unravelling fact from fiction
During the Ned Kelly Weekend in Beechworth in 2007, I attended, with many others, a presentation by Brian McDonald \’Ned Kelly- unravelling fact from fiction\’. After Brian had finished his presentation, he generously handed out to all in attendance, a booklet containing a letter that was printed in a brochure in 1880. It was a letter supposedly written by a woman in Kelly’s defence. A copy of this document was sent to the Chief Secretary accompanied by a letter from a Francis (Frederick) Brown. In the letter it stated that the case presented gave the accused \’Ned Kelly\’ grounds for reprieve. It also states that this lady heard Standish, the Chief Commissioner of Police, say that he \’Fitzpatrick\’ ought never have been in it.
There are a few discrepancies in the letter but most of what has been written I believe to be true. Who wrote this letter? Was it indeed a lady, or was it written by a man, or even a solicitor? Either way, if this person was defending Ned Kelly and delivering the same in a closing argument to the jury instead of Henry Bindon, would the outcome of Ned’s trial been very different? Whoever wrote this letter was well educated and knew much about the case. After reading it, I believe it was written during Ned’s trial. It has been stated openly by many in the legal profession that Ned Kelly did not get a fair trial. For those readers who are uncertain of Ned Kelly’s guilt or judgement passed on him, maybe this letter will help you make up your mind. You be the judge.
Was it murder or self defence?
At present I shall only write my views of the charges upon which he stands committed for trial, leaving every other matter hereafter dealt with.
He is charged with “having on the 28th October, 1878, at Stringybark Creek, wilfully and of malice aforethought, murdered Thomas Lonigan”.
That Thomas Lonigan was shot need not be disputed. But his being shot does not make it murder. When Ayoub Khan shot down the bulk of Burrows’ army it was not murder; but when he killed a prisoner after the battle we called that murder, and justly so. Murder is the taking of life when the victim cannot defend himself; manslaughter is when one armed man falls by the hand of another.
Now what are the facts?
Lonigan and Kelly had many previous encounters, in which the former proved himself no match for the latter. The statement therefore, that when he was setting out with his three comrades, fully armed, to arrest Kelly, he would stand upon no ceremony but shoot him when
He got a chance, can readily be believed.
And upon what charge did he set out fully armed to arrest Kelly.
A constable had gone to Kelly’s mother’s house, without a warrant, to arrest one of her sons. Mrs Kelly told the constable he had no right there without a warrant. Every woman in the colony will say Mrs. Kelly was perfectly right. For obstructing the constable, Mrs Kelly was sent to gaol for three years. This appears to a woman- whatever the men may think of it- a rather cruel proceeding. The constable further charged Kelly with shooting at him on this occasion.. Kelly says he was miles away. This constable has since been dismissed from the force, and I am told on good authority that Captain Standish has stated he ought never to have been in it.
Now it was on a charge made by this constable that Lonigan and his mates sallied forth fully armed to arrest Kelly. It should be here noted that from the very first it was a police quarrel, and that it began on their part with an act without a warrant.
Kelly has said in his defence that he heard the police were out after him, that they were fully armed, and that it was reported they meant to shoot him, and that two at least were his personal enemies.
What ground had he for believing this?
Subsequent events do throw some light upon the probability. When a large body of police, fully armed, arrived at Glenrowan, and were told by a constable, out of breath and trembling like an aspen leaf, that the Kellys were at Jones’ hotel with forty men, women and children, they rushed upon the building, and commenced to fire away without calling upon any one to surrender. The result of their fire was to deprive two innocent men of their lives, and a widow of her only son.
If this body of police, who were numerous and had the support of many civilians, actedin this manner- forgot their duty as police and acted as a military attacking party- is it not reasonable to suppose that Lonigan and his mates would have done the very same thing, the more especially as they had a strong personal bias against Kelly and knew his strength.
When, therefore, Kelly says, in his own simple way, “I was not prepared to remain at my work and be surprised and shot; I therefore went to meet the armed party of police,” we can readily believe he had some justification.
Males who have proved themselves so destitute of courage in the presence of this man would naturally say he had no right to do this- but a female may be permitted to say she can see no other course left him under the circumstances.
