The Author Speaks

Superintendent Hare’s Report (24 July 1880)

Account by Superintendent Hare of his re-assignment to the Kelly pursuit, the lead up to the siege and his involvement in the opening stage of the battle.

Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), Saturday 24 July 1880, page 6

Capture of the Kelly Gang.


The following is a copy of Superintendent Hare’s report to the Chief Commissioner of Police on the subject of the Kelly gang capture :—

“Rupertswood, Sunbury, 2nd July, 1880.

Sir, — I have the honour to inform you that I deem it my duty to give you a full report of all the circumstances from the commencement of the time I was directed to proceed to Benalla up to the period of the Kelly gang being surrounded by the police at Glenrowan on the 27th June.

“You may remember, on the 30th April last, when visiting the depôt, you informed me that I was to proceed to Benalla to relieve Mr. Nicolson, and to take charge of the whole of the proceedings in connection with the capture of the Kellys. I protested in the strongest manner possible at the injustice of my being sent up there again. I pointed out that there were three officers senior to me, viz., Mr. Winch, Mr. Chomley, and Mr. Chambers, none of whom had been called upon to undertake the hardships that I had to undergo during the seven months that I was with you in that district. I also pointed out that the responsibility should be thrown on the senior officers. I stated that a promise was made to me when I was sent for previous to the capture of Power, the bushranger ; that Mr. Nicolson and Mr. Montford had reaped the benefit of that capture, and that I, who was directed to organise the whole affair, am still in the same position as I was then, notwithstanding the promise made by the Chief Secretary, Sir James McCulloch. Ten years having elapsed since then, and my position in the police force being still the same, I did not see any advantage to be gained by being told off on this special duty. Your reply to this was, ‘It’s no use saying anything about it ; you’ll have to go.’ I then requested that I might be allowed to see the hon. the Chief Secretary on the subject, as I wished to enter my protest to him against being sent up to Benalla. You agreed to make an appointment for me, and at 2 o’clock that day I saw Mr. Ramsay in his office. I then pointed out to him the disadvantage to me of sending me up there. Mr. Ramsay replied, ‘Mr. Hare, this Kelly business has been discussed by the Cabinet; and it is their unanimous decision that you should be sent up to take charge of affairs, I give you carte blanche to do whatever you think proper, and I leave you entirely untrammelled. The Government have such entire confidence in you, that they will bear you out in whatever you deem it advisable to do.’ I replied, ‘Very well, Mr. Ramsay ; when do you wish me to go? ‘ He said, ‘ As soon as possible.’ I told him that I would leave in two or three days’ time. On Monday, the 3rd May, I received a note from you informing me that the Chief Secretary, at the earnest request of Mr. Nicolson, had consented to allow him to remain at Benalla for one month longer, and that my orders for transfer were cancelled for the present.

Captain Standish

“I received orders from you at the end of May that I was to proceed at once to Benalla to relieve Mr. Nicolson. I accordingly, on the 2nd June, went up there. I arrived at Benalla at about 11 o’clock that day. I saw Messrs. Nicolson, Sadleir, and O’Connor in the office. After some conversation on general subjects, Mr. Nicolson produced a letter he had received from you, directing him to give me all the information he had obtained concerning the Kelly gang during his stay at Benalla. He showed me the state of his financial account with one of his agents, and said there was nothing owing to any of the others. He opened a drawer and showed me a number of papers and the correspondence which had taken place during his stay at Benalla, and said, ‘You can get all the information from these papers.’ He gave me no verbal information whatever, but said, ‘Mr. Sadleir can tell you all I know concerning the movements of the outlaws.’ He left the office, and I never spoke to him again, and he went to Melbourne by the evening train. The principal agent employed by Mr. Nicolson I had appointed to meet me that evening. He was one who was considered the best man they had. After talking with him a few minutes he positively refused to work for me or have anything to do with me, although he had accompanied the police from Beechworth the previous day for the purpose of having an interview with me.

“That evening I telegraphed to Detective Ward to come down to Benalla the next morning by train. He did so, and after some conversation he informed me that on the previous evening the senior-constable in charge of Beechworth had received a telegram from Mr. Nicolson to pay off all the agents he had employed.

“I at once endeavoured to obtain a copy of this telegram in the office, but there was no record kept of it, nor did the clerks know anything about it, so I presume it must have been sent from the railway telegraph office, as Mr. Sadleir knew nothing whatever about it.

“I directed Detective Ward to return to Beechworth at once, and order the senior-constable to allow matters to continue as they had been previous to my taking charge, as I did not wish to make an alteration in anything until I was in a position to judge what was best to be done.

