In 1840 there lived in Ireland a young gamekeeper named John Kelly. He was employed by Lord Ormonde, a wealthy aristocrat who owned the estate of Killarney. A farmer who lived in the Golden
Vale of Tipperary complained to the police that two pigs, valued at ten shillings each, had been stolen from his farm. The police were soon on the trail and arrested John Kelly on suspicion of theft. On 1st January 1841 John, aged twenty-one, was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to seven years’ transportation to Australia.
After several months in gaol, John Kelly was placed on board the convict ship Prince Regent with 182 fellow convicts, shackled and manacled hand and foot. They were bound for Van Dieman’s Land, later known as Tasmania, and few, if any, ever returned to the land of their birth. Almost one year after John Kelly’s conviction the Prince Regent dropped anchor in the Derwent River, hard by the port of Hobart.
John Kelly served his sentence for seven years on the island. When at last he was set free he raised the fare to pay his passage to the mainland of Australia, and farewelled Van Dieman’s Land forever.
After crossing Bass Strait in a sailing ship, John Kelly, known as Red, arrived in Melbourne the capital of the Port Phillip District. He found work as a bush carpenter and met Ellen Quinn, an attractive lass aged eighteen, daughter of struggling migrants from County Antrim. It was love at first sight between Red and Ellen, but her parents did not approve of a son-in-law who had been a convict and had served his time in Van Dieman’s Land.
But the lovers eloped on horseback to Melbourne, one jump ahead of Ellen’s furious parents. In June 1855 a male child was born to Ellen. This tiny infant was “Edward”, soon to be “Ned”.
Young Ned Kelly
Ned began life in times of turmoil, defiance of the law, and rebellion. His boyhood would be wild, wide and free – not for him the advantages of a gentleman’s education and opportunities. Ned would have to take life in the raw. But he was a happy baby, stumbling after his father, who was now a quiet, descent citizen working hard as a fencer and carpenter. John Kelly moved his family to Avenel, a small village eighty miles north of Melbourne on the busy Sydney Road in order to get away from his wife’s troublesome relatives. Here he started a diary. Ned was old enough to go to school, and here he learnt his three Rs – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic – from the school master, Richardson. He was a bright pupil, and well-behaved.
But his father was to meet misfortune. On 28 May 1865 John Kelly made a desperate effort to get food for his hungry family, now six children. He killed a heifer-calf that had strayed into his paddock. Next day his neighbour, Morgan, told the police. A search warrant was issued against John Kelly. Constable Doxey found part of the heifer hanging on a hook and, worse still, the hide of the beast was found under the bed with Morgan’s brand cut out. On 29 May 1865, at Avenal police station, John Kelly was fined £25 or six months in prison with hard labour.
At the time of this heavy blow John Kelly was forty five and had “gone straight” ever since he was released from his convict sentence. Only twice in his life had he stolen, each time for food. A kindly neighbour paid for the fine, and he was released from gaol. Two months later, on 10 August 1865, Ellen gave birth to her seventh child. On 27th December John Kelly, who had been ill for some time, died from consumption. Ned, the eldest son, who was now nearly twelve, had to go to the station to sign the form for his father’s death, and now took on all the worries and responsibilities of the family. While still only twelve years old Ned achieved local fame for a deed of courage. A farmer, who was a neighbour of the Kelly’s, fell into a creek and was on the verge of drowning when young Ned plunged into the river, swam out to the man and pulled him to the bank. The brave rescue became the talk of the countryside.
Some time after the death of his father his mother made a decision that was to alter Ned’s whole life. She decided to leave Avenel and move back to her family, the Quinns. Her father, now living at Glenmore, thirty miles south-east of Benalla, arranged for a home for his daughter and her children not far away at Eleven Mile
Creek. Ned left school and, without a father or schoolmaster to guide him, fell into bad company. He was influenced by the talk and behaviour of Uncle Jimmy Quinn (who had been in prison and was known as “The Wild One” and his mates, bragging about how they would “get even” with the police. Everyone seemed determined to get square with the policemen who had put them behind bars, for they all felt unjustly imprisoned. Ned, a high spirited, intelligent boy, began to see things their way.
