on Ned Kelly
Sydney Morning Herald
10 September 2002
More than a year and about $16,000
later, a swag of documents relating to the Glenrowan
siege and the capture of Ned Kelly has been returned
to the State Records office after disappearing from
its files. State Records staff say the case highlights
the frustrations of recovering estrays, items officially
belonging to government archives that are lost, stolen
or strayed and appear too often for the archivists'
liking in auction catalogues and second-hand shops.
history... Janette Pelosi examines documents
recovered by State Records relating to
the Glenrowan siege.
Kelly items disappeared probably before 1935,
when they were transferred from the Mitchell
Library. They included telegrams between the offices
of the NSW and Victorian colonial secretaries which
announced the capture of Ned Kelly. “Am happy
to inform you that the outlaw Ned Kelly has been taken.
The others are surrounded in a house at Glenrowan...”
a vivid, further update: “Dan
Kelly and Hart covered with shot proof armour have
thrown doors of hotel open and have let all civilians
out and are now calling upon the police to come in.
Bullets flying in all directions. The two remaining
members of the gang cannot hold out much longer.” With
four other items, including a letter and minute drafted
by Sir Henry Parkes about the reward for the gang's
capture, they were offered for sale by Lawsons auctioneers
(now Lawson Menzies) in August last year.
According to Alan Ventress, associate
director, city, of State Records, Lawsons was warned
the items were estrays and should be withdrawn from
sale. But the company claimed it had legal advice
the sale could go ahead. After an exchange of correspondence,
the items were withdrawn but Lawsons was reluctant
to divulge the name of the would be vendor, who had
been told the documents could fetch up to $40,000.
formal threats of legal action were made. In February
solicitors for Lawsons replied, saying the company
did “not wish to
be obstructive in this matter but is most reluctant
to hand out personal information about its customers”.
It was a lucky break for State Records when the vendor,
incensed at the loss of his windfall, rang Mr Ventress.
“He phoned and called me a bloody
mongrel because he was expecting to get $40,000 from
the sale.” Caller ID on his phone gave him the
number, the police became involved to provide an address "and
we served notice on him at his work", Mr Ventress
“But these had obviously been
gone from the archives for some time and... we don't
want to disadvantage people, so we got two independent
valuations.” The vendor - who told Mr Ventress
he had been given the papers by his father, who was
now suffering from Alzheimer's disease - was paid $10,500.
It was, according to State Records staff, galling to
have to pay for the recovery of their own material,
including $6000 in legal fees.
for Lawsons said there had been a large staff changeover
since Rod Menzies bought the company last September.
Its new chief executive, Paul Sumner, who started
last week, would have “a
major focus on improving client services”, and
such a situation was unlikely to arise again. But Mr
Ventress said his staff did spend “a fair amount
of time tracking things down, and I hope the message
will now get out to the second-hand dealers and the