In reply to recent paper titled, Ned Kelly and the Myth of a Republic of North-East Victoria by Dr. Stuart E. Dawson, I present my research in defence of Kelly’s Republic/Rebellion. The preface to Dawson’s paper begins with, ‘It is a close examination of a longstanding claim, first made and promoted by influential Kelly historian Ian Jones from 1967 onwards…’
Following is a collection of sources directly referencing Ned Kelly’s republic from newspaper articles which predate Dawson’s claims against Ian Jones by over twenty years! There are also quotes contained in letters attributed to Ned and Kate Kelly which I believe hint at what direction the Kelly Gang were going to take after their successful raid on the New South Wales town of Jerilderie. I have also included an article from a 2003 speech by the late judge John Harber Phillips AC, QC and once Chief Justice of Victoria who argued that there is strong evidence to suggest a movement of sorts did exist.
Since the publication of Dr. Stuart Dawson’s paper, he has also mentioned that Leo Kennedy who is the great grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, will be writing an article that states as a child he overheard a conversation in Shepparton between his father and Thomas Patrick Lloyd in which Lloyd mentioned he, ‘fed those nuisances a whole lot of nonsense’ deliberately ‘to make them look stupid’, in reference to Kelly researchers who had approached him for information regarding the republic. By including this oral history as information to help try and back up his claims, Dr Stuart Dawson is effectively contradicting himself by trying to omit oral history with, oral history. For while he appears to make a compelling argument, the myth surrounding Kelly’s republic will never fade!
Mount Gambier, South Australia
Saturday 17 February, 1945 (page 5)
NED KELLY PRESIDENT
After the Kelly Gang had been broken up, certain papers and documents were found which in dictated that Ned went close, to altering the whole political history of Victoria, it is stated that if Ned had succeeded in wrecking the police train he intended proclaiming north-eastern Victoria a republic, with Benalla the capital city and himself as first President. Only the fact that the train was running late put the knocker on the gang’s plans and hopes. Had the plan carried, it is certain large numbers would have flocked to the banner of the Kellys, for their sympathisers were legion throughout Australia.
Carnarvon, Western Australia
Friday 25 April, 1947 (page 3)
In Ned Kelly’s secret camp the hide-out of one of Australia’s most impudent bushrangers – his men saddled their horses and loaded their guns. They ate a meal and mounted Ned Kelly was on the track again. It looked as though Ned Kelly were holding up a train: a gold train or a mail train. His men put a log across the rails and ambushed themselves beside the railway track. Ned looked at his watch: in five minutes the train was due.
He had worked out his campaign to avoid the heavily-armed contingent of mounted police that rode on patrol along the road to Benalla every day at noon. He could carry out his business and be back at his bush headquarters before 11.30 a.m. Five minutes went by, then 10. They sweated. Twenty minutes, then 30. Ned pocketed his watch: apparently the train had been cancelled. They rode back to camp, disappointed: a great opportunity for the Kelly Gang had been missed.
This might have been just another story of highway robbery but papers captured a few years later, when the Kelly Gang had been smashed, tell a startling story. Towards the end of his life Ned Kelly had gathered about him not only active henchmen but a surprising number of admirers. In hundreds of townships in Victoria and N.S.W. Ned Kelly could have asked freely for hospitality and help. He was a king of adventure. He was sure he had thousands of admirers, and he was right.
When Ned Kelly deployed his gunman beside the railway line he was not after mailbags or gold. He was planning to hold up a police train, carriages of ammunition and guns. He was, in fact, planning a minor war-planning to hold up Australia, not for her money or her life, but for her very freedom. He was in truth, planning to proclaim Ned Kelly law in the State of Victoria, counting on thousands of friends to support him.
The captured documents show a bold and impudent plan. Ned Kelly planned to proclaim north-east Victoria a republic, with Benalla as capital, and as president-Ned Kelly himself. This might have changed the whole history of Australia, might have brought civil war and certainly unequalled lawlessness, if a certain police commission had not been late in delivering his orders. For strange as it may seem, the police train had not been cancelled, It had simply been held up at Benalla, waiting for copies of new orders. And, the train started, 35 minutes late, as the police lieutenant read the freshly printed sheets, and they were headed: “New Reward for Ned Kelly.
