Constable Armstrong’s account of the murder of Aaron Sherritt

The following information comes from the evidence of Henry Armstrong who had been one of the constables stationed with Aaron Sherritt the night he was murdered. It concerns the events leading up to the murder that may have played a role in Aaron’s death, and follows the narrative through the murder with the occasional detour. These are merely extracts from the evidence, rather than the evidence in its entirety in order to keep it as focused as possible on the subject of Aaron Sherritt.

Reading Armstrong’s evidence gives a useful insight into the factors that led directly to the tragic murder and the fallout from it. It is clear that Armstrong held some degree of resentment for Detective Ward, and was critical of Superintendent Hare. We also get some interesting information about the Sherritt hut, Ned Kelly’s intentions for what was to unfold there and the unofficial policy about Joe Byrne’s capture. It should also be noted that “Mrs. Sherritt” refers to Aaron’s wife, not his mother.

12126. You were in Sherritt’s house on the night he was shot?—Yes.

12127. Will you describe what occurred?—Perhaps I had better state the instructions I received. I was ordered from Wahgunyah to Beechworth on the 31st May 1880, to watch Byrne’s place. I got a telegram when I arrived at Beechworth to return to my station at Wahgunyah. As I was starting to the station with my papers made out, Detective Ward came up from Benalla by the two o’clock train and countermanded that order. He said I would have to go out to watch Byrne’s, with two other constables, McCall and Alexander. The instructions I received from Ward were in the Beechworth barrack yard. The late Aaron Sherritt was present. He (Ward) said, “Armstrong, you will be in charge; you will watch Byrne’s from eight o’clock at night until about five in the morning.” I asked him if I would keep a sentry, and he replied, “No; keep no sentry; keep inside.” Ward left then, and he came back again about seven o’clock at night, riding with some other man. He said, “I will go away and get your ticket to go to the quarterly assembly in the benevolent asylum—you and McCall.” I said, “I do not want to go.” This was Thursday night, on the 3rd of June. We waited until twelve o’clock at night, and finding he had not returned, we started on our own account, we three—Alexander, McCall, and I. When we arrived at Sherritt’s hut Sherritt was in bed. It was two o’clock when we arrived there. We did not watch Byrne’s that night. About the 5th, Constable Magor joined us. He remained until about the 17th. He returned to Beechworth then, along with Constable McCall. Duross and Dowling came out in their place; that left the four constables who were in the hut at the time Sherritt was murdered. We used, when we would return in the morning, to be round the kitchen fire until Sherritt and his wife got up; then we took our blankets all into the room, and, by the permission of Sherritt and his wife, Duross and I slept on the bed with our blankets. Alexander and Dowling slept on the floor. It was a weatherboard hut, with a shingle roof.

12128. Are you quite sure it was not slabs let down between uprights?—Well, I have heard so many differences of opinion about that that I can scarcely recollect, but I believe the sides were weather-board and the roof shingles. I am inclined to think that the ends were slabs.

12129. One witness gave evidence that rifle bullets were fired at the house and did not penetrate quite through, but knocked the plaster down on the inside?—I noticed that in the papers; I think there was a sort of clay between the uprights.

12130. You know that a bullet fired at a weatherboard would go through both sides of the house?—Yes, indeed.

12131. Was it a boarded floor?—Yes, all boarded. The house was our own. We paid for it out of our own private money; that has never been refunded. The owner of the hut came about 11 o’clock in the morning. I was a foreigner, and he ordered Sherritt to clear out. Sherritt would not give up possession; then the man said he would go and get the police. He was the original owner of the hut. Sherritt took forcible possession of it. I said, “For God’s sake bring the man back here; he will turn us out and we shall be discovered.” So Alexander lent Sherritt the money to pay for the house.

12132. Had Sherritt the house rented?—He took forcible possession of it; it was an abandoned house.

12133. “Jumped” it —Yes, we paid him for it sooner than be turned out. The room we were in—I think it would be eight feet and a half or nine feet wide, by about seven and a half feet long.

12134. Then there would be just room for two to sleep on the floor?—Yes, with the exception of about two feet at the foot of the bed where we had provisions stored.

12135. You advanced the money necessary to buy it, and he never repaid you?—I do not want to make any complaint of that. We gave him money for cooking, and to please him. Nothing unusual occurred until the 18th of June. We were crossing the creek on the way to Byrne’s when a lot of Chinamen came after us, and called out. Sherritt said, “They think we are going to rob their sluice-boxes.” I said, “We will point the guns, and they will think we are the Kellys.” Sherritt said, “Yes.” We pointed the guns, and they ran away.

