Meet the people of the KellyGang story
I might simplify matters considerably by saying that when I was young I used to dabble in mesmerism. Aaron Sherritt, being, of course, a schoolfellow, was often with me in those experiments, and be was a "subject" of mine. Naturally he had a great deal of confidence in me, and I had an influence over him, and he would frequently come there, and if I wanted to get any information out of him I could do so. (RC14477)
I acted as head teacher in two half-time schools, the one being at Hurdle Creek in 1873, and the other at Bobinawarrah. (RC15042) (RC16033)
I recieved a special salary of £3 10s. a week, as the teacher of the two half-time schools. (RC15074)
I got paid £15 17s. 6d. a month, including maintenance allowance.(RC14708)
I was paid as an agent by Standish, Sup Hareand Nicolson. (RC1625) Only got expences. (RC14710)
I did not get my work with the police approved by the Education authorities. (RC14718)
The police only paid me my expenses, for horse-flesh and horse-feed. While I had my own horse I still had to feed it and horse-feed was expensive. The Royal Commission queried the amount that I was paid. I responded, 'Tavelling about from one place to another on weekends and school holidays, and meeting sympathizers and drinking with them, would soon melt the money. Of course, you all being teetotallers, cannot see that.' (RC14754)
In December 1878, after the commission of the Mansfield murders by the KellyGang, and seeing the difficulty the police had in capturing them;-hearing also that they would commit further outrages, and knowing I might be able to assist in the suppression of crime, I wrote a letter to Captain Standish offering my assistance to him.
I knew Byrne; he was an old schoolmate of mine, and I knew the country. I had my suspicions that Byrne was one of the gang, and I knew the places they would be likely to go to, and the ranges they would be likely to frequent, and the friends who would be most likely to assist them. I did not knew the Kelly brothers (RC14424)
I recieved a letter from Com Standish for Joe Byrne and gave it to Aaron Sherritt to pass on. I wrote to Standish and visited him. At that time I recommended a friend of mine-a pupil of mine at the time-named Slater, whom I recommended him to employ-to put him on the police force-stating I thought be would be able to give help from his knowledge of the country, and being an intimate friend of Byrne's. (RC14508)
The last report submitted on my school at Hurdle Creek was very favorable. The inspector reported to the effect that I appeared to be deserving of promotion, so there was no apparent want of zeal. (RC15072)
I applied to teach at the Benalla East school but Bolam and the Education Department became be very suspicious that I had some ulterior object in view. (RC15083)
I went in to Benalla and saw Com Standish shortly after he arrived there. I told him I could get leave during the Christmas holidays, and would go out shooting in the ranges, and point out where the outlaws were, and give him information. (RC16033) (RC14519)
I knew, as most other people did in the district, that Aaron Sherritt was helping the police. He came to my place on a number of occasions. (RC14443)
He was here for the 2 days before I saw Standish (RC16034)
Mr Bolam, Inspector-General and Acting Secretary of the Education Department, read accounts in the newspapers of the sticking up of the hawkers by the KellyGang, and he was under the impression, from the accounts which he read that the stranger who was with the outlaws at the time very possibly was me. He thought it was quite possible that I would be with the outlaws at that time; but this is only a supposition on his part. (Could be a reference to being at Faithful's Creek) (RC15089)
Soon after the robbery Aaron Sherritt was involved with Det Ward and other police in a search party to watch Mrs Byrne's home in the hope of catching the KellyGang. Mrs Sherritt thought that I told Mrs Byrne about Aaron Sherritt and the hated Det Ward. (RC13174)
I had a communication with Joe Byrne with reference to a saddle that Ned Kelly had stolen from me some time previously, for one thing, offering to replace it, stating they were sorry that I had been victimized, having been a schoolmate of Byrne's. I did not get the saddle back. (RC14441)
Sup Hare said that I worked as an agent for the police. It commenced about the time of the Jerilderie robbery; that was in Captain Standish's time, and it continued in Mr. Nicolson's time. He thought this lasted for six or seven months and included a large amount of correspondence. (RC1629)
There is a beautiful game of cross purposes being played on both sides that is worth the trouble of watching, if there were no other motive. I mean with reference to the game that was played on both sides, the resources they had to deceive each other, both the police and the outlaws. I had in my mind's eye then the trial of Aaron Sherritt at Beechworth for stealing a horse of Mrs. Byrne's, which he admitted to me was a "got-up" case on the part of some members of the police on one side, and worked by the outlaws as well on the other. (RC14528)
