Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 17 May 1881, page 3
THE POLICE COMMISSION.
[FROM THE ARGUS REPORTER.]
On Saturday morning the commission went by road from Benalla to Glenrowan, passing through Greta. En route a short stay was made at the residence of Mrs Kelly, mother of the late outlaws, Ned and Dan Kelly. Her residence, a four-roomed slab hut, with a bark roof, stands in the middle of a paddock comprising about 40 acres. It is within a short distance from a mountain called Quarry Hill, whence a good view of the surrounding country can be obtained. Within the paddock there were two or three horses and as many cows, and there were a few fowls and a tame kangaroo about the house. But the place presented a gloomy, desolate appearance. There was a very small kitchen garden, but there was no other land under cultivation. Some of the panes of glass in the windows were broken, and, excepting that some creepers had very recently been planted at the foot of the verandah posts, no attempt had been made to beautify the house, or make this home look homely.
When the commission pulled up on the road opposite the front door that door was closed, and there was no sign of any human being about. Presently, however, a child was observed peeping round the back of the house at the strangers. After a short consultation, it was decided that it would be better for the commission, as they were near the house, to ask Mrs Kelly if she had any statement to make on the subjects that they have been appointed to inquire into. Accordingly, Messrs Graves and Anderson were told off to go to the house, and open up communication with Mrs Kelly. She came round from the back of the house to meet them, and intimated, when she was told the object of the visit, that she had no objection to see the commission. The remaining members were then called up, and introduced by Mr Graves to Mrs Kelly. She was dressed in black, and seemed to be between 40 and 45 years of age. In her younger days she was probably comely, and her hair is still abundant, and black as a raven’s wing. Although looking careworn, she has a large stock of vitality. Her eyes and mouth are the worst features in her face, the former having a restless and furtive, and the latter a rather cruel look. When Mr Graves introduced the other commissioners, Mrs Kelly said with a smile, “I didn’t know who you could all be; I thought it was a circus.” It may be here mentioned that the commissioners were driven in three waggonettes, the only horseman of the party being Inspector Montfort. True, the latter was in his uniform; but to an ordinary unprejudiced observer there seemed nothing in the appearance of the commissioners, or in the vehicles in which they rode, to warrant the impression that they were circus performers. However, after a short and rather uncomfortable pause, Mr Longmore undeceived Mrs Kelly by informing her that they were the Police Commission, and they would be glad to listen to anything she had to say. She did not invite the commissioners into her house, or open the front door; and two or three very young children — her offspring — could be seen inside the house, peering through a window. One of these children was a pretty little girl about four or five years old, and her face reminded one very forcibly of Ned Kelly, whose hair and eyes were of a different color from his mother’s.
Mrs Kelly made the following state ment : — “The police have treated my children very badly. I have three very young ones, and had one only a fortnight old when I got into trouble (referring to her recent imprisonment in connection with the assault on Constable Fitzpatrick at Greta). That child I took to Melbourne with me; but I left Kate and Grace and the younger children behind. The police used to treat them very ill. They used to take them out of bed at night, and made them walk before them. The police made the children go first when examining a house, so as to prevent the outlaws, if in the house, from suddenly shooting them. Kate is now only about 16 years old, and is still a mere child. She is older than Grace. Mrs Skillian is married, and, of course, knew more than the others, who are mere children. She is not in the house now. Mr Brooke Smith was the worst-behaved of the force, and had less sense than any of them. He used to throw things out of the house, and he came in once to the lock-up staggering drunk. I did not like his conduct. That was at Benalla. I wonder they allowed a man to behave as he did to an unfortunate woman. He wanted me to say things that were not true. My holding comprises 88 acres, but it is not all fenced in. The Crown will not give me a title. If they did, I could sell at once and leave this locality. I was entitled to a lease a long time ago, but they are keeping it back. Perhaps, if I had a lease, I might stay for a while, if they would let me alone. I want to live quietly. The police keep coming backwards and forwards, and saying there are ‘reports, reports.’ As to the papers, there was nothing but lies in them from the beginning. I would sooner be closer to a school, on account of my children. If I had anything forward, I would soon go away from here.”
Upon being asked whether any of her children had any complaint to make, Mrs Kelly knocked at the front door, and called out to her daughter Grace to open it. Grace did so, and after much persuasion on the part of her mother, came to the open door, but speedily retreated behind it. She seems about 14 or 15 years old, and bears a much greater resemblance to her brother Ned than either Mrs Skillian or Miss Kate Kelly do. Most of the party, seeing that the girl was bashful, withdrew from the house, and then Grace made a statement to Mr Longmore and one or two others, to the effect that one of her brother Ned’s last requests was that his sisters should make full statements as to how the police had treated them. She then con tinued as follows : —
“On one occasion Detective Ward threatened to shoot me if I did not tell him where my brothers were, and he pulled out his revolver. The police used to come here and pull the things about. Mr Brooke Smith was one of them. He used to chuck our milk, flour, and honey, on the floor. Once they pulled us in our night-clothes out of bed. Sergeant Steele was one of that party.”