12136. What was their object in running after you?—Sherritt said they thought we were going to rob the sluice-boxes; they had gold there. I said to Sherritt the next morning, “Go round and see what the Chinamen have to say, and tell them we are the Kellys if they say anything,” and Sherritt returned; he said, “It is all right, Harry, the Chinamen say they saw the Kellys last night. I told them not to tell, and they said, ‘No —— fear, we know Joe Byrne’”; Sherritt and I arranged not to go out in the moonlight till ten o’clock (it was moonlight then), and remain out two hours longer in the morning. The following night, Saturday the 19th June, Dowling and I were helping Sherritt to cut wood for Sunday; Mrs. Sherritt came running out, and said, “Mr. Hare and Detective Ward are here; Ward told you to go down to Byrne’s.” Sherritt started alone; that was the custom in the Nicolson cave party time for us. I went and saw Ward; he said to me, “Mr. Hare has gone down along with constables Duross and Alexander; go away and be before them, and say you had left before them, and challenge, lest the other party should fire.” I got my ammunition, and I said to Dowling, who was along with me, “This is a strange affair I think I will tell the truth.” Dowling said, “Certainly.” When we arrived at Byrne’s, Sherritt was there. After some time, I saw Mr. Hare coming with two other constables I knew him by his height. I did not challenge as Ward told me; we were too close to Byrne’s house, but I shouldered my gun by which he would know I was no enemy—that is the officer’s salute. I said, “I am Constable Armstrong.” It was the first time I had ever met Mr. Hare. He called me back in from the bush, and said, “How are you getting on?” I said, “Doing the best we can, sir.” He said, “What brought you down before this man; that man (meaning Alexander) does not know the way?” I said, “The fact of it is—I will tell the truth, no matter what is the result—Dowling and I were helping Sherritt to Cut wood; we were seen by Chinamen last night, and we had arranged not to go down till ten o’clock to-night, and remain out a little longer in the morning.” Mr. Hare said, “That man has told me a lie.” I could not say whom he referred to.

12137. Whom do you think?—I never could know what constable till I read in the press. I thought it was Duross, and I thought first it was Alexander. I said, “This has already been referred to before you.” I said, “I cannot account for his telling a lie unless it is because I am the senior man, he might think I would get into trouble for not being out earlier.” Mr. Hare said, “Do you believe in Sherritt?” I said I had every confidence in him. After some conversation, he said, “I am taking Sherritt away; what will you do in the event of the outlaws coming?” I said, “I know Steve Hart, and I could form a good opinion of the others. I will call them to bail up, and if they do not, we will all fall on them.” He said, “ Do not you think it would be as well to let them go to Byrne’s and dismount, lie down beside their horses, and shoot them as they get on.” I said, “I think that would be a very good plan, sir.” he bade me good night in the most friendly manner, and wished me success; did not abuse me by any means, as he said in the evidence. When I returned to the hut I said to Sherritt, “Mr. Hare seems a nice sort of man to speak to; it is a devil of a pity that he was told; it will look bad for us.” Then Sherritt said, “This is some of Mr. —— Jack’s work,” meaning his brother, “he is always carrying stories to Ward and Mullane, to say I am drunk at the Chinese camp, and so on; if they come always in this way. I will throw up the job.” On Sunday the 20th, Paddy Byrne stood on his grey mare in the front of the hut, looking in, we all watching him through the joints of the door, between the hoards. On Monday the 21st, about a quarter past eleven, we were camped about 600 yards from Byrne’s house, at night. It was occasionally light moonlight. Sherritt had left us at this time; he went to have a look round towards the stockyard and towards Byrne’s Gap. Dowling called out, “There is a horseman.” I said, “Look out, then.” I saw the horse, and recognized it as Byrne’s grey mare, and also Paddy Byrne by his position on the horse—the stooping position he used to ride in. We waited till about four o’clock in the morning. We could not follow the horse, as Sherritt had left us, and we would have been seen ourselves, the night was so light; we could see as far as Madden’s Gap, that is about a mile. When we returned to the hut in the morning, Sherritt was there. I said, “Aaron, it was a pity you had left us. Paddy Byrne has gone off scouting on his grey mare. I am going off to Beechworth to report and send the trackers up. Do you watch and see if you can pick up the tracks, and if the mare has returned.” I said to the other men, “Whatever information you get, bring it into Beechworth, no matter what it is.” I reported to Senior-Constable Mullane at seven o’clock in the morning, and the trackers were sent up by the afternoon train; but Ward had said Sherritt could not pick up the tracks, and they were not sent out. Dowling came in that night to say that the mare had returned. On Saturday morning, the 26th of June, Sherritt said to me in his own hut, “Armstrong, you are discovered. Denny Byrne passed in the rear of the hut, and looked in twice. They can set fire to this hut, and shoot you one by one as you run out.” I said, “We will have to chance that; they can shoot us, too, any night on the way to Byrne’s. However, I will go in to-night and tell Ward, and he can tell Mr. Hare if he likes.” About half-past six on the same night, I was lying on the bed ——

12138. Who was in the hut?—The four constables—Alexander, Duross, Dowling, and myself; Mrs. Sherritt and her mother, Mrs. Barry.

12139 And Sherritt?—Yes. Duross was having his tea in the kitchen. I was falling asleep, lying on the bed, about half asleep. I intended going in that night to tell we were discovered.

12140. Where were your horses?—We had no horses. I heard a knock at the door, and a voice said, “Sherritt, I have lost my way.” Mrs. Sherritt said, “Aaron, go out and show him.” The door was opened, and I heard a shot.

12141. He went to the door, and opened the door?—Yes. I took little notice of that shot. I thought it was Duross’s revolver had gone off accidentally. Duross came into the room. I then heard the second shot, and I made some remark to say these were the Kellys. I took my shot gun and revolver and got on my knees on the bed. The other men were in a scene of great confusion, picking up their arms as hurriedly as they could. I remained for a chance to fire out of the window.