At about this time I used to go up and visit Mrs Sherritt. On one of these visits she was even having a cup of tea with Det Ward. I told Aaron I was writing a book, and asked him to give me all that I knew the particulars of what the police were doing and that when the sold this book, if I got a good sale for it, that Aaron should have half the profits. I think he was impressed.(RC13176)
My first contact with the police was on 23/7/879, I was honored by a visit from the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. Nicolson. He said he called to have a few minutes conversation with me in reference to the outlaws. He told me that the country looked to me, as a teacher and as a respectable member of society, that I should render all the assistance I could to suppress murder and robbery, and I understood him to wish me to take service with him; that it could be arranged that I could have leave of absence, but I declined to do so. He then asked me if I would give them any other aid I could by collecting information, and beating up the houses in the neighborhood which the outlaws were most likely to frequent, and I agreed to consider his proposal. He remembered seeing a letter from me in December last. (RC14433) (RC14513)
Det Ward reported on my visit to Beechworth on 23/8/1879 - It is a concocted report all through. It is a fact I bought things, though not all the things mentioned there I got bread.
He said 'James Wallace ... came into Beechworth ... He had a horse and buggy with him. He purchased a bag-of bread and a case of brandy, half a dozen of pocket-handkerchiefs, one bottle of scent, and a package of arsenical soap. Tommy met him by appointment from the Saturday previous. When he was in Beechworth also he told Tommy he came to see him to go to Melbourne with him, to try and get Graham Berry and the Marquis of Normanby to sign a reprieve for Joe Byrne by giving information to the police where the other three could be caught. He said he would arrange everything if Tommy would go with the police, but he should get £2,000 out of the reward, and cautioned Aaron if it could be arranged that he should take good care not to go as a target to the front. He said Constable Slater was the best friend the Kellys had; he told his friends the movements of the police, and the Kellys heard it shortly after. He also said that Sergeant Harkins, of Wodonga, heard something about a shanty four miles from Wodonga; that the Kellys heard it and changed their quarters.'
He went on about how I told him about Joe Byrne and the KellyGang's gold. And how I told him that Joe Byrne had come to my place on Thursday night the 21st.Joe was apparently frightened that Ned will sell himself and Hart through some of his friends. (RC14773)
On Saturday 16/8/1879 I met Det Ward on the Beechworth road, near the Golden Ball. On Sunday the 17th I spent a good part of the day at Sherritt's.
On Saturday the 23rd Det Ward says that I met him in Beechworth. We went into a public-house, and had several drinks. In course of conversation I asked him if he thought the KellyGang were in the country. He said he thought they were. I said, 'Why do you not catch them?' In conversation it came down to this-the pardon of one to catch the other three. Ward says that I produced a National bank note. This did not happen
Aaron Sherritt slept with me at the Imperial Hotel, High street, that night.
We left there at about seven in the morning for Mrs. Sherritt's, where I remained until about twelve o'clock noon, when he left for home. (RC14773)
In October I met Joe Byrne one moonlight night on the Oxley road, going in the direction of Sebastopol from Greta. My school was right in a line from the two places, and of course they would follow the track. He was by himself. I was in company with others, and of course I did not state it was Byrne-simply said "Good night," and he passed on. I recognized his form and voice. (RC14567) (RC14620)
I told Ass Com Nicolson, but not immediately. Doubtless because I would think that no good could come from informing them. I had no confidence in the detective in charge at Beechworth. I would think that he might bucrke that evidence, so to speak, in order to frustrate the capture of the outlaws through any other means than his own. (RC14570)
I was writing a book about this time but I abandoned that idea. It was a romance based on the country there, and it was in the interests of law and order.(RC14727)
I wrote for the Wangaratta Despatch. Some say that I was critical of the police. One article was entitled 'Christmas in Kelly Land. ' (RC14741)
I started to have problems with Det Ward and had a conversation with Ass Com Nicolson. Mr. Nicolson stated that he had heard through Ward that I had gone down on a mission to Melbourne to endeavor to obtain Joe Byrne's pardon.
