South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), Monday 5 July 1880, page 5
THE INQUEST ON SHERRITT.
Beechworth, June 30
The enquiry upon the body of Aaron Sherritt was continued at the local Police Court this morning, before a Jury of 12.
The evidence given on the previous day having been read over to the Jury, the examination of Mrs. Ellen Barry was proceeded with. She deposed as follows :— Byrne used to keep me between himself and the door during the time I was outside the house speaking to him. There was only the door at the back of the house, no window. The persons occupying the back room could not have fired on Byrne through the back door during the time he was there.
To Mr. Foster—Two shots were fired at the house, I am sure. There were other shots fired in the front of the other, I do not know by whom. No shots were fired by the police. Constable Duross, when the knock came, as I said before, went into the bedroom to the three other constables. His object was to conceal himself in order that any one coming into the hut might not know the police were there. I cannot exactly fix the time which elapsed between the time I saw Byrne and was joined by Dan Kelly. Deceased was pointing out a sapling to Weeks. It was more “for a lark” that he pointed out the sapling, not to show Weeks his way. I have no reason to suppose that there were more than Byrne and Dan Kelly there. The doors were open some time. After Byrne fired at the side of the house he told me to go and see if any of the boards were knocked off. I went and looked at the boards and I found they were all right, and I went and told Byrne so. I was talking to Byrne for about ten minutes. He was talking about his mother and other things. He walked me back to the house by the arm. Weeks was with us. Dan at this time was gathering bushes to set fire to the house. Dan said he was going to fire it. He asked me if there was any kerosene is the house. I said, “No.” He said, “What is burning on the table, then?” I said, “A candle.” I cannot say whether he set fire to the bushes or attempted to do so with matches. I only saw him going round the house picking them up. Weeks was standing close to me nearly all the time. Joe said, “We will burn the place.” I said, “Don’t, for God’s sake, do that, or the girl will be burnt too.” He said, “You go in and bring her out.” I said, “If I go in I shan’t be let out again, perhaps.” He said, “We will see about that.” I said, “Well, don’t burn the house whatever you do.” I then went into the house and remained inside. I heard the dog barking during the night and a noise of some kind, but I could not say what it was.
To the Jury—I remained there all that night. The police went away in the morning. Some of the men went out of the bedroom into the front room during the night. I do not know whether they went outside. I was lying down. I thought the outlaws were outside and would fire into the house. My daughter was under the bed. Both Byrne and Dan Kelly had ordinary hats on. Their faces could be seen clearly. The police could not see Byrne through the calico partition. You could not see him from inside the house, but he had a good view, as the place was lighted by the fire and candle. The body of the deceased was left on the floor during the night. In the morning the men shifted him. The police sent a Chinaman with a message to the police at Beechworth. It was after daylight next morning. The Chinaman came back afterwards, and said he had too much work to do, and would not go. Mr. O’Donoghue, a State-school teacher, volunteered to go, but came back and said his wife would not let him. A Mr. Duckett said he would go, but from what he said the police did not think he meant to go. Constable Armstrong left at about 9 o’clock. He had no breakfast. During my conversation with Byrne he asked me how many men were in the room. I said I saw two in there. He said, “Don’t say we are about, or I’ll shoot you.” After he shot Aaron he heard the men cocking their guns inside, and he sang out to Dan, “Hark ! look out ; do you hear that ? They are cocking their guns.”
To Mr. Foster — There is a bullet-hole in the back door. I think it must have been done when Aaron was shot. The door was only half-open.
Mr. Foster — It does not present that appearance at all. It seems to have been fired when the door was shut.
Witness continued — Byrne was standing, I think, on the chimney side of the door. I could not say where he was standing, as I was inside the house. Byrne told me that he was not going to shoot me. He also said that Weeks had once tried to “lag” him for a horse, but he was not going to shoot him.
