Product Of Their Time?
Were Ned and the boys social
misfits, or just simply a product of their time?…. Buggered if I know,
but I'd take a good guess and say more a product of
Now don’t get concerned that Crichton’s
gone all academic like, ‘cause I ain’t.
All I’m saying is…. What the boys got
up to before that unfortunate confrontation at Stringybark
Creek with those four coppers was diddly squat compared
to what was happening in that southern den of iniquity,
Melbourne, not to mention its surrounding areas. No
wonder Mrs Kelly moved her kids as far away from that
joint as possible. Moving to the north east of the
state was like moving from Baghdad to bloody Bondi,
umm, without the surf. Fresh clean air and those wide
open spaces, and a chance for a new life for her family.
sat down the other day to have a squiz through the
Police Gazettes from 1871-1875 to see just how much
crime was happening in the north east and if I might
come across any familiar names to do with the Kelly
story. The way the police spoke of this place as being
overrun with thieves and other unsavoury characters
I thought the Gazette would be filled with the outrageous
exploits of these ruffians. I read through hundreds
of pages searching for crimes committed in the North
East, but to my surprise found next to bugger all.
All I came across was a 2 pound reward handed over
to dear Constable Edward Hall # 569 from Greta for
getting a conviction against a bloke by the name of
Murdoch for stealing from a shop. He got 4 months hard
labour. There were some other bits and bobs but nothing
worth mentioning. Maybe the police were looking in
all the wrong places and should have concentrated their
efforts and resources more so in the Police Commissioner’s
own backyard of Melbourne.
On Sunday 2nd April 1871
Victoria conducted a census to reveal a total population
of 731,528 with 207,000 people living in Melbourne
alone. From what I could gather in the Police Gazette,
a significant percentage of Melbourne’s population
was far from law abiding citizens and would make
the north east look more like a country retreat.
I must also make mention of a notice in January of
1871 that stated from this date forward, any
cattle or horses, apart from Government property, that
have been lost or misplaced will no longer be inserted
in the Gazette unless they are reported to be stolen.
You could report your dog, parrot or monkey being lost,
but no stock. It was not surprising to see a marked
increase in stolen stock after this ruling was made
public. It seems it was more convenient to simply
list your lost stock as stolen and get the police
to look for it. In 1871-75 there are literally thousands
of head of so called stolen cattle and horses throughout
Victoria listed weekly, but the majority in the southern
region. In one instance even the poor old mailman gets
done for riding a stolen horse, or was it? The message
here seems to be quite clear; if you find lost stock
leave it well alone as it’s bound to be stolen.
Ain’t that right Ned?
As I continued searching
through the Police Gazettes, a clearer picture of
19th century Victoria materialised, and especially
that of Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs. It
may have been the jewel in the crown of Victoria
but was an absolute nightmare for the police. Apart
from stock, clothing seemed to be at the top of the
list of theft. There were thousands of pieces of
stolen clothing, from sac coats to dresses to socks,
trousers, handkerchiefs, shoes and linen. One poor
bugger who got charged for stealing a pocket handkerchief
earned himself one month in the slammer. For stealing
a coat or exposing yourself you got 2 months. If you
were prone to jewellery you simply had to steal yourself
a Geneva watch or ring. If you got done for burglary,
that normally would get you 6 years at the “College,” and
if you were receiving you got 3 years. Now that’s
just a sample of items that got knocked off on a daily
basis. Have a look at these… ….. Stolen
from the yard of Ninian Taylor, Sandridge, a brown
male monkey, lame left leg/light brown female with
small bald patch on top of head. I’m not sure
if the female mentioned was another monkey or he had
simply misplaced his wife. Stolen, 1 magpie without
a tail in a wooden cage, door broken and substituted
with a bit of wood. Stolen from Edward Robinson 200cwt
of 4lb lead sheet from his roof. Is nothing bloody
well sacred? The list of stolen items just goes on
and on, and that my friends, all in the month of January
I was surprised to see
that back in those days, a bloke could have a warrant
taken out on him for deserting his wife, children
or hired service. Another item that surprised me
was, If you were a member of the police force, you
were not allowed to vote for a member to serve in
the Legislative Assembly or you would be thrown off
the force. A directive also came forth to prohibit
police from keeping poultry in Government quarters
(don’t ask) and even more interesting notices.
On the night of 11th at Kerang, a bullock, the property
of Peter McArthur, was maliciously shot with a gun
loaded with a bullet 18th Feb 1871. The dog stolen
from Tom Tully has returned home. The supposed property
stolen from William Finlay has been found not stolen.
Another unusual notice was ... A man has been
charged on warrant from
Wangaratta with trying to commit suicide. His description is as followS ... Scotch,
age 43, 5ft 11 in, 12 stone, active appearance, erect
gait, high forehead and cheekbones, sunken cheeks,
dark brown hair mixed with grey, small whiskers at
sides of face, and oh yes, lastly, a
large cut on neck under chin, nearly severing the windpipe 6th Feb 1871.
a bloke you’ve got to feel sorry for. Fails at
killing himself and gets charged for it. But have a
look at this gem. Man charged on warrant with attempted
bestiality on a mare at German’s Lane Tower Hill.
