History of Policing in Glenrowan

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1879 - 2000
By S/C Terrence BIRTHISEL No 14171

In the Police Gazette dated the 10/09/1879 a notice appears that a police station has been formed at Glenrowan and that the Greta Police Station has been broken up. It would seem that this was brought about by the outbreak of the Kelly Gang and placing a police station at Glenrowan gave access to the newfangled telegraph, for the rapid transmission of messages and the railway line, which came to Glenrowan in 1873 and allowed the rapid deployment of police to and from the area. Greta had neither of these advantages.

The first officer to take up duties was Constable Anthony ALEXANDER No. 1649. He was stationed at Glenrowan from 01/11/1879 to 01/05/1880. It seems he was extremely active in the search for the Kelly's and received the following commendation:

"commended for good conduct whilst employed upon special duty with three other Constables, at a distant post, on the lookout for the Kelly Gang".

A second remark appears on his Record of Conduct and Service, dated 16/06/1880.

"Has been engaged on watch and search parties in connection with the Kelly Gang since the 30/10/1878 and joined in the attack on the gang at Glenrowan at 9 am on the 27/06/1880 and behaved bravely. and well". Until his retirement on the 29/07/1896 his record sheet shows him to be a highly regarded policeman, with the words trustworthy, excellent, efficient and well conducted appearing throughout.

The second constable to serve Glenrowan was Hugh BRACKEN. Constable BRACKEN joined the Victoria Police three times. The first time in 1861 at the age of twenty one years. His registered number was 1863. He resigned on the 31/03/1866. He rejoined on the 27/09/1867 and resigned on the 14/11/1873. His number this time was 2228. His third sojourn into the police force commenced on the 02/11/1878. No doubt a direct result of the vicious murder of three police at Stringybark Creek, as many other ex-policemen at the time applied to rejoin and go after the murderers of their ex-colleagues.

Constable BRACKEN was appointed to Glenrowan on the 13/5/1880. While stationed there, he was actively engaged in the search for the Kelly Gang, and towards the end of June 1880 was involved in watching the Kelly homestead every night, in case the outlaws should visit. The nights were bitterly cold, and Bracken, who had caught a chill, was in bed suffering a bilious attack, when the Kelly Gang stuck up the town on 27-6-1880. He was taken hostage by the Gang at about 11.30 that evening and held captive until the police train arrived early next morning. Having secured the key to the front door of the Inn where he was being held captive, he waited for his opportunity, and while the Gang where busy in another room putting on their armour, he slipped out, and running across to the railway station, advised Superintendent Hare of the whereabouts of the Gang. Having no weapon to arm himself, he jumped on a horse and rode down the line to Wangaratta, where he met Sergeant Steele, who had been waiting at the railway station for the special train. Having informed him, he returned to Glenrowan with the police from Wangaratta and took part in the siege.

For his part in the capture of Ned Kelly and the destruction of the Gang, the reward board awarded him 275 pounds 13 shillings and 9 pence.

His Record of Conduct and Service show two praiseworthy remarks resulting from his duty at Glenrowan, which was only 2 months in length. He was transferred back to the Depot at his own request on the 9-7-1880 due to his ill-health.

After recuperating, he was sent to Wallan Wallan on 9-9-1880 to take charge of the station, and remained there until his return to the Depot Victorian Barracks on 7-4-1883, again due to ill-health.

The Royal Commission established to enquire into the circumstances of the Kelly Outbreak in 1881, praised his conduct at Glenrowan and recommended him for promotion.

However, due to his poor health this would never eventuate as the Police Medical Board found him unfit for further service, and he was discharged on 9-5-1883.

His wife Amelia died that year at the age of 32 years at Oakleigh, but he would survive another 17 years, committing suicide in the Beveridge area in 1900.

From September 1880 to September 1881 there were 3 police constable's stationed at Glenrowan.

Greta (present day Greta West) was reopened and a S/Constable and 4 men were stationed there. No doubt this was due to the fear that another outbreak by criminals may have occurred. Fortunately this did not happen and on the 24/09/1881, Glenrowan again became a one man police station.

It is interesting to note that one of the police at Glenrowan during this time, Constable Henry ARMSTRONG No.2475, was accused of, cowardice by the Royal Commission in to the Kelly outbreak. This view was not shared by the Officers who knew him, as the following two remarks from his Record of Conduct and Service indicate:

"This is one of the constables employed at the house of Aaron Sherritt when Sherritt was murdered - not withstanding the action of police on this occasion, I still hold the opinion as to his courage and efficiency already expressed by myself and other Officers". (J. SADLIER Supt.).