I wrote to Ass Com Nicolson on 19/9/1879 after I had been to the ploughing match in Milawa in the following terms, "Since coming home I have met a large number of people who were at the ploughing match on the 16th. If there had been such a rumor current as you told me of, I would be sure to have heard it by this time. Rumors of that kind soon travel. I do not believe that Ward heard anything of the kind" (RC14646)
I used half-a-dozen alias when I wrote to Mr. Nicolson, and he wrote to me under the alias. (RC14488)
Aaron Sherritt told me that Ward had told him (I know he told others-several) that I was assisting the police and endeavoring to capture the outlaws, that I was giving them information; and I had an idea that from his character if he knew I was making enquiries about the KellyGang he would put them on their guard, so as to prevent them giving me any information. (RC14639)
Ward was attempting to destroy your usefulness in the attempt to catch the KellyGang. Jealousy of his position, I suppose; that he, being the detective in charge, should effect the capture himself. -esprit de corps I suppose you would call it. He set out to turn all those who could possibly give me information about the KellyGang against me. (RC14651)
I declined; I think it was £50-a loan of some money from Aaron Sherritt. He knew I was in financial difficulties; that was the reason he made the offer, I suppose. (RC14664)
My impression all through was that Aaron was playing the double game, all through up to the time I left. (RC14701)
I wrote to Nicolson again on 12/11/1879. On last Sunday week I met Aaron Sherritt on the Woolshed, and had a long conversation with him. He said the police were going to have another mustering match, and run in all the sympathizers again. He taxed me with having let out something about Kennedy's watch, and said that you had been persecuting him about it. (RC14658)
I also mentioned that people were saying that Det Ward had seduced Joe Byrne's sister Kate.(RC14669)
On 26/11/879 I wrote again to Ass Com Nicolson, "Rode down through the Woolshed," -- "Met John Sherritt, junior, and Pat Byrne (Joe's brother). I had a long and interesting conversation with these worthies, who manifested much pleasure in meeting me. I wondered at the marked change in Jack's manner towards me, as, on two or three previous occasions, he had carefully avoided me. I soon ascertained the reason. It appears, by their account, that the virtuous detective who is standing the season at Beechworth had stated, a day or two previously, that my name had been added to the black list at the office; that he believed that bloody Wallace was in constant communication with the outlaws.' (RC14673)
Later, "As to your hints re my intelligence being 'manufactured to raise money upon,' I do not believe that you think so. For this reason, that you know that I do not receive a penny for my information, and therefore have no inducement to stoop to such an infamous imposture." (RC14769)
The Connor letter
The Royal Commission accused me about an anonymous letter dated 19/4/1880, which has been frequently adverted to in evidence. It was forwarded by Standish to Nicolson on the 26th April for his explanation. The was signed "Connor," - a fictitious name. It criticised unsparingly Mr. Nicolson's character and conduct throughout the pursuit, and from internal evidence it was clearly written or inspired by some member of the force. It had been forwarded in the first instance to the Honorable J. H. Graves, the member for the district, and by that gentleman placed in the hands of the Chief Commissioner. I was accused of writing the letter, but I have denied the allegation, and subsequently, in a communication addressed to the Royal Commission I declared that it was the joint concoction of Jack Sherritt and the outlaws, in order to have Mr. Nicolson removed from the district. But the authorities doubt my bona fades and they say my veracity is open to grave suspicion, and they even said that I was wholly unreliable. (RC2ndreportXIII) see also (RC15896)
Graves said he had evidence that I had seen this letter. (RC15497) (RC15537) (RC15930)
I was victimised by the authorities for having sympathy with the KellyGang lost my position just because I was a friend. Just read what Bolam, the head of the Education Department had to say about me in his evidence before the Royal Commission. He effectively ended my career.