12142. Did you see what occurred to Sherritt then?—No, I had not seen that then. I remained for some time, and I heard a voice, just for a few seconds, say, “Open the door, send those men out.” I think two constables went hurriedly to the bedroom door; I cannot recollect which constables. I was watching myself through the window.

12143. It was the custom when a knock was heard for the constables to go into the bedroom?— Yes. I remained at the window for a few seconds, and a third shot was fired. It was on the front of the house, facing the El Dorado road.

12144. Parallel with the door?—Yes. When that shot was fired I thought I had been seen from the window. Then I went up to the bedroom door, and put my gun out through the calico screen. Constable Alexander had his gun out through the screen also, pointing towards the front. I could not tell what position the other men were in. I believe one was trying to fire over the partition, and the other at the window. Byrne challenged us from the back, and said, “Come outside and surrender, or I will shoot you rotten dogs.”

19145. How did you know it was Byrne?—I did not know at that time, only Mrs. Barry called him Joe. From what I heard described afterwards I believe it was Byrne. I had never seen him in my life. I could have fired very close to Byrne that time, but I would have shot Mrs. Barry. I could hear her voice directly in the path. The two doors were open. Before this Byrne had said, “I have no down on the police,” while the women were all running in and out at this time, and an occasional shot was being fired.

12146. Whom from?—The people outside; I suppose the outlaws.

12147. There was no shot fired from inside?—No, we were armed with shot-guns, and we could not fire out through the boards. They were used by watch parties, but they were totally useless in our case, as we could not fire through the boards.

12148. Was there no rifle?—No, none. I do not blame Mullane for that. Duross blames him for our having shot-guns, but I do not. I carried my shot-gun all through, and they were used by watch parties.

12149. Had you been informed that the Kellys would likely appear in armour?—No, never anything of the kind. To have closed one of the doors, to have prevented the fire from that side of the house, would have been useless. The boards were upwards of an inch short in places, and we could have been seen distinctly through the boards of the door. Every time the women came in they were in great danger of getting shot by us. We could hear their step in the dark, and they were in danger of getting shot by us. We could not see the outlaws without appearing outside the screen; then we could have been seen and shot down from either side of the house, exposed to two fires, two doors immediately opposite, and we would have been right in the centre.

12150. You have not mentioned about Sherritt being shot?—Mrs. Sherritt said, “Aaron is shot,” after the second shot was fired.

12151. The women were going back and forwards, in and out of the house, apparently not having any fear. Had the women any assurance from the outlaws at all that they would not be interfered with, or was it at the solicitation of the outlaws that they did go out?—I cannot say. I do not think there was any treachery on the part of the women.

12152. They fearlessly rushed out, regardless of the consequences?—Yes.

12153. Do you think their danger was any less than that of the police if they had followed suit?—Mrs. Barry told me, “We knew Joe Byrne when he was a boy.” He had slept between her and Mrs. Byrne when he was a boy, and she was confident he would not shoot the women.

12154. Were they confident those were the outlaws?—I could not say—Mrs. Barry knew Joe Byrne, and she said Joe in the commencement, so I knew it was the outlaws by that.

12155. What I refer to is, that the women seemed heedless of the consequences, and you admit the danger was as great for them as for any other person to go outside the house. In that condition of things do you think if you and the other men with you had followed suit and suddenly rushed out that you might not have succeeded in capturing them or had a show for a fight?—It is my opinion, and the opinion of disinterested police at Beechworth, that had we been ready when the second shot was fired, ready under arms, we would have had a chance. I admit that, but after that I believe we would have been every one dropped.

12156. You see, as far as I understand it, I am under the impression that the women having come in at various times and gone out again, they were fearless of the consequences and they knew the desperate condition of things—could not you, under shelter of the women, have rushed out in order to have a chance?—That would have been a very cowardly thing, going under their protection. I would rather be shot myself.

12157. Could you be seen inside?—Yes.

12158. Could you see anything outside?—Not a single thing; inside there was a log fire burning, which was intended to last until morning, also a candle burning. I called out to one of the men to throw me the pillow to knock the candle out. I then said, “Never mind, the fire is showing more light; we will do nothing to attract attention.” The women were in this time. Mrs. Sherritt we told to go under the bed, to keep out of the way. Mrs. Barry came in with a very heavy step, and I said, “Oh, my God! Mrs. Barry, I was near shooting you; if you go out again you will be shot.” We put her under the bed roughly, but she did not complain. After some time, when it got dark, say about eleven o’clock, I closed the doors.

12159. That was when the fire began to get a little low?—Yes; there were no catches for the doors. I had to close them with my gun; they used always to fly back. Then I rolled some of the logs on one side from the fire, and threw what tea I could find on the fire. I shifted the body of Sherritt to one side also; the body had fallen inside. We could hear voices distinctly all night. About four o’clock there was a lot of conversation heard. Mrs. Barry said, “They are there yet.” She spoke first. I said, “It is all right; they are waiting for daylight, when it is getting light.” I had my gun through the back door, and I could see or hear nothing of them. The dog was also lying asleep. Alexander then came from the bedroom, and he said, “They are gone,” and he went to open the door. I said, “Look out from behind the tree.” I had seen a Chinaman standing at the tree. Dowling had lost his ammunition in the early part of the night.

