The call for the Royal Commission, often called the 'Police Commission' started soon after the Glenrowan seige. A number of the senior police thought that they had been badly treated.
Others wanted an inquiry to find out why the KellyGang were able to terrorise the country for so long and why the police seemed incapable of dealing with them.
The Royal Commission on the Police Force of Victoria 1881 was one of the great clashes between authority and accountability in Australian history.
The work of the Commission is divided into two phases. Most people know of the first, when they investigated what happened during the time of the KellyGang. The second phase was an investigation of other police cases. They are still interesting because they give an insight into the state of the police force at the time.
Were Royal Commsions and boards of inquiry worth while? (Argus29/3/81)
The main issues covered on this page include Call for the Royal Commission ,Establishment of the Royal Commission, Members of the Royal Commission , Conduct of the Royal Commission , List of Witnesses , The First Report , The Second Report , Account of the KellyGang story , Response to the second Report and the Account , What happened after - Phase 2.
On 30/6/80 Ass Com Nicolson asked for a Royal Commission. See text (RC886)
On 5/7/1880 Com Standish called for an inquiry.(see text) (RC 79)
Commissioner Standish recommended that the Royal Commision be held. In part he said "the conduct of the members of the force has been, according to some, characterised by an inconceivable disregard of human life, and according to others, by an absence of that courage and dash which every good constable should possess." "that the proceedings should not be open to the press, for though the full details of what the police have been doing should be known to the Government, it would be obviously contrary to public policy that they should he published for general information." The Royal Commission stated its position in the following words, " I suppose you are aware that all the members on this Board are more or less identified with the public, Members of Parliament, or otherwise; that they receive no remuneration; that they have been severely criticised on this Board; and do you think it would be fair to them that the press should not be present"(RC141)
O'Connor asked for an inquiry along with most of the other senior officers.(Argus11/9/80)
Chief Secretary (in the Berry Radical Party Government) announced that there
would be a Royal Commission (Argus26/11/80)
Some of the issues concerning the formation of the Royal Commission (Argus8/12/80)
Second attempt to establish the Commission (Argus11/3/81)
The Royal Commission was established on 7/3/1881 to
1. To inquire into the circumstances preceding and attending the Kelly outbreak.
2. As to the efficiency of the police to deal with such possible occurrences.
3. To inquire into the action of the police authorities during the period the Kelly gang were at large.
4. The efficiency of the means employed for their capture; and
5. Generally to inquire into and report upon the present state and organization of the police force.
An additional reference was made to Insp O'Connor and whether he should be appointed to the Victoria Police
Nearly all the members of the Commissioners were members of Parliament. They attended to the Commission in between their Parliamentary duties.
While Longmore, the Chairman was a high profile politician, who had been involved in a Royal Commission that investigated land ownership, many of the other members had not shown a special ability or business tact as might be supposed to be requisite in the members of a commission appointed to conduct an investigation of this sort. (Argus29/3/81)
The members of the Commission were:
Longmore, Hon F Chairman (Argus11/3/81)(Kilmore31/8/1876)
Anderson, William MLA
Fincham, GR MLA
W M'Culloch MLC resigned (Argus24/4/81)
Dixon, EJ JP (Protested part of findings)
Graves, Hon JH MLA (Resigned after being appointed as the Minister for Customs)
Hall, GW MLA, The Editor of the Mansfield Guardian and the Benalla Standard (Argus17/3/81)
Gibb, James MLA (Protested part of findings)
Levey, GC CMG (Protested part of findings)
Longmore, Fincham, Hall and Dixon supported the Radical party in Parliament.
The Royal Commission conducted a large scale review into the events of the KellGang and the police. It led to many of the senior officers in the Police Force of Victoria involved in the hunt for the KellGang loosing their jobs.
it examined most of the police and some of the other key players. The KellyGang were off course all dead. So was Aaron Sherritt. Most of the sympathizers were also still outside the law. But the Royal Commission's summary of events is a good record of the main parts of this story.
Most of the evidence was taken in open sessions and the evidence was widely reported in the press. We include on this web site all the reports from the Argus to give you a flavour of the press coverage. Please note that The Argus was an establishment paper who supported the police.
Sherritt, Mrs jun
Sherritt, Mrs sen
Reports of the Royal Commission
The first report was issued on 6 July 1881 made a number of specific recommendations
- Inspector O'Connor not ba appointed as an officer in the Victoria Police
- the permanent employment of black trackers as an auxiliary branch of the police service
- a thorough system of police patrol shall be established throughout the colony, more especially in the North-Eastern district
- that immediate steps be taken to arm the mounted police of the colony with the Regulation Pattern Martini-Henry carbine.(RCApp20) (Argus6/7/81)
The second report was issed at the end of the Royal Commission in October 1881. They made a number of specific recommendations and then issued a description of the main events of the hunt for the KellyGang.
The recommendations included
1. The administration of the police in the North-Eastern District was not satisfactory; and that a grave error was committed in abolishing the police station at Glenmore, and in reducing the number of men stationed at other places.
2. The conduct of Captain Standish (see Standish for details).
3. The conduct of Mr. Nicolson (see Nicolson for details)
4. That the charge made by Superintendent Hare about hand over from Nicolson 2/7/1880 - disproved by the evidence. 5. The conduct of Superintendent Hare (see Hare for details).
6. The conduct of Superintendent Sadleir (see Sadleir for details).
7. The conduct of Inspector Brook Smith (see Brook Smith for details)
8. The conduct of Detective Ward (See Ward for details)
9. The conduct of Sergeant Steele (see Steele for details)
10. The conduct of constables Henry Armstrong, William Duross, Thos. Patrick Dowling, and Robert Alexander.
11. The conduct of Senior-Constables Kelly and Johnson.
12. The conduct of Constable Bracken.
13. Mr. James Wallace.
14. Mr. Thos. Curnow.
15. Mr. C. H. Rawlings .
16. approval of the assistance rendered to the police at Glenrowan by the members of the press present.
17. appreciation to the Queensland Government in forwarding a contingent of native trackers to Victoria
Account of the KellyGang
The Royal Commission produced as part of its second report a good account of many aspects of the KellyGang story.
The Royal Commission was criticized by many including the Argus itself and the Constitutional Party in Parliament. (Argus10/2/82) (Argus11/2/82) (Argus17/2/82) (Argus20/2/82) (Argus21/2/82) (Argus22/282)
Martini Henry - was the Royal Commission fair? (Argus9/11/81)
Sgt Steele demanded an inquiry into the decision of the Commissioners
Support for Sgt Steele. (Argus12/11/81)
Supt Sadleir got his job back.
Ass Com Nicolson and Supt Hare, after being on leave with pay during the inquiry, were allowed to retire and then appointed as magistrates.
Det Ward was reduced as recommended
The police at Aaron Sherritt's place when he was shot were dismissed.
After the Royal Commission issued its second report the story continued. What did the police think, what was the Government's response. See
Find the hiding places and sites where the KellyGang found fame and fortune and where their friends indulged in horse stealing and tried to make a life against the challenges of the squatters and banks. Let the KellyGang show you the places where they found safety from the law in the bush.