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Australian Son the story of Ned Kelly by Max Brown
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Ned Kelly: Jerilderie to Melbourne

Funding a Republic

Hold up at the Jerilderie Polics StationCircumstances had forced Ned’s hand once again. The Gang had been alerted to a number of their supporters being harassed by the local authorities to the point where livelihoods were at stake. Ned needed a large amount of cash to cover the lost earnings and expenses his friends and relatives had to endure when their men folk were locked away without trial for months on end while their fields remained unsown and stock confiscated.

Members of the Kelly GangA photographer travelling through the bush came across three riders whom he recognised as members of the Kelly Gang. The horsemen were later identified as Wild Wright, Ned Kelly and Steve Hart.
Photo Max Brown

This time their target was the Bank of New South Wales at Jerilderie. It was a Saturday night and they captured the two local policemen and locked them up. Then they dressed themselves in police uniforms and stabled their horses. Next day, Ned supervised the rounding-up of more than sixty townspeople in the dining room of the Royal Mail Hotel, next door to the bank. Then he lectured to the captive audience from a document dictated by Ned to Joe Byrne, which he intended should be read by all the world. It was a remarkable document — autobiography, statement of fact and self-justification — which ran to well over 7500 words — and became known as the Jerilderie Letter.

Bank of NSW, JerilderieOn Monday morning, Ned went in search of the local newspaper editor to have it printed, but the editor had gone into hiding. Ned had planned to distribute his manifesto after having it printed by the editor Samuel Gill, however, Gill, after hearing about the ‘new’ police in town by a Mrs Devine, became suspicious and ran away. Carefully checking to make sure all the telephone wires out of town had been cut, Ned then proceeded to rob the bank. The Bank of New South Wales lost over £2000 in notes and coin that day. Ned gave his manifesto to one of the tellers, who swore he would give it to Donald Cameron MP, but instead he passed it on to the Crown Law Office in Melbourne.

The statement was then carefully copied then put away and was not produced at Kelly’s trial; nor were its contents made known to the press. It was not until the 1930s that it was even made available to the public. By most accounts, after Jerilderie, the Kelly Gang went into hiding in the Bogong high plains, however, reports circulated that members of the Gang were seen as far away as Melbourne and the Goulburn. The Victorian government increased the Kelly reward to £4000, matched by £4000 from New South Wales — the total worth more than $2 million today. But the Kelly Gang had disappeared and would not be seen for seventeen months until, spurned on by increased police provocation, Ned and the boys were incited to one final act.

Chief Commissioner StandishIncreasingly frustrated by support for the Gang the Victorian Police Force, under direction from Chief Commissioner Frederick Charles Standish, locked up Kelly friends and relatives for months without trial. When this move backfired, the police drew up a blacklist of Kelly associates, or ‘sympathisers’, who would not be allowed to take up land in the north-east. This ill-advised action tipped the Kelly outbreak into rebellion. Ned and the Gang advanced plans for a Republic of North-Eastern Victoria, to be launched by a pre-emptive strike at their police enemies. But one of those enemies was laying his own devious plan to destroy the Gang.

Aaron Sherritt, a lifelong friend of Joe Byrne, had been a key Kelly agent while pretending to help the police. A detective set out to incriminate Sherritt in the eyes of the Gang. A Detective by the name of Ward put in motion a blood thirsty trap using Sherritt as the bait. By spreading rumours, falsifying reports, and even stealing a saddle, Ward managed to put Sherritt under the spot light. By making Aaron his number one informer, even if his leads were vague at best, both Joe and Ned were alerted to a spy in their midst. If they broke from cover to kill Sherritt, the police would at last have a chance to capture or kill the outlaws. One night Aaron Sherritt opened his door to find Joe Byrne standing there. Without a word, he shot Sherritt dead. Four armed police had been entrusted with the protection of Sherritt and his family who, by then, were on the police payroll. Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly challenged them to come out and fight but the troopers declined, and instead hid under the Sherritt’s bed. After threatening to burn the house down the two outlaws rode 65 kilometres across country to join Ned and Steve Hart at Glenrowan. The Gang had taken over the town in preparation for the derailment of the Police Special. The four outlaws waited, with their armour, in the Glenrowan Inn ready to advance on the wrecked train and do battle with any survivors. Their plan depended on news of Sherritt's murder reaching police in Benalla. However, the police party assigned to protecting Aaron did not venture out of Sherritt's hut until the next afternoon, so the police train did not set out from Melbourne until just after 10pm on Sunday - thirty hours after Aaron Sherritt's death.