Detective Ward

“For the first two or three days of my stay at Benalla I occupied my time in reading up the papers in the office, and obtaining all the information I possibly could on the subject. I had a long conversation with Mr. Sadleir, who assisted me in every possible way, and gave me all the information in his power. I conversed with the different non-commissioned officers and constables I came across, and obtained their views on the duty I upon which I was engaged. Most of Mr. Nicolson’s communications with his agents were by word of mouth and not in writing, and the information I obtained from documents in the office was very scant and not of much service to me. I then started round the district to see the non-commissioned officers in charge of the principal stations. I had long talks with them and their men on the state of affairs, and informed them that I intended stationing black trackers, whom I expected from Queensland, at Benalla, Wangaratta, and Beechworth. I also told them that at each of these towns I would have a full party of men stationed, so that if any information was received about the Kellys, they would be in a position to go in pursuit at once ; and all I wished them to do was to communicate by telegraph with me previous to their starting off, so that I might know in which direction they had gone.

“After a few days I returned to Benalla, and started off two or three parties of men who had been specially taken on in the police force, in consequence of their knowledge of the country and the outlaws, and directed them to obtain private horses, and go into the country they knew best, and knock about amongst their friends and relatives in order to see if they could get any information concerning the outlaws ; they might go where they liked, and remain out as long as they thought fit. I also made up three watch parties, consisting of four men each, and directed them to watch certain places by night, and remain concealed all day. I made sundry other arrangements, which it will not be advisable for me to fully enter into.

“From the date of my arrival at Benalla up to Sunday, the 27th June, I heard nothing positive concerning the movements of the outlaws, although their agents and sympathisers were particularly active, and I was privately informed that the outlaws were about to commence some outrages which would not only astonish Australia, but the whole world.

“On the 24th I received a communication from you that Mr. O’Connor and his black trackers were to be sent back to Queensland. I informed Mr. O’Connor accordingly. The next morning he started away from Benalla with his ‘boys.’ I had but one Queensland black of our own at Benalla, and there was another at Mansfield. I telegraphed for the one at Mansfield to be sent down to Benalla at once, so that I might have two trackers in case anything happened before Mr. Chomley, who had gone to Queensland for a fresh supply of trackers for our own farce, returned, as I did not expect him back for eight or ten days.

Sub-Inspector O’Connor

“On Sunday, the 27th ult., I was at the telegraph office, at Benalla, at 10 o’clock a.m. I received telegrams from all the stations in the district that all was quiet. I made an appointment with the telegraph master to be at the office again at 9 p.m. About half-past 2 o’clock that day I received a memo, from the railway telegraph office to go to the general telegraph office, as there was important information for me there, and a memo, to the same effect had been sent to the telegraph master. I lost no time in going there, and received a message from Beechworth that Aaron Sherritt, in whose house I had a watch party, had been shot the previous evening at 6 o’clock. I immediately sent for Mr. Sadleir, and we consulted together as to the best course to adopt. First of all we decided to give you all the information in our possession, and ask you to request Mr. O’Connor to return without loss of time to Benalla, with his ‘boys’ as we considered they might have a good chance of tracking the outlaws from Sherritt’s house.

“About 8 o clock that evening I received a telegram from you informing me that Mr. O’Connor would be sent up by special train, leaving town at 10 o’clock. I also telegraphed to you, asking authority to send on a pilot-engine in front of our train. Your reply to me was, ‘A good idea ; there’s no knowing what desperate deeds the outlaws may now be guilty of. Have the pilot.’ The whole afternoon Mr. Sadleir an myself were engaged in the telegraph office, warning all stations to be on the alert, and at places where there were no telegraph offices private messengers were employed, and sent out to convey the information of the outrage at Beechworth, and to be on the alert also.

“I started off then for the railway station, having previously sent word to the stationmaster to have an engine ready to go to Beechworth as soon as possible, as it was my intention to take up my party and the two trackers, in the event of Mr O’Connor not consenting to return. I told Mr, Stephens, stationmaster, that a special was to leave town at 10 o’clock, and that I wished the engine that I had ordered to act as pilot to the train to Beechworth, which would reach Benalla about 2 a.m.

“He informed me that he had no engine there which could run to Beechworth, that line requiring peculiar engines. I requested him to get the engine which was to come down to Wangaratta from Beechworth the following morning to get up steam at once, run down to Wangaratta, and wait there till my arrival, so that it could act as pilot thence to Beechworth. He consented to do this, and also to have trucks ready to convey the horses and men from Benalla to Beechworth.

