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Australian Son the story of Ned Kelly by Max Brown
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Preface to a Legend

Kelly at BeechworthArtist Julian Ashton captured a striking image of Ned supporting a crippled left arm during Kelly’s appearance at Beechworth Gaol.
Image: Brad Webb

Like most outlaws Ned Kelly died young, being only twenty-five when he was executed. He was expert with a ‘running-iron’ on stolen, unbranded stock, and was a deadly accurate shot with revolver or rifle. Surprisingly articulate for a self-educated man, he was clannish, loyal to his friends and supporters, and had a sardonic sense of humour. He became an outlaw, hunted for almost two years before he was shot down and hanged. To the last, his mocking courage never deserted him and to be ‘as game as Ned Kelly’; came to symbolise, in Australian folk-language, heroism of a reckless, audacious nature.

Ned Kelly's BeltNed was born in June 1855 to a proud Irish Catholic family whose resentment of the British set the precedent for his life. His short story is one that saw Ned and three mates take on corrupt police, greedy land barons and an ignorant government in a quest to change their world for the better. Wrongly accused, they survived a deadly shoot out with police in 1878 that saw Ned, his brother Dan, and their mates Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, outlawed with the largest reward ever offered in the British Empire – dead or alive.

Over the next eighteen months, the Kelly Gang held up two country towns and robbed their banks without firing a single shot, wrote numerous essays explaining their actions, and became folk heroes to the masses. Their grand plan to derail a special police train and declare a Republic of North East Victoria came to a fiery end in Glenrowan when they donned their famous but cumbersome armour against an overwhelming police force. By November 11, 1880 the era of the Kelly Gang drew to a close when Ned, after a brief trial, was hanged. Yet the legacy of his life and the chord he struck within a young Australia, unwilling to bend to injustice, saw Ned Kelly become Australia’s most enduring legend.

KellyanaFar more than a folk hero, Ned Kelly has become one with the Australian spirit. Listed in the top one hundred of the world’s most influential Irish and arguably Australia’s best-known historical figure, our Ned truly deserves his place in the pages of history. As the subject for the world's first feature film made in Australia in 1906, 'The Story of the Kelly Gang' has been added to a United Nations heritage register, joining a list of fewer than 200 items on UNESCO's Memory of the World register, including the family archives of Swedish philanthropist Alfred Nobel and the official trial records of Nelson Mandela.

The Early Years

BeveridgeThe Kelly cottage at Beveridge was constructed by Ned’s father ‘Red’ in 1859. The house has since under gone additional work including a corrugated iron roof. Today it’s state is close to condemnable.
Image: Matt Deller

In 1841, Ellen and her six brothers and sisters arrived in Australia from County Antrim, Ireland. Her father, James Quinn, was a free settler who rented land for dairying in Brunswick upon their arrival. In the early 1850s they settled in Wallan near the Merri Creek. While at Wallan, James Quinn hired a young labourer, John ‘Red’ Kelly, fresh from Van Diemen’s Land. Kelly had served a seven year sentence for stealing two pigs after being transported from Tipperary, Ireland. It was in Wallan that John met James’ daughter Ellen and they were to marry soon after at St. Francis’ Roman Catholic Church in Melbourne. Ellen and John lived with the Quinns after they were married and it was here that a young Ned Kelly carved his initials, an EK and two K’s, into the door of his grandfather’s forge. In 1854 the Kelly’s moved a short distance along the Hume Highway to Beveridge after ‘Red’ purchased twenty-one acres for seventy pounds – money he had managed to save from gold digging and horse-dealing.

Father Charles O'HeaIn January 1859, when his son Ned was nearly four years old, John Kelly built the family a timber cottage. It was a typical Irish style of cottage with an earthen floor and drainage running between rooms. Internally, there were only two rooms and there was no ceiling, while the bluestone chimney dominated the house. By 1862, young Ned had started school in the little town’s new Roman Catholic Church. The two teachers, Thomas and Sarah Wall, also taught Ned’s sisters Annie, aged nine, and Maggie, aged six. A surviving description of Ned by schoolmate Frederick Hopkins states, “He was a tall active lad and excelled all others at school games.” In six months, Ned had learnt to read and write to second class standard, before ‘Red’ sold his farm in 1864 for eighty pounds.

