First Hand Accounts The Police

Constable Arthur’s Testimony

Constable James Arthur’s recollections of the siege given to the Royal Commission.

The following is evidence given by Constable Arthur to the Royal Commission on 9 June 1881 concerning Aaron Sherritt’s murder and the Glenrowan siege. Though he covers other aspects of his involvement in the hunt for the gang in his testimony, for the sake of brevity only the portions related to his opinions on Sherritt’s murder and his involvement in the siege are presented here.

James Arthur sworn and examined.

11076. By the Commission.—What are you?—Mounted constable.

11077. Were you out in any of the search parties after the Kellys?—Yes.

11078. In the time that Mr. Hare was in the North-east?—Yes, I was out with him.

11079. And with Mr. Nicolson?—Yes.

11080. You have been there all through?—Yes, I have.

11081. Did you in any of those parties believe that at any time you came near upon catching the Kellys?—No; I cannot say that.

11082. You had no information that you had come, or were coming, close up to them at any time?—No.

11083. Did you, in acting upon information you received, ever have the idea that you were getting close to them?—No.


11098. Were you in the cave party?—No, I was with Mr. Hare in the first party, when he watched Byrne’s house.

11099. Did you understand when you watched Byrne’s that you might have been watched yourselves?—Yes.

11100. Did you think you were?—I did.

11101. That it was known while you were there?—Yes; Sherritt knew, and he was not to be trusted.

11102. Would you trust Sherritt?—No.

11103. Did he ever give any reliable information as to where the outlaws were?—No; he would say, in speaking about Byrne, not to shoot him; and as for Ned Kelly, he said that he would never be taken, not by all the police in Victoria; they would never get him. That is the way he would be talking.

11104. Did you consider at the time he was an agent of Ned Kelly?—I did.

11105. You always thought so?—I always thought so.

11106. Did his actions at any time lead you to suppose that was the case?—By his talk and the way he would go away, come and stop with us a night, and next night be away, and move out all hours of the night, and never have anything that was any account. He would be always blowing about Ned Kelly and Byrne never being taken.

11107. Did you believe he knew where they were at the time?—No.

11108. Did you believe he knew anything of their movements?—The way I thought he did it was he went to Mrs. Skillian and carried information to them.

11109. He was giving her information about the movements of the police?—Yes.

11110. How do you account for their hatred to him that led them to shoot him?—Well, the time that Mr. Nicolson’s party was up there, Sherritt was supposed to be seen by some of the sympathizers, and they took the word to Kelly afterwards, and that was the reason he was shot.

11111. Was it possible he was shot for being supposed to give information that was really given by others?—That was all I could make out the reason.

11112. Were you at the Glenrowan affair?—Yes, I went up with Mr. Hare.

11113. About three o’clock in the morning?—Yes.

11114. Where were you stationed?—At different places. First when I went there I was stationed alongside of Mr. Hare, through the gate. He was partly through the wicket-gate when the first shot was fired—just going through. When the first volley went he was clear; he was struck on the second volley.

11115. Were you by when he was struck?—I was about five yards from him. His hand fell. I saw him loading with the gun between his knees, and I asked what was the matter, and he said he was shot in the wrist.

11116. Did he load and fire after he was wounded?—Yes.

11117. How many times?—I saw him fire twice.

11118. Was it a double-barrelled gun?—Yes. He was in the act of loading when I saw him the second time. He had discharged the barrels before.

11119. Do you remember the women getting out before daylight?—Yes. There were some tried to get out just before Mr. Hare left, and they went back again frightened.

11120. Did you hear the screams as soon as the first volley was fired?—Not the first; but after the second or third there were screams, and then Mr. Hare gave orders to cease firing, to allow them to come out.

11121. Do you remember Mrs. Reardon coming out, and her son, and Mr. Reardon?—Yes, that was near daylight.

11122. Where were you stationed at that time?—About thirty yards from the house, on the Wangaratta side of Jones’s hotel.

11123. Were you stationed towards the back or front?—Between the two, opposite in a line with the passage.

11124. That was about due north of the house?—Yes.

11125. Did you hear Mrs. Reardon cry out anything?—Yes, when she came out she screamed out. I could not make out what she said. She screamed out as loud as she could, and had a child in her arms, and when she came out Steele sang out, “Throw up your hands, or I will shoot you like a —— dog,” and the woman was coming towards him, and he fired.

11126. Did you suppose him to fire at her?—He fired direct at her; we could see it in the moonlight, and then she turned round, and then he fired a second shot, and then I spoke to him and told him not to fire—this was an innocent woman. I could see her with a child in her arms; and then afterwards he turned round and said, “I have shot Mother Jones in the ——.” Constable Phillips was on his right, on the right hand behind, and I heard him make some remark about a feather. I could not say what it was.