“I then returned to the telegraph office, where Mr. Sadleir had remained during my absence. We made arrangements for horses and provisions to be ready for the trackers, and told off the following men to accompany me to Beechworth :– Senior-constable Kelly, Constables Arthur, Barry, Gascoigne, Canny, Kirkham, and Phillips, leaving a party behind us all ready equipped, with two black trackers, for Mr. Sadleir, in case anything occurred while I was away. I remained in the telegraph office until 10 o’clock p.m. Having completed all arrangements, I went to lie down for two or three hours as I expected to reach Sherritt’s house by daybreak next morning to commence tracking from there.

Superintendent Sadleir

“At 1 o’clock I went to the railway station, the horses put in the trucks, and waited the arrival of the special, which reached Benalla, I think, about half-past 1. Mr Rawlins, a gentleman residing at Winton, asked me to allow him to travel in the special to Beechworth from Benalla, as he had a pass on all the railways. I told him I had no objection to his doing so. The engineer in charge of the Benalla station suggested that I should put a constable in front of the engine, to keep a look-out along the line. I accordingly told off Constable Barry for this duty, and saw him securely fastened on the engine. I afterwards ascertained that the engine that brought the train from town had become disabled on the way up, and it was decided to send it as the pilot, and send the Benalla engine to Wangaratta with the train. The engine drivers refused to allow Barry to go on their engine, so I recalled him. The occupants of the train from Melbourne were as follows : — Mr. O’Connor, his wife, and sister, five Queensland trackers, and six gentlemen connected with the Press.

“My party already mentioned joined the train here. Previous to starting I asked the stationmaster to give me the key of the railway carriages, as the guard insisted on locking us in. He complied with my request. The pilot engine started about five minutes before our train. We went along at a rapid pace without interruption until within two or three miles of Glenrowan station. I heard our engine whistle. I put my head out of the carriage, looked ahead, and saw the pilot pulled up within 300 yards of us. I immediately unlocked my carriage, jumped out of the train, and walked towards the pilot. When about a few yards beyond our engine I met a man walking towards us from the pilot with a lamp. He came from the pilot engine, and told me that he had been stopped by a red handkerchief being held up, and lighted by a match held behind it. When he pulled up he saw a man without coat or hat approaching, who appeared greatly excited and told him that the line had been broken up either this side or the other of Glenrowan. He said the man told him the Kellys had taken possession of everybody in Glenrowan, and that they said they were going to attack the police on their arrival. I asked him where the man was. He said after giving the information he ran away into the bush, as he had left his wife and family at home, and that he was a schoolmaster at Glenrowan. He said ‘I invited him to go on the engine, but he declined.’ I then ordered all the carriages be unlocked, lights extinguished, and gave the occupants the information that had been given to me, and to be ready for any emergency. I at once walked towards the pilot, taking with me three men, leaving Mr. O’Connor and his men with senior-constable Kelly and the remainder of my men. I walked along the line myself, and distributed the men on each side, telling them to separate and keep a sharp look-out. When I reached the pilot, the engine-driver repeated the story about, the schoolmaster, and I told the driver to go on quietly in front of the train. He declined doing so until I jumped on the engine myself, and brought up the three men with me. I placed the men in the best position, and told them to keep a sharp look out and be ready for anything that might occur. I took up my position at the opening of the engine, and then told the driver to go ahead cautiously, and be ready to go ahead or backwards at any moment in the event of my directing him to do so. He said his engine was in a very disabled state, having lost its brake, and could not be depended on. He advised that he should shunt back to the train, and that the two engines should be hitched on together, and so take on the train. I consented to this, and we shunted back. I then directed Senior-constable Kelly to jump on the other engine with three men, and to put them in the most secure places, prepared for any emergency. I gave information to Mr. O’Connor of what I had ascertained and done, and we started off at a a slow pace towards Glenrowan. When we reached the station eyerything was in darkness, not a soul moving anywhere. I got off the engine and told every man to jump out of the train and keep a sharp look-out. I then started off in company with Mr. Rawlins to the stationmaster’s house, which was about seventy or eighty yards from the station, where I saw a light in the window. I knocked at the window, and looking through saw a woman and children. She asked ‘Who’s there?’ I answered, ‘Police, open the window.’ I asked her where her husband was. She replied, ‘They have taken him away into the bush.’ She was greatly excited, and for some time could scarcely answer me. I begged her to be calm and tell me who had taken her husband away. She said, ‘The Kellys.’ I asked in which direction they had gone, and she pointed in the direction of Warby’s ranges.

