4 / 3/1882
... part of the KellyGang story
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The Government have dealt with what they must have regarded as their administrative crux, namely, the recommendations of the Police Commission, and they have acted, as we would submit, on the whole wisely and well. We have essayed an exhaustive and impartial review of the report of the evidence in our columns, and the conclusions we arrived at and duly set forth do not differ in any very material particular from those now enunciated by Ministers. No two persons would agree in opinion upon all the details of the case, but Ministers appear to have striven to do justice. They have not been deceived by the literary sensationalism of the report, and the now notorious "sketch" which accompanies it, but they have inquired into the facts for themselves, and, so far as we can judge have endeavoured to arbitrate fairly. The consequence is that one by one they have felt constrained to set aside the recommendation of the commission on all the disputed points. And they are entitled to the more credit for their independence of action, inasmuch is they run the risk of alienating two or three members of the commission who have hitherto given the Government encouragement and support in the Legislature. Ministers have preferred to run the risk of sacrificing their own interests rather than to sit as a sham and unreal court of appeal. Political influence has not weighed with them. And because the Ministry is not strong in Parliament, this resolute and generous conduct is deserving of special approbation.
The only real difficulty, as it seems to us, was with regard to Messrs. NICOLSON and HARE. It is now admitted – even by the commissioners – that both the officers just named did the best they could with the means at their command. They worked not only with zeal, but with enthusiasm, each after his own manner, Mr HARE showing the dash of the cavalry officer, and Mr NICOLSON the astuteness which was to be expected from the former head of the detective department. Unhappily a rivalry – injudiciously dealt with by the ex-chief commissioner – sprang up between them, and the proceedings before the commission tended to still further embitter their relations. We were in hopes that a reconciliation could be effected, and that the services of both officers could be retained under some efficient and neutral head. Ministers have, of course, better opportunities than ourselves of knowing how far this course is practicable, and they have decided that, though expedient, it is not possible. And as one officer must go, they have not felt able to make a selection. We can sympathise with Ministers in this dilemma, for, as our articles have shown, a study of the evidence left us similarly embarrassed.
On the one hand, Mr NICOLSON stands acquitted of every charge and is shown to have paralysed the Kelly gang, and to have forced it from cover. On the other hand, Mr HARE's gallantry and his popularity in the force are conspicuous, and he is able, in his protest, to refer to "twenty- eight years of honourable service in the Victorian Police force, during which time I have received the thanks of the Governor, the Parliament, the magistrates, and the head of my department, and never during the whole period been reprimanded or censured." The commissioner who were also unable to decide between the two officers, proposed that both should go. The Government ask both to return temporarily to their former positions. Thus they are cleared of all imputations upon their personal characters and upon their official efficiency. They will then be offered appointments as police magistrates, and thus they will receive substantial promotion; the danger of discord in the force will be avoided, and a valuable opportunity of introducing new blood will be legitimately obtained. All that we would point out is that Superintendent HARE was recommended a special allowance on account of his wound, and that he is fairly entitled to some such special consideration.
The man who is maimed when serving his country should always be adequately compensated. As to the chief commissionership, no one has superior claims to the post – Messrs. NICOLSON and HARE being removed – than Superintendent CHOMLEY, who has been discharging the duties of the post, and who is now to receive the permanent appointment. It was his good fortune that he was not engaged in the arduous tasks of the Kelly campaign, where, as the event showed, there was much reputation to lose and little to gain. It is his merit that he has an unblemished record. He will now be put to the test, and it will be his own fault if he does not make himself a success in the position. He is entitled to a fair trial, but he must not expect to receive undue favour.
Superintendent SADLEIR returns to his old position. The commissioners desired to put him back a step because of his conduct of affairs at Glenrowan. The statements made in the sketch about Glenrowan have been shown to be untrustworthy, and the sneers indulged in are unworthy of public men and of a state document. Mr SADLEIR is to be congratulated upon a recall which clears his character. The Government censure him for his minute upon Senior-constable KELLY, who objected to be stationed at Greta. If the minute contained a reflection upon the courage of the constable, no doubt it was ill deserved. But superintendents have to maintain discipline, and it seems to us that it would have been sufficient to have expunged the memo, without censuring Mr SADLEIR for an act performed in the bona fide discharge of his duty. This, however, is a small matter compared with the larger issues that had to be dealt with.
The controversy has waxed fierce and strong about Sergeant STEELE, of Wangaratta, and here we can heartily approve of the course which has been taken. The absurd charge brought by the commission has been set aside. It was seriously proposed to degrade Sergeant STEELE to the ranks because he did not neglect his own special mission, and attend to a task as specially delegated to a superior officer. The commissioners considered that, though the Chief Secretary, and Captain STANDISH, and Superintendent SADLEIR pronounced a particular gentleman fit for duty, and entrusted him with certain responsibilities, Sergeant STEELE ought to have recognised that this officer was unfit, and ought to have set him aside. On such an issue Sergeant STEELE would be acquitted by ninety nine men out of every hundred, and the dissentients would be composed of the eccentric and spiteful members of the community. There was another charge, however, preferred against Sergeant STEELE by two constables, that he fired upon a woman when she was escaping from the Glenrowan inn. The commissioners set this tale aside, without calling upon Sergeant STEELE for a defence. However, Sergeant STEELE has applied for a board, and it is only fair that he should have one. Gross perjury has been committed by some one, and perjury among the police ought not to be tolerated. Under the peculiar circumstances of the case, the board should be open to the public.
The case of Detective WARD, who is charged with falsifying reports, so as to keep everyone on good terms, is too tangled to be easily unravelled. WARD was never asked to call witnesses, and the censure of the Government is a mild one; but we wish that, instead of casting a slur upon the detective, who is a zealous officer, he had been granted the inquiry which in his appeal he prays for. The dismissal of the four constables who cowered in the hut at Sebastopol for a night and a day, will be generally acquiesced in. Finally, Ministers have asked the new chief commissioner to report upon the force, with a view to improving its efficiency, and thus the Longmore Commission is relieved from further duty, and disappears from the scene. It is not too much to say that a more incompetent and more badly managed public body never existed even in Victoria.
This document gives you the text of the report about the KellyGang for this day. The text has been retyped from a microfiche copy of the original on the National Library of Australia's system. We have taken care to reproduce this document but areas of the original text may been damaged. We also apologise for any typographical errors.