Two of Ellen Kelly’s sisters married members of the Lloyd family and for many years the Kellys, the Quinns and the Lloyds made a formidable clan. John and Ellen Kelly had eight children: Mary, Annie, Ned, Maggie, Jim, Dan, Kate and Grace. After he sold Beveridge, ‘Red’ took the family eighty kilometres north to Avenel in a bid to avoid being caught up with his brother Jim, who was already up to his neck in the horse and cattle stealing and would soon be in trouble with the law. The Kellys thus shifted over the Great Dividing Range, a four day journey with stock, although a gskilled horseman could cover the distance overnight.

Ned's SashIt was here in 1865, a young Richard ‘Dick’ Shelton was nearly swept away in the flooded waters of Hughes Creek as he attempted to cross a fallen-tree-footbridge on his way to school. He was rescued by a ten-year-old Ned Kelly, who, without hesitation, jumped into the water fully clothed and paddled young Dick safely to the creek’s bank. The shivering youngsters made their way to the nearby Royal Mail Hotel which was owned by Dick’s parents, Esau and Margaret Shelton. The boys dried themselves by the fireplace and Esau lent Ned some clothes, while Dick retold the near fatal story. The Sheltons rewarded Ned with an elaborate two hundred and twenty-one centimetre long, fourteen centimetre wide green silk sash complete with gold bullion fringes at each end. The colour chosen was symbolic of Irish heritage.

'Ned was able to rescue the seven year old Richard Shelton from drowning when he fell in the creek opposite the Kelly home. His courage must have been exemplary for the Shelton family saw fit to make a public occasion of it by presenting him with a gold-fringed sash.'
Max Brown Australian Son

It is also probable the Sheltons paid Ned’s father Red’s court fine allowing him to return to his family with an early release from the Avenel lockup where John ‘Red’ Kelly had been charged with stealing a calf from a Mr. Morgan. While the charge of cattle stealing was dismissed, the charge of ‘unlawful possession of a hide’ was upheld and he was fined £25 or six months in gaol. Unable to pay the fine, Red was held at the Avenel lock-up instead of the far harsher Kilmore Gaol. This, more than likely, had something to do with the regard people held for his son Ned and his saving of the Shelton lad. Ned’s bravery may have won his father lenient treatment, a generous remission, and imprisonment in the local lock-up instead of a distant gaol, however, when ‘Red’ returned to the family in the first week of October 1865, he also returned to the bottle and, scarcely more than a year later, died of dropsy — an alcohol induced illness that bloats the body.

The sudden death of his father meant that Ned had to leave school at the age of twelve. John 'Red' Kelly was buried at the Avenel Cemetery in December 1866 and Ned Kelly, at the age of eleven-and-a-half, stepped into his father’s shoes and left his school life behind. The loss of the family breadwinner was a severe blow to the family but Mrs Kelly, a widow at age thirty-three with seven children. was a determined woman. She moved her family to a slab hut on Eleven Mile Creek, not far from Benalla and halfway between Greta and Glenrowan, an area which today is still referred to as ‘Kelly Country’.

The heroic deed, and the Sheltons, remained firmly in Ned’s memory throughout the remainder of his life. In 1880, Ned proudly wore the sash as a cummerbund under his famous suit of armour in the shootout with police at Glenrowan. While Ned was captured after receiving twenty-eight bullet wounds and executed less than five months later on November 11, 1880, the frayed, blood-stained sash still survives today, and is on display at the Costume and Pioneer Museum in Benalla.

Working in the Bush

Ned Kelly at 15Ned Kelly age fifteen photographed in 1871 at Kyneton, Victoria.
Image: Max Brown

It was inevitable that Ned, the eldest of the Kelly boys, should become a resourceful bush-worker while still in his teens. He did many things to earn a few shillings for the family, such as ring-barking, breaking in horses, mustering cattle, fencing and perhaps a little cattle-duffing on the side. Many of the settlers in the area were small selectors who were at constant war with the big landowners (the squatters) who, at any time, could call on the forces of law and order to protect their interests. In this social war can be found the key to Ned Kelly’s rebellion against authority. The Kelly boys, the Quinns, the Lloyds and the rest used horses like currency.

They regarded all unbranded strays as fair game and the police patrols as their natural enemies. The police in Kelly Country also bitterly resented the clannishness of the small selectors and were determined to break them. When Superintendent Nicholson, a Scot, took over the north-eastern police district, he was told that Mrs Kelly’s house was a notorious meeting place for rogues and cattle-thieves. He gave Mrs Kelly a stern warning, to which she responded with a spirited retort.

