Byrne, aged twenty one, was Ned’s
best friend. Something of a poet and an opium addict,
he was well educated considering the circumstances
of his upbringing.
Photo Ian Jones
are no published photographs of Joe Byrne alive except
for one Ian Jones produced in his book The
Fatal Friendship. In all other publications
only the shots of his body strung up on the door of
the Benalla police lock-up, for the benefit of the
press photographers, have ever been seen by the general
public. Thirty six hours before Joe, age 23, was killed
by a bullet to the groin at the Glenrowan Inn. He would
be buried around the same time as his lifelong friend Aaron
Sherritt whom he shot dead four days earlier.
was a Woolshed lad, born around 1857 of Irish-Catholic
extraction. His father died when Joe was around 12
years old, after a working life as a digger then
a dairyman. Byrne went to school with Aaron Sherritt
and they later served six months together for the
unlawful possession of meat. Later Joe was fined
for the illegal use of a horse.
the rest of the Kelly Gang, Byrne was a good shot
and fine horseman. He practiced riding down steep
gullies for fun. He was also an experienced alluvial
miner and could speak fluent Cantonese having grown
up amongst the Chinese diggers, which came in handy
during his numerous visits to their opium dens. Joe
Byrne was part of the Kelly Gang because he happened
to be around on the day of the Stringybark killings.
On another day the gang could have been made up from
an entirely different cast including Tom Lloyd, Ned's
cousin, or Wild Wright, Ned's mischievous Mansfield
mate, or even Aaron Sherritt.
Byrne, however, was no ring-in. He became mates with
Ned Kelly in 1876 and trusted him completely. He
is remembered as Ned Kelly's lieutenant. The man
Ned consulted on strategy. Ned saw Joe as a wise,
patient sort of fellow unlike Dan or Steve which
is why he tolerated Byrne's relationship with Sherritt,
even when others were branding Aaron as a police
informer. At Stringybark Creek the evidence suggests
that Joe shot dead Constable Scanlon after Ned had
blown him off his horse. Scanlon's ring was worn
by Joe Byrne at Glenrowan. Aaron Sherritt inadvertently
implicated Joe as a Kelly Gang member when, on being
asked to become an police informer said he would
consider the deal if Byrne's life was spared.
Tuesday morning, to the disgust of some of the
onlookers, the body was taken outside and slung
up against a door to be photographed. The features
were composed in a natural way and easily recognised.
The face had full, fine forehead, blue eyes, downy
moustache and a bushy beard covering a full chin,
whilst the curly hair had recently been cut. The
figure was of a well built, lithe young fellow
and the face beautiful, nevertheless the spectacle
was repulsive. The hands were clenched in the agony
of death and covered with blood. Blood stained
the blue sack coat and strapped tweed trousers,
which, even in death, Joe wore with loose grace.
Brown Australian Son
high-heeled boots were his trademark, being referred
to as larrikin heels during late nineteenth century
Victoria. Byrne was seen as one of the most glamorous
gang members with his handsome colonial boy charm
and his strong opposition to police law and order.
Joe enjoyed reading a fine book and was a highly
proficient writer. It was Joe who penned Ned’s
words in the famous Jerilderie letter as well as
the red inked Euroa letter, sent to Victorian MP
Donald Cameron and Superintendent Sadlier. It is
also understood Joe composed a number of ballads
extolling the virtues of the Gang’s escapades.
A verse from one of his songs goes:
name is Ned Kelly,
I’m known adversely well.
My ranks are free,
my name is law,
Wherever I do dwell.
My friends are all united,
my mates are lying near.
We sleep beneath shady trees,
No danger do we fear.
was reputed to have a number of girlfriends in the
towns of the Kelly country and, at the height of
the hunt for the gang, he used to slip into Beechworth
to drink in the back bars of hotels there. All this
bravado however, did not prevent him from murdering
his one time best friend Aaron Sherritt whom Joe
believe rightly or wrongly to be a police informer.
He certainly believed he was betrayed by Aaron however
history is yet to prove that Sherritt supplied any
real information that aided the police hunt. It was
more likely Sherritt was trying to line his pockets
with some easy money whilst throwing the scent off
the real trial. However, what is certain was that
Sherritt made the fatal mistake in not letting Joe
in on his plan.
say that, a moment before the bullet struck Joe
Byrne dead, he offered the toast Here's
to the bold Kelly Gang!. Another report
states that he said Many more years in
the bush for the Kelly Gang!
Sadlier writes of Joe's final scene in the Glenrowan
pub, 'We were told that Byrne had been firing, and
was in great spirits, boasting of what the gang was
going to do. The work was hot, and he went to the
counter for a drink. Finding that the weight of the
armour prevented him throwing back his head to swallow
the liquor he lifted the apron-shaped plate with
one hand while with the other he lifted the glass
to his mouth. In this attitude a chance bullet struck
him in the groin, and spinning around once he fell
dead'. The police managed to drag the body of Byrne
from the burning Inn moments before the entire building
was engulfed in flames.
all the suits, Joe’s was the finest, breast
and back plates clamped together by side plates
in a perfect fit, the helmet with face piece
shaped and beaten to meet brow plate above the
nose and divide the narrow eye slit into two
dark orbits, evoking a Vendel helmet his Viking
ancestors might have worn”.
p.158 Ian Jones The Fatal Friendship
Byrne shot Sherritt dead, culminating in the Gang’s
final confrontation with the police at Glenrowan — the
scene of Joe’s untimely death. In only four
days Joe Byrne had lost not only his life, and taken
the life of his best mate, but had also lost the
recognition of his mother who refused to claim the
body from the Benalla lockup. The same woman who
frequently would welcome her son to her Woolshed
home during the long nights of the police hunt, right
under their very noses. Until recently, he was buried
in the Benalla cemetery in an unmarked grave, however,
today a grave stone marks his final resting spot.