‘After months of delay, the press announced that twenty native police were en route from Queensland. Publication of the fact was a deliberate attempt to foil his efforts to capture the bushrangers, declared the Acting Chief Secretary, Sir Bryan O’Loghlen. In the event, the twenty trackers proved to be six. They arrived in March after a voyage to Sydney in which all were extremely sick, especially Corporal Sambo who had contracted congestion of the lungs.’
Max Brown Australian Son

On Saturday, June 27, 1880, the Kelly Gang captured the railway station at Glenrowan. Ned Kelly knew now that the time had come to stand and fight. A crowd of people from the tiny railway town was herded into Mrs Ann Jones’ hotel near the station. Ned suspected that the talkative Mrs Jones was a police spy. Characteristically, he chose her hotel rather than the other one at Glenrowan, McDonnell's Railway Tavern. in which to make his last stand. With the local policeman, Constable Bracken, having been made prisoner and the telegraph wires cut, the Kelly Gang then preceded to drink with the locals.

Thomas CurnowOn the Sunday afternoon they held a light-hearted ‘sports’ meeting in the hotel yard. Putting aside his guns, Ned competed in a hop, step and jump event, while carrying under his overcoat a full set of armour. There was more drinking but, as evening approached, the Kelly’s decided to cut off Glenrowan more drastically. Ned Kelly ordered a railway fettler by the name of Reardon to tear up a section of the railway track approximately one and a half kilometres north of the station. The plan was to cripple the police special force which the Gang expected to be dispatched from Melbourne, and take the troopers and officials hostage. They would then demand an exchange for a number of prisoners, including Ned’s mother Ellen, and in the process declare the region the Republic of North East Victoria. By then there were more than thirty people crowded into Mrs Jones’ hotel. In the meantime a Police Special, dispatched from Melbourne and full of troopers, reporters, guns and ammunition, was hurtling towards Glenrowan on its way to Wangaratta after being alerted to the Sherritt shooting. The stage was set for the final conflict.

Stopping the police trainAfter earlier convincing Ned Kelly to release him, Thomas Curnow, the crippled Glenrowan school teacher, stopped the special pilot train with a candle held behind a red scarf.

The Shooting Begins

The Kelly’s had not slept for two nights but only the resourceful Constable Bracken and the school teacher, Thomas Curnow, were able to outwit them and escape. A train crowded with police left Melbourne for Kelly Country at 10.15pm that Sunday. In the early hours of next morning the whistle of the approaching train could be heard above the noise in Mrs Jones’ hotel. The Kelly Gang waited for the sound of derailment but it never came. After earlier convincing Ned Kelly to release him, Thomas Curnow, the crippled Glenrowan school teacher, had hobbled around five hundred meters south from the railway station along the track towards Melbourne waving a light shaded in a red cloth shawl he had borrowed from his wife. The train stopped before it reached the rail break, and armed police and native troopers leapt out. Mrs Reardon, imprisoned in the hotel with her children, could hear clanking as Ned Kelly donned his armour in a back room. Hammered out from ploughshares, the armour consisted of a cylindrical helmet, a breastplate with apron and a back plate laced with leather thongs. The armour weighed 90 pounds.