Superintendent NicolsonIn his official report, Superintendent Nicholson stated firmly, if injudiciously: ‘The Kelly gang must be rooted out of the neighbourhood and sent to Pentridge gaol, even on a paltry sentence. This would be a good way of taking the flashness out of them’. The forces of law had already been at work on the ‘Kelly Gang’ as Nicholson chose to call the family. At the age of fourteen, in 1869, Ned was arrested for assaulting a Chinaman. He was kept in the Benalla lockup for 10 days and then reluctantly released when the magistrate, Alfred Wyatt, dismissed the charge. A year later Ned was taken on a more serious charge, that of being an accomplice of the bushranger Harry Power. Again, the case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Power was born Henry Johnson in Waterford, Ireland in 1819. He was sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing a pair of shoes in 1840. In 1855, he received a thirteen year sentence for horse stealing and shooting a police trooper. During his stint, Power served time in various prisons including some time aboard the prison hulk 'Success' anchored off Williamstown in Hobson's Bay. Released in 1862 and now under the name of Harry Power, he was posted 'illegally at large' after ignoring his conditions of release. Subsequently, a reward was placed on his head. Harry moved to the North East of Victoria where, in 1864, he was arrested for horse stealing and sentenced at Beechworth Courthouse to seven years imprisonment at Pentridge Prison in Coburg. In 1869, only a few months before he was to be released, Power escaped by hiding in a hole in a new section of prison wall. He then returned to North East Victoria where he was responsible for a spate of armed robberies of travellers, coaches and horses. His territory ranged from Kyneton to Bairnsdale, across the Divide and deep into Gippsland and up to southern NSW. He once held up the Mansfield-Jamieson coach twice in one week.

While roaming the Greta district, Power became friends with the Kellys, Lloyds and Quinns and often stayed with the families. It was here that Harry Power became known as the 'Gentleman Bushranger'. Many of Power's victims reported seeing a 'young man' in the background during the bail-ups. This young man was to learn a great deal about bushmanship during his brief liaison with the gruff old bushranger. The young man was Ned Kelly, and the lessons learnt would stay with him during his short life. Harry Power was made famous by being credited with tutoring a young Ned Kelly in the ways of bushranging during 1870. It was a brief affair, one where Ned made only five pounds and which nearly cost him his life. Ned was arrested as Harry's accomplice in May 1870, however, the charge was later dismissed.

‘One night in June, a party of troopers led by Sergeant Montford who had previously arrested Lloyd, and accompanied by the two rival officers - Nicolson spare and prim and Hare huge and popular - set out to make the assault on Power’s hideout above the King valley. Power slept secure in the knowledge that the track to his nest passed within metres of the Quinn homestead where a peacock served as watchdog. Unfortunately, a deluge of rain enabled the intruders to get past the bird without an alarm, with the result when dawn arrived that Nicolson and Hare were able to seize Power and drag him from his shelter. Power was particularly ashamed that he had been caught asleep. “That bloody bird. Well, well, they’ve caught old Harry at last,” he remarked. Whereupon he boiled the billy and cracked jokes. Hare was so big, said Power, that his horse would back away in fright.’
Max Brown Australian Son

Initially, Ned Kelly was blamed for Power's capture but it was later revealed his uncle, Jack Lloyd, a long time friend of Harry’s, had led police to the bushrangers camp and pocketed 500 pounds for his trouble. On the charge of three armed robberies (although he probably committed more than 90 offences while at large) Power was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment with hard labour to be served at Pentridge. He survived his prison term, being released in 1885, an old and sick man. For a period afterwards he acted as a tour guide aboard the hulk 'Success' under the title 'The last of the Bushrangers'. In 1891, Power made his last trip to the North East where it was reported he slipped and drowned whilst fishing in the Murray River near Swan Hill. He survived his famous apprentice by eleven years. Mrs Kelly may have been half right when she called him a 'brown paper bushranger' but his death signified the end to the 'Golden Days of Bushranging' for Victoria's North East.

The police did not relax their interest in Ned. He was jailed for six months for assaulting a hawker and in the following year, 1871, came disaster. He was sentenced to three years in Pentridge gaol for receiving a ‘borrowed’ mare. The borrower was his friend Isiah 'Wild' Wright, who bewilderingly received a sentence of only eighteen months.

