Second Cave Party 12/1879-4/1880
I was stationed in Wahgunyah to guard the local bank up to late May 1880. During that time I had been treated by the doctor for inflammation of my eyes, and the inflammation was gone, but my eyes were very bad at dark nights. I was wearing a green cover over my eyes. See also (RC1717)
I am sure that the cave party was discovered by the KellyGang. (RC12099)
When I was leaving Beechworth, Det Ward had asked me to furnish a report along with the other constables. I made a report to say that I simply carried out Mr. Nicolson's instructions, and formed no opinion as to whether we were discovered or not. Ward asked me to report that we were not discovered, but I refused to do so.(RC12107) See also. (RC12115) (RC5440) (RC13558)
"Benalla Railway Station, June 2/1880. Send Constable Armstrong back to his station. Withdraw the watch party, and send them to duty. Any further orders from Superintendents Hare or Sadleir. Detective Ward already instructed that no further authority for money or supplies to Tommy or his friends. -(Sd.)- C.H. Nicolson, A.C.P."
At Aaron Sherritt's Home
As I was starting to return to my station, Det Ward came up from Benalla by the two o'clock train and countermanded that order. He said I would have to go out to watch Byrne's, with two other constables, McCall and Alexander.
The instructions I received from Ward were in the Beechworth barrack yard. Aaron Sherritt was present. He (Ward) said, "Armstrong, you will be in charge; you will watch Byrne's from eight o'clock at night until about five in the morning."
I asked him if I would keep a sentry, and he replied, "No; keep no sentry; keep inside."
Ward left then, and he came back again about seven o'clock at night, riding with some other man. He said, "I will go away and get your ticket to go to the quarterly assembly in the benevolent asylum-you and McCall."
I said, "I do not want to go." This was Thursday night, on the 3rd of June.
We waited until twelve o'clock at night, and finding he had not returned, we started on our own account, we three-Alexander, McColl , and I.
When we arrived at Sherritt's hut Sherritt was in bed. It was two o'clock when we arrived there. We did not watch Byrne's that night.
About the 5th, Const Magor joined us. He remained until about the 17th. He returned to Beechworth then, along with Const McCall.
Const Duross and Dowling came out in their place; that left the four constables who were in the hut at the time Sherritt was murdered. We used, when we would return in the morning, to be round the kitchen fire until Sherritt and his wife got up; then we took our blankets all into the room, and, by the permission of Sherritt and his wife, Duross and I slept on the bed with our blankets. Alexander and Dowling slept on the floor. It was a weatherboard hut, with a shingle roof. (RC12127) see also (RC5247)
Det Ward's instructions to me were to go to this hut, to secrete themselves there in the room during the day, and between eight and nine o'clock at night to go down to Mrs. Byrne's house, and there watch till a little before daylight in the morning; to be back in the hut before daylight, and to keep themselves quiet during the day. (RC14160)
We had no sleep hardly; about eight or nine days we used to remain there, and could not wash our faces; had to carry water two miles. (RC12110)
Soon after, about 11 o'clock one morning, Aaron approached me and told me that his landlord wanted him off the place The owner was a foreigner, and he ordered Aaron to clear out. He would not give up possession; then the man said he would go and get the police. He was the original owner of the hut. Aaron took forcible possession of it. While he was there we had a run in with Aaron as we did not want any trouble. I even said, "For God's sake bring the man back here; he will turn us out and we shall be discovered." In the end Const Alexander lent Aaron the money to pay for the house(RC12131)
We gave Aaron Sherritt money for cooking, and to please him. Nothing unusual occurred until the 18th of June. We were crossing the creek on the way to Byrne's when a lot of Chinamen came after us, and called out. Sherritt said, "They think we are going to rob their sluiceboxes." I said, "We will point the guns, and they will think we are the Kellys." Sherritt said "Yes." We pointed the guns, and they ran away. (RC12135)
I said to Sherritt the next morning, "Go round and see what the Chinamen have to say, and tell them we are the KellyGang if they say anything," and Sherritt returned; he said, "It is all right, Harry, the Chinamen say they saw the Kellys last night. I told them not to tell, and they said, 'No --fear, we know Joe Byrne'"; Sherritt and I arranged not to go out in the moonlight till ten o'clock (it was moonlight then), and remain out two hours longer in the morning. (RC12136)
The following night, Saturday the 19th June, at about 6.30pm, Dowling and I were helping Sherritt to cut wood for Sunday. Mrs. Sherritt came running out, and said, "Sup Hare and Det Ward are here; Ward told you to go down to Byrne's."
Sherritt started alone; that was the custom in the Nicolson cave party time for us. I went and saw Ward; he said to me, "Mr. Hare has gone down along with constables Duross and Alexander; go away and be there before them, and say you had left before them, and challenge, lest the other party should fire."
I got my ammunition, and I said to Dowling, who was along with me, "This is a strange affair; I think I will tell the truth." Dowling said, "Certainly."
