First Hand Accounts Glenrowan History The Railway

James Reardon’s Testimony

Platelayer James Reardon’s account of the Glenrowan seige taken by the Royal Commission.

The following is the evidence given by James Reardon to the 1881 Royal Commission on 14 May, 1881 and on 8 June the same year.

James Reardon sworn and examined.

7602. By the Commission. —What are you? —I am a labourer on the railway line.

7603. Do you remember the night that the Kellys had you all in Mrs. Jones’ hotel, prisoners? —Yes, on the night of the 27th.

7604. What time were you taken into the hotel? —Well, it might be about six o’clock on Sunday morning.

7605. And were you kept in the hotel all day? —Yes, and all night.

7606. How many were in the hotel prisoners—about? —Well, I counted 62 altogether on Sunday evening, and I could name the lot if I was at home now.

7607. Did the Kellys use you for any purpose? —Yes, they took me on Sunday morning from my own place. It was twenty minutes past two when I left my house—he took me to break the line; he had a man named Sullivan, a repairer on the line, in charge at the time—that was Ned Kelly, and then I heard the dogs barking, making a row, and I got up and dressed myself and went outside the door, and heard a horse whinneying down by the railway line, and I went towards where I heard the horse. I thought it was the horse of a friend, and I went down, and Sullivan was coming through the railway fence, and I said, “What is the matter?” and he said, “I am taken prisoner by this man.” Ned Kelly came up and put a revolver to my cheek and said, “What is your name?” and I said “Reardon,” and he said, “I want, you to come up and break the line” He said, “I was in Beechworth last night, and I had a great contract with the police—I have shot a lot of them, and I expect a train from Benalla with a lot of police and black fellows, and I am going to kill all the —— ——.” I said, “For God’s sake, do not take me—I have got a large family to look after.” He said, “I have got several others up, but they are no use to me,” and I said, “They can do it without me,” and he said, “You must do it or I will shoot you,” and he took my wife and seven or eight children to the station. When we came to this small tool-house, that chest was broken and the tools lying out on the side of the line. He said, “Pick up what tools you want,” and I took two spanners and a hammer, and I said, “I have no more to take,” and he said, “Where are your bars?” and I said, “Two or three miles away;” I said, “In front of my place,” and he sent Steve Hart for them, and he came in a few minutes after himself. When I went on the ground I said to Hart, “You have plenty men without me doing it.” “All right,” he says, and he pointed to the contractor from Benalla, and said, “You take the spanner.”

7608. Was that McHugh? —Yes, Jack McHugh, I think.    He took the spanner, and I instructed him, on being made, how to use it.    Ned Kelly came up, and said, “Old man, you are a long time breaking up this road.”    I said, “I cannot do it quicker.”    And he said, “I will make you do it quicker.    If you do not look sharp, I will tickle you up with this revolver.”   And I said, “I cannot do it quicker, do what you will.” And he said, “Give me no cheek.” So we broke the road. He wanted four lengths broken. I said, “One will do as well as twenty.” And he said, “Do you think so?” And I said I was certain.

7609. Why did you say that? —Because I thought if only one was off the train would jump it and go on safely.

7610. Did Ned Kelly point out the place? —Hart did.

7611. Then he brought you all up to Mrs. Jones’s? —Yes, we came to the station and remained at the gate-house, where the station-master lived, for perhaps two hours.

7612. How many of you? —There might be about twenty at the time, more or less.

7613. Did he keep bringing in fresh prisoners? —Every one that passed by that he got sight of he bailed up. Between that and evening he had 62, which I counted.

7614. I not suppose he treated you badly in the hotel? —No, he did not treat us badly—not at all.

7615. Was there any drinking? —Yes, they had drink in them in the morning. When I first saw them Steve Hart was pretty drunk.

7616. Did they continue drinking moderately or in any quantity? —I did not see them. I saw some people offer drink to Dan Kelly and Byrne, I believe, and they said “No;” but if Ned Kelly drank, I cannot say, for he was in the kitchen at the back. We were locked in when it came night. We were all called in and the doors locked, and we were kept there.

7617. Was there no opportunity of escaping at all—did they keep you there all night? —All night. No opportunity at all—not the slightest. No chance.