Ned Kelly at 19A surley looking Ned stares out from a Pentridge prison portrait taken in early 1874.
Image: Max Brown

‘Wild’ Wright, was a flamboyant young Mansfield identity who had lost a horse while at the Kelly homestead and failed to inform Ned Kelly that it was stolen. Ned found the horse and rode it past the Greta Police Station which earned him a brutal pistol-whipping from a local trooper Senior Constable Hall, who had initially tried to shoot him. Hall’s frank admission of beating Kelly over the head at the preliminary hearing did not encourage the police to persist with an assault charge, but Kelly was refused bail. Quoted from the Jerilderie Letter, Ned recounts his severe bashing at the hands of the Greta Police.

‘I dare not strike any of them as I was bound to keep the peace or I could have spread those curs like dung in a paddock. They got ropes, tied my hands and feet and Hall beat me over the head with his six chambered colts revolver. Nine stitches were put in some of the cuts by Dr Hastings. And, when Wild Wright and my mother came they could trace us across the street by the blood in the dust and which spoiled the lustre of the paint on the gate-post of the Barracks Hall...’

Next, Isaiah Wright was arrested, then - as Kelly had been in gaol when the mare disappeared - the theft charge was changed to one of receiving. Ned was sentenced to three years hard labour, however, Wild Wright who actually stole the horse, received only eighteen months! Upon his release, Ned challenged Wild to a bare-knuckle fight which lasted twenty rounds before Kelly was declared the winner at Beechworth on August 8, 1874.

Ned BoxingNed aged nineteen, taken by photographer Chidley from Melbourne. The photo celebrates the victory over “Wild” Wright in a 20 round bare–nuckle fight on August 8, 1874 at Beechworth to settle an old score over a stolen horse and it’s three year jail sentence.
Image: Private Collection

Ned had also discovered that his mother had married again and her new husband, George King, was from California. He was later described by Ned as a clever horse-thief. King gave Mrs Kelly (she retained her first husband’s name) four children and then moved on, never to be heard from again. Ned had worked with George through most of 1877, running stolen horses across the Murray River for sale in New South Wales. This major horse stealing racket performed a significant raid on the district’s most powerful squatter, James Whitty.

In 1877, Ned Kelly was arrested for ‘Riding across a Footpath and Drunkenness’ which was a curious charge as Ned was known to hardly drink. Many suspected the police of spiking his liquor as Fitzpatrick was seen at the bar with him on the night in question. Ned took umbrage at the police attempt to handcuff him and an epic fight ensued between Kelly and his four escorts Sergeant Whelan, Constable Fitzpatrick – later to be driven out of the police force due to numerous charges of neglect of duty and misconduct – Constable Day, and Constable Lonigan who Ned was to later shoot dead at Stringbybark Creek. Ned took refuge in the boot maker’s shop, across the road from the Benalla Courthouse, after escaping a brutal police bashing on his way to court. During the fracas, Lonigan grabbed Ned by his ‘privates’ and squeezed so hard it was to cause Kelly problems for the rest of his short life. Ned was said to have howled in pain, ‘Well Lonigan, I never shot a man yet but if I do so help me God you will be the first’ - which ironically a year later he did. Eventually, Ned was subdued by a sympathetic Magistrate, William Maginness, who led him to the Courthouse.

The Fitzpatrick Mystery

When Ned’s sixteen year-old brother, Dan, became a suspect, a disreputable young police constable named Alexander Fitzpatrick tried to arrest the boy at the Kelly homestead. A mysterious brawl erupted. A drunken Fitzpatrick swore that Mrs Kelly had assaulted him and that Ned Kelly had shot him in the wrist. Ned and Dan became fugitives. Mrs Kelly, with a baby at her breast, was sentenced to three years hard labour. Her son-in-law, Bill Skilling (Skillion) and a neighbour, Bill ‘Bricky’ Williamson, each received six years hard labour. Ned and Dan offered to surrender if their mother was released. The offer was refused.