Kelly photographed when he was sixteen.
in 1861, Dan was the youngest of the three Kelly
boys. Although less physically intimidating than
either Ned or Jim, Dan was still quite handy in a
brawl and, like the rest of the gang, was a fine
horseman. It was the inept Constable Alexander
Fitzpatrick, on record as “a liar
and a larrikin”, who tried to rescue his police
career by arresting Dan at the Kelly home on 15 April
1878. His drunken pass at Dan’s sister Kate
precipitated the “Fitzpatrick Incident” which
led to the Kelly boys being hunted by the police.
Kelly was credited by his family as being more of
a thinker than his brothers. Ned tended to disregard
his advice particularly his suggestions to handcuff
the policeman Bracken and not to trust the schoolteacher
Curnow. He also told Ned that they should all leave
Glenrowan when it was obvious that the special police
train had been delayed. Any or all of these suggestions
may have saved the gang from ruination.
went with Joe Byrne to Aaron Sherritt's Woolshed
hut on Saturday June 26, 1880 just before 7pm. As
Byrne shot Sherritt dead, Dan kicked the front door
half open then fired a shot through it. He called
to the police who were hiding under the bed to “Come
out and fight”. Joe and Dan both fired shots
into the house then Dan threatened to burn the place
down before finally they both rode back to Glenrowan.
Along with his best friend Steve Hart, Dan was an
active member of the “Greta Mob”. He
was acquitted in his first court appearance on the
charge of having stolen a saddle and bridle at the
age of fifteen. However, by the age of seventeen
he was branded an outlaw, and by nineteen his charred
remains were being pulled from the ashes of the Glenrowan
Hart, Dan Kelly’s mate, at age
Hart was born in Beechworth in 1859 to parents who
later farmed a selection on Three Mile Creek near
Wangaratta. By 1876 Steve's family was already linked
to the Kelly clan in police reports. In terms of
Kelly Gang folklore, the least is known about Steve
Hart. Like the others he was of Irish-Catholic blood
with a habit of running foul of the law for stock
offences. He was a selector's son, of slim build
who took pride in his appearance.
1877 Steve Hart was sentenced in Wangaratta to a
years gaol on 13 counts of illegally using horses.
For Steve, horses were his calling card being a flash
rider and occasional jockey, he even won the Beechworth
Handicap after a protest was upheld. It was reported
that during the hunt he dressed as a woman and rode
side saddle to avoid detection.
has it that during the months of the Kelly hunt Steve
rode in and won a number of horse races at meetings
well patronised by police. He won local fame as a
boy for being the only person who could jump his
horse over some high railway gates at Wangaratta.
He was a leading member of the “Greta Mob” of
bush larrikins who were identifiable by the chin
strap of their hats worn under their noses. Like
Joe Byrne, he became an outlaw purely by chance.
Unlike Joe he appeared not to have thought out the
consequences of his actions, being much under the
spell of the brothers Kelly.
part in the Kelly folklore revolves around
a quote he was once heard to say while chopping
wood at his father's farm when the Kelly's
asked him to join them in their fight against
the police. "Here's to a short life and
a merry one!" he exclaimed, throwing down
his axe before riding off into the pages of
was during the Kelly Gang's raid on Euroa that Steve
was recognised by one of the bank manager's servants.
Thus the fourth member's identity became known. During
the gang's raid on Jerilderie, Steve had a very public
argument with Ned at the hotel bar. Hart was nervous
and threatening to shoot prisoners. He stole a clergyman's
watch so Ned told him to hand it back. He then stole
the hotelier's watch. Kelly again told him to return
it. When Hart tried to argue Ned shouted him down
saying, “Shut your mouth. You're nothing but
a bloody thing”. However, as the gang left
Jerilderie Steve Hart treated the locals to a display
Steele met up with Steve in the Warby Ranges
not far from the Kelly home, and asked him where
he got the mare he was riding. “Oh, I got
a lend of it from a bloke back in town,” replied
Hart. “What bloke?” asked Steele.
Hart replied, “Have you got a warrant for
me? I’ll give you no bloody information
unless you have”.
p.50 Max Brown Australian
the rest of the Kelly Gang Steve Hart died young.
His charred remains were dragged from the embers
of the Glenrowan Inn at the age of 21, dying along
side his mate Dan Kelly. To be more historically
correct, in regards to the pull quote above, Steve
was once heard to say to Dan after serving his prison
term, “A short life and a merry one”.
And therein lies the truth because Steve Hart's life
was definitely short.