History Sub-Inspector O'Connor and the Queensland native police The Police

O’Connor at the Reward Inquiry (6 April 1881)

Sub-inspector O’Connor’s evidence, given to the Police Commission in Melbourne, in reference to the Kelly gang, and the fight at Glenrowan.

Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Wednesday 6 April 1881, page 3


THE following is Sub-inspector O’Connor’s evidence, given to the Police Commission in Melbourne, in reference to the Kelly gang, and the fight at Glenrowan:— Stanhope O’Connor stated : I was formerly sub-superintendent of Queensland police, and at the time ******* for this inquiry had not contemplated ****** the force. I met Captain Standish on the 6th March, 1879, at Albury. I was accompanied by six black trackers and one senior-constable. I requested permission from Captain Standish to halt for a day, as one of the trackers was ill, but Captain Standish grumbled at once. Subsequently Captain Standish and I went to Benalla. On the 10th the trackers arrived from Wodonga. On the 11th March Captain Standish ordered us out for the first time. We left Benalla at 11 a.m. on the 11th, accompanied by Mr. Sadlier and five or six Victorian constables. Before leaving, I told Captain Standish that I only required two of his men, but was told that was not sufficient. Captain Standish said I was to be in charge of the party, saying playfully to Mr. Sadlier, “Although you are superintendent of police, don’t think you are over O’Connor.” Mr. Sadlier and I were on the best of terms. We returned to Benalla on the 18th March, owing to the party not being sufficiently supplied with necessaries, and one of the trackers being ill. This man died on the evening of the 18th, from congestion of the lungs. Captain Standish showed this man every kindness.

O’Connor and his “boys”.

On the 16th April, 1879, we went out again, the party consisting of about the same number of men. We had no information, and went up the King River, and on the fifth day out, viz., 21st April, arrived at Degamare station, and met —— who informed us of having found a horse answering to the description of one ridden away from Jerilderie by one of the outlaws. A constable just then came up with a letter from Captain Standish, saying that if we were not on anything good we had better return, and that Mr. Hare thought he had found something good in the ranges. We sent back to Captain Standish, saying what we had found, and that we wished to remain, but if he (Captain Standish) wished us to return, he could send to us again, and we would do so. This Captain Standish did, and we returned to Benalla on the morning of the 23rd. After Mr. Nicolson took charge the above horse was recovered, and was found to be one of the police horses taken from Jerilderie by the outlaws. Captain Standish laughed at the information about the horse before it was found. Up to about this time Captain Standish was on the best of terms with me, and often expressed the wish that I would join the Victorian force after the Kellys were taken. He showed a great want of interest in the Kelly pursuit, and this was observed by Superintendents Hare and Sadleir. In May, 1879, Captain Standish began to display dislike to me, and wanted to take my men and put them in different townships; but this I could not allow, on account of instructions from my Government (which I hand in), to the effect that the Colonial Secretary of Queensland desired that I would not allow any of my troopers to be detached from myself. I did not find any difficulty in working with Mr. Hare, who frequently remarked the insolent manner of Captain Standish to me. Aaron Sherritt was employed by Mr. Hare, who firmly believed in him. On one occasion a letter was sent to Sherritt by the outlaw Joe Byrne, asking Sherritt to meet the writer at the Whorooly races, to ride Byrne’s horse. Mr. Hare and several men went to the races, but Captain Standish would not allow myself and party to go. Hare returned, saying Sherritt could not meet the outlaws.

Captain Standish, in his evidence, says the Queensland police had a numerous baggage-train, but the fact was that he would not let us go out without many Victorian police. His statement as to our slowness is not correct, as on one occasion the police could not keep up with the trackers at the rate they were going. I, myself, have travelled forty miles and more a day after horsestealers, with the trackers, who carry nothing that could impede their progress. Sub-inspector O’Connor than said that on several occasions Mr. Sadlier remonstrated with Mr. Hare about the latter going out in search of the gang without good information. Captain Standish never went out with a party of police, but he went to Melbourne several times, but did not stay long, as he returned saying that he “was always hunted out of Melbourne” by Sir Brian O’Loghlen, the acting Chief Secretary.

When Mr. Hare returned with his last party of police he was down-hearted and in bad health, and expressed himself as being thoroughly beaten. When Mr. Nicolson arrived at Benalla he commenced to work in a totally different manner to his predecessors, going about seeing people who were likely to have information of the outlaws, &c. One day information came that the gang had been seen on the railway line near Wangaratta, but it turned out that a threshing machine in passing across the line had broken it. After this, information ceased to come in in consequence of the activity of the police, but subsequently Mr. Nicolson received information and gave orders to be in readiness to start at any moment for a certain place; and there was no doubt that if Mr. Nicolson had been allowed to remain, the outlaws would have been captured. In consequence of further information, the witness and Mr. Nicolson went to Beechworth and met Aaron Sherritt, but Sherritt begged Mr. Nicolson not to go out, as the tracks could not be followed owing to the rain. Mr. Nicolson was anxious to go, as it would be his last chance, but when it was pointed out that it was not desirable to risk the lives of certain people, he abstained from going.

