The Royal Commission evidence for 7/6/1881
(see also introduction to day 26)
Mr John McWhirter giving evidence
10405 Did you hear any one volunteer to go and take Cherry out before the house was set on fire?— No; but I noticed Kelly's two sisters came from the Greta side—Mrs. Skillian and Kate Kelly. Mrs. Skillian was stopped by Senior Constable Kelly; and I heard him asking her if she would not go to the hotel and advise her brother to surrender. She said she would sooner see them burned first. I did not know at that time; something must have been said to Mrs. Skillian, otherwise she would not have know it was intended to burn the hotel. That was the first intimation I had it was intended to burn the hotel.
10406 How soon afterwards was it set on fire?— Twenty minutes. Senior Constable Kelly then went to the Catholic priest on the ground, who also had an interview with Mrs. Skillian, to get her to go up to the hotel, and get her brother to surrender. She again said she would sooner see them burned first; but she would like to have an interview with her brother before he died. Kelly said, “You had better come round with me to see Mr. Sadleir.” They walked round the Benalla side, close to the railway, and Mrs. Skillian then walked towards the hotel, and was ordered by the police to stop, or they would fire on her. She stopped, and a few minutes after I noticed Constable Johnson take a bundle of straw to the Benalla side of the hotel, and set fire to it. I spoke to the Catholic priest, who was standing near me at the railway gate, and said he was the only man who could have Cherry. He asked me if I did not think there was any danger, and I told him no, because they would not do him any harm.
10407 In consequence of his religious dress?— Yes. He walked towards the hotel, and the police ordered him to go back or they would fire; but he took no notice of them.
10408 The police threatened to fire at him?— That is, the police stationed at a tree just between the station and the hotel. It is the nearest tree to the house I think. He entered the house with his head uncovered, and, as he entered, the whole place seemed to take fire at once. I feared for a moment for his safety, and ran round to the back of the hotel, and there saw several policemen carrying Cherry out. The priest said they were all dead, that they were lying in the room on the Benalla side as he passed through, and that a dog was lying dead alongside of them. I noticed some of the police also taking about the though, and that a dog was lying dead alongside of them. I noticed some of the police also taking out the body of Byrne.
10409 Did the police rush up immediately after the priest .?— Immediately after the priest.
10410 After he came out?— I did not see the priest come back. I have heard it in evidence that he came back at the front door, and signalled to the men, but I did not see that. He may have done so. Cherry was just dying when he was brought out.
10411 You said, when Mr. Hare rushed up after the first volley, he gave the order “ Cease firing.” Why did he do that, have you any idea?— I do not know. It is very possible that, from his position, he heard the cries of the people in the house, and was so induced to order the police to stop firing.
10412 You did not hear him calling to Mr. O'Connor to surround the house.?— I did not. Oh, I heard him say to Senior Constable Kelly, at one time, to be careful and surround the house—” For God's sake “ to surround the house.
10413 Then, in your opinion, Senior Constable Kelly had full charge till Mr. Sadleir arrived?— I think so.
10414 There was an expression made use of this morning by one witness. He said Senior Constable Kelly kept things all right. Would that fairly represent his conduct in your opinion?— Yes. That was a peculiarly dangerous time—between three in the morning and six o'clock —because the police on the ground were not numerous. They had to take up places at considerable intervals in order to surround the house.....
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