11127. Did you make any remark at that time?—I told him not to fire—it was an innocent woman. I said I would shoot him if he fired.

11128. How far were you from him?—About 20 yards.

11129. What door did they come from?—The back door of the hotel, out of the passage, and just as she came out of the passage Steele fired.

11130. Right behind the hotel?—Yes.

11131. Did you see her son coming out?—Yes, I saw the young fellow coming out, leading a child.

11132. Could you distinguish it was the figure of a man?—Yes, I could see it was a young man.

11133. It was light enough?—Oh, quite light.

11134. Was he crawling or walking?—Walking, leading the child.

11135. Had he his hand up?—After Steele called out to him, he held his hand up, and Steele fired.

11136. After his hand was up?—Yes, and he turned round, and as he went into the door he was shot—I would not swear who fired it—and he fell.

11137. Could you be positive that Steele deliberately fired at that young fellow?—No, because he was the nearest to me, and had to fire past me.

11138. You have no hesitation in saying Steele deliberately shot at the young fellow?—Yes, he shot at him.

11139. Did you see him fall?—Not with the shot Steele fired, but with another shot he fell in the door. I would not swear it was Steele fired that second shot.

11140. Did Steele make any remark?—Not then. After the youth, a man came out with a child in his arms, and Sergeant Steele sang out to him to hold up his hands.

11141. Did he do so?—He threw up his arm, and he fired at him. The man crept on his stomach, and crept into the house.

11142. Would that be the act of a sane man or a madman?—He seemed like as if he was excited. He fired from the tree when he first was there. He fired when I could see nothing to fire at.

11143. You did not see that he had been drinking?—No. When he came first in the morning, he came to where Constable Kelly and I were standing, and we went to tell him about the outlaws being in the house, and he would not wait; he rushed over to a tree close to the house leaving his men to place themselves.

11144. He did not place his own men?—No, not his own men, or anything—he would not wait.

11145. Who placed his men?—Senior-Constable Kelly took two, and the others went by themselves.

11146. You recollect you are on your oath; are you quite positive in these statements you have made?—I am.

11147. And that young Reardon was not crawling?—He was not, not when he came out.

11148. And the man that held up his hands after, you say Steele fired at him?—Yes.

11149. We have it in evidence that the elder Reardon fell upon his knees or belly, and crawled in?—That is what I say. I would not swear it was Reardon or young Reardon, but those that came out after Mrs. Reardon.

11150. You have no doubt in your mind that this was a woman?—Any man could see her and hear her voice.

11151. You had no suspicion in your mind that it was one of the outlaws?—None at all.

11152. You could tell the voice?—Yes.

11153. Sergeant Steele had the same opportunity of knowing that as you?—Just the same.

11154. Did he make any remark when you said you would shoot him if he fired again?—No; the only one was that he had shot Mrs. Jones in the ——.

11155. Were you at the capture of Ned Kelly?—I was.

11156. About what time was that?—About a quarter past seven, or half past.

11157. Was it pretty clear light?—It was foggy in the morning.

11158. If it had not been foggy it would have been clear?—Yes.

11159. Might that occur from the smoke from the guns?—No, I think not; it was a very foggy night all through.

11160. Where were you when Ned Kelly first appeared coming in?—I was about 100 yards from the house at the Wangaratta end. After Steele fired at this woman I shifted back, took up another position at the log, and then shifted further back again. I had a Martini-Henry rifle; it was as good at 100 yards as at twenty, and I was afraid if I stopped too near I would hit some one the other side. I was kneeling down when I heard something behind me, and I turned round and saw—I could not make out what was coming from behind the bush, and I told him to keep back or he would be shot.

11161. Were you the first that saw him?—I was. He made some rumbling noise through the helmet, and I said I would shoot if he came up, and with that he raised a revolver, and as he did so I fired at him, and he staggered, and then fired in the direction of me. The shot fell about half way. He could not raise his arm very well.

11162. Why not?—He seemed to be crippled. The left arm was holding his right, and the right he had the revolver in. Then I fired at him again a second shot, and he seemed to stagger, but it had no other effect on him; and then I knelt down and aimed at a white mark—a slit in the helmet—and he staggered again, and I made a step forward, and he fired again a second shot. I then called on Constable Phillips, and he turned round and fired the same time as I did. Then I turned round to the other men, as it was no good firing at him, and sang out, and Constable Healey and Montifort were the nearest, and they came up and fired their shot-guns at him. He then walked and turned to the tree where we found the rifle and the cap. Then the other men further back, where Sergeant Steele and the others were, started firing right past Constable Phillips and me, and we had to shift or we would have been shot,

11163. You were in danger?—We were in danger; and then Sergeant Steele sang out to steady firing—it was a blackfellow; and Steele went behind a bush; and after Kelly went to the tree where the rifle and cap was found he turned round and was walking in the direction of the railway station.