Sunday Herald Sun
Sunday 8 October, 1995 (page 31)
WILD COLONIAL REPUBLIC by Phil Maguire
A document declaring Australia’s first republic has gone missing in the UK and Prime Minister Paul Keating has supported calls for it to be returned.
The document, which declared the Republic of North-East Victoria, was taken from the pocket of Ned Kelly after his dramatic capture at the battle of Glenrowan in June 1880. It was last seen by Melbourne journalist Leonard Radic on display at the Public Records Office in London in 1962. Mr Radic this week told the Sunday Herald Sun the document was an important part of Australian history because it established the Kelly Gang as political rebels, not murderers.
He said it could have represented the beginning of an Irish uprising in Victoria. “I was living in London at the time I saw it and I’d taken a stroll down to the Public Records Office,” Mr Radic said. “When I saw the document it was in a glass cabinet. It looked like a handbill that you would see pasted on a lamp post and it was old fashioned, 19th-century type. “I don’t remember the exact wording, but it talked about the setting up of an independent Republic of North-East Victoria. “I went home and told my wife about it because her family came from the Greta district, as the Kelly’s did.”
Back in Australia, Mr Radic told a leading authority on Ned Kelly, Mr Ian Jones, about the document and in 1969 Mr Jones and the federal ALP president Barry Jones went to London in search of it. Ian Jones said the Public Records Office denied all knowledge of the document. He believes it may have been on loan from a private collector who wished to remain anonymous. “I’m ever hopeful that it will turn up one day, perhaps as part of an estate,” he said. A spokesman for Mr Keating said the document, if it still existed, should be returned to Australia. “It is an interesting and important historical document and it belongs in Australia,” he said. “If the English have it then they should return it.”
The spokesman said Ned’s republic was not the one the Government was planning. “We want a republic that will bring Australia into the 21st century,” he said. Ian Jones, who has written a new book on the Kelly outbreak, Ned Kelly – A Short Life, said Kelly was an extraordinary man involved in extraordinary event. “He was remarkable – the breadth of his qualities and abilities are amazing,” he said. “When you mention them it sounds as though you are trying to create a folk hero when, in fact, all you are doing is describing the man. “He would have been a magnificent leader for a fledgling republican movement and, had things gone more according to plan at Glenrowan, he probably would have been just that. The power of his words in the letters he wrote and in his statement from the dock at his trial are evidence of powerful intellect.”
Mr Jones said Kelly, as a first-generation Australian had had a huge advantage over the English and Irish-born police who hunted him. “These wild young colonial boys were far superior to those from the old countries and they evolved in the space of one generation,” he said.
Mr Jones said Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan was “impossible by normal standards”. “He was suffering from numerous bullet wounds, he had lost a litre of blood from just one of them and he was in an advanced state of shock yet he was able to stack on a half-hour gun fight with the police in freezing conditions while burdened by 50 kilograms of armour. Mr Jones said his book was the fruit of 53 years of research into Kelly. “It presents Ned warts and all and I’ve included some extraordinary new material that has not been published before,” he said.
Mr Jones said Australia was fortunate to have an “extraordinary hero mythic figure who was actually real”. “That’s something not many nation’s have, they usually create their heroes. But Ned is the personification of all that Australians have held themselves to be because he epitomizes courage, endurance, strength and loyalty to mates.” he said.
Gold Coast, Queensland
Monday 19 December, 2011
Justice John Phillips – 2003 (republished) speech Ned Kelly and the North-Eastern Victorian Republican Movement where he mentions Radic’s word would be considered as hard evidence in a court of law due to his personal character.
The Jerilderie Letter
Personally, I believe there are clues to the existence of Kelly’s Republic/Rebellion within the Jerilderie Letter, particularly within the last few sentences;
…I give fair warning to all those who has reason to fear me to sell out and give 10 pounds out of every hundred towards the widow and orphan fund…
It is this threat in the Jerilderie Letter, that I personally believe gives STRONG credit to the declaration of the North East Republic theory.
…and do not attempt to reside in Victoria, but as a short time possible after reading this notice…
Why didn’t Ned want anybody who feared him to stay in Victoria?
…neglect this and abide the consequences, which shall be worse than the rust in the wheat in Victoria or the druth of a dry season to the grasshoppers in New South Wales…
What would have happened had the threat become public knowledge at the time and people did leave Victoria in fear of their lives?
…I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning…
Giving the order “full force” to who? And…
…my orders must be obeyed.
