When the Kellys were Cornered – Dramatic Series of Telegrams – By L.T LUXTON

When the Kellys were Cornered (1931, December 12). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 8.


When the Kellys were Cornered

Dramatic Series of Telegrams

By L.T LUXTON

Like Robin Hood and his merry men, Ned Kelly and his picturesque ruffians are gradually acquiring the rosy glow of heroes of romance. How Ned and Dan Kelly and their accomplices Joe Byrne and Steve Hart appeared to their contemporaries how much terror and hatred they inspired and with what exultation the community heard of the destruction of “those pests to society the Kelly gang” is shown in the official telegrams printed below with all the urgent intensity of messages written in the midst of stirring events. As an antidote to the hero myth which is rapidly enveloping the Kellys they are invaluable. As far as is known by officers of the Chief Secretary’s department the telegrams have not been published previously.

Briefly, the sequence of events referred to in the telegrams most of which are addressed to the Chief Secretary in the Service Ministry (Mr. Ramsay) was as follows – After having terrorised North Eastern Victoria and the border towns of New South Wales, the Kelly gang came to Glenrowan at the end of June 1880, and tore up several lengths of rails on the Melbourne-Sydney railway line in the hope of derailing a special train filled with police. The telegraph lines were cut and most of the population of Glenrowan was herded into the Glenrowan Hotel. Mr. Curnow, a school teacher eluded the outlaws, and running along the railway track he warned the crew of a pilot engine which preceded the train, of the danger. The police besieged the hotel and a long sniping fight followed. Ned Kelly sallied from the hotel clad in armour made of mould boards and he was shot in the leg and captured. Finally the hotel was fired by the police, and the three remaining outlaws who had armour also, perished.

Request for Black Trackers.

All the documents reproduced are telegrams. At an early stage in the proceedings it was intended to track the outlaws down with black trackers:

To the Commissioner of Police, Brisbane from Benalla – Confidential – Can you send me down a party of black trackers, say eight with someone accustomed to manage them? They might come by sea to Sydney when Mr. Fosbery would have them forwarded to Albury. The country in which the outlaws hide is very mountainous, in places covered with dense scrub, very rocky, with deep gullies, quite inaccessible to horses. Inform me rate of wages. Any expenses you may incur in sending them to Sydney will be at once remitted. Endeavour to send them off as quietly as possible so that it may not appear in the newspapers – F C Standish Chief Commissioner of Police.

To the Chief Commissioner of Police, Benalla, from Brisbane – The Colonial Secretary approves of my sending trackers provided they volunteer for the service, receive extra pay, and are assured of a fair share of the reward offered if their efforts lead to the capture of the gang. Our rate of pay is £3 per month. No hope of keeping matters from newspapers – D.T. Sey-mour, Commissioner of Police.

To the Commissioner of Police, Brisbane from Benalla -Confidential – Will pay your trackers any sum per day you may fix. Also find provisions in the bush. They will receive fair proportion of Government re-ward should they succeed in leading to the capture of the outlaws – Standish.

To the Chief Secretary, Victoria from Brisbane, June 28 1880, shortly before the capture of the outlaws at Glenrowan — I replied hastily to your telegram last night authorising you to detain Sub Inspector O’Connor and the native troopers, and feel bound to say that although O’Connor has never officially reported the fact, it has been stated by Queenslanders who have been in Victoria that a general impression exists both there and here that a considerable amount of jealousy is felt by the Victoria police towards our men. I can assure you that unless our troopers, with their officers, are allowed to go to the front at once there will be little use in calling upon them to do so after the white police have effaced the tracks – H. S. Palmer, Colonial Secretary of Queensland.

The Siege.

Then follows a swift succession of telegrams from Benalla, describing the siege of the Glenrowan hotel. Benalla was the nearest telegraph station to Glenrowan. The first telegram was from Superintendent Hare and it was received by Captain Standish in Melbourne it 6 o’clock on the morning of June 28. It was forwarded to the Chief Secretary (Mr. Ramsay).

Benalla, June 28, 1880. The pilot engine was stopped half a mile from Glenrowan, and we were told that the line had been pulled up by the Kellys a mile beyond Glenrowan. Train and pilot went to the Glenrowan station. I jumped out of the train and went to the stationmaster’s house. The wife told me everybody in Glenrowan had been taken into the bank by the outlaws. I immediately ordered everybody out of the train, and at the same moment Constable Bracken ran up and said that he had escaped from Jones’s public-house, and “for God’s sake go quickly or they will get away.” I ran along with two or three men following me, and I went up towards Jones, and when I was within 50 or 80 yards a shot or two was fired from the house and struck me in the arm – not seriously. I immediately got the house surrounded by all the men I had with me. I have telegraphed for men from Wangaratta, and Mr. Sadleir, with all his men from Benalla are coming up at once.
Francis Hare.