11164. Down hill, in fact?—Yes; and he tripped over the limb of a tree and fell. As he was falling Sergeant Steele ran up and fired two shots, and then all the other constables rushed—there was a general rush on him.

11165. Do you say he tripped over that before Steele fired?—I do.

11166. That he was falling?—That he was falling.

11167. And when he came out in the morning he was staggering?—He could hardly walk—crippled. I could not say what from, perhaps loss of blood. He seemed to be crippled and weak the way he was tottering along—not able to walk.

11168. Are you positive now. I want you to be very certain about whether Steele brought him down with a shot or whether he had fallen before he fired?—He had fallen before he fired. If there were any shots it would be either Constable Healey or Montifort.

11169. Where was Dowsett?—He was down towards the railway fence, and Bracken.

11170. Did you see Dowsett fire?—Yes, I did. He was on my left, firing.

11171. Steele has stated he fired, and when he fired Ned Kelly went down, or collapsed rather?—No. In coming along there was a limb came out towards the drain, and, in stepping over the limb, he tripped, and staggered along, and fell.

11172. You are prepared to say that those who have sworn that he was struck by Steele, before he fell, are wrong in their impression?—I never saw Steele fire a shot till afterwards. He was down on the ground—not exactly on the ground—he was stumbling and falling.

11173. Did Kelly fall forwards or backwards?—Forwards.

11174. Who was upon him, then, first?—I could not swear who; there was a general rush, and we were all up about the same time.

11175. How far were you from him at that time?—About thirty yards.

11176. Were you up the hill from him?—I was towards the railway station.

11177. Had you been any nearer during the time?—When he first came out I was fifteen or twenty yards off.

11178. Why did you retreat?—I had to, because of the shots of my comrades. I was between the two fires—they were right round, and Ned was here and I was there.

11179. You were not frightened of Ned?—No.

11180. You never ran away from him?—I never turned my back. I moved round to get at his back.

11181. Your moving was only to get a better position?—Yes, and to get out of the line of the others firing.

11182. It would be untrue to say you were attempting to escape from him?—Yes; because if I had shown cowardice, I could have waited behind the tree.

11183. Did you form the idea that he came from another world?—I could not form any idea. The only thing I thought at first it was some madman in the horrors who had put some nail keg on his head.

11184. Did he look a big man when he came along?—Yes; I could not make out what it was—a tremendous size.

11185. Much taller than a human being?—Yes.

11186. It has been stated that he took deliberate aim with his arm and hand?—That is not true. He held it in that position—he did not raise his hand up at all. It was like that—[indicating same].

11187. Did you form the impression he was wounded?—It seemed as if he could not lift his hand; and after Montifort and Healey fired he shifted his hand, and held the right hand with the left.

11188. So as to steady it?—Yes. He was more dead than alive when he came out.

11189. Do you know where he came out of the house?—I could not tell.

11190. You do not know anything about how he got out?—No. After we were firing the second volley, there was a man came out from the yard, and as he came out there were two rockets let up between the railway station and McDonald’s, and I was looking round to where they went off, and there was some firing went on then, and as I turned round I saw this man going out. I do not know whether it was Ned Kelly.

11191. We never heard of rockets?—Constable Gascoigne can tell about that. I think it was some sympathizers letting them know they were attacked by the police. One was very faint, and the other was a large one.

11192. Did you form any opinion about the taking of those men, whether the whole time of that night and day should have been spent on it?—Yes; it could not have been done any other way, without the loss of life. If we had gone in we would have been shot.

11193. Was there any offer to rush the house?—Yes.

11194. Would the police have been willing to?—Yes; in fact, if they had not fired the first shot, we would have been in the house in the morning.

11195. If Inspector Hare had not been shot, would he have gone into the house?—Yes, if they had not have fired. If they had kept quiet we would have been right into the house.

11196. How long would it have taken you to get there?—About five strides we would have been into it.

11197. What distance were you from it when you first fired?—About twenty yards, and we were running.

11198. You were running from the wicket-gate to the hotel?—Yes.

11199. Were you half way through?—Yes, just on the corner of the fence when the first volley came, and we stopped and returned the fire.

11200. Where was Mr. O’Connor at the time?—I did not see him.

11201. Do you know who were outside the railway gate when the first volley was fired?—The only one I could recognize was Gascoigne; I could not any others.