A Scrape With The Law Real trouble struck the Kelly family on 14th October 1869, when Ned was fourteen. A Chinese hawker named Ah Fook stopped at Mrs Kelly’s house and asked for a drink of water. He could have easily got it from the creek, but it was said that he was a police informer and was trying to find out whether Ellen Kelly sold liquor. Since she had no licence to do so, this would have been against the law. Ned’s sister Anne offered Ah Fook a pannikin of water from the creek, the hawker tasted it, spat it out, and began waving his arms wildly.
Anne told him to go away, but Ah Fook went on waving his arms furiously and shouting loudly at her. Ned, working close by in the paddock, came over to his sister, and asked why Ah Fook was so excited. “He’s insulting me!” said Anne. “Clear out!” said Ned to Ah Fook. Ah Fook angrily turned on Ned, waving a bamboo stick. The boy took it from him, belted him on the shins, and chased him down the road.
Ah Fook went screaching down the road, reached Benalla , and reported the assault to the police. The following day Sergeant Whelan arrived at Eleven Mile Creek, arrested Ned Kelly, and took him to the Benella lock-up. Next morning, 16th October 1869, Ned was placed in the dock before a Justice of the Peace, charged with robbery and violence. Sergeant Whelan stated that the prisoner had robbed Ah Fook of ten shillings and threatened to beat him to death. Young Kelly was remanded,
without bail and locked up. Five days later he was brought before the Justice of the peace again. A further remand was granted. Ned was returned to prison for a further ten days. On 26th October a magistrate dismissed the charge. But in the eyes of the police, Ned was a “juvenile bushranger”.
About this time Harry Power, an escaped convict, was enraged in the profession of robbery under arms. Convicted in 1855 for stealing horses, he had nearly served his sentence of fourteen years when, a couple of months before his release, he escaped and became a bushranger – a “polite” bushranger, who respected women, and joked with his victims, after he had taken their wallets and watches. A superb horseman, Power easily threw off police pursuit, though the police were eager to collect the £500 offered for his capture. Power’s hide-out was in dense scrub in the Kelly country, where he seemed to be able to get plenty of food, and also the tip-off when mounted troopers were around. For about a year after his escape he was a lone prowler ; then early in 1870, it was noticed that he had a mate, a mounted youth who stayed a little distance from the scene of Power’s stick-ups, and held his horse ready for a quick getaway.
The young accomplice was Ned Kelly. Power’s secret camp was on a hill about a mile from the homestead, and he had made a pact with the Quinns for their help and provisions. It was Uncle Jimmy Quinn who had persuaded Ned, who was trying desperately to earn enough money to keep his mother, brothers and sisters, that he should join Power as his offsider.
On 5th May 1870 Ned Kelly, aged fifteen, was arrested for “highway robbery under arms”. On 12th May people gathered at the Benella Court house “to find out the fate of Edward Kelly, charged with two separate counts of highway robbery”.
The magistrate dismissed the case for lack of evidence. The police, however, had the boy remanded, stating” Ned Kelly had been concerned in a highway robbery under arms with Power”. And so the supposed juvenile bushranger was manacled to the police coach, taken to Kyneton under heavy armed guard, and held in custody. He remained in prison until 23rd June, when the case against him was again dismissed for lack of evidence. But he had been held a prisoner for seven weeks, which was the idea of a cleaver police officer who thought that he could get information about Power from Ned, but Ned said nothing.