Superintendent HareSuperintendent Francis Hare, who had been in charge of the Kelly hunt after Euroa until ‘exhaustion’ caused him to pull out, had taken over the pursuit again just before the Glenrowan. At 3am, under bright moonlight, Hare ordered his men to move among the trees and surround the hotel. As they took up firing positions, the Kelly Gang came out and started shooting. In the very first volley Hare was wounded in the forearm by a bullet. He promptly retired to the safety of the post office, leaving some 50 police without a commanding officer.

In the exchange of fire, Joe Byrne was shot in the leg, then he, Dan and Steve retreated into the hotel. Ned Kelly, who was shot in the foot, hand and arm, escaped into the trees to warn the armed sympathisers that their plan to derail the train had failed. During the confusion signal rockets had been fired to alert Ned’s militia. McDonnell's Railway Tavern stood across from the Glenrowan railway station. It was in front of this hotel where Jack Lloyd mistakenly fired two rockets to rally the sympathisers. The dream of a ‘Republic of North East Victoria’ died with Curnow and the waving of a red scarf.

Ned Kelly at bayOne of Australia’s most famous images is that drawn by Thomas Carrington and titled ‘Ned Kelly at bay’. While many of the finer details were drawn after Ned’s capture, Carrington’s interpretation is never the less highly authentic.

The women and children pinned inside the Inn were screaming, but the police kept up a murderous rate of gun fire. Dan Kelly ordered the townspeople to lie flat and not to raise their heads. As night faded, the police kept up their barrage while sporadic gunfire emanated from the outlaws’ guns. Inside the hotel, Joe Byrne grabbed a bottle of whisky, straightened up to drink it and, half way through a toast, dropped dead with a bullet to his groin. John Sadleir 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'. Accounts 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!’ Dawn was breaking. The townspeople, by then almost hysterical, started to brave the police barrage and come out. Mrs Reardon, clutching a shawl round her baby, stepped out from the hotel veranda.

‘The women roused their little ones and a large party ran out the back door and down the Wangaratta side of the house. They were about to cross the drain close to the gatehouse when a voice from under the culvert cried, “Who comes there?” “Women and children”, they answered. A fusillade of shots passed their faces and they broke and turned and made their way back to the hotel. It was apparent that the police, unused to battle and schooled in dread of the outlaws, would fire in panic at anything on two legs.’
Max Brown Australian Son

Mrs Reardon heard a policeman, afterwards identified as Sergeant Steele, call out, ‘Throw up your hands or I’ll shoot you like a bloody dog!’ She ran forward. Steele fired and the bullet passed through the shawl, missing the baby by inches. Two other children were not so lucky. One was wounded and another shot dead, with another youth wounded only a few minutes later.

Sometime before dawn Kelly returned to the hotel, only to see Joe Byrne lying dead. He then appeared outside the hotel and headed into the bush, hoping the surviving Gang members would follow. He then collapsed. Ned has lost much blood, has missed two nights sleep and is still carrying his armour. Here amongst the trees Ned is comforted by his cousin Tom Lloyd. The son of Ned’s uncle Jack Lloyd, Tom Junior was possibly closer to Ned than any member of the gang. Tom was a staunch supporter of Ned and was often referred to as the fifth member of the Kelly Gang. He is recognised today as an important piece of the Kelly puzzle. Tom was friend, adviser, strategist, and tactician to the Gang. During the Kelly uprising, he was a formidable leader of the sympathisers, which led to his arrest. It has been said that in other circumstances he could have been Ned Kelly. Tom and Wild were mainstays of the Kelly Gang but where Isaiah ‘Wild’ Wright was arrogant, Lloyd was far more guarded. When Tom goes to visit Ned in prison prior to his hanging, Kelly tells him where to find a planted saddle. It highlights the bond these two bushmen shared. In later life, Tom became a respected farmer and lived into his seventies.

A Strange ApparitionThis wood engraving titled 'A Strange Apparition' appeared in The Illustrated Australian News on July 9, 1880.

