THE CONDEMNED BUSHRANGER
A meeting was held last evening at the Hippodrome for the purpose of taking into consideration the case of the convict KELLY, now lying in the Melbourne Gaol under sentence of death. For the credit of Melbourne, we regret to say that many thousands were present to express sympathy with one of the greatest ruffians ever consigned to the gallows. Of course, the action taken will have no effect upon the fate of the unhappy man, but it is truly lamentable that a crowd like that assembled last night could be got together for such a purpose. When we heard that a meeting had been called, for the obvious purpose of bringing pressure to bear on the Executive, we anticipated a considerable gathering as in every large city the dregs of the population are in a state of chronic antagonism to the law, and ready, in season and out of season, to avail themselves of any opportunity which offers a chance of impeding or defeating its operations. But large as the criminal class in Melbourne may be, it could not have furnished one-fourth of those who took part in the movement of yesterday, and so we are driven to the conclusion that numbers outside its ranks have mixed themselves up in this most discreditable business.
The proceedings were of a most disgraceful character, Mr. DAVID GAUNSON, M.L.A., who acted as attorney for the prisoner at the police court investigation and subsequent trial, gave a highly-coloured and one-sided narrative of the events which have resulted in lodging his client in the condemned cell. But how any man of ordinary intelligence could be credulous enough to accept his statements surpasses our comprehension. Mr. GAUNSON, who, be it remembered, is a public man, and occupies the important post of Chairman of Committees in the Legislative Assembly, had the audacity to ask his hearers to believe that the gang of which KELLY was the leader only murdered KENNEDY’S party in self-defence. In proof of this he adduced some cock-and-bull story to the effect that KELLY had heard that the police did not intend to apprehend himself and companions, but to shoot them down like dogs wherever they might be found. Such a tale carries “lie” on the face of it. Constables, we know, are not in the habit of going about uttering such threats. But if, for the sake of argument, we assume that it is true, why, we would ask, was it not brought out and proved on the trial? We are aware that after he had been found guilty, KELLY stated that he could have put a different complexion on affairs had he cross-examined the witnesses himself, but no one in their senses would attach any importance to such an announcement. The prisoner was provided with counsel, and had GAUNSON as his confidential adviser; and had there been any further facts essential to the defence to be brought out, we may be sure that they would have been elicited. We are told, moreover, that the fact of the police party having carried arms in excess of their usual equipment, served to confirm the rumours which the Kelly gang had heard concerning the deadly intentions of the constabulary. That Sergeant KENNEDY’S force had a rifle and a fowling piece with it, is true, but this fact was not known to the men they were seeking to arrest until Constable LONIGAN had been butchered. Perhaps it will be contended that they acted in self-defence when in cold blood they gave the coup de grace to poor KENNEDY as he lay wounded on the ground?
But, of course, the “self-defence” theory cannot be entertained for one moment; and had Mr. GAUNSON had any regard for his public position, he would have told his audience so. It would be a very nice position of affairs if policemen could be justifiably killed on refusing to “bail up” at the bidding of the criminals of whom they were in search. Had KELLY and his companions surrendered themselves when they knew that warrants were out for their capture, they need not have feared any violence, and it would be monstrous to suppose that they could subsequently be allowed to plead the imaginary necessity for resistance in extenuation of their crimes. We only mention these few matters to show the hollow nature of the pretences on which the resolution agreed to yesterday evening was founded. As we said before, the action taken cannot have any effect in arresting the course of the law. In passing sentence on the prisoner, the learned judge who presided at the trial said:―“The facts (adduced in evidence) are so numerous, and so convincing, not only as regards the original offence with which you are charged, but with respect to a long series of transactions covering a period of 18 months, that no rational person would hesitate to arrive at any other conclusion but that the verdict of the jury is irresistible, and that it is right.” The entire press of the colony, irrespective of party, is of the same opinion, and we venture to think that there is not a respectable citizen in Victoria of intelligence and thoroughly sound mind who thinks differently. The meeting of yesterday evening is a very deplorable fact, but we can only hope that many who gave of their countenance are heartily ashamed in this time of their weak and impudent conduct.
