Sherritt and the Kelly Gang

Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), Thursday 5 August 1880, page 3


SHERRITT AND THE KELLY GANG.

We take the following concerning Ned Kelly’s removal to Beechworth and the murder of Aaron Sherritt from the Argus:—

After starting, the police struck up a casual conversation with Kelly about his gang, and one remarked that he was the only man in it. Ned replied that Byrne and Hart were plucky, trustworthy fellows. Sergeant Steele here interjected that Hart was a mere boy, and that none of them were so good shots as they had thought themselves to be. The prisoner thereupon fired up, rose from his seat, and offered to fight Sergeant Steele there and then. He was in the act of pulling off his coat when one of the constables – Mathieson, I think – interfered and pacified him. The special train consisted only of an engine, carriage, and guard’s van.

Not a soul knew at the station what the mission of this train was. The prisoner was taken into the guard’s van, where seats had been provided. His right leg being still unable to bear him, he sat most of the time. When passing Donnybrook he pointed out the spot where he first drew breath ; and when he came in sight of the Strathbogie Ranges, he exclaimed, “There they are ; shall I ever be there again?” He gazed intently at Glenrowan, said that a good man (Byrne) had fallen there, and pointed out the tree where he himself fell. During the journey Kelly argued that he was illegally in custody, as he had never seen any warrant, and that he could never be hanged. Pointing to Constable Bracken, he said, “There is a man I did not have heart to shoot;” and the time passed in conversation of that kind. With regard to the Glenrowan affair, Kelly now states that when the special train pulled up he went down to the school-house to shoot Curnow, and not finding him returned to assist his mates, but that he never re-entered Jones’s Hotel. This, however, is untrue, as it is well-known that he was wounded in front of the hotel, and passed through it before escaping, and it just illustrates how untrustworthy his statements are.

Sherritt’s hut

I have had a run down to Sebastopol to see Aaron Sherritt’s hut. It stands on the Eldorado Road, about six miles from Beechworth. Two miles on this side there is a bridge over Reed’s Creek. On the right hand side is a rocky gorge, deep and picturesque, into which the creek plunges, and forms a striking waterfall. At this bridge Sherritt used to meet Detective Ward, and give him information about the gang. Their meeting always took place at night, and before conversing with each other they were accustomed to descend into the gorge and sit down by the cascade, which, of course, drowned their voices. The road, having crossed a range, descends into a long valley, which extends westwards. In this valley is the place called the Woolshed, and further on Sebastopol. It has been pretty well torn up by diggers, and the bulk of the population now are Chinamen. Sherritt’s hut, which stands on an elevation a few yards from the main road, is now tenantless, and presents a very deserted and dilapidated appearance. Just here the valley and the road takes a turn towards the south, and two miles more brings the traveller to Mrs. Byrne’s house, which the police who were stationed at Sherritt’s house were appointed to watch. Looking southward, Mrs. Byrne’s stands on the left-hand side of the gully. On each hand are high and steep rocky ranges, but just behind the house there is a gap and a track, which were utilised by the Kelly gang. The police had been watching the house for several months, and had a very hard time of it. They slept all day at Sherritt’s house. Always at 8 o’clock at night, they started to fulfil their peculiar mission. A creek runs through the centre of the valley, and this they had to wade every night. They then picked their way through the bush, and along the side of the left-hand range, towards Mrs. Byrne’s hut, approaching it as nearly as they could without risk of being seen. They often observed men, but could never make sure that they were any of the outlaws. Just before daybreak they returned to Sherritt’s house, where they were fed and sent to bed until the following night, and as their presence was never betrayed it seems never to have occurred to them that the outlaws could pay a visit at Sherritt’s house. It was known, however, that the gang had a cave in the range facing the hut, and another on the north side of a tall hill known as the Sugar Loaf, which lies immediately to the rear of Sherritt’s place.

Aaron Sherritt

It may be here explained that Sherritt had been for about eight months employed and paid by the police as a special constable. It has been already mentioned that formerly he was a great friend of the Kelly gang. He and Byrne were once arrested by Detective Ward for cattle-stealing, and on being convicted of having stolen cattle in their possession they were sent to prison. Through the services of the same detective his assistance, after a great deal of trouble, was secured by the police. Clothes and money were given to him, and he managed to maintain an apparent friendship with the gang for a considerable time, and to give the police valuable information. He told the police that the gang were about to take a run into New South Wales before the Jerilderie outrage occurred, and the police sent warrants over the Murray. He also stated once that two men were to be sent by the gang to inspect the banks at Chiltern and Wodonga. A watch was kept, and the information was also fully verified, for the two men he had named were kept under surveillance here, traced through the bush, and were seen to enter the banks referred to. When they called at the banks they pretended to be diggers, and inquired upon what terms the managers would purchase gold. Sherritt had a paddock in which horses and cattle stolen by his friends were concealed. When he turned in favour of the police horses were placed in this paddock. They were eventually observed there by a Kelly sympathiser. The gang then soon heard of it, and feeling themselves hard pushed they resolved upon murdering Sherritt as a traitor. After carrying out this black deed they rode down the gully past Mrs. Byrne’s house, through the gap above mentioned, crossed the railway line at Everton, and were seen at the bridge over King River at about 12 o’clock the Saturday night. They then rode through the square of Oxley and on to Glenrowan via Greta. Mrs. Sherrit has sent in a claim for compensation to the Government. She does not name any sum, but submits that she is entitled to substantial compensation for the assistance her husband and she herself rendered to the police (for she had to cook their meals), for the loss of her husband, and for the loss of her house, which is rendered valueless, as no one will live in it. Kelly has by some means heard that she has made this application, for in the train today he inquired if her compensation would be paid out of the reward fund. For some time before his death, Sherritt appeared to fully realise that his life was not worth much, and he sometimes remarked to his wife that some day she would hear of his being shot. On one occasion he was ordered down to Benalla for duty on a horsestealing case, and he told his wife when he was preparing to leave that she would certainly not see him again alive, that she would hear of him being shot by the gang, and all he desired was that she should come down to Benalla and bury his remains quietly. Seeing that he was really afraid of his life, the officer in charge of the police at Benalla relieved him of his proposed new duty. Detective Ward and Sherritt indeed made things very warm for the gang in the Beechworth district, and the gang vowed vengeance against both. Ward was continually receiving letters from them in Joe Byrne’s handwriting threatening his life. On one occasion he was informed in this way that if they could lay hands on him they would place him in a hollow log and roast him alive. Another letter contained a large picture of a coffin, and a third a piece of crape. Ward, however, pursued the tenor of his way undaunted.

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