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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Part 2: Calling for a Cannon and Asking for a Light [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Before I continue on with information about the cannon that Superintendent Sadleir called for, I want to reiterate a little of what I had written in In Part 1 of Calling for a Cannon and Asking for a Light.

 I started off with the following few paragraphs...

The Siege of Glenrowan came to an end around 3 PM on June 28, 1880. Joe Byrne was laying dead inside the Glenrowan Inn and Ned Kelly had been captured early that morning, leaving Kelly Gang members Steve Hart and Dan Kelly inside with dozens of policemen surrounding the building. The police feared that the two desperate - and now leaderless - young men would somehow attempt to escape under cover of the night if the siege were to last into the evening, so Superintendent Sadleir ordered a cannon to be sent up from Melbourne to blow the house down around them. Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary in Melbourne had consulted with Robert Ellery, the Government Astronomer about getting an electric light apparatus sent to Glenrowan so that the aforementioned escape fear would not eventuate.

Seems that fate took a hand, in the person of Senior-Constable Charles Johnston, so that neither of those two devices would be needed.

Here is part of what Senior-Constable Charles Johnston said before the Royal Commission in 1881:

7159. Were you present when the proposal was made to burn the house? - I was; I made it.
7160. Had you any idea at the time that you would be burning the bodies, or did you think it would drive them out? - To drive them out.
7161. Did you expect it would injure any human beings besides them? - I did not. I was not told there was any other person in the hotel.
7162. You were not told at that time that Byrne was lying at the hotel dead? - I was not told where he was; I was told he was shot.
7163. Were you present at the consultation about burning? - I was. I went to where Mr. Sadleir and Mr. O’Connor were standing, and I said to Mr. Sadleir - I asked him what he was intending to do, and he said, “I have sent for a cannon to Melbourne, to be here about three o’clock.”
7164. The proposal was to batter the house down? - Blow the house down with cannon. I said, “Surely you will not send down for a cannon; cannot you take other means to get them out.” I said, “Why not fire it?” Mr. Sadleir said, “How would you do that?” I said, “By getting some straw and kerosene and to get at the windward of the building it could be fired, and perhaps they would come out then.

After Johnston did the deed, Father Gibney, rushed into the Inn just as the fire was starting to take hold, and found Dan and Steve to be dead already. Their bodies, along with the body of a hapless dog that had been caught in the crossfire, were later retrieved from the ashes. The cannon ordered by Sadleir to blow the Inn down was turned back on its rail journey as it was no longer needed. One wonders what would have happened if that cannon would have gotten there much sooner and been utilized or been threatened to be used. Would the mere threat of using it have caused them to surrender (that is if they were still alive at that time), thus saving Ann Jones's home and business? Or would the artillerymen have been ordered to just open fire with no warning thus destroying life, home and livelihood? (In part two of this blog post I will be going into more depth on the call for the cannon.)
There is much to ponder. Since there weren't any CSI type forensics teams (nor the science and technology) around in those days, we will never know the true time and cause of Dan Kelly's and Steve Hart's deaths. We can only surmise whether any of the ideas from a cannon to using an electric light apparatus would have worked if they had lived long enough. The Kelly saga is truly full of "what ifs."

It was at this point in part 1 that I went into further details on the electric light apparatus that was requested by the Chief Secretary. That can be found at

Now, as for the cannon...

Superintendent John Sadleir had this to say in the RC:

"There were several, I think, of the reporters of the press who urged sending for a gun - a heavy gun.
[Question was asked: "A cannon?"] - Yes; and this thing was pressed upon me by frequent repetition, by different persons frequently saying it; and I yielded to their persuasion, and telegraphed to Captain Standish, asking him if we could have a gun. That was the first mention of a gun, and I am responsible for it; it was entirely upon my own motion."

Sadleir must have had a memory lapse, as all of the reporters questioned by the RC denied mentioning a cannon to him.

Years later, in 1913, when Sadleir's book, Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, was published, he neatly deflected all the blame:

"It was while I was considering the situation that Dr. Nicholson, of Benalla, approached me. The question of the police rushing the hotel came up and he very vehemently spoke against it, and urged that a small gun should be requisitioned from Melbourne to knock the building to pieces. To this I assented without giving the matter much thought then or during the subsequent proceedings. Hare, while lying wounded in Benalla, and without any communication with me, appears to have anticipated me in the matter, by sending a telegram to the same effect. The proposal was quite justified under the circumstances."

Here is Dr. John Nicholson's affidavit about the situation written soon after the siege:

"Mr. Sadleir asked me whether I thought he was justified in making a rush upon the house; I said that to do so against men in armour, such as we saw, was certain to result in several men being severely, if not mortally wounded; and, as the day was young, it would be best to wait some time before attempting anything,  as there was no possibility of their escape. I then said it is a pity we have not got a small gun with us, as their armour would be no protection to them, and the chimney would be knocked about their ears. Mr. Sadleir said that Captain Standish was starting from Melbourne, and would be up a little after mid-day, and he would immediately telegraph to him and mention the matter, but as no time could be lost, he would send a telegram at once. The telegram was sent about five minutes after the gun was first mentioned; possibly, if there was time for mature deliberation, it would not have been sent at all." 

So he could assess what size field gun to bring, Colonel Anderson of the Garrison Artillery sent a telegram asking for more specifics of the building. Sadleir sent the following:

"Weatherboard, brick chimney, slab kitchen. the difficulty we feel is that our shots have no effect on the corner, and there are so many windows that we should be under fire all day. We must get the gun before night or rush the place."

Colonel Anderson then selected a twelve-pounder Armstrong field gun, which was then dragged to the station by artillerymen and placed on a special train at Spencer-street station.
(For a photo and description of the Armstrong 12 pounder field gun go to the Australian War Memorial website -
At 2:20 PM the train, along with a detachment from the Garrison Artillery, headed towards Glenrowan at 40 miles per hour. The mileage was pre-arranged so that they could reach their destination before dark. (As an aside, during one of those night exhibition football games played under the electric light apparatuses discussed in part 1 of this posting, some of the East Melbourne Artillerymen were pitted against men from the Collingwood Rifles in a tug-of-war during the break in the game. It was said that the Artillerymen easily won as they were "used to drawing heavy guns about.")

The newspapers stated that: "Seymour was reached in due average time, but before the soldiers had time to step upon the platform came the not altogether unexpected though disappointing news that the gun was no longer required, as the whole of the outlaws had been taken. The train proceeded no further, and the gun, officers and men returned by the first passenger goods train to Melbourne."

Interesting that they went up via special train and had to get back on the goods train! I suppose time was no longer of the essence and the cost would not have been justified (to use a seemingly favorite word of Sadleir's).

Before the Inn was fired, newspaperman and artist Thomas Carrington heard rumors about the cannon and approached Sadleir who confirmed to him that a cannon was on the way, but to keep it to himself until it arrived.

Later on in the RC Carrington said:

"I heard a rumor of a cannon being sent for, but I thought it was a joke; that someone was amusing himself. The idea of a cannon to blow two lads out of a house seemed to me something very remarkable - a house surrounded by something like fifty men armed with Martini-Henry rifles."

And then, when asked by the Royal Commissioners:  "From what you have seen, did you approve of that action of burning the hotel?" He replied  "Certainly not - most ridiculous. I never heard of such a thing in my life. Of course I do not know much about military tactics, but it seemed to be almost as mad as sending for a cannon. If the police had joined hands round the hotel the outlaws could not have got away, they could have sat down on the ground and starved them out."

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