12160. How?—He could not find it. I said, “Wait till Dowling has got his ammunition ready.”

12161. Your ammunition would fit his gun?—I had given him a little of mine the night before. When I went out Alexander went out before me, and we searched about the bush and could see nothing of them. Duross and Dowling remained in reserve; only the two of us remained at that time, thinking to drive the outlaws out, had they been about. I then prepared to start to Beechworth with information.

12162. What  time  was this?—About a quarter to seven.   After consulting with the others we agreed to  send  all  the  messengers we could find on the creek and remain on the ground ourselves.   They came down  so  suddenly  on  us  at  nightfall,  and  as  I  thought  without  horses,   I   thought   there   might   have been a possibility of their returning. I thought it would have made matters still worse had the gang shown up during my absence. I wrote out three letters addressed to the Beechworth police; there was a Chinaman passing and I gave him a letter; I gave him some money too. He returned after a while and said he was afraid to go. I then sent him to Mr. O’Donaghue, the school teacher. Mr. O’Donaghue said he would go, that he was not afraid of Joe Byrne. He remained away about an hour and a half, when he returned and said his wife would not allow him to go, besides he heard the outlaws were in the ranges to shoot any person who would go in with word I then said I would go. I went up to the Sugarloaf Range to look for one of Sherritt’s horses, but I could not find any. I started then myself on foot. When I got a mile along the road I saw Paddy Byrne on his grey mare. He came at a fast gallop to meet me. I still thought the outlaws were about. He turned off the road or I would have taken his horse. When I got near Beechworth, three miles from Beechworth, I met a man named Considine. I stopped him and took his horse from him perforce. I knocked the horse up in five minutes. On looking round in the bush I saw the last messenger we had sent, Duckett; he called out to me, and I told him to go back—he ran after me with the letter I had given him and I told him to tear it up. The horse was a very inferior animal, and it was near one o’clock when I got to Beechworth. There I reported the occurrence to Senior-Constable Mullane. The last definite information I had heard of the outlaws was when they were at— at Wangaratta. There were then six armed men in the gang — every officer in the charge of the Kelly search was aware of that. There was a fifth man, described unknown; was also armed with two revolvers. I am in a position to prove that.

19163. Can your evidence be corroborated?—I will give the names of persons who will corroborate it if necessary. It was the general impression that — — was also in the gang.

12164. Had the outlaws, the Kellys, another brother? — Yes.

12165. What name? — Jim.

19166. Where was he during the outrages? — In Wagga gaol, for horsestealing.

12167. After his release the general impression amongst the officers was that he had come over and joined the band? — It was thought so, but there was no direct proof of it.

12168. Can you give the names of men who will give direct evidence on that? — I can. I merely stated it to show that we expected more than four men, to show what deterred us from going out.

12169 You have given very important evidence that there were six in the gang; it will be better to leave out the names of those other two. Did you ever see the six together? — I did not.

12170. In conversation with the Sherritts, who intimately knew all those men, was it the impression of this man and woman, the Sherritts, that there were more than four? — Well Sherritt did not think so. I spoke to him about that, and he said the man alone he believed was a man named — —, a horsestealer from Kilmore.

19171. Did either of those four outlaws ever speak to you about two other men at anytime? — I never had any conversation with any of them but Steve Hart, and that was prior to his taking to the bush.

12172. Did you get that from Sherritt in a direct way that the six were seen together? — No; Sherritt knew nothing whatever about the outlaws after they crossed at Jerilderie.

12173. Do you know anyone who ever saw those six together? — I do.

12174. Who can give direct evidence? — Yes.

12175. Do you know more than one? — I believe I do.

12176. Will you give the names of those privately? — Yes.

12177. Are they, in your opinion, reliable men? — They are. I am not the least afraid of a new gang breaking out, and I know as much about them as any man who was in connection with the search parties.

12180. Did the officers know it? — I heard it was suggested to the officers, and it was not considered advisable to take action, fearing it might prevent or injure the search for the Kellys.

Aaron Sherritt

12189. We are now coming back to the time that you were in Sherritt’s hut; did any of the men that were with you show a desire to go out at any time to meet the Kellys? — No; I suggested a rush about nine o’clock, and asked if the men were game to follow me, and every man said “Yes,” and every man repeated the words, “I do not consider it advisable”; and I then said, “You do not consider it advisable,” and every man said, “Yes.” At the inquest held on the remains of Sherritt, I stated how every man answered “Yes,” and I omitted to state how every man said the words, “I do not consider it advisable.” At the same time had I taken the lead I have no doubt but some or all might have followed and shared my fate; but I honestly admitted I did not see my way clear to run it, because I thought every man would have dropped at the door, and by hanging out I thought there would have been the opportunity of following them after. In addition to other disadvantages, I had been treated by the doctor for inflammation of my eyes, and the inflammation was gone, but my eyes were very bad at dark nights. I was guarding the bank at Wahgunyah. I was wearing a green cover over my eyes.

