The Ovens and Murray
... part of the KellyGang story
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IS NED KELLY TO BE TRIED IN THE NORTHERN BAILIWICK?
It seems that the authorities in Melbourne are in some doubt as to whether the surviving bushranger, Kelly, should be tried in the metropolis or in the northern bailiwick. It is difficult to conceive how any questions on such a subject can possibly exist. The circumstances are, doubtless, of an extraordinary and quite exceptional character, and it was wise that the outlaw should in the first instance be taken to Melbourne, both for security and in order that he should have the best possible medical attendance; but that he should be tried there is a very different matter. Granted that did the ordinary reasons for changing the venue of the trial of a great criminal—such as the danger of a popular outbreak or the fear that an unbiased jury could not be obtained—exist in this case, then Kelly ought to be tried in Melbourne; but no such reasons exist. On the contrary, not only do these causes not exist, but there are unanswerable arguments in favor of his being tried as near as possible to the scene of his crimes, where his character was best known, and, above all, where he met with an amount of sympathy which enabled him for nearly two years to set at defiance the whole powers of the police force, backed by an unlimited supply of money. We presume that the Government are too well informed to believe that the sympathisers will be utterly crushed by the downfal of the Kelly gang. They may be stunned and terrified for a time; but, that feeling will pass away, and they are quite numerous and desperate enough, if not kept well in check, to keep up a system of warfare not perhaps so audacious as that of the Kelly gang, but quite as troublesome.
Those who are not familiar with the district in which the Kelly have been enabled to shelter themselves during their depredations have no idea of the feelings which prevail there. Where the settlers were not actually in sympathy with the bushrangers they were so cowed by their threats that scarcely one of them dared to open his mouth in respect to what they either witnessed or heard of the movements of the gang. They were not merely afraid of the bandits themselves, but each one dreaded his neighbor. Nor is it any wonder that so abject a terror existed; because in that wild region isolated settlers were absolutely at the mercy of evil-disposed persons. It was not merely that their lives were in danger from the ruffians themselves, but their houses, their cattle, their fences, their crops, might at any time be destroyed, and the owners brought to ruin. There were men among them so impressed by the dangers that threatened them, that, although naturally on the side of the law, they even feared to mention the name of the Kellys in ordinary conversation.
They had constant opportunities of witnessing what the public must, after the late transaction, be well convinced to be true, that the gang had numberless channels of information of all that was done, said, or written about them; and, in fact, no man was safe either to give information or express an opinion hostile to the Kellys. What we desire to point out is, that this feeling remains to a great extent still, and will continue to do so until the more active sympathisers are marked, weeded out, or crushed into respect for the law. For a time, no doubt, and until Kellys fate is decided, no active demonstration may be made. Any attempt at rescue would be entirely out of the question, and the bad ones who remain, are not generally of the calibre to undertake such enterprise. But not a few amongst them are equal to an act of incendiarism or taking up a rail; and even now the police must be incessant in their vigilance to prevent such dastardly acts.
So deeply do we feel impressed with this, that we would strongly advise that on the meeting of Parliament an act should be passed making the taking up a rail or otherwise interfering with a railway line, so as to endanger life, a hanging matter, even should the intended catastrophe be prevented. But there should certainly be no sign of weakness on the part of the authorities at this moment and the trying of Kelly in Melbourne, not to speak of the great public inconvenience it would cause, would be a sign of weakness. Kelly, therefore, should be tried on the spot, in the midst of the scene of his murders, and of his long reign of immunity, and his trial should be by special commission as soon as ever he can be removed. It should also be surrounded by all the solemnities which would invest such a trial with the whole force and majesty of the law. We would strongly advocate that such an act as we have above indicated should be a portion of the political programme of the Attorney General and of Mr Zincke, during the election campaign now commenced, as it is terrible to think that there are men amongst us who would not hesitate in the presence of any punishment, which might under the present law be inflicted on them, to produce so frightened a calamity as would be occasioned by overturning a train.
The nearer the trial is held to the haunts and the sympathisers of the Kellys, the more such men will be appalled by the fate which awaits them. They are all pretty well known to the police, and on the slightest sign of their recommencing their departure by which that district has been distinguished for years past, such repressive measures should be taken as would, strike terror into their hearts. The affair of the trial now lies in the hands of Mr Kerford who is well aware that the feeling we have described as existing in the Kelly district is no freak of imagination. Mr Kerford, therefore, ought, we think, at once take such steps as would render the taking place of the trial in this bailiwick beyond question. Such representations as would ensure this result should be brought to bear upon the Attorney-General during his present visit to this district.
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