STATEMENT OF MR. CURNOW

Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), Wednesday 28 July 1880, page 3


THE KELLY GANG. STATEMENT OF MR CURNOW. (From the Age.)

Mr Curnow, the schoolmaster at Glenrowan, by whom the warning was given which prevented the special train being destroyed through the tearing up of the railway line by the Kellys, has furnished a statement of his proceedings. It will be remembered that immediately after the outrage Mr Curnow, acting on the advice of his friends, declined to furnish the press with any statement, but the reasons for silence have since passed away, and through the courtesy of the Chief Commissioner of Police we are enabled to publish the following account, given by Mr Curnow :—

On Sunday morning, 27th June, at about 11 o’clock, Mrs Curnow, my sister, brother-in-law and myself were out for a drive, when, in passing through Stanistreet’s railway gates, we were bailed up by an armed man on horseback, who turned out to be Ned Kelly, the outlaw. Another armed man was behind him, and I was told that he was Byrne. After a while Ned Kelly gave directions for the horse and buggy to be taken into Mrs Jones’s yard. Mrs and Miss Curnow went into Mrs Stanistreet’s, and my brother-in-law and I stayed at the gates taking part in the conversation going on there. We had not been bailed up many minutes before I was informed by Mr Stanistreet that the outlaws had caused part of the railway line to be torn up, with the purpose of wrecking a special train which they expected would pass through Glenrowan. Someone, I forget who, also told me that the gang had been at Beechworth during the night before, and had shot several police. I doubted this, but afterwards ascertained from Dan Kelly that they had actually been in the vicinity of Beechworth, and had done “some shooting.” The gang afterwards told me – in fact they made no secret of it – that they had caused a part of the line to be torn up at a dangerous part beyond the station, in order to wreck a special train of inspectors, police, and black trackers, which would pass through Glenrowan for Beechworth to take up the “Kelly” trail from there. They stated that they would shoot down all those who escaped death from the wrecked train, and that if any civilians were in the train they should share the same fate, as they had no business accompanying the police. The outlaws affirmed that they were justified in doing this. On hearing their intentions I determined that, if I could by any means whatever balk their designs and prevent such a sacrifice of human life, I would do so. This purpose governed the whole of my sayings and doings while I was with the outlaws. On reflection, I thought it best to inspire them with confidence in my sympathising heartily with them, and, if I could do this, I thought that they would allow me enough liberty to be able to do something to frustrate their intentions.

In the early part of the afternoon the outlaws proposed a dance, and came and asked me to join it. I objected on the ground of having on nailed boots, when the thought flashed through my mind that if I could induce Ned Kelly to accompany me to the school for a pair of dancing boots, on the journey there in passing the police barracks, Bracken, the trooper stationed there, might see him and would be able to give an alarm. I felt sure that as Bracken had been stationed at Greta he would know him. So I said to Ned Kelly, after being pressed to dance, that I would do so with pleasure if he would accompany me to my house for a pair of dancing boots. He agreed quite readily to accompany me, and we were getting ready when Dan Kelly interfered and said that Ned Kelly had better stay behind, and let him or Byrne accompany me. Someone else also urged Ned Kelly to stay back, and said that my house was near the police barracks. Ned turned and asked me if it was, and I replied “Yes; we have to pass the barracks, I had forgotten that.” He then said we would not go, and I consented to dance with Dan. Shortly after, Ned declared that he would go down and bring Bracken and Reynolds, the postmaster, up to Jones’s. I laughed, and told him that I would rather than £100 that he would do so, and asked to be allowed to go with him. He gave me no reply then. I had ascertained from Mr Stanistreet that his revolver was still in his possession, and to gain the consent of the outlaws to my going home and taking my wife, child, and sister with me, and thus being at liberty to make a dash for Benalla, I told the gang in strict confidence that Mr Stanistreet possessed a loaded revolver from the Railway department, and that though I knew that he would not use it against them, someone else might get it and do them an injury. I advised them to demand it of him at once, and I believe they did. With the same object in view, and after hearing Ned Kelly solemnly assert to Mrs Jones and others that he would not shoot Constable Bracken, I told him that he had better take Dave Mortimer, my brother-in-law, with him to call Bracken out, as the trooper knew his voice well, and would suspect nothing. I also kept warning them to keep a sharp look-out for enemies, and did my utmost to ingratiate myself with them.

On obtaining a suitable opportunity I asked Ned Kelly again would he allow me to take Mrs Curnow, the baby and my sister home when he went for Bracken, and I assured him that he had no cause for fearing me, as I was with him heart and soul. He then said that he knew that and could see it, and he acceded to my request. I think it was about ten o’clock on Sunday night before the outlaws started for the police barracks, taking with them a Mr E. Reynolds, Mr R. Gibbons, Mr Mortimer, myself, wife and sister. We reached the barracks, and Constable Bracken was taken by the outlaws without bloodshed. Ned Kelly then told me that I could go home and take the ladies with me. He directed us to “go quietly to bed and not to dream too loud,”and intimated that if we acted otherwise we would get shot, as one of them would be down to our place during the night to see that we were all right. He had previously declared that they would wait at Glenrowan till a train came. When we reached home, which was about two hundred yards from the police barracks, I put the horse in the stable, with the ostensible purpose of feeding him well, as he had starved all day. While supper was being got ready I quietly prepared everything, including a red Llama scarf, a candle, and matches, to go to Benalla, intending to keep close to the railway line in case of a special coming before I reached there. In overcoming Mrs Curnow’s opposition to my going — for she was in a state of the utmost terror and dread, and declared that both I and all belonging to me would get shot if I persisted in going and in securing the safety of my wife, child and sister whilst being away, time passed, and just as I was about to start I heard the train coming in the distance. I immediately caught up the scarf, candle and matches, and ran down the line to meet the train.

On reaching a straight part of the line where those in the train would be able to see the danger signal for some distance, I lit the candle and held it behind the red scarf. While I was holding up the danger signal I was in great fear of being shot before those in the train would be able to see the red light, and of thus uselessly sacrificing my life. The train, which proved to be a pilot engine, came on and stopped a little past me, and I gave the alarm by informing those in it of the line being torn up just beyond the station, and of the Kelly gang lying in wait at the station for the special train of police. On being told by the guard that he would go back and stop the special which was coming on, and seeing him do it, I ran home to appease my wife’s anxiety and terror, and to protect them as far as I could. We had not the least hope of an escape from being shot dead, for we felt certain that the outlaws must have heard the whistling and stoppage of the pilot engine near our place, and would divine that I was stopping the train, as we were the only ones liberated to our knowledge. We therefore felt sure that at least one of them would ride down and take revenge for my betrayal of their trust in me. Though I represented myself to Edward Kelly as a sympathiser, my sole motive in doing so was to save life, to uphold. justice, and of course to secure as far as possible the safety of my family. — (Signed) THOS. CURNOW, late of Glenrowan S.S. 1742.

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