Several months passed, until October 1870, when Ned was charged with assaulting a neighbour and sentenced to three months’ gaol. In the same Court he was given a further three months, on a second charge arising from the same incident. When he was released and arrived home he had an unlucky home-coming. Wild Wright, a neighbour, had borrowed a chestnut horse at Mansfield and rode to Mrs Kelly’s for a spree, then left, asking the Kellys to mind the horse until his return. Ned
innocently rode the horse into Greta, where he was pounced upon by Constable Hall, torn off his horse, knocked unconsciously five men, handcuffed by Hall, trussed hand and foot, and taken to Wangaratta. Tried on a charge of receiving a stolen horse, he was found guilty, and sentenced to three years’ hard labour at Pentridge gaol. Ned was then sixteen.
In February 1874 Ned Kelly was released from Pentridge. He was a few months under nineteen years of age. When he had entered the gaol he was a beardless lad; but no razor caressed his chin at Pentridge and he had a well grown beard. Ned Kelly was a desperado, with a chip on his shoulder. From the moment he was released, he was at war with the community that had spoilt his life. There was now
a rail-way line linking Melbourne with Glenrowan, a few kilometres from Greta. Ned alighted from the train at Glenrowan and hurried along the brush track to his house, and the fond, tearful welcome waiting for him there.
After working for almost two years in a sawmill, which eventually had to close down, Ned went prospecting for gold on the King River, but had no luck.
Out of work, he began horde and cattle duffing – stealing horses and cattle from squatters and driving them across the Murray River into New South Wales, where there was a ready marked for stolen goods. Several months passed, in which Ned had some minor trouble with the police, and his brother, Dan, aged fifteen, was found “not guilty of stealing a saddle and bridle”. The police awaited their chance and issued another warrant for Dan’s arrest, this time for cattle and horse duffing.
The 15th of April 1878 was a day of disaster for the Kelly family and the police of Victoria. On than day Constable Fitzpatrick rode from Benalla to Greta, a journey of fifteen miles. Arriving at Greta, he asked Ellen Kelly if Dan was home and at that moment Dan entered and after some heated exchange of words, Fitzgerald was attacked by Ned and Dan Kelly and all their relatives, who attempted to murder him. Somehow he managed to escape and reached Benalla where he told his story.
Next day, Sergeant Steele and two policemen arrived at Greta, and arrested Ellen Kelly and two of her friends. On 9th October, at Beechworth, nearly five months later, they were charged with aiding and abetting an attempt to murder Constable Fitzpatrick. On the sole evidence of Fitzpatrick, the jury found them guilty. After gaoling Ellen Kelly, the police thought of a plan to capture Ned and hid Comrades in crime. Four police, disguised as gold prospectors, rode from Mansfield to the
Wombat Ranges and made camp at Stringybark Creek, seventeen miles away. This was to be their base camp while they made armed patrols in search of the wanted men.
On 25th October Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre rode into Stringybark Creek and made camp. But Ned had already seen them and in his dairy he wrote “I crossed their tracks and rode to our camp, and told my brother and his mates.” His brother was Dan, and his mates Joe Byrne, aged twenty-one and Steve Hart, aged eighteen. At twenty-three, Ned was the natural leader because of his superior strength, his intelligence and his reckless courage. On Saturday, 26th October, Sergeant Kennedy and Constable Scanlon mounted their horsed and went on patrol, leaving Lonigan and McIntyre to hold the fort. While Lonigan was in the tent making bread McIntyre shot parrots, a sure sign that the police had no idea the Kelly’s were nearby. A grave error…
Creeping up to the camp, Ned shouted, “Bail up! Put up your hands!” McIntyre obeyed, but Lonigan, a brave man, drew his revolver – and one of the Kelly Gang shot him dead. McIntyre surrendered. Then into the picture rode Kennedy and Scanlon. McIntyre shouted a warning, “You had better surrender, sergeant, we are surrounded!” Kennedy, thinking it was a joke, put his hand on his revolver as Kelly shouted, “ Put up your hands!”