At this moment he could have escaped, most men would have. Not Ned Kelly. Instead he goes back to rescue his brother and Steve Hart. As the sun rose, out of the ground mist came an apparition limping in dented armour, one arm extended, and his gun in his hand. Senior Constable Kelly was reported to have yelled, ‘He’s the bunyip, boys!’ Bullets rang against Ned’s armour as he walked slowly towards the police front line. A railway guard named Jesse Dowsett stood his ground, firing at Ned Kelly’s legs. Then Senior Constable Kelly, seemingly regaining his wits, also fired at Kelly’s legs as did the trigger-happy Sergeant Steele. Ned at last fell. Within minutes police had surrounded the grotesque figure of the outlaw. They had to cut the straps to free Ned from his armour. His face was a mask of blood. While Steele declared he alone wounded, unmasked and disarmed Ned Kelly, other men also claimed they helped by wrestling down Ned and hauling off his helmet and armour. Some of those watching Steele’s murderous rage throughout the siege were convinced that he meant to take no prisoners, as Steele had earlier fired at fleeing hostages. Constable Hugh Bracken was quoted as saying, ‘I’ll shoot any bloody man that dares touch him.’ After a remarkable half-hour gunfight and suffering the effects of twenty-eight bullet wounds, Ned was carried into the railway station, close to death. With the sunrise another train had arrived at Glenrowan. One of its passengers was Father Matthew Gibney, a Roman Catholic priest. Ned Kelly’s sisters, Kate and Maggie, begged Gibney to see their brother and give him the last rites.

Glenrowan InnFather Gibney found the outlaw conscious and administered the sacraments to a critically wounded Ned Kelly. He then went to the hotel. At 3pm, thinking all the townspeople were out, a police constable had crept close and fired the Glenrowan Inn with straw soaked in kerosene which quickly razed the hotel to the ground. Someone cried out that Martin Cherry, a townsman, was trapped inside with the outlaws. So with great courage, Father Gibney went into the blazing building with hands raised high to show he was unarmed. But no shots rang out.

Harsh Justice

Father Matthew GibneyGibney fought his way through to a back room and there found the lifeless bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. Giving evidence later at the 1881 Royal Commission, the priest gave it as his opinion that the outlaws had committed suicide, probably by taking poison. The bodies lay side by side, heads propped on folded blankets. Martin Cherry was rescued but later died from a police bullet wound to the groin. The police managed to drag the body of Byrne from the burning Inn moments before the entire building was engulfed in flames while those of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were charred beyond recognition. Later that day the families claimed both the bodies of Dan and Steve who, after a volatile wake at Eleven Mile Creek, were buried in Greta Cemetery.

‘On 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.’
Max Brown’s Australian Son

Charred bodyIn only four days Joe Byrne had lost not only his life and that of two Gang members, but had taken the life of his best mate Aaron Sherritt and 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, Joe was buried in the Benalla cemetery in an unmarked grave, however, today a grave stone marks his final resting place.

After a Petty Sessions hearing at Beechworth in August, Ned Kelly was taken to Melbourne, passing through streets thronged with gaping people. He was deemed fit to stand trial for murder at Melbourne’s Supreme Court on October 28, 1880. The judge, Sir Redmond Barry, who had once made the grim promise that he would see Ned Kelly hang, wanted to dispose of the trial in a single day, in order to have it finished before the Melbourne Cup. The inexperienced barrister defending Ned was no match for an expert prosecutor, a determined judge and a chief Crown witness — the constable who escaped at Stringybark Creek — and who committed perjury. Barry also misdirected the jury on a vital point of law concerning self-defence. Inevitably, a guilty verdict was announced. Barry sentenced Ned to hang, concluding with: ‘And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.’ Ned famously retorted: ‘I will see you there, where I go.’ Twelve days after Ned was executed, Judge Barry dropped dead in his chambers on November 23, 1880.