12190. Then your own opinion is that you were hardly fit to undertake such a service as that? — Had I calculated on only two being there, but I hardly think there was that, I might have made an attempt at going out, or had I calculated on the gang leaving; but the night was unusually dark. I might as well have thrown up my hands.

12191. Were they behind cover? — I could not say. There was plenty of cover beside the hut. They seemed to me to be right at the door. Any man who will take cover with a Webley revolver I will undertake will drop three men out of four as they come out, a man close up to the door under cover, and you need not expose your arm; and had any one escaped in the rush and gone to the back, they would probably have gone down the shafts; there were old deep shafts.

12192. This is an old deserted diggings? — By the front there was a drain, two or three feet deep, about four yards from the front, and going on from the yard, about five yards from the hut, there was an embankment of about three feet, so any man going out by the front would have very likely fallen down had he escaped.

12193. Then your opinion is, that you could hardly have escaped with your life? — I verily believe no man would have gone out of that hut alive had all the outlaws been there.

12194. Have you decided to leave the colony? — Yes.

12195. On account of this — Something to do with that, but I have means of my own and have better prospects; I am going to try my luck in the States of America. I think any man would have done the same in the same condition.

12196. You do not think it would have been wise to have kept a watch outside at night? — Well, we got instructions to keep no watch, but with the murders of the Mansfield police no party of police should have been sent to a place, either with a search or watch party, without the permission to keep a sentry. Had it been left to ourselves I would have kept a sentry, by all means, in the shed at the back, and he could have, at least, shot Byrne and would have saved Sherritt’s life, and he would have been a useful man to the police yet. There were two sheds at the back and also a tree with two forks immediately at the door—in the front there were three trees quite close to it. Now, a shot was fired over that hut during my absence at Wahgunyah, and I never knew anything of it till after the murder. It has also turned up in evidence that Jack Sherritt sent a letter to Mr. Hare warning him of a likely surprise, and Mr. Hare never told us of that, I got no information. The reason was that Mrs. Sherritt’s brother, twelve years of age, Barry, was going to school along with Denny Byrne, brother to the outlaw, and also at the hut at the same time. I told the boy not to come back any more, and cautioned Sherritt and Mrs. Sherritt not to let him come back any more, fearing he should tell who were there.

12197. Is that how you got news of their determination? — No; but I was afraid the boy might tell Byrne.

12198. Do you think a boy twelve years of age, going to school, and seeing strange policemen in the house, is likely to be silent to his schoolfellows? — It would be possible he was too young. Denny Byrne was then about fourteen, an old-fashioned boy. He used to speak to the boy that passed the hut, passing twice a day. I have also heard that Mr. Hare received information that the outlaws were about to do something to astonish the world. I heard nothing of it, although I was twenty-one days out in the bush.

12199. You consider Mr. Hare should have allowed the men to know what rumors were going about? — I think so. I tell you candidly I did not know the outlaws were in the country at the time. No information whatever was given to the men.

12200. Did Aaron Sherritt communicate with you whether they were in the country? — He told me honestly he did not know a single thing about them. He said, “My belief is, Harry, that they are in the ranges between the Rose River and Gippsland, and there is a fifth man, unknown to the police, supplying them with provisions. They may come round here once in three months, or they may not come. I have seen or known nothing of them since they passed on the way to Jerilderie. I was talking to Joe Byrne and Steve Hart then;” and it is also my own opinion that they never trusted him after he refused to go to Jerilderie.

12201. Did he get an offer from them to be one of the party? — So he told me.

12202. The place between the Rose River and Gippsland would be up towards Mount Typo? — Yes. I wish it understood that the Sherritt family did all they could to assist the police. The old man was most attentive in carrying provisions to the cave when Aaron was getting married.

12203. Was old Sherritt a policeman? — He told me he had been in the Irish Constabulary.

12204. Did you see Jack Sherritt and the one that joined the police [Willie Sherritt]? — Yes, I saw them in the depot.

12205. Would you include those two in your statement that you believe the family did all they could to help the police? — I believe they did, although they told some petty lies. Of course Aaron chiefly boasted of his past movements, but nothing to deceive me. He used a great deal of policy with the officers; for instance, on the night of Mr. Hare’s visit he told Mr. Hare that the outlaws were in the habit of coming about after his departure. I said, “Aaron, why did you tell Mr. Hare a different story?” “Well,” he says, “I must use a little policy.” He said at the house, “I am as true as you are; I am just working for the pay I am getting for my wife; I am as true as you are. I would take some other calling if I were dismissed from the service of the police. I am getting 7s a day.”

12206. In the occupation of Sherritt’s hut, was it a matter of conversation with you and your comrades as to not keeping an outside guard? — It was immediately by the road, and we could not, during the day, keep one up; but, if I had permission, I would have kept one at night.

12207. Was it ever a matter that suggested itself to your mind, the inexpediency of not ordering an outside guard at night? — No, I cannot say it was. I said once to Sherritt, “It is a strange thing Ward gave us instructions to keep no sentry,” and Sherritt said, “Ward is a good-natured — fool; he has got no brains.” I had been so long in the bush, and round Sebastopol, I was beginning to feel no surprise, and not knowing the outlaws were in the country.

12208. That not being expressed by your comrades, did it ever strike you to report that in writing to your superior officer, you being in charge? — No.