Mrs Kelly further stated that when she “came out” her children’s clothes were rotten, because of their having been thrown out of doors by the police. The police, also, had destroyed a clock and a lot of pictures, and threatened to pull down the house over their heads. She was understood to make a statement to the effect that the police had made improper overtures to some of her daughters, but she afterwards said that she had no such charge to make. Mr Longmore and one or two others went into the sitting-room, which was very poorly furnished, and the ceiling of which was in a very dilapidated condition. All the inside doors leading into this room were shut, and it seemed tolerably certain that the commission did not see all who were in the house.
A lengthy stay was made at Glenrowan, where, in addition to the commissioners, there assembled Messrs Nicolson, Hare, Sadleir, and O’Connor, Sergeant Steele, Senior-constable Johnson, and some other members of the police force. Various positions and objects referred to in the evidence previously taken were pointed out to the commissioners, who also visited the spot where the railway line was broken up by the outlaws. Two of the chimneys of Mrs Jones’s hotel still remain standing, and it was stated that she intends to build there again. A surveyor was taking measurements, for the purpose of drawing a plan of the spot for the commissioners.
The boy Reardon, who was one of the outlaw’s detenues at the hotel, and who was shot by the police, was also present. The bullet, which lodged in front of the chest, under the bone, has not been extracted, and the lad — who seems about 18 years of age — is unable to work in consequence of the wound, and suffers great pain. His father, in giving evidence, stated that when he looks at his son he often (seeing the wreck that the shot has made of him) wishes it had been fatal.
The following evidence was taken at Glenrowan : — Constable William Canny deposed that he arrived at Glenrowan on the day the outlaws were captured, about 3 o’clock a.m. Received no orders from Mr O’Connor. Heard him give no orders. After Mr Hare was wounded witness got no orders from anyone until Mr Sadleir arrived. I did not consider Mr O’Connor had any standing in the Victorian police. Did not see Mr O’Connor cross or go through the fence between the drain and the hotel. Did not see Mr O’Connor when Mr Hare was wounded.
James Reardon deposed that he was a labourer on the Victorian Railways. Was taken by the outlaws to Jones’s hotel on the Sunday morning before the Monday when they were captured. Ned had previously taken witness to break up the line, with Sullivan. Ned said that he had shot a lot of police at Beechworth, and that he wanted to wreck the train coming with police from Benalla. Ned threatened to shoot witness if the latter did not do what he was told. On Sunday evening there were 62 prisoners in the hotel. Hart was pretty drunk on Sunday morning. Saw Dan Kelly and Byrne refuse a drink. There was no chance of escape from the hotel. Mrs Jones insisted on a dance. She said Ned Kelly was a fine fellow. She refused to let the prisoners go when Dan Kelly said they might, saying Ned would give us a lecture. In consequence of the delay caused by her the prisoners were still in the hotel when the police came. She induced a son of hers to sing a song “The Wild Colonial Boy.” to please Ned Kelly. The outlaws had plenty to drink on Sunday morning, but got more sober during the day. Did not hear the police call out to the prisoners to come out until about half-past 9 o’clock a.m. Three or four hours before that Dan Kelly said the prisoners might go if the police would let them. One of the prisoners tried to hold a white handkerchief up to the window, but a volley was at once fired from the drain at the window. Some of us tried to leave the house, but were driven back by the firing from the drain, coming from where Mr O’Connor was. One constable was firing at my wife, who had a child in her arms. One bullet hit my wife’s clothes. The firing came from near where Sergeant Steele was standing. Constable McArthur threatened to shoot Sergeant Steele if he kept firing at my wife. The prisoners made several attempts to come out, but were driven back by the heavy firing from the police. When the prisoners came out, Constable Dwyer held a rifle pointing to me, and said — ” Let us finish this lot off first.” Byrne was shot before we left the hotel. He fell like a log, without a groan. That was about 5 o’clock a.m. When witness left, Dan Kelly and Hart were standing together doing nothing. They had their armour on. From daylight they fired very few shots, but plenty before. Dan Kelly and Hart seemed to think Ned Kelly was killed outside. Witness was not a Kelly sympathiser. Steele told him he shot his son, who was worse than dead now. When Steele was firing at witness and his wife, the outlaws were not firing. They said they would not shoot until the prisoners got clean off. Mrs Jones’s son and daughter were wounded. Witness’s son was shot outside the house. Cherry was shot in the out-house behind the hotel. The bullet had not yet been extracted from witness’s son. The outlaws had some armour on on Sunday morning, but took it off during the day. The special train would have gone on past Glenrowan if there had been no one to signal it there. When it stopped at Glenrowan, one of the outlaws said — “This is Curnow’s work.” Witness told Curnow the line was broken, and told him how the train could be stopped.
The commission adjourned until 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning, when they will meet in Melbourne.