7618. Were you there when the police came? —Yes, I was there when he went for Bracken, between nine and ten on Sunday night.

7619. They took him prisoner also? —Yes, there was only one constable here at the time.

7620. What occurred during the night before the police came? —Well, they were very jolly, and the people and Mrs. Jones cleared the house out. They would not have it without a dance. She wanted me to dance, and I said, “No, something is troubling me besides dancing.”

7621. Did she speak anything about Ned Kelly? —No; I did not hear it.

7622. Praising him, or anything? —Yes; she said, “We will all be let go very soon, but you may thank me for it,” and my missus asked Dan Kelly to let me go home with my children and family. “We will let you all go directly,” she said.

7623. What o’clock was that? —About an hour before the train came with the police.

7624. Was there a dance got up in the house? —Yes; there was three of the Kellys—Ned, Dan, and Byrne danced, and Mrs. Jones and her daughter, and three or four others I did not know.

7625. Did she praise Ned Kelly during that time? —Yes; she said he was a fine fellow.

7626. Did she say anything about the police? —No; I did not hear her.

7627. What further did she say about them?—Dan Kelly said, “Now you can all go home,” and I stood up and I picked up one of my children in my arms, and we were making to the door when Cherry picked up Ryan’s child, and Mrs. Jones stood at the door and said, “You are not to go yet; Kelly is to give you a lecture yet,” so we all turned back into the house again, and Mrs. Jones came in and said, “Kelly will give you all a lecture before you go.”

7628. Was that said seriously, or for the purpose of bringing you before Ned Kelly? —Ned Kelly came shortly after, and I was sitting down in a chair, and I was the first he came at, and he said, “Riordan, do not you be so fond of getting out of your bed at night. If you had a good horse, and I wanted it, I would take the horse and shoot you.” He turned from me and turned to Sullivan, who works with me, and said, “Were you ever in New Zealand?” And Sullivan said he was; and he said, “Are you Sullivan, the murderer?” and he said not. He said, “I would give £1,000 for him if you were, because he was a scoundrel.” Then he turned to Constable Bracken, and said, “You are sworn not to spare father, mother, brother, or sister.” “No,” says Bracken, “our oath is not that; it is to protect life and property, which you or any other man can see in written form.” Byrne came in then and he said, “The train is coming.” That stopped all the discourse. They turned into the back room—the three bushrangers—there was one taking care of Stanfield’s family. Then they went into one of the back rooms dressing themselves in their armour. I could hear the armour rattling.

7629. Had you been allowed to go you would have been clear away before the police came, when Dan Kelly said you might go? —Yes; we would have been clear away.

7630. Then Mrs. Jones’s interference was the cause of your being delayed? —Yes.

7631. Did Mrs. Jones about that time, or before that, praise Ned Kelly any further? —Not that I heard. If you heard my missus’s evidence, she could tell you a great deal more than I can.

7632. Was Mrs. Jones appearing to be very pleased that the outlaws were there? —Yes, Mrs. Jones appeared very pleased, indeed. Bracken saw where they planted the key, and at the time they went to put their armour on, he went and took the key. He put the key in his trousers, and came back to the door and stood there till he got his opportunity, and opened the door, and turned the key in the door.

7633. And you understood he was taking the key? —Yes.

7634. And he actually opened the door in your presence? —Yes.

7635. During all this time did you see the Kellys drink? —No, I did not see three nobblers during the whole day, but they had plenty of drink in the morning.

7636. Did Hart get sober? —Yes, more than he was in the early part of the day.

7637. Was he very drunk? —He had as much as he could bear.

7638. When the police came what occurred then? —The outlaws went around the house and fired.

7639. What way? —At the back; they came out the north end and into the verandah, and fired.

7640. Did they come into the house again? —There were three came in again. I do not believe Ned came in at all.

7641. Did the police immediately reply? —Yes, at once. There was a return shot at once.

7642. Was there a great volley fired immediately after? —Yes, there was two or three hot volleys very quick.

7643. Did you notice the effect of the firing in the house? —Yes, we could see the light. There was no light in the house.