Antoine Weeks deposed — I am a market-gardener residing at the Woolshed. I remember last Saturday night. I went out to go to Mr. Weiner’s, a neighbour. I went as far as the house and saw there was no light, and turned back again. The house is about fifteen yards from Sherritt’s place. It was about ten minutes past 6 when I left Weiner’s. About 100 yards from Weiner’s I met Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne. They were both on horseback. Byrne was leading a horse besides the one he was riding. I think I said “Good evening” as I passed. Byrne rode past me about five or six yards, and then came back again. He said to me, “What is your name ?” I said, “Weeks, from the Woolshed.” He then came close to me on his horse, and stooped his head down, and looked in my face and said, “Do you know me?” I said, “No, I don’t.” He said, “Well, I’m Joe Byrne.” I said, “I don’t believe it.” He put his hand back and drew a revolver, which he pointed at my head and said, “Perhaps you will believe it now.” He then said to me, pointing to the man behind him, “That is Mr. Kelly.” He then said to Kelly, “Put the handcuffs on him.” Dan Kelly dismounted, and put the handcuffs on me. Byrne then said to me, “Don’t be frightened. I won’t hurt you. You summoned me once for a horse, but I forgive you that.” I did summon him once, and he was fined about £5 at this Court. Byrne said, “You have to go with us to Sherritt’s place, and you must do what we want, and we will do you no harm.” They took me along the road. Joe Byrne rode in front and Dan Kelly behind. I walked between them. We came to Sberritt’s place ; at least we turned up about twenty yards into the bush between Sherritt’s and Weiner’s place. Both Kelly and Byrne dismounted. One of them fastened his horse up by the bridle. Byrne said, “You have nothing to do but what I tell you.” Kelly walked over on to the main road by way of the bush. Byrne said to me, “Me and you go to the door (of Sherritt’s) and knock at it.” He put me in front of the back door, about a yard from it. He said, “Knock.” He was standing behind me, by the side of the chimney. He was armed with a rifle. Both Kelly and Byrne took a rifle from the pack-horse when they dismounted. I knocked. Byrne then said, “Call Aaron.” I did so. Byrne said that if I did not do it he would shoot me. When I called out, Aaron said, “Who is there?” I said, “Weeks.” Byrne then told me to say I had lost myself. I did so. Aaron had then opened the door. He came out. When Byrne heard the door opening, he went from behind me a little farther to the right, about a yard. When Aaron said, “Who is there outside?” Byrne fired at once, and shot him. I am not sure, but I think he fired a second shot. I saw Aaron fall. He fell sideways into the house on the floor. Byrne then looked in at the door, and, seeing Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Sherritt, he said, “That is the man I want.” He then asked Mrs. Barry to send the men out. Byrne was then standing outside the house behind me. Mrs. Barry came out. Byrne kept Mrs. Barry outside about half an hour, I think. About 10 or 12 minutes after he shot Aaron, Byrne put two bullets through the bedroom, and two more later on. He said that if the men did not come out he would set fire to the house. I did not see the front door open. I heard two shots fired in the front. Byrne took Mrs. Barry and me away from the house, about five yards from the door. He made me leave the door and took the handcuffs off. After that he sent Mrs. Barry into the house. I heard Dan Kelly talking during this time, but could not say what he was doing. That was after the shots were fired at the front of the house. After Mrs. Barry was sent in Byrne spoke to Kelly, who was in the bush. I could not see Kelly. Byrne asked Kelly if he should send me into the house. Kelly said, “No ; don’t send him in.” They waited there for some time to see if Mrs. Barry would send the men out. They then went away. I remained for about half an hour or three-quarters of an hour before I left. I did not hear the outlaws go away. I think they left before I did, but I did not hear them. I reached home at about half-past 9 o’clock on Saturday night.
To the Jury — I had no chance of communicating with the police. When Kelly took the handcuffs off me he asked me if my horse was at home. I said, “No ; I turned him out,” Kelly said, “Mind you give no information.”
To Mr. Foster — It was about ten minutes past 6 when we got to Sherritt’s house.
The foreman of the Jury at this stage asked the Coroner if he considered it necessary to proceed with further evidence, as they were quite satisfied as to the cause of Aaron Sherritt’s death. Mr. Foster replied that in his opinion the circumstances of the case were such that it was highly essential that every fact of the case should be elicited.
Antoine Weeks, recalled, deposed — I identified the body I saw at the Vine Hotel as that of Aaron Sherritt.
Ellen Sherritt, widow of deceased, deposed — I remember Saturday evening, the 26th instant. I and my husband and four constables were in the house. I heard a knock at the back door. Weeks called out “Aaron.” My husband said, “Who is there ?” I said, “Mr. Weeks, I know his voice.” My husband opened the door, and asked Weeks what he wanted. Weeks said he was lost, and asked my husband to go out and show him the road. He went out, and saw Weeks standing there with handcuffs on. As he went out of the door another man went behind the chimney, and my husband said, “Who’s there?” When he said that Joe Byrne said something — I could not hear what — and then fired. My husband made his way back from the door and Byrne then fired a second shot at him. My husband staggered a bit, and then fell down on the floor, striking his head on a box as he fell.
To Mr. Foster — I was standing on one side of the door, and my mother was on the other.