Ned Kelly SittingNed Kelly’s execution was scheduled for Thursday November 11, 1880 — only thirteen days after his trial. A massive movement was launched to save his life. There were huge public meetings, torch-lit marches, a deputation to the Governor, and a petition for Ned’s reprieve from execution. Three days before the planned hanging, the petition was presented to the Governor with more than 32,000 signatures. An hour later, the Executive Council announced that the execution would go ahead.

Ned KellyThis photograph shows the last full length image of Ned Kelly taken on November 10, 1880, the day before his execution.
Photo Victoria Police Historical Unit

At 9am on the morning of November 11, as a crowd of 5,000 gathered outside the Melbourne Gaol, Ned was transferred to the condemned cell. Just before 10am, he was led out onto the scaffold. As the hangman adjusted the hood to cover his face, Kelly’s last words were: ‘Arr well, I suppose it has to come to this. Such... (is life?)’. At four minutes past ten, the executioner pulled the lever and Ned Kelly plunged into immortality. His headless body was buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the Old Melbourne Gaol. In the 1920s it was then removed to the Pentridge Prison cemetery.

Greta, 1880

Stationed along with three fellow officers, Senior Constable Robert Graham was charged with bringing order to a highly volitile situation. While the police occupied the first floor of O’Brien’s Hotel, Kelly sympathisers swore vengeance in the bar below.

An End and a Beginning

The GrahamsConstable Robert Graham, pictured with his new wife Mary Kirk, gained the trust of Mrs Kelly and her family, to become a respected member of the community.
Photo Victoria Police Historical Unit

For months after his death, Ned Kelly’s rebellion simmered in North East Victoria, fuelled by the distribution of the £8000 reward money — often referred to as ‘blood money’ by the Gang’s many sympathisers — and the 1881 Royal Commission on the Police Force of Victoria that exposed a number of police spies in Kelly Country. The Commission also found that ‘the incident, however, which seems to have more immediately precipitated the outbreak was the attempt of Constable Fitzpatrick to arrest Dan Kelly, at his mother’s hut, on the 15th of April 1878.’

‘At this juncture, Constable Robert Graham - a young officer contemplating marriage and nicknamed “Honest Bob” - saw an opportunity for conciliation and was allowed to reopen the police station at Greta, which he did - of all venues - in O’Brien’s Hotel. The Glenmore strength was increased meanwhile, and a new station opened in Kiewa valley to block the escape of stolen stock to Gippsland.’
Max Brown Australian Son

Stationed along with three fellow officers, Senior Constable Robert Graham was entrusted to bring order to a highly volatile situation. For while the police occupied the first floor of O’Brien’s Hotel, Kelly sympathisers swore vengeance in the bar below. Rumour had it new suits of armour were being made. Graham, in charge of the Kelly’s hometown, Greta, traced the root cause of the trouble. It was land. Given an equal right to take up land — and equal justice — the Kelly people quickly subdued the few hotheads bent on violence. Constable Robert Graham, along with his new wife Mary Kirk, managed to gain the trust of Mrs Kelly and her family, and to become a respected member of the community.

Mrs Ellen Kelly, who died in 1923 at age ninety-one, outlived not only a number of her own children and grandchildren but most of the antagonistic constabulary as well. Supposedly her last words to her son Ned were, ‘Mind you die like a Kelly, son.’

While not everyone wants to read about Ned Kelly or the ANZACs or even The Great Depression, we hope they want to learn something about Australian History. From the ex-Prime Minister John Howard to a confused ex-NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt (see the ex-pattern here?) a number of politicians have jumped on the teaching history bandwagon. But at what cost? From Right Wing Liberals to the multitude of State Governments, seems everyone has an agenda. We'd like to let the readers decide what is worth learning. Here at we present the facts, the fiction and everything in between. It all adds to the experience and hopefully makes History an exciting place to be while also proving it needn't always have to be written by the victors.
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Australian Son by Max Brown

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Ellen: a woman of spirit
Chapters 1, 2 and 3
Australian Son
Chapters One and Two
Kelly Gang Round-Up
Bracken Chapter
Ned: the Exhibition
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