Brother Dan Kelly had fallen foul of the law while still in his teens. He was given three months for damaging property, but later the chief police witness against him was charged with perjury. On his release from prison Dan went home unaware that the police, unable to find the horse-thief, King, had sworn warrants against both Ned and Dan. It was reported that Ned had slipped over the border into New South Wales, however, evidence suggests he was very close by on the night of the ‘Fitzpatrick Incident’. An incident that should never have occurred if proper police guidelines had been observed, in particular the command that police must not act alone when executing an arrest warrant.

The trooper who came with the warrant was a weak willed man named Alexander Fitzpatrick, who had called at a tavern on his way to Mrs Kelly’s place to fortify his intent. It is quite possible Fitzpatrick was looking to make himself some sort of hero by travelling solo. The trooper found Dan at home with Mrs Kelly and the girls, as well as Will Skillion, Maggie Kelly’s husband, and a neighbouring selector named Williamson. Not long after the lone trooper entered the homestead, violence erupted. Fitzpatrick made a drunken pass at Kate Kelly. Dan knocked him down and, in the ensuing scuffle, the trooper’s gun went off and he cut his wrist, most likely on the door-latch. Mrs Kelly was full of concern. She bandaged his wrist and he was invited to have supper with the family and ‘let bygones be bygones’. On his way back to police barracks, Fitzpatrick had some more brandy. He then reported to his superiors that Dan Kelly had resisted arrest, and that Ned had burst into the room and shot him in the wrist. Ned then offered to cut out the bullet with a rusty razor blade but Fitzpatrick declined, opting to use his penknife to dig it out.

‘...I hear previous to this Fitzpatrick had some conversation with Williamson on the hill. He asked Dan to come to Greta with him as he had a warrant for him for stealing Whitty's horses. Dan said all right. They both went inside. Dan was having something to eat. His mother asked Fitzpatrick what he wanted Dan for. The trooper said he had a warrant for him. Dan then asked him to produce it. He said it was only a telegram sent from Chiltern, but Sergeant Whelan ordered him to relieve Steel at Greta and call and arrest Dan and take him into Wangaratta next morning and get him remanded. Dan’s mother said Dan need not go without a warrant unless he liked and that the trooper had no business on her premises without some Authority besides his own word. The trooper pulled out his revolver and said he would blow her brains out if she interfered in the arrest. She told him it was a good job for him Ned was not there or he would ram the revolver down his throat. Dan looked out and said Ned is coming now.

The trooper, being off his guard, looked out and when Dan got his attention drawn, he dropped the knife and fork which showed he had no murderous intent and slapped Heenan’s hug on him, took his revolver, and kept him there until Skillion and Ryan came with horses which Dan sold that night. The trooper left and invented some scheme to say that he got shot, which any man can see is false. He told Dan to clear out, that Sergeant Steel and Detective Brown and Strachan would be there before morning...’
Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter

A doctor giving Crown evidence readily accepted the contribution of Fitzpatrick’s penknife to the injury, while apparently reluctant to state definitely that a bullet had been involved. Ned Kelly may have had a revolver at the time of the incident, but it seems highly unlikely that it produced the constable’s wound, certainly not as alleged by Fitzpatrick. Even the acting commissioner of police later admitted Fitzpatrick was ‘a liar’. In all likelihood both Ned and Joe were present at the Kelly homestead on the night Fitzpatrick came calling. By the time a troop of police had surrounded the Kelly homestead, the boys had gone bush.

In spite of Mrs Kelly’s protests that Ned was four hundred miles away and, anyway, nobody had shot Fitzpatrick, arrests were made. For assisting in the attempted murder of a police officer, Judge Redmond Barry sentenced Skillion and Williamson to six years each, and Mrs Kelly herself was sentenced to three years in gaol. Barry at the time also remarked that, ‘had Ned been present I would have sentenced him to twenty one years’. Later, Fitzpatrick was to be discharged ignominiously from the police force for misconduct in another case. But by then the damage had been done.

