve Hart and Dan Kelly had been found in the house.    I went on the special train, and when I got there everything was over. I instructed Mr. Sadleir not to hand over the charred remains of the outlaws. It is just possible he may have misunderstood me, but I certainly did say that to him; but it seems that possibly there was a misapprehension. He allowed the friends of the outlaws to take away those two charred stumps, as you may call them. I saw Ned Kelly lying severely wounded, and the body of Byrne. I ordered Ned Kelly to be brought down to Benalla at once, where he was put in the lock-up and attended to. Byrne’s body was also brought down, and photographed there the next morning without my knowledge.  An inquest was held on Byrne and I instructed him to be buried straight off in the Benalla cemetery.  After inviting medical opinion, I found it was perfectly safe and advisable to send Ned  Kelly  down  to  Melbourne.   Having  ascertained  that there was no risk in having Ned Kelly sent down to the Melbourne gaol, I ordered him to be taken down in a special carriage by the afternoon train, I think it was. I stayed at Benalla that day, and had an interview with Mr. Curnow, the schoolmaster, to whom certainly we are indebted for saving the lives of all the police, and for putting us on the track of the Kellys. I returned to Melbourne the following day.”

The contingent of trackers sent to Victoria. L-R: Senior Constable Tom King, Queensland Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor, Troopers Jimmy, Johnny, Hero, Barney and Jack, Superintendent J. Sadlier and Standish

146. According to that, you approve of the conduct of those police who allowed the men to escape after the shooting of Sherritt, was that courageous conduct?—My firm belief is that if they had left the house every one would have been shot dead.

150. Did you approve of the burning of Mrs. Jones’s hotel, while the outlaws were there?—I was not there.

151. From what you have since, do you approve of it?—There is one matter to be considered, whether the outlaws were burnt alive.

152. I mean, taking the evidence as we have it, from what we suppose, whether they were dead or alive, would that action meet with your approval?—If I had been in charge of the operations, I should not have had the house burnt down.

153. Who was in charge at that time?—Mr. Sadleir.

154. I suppose, after all, there is a certain amount of latitude allowed to men of the force who are in danger?—Yes.

Below is Captain Standish’s explanation for the Kelly Outbreak:

181. Are you aware whether there was any other reason for the Kelly gang taking the field?—I believe these outrages would never have happened if it had not been for the shooting of Constable Fitzpatrick, and the consequent anger and indignation of the Kellys at their mother having received that severe sentence, and at their associates having received the sentence of six years.

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