Witness continued — I rushed into the room as the second shot was fired. I spoke to Byrne. I said, “Why did you shoot Aaron?” He said if he had not shot Aaron, Aaron would have shot him if he got a chance. Byrne heard Duross going into the bedroom, and he said, “Who is that man?” I said it was a man that was going to stay with us that night ; that he was looking for work. Byrne said, “Bring that man out.” Before that he told my mother to open the front door, and she did so. Dan Kelly made his appearance there. I saw him. He had a revolver pointed at me when he came to the door. Byrne after that called myself and my mother out to the back door. He said, “Why don’t you bring that man out of the room?” I said, “He won’t come out with me.” Byrne then called out to Dan Kelly to look out, as there was a window in the front. Kelly replied, “It is all right.” Kelly had a rifle pointed at the window. After that Byrne fired two shots into the bedroom where the men were. He sent me in two or three times to get the men to come out. All the time he had my mother and Mr. Weeks in front of him, shading him from the door. When I went out the second time he kept whistling and beckoning to some one in the back, in the bush, and telling them to come along, as there were men in the room. No one came. Just then he heard some one “clicking” their arms inside, and he said that if I did not bring them out he would shoot both myself and my mother. I went inside, and the men would not let me out again, as they said I should be shot. My mother was outside all this time, and Dan Kelly told her to fetch the men out, or he would burn the house. Kelly went about collecting bushes. I could hear him speaking to my mother through the house. My mother afterwards came in. Two of the men shut the doors.
To Mr. Foster — It was about two hours after my husband was shot that the men shut the doors.
Witness continued — After the doors were shut I heard some one talking outside for two or three hours. I only saw Byrne and Dan Kelly. I was in the house the next morning when the messenger was sent into Beechworth. A Mr. O’Donohoe was sent. A Chinaman was sent before that with a letter to Mr. O’Donohoe, but he returned with it. Mr. O’Donohoe came afterwards, and said he would go. He started, but came back. He said he was afraid he might meet the outlaws. I have heard that a man was riding up and down the road to prevent any one going into Beechworth. One of the constables went in after that. He would have gone before, at daybreak, but it was feared that the outlaws would return and surround the house, and so they thought it dangerous to separate. Another messenger named Duckett was sent, but Constable Armstrong said he would not trust him, but would go himself.
To Mr. Foster — No shots were fired by the police when I went into the bedroom. After my husband was shot the police were standing on each side of the door. Dan Kelly and Byrne were standing at the open doors. They could not leave the bedroom. If they had attempted to lift the calico screen they must have been shot down. There was a bright light in the front room, and if they had fired they must have killed either my mother or Mr. Weeks, as they were in front. My mother was outside for about half an hour after my husband was shot. Five or six shots were fired. I think the shots that killed my husband were fired by two different men. The two shots were simultaneous. I only saw one man. I really think the other outlaws were there, as the two made themselves so “bounceable.” I did not see or hear any thing of the others.
To the Jury — The police did not leave the bedroom for about two hours. Then they shot the doors. After daylight the police went out, and looked round the house, but could see nothing. I am sure it was Dan Kelly, not Ned. I know him by his portrait, and besides Byrne was calling him “Dan” all the time.
To Mr. Foster — No shots were fired in at the front door before my husband’s death. Some shots were fired at the front afterwards, but I do not know whether they came in or not.
Constable Henry Armstrong deposed — I was in charge of the watch party at Sebastopol. There were three other constables on the same duty with me. During the night we were engaged in watching Mrs. Byrne’s house. We generally left at 5 o’clock in the evening, and returned between 3 and 5 in the morning. I remember Saturday, the 26th inst. I was in bed at Aaron Sherritt’s house, along with two other constables. The other constable was having his tea.
To Mr. Foster — We remained in the bedroom all day, as it was less liable to be under observation.