A meeting of persons desirous of obtaining a reprieve for the condemned man Edward Kelly was held last night in the Hippodrome, Stephen-street. It was convened by the brothers Gaunson, and was attended by at least 6,000 persons. Only 4,000 were able to secure admittance, and the remainder had to remain outside in the street. The crowd was of a miscellaneous description, comprising 200 or 300 women from Little Bourke-street and the vicinity, large numbers of the larrikin class, and hundreds of workingmen and others who were attracted by mere curiosity. Mr. Hamilton, phrenologist, acted as chairman, and the speakers were Messrs. David Gaunson, Wm. Gaunson, and T. P. Caulfield. Mr. David Gaunson reviewed the convict’s case at great length, and argued that Kelly conscientiously believed that the police came after him and his brother for the purpose of shooting them down like dogs; that he did not intend to shoot any of them but simply wanted to make prisoners of them, and appropriate their horses and arms; that he fired on none of them until they refused to surrender; and that his whole career showed that he was not the bloodthirsty character he was generally presented to be. For these reasons he contended that he should not suffer capital punishment, and he therefore moved, “That this meeting, having considered all the circumstances of Edward Kelly’s case, believes it is one fit for the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy, and therefore earnestly prays His Excellency the Governor in Council to favourably regard the prayer of this meeting, viz., that the life of the prisoner may be spared.” The resolution was seconded by Mr. Caulfield, and was carried unanimously. It was also resolved that the resolution should be presented to His Excellency this morning at half-past 10 o’clock. The original intention was to form the meeting into a procession, and march direct to Government-house, but as the regulations of the City Council had not been complied with, this would have been illegal.
The agitation which Messrs. David and William Gaunson have been stirring up on behalf of the condemned bushranger and murderer, Edward Kelly, culminated last night in a monster meeting held in the Hippodrome, Stephen-street. Persons “desirous of obtaining a reprieve” for the convict were requested to attend, and it was intimated that the stage and balconies or side seats would be reserved for ladies. By 8 o’clock there were at least 4,000 persons, including 200 or 300 women, assembled inside the arena, and about 2,000 persons outside in Stephen-street, who could not gain admission. The crowd was of a very miscellaneous character. The larrikin class was strongly represented, and the majority of women came from the neighbourhood of Little Bourke-street. There was, however, a larger muster of ordinary working men, and many others who attended apparently out of curiosity. Before the business proper commenced a drunken woman, occupying a seat on the central stand, created a diversion by repeating in a lamentable tone portions of the speech made by the prisoner at his trial, and wailing in the intervals over his doom. The speakers took their position on the stand erected for the Hippodrome band just inside, and above the entrance gate, and Mr. Hamilton, the phrenologist, acted as chairman. Whilst the talking was going on the outside crowd became rather impatient and out of temper at their exclusion, but Superintendent Winch, with several troopers and foot police, succeeded in maintaining order. It was impossible however, in so great a crowd, to keep everyone under supervision, and as a consequence several mischievous spirits kept discharging fireworks from the street over the wall. Now and then, whilst Mr. D. Gaunson was speaking, large squibs came shooting over the battlements, and exploded amongst the gentlemen on the platform, with reports as loud as pistol shots. One went so near the chairman, that it stunned him for a minute or two. At all events he clapped his hands to his head and declared that a revolver had been fired. The proceedings were also interrupted at times by the firing of crackers in Little Bourke-street and by the singing of hymns in another direction. Inside the Hippodrome a dissenting voice was raised two or three times, and on one occasion when the people were asked to fill up some vacant seats at the back, so as to make room for more admissions, a heavy surging commenced, and women shrieked as they were being borne along in the crush. As a whole, however, the meeting was orderly.
Mr. HAMILTON said he was glad to act as chairman, not merely on behalf of Edward Kelly, but as an advocate for the abolition of capital punishment. (Applause.) He called upon the audience to listen as if their own lives depended on the issue.
Mr. D. GAUNSON, who was then called, said he trusted that the remarks he was about to make would be received with no applause and with no dissent. The resolution he desired the meeting to pass was as follows:―
“That this meeting, having considered all the circumstances of Edward Kelly’s case, believes it is one fit for the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy, and therefore earnestly prays His Excellency the Governor in Council to favourably regard the prayer of this meeting―that the life of the prisoner may be spared.”