7644. What was the effect of the shots on the house—were you frightened? —Yes, we were all frightened, and Bracken told us to lie down on the floor as flat as we could before he went away.

7645. He told that quietly? —Yes; he said, “You all lie down if there is any firing,” and we did so.

7646. There was none hurt the first volley? —Yes; the second volley Jones’s boy was hurt.

7647. Was he lying down? —Yes, and he was shot on the side, and the bullet came up through his body.

7648. Did you ask the Kellys to let you out then? —Not then. I was frightened to stir then, but I did after.

7649. The whole of the prisoners did? —Yes.

7650. Did the Kellys say they would allow you? —Yes, if the police would.

7651. Did you hear the police calling on you to come? —Not before we did come. I think it was Mr. Sadleir’s voice when we came out.

7652. What time was that? —About half-past nine.

7653. How long after Kelly said he would let you out? —Hours after.

7654. When did Dan Kelly say you might go out? —About a quarter-past six, as near as I can recollect.

7655. What did he say? —He said, “You can go, but I am frightened you will get shot. I do not begrudge your going if you can escape.”

7656. Did you let it be known to the police in any way you wanted to get out? —Yes.

7657. How? —There was one tall chap—I forget his name—he put a white handkerchief out of the window, and there were three bullets went in at once. The shots went from the drain straight in the window.

7658. He of course fell back at once? —He threw himself on the ground.

7659. Was there any further attempt to get out? —Yes.

7660. Was any other notice given that they would like to get out? —After the second or third round was fired things got quiet for a bit. Ryan and his wife, and three or four children, and three of mine, and a strange woman from Benalla, they rushed out, and the firing was on them as hard as it could be blazed, from the drain, and I could not say where, and I rushed out, and my son with me.

7661. The sun was up at the time? —No, it was just at daylight.

7662. You were saying you and your wife got out? —Yes, and we had to go back into the house because of the firing.

7663. Where was that firing from? —From all directions. The most part of it was from that drain. The fire was strong from the drain; and Mr. O’Connor popped his head up from that drain, and said, “Who comes there?” with a loud voice. I recognized the voice. Ryan sang out, “Women and children,” and the firing still continued.

7664. Did you hear him giving any order then? —No, I did not.

7665. You tried to escape again? —Yes; we went back again, and said to Dan Kelly, “I wish to Heaven we were out of this. Mrs. Reardan put out the children, and make them scream, and scream yourself;” and she was coming past one of the rifles in the passage, and one of the rifles tangled in her dress, and Dan Kelly said to Byrne, “Take your rifle, or the woman will be shot;” and I came out, and she screamed and the children, and they came out. The fire was blazing out, and a policeman called out—I thought it was Sergeant Steele—” Come this way;” and he still kept firing at her—at my wife with the baby in her arms.

7666. Is it not possible he may have been covering her? —Firing at her and covering her are two different things.

7667. Did any of the bullets hit her? —She has a shawl with a bullet through the corner of it, which she can show you. I heard a voice saying, “Come this way.” Constable Arthur was standing close to Sergeant Steele, and he said, “If you fire on that woman again, I am —— if I do not shoot you, because you see she is an innocent woman.” Those were Arthur’s own words, and I did not believe the man would do that.

7668. So you were away before permission was given by the police? —Then I had to return back; there were bullets flying at me, and I crept on the ground, and went back to the house with the children, and as my son returned he got wounded in the shoulder, and fell on the jamb of the door, and he has got the bullet yet, and he is quite useless to me or himself. I would sooner have seen him killed. He is getting on for nineteen.

7669. Did you observe anything more that day? —I returned back into the house then and laid down among the lot inside, and put the children between my knees, and there was a bullet scraped the breast of my coat, and went across two other men, and went through the sofa at the other end of it. We remained there expecting every minute to be shot, until we heard the voice, I think to come out, about half-past nine. We got ten minutes.

7670. Whose voice? —I think it would be Mr. Sadleir’s, to the best of my belief. I cannot say for certain. Mr. Sadleir was the first I recognized after I came out. We all came out. I was the last, for I had the two children, one in each hand, and as I was coming down there was a constable named Divery, and be said, “Let us finish this —— lot,” or something like that. Then the terror of that drove me—I ran to the drain. A black-fellow there cocked his rifle at my face, and I did not know what to do with the children, and I ran away up to where Mr. Sadleir was.