‘The police have treated my children very badly. I have three very young ones, and had one only a fortnight old when I got into trouble (referring to her recent imprisonment in connexion with the assault on Constable Fitzpatrick at Greta). That child I took to Melbourne with me; but I left Kate and Grace and the younger children behind. The police used to treat them very ill. They used to take them out of bed at night, and make them walk before them. The police made the children go first when examining a house, so as to prevent the outlaws, if in the house, from suddenly shooting them. Kate is now only about 16 years old, and is still a mere child. She is older than Grace. Mrs. Skillion is married, and, of course, knew more than the others, who are mere children. She is not in the house now. Mr. Brook Smith was the worst behaved of the force, and had less sense than any of them. He used to throw things out of the house, and he came in once to the lock-up staggering drunk. I did not like his conduct. That was at Benalla. I wonder why they allowed a man to behave as he did to an unfortunate woman. He wanted me to say things that were not true. My holding comprises 88 acres, but it is not all fenced in. The Crown will not give me a title. If they did I could sell at once and leave this locality. I was entitled to a lease a long time ago, but they are keeping it back. Perhaps, if I had a lease, I might stay for a while, if they would let me alone. I want to live quietly. The police keep coming backwards and forwards, and saying there are 'reports, reports.' As to the papers, there was nothing but lies in them from the beginning. I would sooner be closer to a school, on account of my children. If I had anything forward I would soon go away from here.’
Mrs Ellen Kelly from the May 14, 1881 visit by the 1881 Royal Commission On The Police Force In Victoria.

Ned Kelly swore vengeance. Restrained by his friends, he instead wrote an impassioned letter to Magistrate Wyatt, offering to surrender his own person ‘to any charge’ in exchange for his mother, but Wyatt was powerless to act. By then the police were increasing their efforts to get Ned Kelly, so he and Dan vanished overnight from the district. The government offered a reward of one hundred poundseach for their apprehension. Ned and Dan went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges, some twenty miles from Mansfield in rough country. They cleared the ground and built a slab hut near the banks of a creek, and spent their time panning for alluvial gold.

Here they were joined by two old friends Steve Hart, a part time jockey from Wangaratta, and Joe Byrne, son of a gold prospector at Beechworth. Both had previously served short prison sentences. Joe was a Woolshed lad, born around 1857 of Irish-Catholic extraction. His father died when Joe was around twelve 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. Like 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.

Joe 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. Joe's high-heeled boots were his trademark, being referred to as larrikin heels in 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 Sadleir. It is also understood Joe composed a number of ballads extolling the virtues of the Gang’s escapades. A verse from one of Joe’s songs goes:

My 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.

Ned Kelly was a natural leader, but it was later revealed that he had no plan to carry out organised crimes from his hideout. With the help of various friends, the Kelly boys operated a gold mine and a whisky still on Bullock Creek in an attempt to raise enough money to mount a retrial for their mother.

Stringybark Creek
The Stringybark Creek camp site, photographed a week after the deaths of three police.
Image: Victoria Police Historical Unit

Stringybark Shootout

Michael KennedyKilled by Ned after a running firefight, Sergeant Michael Kennedy led the Mansfield party during their brief hunt for the Kellys.
Image: Victoria Police Historical Unit

The police hunt intensified. In late October 1878, two police parties set out for the Wombat Ranges from Greta in the north and Mansfield in the south, attempting to take the Kelly brothers in a pincer movement. This trap would then close and result in the triumphant return of the police with the bodies of Ned and Dan Kelly. One of the police parties was led by Sergeant Kennedy, with Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre, who rode out from Mansfield. They wore no uniforms but all were heavily armed, for when the Gang rode out of Stringybark Creek they took with them four Webly revolvers, Scanlon’s .500 calibre seven shot Spencer Carbine (borrowed from the Woods Point gold escort), and Kennedy’s double-barrelled shot gun (borrowed from Reverend Sanderford, the Mansfield Vicar).

Thomas LoniganConstable Thomas Lonigan was included in the Stringybark party because he could identify the Kellys. In September 1877, Ned was arrested in Benalla for riding on a footpath drunk and conducted across the Broken River to the barracks where he claimed his liquor had been spiked. In charge was Sergeant Whelan who remembered him from the ‘Ah Fook’ matter of eight years before. Whelan took three troopers along next morning to escort him to court - Constables O’Dea, Lonigan and Fitzpatrick, the last named a raw recruit from Richmond Depot who impressed Ned as ‘rather genteel, more fit to be a starcher to a laundress’. The party was crossing the street to the courthouse, when - in accordance with the practice of making the new chum do the dirty work - Fitzpatrick set out to handcuff the prisoner.