12209. Did you ever verbally mention it? — No, I simply did what I was told, that was all.

12210. Water was not very abundant in the place; was there any water in the building at the time the attack was made? — No, only a little that was made into tea.

12211. Not a bucket? — No.

12212. Were you out with any search parties under Mr. Brook Smith? — Yes. I am independent of any officers now. My instructions, in going to the cave, from Mr. Nicolson were— “Should the outlaws go to Byrne’s, let you all fire on the tall man; that will be Ned, and then you will have so many boys to deal with. But should Byrne come alone, take him alive if possible, convey him to Beechworth by night; or if you cannot convey him by night, keep him all day until the following night. That is with a view of using him to assist in the capture of the three remaining outlaws.” I have also heard how Mr. Nicolson was called a cranky Scotchman by Sherritt. Well, I will state what Sherritt said of Mr. Nicolson to me before death. He said, “Nicolson is as cute as a fox; he would know your thinking. He would walk into the mouth of a cannon. I parted with him in Benalla, good friends, and he shook hands with me. This is his cap he gave us; I am wearing it; he gave his cap to me on leaving Benalla.” I will ask permission to make reference to Mr. Hare’s visit that time, as short as I possibly can. Mr. Hare, in his evidence, said the outlaws did not know the police were in the hut, or they would have gone there. The outlaws asked for Jim Dixon; he is a constable, then stationed at Millewa, thirty miles away. Dixon was not in the hut at the time, but he had been in the Nicolson party some four or five months before with me. Their asking for him is a sufficient guarantee that he must have been seen by some person who conveyed the news to the outlaws. He must have been seen by the outlaws; and he joined as a probationary constable, and had a special down on me. Provision came out of Beechworth in the middle of daylight; that was wrong. There are several houses in view of the hut; they would have all known that Sherritt and the wife could not have consumed all the provision there.

12213. How often did they come? — Once a week, or every ten days. Mrs. Byrne has also stated, I believe to Constable Alexander now at Cashel, that her son Denny tracked us in the sand for a hundred yards every morning to and from the hut. Straps, I am also informed, have been found; I lost a strap myself at Byrne’s. I am convinced the outlaws knew we were there.

12214. In fact they came there to shoot the lot of you? — I can state the admission Ned made to me, Ned Kelly. I escorted him to Melbourne with Inspector Baber and two constables. He said, “Was Senior-Constable Johnson in the hut when Sherritt was shot?” I said, “No; why do you ask me that, Ned?” He asked me if I tortured Sherritt. He said, “What men were there?” I said, “I am sorry to say I was.” He said, “To have gone out in you light [sic] would have been foolhardihood; you would have all been shot but one. It was not our game to shoot you all. We wanted one man to go in and draw the police away from the barracks.” There is no doubt whatever but that the outlaws knew we were there. Mr. Hare said, in reference to young Byrne’s mare, that we did all we could have done. Sherritt was not there that night. About the lie that has been spoken of, I believe it was through good nature at the time that Ward told us to tell it. Mr. Hare said one constable took him astray wilfully. Well, that constable could not find the way if we were to go there again. He dare not keep, on the track, for fear of leaving tracks, at night. I could only find it by going a mile out of the way by Byrne’s Gap. He could not find the way. Though I was seventy-five nights there, I could find the way only by going a mile away. The constable told me only for a guess he never would have found it.

12215. About the Byrnes, how did they conduct themselves? — I cannot say of my own knowledge, but Sherritt told me they had a great deal of cattle about after the Jerilderie robbery. They were poor before that. They have got land there. I do not think they have got any land fenced in from the Government. There is a great plain, a common or reserve, I fancy.

12216. Up to the time of the robberies they were poor? — Yes.

12217. Is there an old Byrne? — He is dead. There are only Mrs. Byrne, Paddy, Denny, and one girl; she was at service. This grey mare Paddy purchased at Tarrawingee for £20. Mr. Hare said he gave us a blowing up. He spoke to me in the most friendly manner, so much so that I remarked to Sherritt that “Mr. Hare seems a nice man to speak to.” In reference to this statement of Mrs. Sherritt’s, about the police concealing themselves under the bed, that is totally untrue.

12218. That was the statement in the papers? — Yes. About the outlaws coming in. I only lost sight of the door once when I was kneeling on the bed, and there were three other men looking on then.

12219. You would have shot them if they had appeared? — Yes. I was not taking any notice of the Outlawry Act having expired.

12220. You would have shot them? — Yes.

12221. Were you at a disadvantage in rushing, having to go out into that lighted room and outside? — Yes. I think two men would have shot the whole gang if they were in the same position. If I had them there I would have only asked for one man at each door. Reference was also made to my having, in the morning, asked Mrs. Sherritt for a drink of tea; but that is put the wrong way. Something like that did occur. I took Mrs. Sherritt a drink of tea in the morning. She said, “I will not drink that — Dan Kelly was outside the door and may have thrown poison in it.” I never asked Mrs. Barry to do anything.

