In May of 1870 the North-East of Victoria was abuzz as the walls were closing in on the notorious Harry Power who had been putting the citizens into quite a state of fear. The first domino was the capture of the flash young brigand who had allegedly been accompanying Power on various of his depredations, referred to in most publications as “Young Kelly”.
On 13 May, The Benalla Ensign reported:
“The Benalla Police Court was crowded yesterday to see the young bushranger Kelly, and to hear the result of the charges laid against him. The prisoner has greatly improved under the better and regular diet he has had since his incarceration, and has become quite “flash.” We are told that his language is hideous, and if he recovers his liberty at Kyneton, and again join Power—as no doubt he soon would—we are inclined to think he would be far more dangerous than heretofore.He has managed to get out of several ugly scrapes, and this success has not only emboldened but it has hardened him. Kelly was dismissed on the first two charges—that of robbing Mr. McBean in company with Power, and of the robbery near Seymour. Mr. McBean could not identify him, and the man robbed near Seymour could nowhere be found. It will be remembered that Mr. McBean did not see the face of the young man who was with Power when he was stuck-up, as he turned his back on Mr. McBean all through. But the Seymour case looks very like aiding and abetting. We shall see how the young criminal will fare at Kyneton, to which place he has been remanded, and where he will be brought up on Friday next, when it will be seen whether Murray can identify him. We regret to learn that there is no word of Power, who is believed to be in ambush in this vicinity”
The next day the Ovens and Murray Advertiser ran a brief notice in their telegraphic despatches:
“At the Benalla Police Court on Thursday, Edward Kelly, supposed to have been an accomplice of Power, the bushranger, was brought up on two distinct charges of highway robbery. He was acquitted of one charge on the score of want of identification, and on the other from want of witnesses. He was subsequently remanded to Kyneton, on a charge of robbery under arms near Lauriston.”
The Cornwall Chronicle reported on 21 May:
“Edward Kelly was brought up to the police court, on remand from the 5th, charged as an accomplice in highway robbery under arms on March 16, at Kilferd, but not being identified he was discharged. A second charge was made of highway robbery under arms at Seymour on March 25, but the person robbed was not to be found, and the prisoner was again discharged. Superintendent Nicholson then produced a warrant for prisoner’s apprehension for highway robbery at Lauriston, and asked for a remand to Kyneton. The Bench remanded him to the 20th inst.”
Evidently, progress was slow on the proceedings as The Mercury reported on 23 May:
“The young man Kelly, the supposed mate of Power, the bushranger, was brought down from Kilmore on Saturday night, and now lies in the Melbourne Gaol awaiting his remand to Kyneton, where he has to appear on Thursday next.”
The Hamilton Spectator reported on 4 June:
“Kelly, Power’s supposed mate, has been discharged by the Kyneton Bench, the police offering no evidence to justify his arrest.”
No doubt a disappointing turn of events for those wishing to get the juicy gossip on the nefarious adventures of the accomplice of the notorious Power. While the punters awaited further news of the trial there was a breakthrough – Power had been apprehended. On 5th June a small party consisting of Superintendents Nicolson and Hare, Senior-Sergeant Montford and a black tracker named Donald had captured Power at his lookout while the bushranger slept in his gunyah. On 7 June, The Kyneton Observer reported:
“The following telegram was received on Sunday evening by the Chief Commissioner of Police, Melbourne, and appeared in the Melbourne journals of yesterday:— “Power, alias Johnston, was arrested yesterday, at half-past 7 a-m, in the King River ranges, on the Glenmore run, by Superintendents Nicolson and Hare, and Sergeant Montfort, and is now lodged in the Wangaratta watchhouse.” Our readers will be glad to learn that, at last, this notorious bushranger has fallen into the hands of the authorities, and no doubt will be still more pleased to learn that Superintendent Nicolson of the Kyneton police, who is a most meritorious officer, had a hand in his capture. We are without any particulars of the event to the present time, but we entertain not the slightest doubt, from the character of the officers concerned in it, that it was brought about by the greatest energy and perseverance. Superintendent Hare has long been known for ability, and Sergeant Montfort, who for a long time was stationed at Wangaratta, has been highly esteemed by the residents of that district, and by his superior officers in the force. That the two officers will gain well merited applause for their feat need not be doubted, but we hope that Sergeant Montfort’s share in it will meet with more substantial recognition. Mr. Nicolson’s friends in Kyneton, and they are all who live here, were highly pleased yesterday to peruse the telegram which told of the capture of Power.”
Of course in a time when news travelled slowly (and often by word of mouth) some things would be lost in translation such as the following from Mount Gambier’s Border Watch on 11 June:
“The man Kelly who was apprehended at Kyneton, Victoria, as having been an accomplice of Thunderbolt has been discharged, no proof against him being forthcoming.”