11202. The only one you could recognize was Gascoigne?—Yes.

11203. Where was Mr. Hare?—I saw him and three others besides myself, but I could not tell who they were.

11204. You could not tell whether they were either of the black trackers?—No.

11205. Did you see Mr. O’Connor outside the gate?—No.

11206. Did you see him leave the platform?—No.

11207. Did you leave before him?—I could not say.

11208. Are you sure he was not in advance of you?—I would not swear he was or he was not.

11209. Did you see Mr. O’Connor after in the day?—I saw him, after Kelly was taken, with Mr. Sadleir.

11210. Do you know where he was stationed before that?—No.

11211. Did Mr. Hare give any orders after he was shot?—Yes; I heard him call out, “O’Connor”; and then the next was to bring out his boys and surround the place, and, for God’s sake, not to let them escape—he was wounded and must go.

11212. Did you hear Mr. Hare give any other orders?—No, I did not.

11213. Did he say, “Cease firing”?—That was before he left, but not after he gave those orders to Mr. O’Connor. He never gave any others. The first was to cease firing and to let the women out, and then he went to Mr. O’Connor and gave that order to him.

11214. Did you see Mr. Hare after that?—No.

11215. Who was the next officer in command after Mr. Hare left?—Senior-Constable Kelly.

11216. Did Kelly take the management after that time?—He came out about half an hour after Mr. Hare went away from the drain, and came to me and asked where the remainder of the men were. I told him there were two up higher than I was; and he said, “Come on, we will go round and place them.” The only man he called to was Barry. Gascoigne was next to me; I pointed him out; I said he was all right. Then we went round—about 100 yards round—and spoke to Barry. He had Hero, the tracker, with him; and then we went round the back to the Wangaratta end, and there were no men there, and going round we found the rifle and cap.

11217. Did you consider Kelly was carrying out the order of Mr. Hare to surround the place with the men at his disposal?—Yes. They did not require any man to put them round; they knew what to do themselves.

11218. Did you hear Steele arrive?—Yes.

11219. Did you hear Kelly tell Steele anything?—Steele would not wait. Kelly said, “Hare is wounded, and one of the outlaws is gone,” and was going on, but Steele ran up to the tree, and would not wait; and I said to him, “Do not go up there, you will be shot by men between.” I meant he would spoil the shooting at the men in the passage, and he went to the tree.

11220. Did Steele place his men?—No did not.

11221. Did Kelly attempt to give instructions to Steele’s men?—He did to two of the men—he took two of them.

11222. For the purpose of placing them?—Yes.

11223. How many men had Steele?—Five, I think.

11224. He never attempted to place the men at all, but ran up to this tree?—No.

11225. Did you see Mr. Sadleir when he arrived?—No.

11226. When was the first time you saw him?—About half an hour after Ned Kelly was taken.

11227. Where was that?—He came over to the tree I was standing near, about sixty yards from the hotel, on the Wangaratta end—[indicating on plan].

11228. What time did you see Mr. Sadleir?—About half an hour after Kelly was taken.

11229. You were then at the same tree?—Yes.

11230. Who was with him then?—No one was with him that I can remember.

11231. When did you see Mr. O’Connor?—Shortly after that again, it might have been ten minutes. He was with Mr. Sadleir, towards the hotel; between the railway fence and the hotel.

11232. Were they behind the tree?—No, they were standing talking.

11233. Had they any shelter?—I think Mr. Sadleir was standing with his back against the tree, and Mr. O’Connor standing in front of it.

11234. Did you see Mr. Sadleir any other time during the day?—Yes, several times after that.

11235. Where was he?—At different places on the ground.

11236. Was he going round?—Yes, I was with him when they were firing at the house, when Johnson set fire to it.

11237. Did you see Mr. O’Connor any further during the day?—Yes, I saw him several times with Mr. Sadleir, at different parts of the ground.

11238. Was there any firing after one o’clock from the hotel?—I think, at half-past two they were shooting out of the front, down towards the people on the railway station.

11239. Are you sure that the shots were fired from the hotel, and did not come from the police outside?—You could tell when within thirty or forty yards, by the difference in the sound. The sound of those outside would be sharper, those inside would be dull.

11240. Would the sound from inside appear to be from ordinary guns or rifles, or was it the sound from being fired inside the house?—Yes; it sounded deadened. It was different from any shot outside, from within twenty or thirty yards you could tell.

11241. Are you sure there were no shots fired as late as that?—Yes; I would take it to be half past two. I would not swear to the time exactly.