Senior Constable King, Sub-Inspector O’Connor (seated), the Queensland native police (Jimmy, Jacky, Johnny, Barney and Hero), Superintendent Sadleir and Captain Standish.

On the 31st May, 1880, —— sent in word that he had seen Byrne near his mother’s house, but on the spot being visited it was found that it was only the tracks of a man collecting cattle. Aaron Sherritt, who acted as guide, said that it was Joe Byrne’s brother. Previous to this, Captain Standish had been for some time ordering and counter-ordering Mr. Nicolson in various ways, until he (witness) wondered Mr. Nicolson did not throw the whole affair over. The witness here related how Captain Standish endeavoured to get some of his trackers to remain in the colony contrary to his wishes, and contrary to the wishes of the Queensland Government.

On the 2nd June, 1880, Mr. Hare superseded Mr. Nicolson, and from the 3rd June to the 25th was working exactly as Mr. Nicolson had been doing. Mr. Hare said he did not know what to do. On the 28th June the witness left Benalla for Essendon, and got a note from Captain Standish, asking him to return with trackers. Witness did not “hum and haw,” as related by Captain Standish, but promised to start that night by a special train that was to be provided. Mr. O’Connor here described the journey up, the finding of the railway line torn up, and the fight at Glenrowan.

On arrival at Benalla, about 1 a.m., Mr. Hare and several men were met, and Mr. Hare asked when he, (witness) got Captain Standish’s note asking him to return, and when told at what time, said, “I never saw such a fellow as Standish. I told him to send for you hours ago.” Mr. Hare was shot after being only about five minutes on the field. The witness denied Mr. Hare’s statement that he (Mr. Hare) called on the men to cease firing when the presence of women in the hotel was discovered. Mr. Hare had, in fact, left the field, and it was the witness who, hearing the cries of the women, gave orders to cease firing, and who called on the females to come out of the hotel. Mr. Hare had said that he had loaded and fired his gun several times after he was wounded, but the witness gave this the most emphatic denial, and would, if necessary, bring witnesses to prove the untruthfulness of Mr. Hare’s statement. The witness had complete control of the front of the hut, and the outlaws could not have escaped by that way. Byrne, the outlaw, was shot while he was drinking a glass of grog to the toast of “Many, more years in the bush with the Kelly gang.” After the witness knew that there were prisoners in the hotel, he maintained that he did not allow indiscriminate firing on the part of the men under him. When Captain Standish arrived, when the fight was over, he never took the slightest notice of the witness until the witness held out his hand, and then he only touched the witness’s hand with the tip of his fingers. To the best of the witness’s recollection, Captain Standish gave Mr. Sadleir orders to deliver the burnt bodies of the outlaws to their friends. When Kate Kelly was spoken to, she said to the police, referring to the outlaws, “Surrender to you, you —— dogs ; I would sooner see them burnt alive.”

After the fight, Mr. Hare said to witness, ”Let bygones be bygones,” and the witness took his hand at once. Witness continued : When he (witness) saw the account of the fight in a newspaper, he was surprised to see that he was not mentioned at all, and mentioned the matter to Mr. Hare, who said, “Oh, see the Argus; the Argus will put you all right.” When the witness met his friends, they wanted to know what he had been doing during the fight, and why he was not in the first rush at the hotel, as his presence had not been noticed by the Press. When he returned to Queensland, before he left the steamer, a document from his Government was put into his hand, calling on him for an explanation as to what he had been doing at Glenrowan, and he was so annoyed that he sent in his resignation, and at the same time a statement. He afterwards agreed to withdraw his resignation. He said he should demand an inquiry into Mr. Hare’s report of the Glenrowan affair, and for that purpose came back to Victoria. Subsequently the Police Reward Board was appointed, and the Queensland Government telegraphed to him, asking him to represent them efficiently at any inquiry there might be. To the Commission : He knew of police being sent to Benalla who did not know how to use a breech-loading gun, or what a cartridge was. They were instructed, but Captain Standish grumbled. He considered one of the principal causes of the failure of the attempts made to capture the gang was a want of knowledge of the country on the part of the police.

By AJFPhelan56

Father, writer, artist and bushranging historian residing in Melbourne, Australia. Author of 'Glenrowan' and the popular website A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

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