To this message Captain Standish adds :

“A subsequent telegram from Benalla tells me that Mr. Hare is shot through the left wrist but there is no cause for alarm. Mr. Hare telegraphed me to suggest a pilot engine as probably the Kellys might pull up the rails. This was a wise forethought on his part. I am anxiously awaiting further information. I fear that before the outlaws are captured or shot down if we are to have such luck this time, there will be considerable bloodshed.”

Then follows a long interval of silence, while outlaws and police snipe at one another, riddling the wooden Glenrowan Hotel with bullet holes. At half past 5 o’clock in the afternoon, H. Morris of the Police department “begs to report for the information of the Honourable Chief Secretary that I have received no telegrams regarding the outlaws since the middle of the day. Should any arise during the night I have arranged that copies shall at once be forwarded for Mr. Ramsay’s information.”

End of the Outlaws.

Later arrives the first intimation of the destruction of the outlaws.

Benalla June 28 1880, 9.25 a.m. -To Captain Standish – Engine and carriage has arrived from Glenrowan bringing news Ned Kelly shot in leg and taken alive on railway platform Glenrowan. No police shot. Other members gang still in public house. Surrounded Ned Kelly, armed with breast plate of iron and helmet. More particulars presently – H.W. Saxe Postmaster at Benalla.

9.12 Ned Kelly has three bullet wounds in leg. Dr. Nicholson does not consider any of them mortal. No police wounded. Men very plucky and game. Armour the gang have on is formed out of ploughshares. H.W. Saxe.

10.40 – All civilians left hotel. Said Joe Byrne mortally wounded. Hart and Dan Kelly still in hotel. Police keeping up incessant fire. T.R.L. James, superintendent of telegraphs.

Now a succession of messages is sent all over Australia.

To the Colonial Secretary, New South Wales: –

Am happy to inform you that outlaw Ned Kelly has been taken. The others are surrounded in a house at Glenrowan which it is hoped will be captured today – Chief Secretary, Victoria.

Chief Sectetary, Victoria – Great satisfaction in prospect of complete destruction of Kelly gang. Congratulate you – Henry Parkes, Premier, New South Wales.  

Benalla. To the Chief Secretary: -All the outlaws shot dead except Ned Kelly who will probably recover. After calling on the other three to surrender, fired the house and found that the men were already dead – probably during a volley fired when firing the building. Senior Constable Johnstone volunteered for this very dangerous duty and performed it well. A man named Martin Cherry, who had been made prisoner by the outlaws found mortally wounded but was removed before the fire reached him, and died in a few minutes. Ned Kelly is being removed to Benalla and Byrne’s body also. Other bodies which are greatly charred, were given to their friends – J. Sadleir, superintendent who took control after Superintendent Hare had been wounded.

Benalla to the Chief Secretary – Just returned from Glenrowan. Everything was over. Saw Ned Kelly who was badly wounded but not dangerously, and brought him back to Benalla. Please inform if there is any objection to his being taken to Melbourne instead of Beechworth gaol. Former preferable for many reasons. Also saw body of Joe Byrne, which was identified by Constable Mclntyre as one of the Wombat murderers. Saw charred remains of Steve Hart and Dan Kelly after the fire at the hotel was out ….. Corpses unrecognisable but no doubt that they were the other two outlaws. Will not return to town until tomorrow night, having much to do Mr. Hare in good spirits and in no danger. His wound is a severe one, the bullet having gone through the bones of his wrist. He goes down tomorrow morning to Melbourne with Dr. Charles Ryan – Standish.

Mr. Curnow’s Peril.

Benalla. Urgent and Confidential to the Chief Secretary June 29 – Mr. Curnow, head teacher Glenrowan school, has rendered invaluable services to the country. He not only saved the lives of all in special train on Sunday night, but gave Mr. Hare information which led to the almost immediate capture of Kelly and destruction of other three outlaws. Mr. Curnow’s connection with this matter has oozed out, and he lives in the midst of all the ruffians of the district, all friends of the outlaws. Mr. Curnow is anxious to leave tonight if possible, as his life is not safe. Please send someone to replace him, and authoirse him to leave at once. He will be in Benalla until 9 o’clock tonight. Please send answer addressed to me – Standish.

Benalla – To the Chief Secretary – Ned Kelly left for Melbourne this morning. Have taken steps to have him quietly removed from North Melbourne station to avoid mob which is sure to collect at Spencer street. Mr. Hare also left for Melbourne. He is going on well but rather weak from great loss of blood. He has desired me to thank you for your most kind telegrams. He will leave per evening train. – Standish.

Benalla, June 30. To John Anderson, Esq., traffic manager, Spencer Street Railway Station – It is reported that Hart’s brother and others, about 50 armed men, are at Greta intending to resist the holding of the inquests there today. A body of police armed left by this morning’s train, and also a detachment from Wangaratta. As there is likely to be bloodshed, and other special trains run, will you please send on a good operator with a sounder instrument, so that he can open an office at Glenrowan if I find it necessary. Great excitement prevails and if there are other necessary precautions you would wish me to take please advise – C.S. Stephens, stationmaster at Benalla.

At that point the telegraphic story of the crushing of the Kelly gang ceases and the myths commence.

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