And how did he act? He called upon the police to throw up their arms. McIntyre, who did so, was not hurt. Lonigan, who prepared to draw his revolver and take life, as he is reported to have boasted he would do, was shot.
I cannot call that any higher crime than manslaughter. From first to last it was a civil war on a small scale, originating in a police constable invading a private dwelling without a warrant, and carried on for two years, terminating in the siege of Glenrowan, the unwarrantable death of innocent people, the satisfaction of Justice-life for life; and the capture of the leader, to be ultimately brought before the country, on the second anniversary of the day, to meet the charge of a living policeman, who says he murdered his mates.
The case is not an ordinary one of a man lying in wait and foully murdering his fellow. There are no evidences of malice; no motive for secretly and maliciously killing, no proof of what we all abhor-murder.
It is the police appealing to the public for protection. And they have practically put the case thus:-
One of our mates went to a woman’s house without a warrant to arrest her younger son. She was residing upon her own land. She asked our comrade for his warrant, he replied he had none. She then answered her son need not go with him then, and that he had no right to be there. The constable drew his revolver, a scuffle ensued. We successfully appealed to a Beechworth jury and they decided in our favour; they said we were perfectly justified in entering that woman’s dwelling without a warrant and drawing our revolver, and the judge gave her three years. Our comrade complained against her eldest son, whom we all feared and dreaded and we were glad of the excuse to go out fully armed against him. It is true that our comrade has been dismissed from the force, but that made his word all the more reliable, and our honour was at stake. Right was on our side if might was on his. The charge, having been made by a constable, was of itself a sufficient excuse; and we thank a kind and considerate Government that they never inquired whether that charge was true or false. We, therefore, determined upon his arrest. No ten, or even twenty, men amongst us dared to face him to arrest him unarmed, as, perhaps, in strict justice police ought to do; but trusting in our superior arms and revolving rifle, we ventured forth, fully assured that if we brought the body in a magisterial enquiry would absolve us, and a confiding public would reward us. But the man would not tamely submit to be shot. He disputed the truth of our charge against him. And he asked us to surrender. They who tried to shoot him were shot. The one who surrendered lives, although it is true that the fact of his being alive is the strongest evidence in his favor-that he fought fair and did not foully murder.
Let the women of Victoria say with me:
Police of Victoria- You had a quarrel with this man- a personal encounter with him. One of you went without authority to his mother’s house, and, after coming out second best, laid a charge against him, upon which you proceeded fully armed to meet him. You were ready to shoot him, but you were shot. You then appealed to the Government, the Parliament, and the People, confessing you want of courage to take this one man in the ordinary way. You received ample funds- unlimited funds- with the promise of an unusually heavy reward- and you further received legal permission to shoot and destroy without any restriction whatever. You paid a great number of spies, you went dodging about the country, trying every artifice and spending large sums of money, but you carefully kept out of his way, and when at last one of his mates forced himself upon you and shot the informer who pretended friendship to him, and who was in league with you, how did you act? Like men eager to show that when a chance occurred you would avail yourselves of it? No! you sneaked under the bed, and lay quiet until Sunday morning. In the afternoon you telegraphed to your superior officer that you were surrounded and stuck up till daylight by this man now on his trial. You little dreamt when you concocted and telegraphed that bare faced lie, that this man was forty miles away by three o’clock on that Sunday morning, giving ample evidence there was no one near to hurt you during the twelve hours you cringed and hid. And as you lied on that occasion, how can we believe you on this? And without your evidence- your single witness- what is there against him so far as the case is concerned? As you lied in the case of Sherrit; as the one who laid the information upon which Lonigan and his mates were acting has since been dismissed as untrustworthy to be kept in the force- how do we know but that Lonigan and his mates, armed as they were to the teeth, and dressed as ordinary bushmen, did not try to shoot this man, and that he only acted in self defence?
Alan Crichton likes to write, just take a look at our Feedback and Book section. So seeing Alan’s got so much to say IronOutlaw.com decided to give him his own section. While I’m sure he’ll continue to fill up our feedback pages he’s now got somewhere else to bluff and bluster, namely right here at ‘Keep Ya Powder Dry’.