"I have always looked upon Constable ARMSTRONG as an exceptionally good man and believe him to be thoroughly courageous and reliable". (W. Montford Inspector).

As a result of the Commission's attack Constable ARMSTRONG resigned.

The first policeman to take up duties as a one man station after the troubles was constable Oscar Eliceus HEDBERG No 2622. He stayed for 14 months from 21/09/1881 to 23/11/1882.

From this time on the next 12 policemen appear to overlap for up to 4 months, effectively giving the station a strength of two for that time. Of these men only one stayed for longer than two years and that was Constable Thomas WRIGHT No. 3353, who stayed 3yrs and 6 months. The others stayed for periods varying from 2 years to 3 months. This would indicate that Glenrowan was not a popular place with these members:

After that era the members became more permanent starting with:

From 17/07/1926 to 28/03/1955, a period of 23 years 8 months, one policeman served Glenrowan and, it would seem, did the Victoria Police proud. His name was John David BRIGGS (Reg. No.) 7529. Constable BRIGGS was the last mounted constable to be stationed at Glenrowan. There are still older people in Glenrowan who remember him and speak of him with great respect. His son Linton resides just out of Glenrowan towards Greta and has provided some excellent material on his father. Like Constable Robert GRAHAM at Greta in the 1880's who befriended, Mrs. Kelly, Constable BRIGGS developed a strong bond of trust and friendship with Jim Kelly, Ned's brother and the children of Grace Griffiths. Ned's sister. This bond endured after John BRIGGS retired in 1955 and up to his death in I987, when Paddy Griffith, Ned's nephew, walked up to Linton as he was leaving the cemetery and said, "Linton, if they had all been like your dad, we wouldn't have had all that trouble with Uncle Ned all those years ago". Very similar words to those of Mrs. Kelly when she spoke off S/Constable Bob GRAHAM back in the 1880's.

From 1955 to year 2000, a period of 45 years, only 9 policemen have served at Glenrowan. First Constable Claude CONSTABLE No. 7465 arrived on the 05/04/1955 and saw his time out in the police force, retiring on the 21/04/1957, His son, Bob, became a well known and respected lawyer in the Wangaratta-Benalla District.

The present police officer is S/C Terrence John BIRTHISEL (Reg. No.) 14171,who was transferred here on 01/06/1992.

On perusing the Records of Conduct and Service of all the members of the Victoria Police who have served at Glenrowan, it would seem that, with rare exception, the town has been well served by its policemen.

With the opening of the present police station, it appears there have been 4 moves of the site of the police station over the years since 1879. The bulk of the town in 1879 was situated north west of the rai1way station and the police station was in High Street, between 1 km and 1.5 km's from the railway station. The actual site was supposed to be in or near the former Glen Rowen Hotel building. After the battle of Glenrowan in which Mrs. Jones hotel was burnt down, the government were required to compensate her for her losses and she built a new premises. However, as Mrs. Jones was believed to be a Kelly sympathiser, the police would not renew her liquor licence. Instead they rented the newly constructed building as a police station. This was used until the construction of the police station in Siege Street, opposite the railway station. It is not certain when the new police station came into use. Mrs. Jones received a wine licence in December 1895 under the name of Ann Smith, she having re-married, so it must have been some time prior to this date.

The Police Station was to remain on this site for the next 100 plus years. The reason for siting here was because train travel was the modern fast mode of transport at the turn of the century and police could be quickly called upon if needed.

Although it did not move from this site over that time, the police office moved 3 times on the site. The original office was a small room at the rear of the residence and was accessed from the rear, near the kitchen door. This room measured I2feet by11 feet. The second was a sleepout like extension, built in the early 1970's, onto the front verandah, measuring 8 feet by 13 feet. It covered the front lounge room window, which did nothing for the privacy of the policeman and his family when he was relieved during his holiday's. The third office site was a temporary fibro cement building placed in front of the residence and to the west side of the block. It was a veritable castle after the first two and measured 25 feet by 25 feet. It consisted of a foyer, a small interview room, a storeroom, toilet and main office and was most satisfactory. The temporary building was a portable placed there sometime in the I980's and was to remain until the I8/10/1999 when the excellent new brick station and residence opened for business, on separate building blocks at 72 and 74 Gladstone Street, Glenrowan (at the Wangaratta end of town). This position was very fitting, as it is on the main thoroughfare through the town and easy to find for people seeking help.

It has been a great comfort to the people of Glenrowan to see this new police station being built, as it indicates there will continue to be a police presence in the community.

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