Kennedy leapt off his horse and took cover behind a fallen tree, and Scanlon spurred forward, unslinging his rifle. As he did so Kelly fired his shot gun and Scanlon fell dead. McIntyre, in terror, leapt on Scanlon's horse and bolted away through the bush to Mansfield to report the murders. Ned and Dan started a grim dual with
Kennedy, a brave man who refused to surrender, but dodged from tree to tree, firing his revolver, reloading, and firing again. One of Kennedy’s bullets grazed Dan’s shoulder, another went through Ned’s beard. The fight continued untill Kennedy fell, struck below the armpit by a bullet fired by Ned. He was seriously wounded and could not move. As night came on Ned saw that he would probably not survive his injuries and, on an impulse, which he may of thought kind of kind and humane, decided that he could not leave him at the mercy of the dingoes. He shot Kennedy through the heart. Then he walked back to camp, got Kennedy’s overcoat, and covered him with it as a sign of respect for a brave foe.
When the news of the murders reached Melbourne the Government proclaimed the Kelly Gang as outlaws, and offered a reward of £500 for each of them, dead or alive. Over two hundred policemen were drafted into the district, and scores of Kelly friends were arrested and held in gaol for weeks while the police tried to find out the outlaws’ hiding-place.
Ned now decided to be an outlaw in earnest. To maintain supplies of arms and food he needed money, so he decided to rob a bank. He chose a bank at Euroa and decided that the right moment for a robbery would be when the court was in session. He reasoned that few people would be in the streets on a mid-summer afternoon, when most would either be at home or in the courthouse. He had also found that there was only one foot constable stationed at Euroa to protect the bank, post office, railway station, two or three hotels, and all the stores. Despite several warnings, the police had made no attempt to get more of their men stationed at Euroa, though they knew the Kellys were at large.
Having completed their preparations, the four outlaws, mounted on splendid horses, rode towards Euroa with every detail of the robbery worked out in advance. The dismounted at Faithfull’s Creek sheep-station, four miles from Euroa. Ned and his mates went to the kitchen door and spoke to Fitzgerald, a rouseabout, and his wife, the housekeeper. His first words reckoned them. “I’m Ned Kelly,” he said. He had a revolver in his hand, but he did not point it at them. “You’ll have to bail up, but we wont hurt you if you do as you’re told. We would like to have some dinner.” The outlaws sat at the table enjoying a hearty meal. Mrs Fitzgerald was impressed with their polite manners, and Ned won her mother sympathy at once by telling how badly his own mother and sisters had been treated by the police.
For the rest of the day and night Ned and his gang held everyone prisoner, capturing, but not hurting, the various men as they returned to the homestead. A lantern was lit and kept burning all night, and the sixteen prisoners lay on the floor, smoking or dozing. For several hours Ned sat inside, too, talking in a friendly way and answering the many questions they asked him about his encounters with the police. He was an entertaining story teller and kept his audience enthralled. He even told them that the gang intended to rob the bank the next day, and the purpose in sticking up Faithfull’s Creek was to give their horses a good feed overnight, so that they would be fresh for a quick get-away after the bank had been robbed.
Next day the outlaws took their horses out of the stables and turned them out to graze in the house paddock. Then they harnessed a covered wagon and a spring cart, helped themselves to a brand new outfit of clothes from a hawker they were holding prisoner, collected some ammunition, and set out for Euroa. They arrived at four o’clock. The street was deserted, the town drowsy in the heat. Ned and Hart entered the bank while Dan went round to the back door. “I’m Ned Kelly!” said Ned. “I
am an outlaw, and my orders must be obeyed. Make no noise. Raise no alarm. Keep your hands up and stand against the wall.” Hart was soon joined by Dan, and they kept everyone covered at gun-point while Ned filled a sugar-bag with gold and silver coins, bank notes and about 31 ounces of unminted gold. The total haul was about £2000, and the raid had only taken half an hour.