7671. That was hot work? —Hot work I you would not like to be there I can tell you.

7672. Was there any of the outlaws shot while you were in? —Byrne was shot.

7673. Where? —At the end of the counter, going from the passage. He was standing still. I only heard him fall. I heard him fall like a log, and he never groaned or anything, and I could hear like the blood gushing.

7674. What time was that? —About five or six in the morning; but when I was coming out the other two (Dan Kelly and Hart)—they were both standing close together in the passage, not a move in them, with their armour on, with the butt end of their rifles on the ground.

7675. Were they struck at all while you were there? —Yes; I could hear the bullets flying off the armour several times.

7676. Their lives were saved for the time being by their armour? —Yes.

7677. Had they fired many shots before that? —They did in the early part, but I believe from the time that it came daylight they did not fire but very few that I could notice.

7678. Had they any knowledge while you were there that Ned Kelly was taken? —They did not. Some of the people asked where was Ned Kelly, and they said they did not know, they thought he was done.

7679. What time was that? —A little before we got out, at break of day.

7680. Did they miss Ned Kelly before Byrne was shot? —Yes; they said he was gone, and supposed he was done.

7681. Did they say they wished he was amongst them? —No.

7682. “Done” meant “shot”? —Yes.

7683. Did they miss Ned Kelly before Byrne was shot? —I would not be sure; I wish to be correct, as Mr. O’Connor’s statement about he considered there were about eighteen or twenty came out of the house—friends and sympathisers of the Kellys. I am quite sure I am not a sympathiser.

7684. At the time that Steele, you say, was firing upon you and your wife escaping, were the outlaws firing from the hotel? —No, I am positive sure they were not.

7685. Why? —Because they were standing still, and I could hear if they did.

7686. Did they say they would not fire until you had escaped? —They said they would not.

7687. Sergeant Steele told you that he had shot your son? —Yes, Sergeant Steele told me, and several others.

7688. In saying so did he assign any reason? —Yes, he said he did not hold up his hand.

7689. Did he say he called on him to hold up his hands? —No; the boy had a child in one hand and held up his other hand.

7690. Was it daylight when you came out of the house? —Yes, when we got clean out.

7691. It was not daylight at the time you had to return? —No.

7692. Was it daylight when Mr. O’Connor spoke to you from the culvert? —No.

7693. How could you tell? —From where he spoke. I was half-way between the verandah and the fence, and the others Ryan and his family of three, and my children were on the right just over the culvert., and the voice sang out from under the culvert—” Who comes there?” and Ryan said, “Women and children.”

7694. What did they do then? —They went on and they continued to fire.

7695. Ryan escaped through the gate? —Yes, but it was so hot for me, I went back with my wife and son and child.

7696. What time was it, as near as you can make it, when you first proposed to go out? —I would not swear to the time. I daresay it might be about—I could not say exactly.

7697. How long was this before your son was shot? —About an hour, as near as I can remember.

7698. Did you see Mrs. Jones’s child shot? —I did not, but I heard him sing out, “I am shot, I am shot.”

7699. Your son was shot? —Yes.

7700. Mrs. Jones’s son shot and daughter wounded? —Yes.

7701. Did you see this man who asked you to take up rails; did you see him carry out any of the wounded children from the house, I mean McHugh? —No, I was in another room; I was told he did.

7702. Do you know the wounded child was carried out? —Yes, and carried to my place.

7703. Can you fix about the time it was by any circumstance? —About the second volley fired by the police.

7704. Can you fix the time that McHugh carried out Mrs. Jones’s child? —No, I would not swear to it.

7705. Was it before or after you attempted to escape? —Before, and I followed them half an hour after.

7706. That would be an hour and three-quarters before your son was shot? —Yes.

7707. The point is this: the second volley the police fired was fired within ten minutes after the commencement? —Yes, and less.