He rode the mare on which the attempt was attempted?
Maybe he was just attempting to do some trick riding
and simply slipped. Either way, it’s got to be
a somewhat scary sight.
On a much sadder note, there were numerous reports
of bodies of babies, children and adults found dead
in streets, bushland, rivers and creeks, and one moving
experience of a baby sown in a calico bag and discarded
by the side of the road. Children found deserted and
malnourished and also left for dead not to mention
the hundreds of poor kids sent off to the Industrial
schools. These types of notices were not uncommon in
all of the Gazettes I read from 1871-75 nor were the
many accounts of murder, attempted murder, brutal rapes
and sexual assaults, bashings, highway robbery, fraud,
drunkenness, prostitution, incendiarism, etc etc. There
were of course many instances of rewards given to police
for the conviction of criminals, but when you take
into consideration their miserable wage, it was clearly
nowhere near enough. To me, the country to the north
east of Victoria now looked even more inviting. I wonder
if Mr. Standish, the Chief Commissioner of Victoria
Police had ever ventured much further than the confines
of the Melbourne Club to witness such sights, or would
it take the likes of four young larrikins from the
north east to lure him away from his fine wine and
Compared to the amount of serious crime taking place
on a daily basis in Melbourne and its surrounding areas,
the crimes that were committed by four young men prior
to the confrontation at Stringybark Creek and
found by a court of law to be guilty of, seem to pale in
Kelly imprisoned for 3 months
for assault and 3 months for indecent behaviour in
1870, The McCormick
years of age).
Kelly imprisoned for 3 years for receiving
a stolen horse. May 1871 (approx.
15 years of age).
Byrne fined 20 shillings
for illegally riding a horse in Beechworth 22nd September
1873 (approx. 17 years
Byrne 6 months in Beechworth Gaol for killing
and eating sheep he did not own 30th May 1876 (approx.
20 years of age).
Hart 8 months in Beechworth Gaol for stealing
a horse July 1876 (approx.17
years of age).
Kelly Fined 1 shilling for being drunk and
disorderly in Benalla, 2 pound 10 shillings for
assaulting police, 2 pounds for resisting arrest,
and 5 shillings for damaging a police uniform.
Sept. 1877 (approx.
22 years of age).
Kelly with others, Imprisoned
over Goodman Affair Oct. 1877 (approx.16
years of age).
You just cannot ignore the
ages of these four young men.
In March of 1878, a warrant was
issued by the Chiltern Bench for the arrest of Ned
Kelly for horse stealing, and in April of the same
year for Dan Kelly and John Lloyd Jnr for the same
charge. I must also point out that John Lloyd Jnr was
later acquitted of such crime as I believe Dan Kelly
would have been if not for the dubious Fitzpatrick
Incident on the 15th April1878 that we must all believe
was the ultimate cause for the Kelly outbreak.
Did Ned and Dan Kelly deserve
such attention that was mounted on them by the police,
or was the Fitzpatrick incident to be the perfect
opportunity to rid the North East of the Kelly’s once and for all? Surely
the hierarchy in the Victorian Police Department could
see that there were too many discrepancies in Fitzpatrick’s
testimony to accept it as truth, as did some members
of the police force according to McIntyre’s confession
to Ned at Stringybark Creek (The Jerilderie Letter).
Compared to the serious crime being committed on a
daily basis in Melbourne and its surrounding areas,
why after 6 months did the powers to be feel the need
that three search parties of heavily armed police equipped
with body straps be necessary to hunt down two young
men who had previously been convicted of nothing but
mediocre offences? Would the same action be ordered
for those convicted of the crime of murder in Melbourne
of which there were numerous incidents, or was it just
simply they were not Kelly’s? I find it difficult
to accept that the testimony delivered by a young and
inexperienced police officer, who was known in his
own department as being a drunkard, liar, and an officer
not fit to do his duty, and thrown off the force, be
considered as truth, and throw unnecessary suffering
on a family who in my opinion were no different than
the many pioneering families who made this country
what it is today.
With all that had happened
to Ned Kelly and his family, and the manner in which
they were treated by police prior to Stringybark
Creek, Ned Kelly and his brother Dan knew they would
never receive a fair trial. At the time the alleged
crime occurred, neither incident or evidence of a
charge of attempted murder was ever fully or fairly
examined regarding the Fitzpatrick fiasco. It seems
to me that the police had already made up their minds
and would deliver unto the Kelly’s
the full force of what they would deem so called justice.
The rest is history, but you’ve got to ask yourself
the question; Were the four boys a product of a tough
Victorian era or simply the result of a poorly trained
Victorian police force and its even more questionable
senior officers? You tell me. In hindsight, maybe they
would have just been better off moving amongst the
real villains in the Chief Commissioner’s backyard
instead of to the peace and solitude of the Stringybark
Alan Crichton web site Ned Kelly Tales