Their prisoners were then taken out to the covered wagon and driven back to Faithfull’s Creek. Here they were held captive with the other members of the homestead. Supper was served to the outlaws and their captives in the cool of the evening, then the brigands saddled their horses and prepared to depart. Before doing so they entertained their guests to an astonishing display of trick-riding in the house paddock. At about half past eight, as the last flicker of twilight faded, the outlaws rode away, with the money and gold safely strapped to their horses. News of the bank robbery created intense excitement, and on 13th December 1878 the Government increased the reward to £1000 on each of the outlaws. Now for the first time Stephen Hart and Joseph Byrne were named as part of the Kelly Gang. After hiding for a few weeks in one of their camps, the four popped up again in Jerilderie, thirty miles north of the Murray River in New South Wales.
At about 10p.m., the bandits rode quietly into the township. A couple of hundred of metres away from the police station three of them tethered their horses and advanced on foot. Ned spurred his horse to a gallop along the road. There was no light showing at the police station. The occupants were all in bed. Dismounting, Ned knocked at the front door and called out in a tone of great excitement. When Mr Devine opened the door Ned said that he was Ned Kelly and under the duress of
having a revolver in each hand Devine put his hands up. From the darkness the other three rushed forward with revolvers. All went inside and the door was closed. Ned assured the policemen and their families that they will not be hurt. Dan then found some handcuffs and gleefully manacled the police, who were put into the lock-up for the night. Next morning the outlaws dressed themselves in police uniform – and none of the locals had any idea what had happened. During the next few hours they took everyone prisoner in the Royal hotel nearby and put them all in the dining room under armed guard. Then they robbed the bank, and when they returned to the Royal Hotel, Ned, a bearded young outlaw in police uniform, told his captive audience the terrible story of his audience in words of fierce sincerity and power, mixed with sarcasm and humour. Then the Kelly Gang galloped away singing, “Hurrah for the good old days of Morgan and Ben Hall!”.
Suits Of Armour
For some reason best known to themselves they stopped their war against the law for more than sixteen months. But the law continued in its efforts to capture the Kellys. The Government in Melbourne had asked the Queensland Government for a party of black trackers to help in the hunt for the Kelly Gang. The nervous strain of dodging these invisible pursuers affected Ned’s morale and judgement.
Early in 1880the police were told that mould-boards of ploughs had been stolen from the neighbourhood of Greta and Oxley. They did not know, and could not guess, what the purpose of these strange thefts, but they sent parties with black trackers to investigate. The trackers discovered marks of high-heeled riding boots near the farms where the mould-boards of ploughs had been stolen.
At a hide-out in the Greta Swamps, Ned and his mates heated the metal mould-boards and hammered them over a green log to a round shape, to protect their bodies in the pitched battle with the police which they believed must come soon. Each suit of Armour consisted of two main sections, front and back; these were held together at the sides by leather laces, and supported from the shoulders by strong straps. An apron made from part of the mould-board was attached to the edge of the front
piece by a bolt and swivel to protect the groin and thighs. The weight of the armour suits was about eighty pounds, a heavy load for these slightly build youths to carry. Only one helmet was made – for Ned, who had the physical strength to carry the extra weight of fifteen pounds.
After the successful raid on Jerilderie, the Government of New South Wales offered a reward of £2000 each for the bodies of the outlaws, dead or alive. This, added to the Victorian offer, meant a grand total of £8000. But where were they? Months passed, a year passed, while informers, greedy for the reward, passed information to police. One informer was Aaron Sherritt, who was engaged to Byrne’s sister. His informing cost him his life. He was spotted entering a police camp. On Saturday, 27th June 1880, though guarded in his home four constables, Sherritt was shot dead by Byrne and Dan Kelly. Ned Kelly was realising that his days were also numbered. For £8000 friends could become enemies. He began to make plans.
