Was Ned Kelly married?
No matter how much material you read about Ned Kelly, something always pops up out of the blue about this extraordinary man that keeps you guessing. Researchers over the years have scrutinised thousands of documents from countless sources and spoken to literally thousands of people to try to piece together the facts that will help to enlighten us about the life of one Ned Kelly. But unfortunately, all has not been revealed to us yet; there are still many mysteries surrounding this man that have eluded the researchers and left us all with nothing but supposition. Maybe it’s these mysteries that keep us all so intrigued with his story. It’s not what we do know, but what we don’t. Until someone produces credible documentation on Ned’s birth, we can only take an educated guess at his correct birth date. A priest in Ireland many years ago was believed to have said he actually saw Ned’s name in the baptism book in a church at Kilmore. When the baptism book was sought out, they not only couldn’t find the book but couldn’t find the church. Until we get our hands on that declaration for the independence of North Eastern Victoria, it’s nothing but hearsay. Did it actually exist at all, and where’s the proof? It had been reported many years ago as being seen on display in an exhibit in England, but by the time our researchers arrived to take a look eg. Ian Jones and Barry Jones, it had mysteriously disappeared. When asked, the exhibitors knew nothing about it. Beats me! The other great mystery that we would all like solved today or tomorrow is….Was Ned married or not?
Now just between you and me, I’m kind of hoping he was. I think Ned would have made a good husband and father. I mean, how many blokes out there could make bread and bake it in the oven while nursing a baby and not even think twice about it? What about lifting a tub of dirty bathwater and emptying it outside because your missus is in a delicate condition? Not once have I read or heard of Ned ever raising his hands to a woman. He wasn’t scared of hard work, was industrious, and accepted the responsibilities of looking after a family at a very young age. If that’s not enough for you, he was also fearless. With no concern for his own life, at the tender age of twelve, he rescues a drowning six-year-old from a local creek, not to mention his one-man assault on the police to save his brother and mate at Glenrowan. Now you tell me if Ned deserved a wife or not? If I’d been born ninety years earlier I would’ve bloody married him myself.
So where did all this talk about our Ned being married come from? Well, from what I read in Dagmar Balcarek and Gary Deans’ book, Ned And The Others, it came from Ned himself. When Ned was dishing out one of his speeches to the prisoners up in Jerilderie on the 10th February 1879, he was reported to have told them; ‘When outlawed I was only three weeks married.’ This statement was evidently written up in several newspapers including the Corowa Free Press. So why the blazes make a statement like that when you didn’t have to? Who was he trying to impress, and what difference would it make by telling them? Was Ned just looking for a bit of sympathy from his captives? We all know Ned was no saint and told a few porky pies when it suited him, but what would he gain from this one? Maybe it was just a tactical manoeuvre to distribute even more misinformation amongst the police. A statement like that would have had the police running all over the country looking for Mrs Ned Kelly. Getting their hands on Ned’s missus would put them in a great bargaining position, after all, they did try it with his siblings by harassing them, and his relatives and friends by throwing them in the Beechworth Gaol for no lawful reason. On the other hand, if Ned was telling the truth; why would he put his wife in such a dangerous situation? I find it very difficult to believe he would.
Ned Kelly was a good-looking bloke, and it wasn’t only me that thought it but quite a few ladies of the day. His cousin Kate Lloyd is supposed to have had romantic links with Ned along with Julia Martin, Mary Miller, Steve’s sister Esther Hart, and Mary the larrikin from Davidson’s Hotel in Jerilderie, most probably to name just a few. There is also mention of another woman in Ned And The Others who went by the name of Madela who was reported to be Ned’s wife. The name evidently came to light in a report from Constable Dwyer dated 25th Sept 1880. In it, he states that the information came from a lady in Melbourne whose name he can’t reveal. His informant had told of her conversations with Madela (or was her name Madelaine?) and how she had received a splendid watch and other jewellery from Ned. She goes on to tell that she was previously married to a man by the name of Lorreine for ten months before his death. They were at the time keeping a hotel in Greta. Madela then states she was only married to Ned for three months before he went out bushranging. After Ned was caught at Glenrowan, Madela would drop on her knees and pray to God and the Virgin for Ned not to hang. There is also mention of a letter the mysterious informant found in Madela’s possession from Kate Kelly referring to Madela as my dear sister-in-law. It seems that Constable Dwyer believed this Madela woman was in possession of Sergeant Kennedy’s pocket watch that was taken from his lifeless body at Stringybark Creek.