When we arrived at Byrne's, Sherritt was there. After some time, I saw Mr. Hare coming with two other constables; I knew him by his height. I did not challenge as Ward told me; we were too close to Byrne's house, but I shouldered my gun by which he would know I was no enemy-that is the officer's salute.
I said, "I am Constable Armstrong." It was the first time I had ever met Mr. Hare.
He called me back in from the bush, and said, "How are you getting on?"
I said, "Doing the best we can, sir."
He said, "What brought you down before this man; that man (meaning Alexander) does not know the way?"
I said, "The fact of it is-I will tell the truth, no matter what is the resort-Dowling and I were helping Sherritt to cut wood; we were seen by Chinamen last night, and we had arranged not to go down till ten o'clock to-night, and remain out a little longer in the morning."
Mr. Hare said, "That man has told me a lie." I could not say whom he referred to. (RC12136) see also (RC4176) (RC13861) (RC13892)
Sup Hare said, "Do not you think it would be as well to let them go to Byrne's and dismount, lie down beside their horses, and shoot them as they get on." I said, "I think that would be a very good plan, sir."
He bade me good night in the most friendly manner, and wished me success; did not abuse me by any means, as he said in the evidence.
When I returned to the hut I said to Sherritt, "Mr. Hare seems a nice sort of man to speak to; it is a devil of a pity that lie was told; it will look bad for us."
Then Sherritt said, "This is some of Mr. -Jack's work," meaning his brother, "he is always carrying stories to Ward and Mullane, to say I am drunk at the Chinese camp, and so on; if they come always in this way I will throw up the job." (RC12137)
In May 1881 I had a conversation with SConst Mullane and Det Ward about what happened while I was guarding the window of the jury room at the court in Beechworth. The discussion was about whether Det Ward was lying (RC13940).
On Sunday the 20th, Paddy Byrne stood on his grey mare in the front of the hut, looking in, we all watching him through the joints of the door, between the boards.
On Monday-the 21st, about a quarter past eleven, we were camped about 600 yards from Byrne's house, at night. It was occasionally light moonlight. Sherritt had left us at this time; he went to have a look round towards the stockyard and towards Byrne's Gap. (RC12137)
I reported to SConst Mullane at seven o'clock the next morning, and the trackers were sent up by the afternoon train; but Ward had said Sherritt could not pick up the tracks, and they were not sent out.(RC12137)
I wrote a report to Det Ward and went off to meet him the following day. See at Sherritt for details of what happened. The report was about a visit we had from Paddy Byrne on 21/6/1880. Please see Paddy for the details of what I had to say. (RC5104)
On Saturday morning, the 26/6/1880, Sherritt said to me in his own hut, "Armstrong, you are discovered. Denny Byrne passed in the rear of the hut, and looked in twice. They can set fire to this hut, and shoot you one by one as you run out." I said, "We will have to chance that: they can shoot us, too, any night on the way to Byrne's. However, I will go in to-night and tell Ward, and he can tell Mr. Hare if he likes." (RC12137)
Mrs Byrne stated after the event that her son Denny tracked us in the sand for a hundred yards every morning to and from the hut. Straps, I am also informed, have been found; I lost a strap myself at Byrne's. I am convinced the outlaws knew we were there. (RC12214)
Candidly I did not know the KellyGang were in the country at the time. No information whatever was given to the men. (RC12198)
See my story (Argus8/7/80)
Aaron and Mrs Sherritt were having dinner with Mrs Barry and my police colleagues, Consts Alexander, Duross and Dowling were sleeping in the bed room at about 6.30 pm when there was a knock on the door. Const Duross and Mrs Barry have set out many of the details of what happened.
Mrs Sherritt said, "Aaron is shot," after the second shot was fired. (RC12150)
I then made some remark to say these were the KellyGang. I took my shot gun and revolver and got on my knees on the bed. The other men were in a scene of great confusion
I remained at the window for a few seconds, and a third shot was fired. It was on the front of the house, facing the El Dorado road. (RC12141)
I went up to the bedroom door, and put my gun out through the calico screen Const Alexander had his gun out through the screen also, pointing towards the front. I believe one of the other police was trying to fire over the partition, and the other at the window. Byrne challenged us from the back, and said, "Come outside and surrender, or I will shoot you rotten dogs." (RC12143)
We were armed with shot-guns, and we could not fire out through the wheather boards. They were used by watch parties, but they were totally useless in our case, and we could not fire through the boards. (RC12147)
Mrs. Sherritt we told to go under the bed, to keep out of the way. Mrs. Barry was put under the bed roughly, but she did not complain.
I shifted the body of Sherritt to one side also; the body had fallen inside.
After some time, when it got dark, say about eleven o'clock, I closed the doors.(RC12158)
After consulting with the others we agreed to send all the messengers we could find on the creek and remain on the ground ourselves. They came down so suddenly on us at nightfall, and as I thought without horses, I thought there might have been a possibility of their returning. I thought it would have made matters still worse had the gang shown up during my absence. I wrote out three letters addressed to the Beechworth police. (RC12162)
The first one then we saw was a Chinaman, and we called the Chinaman and asked him would he take a message into the police in Beechworth, and we would pay him for doing so. He was horrified at the sight of Sherritt lying on the floor, and said he would not.
