|Police party. Thomas Lawless, far left. Hare in the middle. Courtesy of Victorian Police Archives.|
When you read of the hunt for the Kelly Gang, it appears that the police were going around in crazy circles. They were up against it from the start.
The policemen lacked any knowledge of the bush and the large numbers of Kelly sympathisers kept the gang updated of police movements. Only later, did Hare decide to use Aboriginal trackers from Queensland.
The seven policemen who were in Hare’s party lived rough. They were unable to pitch tents or build a campfire, so as to avoid attracting attention. In the bitter cold of the Warby Ranges, a campfire would have been a welcome relief. They woke up every morning, usually covered in frost. Their food consisted of potted beef, biscuits and sardines. They lived like this for weeks on end. Morale wasn’t good.
As Superintendant Hare later admitted, ‘Ned Kelly knew all of our movements in the Warby Ranges. He told of all our movements and described the men.’
After his capture, Kelly told the police that he knew even which police officer used to get the horses in the morning. He said it was always Thomas Lawless. If they had wanted to, the gang probably could have wiped out the police party. It would have been easy.
The hunt continued. In one incident, the police rode across a house known to contain a group of Kelly informers. As they approached, the people rushed out of the house calling the names of the Kelly Gang. When the police got closer, the sympathisers realised it was the police and rushed back inside.
Lawless approached the house from a different direction, and in doing so, came across an informer who wasn’t in the house. The man called out to Thomas Lawless, calling him Steve initially. The man had mistaken Thomas for Steve Hart, who was a member of the Kelly Gang. Thomas and Hart apparently had a similar physique.
Thomas Lawless was able to get out of the sympathiser that the gang would be coming to the house that night. The police settled in for the night, telling the people to stay in the house. The sympathisers were warned that if they tried to leave the house they would be shot. The people complied but decided to have a party. The noise created, probably warned the Kelly Gang to stay away. Once again, the bushrangers had evaded capture.
The police continued to go around in circles for sixteen months and the Kelly continued to rob banks until the famous shootout at Glenrowan. Thomas Lawless was in another search party when Glenrowan occurred, but in the aftermath of publicity, he became known as one of the best horse riders in Australia.
When British peer, Earl of Clan William, visited Melbourne, Lawless and several other officers did a riding exhibition for him. The Earl was so impressed that he presented Lawless with a gold watch ( sadly, later stolen).
Lawless was shortly afterwards discharged from the police for being drunk on duty and assaulting a superior officer. Well, the officer had called Lawless an Irish Catholic bastard.
Thomas continued doing riding displays but while preparing for one, he was thrown from the horse and killed. He was only thirty-two.