Another very interesting piece is a letter written by a William J R Wallace to Superintendent Chomley of the Melbourne police. Now from what I can gather from his letter, it looks like he knows exactly who has Kennedy’s watch and is holding out for more of a reward. Poor Mrs Kennedy had offered 5 pounds for its return, but it doesn’t seem to be enough for the person who has the watch, or from what I can gather, Mr Wallace. He’s also asking for no prosecution against the person who has it, stated not once in his letter but twice. He also states he used to be a policeman. Near the end of the letter, he asks if there is any extra reward offered apart from Mrs Kennedy’s. To me, this bloke sounds more and more like a right opportunist, which is putting it very mildly.
To quote the author’s note: Could Madela be Bridget Conway who married Laurence O’Brien, the proprietor of the Greta Hotel, who died in 1874 aged thirty-six? In 1882 Bridget married William John Richard Wallace, a former mounted trooper and took over the Broken River Hotel in Benalla. It was at this hotel that a young girl returned Kennedy’s watch in 1892. Who was Bridget seeing after the death of her husband in 1874 up to meeting Wallace in 1880? Was Bridget in the company of Tom Lloyd and Maggie Skilling on their trip to Rosier’s Gun Shop in Melbourne? In June of 1879, why did the police search Bridget O’Brien’s bags for ammunition on the train’s return journey from Melbourne to Glenrowan? Also searched on that same train were Tom Lloyd and Maggie Skilling.
Was Sergeant Kennedy’s watch in possession of Bridget Wallace who was previously married to the owner of the Greta Hotel, Laurence O’Brien, and then to Ned Kelly, and who was now the wife of this William J R Wallace; the same bloke who has been, from what I see, the middle man in the return of Kennedy’s watch? In Ian Jones’s book A Short Life, he mentions that constable Robert Graham set up his station above Bridget O’Brien’s hotel on the 29th of September 1880 assisted by three constables; Leahy, MacDonald and Wallace. This last fellow was the Wallace that eventually married Bridget O’Brien.
Another interesting point that comes to mind is the ladies’ Geneva watch and chains that Ned had in his possession when captured at Glenrowan. For a macho type of bloke who had access to any number of pocket watches including Kennedy’s, why would he be carrying a Geneva lady’s watch and chains? Was it held to remember a loved one on a dangerous and rather special occasion?
What about the plain silver ring that we’ve all seen him wearing in that photograph taken the day before he was hanged, and which he was still wearing when he fell from the drop as noted in the Bendigo Independent? (A Short Life) Was it a wedding ring worn on the ring finger of his right hand to fool the police? Was that ring proudly displayed in that photo for the benefit of someone apart from his known family and accompanied by what looks to be a wink from Ned? Is he saying his last goodbye to his wife? What happened to the ring after Ned was taken to the dead house? Come to think of it; how was it that Ned was allowed to be wearing jewellery in gaol? In Extracts from Gaol Regulations and General Orders printed in 1914 for N.S.W Prisons, it states: All prisoners, upon their reception in gaol, shall be duly searched, and all property taken from them, and into the charge of the Governor. …” (My thanks to Brian Mac for this information). I would assume the same regulations would apply to Victorian prisons as well. It may have been printed in 1914 but I doubt if much would have changed in 34 years. Did the police simply leave it on his finger because of his injured right hand? I doubt it very much considering this was Ned Kelly and definitely no normal prisoner. They stripped him of all personal possessions at Glenrowan including his sash, I doubt if they would have let him keep a ring five months later. So let us say Ned had no ring on his finger when he arrived at the Melbourne Gaol. Why would he have asked for it to be smuggled in and when? What if he had asked for the ring so it could be worn for that photograph and the gallows? “Till death us do part”.
- Why did Ned say he was married?
- Was there any truth in Constable Dwyer’s letter of concern?
- Why couldn’t Dwyer reveal the name of the person who gave him the information?
- Was this Madela, Bridget Conway, and married to Ned?
- Did Bridget Wallace nee Conway have Kennedy’s watch, and if so, who gave it to her?
- Why was Bridget’s husband William Wallace so worried about the holder of Kennedy’s watch being prosecuted?
- Why was he asking about an increase in the reward for its return?
- Was it just a coincidence that Kennedy’s watch was handed back in the very hotel Bridget Conway ran with her husband?
- Why was Ned carrying a ladies’ watch and chains at Glenrowan?
- Why was Ned allowed to wear jewellery eg a plain ring on his right hand in prison?
- Were the ring and the photograph possibly for his wife’s benefit? ( ‘Till death us do part)
I am not saying that Ned was married but simply asking questions. We could go on forever about “what ifs”, but we will never know for certain until substantial evidence is brought forward. I suppose, for example, the Proclamation for the Independence of North East Victoria. We can only continue to ask the questions and hope that somewhere amongst the unsubstantiated claims lies some truth. But that’s what keeps us all so enthralled with the story of Ned Kelly, isn‘t it? It’s not what we do know, but what we don’t. I also believe … where there is smoke, there is fire!