12222. Did they seem terrifically cut up at the death of Aaron? — Yes, they were pretty much so. I have a letter from Detective Ward which is very damaging to him. I wish to speak in the plainest terms of the Sherritt family, after the statement in the papers. The  letter is as follows:—

“Melbourne, May 9th  1881.
Dear Armstrong, I saw Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Sherritt, they will tell the truth and carry you through the whole affair clear; they were going to give what they were going to say, but their father, old Barry, was present, and he said, ‘She’ — meaning Mrs. Sherritt — ‘made a statement to Mr. Gale, reporter for the Age, and that he, Gale, brought down Mr. Ingram to hear her swear to it before him.’ Mrs. Barry has written to Gale to have this statement returned and not published, and on these grounds. Barry would not allow any more written statements to be given, but I have arranged all right for you. Mr. Allen will work for me. Mr. H. has promised to have Mr. Allen called, and he will be able to corroborate Mr. Hare’s statement with reference to what Aaron said to him about you. I will see Mr. Ingram — he is in Melbourne — and ask him what was the contents of the document he had sworn to before him, and will let you know what the result is. I was at the Board today, but have not been examined. Dowling and Falkiner have been examined. I asked Dowling if he received any instructions from me on the night of the 19th of June, when Mr. Hare and I were down, he said ‘No.’ He heard me say ‘Go down to the hut to watch.’ In cross-examination he said he heard me say I told Duross to tell a lie. He could tell me whether you or himself met me first, or which of you were wheeling the barrow of wood. I will most likely be examined tomorrow, if so, will let you know and send you the particulars as to the opinion of the Board as to the four men’s conduct. Allen will make all right for you; stick to the truth. Please burn this letter and write me a short note as to how you are getting. Dowling in his cross-examination broke down and contradicted himself very often.”

This is Mrs. Sherritt’s letter; that does not correspond with the last statement made by her —

“Dear Henry, I wish to write you those few lines just to let you know that me and my mother will say all we can in favor of you and Alexander and the rest, and you may let Alexander know about it. I would not wish for anything that you and the other three would get into a trouble about that night when Aaron was shot; and my mother says she was very thankful to you and the others for not firing out that night when ye were hemmed in by the Kellys, for she and me would very likely be shot as we were out in the dark and it was better ye did not fire.”

On the 6th of May I met Detective Ward at the Assize Court, Beechworth. He spoke to me in reference to the lie he told as to Mr. Hare. I gave him no reply. He met me again at night, outside the court house, and got Senior-Constable Mullane to witness the conversation. He said, “I have seen Mrs. Sherritt and Mrs. Barry. They say you ordered Duross and Dowling out of the hut — they would not follow you — and they had their feet under the bed, crushing the women under it. Prove that like a man; study your own character; and come out scot-free.” I said, “Apart from an action the Government may take in reference to my conduct in connection with the murder of Sherritt, I do not want to remain in the police force.” I said, “I would stick at a lie independent of any person.” I left him then. On Sunday the 8th he wanted to see me at Senior-Constable Mullane’s room. I met him there. He said, “I have been out at Sebastopol. I saw Mrs. Sherritt’s father, and he said the women screened the police at Beechworth at the inquest, but they will do so no longer if the next two men gave such evidence as the Melbourne men had given,” meaning Duross and Dowling. Mullane said, “Mrs. Sherritt made a sworn declaration before Mr. Ingram in reference to the conduct of the police at Sebastopol, which has never so far been published, fearing she will be pulled for perjury.” Ward and I left together. I said, “Ward, are you and Mullane together in this enquiry”? He said, “Yes; but Mullane is too conscientious.” (Mullane is a very upright man as far as my dealings are concerned.) I said, “What do you want me to do for you, Ward?” He said, “I want you to take me out of this lie before Mr. Longmore. Mr. Hare says it is only the concoction of those two men, the statement they made.” He said “Ah! man, look at Mr. Fincham there, too.” I said to him, “I will”; but I had no notion of doing it. He said, “If you do I will win the women over again to carry you and Alexander through. I have got Alexander right. I will get a statement from Mrs. Sherritt, which will prove it to you, and forward it to you at Wahgunyah — you will have to burn it. I will send you a copy of my own evidence from Melbourne; you will have to burn that also. I will get Hare to call Mr. Pat Allen to prove that you and Alexander are good men, and the two Melbourne men are no good. That will be you, Alexander, the two women, Mr. Hare, Pat Allen, and I, against the two Melbourne men.”

12223. Duross and Dowling? — Yes. I received that letter that has been read from Ward a few days after. At the time of Ned Kelly’s trial I was sent down to board at Bolam’s hotel by Senior-Constable Mullane. I saw Mrs. Sherritt there and we spoke about the matter. She said, “Armstrong, you will have to look out for yourself, Ward told me not to take your part any more; he said he would not. He is afraid he will get into trouble for leaving the camp without a sentry, allowing the camp to be stuck up, and Aaron shot.” She further said, “What a pity but what you told me what to say at the inquest.” I said, “Oh, my God, that would never do.” Mrs. Sherritt was only fifteen years of age when her husband died. She would be only too willing to assist any person who would invite her, to serve any policeman who would give advice in her favor. She gave us every assistance at the hut, kept a watch out for us, and always told us when any person was passing. Now Sherritt ventured opinions as to officers and their mode of search. He said, “No party of men on horseback will ever catch the Kellys.” He said, “In the first place they have not got the horses, neither have they got the riders — there are a few men in the force, such as Johnson and Lawless — they could ride them on level ground, but they cannot gallop down ranges like the Kellys. If a strong party is sent in the bush the outlaws will keep out of the way. If a small party, such as four, be sent the outlaws will surprise them and shoot them down.” He said Byrne used to practise riding down steep ranges; he said they would never be caught unless from direct information — they might be surrounded in a hut or shot at crossings.

