Spotlight: Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, Are They Alive or Dead?

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No other bushranger conspiracy theory has had as much traction as the theory that Dan Kelly and Steve Hart escaped from Glenrowan and survived into full adulthood whereupon they became soldiers in the Boer War. The truth is that these stories were almost always peddled by swaggies or other such entities who would spin yarns as entertainment. Very few of the people claiming to have had an intimate enough understanding of the the people or events to prove the identities of these men actually did but – as they say – why let the truth get in the way of a good story? To this day there are towns throughout Australia who cash in on these oral histories as a way of helping put themselves on the map. This article, published in 1902, is one of the earliest recorded accounts of the stories about Dan and Steve’s escape.

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Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, Are They Alive or Dead?

Some weeks ago it was reported by cable that the bushrangers Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, who were supposed to have been killed at Glenrowan in the final encounter between the police and the Kelly gang, were in South Africa. Mr. W. B. Melville writes a detailed account from South Africa regarding the alleged outlaws, whom he says he met and from whom obtained a particulars of their escape, Dan Kelly told the story as follows: —

‘Steve here, and me, and Ned and Joe Byrne, was in that pub alright. Ned got away, and we was to foller him, but Joe was boozed, and we couldn’t poll him together. When we wasn’t watching him he stepped outside and was shot. After that two drunken coves was shot dead through the winder. They would have a go at the police, so we gave them rifles, revolvers, powder and shot. The firing where they fell wus too hot for us to reach them, so our rifles and revolvers was found by their remains. This was why they thought we were dead ‘uns. I’m sorry these coves didn’t take my tip and get out with a flag of truce. But they’d drink and the devil was in them, and I think Jo Byrne’s recklessness maddened them. Well, Steve and me planned an escape. We was in a trap, and had to gut out of it. We had the traps’ uniforms and their caps, which we used at times to disguise us. We put them on, and you couldn’t tell us from the blooming troopers. Steve, in a joke, wanted to arrest me, and I wanted to arrest him. Didn’t we, Steve? The next thing was how to leave the pub. A few trees and bushes and logs at the back decided us. We hung along the ground for a few yards, and then blazed away at the pub like the bobbies. We retreated from tree to tree and from bush to bush, pretending to take cover. Yes, cover from Steve and me! Soon we wus among the scattered traps who, no doubt thought we wus funking on it. But we banged away at the blooming pub more’n any of them. The traps came from a hundred miles miles around and only some of them know’d each other. They, didn’t know us anyhow. They couldn’t tell us from theirselves. We worked back into the timber and got away. Soon afterwards we saw the old shanty blazing, and we thanked our stars we was not burnt alive. Well, we got to a friend’s — a shepherd’s hut. We stayed there days, and the shepherd brought us the papers with whole pages about our terrible end, burnt up bodies, and all that sort of stuff. And we heard of Ned’s capture, and was fer taking to the bush again ; but the old shepherd made us promise to leave Australia quietly. He found us clothes and money. We got to Sydney, and shipped to the Argentine. We’ve had a fairly good time since, and ain’t been interfered with. We don’t want to interfere with anybody either. A few years ago we crossed to South Africa. The war broke out and being out of work we went to the front. We’ve had some narrer escapes, but nothing like the narrer escape from the Glenrowan pub.’Mr. Melville adds that they said they were Ieaving South Africa for come place which they kept a secret, and they had no objection to their story being published in a few weeks after they got away. Some weeks afterwards he met them in Capetown, and they said they were off next day. A resident of Sydney who knew the Kellys well states that shortly after the arrival of the Drayton Grange he was standing at the corner of Bathurst and Pitt streets, when he noticed three men in khaki quarrelling. There was an old woman there who was endeavoring to act as a peacemaker. One of the men said to the other with an oath, ‘You —, you thought you were — clever, acting the goat as Dan Kelly,’ and the other answered, ‘ I had to do it, Jim, it was a joke first, and got to be serious.’ Besides, I were in that other trouble.’ The passer-by was naturally attracted by such words, and turning saw before him a man who in every way tallied with Daniel Kelly in appearance, and with the added 32 years to his 18 (his age at the time of the capture of the gang), would wear the same aspect. And as the bystander caught his eye there was a marked expression of interest centred in it, with that peculiar look coming of a mutual recognition. This gentleman also stated that there was an idea prevalent in the Kelly country at the time that Dan and Steve had made their escape. And some months after wards, when it was supposed that they were clear away, and the £8000 reward had been split up, most of the old hands in the disturbed district winked a knowing eye and laughed.

Source:
“Dan Kelly and Steve Hart.” The Clarence River Advocate (NSW : 1898 – 1949) 26 September 1902: 8.

4 thoughts on “Spotlight: Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, Are They Alive or Dead?

  1. Glenrowan storekeeper and Kelly author Gary Dean, and Eugenie Navarre, another Kelly author both believe Dan Kelly and Steve Hart survived the Glenrowan siege. Theres also a 2002 book called “Burned to a cinder was I ” by Carolyn and Vince Allen which claims that a man called James Ryan, buried in Queenslands Ipswich cemetery was actually Dan Kelly. Unlike the article you reprint above, which has them escaping in police uniforms before the Inn was set on fire, these modern authors say they emerged from the ruins of the Inn AFTER the fire, having survived by hiding in a cellar.

    On my Blog in January 2016 I disproved all these claims, showing how the major errors in Ryans claims exposed him at best as delusional, and at worst as a liar and a conman. I also showed by reference to the physics of fires and the way in which fires cause death by asphyxiation, that it would have been physically impossible for two men to survive the incineration of Ann Jones Inn by hiding in a cellar. (http://kellylegend.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/did-dan-kelly-die-at-glenrowan.html)

    No rational person needs to waste time entertaining the possibility that Dan and Steve survived the Siege at Glenrowan, any more than they ought to wonder if Elvis is still alive or if the moon landings really happened.

    To believe in such fantasies is to demonstrate yet again that facts, logic, reason and rationality unfortunately will not penetrate the minds of conspiracy theorists.

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    1. Absolutely Dee, the archaeological dig at Glenrowan proved pretty conclusively that the story of the boys hiding in a cellar during the fire was preposterous. Not only was there no cellar for them to hide in, but the inferno was such that it would have been impossible to survive. Rivers of molten glass attested to the heat, and as demonstrated by the Black Saturday fires such heat is prone to sucking air out of anywhere possible so suffocating was just as likely as being burned to death. Unfortunately, the early 20th century saw many of these itinerant hucksters claiming to be such notable figures and very probably made a decent living selling their story.

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      1. Unfortunately Aidan, Adam Ford the celebrity archaeologist who has just pulled off a very dishonest stunt at Stringybark Creek, also made a mess of the dig at Glenrowan, “proving” absolutely nothing new there, when, if he had taken the time to talk to a few knowledgeable people about the site he could have done something really useful and exclude or establish as fact that there was a cellar there. He showed there was no cellar under the Inn itself but he didn’t excavate the site immediately behind the inn where the kitchen was, leaving it still possible for the diehards to suggest maybe thats where it could still be found.

        But the physics of fire completely demolish the possibility that anyone could have survived in a cellar even if there was one. But it was a shame that Ford wasted all that effort to prove what we already knew, and didnt make the effort to prove or disprove something which would have been useful to know.

        Incidentally, we still have people claiming to be survivors of various horrors who were never there at the time but seek profit and the buzz of fame or notoriety that gullible media give them – twin towers survivors, London Bombing survivors, WW2 heroes, and then there are the cancer survivors like Belle Gibson….

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