Whatever was said is not known, but Kelly brushed the handcuffs aside and ran back into a boot maker’s shop. Before he knew it, Fitzpatrick had him by the throat and Lonigan by the testicles. He hit out, and the troopers were preparing for a third sally when Mr McInnes, J.P., the local flour miller, intervened, took the handcuffs and said, “Come on, Ned, this is the only way out.” As usual, Ned responded to a friendly approach and the miller locked the handcuffs on him, but the legend has it that he turned as he left the shop and remarked, ‘Well, Lonigan, I never shot a man yet; but if I do, so help me God, you’ll be the first!’

On the 25th they made camp at Stringybark Creek, unaware that only a mile away was the Kelly’s camp. Making one of his regular reconnoitres, Ned spotted the police camp and hurried back to raise the alarm believing, quite rightly, that he and Dan would be shot on sight. There had been recent, well-publicised cases of trigger-happy New South Wales police killing suspects and there is persuasive evidence that the Victoria police searching for the boys were equally likely to shoot first. One police officer was quoted as saying ‘If I come across Ned Kelly I’ll shoot him like a dog’.

Not only were the police well armed, they had also bought along a pack horse fitted with heavy leather straps, made especially for the expedition. The sole purpose of these straps was to lash tightly the bodies of Ned and Dan for their return to Mansfield.

Sergeant Michael Kennedy took good care in organising the party. His first choice was an old comrade, Mounted Constable Michael Scanlon, a former prospector and crack shot who knew the Mansfield country. Scanlon was temporarily relieved at Mooroopna. Constable Lonigan, of Violet Town, the one who had grabbed Ned’s testicles in the boot maker’s shop, was included because he knew the Kellys. Constable McIntyre, an Orangeman who had a reputation as a camp cook, made the fourth member of the party. Disguised as prospectors, the four troopers set out with considerable secrecy from Mansfield on Friday morning, October 25, 1878. Kennedy and Scanlon evidently decided to split the reward, for they said nothing of any plan, but instead vacated camp at six the next morning, leaving Lonigan and McIntyre to keep watch and prevent their mounts from straying. The two troopers were relaxing by the campfire when Ned, Joe, Steve and Dan emerged silently from the bush. Intending to disarm the police and take their horses, they challenged the troopers and ordered them to surrender.

‘I was compelled to shoot them, or lie down and let them shoot me it would not be wilful murder if they packed our remains in, shattered into a mass of gore to Mansfield, they would have got great praise and credit as well as promotion but I am reconed a horrid brute because I had not been cowardly enough to lie down for them under such trying insults to my people certainly their wives and children are to be pitied but they must remember those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush...’
from the Jerilderie Letter

Michael ScanlonLonigan jumped to his feet and drew his revolver but Ned shot him dead. McIntyre surrendered immediately. When Kennedy and Scanlon returned to the camp Ned called to them to ‘bail up’. Instead the troopers opened fire. A gunfight followed, with the policemen dodging from tree to tree. Ned, whose shooting was deadly even in the fading light, killed Kennedy while Joe Byrne finished off Scanlon but McIntyre managed to escape on Kennedy’s horse. The gang then covered the bodies of the police troopers with blankets, took their weapons and rode out.

‘Kennedy kept firing from behind the tree my brother Dan advanced and Kennedy ran. I followed him he stopped behind another tree and fired again. I shot him in the armpit and he dropped his revolver and ran I fired again with the gun as he slewed around to surrender. I did not know that he had dropped his revolver, the bullet passed through the right side of his chest and he could not live or I would have let him go...’
from the Jerilderie Letter

Constable McIntyre reached Mansfield to raise the alarm and told a story of a cowardly ambush by the Kelly’s and a mass slaughter, which shocked Mansfield and, in time, the whole country. Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were proclaimed outlaws, to be taken dead or alive. Two hundred police were drafted into the area and skilled native troopers were brought in from Queensland.

Thomas McIntyreThe sole survivor of the Stringybark shootings, chief Crown witness and chronic perjurer, Constable Thomas McIntyre.
Photo Victoria Police Historical Unit

The police manhunt drew a blank. Even with emergency powers to enter premises, search and arrest without warrant, the police could find no trace of the Kelly Gang. Suspected sympathisers were arrested and held for weeks on remand. Public sympathy for the police vanished and resentment set in, even among law-abiding citizens who deplored the shooting of Kennedy and his men.