7708. Within seven minutes? —Perhaps less still.

7709. The second volley was the time that Mrs. Jones’s child was shot? —Yes.

7710. How long after the child was shot did McHugh run out with it? —A few minutes after.

7711. Then that would be within twenty minutes after the police commenced to shoot? —It would be about that.

7712. By Mr. Sadleir. —Were both the children shot at that time? —Yes, one was out at the kitchen chimney, and Mrs. Jones said, “You cowardly ——, why do not you go out and fight hand to hand, as you said you would.”

7713. By the Commission. —That was very early in the morning? —Yes.

7714. By Mr. Sadleir. —The only other person shot was your son? —Yes, and Cherry. He was shot as he was going in the door; struck on the shoulder.

7715. By the Commission. —Did you look on after you escaped? —No, I went to the hospital at Wangaratta.

7716. Where was he struck? —Through the back, and lodged in the middle of the breast.

7717. Did you get the bullet extracted? —No, the bullet is in him still.

7718. Is the joint of the shoulder and the arm useless? —No, he can raise the arm, but he cannot work it.

7719. You said there was some dancing in the hotel—was there any singing? —Not that I remember. There was a concertina playing a good part of Sunday.

7720. Who played it? —Mortimer.

7721. You did not hear Mrs. Jones’s boy sing a song? —Yes, a little boy she called to sing a song.

7722. Did you hear the words of that song? —Yes.

7723. What were the words? —” The Wild Colonial Boy.”

7724. Was Ned Kelly’s name brought in it? —No, some other person sang the Kelly song. Mrs. Jones promised her son sixpence to sing the song.

7725. Did she seem overjoyed to see him do it? —Yes.

7726. Was it for the purpose of giving amusement to Ned Kelly? —It was certainly to please him.

7727. Was Ned listening to it. It was not for the benefit of the prisoners? —No, indeed it was not. Dan Kelly and Byrne were there; I do not remember seeing Ned at the time.

7728. It was for the benefit of the Kelly party? —Yes.

7729. Was it sung to please the Kellys at Mrs. Jones’s request by the child? —Yes.

7730. Did you know Cherry was shot? —No, I did not until I came back from Wangaratta. Dr. Hutchinson examined him to find the bullet, and told me to send him to the hospital.

7731. Did you see them put on the armour? —No; I could hear the jingle.

7732. What way were they—front and back plate? —Yes, like on hinges, and they were all pliable; but the back piece was all solid. There were two flaps that hung down here—they were on hinges like.

7733. Did you see Ned Kelly going from the house when the first party came? —No.

7734. Did you see him go out to meet them? —No, but I could hear him walking round the house and talking.

7735. Were the front and back plates fastened at the side? —I could not tell that; they had their coats on at the time.

7736. Did the armour they wore seem to be similar? —Yes. I noticed Hart’s armour under his coat.

7737. Where did you see any armour at first? —At the gate.

7738. When? —On the Sunday morning.

7739. When they first came to you, they had the body-plates on? —Yes.

7740. Therefore, after they came, they must have ridden in that armour on horseback? —Quite likely; Ned had it on at my place, and had a white coat on, and I noticed a hump on his back.

7741. What were the Kelly party doing all Sunday? —Hart was here at the gatehouse, in charge of the station-master’s house and the women and children there, and the others were up at Mrs. Jones’s.

7742. What did they do on Sunday? —Ned went out jumping with some others out of the yard—hop, step, and leap—and the others were walking about the house to and fro.

7743. When it came on dark, what then? —They wanted to dance.

7744. For how long? —Mrs. Jones ordered the table out, and they had a couple of dances.

7745. She was trying to oblige them all she could? —Yes.

7746. Was it she that proposed the dancing? —I could not swear it, but, to the best of my belief, it was.

7747. Who took the floor first? —Mrs. Jones and her daughter.

7748. Was there plenty of grog in the hotel? —Yes, in the bar, but nobody seemed to drink much. I dare say I might have three or four drinks myself from the time I was taken in custody until I got out.

7749. Now did you people employ your time? —We passed our time very miserably, I assure you.

7750. Did you talk? —Not much; I was kept walking about the verandah.

7751. They allowed you to go out? —Yes, but they had a rifle under their arm, and I believe they had four or five revolvers each.

