In consequence of his feeble action in conducting the chase after the outlaws referred to in the last chapter, Mr Brooke Smith was sent by Mr Nicolson to Beechworth, with instructions to attend to ordinary police duty and meddle no more in the Kelly business. Mr Smith, among other disqualifications as leader of a search party, seemed to have a constitutional inability to leave his bed before eight or nine o’clock in the morning and an unconquerable aversion to remaining out of it under rough camp conditions at night. Mr Nicolson himself had to rouse Mr Smith on one occasion and send him after the men he should have been leading upon the tracks of the outlaws. There were black trackers at Wangaratta, one an old man from Corranderrk aboriginal station who still retained some of the cuning of his early days of hunting life, and a young man, Jemmy, whom the old one called his pupil, but who did not credit to his teaching, being a stupid, useless fellow.
In addition to Kennedy’s packhorse Mr Brooke Smith’s party had picked up a ramrod, very probably dropped by the outlaws; but owing to the delay before pursuit took place Mr Nicolson did not think the men were ever really very close upon the Kellys. An examination of Kennedy’s horse led him to the conclusion that it had been abandoned for about a week.
Having sent Mr Brooke Smith to remain out of mischief at Beechworth, Mr Nicolson took matters in hand himself, and on November 11, the day before that upon which the outlaws were invited to surrender themselves at Mansfield, a report came in that they had been seen crossing the railway line near Glenrowan, a township about nine miles on the Melbourne side of Wangaratta, and about five miles from Greta, which lies to the east of the railway line connecting the two first named places. The informant was a platelayer who said the Kellys had crossed from Greta towards the Warby Ranges side, and accordingly Mr Sadlier and Mr Nicolson, meeting at Glenrowan, started at daylight on November 12, with some constables and the two trackers already mentioned. The tracks were perfectly plain and the blacks led the party to the foot of the ranges. There, though according to Mr Sadlier the tracks were still visible going on into the bush, the blacks insisting upon turning aside and leading the party into marshy ground, where there were thousands of prints of horse and cattle hoofs and it was quite out of the question to follow any individual tracks. All the cattle of the neighbourhood came to this spot to water, but it was impossible to get the black trackers back on to the original trail, undoubtedly because it was leading to cover where an ambush might be expected. From fear and cunning the blacks resolutely refused to go first, and the police were unable to take the lead, since by so doing they would spoil the tracks and made them impossible for the blacks to follow, while the constables themselves would be quite incapable of keeping upon them after they left the soft ground at the foot of the ranges.
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