“I immediately hastened back to the station with Mr. Rawlins, who told me he was thoroughly acquainted with the country, and would gladly render me all the assistance he could. He told me he was unarmed, and asked me if I had any spare arms. I told him ‘No,’ but that I would give him my revolver and stick to the double-barrelled gun myself. On reaching the station I told the men what I had been informed by the stationmaster’s wife, and to lose no time in getting the horses out of the train and saddling them. Whilst the men were so engaged, Constable Bracken appeared on the platform in a very excited state. He said, ‘Mr. Hare, I have just escaped from Jones’s hotel, where the Kellys have a large number of prisoners confined. For God’s sake go as quickly as possible, otherwise they will escape.’ I called on the men to follow me with their arms as quickly as they could. Many of them were holding horses. I told them to let go the horses, as the Kellys were in the house, and follow me, running off towards Jones’s hotel. Some six or seven men followed me, amongst them were some of the black trackers, but I cannot say who any of them were. When approaching the hotel, the place was quite silent and dark, and when within about twenty yards of the verandah, I saw a flash of fire, but could not distinguish any figures. Instantly three persons also commenced firing from the verandah, which was in total darkness. The moonbeams at the back of the house caused our men to be plainly seen. A continuous fire was kept up on both sides. I was struck by the first shot, and my left arm dropped helpless beside me. The firing was continued on both sides with great determination for about five minutes, when it ceased from the verandah, and screams of men, women, and children came from the inside of the house. I at once called on my men to cease firing, which they did. When the firing commenced I called upon the men to be steady, and I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the men on this occasion, as they stood with firmness receiving volley after volley from the verandah, and replying to it. The men were all on my right, and the fire seemed to come in a line, as if the men were on parade, I kept using my gun with my right hand, and I think I fired six shots. I had great difficulty in loading, having but the use of one arm. I had to put the stock of the gun between my legs in order to reload. I cannot remember any of the men who were with me during the firing except senior-constable Kelly. I told him I was badly wounded, and directed him to take all the men and surround Jones’s hotel so as to prevent the escape of the outlaws, and saw this was being done. During the firing there were shouts from the outlaws calling on us to fire away — we could do them no harm.

“Feeling that I was losing large quantities of blood, I returned towards the railway platform. On my way thither I saw Mr. O’Connor running up a drain with some of his boys. As I passed him I called out to him I was hit. Senior-constable Kelly called out to me to send some more ammunition at once from the train. I did so directly I arrived at the platform, and Mr. Rawlins volunteered to take the ammunition round, and distribute it amongst the men, which he did. There were a number of gentlemen of the press on the platform when I arrived there, and they very kindly took a handkerchief, and bound up my arm. I then returned to the front, intending to go round the men posted, but after visiting two or three of them I felt myself getting very weak and faint from loss of blood. When I again reached the platform I was staggering, and the gentlemen of the Press assisted me into a railway carriage. I intended to run down to Benalla to have my arm dressed, and to return immediately it was done. After getting into the carriage I was given a little sherry, which rallied me considerably, but the blood was still flowing from my arm. I started an engine away to inform Mr. Sadleir of what had occurred, requesting him to come as soon as possible with every available man on the station, and bring up a supply of ammunition, and shortly after that I followed on another engine to Benalla. Owing to my great loss of blood I had great difficulty in keeping myself from fainting on my way down. We reached Benalla in about ten minutes. On my arrival there I asked the stationmaster to telegraph to Wangaratta and direct Sergeant Steele to bring every available man he had on the station by the pilot engine, which was waiting for me there, to Glenrowan, as we had the Kellys sur-rounded in a house ; but to be careful not to let the engine come within a mile and a half of Glenrowan as the rails had been torn up. I then started off to the Benalla telegraph office, which was about a mile and a quarter distant from the station. Being afraid to walk that distance by myself, feeling so faint, I asked a Mr. Lewis, school inspector, from Wangaratta, whom I met, to accompany me, which he did.