'Was it the Education Department that moved in the matter first, or the police?- I know of no steps being taken until I had this interview with Captain Standish, and I called upon him more in a casual way, to inform him what my opinion was, and to ascertain from him whether he considered there was any ground for my forming the opinion. On my pointing out to Mr. Ramsay that I had very strong suspicions that Wallace was in some way or other assisting the outlaws, and that similar suspicions were also held by Captain Standish, Mr. Ramsay wished me to say whether I was not in a position to make a definite charge against Wallace, and have him removed from the service. He said if those suspicions could be proved to be well founded he was not a deserving man to be kept in the service.
I pointed out to him that at present I was not in a position to make any charge against Wallace, and the only way in which I saw we could deal with the case was to remove him to a position which was a little more desirable, and get him away from the Kelly country. He had already applied for promotion, and the reports of the inspector on his work for some time previous to this had been favorable. We then, having obtained the requisite authority from Mr. Ramsay, offered Mr. Wallace the position of this school at Yea. He demurred at first, and intimated his intention to accept the appointment conditionally on our appointing his brother at Hurdle Creek and Bobinawarrah. That I thought to be very undesirable, and I intimated to Wallace that we could only allow him to accept this position unconditionally, and if he were transferred we should consider his brother's application for the Hurdle Creek school. On the receipt of this letter or telegram from me, Wallace informed me by telegram that he accepted the position, and I took steps at once to relieve him.' (RC15059)
'Did you consider his movement to the other school in the Yea district an advance?- It was an improvement in position, but not very much in regard to salary. The school he is at present in is what is called a full-time school, where the duties are not so heavy as in the half-time schools. Although the salary is very little more than the other the position must be held to be preferable.' (RC15047 )
From any other department?- He was acting as postmaster, for which he received a small salary-a very small salary'(RC15052 )
'We wish you to do so?- Rumors reached me that he was showing very friendly relations to the outlaws. I also heard that he was a schoolfellow of one of them. I at once examined old reports in the Education Department, and from those learned that he had attended the same school with Joseph Byrne, and that he had been in the same class with him for some considerable time. I saw that he had very great facilities for assisting the outlaws-that his position as teacher of half-time schools enabled him to be constantly moving about, and in that way that he had opportunities of seeing them. I also saw that his position as postmaster gave him very great facilities for rendering them assistance ....' (RC15057)
How did the press report my evidence. (Argus4/8/81)
They gave me a hard time. At one stage they even asked me, 'There is one question I think you ought to answer candidly-have you supplied to the police one particle of information that you think upon mature consideration helped to catch the outlaws?' (RC14770)
The Royal Commission made the following finding in relation to me
"13. That in consequence of the reprehensible conduct of Mr. James Wallace, the State school teacher of Hurdle Creek, during the Kelly pursuit, and his alleged sympathy with the outlaws, together with the unsatisfactory character of his evidence before the Commission, your Commissioners think it very undesirable that Mr. Wallace should be retained in any department of the public service. We therefore recommend his immediate dismissal from the Education Department. " (RC2ndReport) (JJK)
After the report of the Royal Commission was released I was sacked by the Education Department (Argus21/10/81)
I wanted an inquiry into this matter (Argus29/11/81)
Request that report of inquiry be tabled in Parliament (Argus15/12/81)
After the KellyGang episode I took my wife and family to Brisbane and first worked as a teacher and later as an insurance agent.
I ended my days in Perth WA. as the partner, posing as husband, of a lady who went by the name of Madame Spontini. They are buried together in the Karakatta cemetery. Madame Spontini was a herbalist, palm reader, hypnotist and a well-known member of the Spiritualist movement.
Her real name at the time was Bertha Litchfield, her maiden name being Bertha Bonn. She married John Litchfield in Birchip in 1894.
We do not know how James Wallace met Bertha, though we believe he was living near Kerang in the 1890s, which was not too far distant from where Bertha was living at Narraport, north of Donald, VIC. The connection may have been their interest in hypnotism.
Bertha’s will clearly links her to James Wallace’s family who lived in Melbourne at the time of his death in 1910. She died in 1911, a couple of months after James.