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

O’Connor’s Letters

The following are letters written by Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor in an effort to set the record straight (as he saw it). It was included in the 1881 Royal Commission and was published in this form by The Argus on 19 March 1881, page 9.

The Farm, Flemington, September 7 ,1880

Sir, – I have the honour to apologise for trespassing upon your time, and to express a hope that you will be good enough to peruse the following report –

In March, 1879, I arrived In Victoria from Queensland, and placed myself and men under Captain Standish, chief commissioner of police. He had me sworn in as an officer of the Victorian force. Captain Standish then sent me out in full charge of a party of police in quest of the Kelly outlaws. I requested to be allowed only two Victorian men to accompany my party, but the chief commissioner would not allow me to proceed with less than six. In one of our expeditions we received most reliable information in connexion with the outlaws, which the chief commissioner would not allow us to proceed with, but instantly ordered our return. About May, 1879, the chief commissioner began to show a degree of jealousy and dislike towards me. He ordered me to send my men to different localities, although my Government had ordered me not to do so. About this period, Captain Standish received some very good information, which, at the time, he only communicated to Superintendent Hare, who, some time after, told me that the information was that some men had been seen, whom the informer was confident were the Kellys, had gone to a hut, and if the police were sent they could be surrounded in the hut. I begged of the chief commissioner to allow myself and men to accompany the party going out, as the outlaws might got away before the police had time to reach the hut. Captain Standish said, “No; I will endeavour to get the Kellys without your assistance. ” Mr. Hare, who went out in charge of the party, returned unsuccessful, as a man, having met the party on their way to the hut, rode on and warned the outlaws, and was ready to receive the police when they arrived some time after. This, you will see, was a certainty thrown away, as my men could have easily picked up the outlaws’ tracks.

Upon the Lancefield bank robbery occurring, my men and myself proceeded there, and were mainly instrumental in having the robbers arrested. Sub- inspector Baber, of your force, can testify to this. Captain Standish never in any way acknowledged this service.

A private quarrel occurred between Mr. Hare and myself altogether unconnected with official business, in which Captain Standish, who was not in any way concerned, took part against me, and carried it into official matters. He made a series of communications to the Queensland Government, tending to depreciate me, and to remove the men from my control and supervision. This was done without my knowledge, and, consequently, I had no opportunity of explanation to my commissioner. My Government ultimately acceded to the request of Captain Standish, and informed him that he was at liberty to have one of my men for permanent service in Victoria. Upon this Captain Standish had the man taken out of my party and attached to his police, although he (Captain Standish) still required our services. For the discourteous manner in which this was done my Government requested our immediate return, and, upon this being conveyed to me, I left Benalla for Essendon on the morning of the 25th June, 1880.

On the Sunday following, the 27th of June, at half past 7 p.m., I received a note (attached below) from Captain Standish, containing information of Sherritt’s murder near Beechworth. Now, although I had received but scant courtesy, having received no communication from the Victorian authorities beyond the order to leave Benalla and return to Queensland as soon as convenient, I acceded to the chief commissioner’s request, and waited upon him, and arranged to leave Essendon at 10 o’clock that evening with my men, for Beechworth. We left Essendon at quarter past 10 p.m., arriving at Benalla about 1 a.m., and at Glenrowan about 3 a.m. Mr. Hare and myself were considering the best course to adopt, when Constable Bracken rushed down on the platform and gave us the information that the outlaws were in Jones’s public-house. Mr. Hare and I ran up towards the house, he talking to me, and when at a short distance from the front of the place were stopped by a volley of bullets from its verandah. Almost simultaneously with the firing Mr. Hare said, “O’Connor, I am wounded – shot in the arm, I must go back.” This Mr. Hare did, not having been five minutes on the field. It was I who told the men to take cover, also the order to cease firing and to let the women out. Mr. Hare’s statement as to having fired several shots is untrue, also his statement of having returned to the front, as he never left the railway platform after he returned there. Again, his statement is untrue when he states he saw me running up a drain, as I did not take cover for fully 10 minutes after Mr. Hare disappeared. I remained at my post (immediately in front of the house) under heavy fire until half past 10 a.m., having held it for upwards of seven and a half hours, and only left when a superior officer arrived and took command. The chief commissioner arrived at Glenrowan at about half past 5p.m., after the whole fight was over, and when he saw me he hardly condescended to recognise me. I returned next day to Melbourne, but never received a word of recognition for the services of my men or myself until Lord Normanby officially thanked me through Captain Standish.

In conclusion, I must say that Mr. Ramsay, the then Chief Secretary, subsequently sent for me, and thanked me most cordially on behalf of the Government of the colony, and stated that my services should he rewarded in the most substantial manner. After a little time he wrote a very complimentary letter to my Government.

In conclusion, I have to point out, as a Queensland officer of police, voluntarily serving in Victoria, assisting in searching for the Kelly gang, I have been treated in an ungentlemanly, ungenerous, and discourteous manner by the commissioner of police throughout the whole 10 months I was under his command , and subsequently by Superintendent Hare, in his official report of the Glenrowan episode, which contains false and coloured statements, calculated to make my services slightly esteemed, and to injure me seriously in my position as an officer of police. I submit that my voluntary action in proceeding to Glenrowan on the night of the 27th June, after my services had been dispensed with by Captain Standish, makes the injustice of Mr. Hare’s report greater, and I again appeal to you to grant me the inquiry, for which I have returned from Queensland.

I have the honour to be, your obedient servant,


Sub-Inspector of Queensland Police

Flemington, 12th August, 1880.

Sir – I have the honour to request that you will grant me a board of Inquiry into the acts and occurrences of the Police department of Victoria during the time I was on special duty here as the officer in charge of the detachment of Queensland native police, acting in the pursuit of the Kelly outlaws, also, into the facts and occurrences concerning the death and capture of the outlaws at Glenrowan.

I trust you will see your way to grant me this request, as, after the report of Superintendent Hare, published in “Argus” of the 20th July, 1880, and the evidence of Senior-constable Kelly on the magisterial inquiry at Beechworth, published in the “Age” of the 11th and 12th August, 1880, I feel it is due to the Police department of Queensland, also to myself as an officer and a gentleman, that my conduct and that of my men during the whole of the period referred to may receive the fullest investigation. If it is more convenient to you that this inquiry be included in that of any board appointed to inquire into the police administration of this colony, I would be content to allow mine to form part of it.

In conclusion, I beg to state that I do not wish to participate in any part or portion of the £8,000 reward, but only require to have an opportunity of placing my conduct and that of my men in the proper fight.

I have the honour, &c.,  


Sub-Inspector, Queensland 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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