12224. But never caught in the open bush? — No; and that is my opinion also, and Mr. Sadleir remarked the same. I was in a party he sent up to Rats’ Castle; Steele was in charge of the same party. Mr. Sadleir said, “Beat round there for about a week; you may drive them down, and they may be shot at some of the crossings.” The crossings were being watched at the time, but I never expected a party of men on horseback would ever catch the Kellys. Sherritt said the men who were along with me in Sherritt’s house were the best conducted men he had ever seen in the party, “and I will ask Mr. Hare to allow them to remain here.” That is all, I think, I have to say.

12271. Here is a letter you have written to Mr. Nicolson, 31st May 1881, in which you write—“You also gave us instructions on that occasion to keep a vigilant guard or watch night and day, which order was also obeyed. A strict watch or guard would also have been kept by the men in Sherritt’s hut at the time of the murder, in accordance with your previous instructions, were it not that I had received orders from a person to the contrary.” Who was that person?—Detective Ward.

12272. “Who I suppose acted on the advice of your successor. Although no man looks on the conduct of the police at Sebastopol in a worse light than I do myself, I think those who sent us there with improper instructions, namely, to keep no watch, immediately beside Byrne’s, knowing Sherritt to be a marked man, made the first blunder and are not free from blame.” Why was he a marked man? — It was pretty well known he was in the employ of the police, and the shot fired over the hut would show he was a marked man.

12273. Your officers had not told you of that at the time?—No.

12274. Is that what you complain of—that you got no information?—Yes, I look on it as a general misfortune. It does not affect me; I will soon be where no one will know me.

12276. If you were in the same position again would you venture out under the same circumstances?—I believe I would, but I would be shot.

The Glenrowan Inn on fire at the time Father Gibney entered.

The following extracts pertain to Armstrong’s involvement at the Glenrowan Siege. He was a member of the party of reinforcements from Beechworth that arrived after Ned Kelly was captured.

12233. What time did you get to Glenrowan? — Nine o’clock.

12234. Was there much firing from the house after you arrived? — There was an occasional shot up to about one.

12235. Did you see any shots so late as one from the house? — I believe I did, but very few. There was one shot near where I was, near the tree where Constable Dwyer was with me, about one o’clock.

12236. Are you satisfied that shot came from the house? — I could not say for certain, but I am inclined to think so.

12237. Might it have come from beyond? — It might, but I am of opinion that it came from the house.12238. Some have sworn there were no shots fired after eleven? — I think there were; I think up to one.

12239. What part of the house were they fired from? — Partly from the front, towards the railway-station.12240. Did you see Mr. Sadleir about on that day? — Yes.

12241, Was he going about among the men? — He was. He went round the back, circling the out posts twice, with Mullane assisting him.

12242. Did Mr. O’Connor go about with him? — Yes, he was there at ten o’clock, when I volunteered first to go into the hotel.

12243. You did that? — Yes, the first.

12244. Where was Mr. O’Connor then? — Posted with Mr. Sadleir, on the Wangaratta side, at a tree about 60 yards from the building. He was firing at the hotel.

12245. What did Mr. Sadleir say when you volunteered? — He said,” There is plenty of time; we have all day.” He gave instructions to fire nine feet from the ground, and be very careful, and not injure the prisoners. They came out about half-past nine in the morning.

12246. Did those instructions remain in force after the prisoners came out? — No, I think not. The constables fired any place they thought the outlaws were likely to be.

12247. Is there anything you know with reference to the Glenrowan affair that has not been given to the Commission as you have seen by the evidence? — Well, I cannot say; there is a great deal of contradictory statements as far as I know.

12248. Are there any of those that you think of now that you know are wrong? — No, they were prior to my going there.

12249. There was very little done after nine o’clock? — Very little, and it is my opinion the outlaws were shot. I was close to the building when a heavy volley was fired, and I heard a great noise as if a heap of iron was thrown down, immediately after the volley. I went and told Mr. Sadleir I thought one of the outlaws was shot.

12250. Did you see the bodies? — Yes. Dwyer and I went in first at the back, after the priest — Father Gibney. I saw two bodies at the right-hand side, but I took no notice of them. I knew Hart, but I could not recognize him; they were in the little room to the right of the passage. I took very little notice because of the flames around us.

12251. They were shot together? — Yes.

12252. If Dwyer said they were one in one room and one in another —?— I could not corroborate him in that.

12253. What he said was altogether wrong? — I could not say that; he might have seen more than I did. I believe they were both lying together.

12254. Every witness but Dwyer has sworn they were in that right-hand room? — Yes, I do not think Dwyer had much time to see where they were.

12255. It might have been imagination? — I think so.

12256. You and he carried out Byrne? — Yes. I took the armour off; the armour was on Byrne where he lay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s