Then at last the police got help from a friend of Joe Byrne named Aaron Sherritt, who turned informer. Although in reality it is more likely Sherritt was trying to line his pockets with some easy money. While he may also have attempted to throw the scent off the real trail, Sherritt eventually made the fatal mistake of not letting Joe Byrne and the rest of the Kelly Gang in on his plan. However, at this stage Ned’s main concern was a lack of money. Ned decided that funds must be raised to keep them going and to help sympathisers who needed bail money and pay off farming debts. It was decided the Gang needed to rob a bank and the town of Euroa held the perfect prize.

Taking the Banks

On December 10, 1878, the Kelly Gang invaded a station property at Faithfull’s Creek, 27 miles west of Benalla. Twenty-two people at the sheep-station were rounded up and locked in a storeroom while the Kelly’s’ horses rested. Then, leaving Joe Byrne to guard the prisoners, Ned, Dan and Steve drove into Euroa in a commandeered hawker’s cart. Euroa then had a population of no more than 300, with an unpretentious brick building on the main street which was being rented from the local blacksmith by the National Bank. At 4pm Ned Kelly entered the bank with a drawn gun, and Dan came in from the rear. Ten minutes later they were out on the street again, richer by £2260 in notes and gold from the Bank’s safe after cutting the telegraph lines from Melbourne to Benalla to prevent anyone alerting the authorities.

‘Euroa boasted an old town, and near the railway station, a new town comprising bank, hotel, general store, school and public hall, with most of the business activity around the hall. Steve reported, amongst other matters, that Tuesday would suit the robbery, the sole constable would be at the Licensing Court and the stationmaster deposited takings at the National Bank after the 3.30pm goods train. The street door was left ajar until 4pm. The bank was very hot with the sun blazing squarely on the front. The outlaws, meanwhile, raked together an extra sixty pounds plus 30 ounces of gold, 80 rounds of ammunition and a number of deeds and mortgages that they placed in a bag. When they returned to the parlour they asked for a drink, and Scott offered them whisky, which they drank only after he had sampled it.’
Max Brown Australian Son

The Gang had just carried off, as their first exploit, the most perfectly planned and executed bank robbery in Australian bushranging history — without violence, and leaving no enemies behind them. Ned, Dan and Steve then returned to Faithfull’s Creek to meet up with Joe Byrne, who had stayed behind to oversee the twenty-two ‘hostages’. They brought with them the bank staff which included the manager, his wife and seven children, mother-in-law, maid and nanny. Most were charmed by the polite, stylishly-dressed outlaws. Collecting Joe Byrne at the station homestead, they rode off again on fresh horses after entertaining the prisoners with an impromptu trick riding exhibition. A hostile press was forced to hail the raid as a triumph, while the police careered around in futile pursuit. The Melbourne Herald noted that Sydney considered the affair ‘an awful disgrace to the Victorian police system’ while the Melbourne Age described the operation as ‘daring and skillfully planned’.

‘By the time Nicolson reached Younghusbands’ Station the morning was one of heat which shimmered in the air against a cloudless sky. He was already exhausted. The troopers had been circling the homestead since daylight trying to pick up tracks. The earth bore evidence of horses cutting, turning and crisscrossing in every direction. In fact farmers and others who looked to the Kellys as their champions had converged on the area and wiped out every chance of following them.’
Max Brown Australian Son

Euroa BankAn artilleryman, who was stationed in the town soon afterwards, reported, ‘The people in the bank told me that with the exception of the robbers taking the money, they never offered the slightest insult to anyone. I also visited the Younghusbands station where Joe Byrne was sentry over thirty persons while the others were in the bank, and was told everywhere that the outlaws were undoubtedly police-made criminals’.

The Government of Victoria then increased the rewards on the heads of the Kelly Gang to £1000 each, and military guards were posted on all banks in the north-eastern district. Two months later, Ned Kelly and his men crossed the border into New South Wales and struck again. > continued

SouvenirsSome souvenirs from the Euroa bank robbery.
Photo Matt Deller

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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Ned Kelly: A Pictorial History available on the iPad App Store
If you're looking for that perfect gift then head over to our shop where we are featuring Max Brown's 312 page hardcover limited edition novel Australian Son: the story of Ned Kelly for $34.95 with free Australia wide postage (or $14.95 international postage). All of Max's books come with a bonus Australian Son bookmark. These books are only available for purchase online (and not through book shops). Of course the money we raise goes back in to building the world's greatest Ned Kelly web site.

Australian Son by Max Brown

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Ellen: a woman of spirit
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