02 September 2008

James Murdoch Arthur

James Arthur was my fraternal gradfather's uncle. My grandfather Bill and his brother Fred though born in Port Fairy were brought up by James in Cobden .

Cobden was no sleepy hollow. In 1892, the population of 800 swelled when 200 construction workers arrived to build the rail- way line. Along with them came sly grog shanties, drunkenness and fighting. Police today confronting drunken brawls can call for back up and have sophisticated communications equipment. Mounted Constable Arthur had his horse, his wits and his strength.
Some of his duties would make a tough policeman of today shudder. He was responsible for recovering dead bodies from remote areas, strapping them up with him on his horse and taking them back to town. Perhaps worse, he was known to have captured escaped mental patients the same way lugging them back to security on the horse as well.
Earlier James had shot Ned Kelly :
Constable Arthur was a good and honest policeman. He was the only officer willing to stand up to the madness displayed by Sgt. Steele and stopped Steele from shooting at innocent people who were trying to flee the Inn. His reward was that Sgt Steele tried to have him dismissed from the force. In June 1881, Constable Arthur made an application to the Officer in Charge of Police at Benalla, requesting he (Arthur) be examined by the Police Commission. Constable Arthur believed that his reputation was at stake due to the allegations brought against him by Sergeant Steele. Steele and Arthur were at loggerheads over Arthur forcing Steele to stop shooting at civilians during the siege. Arthur declared that Sgt Steele was firing at innocent civilians and said to him, "that is a woman, if you fire at her again I'll shoot you". Naturally Steele denied this.
Constable Arthur was the officer who found the blood soaked skull cap and revolving rifle left behind by the wounded Ned Kelly.
During a lull in the fighting, Constable Arthur was in the process of lighting his pipe when Ned came back into the fight. He was so surprised that the pipe fell from his mouth. Arthur, not realising it was Ned who had entered the police cordon yelled out "go back, you damn fool, you'll get shot". To which Ned replied, "I could shoot you sonny".
Arthur, the best shot in the police-force, took aim and fired directly at Ned Kelly's 'armoured head'. His aim was perfect, however Ned did little more than to stagger. Several dints in Ned's armour were testament to the shots fired by Arthur. Amongst others, Arthur would be there at Ned's capture.
It is interesting to note that Ned mentioned Arthur in his Jerilderie letter whilst making reference to the cowardice of Constable Hall. (Hall had arrested a young Ned Kelly after pistol whipping his head into a pulped mess.) "Next morning I was handcuffed, a rope tied from them to my legs and to the seat of the cart and taken to Wangaratta Hall was frightened I would throw him out of the cart so he tied me whilst Constable Arthur laughed at his cowardice for it was he who escorted me and Hall to Wangaratta." .
Further Reading

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