The heels of Joe’s polished bluchers clip over the cobblestones as he walks up along Camp Street toward Bray’s Photographic Studio. His pipe hangs lazily from the corner of his lips, swirls of tobacco smoke drifting into the crisp autumn air. Feeling proud in his appearance, in tweed jacket and trousers, waistcoat and a crisp white shirt, Joe holds his head high, his blue eyes focused firmly ahead at the bustling cross roads.
Hobbling Music in the thick scrub of the gully, Joe begins untying the rope that secures the rolled up overcoat to the pommel of the saddle and unfurls it, revealing the shotgun that has been hidden within the fabric. The bitting chill of winter sends a shiver from his lips and he wraps the coat around himself, turning up the collar to hide the bushy beard that frames his face. Slinging the weapon across his shoulder, Joe unbuckles the girth and removes the saddle from Music’s back, resting it against the rotted stump of a pine tree. He strokes his hand along the glistening mark at her side, causing her to twitch and flatten her ears in response. Aware of what has made the bloody wound, Joe lifts his leg behind himself and rubs a finger against the pointed tip of his spur, the iron smeared with blood. He shakes his head and removes her bridle, the tom thumb bit falling from her mouth with a clatter. Music grinds her teeth and rubs her forehead against his shoulder, leaving a speckled patch of white on his woollen overcoat. “Enough of that,” Joe says, pushing her head away. Laying the bridle on the stump, he begins his descent down to the flat of Sebastopol in search of rest.
Dear Sir, You think yourself to be very high and mighty for the work you are doing in hunting for the Kelly Gang. But I must inform you that your days are truly numbered unless you stop bothering yourself about Beechworth and the surrounding districts. The Kellys are informed of your every move and you cannot visit Sebastopol without someone watching. You are a brave cove, I’ll grant you that, for it is only foolishness to believe your life will continue to be spared. The great boasting you have done at the Hibernian Hotel about being the only cove to ever gaol Joe Byrne has made it to the ears of the outlaws and as you can well imagine, they are itching to get their hands on you. I must warn you Detective, you and your great chum Mullane are now wanted men. A reward of £8000 has been issued for your apprehension and delivery up into the ranges. I trust you fully consider the peril you gentlemen now find yourselves in. There is great mischief to come, so prepare yourself for your latter end.
April of 1872 saw Joe working for Ah Lim; a cloth merchant in the Chinese Camp of Sebastopol. Since he and Aaron had started spending more time within the camp, Joe had begun to be employed by a few of the local Chinese traders, who found him to be polite and hardworking. It was only ever temporary employment, but employment nonetheless and Joe enjoyed being amongst their company. Under the instruction of Ah Lim, his tasks had been sorting stock, delivering messages to other shopkeepers around the camp and unloading the cart when a carrier arrived from Melbourne.
“Joseph Byrne deposed that on the night in question he was passing the Chinese camp at Sebastopol, and saw the prisoners and others searching a jumper and other clothing; this was after sundown. Ah Suey was tied up to a post, to a hook on it. His hands were tied with a cord in front. There was a chain like that produced round him, his whole feet were on the ground, took no notice of the people who were present. If he had trousers on they were very short. Ah Seong untied deceased, who then went away to another house. Deceased was crying out “pretty” loud, did not hear him say anything. Was there about five minutes, saw deceased between six and seven on Wednesday night. He was then tied up again with the rope and with the chain; the two prisoners were present, but did nothing. Ah Seong untied him. Asked prisoners why they tied him up, and someone, whom he did not know, said that Ah Suey meant to kill himself.”