Ned’s orders… How many more were there?
The Jerilderie Letter was suppressed from the media by the police but only a few minor details were leaked in the newspapers over the years. The Jerilderie Letter wasn’t published in its entirety until 1930. The Burke Museum in Beechworth displays a copy of a letter sent to Judge Cope who the writer believed was to preside over the trial of Ned Kelly. The letter has been attributed to Kate Kelly, writing as ‘A Lady’, and in my opinion sounds very similar to the threats made in the Jerilderie Letter.
To his excellency Judge Cope
I hereby give you timely notice that if you pass the sentence of death on Edward Kelly and he gets hanged, three other gangs are to turn out There are two gangs already formed to my knowledge just waiting to see what will be done and they vow vengence on the Police They say it is not for money but to shoot the Police everyone they meet they say they won’t pass them by like Ned Kelly did there are fourteen in one gang and eight in the other they say it started in Mansfield but it wont end there
There are hundreds of respectable people that never were simpathisers nor never intended to be swears That they will have revenge. More than three parts of Victoria have simpathy for Ned Kelly.
I am sure it would be well worth while to spare Ned Kellys life for I am sure Those other gangs will put the country far greater expense than ever the Kellys did and not that alone but all the Police that will loose their lives over it The country will be in a terrible state They say they will have revenge for for fifty Police setting fire to a house rather than face two Boys to burn them they say if ever they get holt of Johnston that was this man that set fire to the Glenrowan Hotel they will roast him alive The people all say they would (the Police) sacrafice a hundred Innocent lives to capture two Boys so if they have to turn out they will make it hot for them the whole country has simpathy for Ned Kelly so if you hang him mostly every sole in the country will have a down on you even all the ladies in this part of the country is as willing to turn out for Ned as well as the men I am sure that Poor Ned Kelly was driven out if just look at it as if was your own case I am sure no one could blame them for shooting them three police the Kellys lives were as good as theirs any day if not better So you ought to draw it mild when you are passing the sentence on Ned Kelly for your own sake for by all accounts you stand in danger So hoping you see and understand the reasonableness of my letter
I remain yours truly
source: SLV La Trobe Australiana Collection, MS8028 Box 938/4
…I give fair warning…
…I hereby give you timely notice…
Ned also uses the term, “giving timely warning..” which leads me to believe that if Kate Kelly was the author of the letter to Judge Cope, then she also may have possessed knowledge of the Jerilderie Letter and possibly the plans to create the North East Republic with the terminology she has chosen. In 1876, ten acres were reserved for a cemetery in Banyena so could this have been the authour trying to intimidate the Judge who resided nearby in Ballarat?
The Police also banned anybody from singing ballads about the Kelly Gang after their capture and ultimate demise. In the booklet Songs from the Kelly Country by The Bush Music Club it says the following;
During the ’80s and ’90s they were declared “TREASON SONGS” and efforts were made to suppress them. Old shearers have said that even in the late ’90s in New South Wales, police had attempted to stop them from singing of Ned Kelly.
Tales about the last days of Ned Kelly are many. One relates that enroute from the court to gaol, after receiving the death sentence, Ned said animatedly, “They are not all dead yet, it will take 40,000 police to get rid of THEM. I will return from the grave to fight!” Bloody oath it will! Fearless, free and bold.
Note: As a Kelly researcher, the direct mention of papers and documents citing Ned Kelly’s plans cannot be overlooked on this subject.
About The Author
Steve Jager is a self declared Australian bushranging historian and actor who has appeared in Matthew Holmes’, The Legend of Ben Hall and on Foxtel’s, Lawless, The Real Bushrangers. Steve’s interests in bushrangers began at a very young age in the late 1980s and his research, particularly the subject regarding Ned Kelly, led him to become a volunteer at the Old Melbourne Gaol at the tender age of fourteen. Since then, Steve has appeared on national radio and in newspapers reporting on his research behind Ned Kelly’s remains – along with being credited with the discovery of one of the Kelly Gang’s hideouts in the Warby Ranges. Steve was also influential in the creation of the once successful Ned Kelly Forum and over the last few years he has been travelling the country on the bushranger trail where he shares details of his research and journey with his 3000+ followers on his Australian Bushrangers facebook page. Steve was recently chosen to be the historical consultant for Matthew Holmes’ next film, Glenrowan.