Witness continued — Our instructions were to remain in the room during the day. At about 6 o’clock in the evening on Saturday I heard a knock at the door. Duross then went into the bedroom. I heard a voice saying, “Come out, Sherritt, I have lost my way.” Duross then said, “Go out, Aaron, and show them.” I then heard a shot, and immediately after another. There were about two seconds between the shots. I then said, “Take your arms, boys ; the Kellys are here.” Our arms consisted of double-barrelled guns and revolvers. The guns were loaded with swan-shot wire cartridges. I then heard Mrs. Barry say, “Aaron is shot.” I went to the front window and knelt on the bed to fire out, but I could see nothing but darkness. A bullet then passed from the front quite close to my head. The bullet is that produced. It was found upon the floor. The walls of the house are made of hard boards about an inch thick. Several shots were then fired. I then heard a voice outside say, “Come out and surrender, or we’ll roast you.” We all replied, “We’ll die first.” I then went to the front door, and went to fire in the direction I heard some voices, but Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Sherritt were in the way, and I could not fire. I then say, “Boys, come and let us break port-holes.” We tried but could not succeed. I then said, “Men, have you got any suggestions to make ; our conduct will be severely commented upon in this matter if we don’t make a bold fight.” I said, “We’ll rush them ; are you game to follow ?” I asked each man separately, and he replied, “Yes.” We then decided to wait for a better chance, thinking they might try to rush us, being the attacking party, and thinking also that we might get a shot at them when the light was extinguished. We remained for some time, and the candle went out. I then closed both doors. We looked out then to fire. We heard voices, but could see no one. There was talking at intervals up to about daylight. When it got light, another constable and I went round the house, and found they had left. There was a Chinaman passing at about 7 o’clock, and I wrote a note and gave it to him to deliver to the police at Beechworth. I proposed going, but it was not considered advisable to separate, as another attack might be made. The Chinaman came back, and said he would not go. He intended to go at first. I gave him 5s., and promised him more when he returned. I sent him to Mr. O’Donohoe, the school teacher, but soon came back. He said he would deliver the message, but soon returned, saying he was afraid he would be shot. We sent another Chinaman and a miner, but the police not coming I went myself. On the road I stuck a man up, and took his horse from him by force, and rode into Beechworth, arriving about 1 o’clock. At the time firing was going on I heard whistling in the distance, at the rear of the house.
To Mr. Foster — I believe the outlaws knew we were in the house. The two younger brothers of the Byrnes saw some of us in the house. The day before Sherritt told me they knew. I believe Joe Byrne intercepted our messengers.
To the Jury — I saw Joe Byrne riding along quickly when I escaped into Beechworth. He rode towards me, but I turned away. The four of us did not leave at once, because we wanted to be on the ground to assist the men from Beechworth. We had no horses there.
Constable Robert Alexander deposed — I remember Saturday, the 26th inst. I was in Aaron Sherritt’s house at Sebastopol. Constables Armstrong, Duross, and Dowling, and Aaron Sherritt, Mrs. Sherritt, and Mrs. Barry were there. Heard a knock at the back door. At that time I was in the bedroom of the hut. I heard a voice say, “Aaron, I have lost my way.” Mrs. Sherritt said, “Who is there ?” A voice replied, “Wicks.” Aaron opened the door. I heard Aaron say something about a sapling. He opened the door partly, but did not go outside. I heard two shots fired. I saw the body of Sherritt on the floor afterwards. There were shots fired after this from the front. There were three shots fired into the bedroom, and another from the back into the bedroom. I heard the person at the back call out to the one in front, “Look out for the window in front” some one called on us to come out, and “I’ll shoot you down like —— dogs.” Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Sherritt were in the bedroom at this time. About two hours after this Constable Armstrong shut the doors. I did not hear deceased speak after being shot. I heard voices outside till daylight. Towards daylight Armstrong and I went out and went round the hut. There were five messengers sent to Beechworth.
Constable Armstrong, recalled — I produce a plan of the house. It is a correct one. The shot from the guns would not penetrate the boards of the room. At this stage the Coroner remarked that the only further evidence was that of the other constables in the house, and was, therefore, of a corroborative nature. They could be called, however, if the Jury wished. The foreman intimated that the Jury were quite satisfied. Mr. Foster remarked that it was usual for the Coroner to sum up the evidence to the Jury, but in this case the facts were so simple and so free from uncertainty that no comment on his part seemed to be necessary to arrive at a verdict. It only required the exercise of a little common sense. There could be no doubt but that Sherritt had met his death from gunshot wounds inflicted upon him by Joseph Byrne, and that the latter was aided and abetted by Dan Kelly. He therefore left the matter in the hands of the Jury. One of the Jurymen stated that he thought Ned Kelly ought to have been in attendance, as he was implicated in the matter to a certain extent. The Coroner declined to postpone the inquest for Kelly’s attendance. The Jury, after consultation, found that Aaron Sherritt died at Sebastopol, in the Colony of Victoria, on the 28th day of June, 1880, from gunshot wounds received by him at the hands of Joseph Byrne, and that such wounds were inflicted by the said Joseph Byrne on the said Aaron Sherritt with intent him, the said Aaron Sherritt, thereby then to feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, kill and murder, and that Dan Kelly aided and abetted the said Joseph Byrne to murder the said Aaron Sherritt. After the verdict had been returned the foreman of the Jury stated that eleven of the Jury were in favour of adding a rider to the effect that the police had done everything in their power under the circumstances.