The murder of Aaron Sherritt proved significant on many different levels. For the Kelly gang, it was revenge on a traitor. They also intended Sherritt’s death to be the bait that would lead the police into the well-organised trap concocted by the gang.
Aaron Sherritt was murdered on the evening of Saturday 26 June by his sometime friend, Joe Byrne. The police stationed at the Sherritt home did nothing to prevent Joe and Dan Kelly from escaping after the commission of the crime. In fact, the constables present did not report the murder until almost 24 hours had passed.
That Sunday, Hare sent Chief Commissioner Standish a telegram notifying him of the incident and requesting a team of black trackers to be sent to Benalla. Chief Commissioner Standish replied by return telegram that they would arrive by train first thing Monday morning. Arriving at Benalla at 1.30am that morning, the train was forced to head towards Glenrowan a mere hour later for repairs to its engine, which was having difficulties.
Having reached Glenrowan earlier that day, Ned Kelly and Steve Hart started to bail up some of the locals, including labourers and Mrs Jones, the proprietor, of the Glenrowan hotel. The captors made their way to the stationmaster’s home. Ned told Mr. Stanistreet of his plan to derail the tracks and sought his assistance. Stanistreet claimed he didn’t know how to do this and recommended the names of a couple of plate-layers that could help Ned out.
Once the rails were removed, the labourers along with the other prisoners, all went inside Mrs Jones’ inn. As other patrons started to filter through the hotel, unaware of the situation, they too were made prisoners. Ned rode out to the rails and saw Thomas Curnow, the local schoolteacher, riding a buggy with his family. Although Ned kept them prisoners temporarily, he released them with a warning after a short time. Constable Bracken, the local policeman in Glenrowan, was oblivious to what was transpiring in his township. Later that evening, however, Ned put on his armour and took Constable Bracken with him back to the hotel.
By 3.00 am Monday morning, Thomas Curnow heard the sound of a train approaching and went outside to warn the train driver. The gang was putting on their armour and Constable Bracken took this opportunity to escape, and warn the occupants of the approaching train. Once the horses were unloaded from the train, the party of police officers made their way to the inn. The gang waited in anticipation on the varendah of the hotel. As the police approached, firing began by both sides. Inside, the cries of the prisoners were heard and Superintendent Hare ordered a cease-fire. He then left for Benalla to seek medical treatment for the wound he received during the gun battle.
Although some of the prisoners managed to escape, others were caught by the gunfire, including Martin Cherry, whose death was a great source of controversy as no one was sure who actually shot him. It was later to be revealed in a police report that Cherry’s death was the result of a police gun.
After hours of ceaseless gunfire, three out of the four gang members were dead. Ned Kelly was captured by Sergeant Steele and the Glenrowan hotel was burnt down. Sergeant Superintendent Sadleir allowed the bodies to be claimed by family members of the deceased. Ned, along with Joe’s corpse, was loaded on to a train and taken to Benalla.