7752. You stated they went up and brought Bracken down a prisoner on the Sunday night? —Yes.

7753. Can you say they went there with their armour or not? —Yes, they had their armour on, and they brought the armour back in a bag, to the best of my belief. They had his firearms then, a double-barrelled gun, a revolver, and his horse.

7754. Was there a bag with them when they went? —Yes.

7755. Was the armour in it when they went? —I am not sure whether they had the armour in it, but they put it on when they went to Bracken’s house.

7756. What time did it take to put this armour on when they heard the train was coming? —About twenty minutes, I suppose.

7757. Did Bracken go out and take the key, and go out at once? —He went out when he heard the police going towards the gate along the line.

7758. Did you expect the train to pass without stopping at Glenrowan? —I was afraid it would.

7759. Would it have done so? —Yes, because there was no one to signal it.

7760. If there was no signal at the station, it would go on? —Yes.

7761. Was there any conversation in the house about the train stopping? —They fancied they heard the train whistle, and they listened, and we all heard the train whistle, but could not be sure; we thought it was a cock crowing. Then, after a bit, we heard it again, and then we heard the rattle of the train, so we were frightened the train would go through; but when the train stopped at the station here, one of the Kellys said, “This is Curnow’s work.” I heard that, but I do not know which one of them said it.

7762. Did you expect to hear of a capsize when the train came? —He expected them from Benalla.

7763. Were you in when Curnow was liberated? —Yes, when they went for Mr. Bracken, they took Curnow with them, and let him out.

7764. Were there others let out? —Yes, some twenty-one were let go on the Sunday.

7765. Did Mr. Curnow know from you or anyone that the line had been taken up? —Yes, I told him in the morning at once that the line was broken; I said to him, “What a pity some one could not give warning to stop the train.”

7766. Did you tell him on the morning how a warning could be given? —I did, and told him where it was broken. I am under a mistake if I did not tell him that holding something red, with a light behind it, would do.

7767. Will you swear you did say that? —To the best of my belief I did. I told Bracken also that the railway line was broken.

7768. Then, it was from you that Mr. Curnow knew the line was broken? —Yes, I told him on the verandah, when he gave me his pipe to have a smoke.

7769. Was it not known to all the prisoners in the house that the line was broken? —Yes. I suppose the late prisoners did not know it, but those in the early part did; they were going to bail up a circus that day.

7770. Did you see the Kellys’ horses? —Yes; three were left at Jones’s stable. The four came down the back of McDonnell’s paddock, and into the stable. Two boys were riding them.

7771. Were those boys the Kellys, or friends of theirs? —No, they were not the Kellys, because they were at the house at the time.

7772. Were they the Kellys or others? —Others; and there was one of the horses up here tied to the fence—the horse that used to carry the pack. I think I showed him to Constable Johnson when I came back.

7773. By Mr. Sadleir. —Is it quite clear that two of Jones’s children were shot before the police came from Beechworth and Wangaratta? —Yes.

7774. And the next that was shot was your son—by Sergeant Steele, you say? —Yes.

The witness withdrew.

James Reardon further examined.

10693. By the Commission. — Did you notice that Sergeant Steele has stated in his evidence that your son was crawling on his hands and knees? — Yes.

10694. Is that true? — It is not true.

10695. Did you see your son shot? — No, I did not. I believe I was lying on my face and hands, between the two houses, when he was hit.

10696. How do you swear that he was not crawling? — Sergeant Steele said he was crawling, coming out, but I saw him walking. He had the child by the hand, and the other hand up. I was behind at the time and his mother before him.

10697. Did he continue when going back to the house to run along with his hand up? — No, he did not.

10698. Did you see him returning to the house? — I would not swear that. I was lying down myself, between the two houses, because there were four or five bullets skimmed my hair.

10699. Did you see him going out? — I did. I was walking behind him.

10700. Did you see him pass from the house? — Yes.

10701. Did you hear him challenged by Sergeant Steel, or any voice? — No, I did not.

10702. Did you see him holding his hand up? — I did.

10703. Did the boy make any remark that he was shot? — He did when he went in. He said, “I am shot.” It was at the door he was shot, and he wanted a drink of water, and nobody could rise to give it to him.

The witness withdrew.

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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