(Applause, and a voice, “What about the widows and orphans he has made?”) He would again caution the meeting not to applaud or interject, as it was a very solemn business they had met to consider. He then gave a lengthy narrative of the Kelly case, commencing with the wounding of Constable Fitzpatrick at Greta and the arrest and conviction of Kelly’s mother, Skillian (his brother-in-law), and the man Williamson, and the issuing of warrants for the arrest of Edward and Daniel Kelly on a charge of attempted murder. He reminded his audience that the trial of Kelly’s mother and her fellow-prisoners took place in October, 1878, and that they were convicted on the sole testimony of Fitzpatrick. During the six months which elapsed between the laying of the information against the Kellys and the conviction of their mother the police searched for the brothers about their residence at Greta, and if his instructions were correct they certainly did not in that search behave over-nicely to the Kelly family. (Hear, hear.) He would be ashamed to say anything which might seem to show that he sympathised with anything that was lawless, but if it were true that the police used the women of the Kelly family as shields―held them in front whilst they ransacked the skirtings and cupboards of the house with revolvers, then he would say the police had no lawful authority to do any such thing. (Applause.) Moreover, ample evidence could be brought forward to prove that the police used threats as to what they would do with the two brothers if they ever came across them, and this fact was most important, bearing as it did on the state of the prisoner’s mind when the melancholy affair at the Wombat occurred. The Kelly brothers had, in the meantime, gone to a creek in the ranges, where they erected a residence, and were earning their livelihood at gold-mining when the police party from Mansfield, who came out to search for them, camped in their vicinity. When Constable McIntyre and Lonigan were bailed up, McIntyre being unarmed, at once surrendered, and instantly the prisoner shifted his rifle and fired at Lonigan, who fell. Shortly afterwards Kelly said, “Dear, dear, what a pity that man tried to get away,” showing that he had no desire to commit murder. The conversation that followed showed further that Kelly believed in his heart that the police had come out to take his life, for he asked if there was poison in the tea and also why the police had brought a Spencer rifle and a fowling piece if it had not been their intention to shoot him down. It was because he (Mr. Gaunson) was firmly convinced that the unfortunate prisoner believed at the time of the frightful occurrence that the police had come out to shoot him and his brother down like dogs that he had come to address this meeting, and he would say that if Kelly was conscientiously under the mistaken belief that the police had such an intention, whatever the law might say about his act, they could not, according to their moral convictions, call it murder in the popular sense. The proof that the police did have that intention lay in the facts that they set out unusually armed, that Constable Fitzpatrick could swear that some of the arresting party had bragged how they would shoot down Kelly like a dog, and that one of the party was chosen on account of being a superior marksman. Kelly was not the bloodthirsty wretch he was represented to be. He gave all the unfortunate police an opportunity of surrendering, and he never harmed any one either at Euroa or Jerilderie. He indeed arranged with McIntyre to spare the lives of Kennedy and Scanlan if they surrendered, as all he wanted was their horses and arms, but McIntyre, in his trepidation, failed to explain the situation properly to Kennedy, and the latter treating it as a joke, laid his hand on his revolver. Within in a week the Kelly gang were outlawed, and the unfortunate men had to live like beasts. They were at proclaimed war with the whole country, but they never committed a single act of personal violence towards any man, child, or woman. (Applause.) True, the prisoner robbed banks, but the punishment for that was not hanging. (Hear, hear.) With regard to the shooting of the man Sherritt, all the facts went to show that the condemned man was not present, and that he knew nothing of it whatever; and as to the pulling up of the rails at Glenrowan, the fact was that the prisoner had no intention of destroying the special train and its occupants, but actually arranged with Curnow to stop the train, with the view of capturing the police party, and of then exchanging Superintendent Hare for his mother, and Inspector O’Connor for Skillian, and of keeping the others as hostages for the lives of the gang. The statement of the prisoner that he did intend to wreck the train and shoot down the survivors was explained by the fact that he was at the time in great agony and misery. As to the killing of Sergeant Kennedy, it was either done when he was lying wounded, to save him from being tortured in his last moments by wild beasts, or when he was on his legs and fighting. At his trial the prisoner was unable to obtain a fair defence, in consequence of his counsel being refused a postponement to study the case. To those who said justice should be meted out, he (Mr. Gaunson) would reply, “Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that in the course of justice none of us shall see salvation. We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.” He then moved the resolution given above.
Mr. J. P. T. CAULFIELD seconded the motion, and on a show of hands being called for, it was carried unanimously.
Mr. W. GAUNSON explained that as the Governor had intimated his inability―through press of business―to receive the resolution of the meeting that night, the procession to Government-house had to be abandoned. His Excellency had, however, signified that he would receive a deputation from the meeting next morning, at half-past 10 o’clock, and the resolution would be presented at that hour.
It was resolved that the resolution be presented to the Governor next morning, and the proceedings the terminated.