“On the way we called at Dr. Nicholson’s — this was about 4 a.m. I told the doctor I was shot by the Kellys, and I wished him to dress my arm, as the blood was still flowing freely. I told him I could not wait to have it done then, but to follow me to the telegraph office, as I wished him to return to Glenrowan with me, and to lose no time about it. I then started off with Mr. Lewis, leaving Dr. Nicholson to dress. On reaching the telegraph office I could barely stagger in. I found the office open, and dictated a telegram to the stationmaster to send to you. I also sent a telegram to the police at Beechworth and Violet Town, directing them to proceed with all available force to Glenrowan, as the Kellys were surrounded in a house, and as I did not know how much assistance might be required to secure them. I then laid down on a mattress, and Mr. Sadleir came into the office. I told him what had occurred, and to hasten back as quickly as possible, and I would follow him. His reply was, ‘Don’t he such a fool. You are a regular glutton. You have one bullet through you now, and I suppose you want more.’ He then left the office, and hastened away. Just then Dr. Nicholson entered. He examined my bad fracture of the wrist, and that it would be madness for me to return. He procured an impromptu splint and lint, and with the assistance of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Saxe (telegraph-master), dressed the wound. During the dressing I fainted. How long I remained in that state I do not know but when I came to myself both the doctor and Mr. Lewis had gone, and Mr. Saxe gave me some strong spirits, and with his assistance and that of one of his clerks, I walked to my lodgings about a quarter of a mile away. I was unable to proceed, and was confined to bed all day, suffering great pain.

“At about 8 o’clock Doctor Charles Ryan arrived from Melbourne, and dressed my hand, and Doctor Nicholson, returning just then, assisted in the operation.

“In conclusion, I wish to place on record the very great assistance rendered to me by Mr. Sadleir from the time I arrived at Benalla up to the eventful day. He spared neither time nor trouble, and I would desire strongly to urge upon you the necessity of suitably acknowledging his services.

“Whilst mentioning the assistance rendered to me by Mr. Sadleir, I would also desire to place on record my high appreciation of the conduct and services of the police force, both of Queensland and Victoria, who by their steadiness and courage seconded my efforts and contributed to the successful termination of the duties they were especially called upon to perform.

“I would also bring under your notice the great services rendered by Mr. Saxe, telegraph-master at Benalla. The police in the district found him always ready to assist them at any moment, day or night (Sundays inclusive), and he complied with everything he was asked to do most readily and cheerfully. I would therefore urge upon you the desirability of bringing his conduct under the notice of the Postmaster-General, with a view to his promotion in the service, as you are well aware from your own personal knowledge of the many services rendered to us by him.

“With regard to the reward offered for the apprehension of the offenders, both by this Government and that of New South Wales, I trust that a board will be appointed to decide to whom it is to be paid, and that the constables and trackers who were engaged at the destruction of the gang will be allowed to partake of a portion, especially those who accompanied me from Benalla. I need hardly say that I decline to participate in any of the rewards already offered for the capture of these outlaws.

“I cannot bring my report to a close without strongly drawing the attention of the Government to the praiseworthy and plucky conduct of Mr. Curnow, who, in my opinion, was mainly instrumental in saving the lives of the whole party, in giving the information of the lines being destroyed and of the Kellys being at Glenrowan.

“Constable Bracken showed great presence of mind, and deserves much credit for his conduct on the occasion, and I think he has a claim to a good share of the reward.

“I think, also, that the thanks of the Government are due to Mr. Rawlins, who ably assisted me throughout the firing. He had previously offered me the benefit of his knowledge and experience of that part of the country. He ran considerable risk in serving out the ammunition to the police, and I feel very grateful to him for his personal service to me.

“Since writing the above, I have seen a statement made by Mr. O’Connor to the Press, and after reading it I can have no doubt his statement is perfectly correct, but in my report I have merely stated facts that are within my remembrance, and no doubt in the darkness of the morning, and the excitement of the time, I may have omitted many incidents that occurred.

O’Connor and his”boys”

“When I took charge of the district from the 2nd of June last, as far as I was able to ascertain, no more was known of the outlaws or their movements than when I left Benalla twelve months ago. The statements that have appeared in the public press for some weeks past, to the effect that the outlaws were surrounded by a cordon of the police and their agents, had not the slightest foundation. I do not take any special credit to myself and men in being able to surround them in Jones’s hotel on 28th June. The chance occurred. We took advantage or it, and success attended us. You may recollect that at my interview with the Chief Secretary, I objected to having a large party of trackers kept at Benalla, and as Mr. O’Connor objected to divide his men, I suggested that some native trackers should be provided from Queensland for our own force. I said, also, it was a general belief that the outlaws were afraid to show out because of the trackers, and in my opinion, if such was the case, the sooner Mr. O’Connor and men were removed the better, because, should the gang make a raid, there would be a probability of capturing them, but as long as they remained in the mountains, we had little chance of finding them. Mr. Ramsay agreed with me in this opinion. I frequently expressed the same opinion to you in the last few months. The trackers were removed on the 25th June. The outlaws believing they had left for Queensland, showed out on the 26th. On the 28th, the gang was destroyed, and its leader captured.

“I have the honour to be, sir, your most obedient servant.

FRANCIS HARE, Superintendent of 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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