We asked him then if he would go and take a message to the schoolmaster, who lived about a couple of miles away from there. He went, and the schoolmaster came back. We asked him if he would take a message into Beechworth. He said certainly he would, and he went and he returned in about an hour's time, or an hour and a half, and said his wife would not allow him to go in, afraid he would be shot on the road taking the message in. Then there was another man; he volunteered to go through the bush around and take it in. (RC3681)
I went up to the Sugarloaf Range to look for one of Sherritt's horses, but I could not find any. I started then myself on foot. When I got a mile along the road I saw Paddy Byrne on his grey mare. He came at a fast gallop to meet me. I still thought the outlaws were about. He turned off the road or I would have taken his horse. When I got near Beechworth, three miles from Beechworth, I met a man named Considine. I stopped him and took his horse from him perforce. I knocked the horse up in five minutes. On looking round in the bush I saw the last messenger we had sent, Duckett (Argus1/7/80)(MDTel1/7/80) (OMA1/7/80) (OMA26/4/81) (Duggan). (RC12162)
The other officers stayed inside until about 6pm when the police party came out from Beechworth. They just went outside at a call of nature, on one or two occasions. We could not go out and search for tracks, the place was crowded with people after about 2pm.(RC3707)
Special train leaves Benalla to go to Beechworth - follow up on death of Aaron Sherritt
Arrival Glenrowan from Beechworth
I came to Glenrowan from Beechworth and arrived at about 9am. (RC2880)
Release of the civilians 10am
When the civilians left the Inn the people were all lying on their bellies for safety, and we drafted the men. (RC6372)
I escorted Ned Kelly to Melbourne with Inspector Baber and two constables. He said, "Was SConst Johnson in the hut when Sherritt was shot?" I said, "No; why do you ask me that, Ned?" He asked me if I tortured Sherritt. He said, "What men were there?" I said, "I am sorry to say I was." He said, "To have gone out in you light would have been foolhardy; you would have all been shot but one. It was not our game to shoot you all. We wanted one man to go in and draw the police away from the barracks." (RC12214)
After returning from Glenrowan I gave evidence to the inquest at to what happened at Aaron Sherritt's place at the time he was shot. This is what I told the inquiry.
'We stopped in a hut occupied by Sherritt during the day time, and during the night we were engaged watching Mrs Byrne's house. We generally left at night o'clock in the evening, and returned between three and five in the morning. I remember Saturday last, we were at Sherritt's house. We usually occupied the bedroom.
Const Duross was in the kitchen having his tea. At half past six o'clock a knock came to the door, and Duross walked into the bedroom. Our instructions were to remain close all day and avoid observations. We were never to venture out except at night or early morning.
After the knock came, I heard a voice say, 'Sherritt, I have lost my way!' Mrs Sherritt said, 'Go out there and show him.' I then heard a shot and immediately after another one. About two seconds elapsed between the two reports.
I said, 'Take your arms my boys and get ready. We had doubled-barrelled shot guns and revolvers. The guns were loaded with swan and duck cartridge, and were better for night work than rifles.
The next thing I heard was Mrs Barry saying, 'Aaron's shot.' I went to the front (bedroom): window to fire out, but could see nothing in the darkness. A bullet passed from the front of the house, quite close to my head: I afterwards picked up the bullet on the floor; five or six shots were also fixed during various subsequent intervals.
I next heard a man call, 'Come out and surrender or else we'll roast you.' We all replied, 'We will die first.' These words were said loud enough for any one to hear. I went towards the door in order to fire in the direction of the voices. Mrs Barry and Weekes were however in the way. I then said, 'Boys, can we break not holes in the boards.' We tried but could not succeed.
After this I said 'Men, have you got anything else to suggest; our conduct will be severly commented upon if we don't do anything,' I said, 'If I rushed them, will you be game to follow.' I asked separately, and they all said, 'Yes.' We then determined to wait for a better opportunity. Thinking also that as they were the attacking party they might rush us, we waited quietly for a while with that expectation. Previously to this Mrs Barry and Mrs Sherritt returned to the hut.
I then closed both doors and put out the fire. We heard voices, but could see no one. We heard talking at intervals up to daylight. ....(Age 1/7/80) (Argus1/7/80) (OMA1/7/80)
Following the meetings of the Reward Board in December 1880 I recieved a reward of about £42
I gave evidence to the Royal Commission on 21/6/1881(RC12080)
What did the press have to say about my evidence (Argus24/6/81)
At about this time Mrs Sherritt wrote to me. It does not correspond with the last statement made by her. See the text. (RC12222)
The Royal Commission found in relation to me
" 10. That the constables who formed the hut party on the night of Aaron Sherritt's murder - viz., Henry Armstrong, etc were guilty of disobedience of orders and gross cowardice, and that the three latter - Constable Armstrong's resignation having been accepted - be dismissed from the service. " (RC2ndReport)