11242. You say you were there when the house was fired?—Yes.

11243. Did you see the dead bodies after the burning?—Yes.

11244. Where were they?—Lying in the small bedroom in the back.

11245. Which end?—On the Benalla end of the building.

11246. Were they both together?—Yes, about two feet apart.

11247. In the same room?—Yes.

11248. Did you receive any instructions during the day other than those you received early in the morning?—The only instruction I received was to come round and fire into the end of the house just before they burnt it.

11249. That was all the instructions you received during the day?—Except when Senior-Constable Kelly asked me to come round with him.

11250. Did you see Constable Dwyer going round?—Yes.

11251. What was he doing?—I saw him with a bottle of brandy or something in his hand.

11252. Did you hear him giving any orders he had received from anybody?—No.

11253. Did he give you any?—No, he never came where I was.

11254. What weapon had he in his hand?—He had a bottle.

11255. What had you?—A Martini carbine rifle.

11256. Did you fall short of ammunition during the day?—No, I looked after that. I was served out with twenty rounds when I left Benalla, and I kept nearly all of it. I fired about ten when the outlaws were on the verandah, and I got five off Senior-Constable Kelly.

11257. Was he serving ammunition round?—Not when he went with me.

11258. Do you know whether he served ammunition round during the day or not?—He gave me five after he had been down to meet Mr. Sadleir and came back.

11259. Did he say whether that was his own, or he had got it from the station?—No, he did not say. I said, had he any spare ammunition, and he gave me five.

11260. Had he also a Martini carbine?—Yes, I think there were four carbines there and one long Martini-Henry; Gascoigne had a long Martini-Henry rifle.

11261. Do you remember seeing Ned Kelly’s helmet taken off?—It fell off.

11262. Are you quite sure of that?—When I got there it was off, and no one had had time to take it off.

11263. You were not present when he fell?—They had not time hardly to take anything off him—not the helmet.

11264. Was his head towards the station house?—Yes.

11265. And  you  swear  that  now—there  is  a great conflict of evidence about that?—He was going in  this  direction.    Say  there  is  the  hotel—[explaining  the  same]—he  fell  over  a  log.    It  would  not  be towards the station or the hotel, but in a line between them. He rolled over. They struggled when they came up; they tried to get up, and got half in a sitting position, and rolled over on his back.

11266. Did you see the revolver taken from him?—No. Guard Dowsett, Senior-Constable Kelly, Sergeant Steele, and Constable Bracken, had hold of him at different places. We had made a rush to him the same time.

11267. Were Steele, Dowsett, Senior-Constable Kelly, and Bracken in and about the person of Ned Kelly before you were close to him?—No, I was not five yards off.

11268 Were they closer than you?—Yes.

11269. They would have a better opportunity of knowing the position than you?—No, they would not have time to shift him.

11270. Would either of those four be in a better position to say whether the helmet fell off or whether it was taken off?—Yes, they would.

11271. You are satisfied his head was towards the station?—I am, and then when I saw the lot on him, they had him safe enough, and no one to look at the house, as he had called out to the others to come out, “Come on boys, we have got them.” I left immediately to watch the house from the tree in case the others came out and fired on to the police.

11272. You did not see anybody taking the revolver from him?—No, I cannot say who took it. One had hold of his arm, and one his beard, and another his arm.

11273. Who had hold of his beard?—Senior-Constable Kelly and Bracken was standing over him.

11274. Might you be mistaken on that?—No.

11275. If anybody swore that Steele had him by the beard, would it be true?—The lot of them might have got hold of him at different times.

11276. The upshot is that you had not the same opportunity of observing the first struggle as others?—I had, except Kelly, Steele, and Dowsett.

11277. Did you see Bracken stand over and threaten to shoot anyone?—I heard him say, “Do not shoot him; he never did rise any harm. I am going to take his part.”

11278. Whom did he say that to?—Apparently to the lot.

11279. Was anyone going to shoot him?—I never saw it. Of course they had a revolver of his in their hands.

11280. Would anyone have had time to have said, “I swore I will be in at your death, and I will shoot you now”?—Yes, I heard Steele say that.

11281. Did he make any movement to draw his revolver?—If I mistake not he had his revolver out. I am not sure about that. There were two or three revolvers out. I heard him make the remark, “I said I would be in at your death.”

11282. Was it after that that Bracken said not to shoot him?—Yes.

11283. What did Constable Bracken say—the exact words—do you remember?—Ned Kelly said, “For God’s sake do not shoot me “; and Bracken said, “I will look out for you, old man”—no, I could not be certain what the words were; but one stood over him in this position—[indicating by gesture]. I know he said something about taking his part.

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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