Attack On The Police Train
He guessed that when news of the death of Sherritt reached Melbourne, a train carrying police officers would be sent to Glenrowan. He was right. At about one o’clock in the morning, by moonlight, Ned and Steve Hart arrived at the spot where they intended to wreck the train -–three quarters of a mile from Glenrowan railway station, where they was a curve in the line, with an embankment thirty to forty feet high. Leaving their horses and armour in a clump of trees. Ned and Steve tried with hand spanners to take up some of the rails, but the nuts were rusted and could not be
budged. At any moment the two desperados expected the special train to arrive. It was a cold and frosty morning in midwinter, and Ned and Steve, wearing overcoats, ran along the line to Glenrowan station, hoping to find there the proper tools for lifting the rails.
Near the level crossing, a gang of eight navvies were camped in tents. Ned and Steve bailed them up, and then knocked on the gatehouse door. The station-master, Stanistreet, came to the door. Ned ordered him to get dressed and direct the men to remove the rails. They protested that it was a platelayer’s job. Cursing at the loss of time, Ned left the prisoners with Hart and went off to find the platelayers. After many delays, they walked in the frosty moonlight back to the gatehouse with the platelayers and their families under guard. Hart in the meantime, had forced the station master to find the right tools, and now angry words passed between Ned and the platelayers when they were told to tear up the rails. The crime they were being asked to carry out made their blood run cold. They delayed as long as they dared, but they knew very well that Ned Kelly was not a man to be trifled with.
Presently Joe Burne and Dan arrived, after a long nights ride from Sherritt’s home. But the train did not arrive… As the people of the township were beginning to wake up, a new plan had to be quickly made. It was important to prevent any warning being sent to Benalla or Wangaratta. No one could be allowed to leave Glenrowan. As the sun came up, the prisoners were taken to Mrs Jones’s hotel. The lady, obeying Ned’s orders, opened the bar and made the prisoners welcome –
and anyone in the township who stirred out of doors were grabbed and added to the group. The postmaster was grabbed early to prevent him from sending telegrams, but Constable Bracken, at the police station, was sick in bed and had no idea that anything unusual was happening.
The hours passed. During the morning the armour was brought in and placed in a room which the outlaws kept for themselves. The train still did not arrive. Foolishly the outlaws began to drink at the bar with the prisoners, and when darkness fell Ned allowed some of the residents home. Among those he trusted – for he had told everyone of his plans to wreck the train – was the schoolmaster, Curnow, and his family.
Towards dawn, Ned decided that his plans to wreck the train had failed. He announced that everyone could go home and at that very moment, he heard a shrieking whistle. The train laden with police, had left Benalla, and was thundering towards Glenrowan – at last. Hurriedly the four outlaws buckled on their armour. But when the train was about one and a half miles from the station the driver saw a red light flickering dimly ahead on the moonlit track. He blew a long blast on his whistle.
The train came to a standstill. What was wrong? There, standing between the rails, was the schoolmaster, Tom Curnow, holding a lighted candle behind a red scarf. This moment he knew would be the most dangerous in his life, for the white light of the candle on his face would make him an easy mark for the Kelly Gang.But his luck held – and he gasped out his story. The battle of Glenrowan was about to begin.
Battle Of Glenrowan
Back at the hotel, Ned, dressed in his armour, addressed the prisoners, and while doing so Constable Bracken escaped through the front door and alerted that the Kelly’s were in Glenrowan. Had Superintendent Hare paused a moment to form up his men and give them orders to throw a cordon round the hotel, things might have been different, but he thought of only storming the hotel by a frontal charge. At this moment, the outlaws, encased in their armour beneath their overcoats, came round the end of the hotel. Their plan had been to sneak forward and attack the police at the railway station. Instead they saw the sixteen policemen advancing towards them.
Hare halted at thirty paces and, seeing the figures in the shadows, called out, “Don’t be foolish. I want to speak to you!”, Ned’s voice boomed back in reply: “I don’t want to speak to you!”. Hare discharged both barrels of his shot-gun. The other police opened fire at the figures in armour. The four outlaws, all armed with rifles, returned the fire in a hot volley.
With his first shot Ned Kelly... (see part II)