Not only was Kelly discharged on account of the lack of evidence of his being Power’s accomplice, it quickly became believed in some quarters that it was pure fiction as reported in The Cornwall Chronicle, 11 June:
“The magistrates at Kyneton have discharged Kelly, against whom the police could bring no evidence. His story that he had been a mate of Power was a pure invention.”
However, the bolt had barely been drawn on Kelly’s holding cell before rumours started making the rounds about his potential involvement in Power’s capture. The Geelong Advertiser reported:
“A rumour is in circulation that the guide, or the black tracker, who assisted the police in the late capture of Power, was no other than Kelly, who was apprehended a short time ago as being Power’s mate, and who was at last discharged by the magistrates at Kyneton because the police refrained from bringing any evidence against him. The rumour is strangely countenanced by facts.”
Kelly was, in this instance, innocent of leading the police to Power. In fact it was his uncles, prominent Power sympathisers, who had played an active role with a magistrate named Robert McBean, the man who had laid the initial charges against Kelly, helping the police strike a deal with Jack Lloyd. After McBean had his valuable watch pilfered, Power instructed him that he would be happy to exchange the watch for £15 via Lloyd at a later date. This became a vital part of the capture effort. Jack Lloyd would later pocket the £500 reward for Power’s capture, deposited via the bank account of James Quinn, Ned’s other uncle and a known Power sympathiser. Fortunately, to a degree, there was some vindication for young Kelly in The Argus, 13 June:
“A Kyneton paper, in alluding to a rumour that the black tracker who assisted in the capture of the bushranger Power was no other than the man Kelly in disguise and with his face blacked, says that this is impossible, as Kelly has never left Kyneton since he was discharged.”
This led the Kyneton Observer to hastily eat a big steaming slice of humble pie, but refused to go quietly, published a scathing un-apology on 14 June:
“In our last issue we reprinted a paragraph from The Age, without, for the moment disproving it; which contained the insinuation that the late gallant capture of Power the bushranger, was easily accomplished by those who took part in it, from the fact that all necessary information was furnished by the lad, Kelly, who a little time ago was in the custody of the Kyneton Police, charged with complicity in some of the outrages committed by Power, and who was discharged from custody last Friday week. Some other papers published in the colony have been setting up similar stories, evidently with the view of detracting, as far as possible, from the exploit which has rendered Messrs Nicholson, Hare, and Montfort, so famous. In two or three lines in its Saturday’s issue The Age admits its error, and we suppose that the other papers that have adopted a similar hypothesis will before long do the same. It does not need that we should say anything for the purpose of adding to the value of the service which has been performed to the colony, but we may at least be permitted to point out that even supposing that Kelly was for the time transformed into a “blacktracker” the merits of Power’s captors remain unimpaired. Concerning Power, we publish elsewhere a brief record of some of his ants, taken from a Beechworth journal. As our readers must by this time be perfectly well sick, both of him and of his doings, we promise not to inflict any more of his nauseous career upon them, unless something extraordinary turns up in connection with the vagabond, or unless we break through the restriction we have imposed upon ourselves, for the purpose of recording his fate.”
As for young Kelly, the damage had already been done. In his community all and sundry either knew him as the boy bushranger or the rat who sold Harry Power. Even his own family provided no comfort; his uncles, who actually had given Power away, were seemingly happy to let the fifteen year old be the focus of innuendo, suspicion and scorn while they waited for the reward money to arrive (none of which seems to have made its way to the Kellys). Ned, having had to borrow money from Sergeant Babington, wrote a pitiful letter to the police on 28 July:
I write these lines hoping to find you and Mistr Nickilson in good health as I am myself at present I have arrived safe and I would like you would see what you and Mstr. Nickelson could do for me as I have done all circumstances would allow me which you now try what you con do answer this letter as soon as posabel direct your letter to Daniel Kelly gretta post office that is my name no more at presant
This in itself, with its rough phonetic spelling, disregard for grammar and innocent tone, would be enough to indicate hardships becoming a burden on the boy, but the postscript is far more telling:
every one looks on me like a black snake send me an answer me as soon posable
Yet, as difficult as life seemed to Kelly at that moment, it was about to become a lot harder.
“The Benalla Ensign.” The Benalla Ensign and Farmer’s and Squatter’s Journal. 13 May 1870: 2
“TELEGRAPHIC DESPATCHES.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser. 14 May 1870: 2.
“VICTORIA” The Mercury. 23 May 1870: 3.
“BY ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH.” Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1870 – 1918) 4 June 1870: 2.
“CAPTURE OF POWER, THE BUSHRANGER!” The Kyneton Observer. 7 June 1870: 2.
“SUMMARY OF NEWS.” Border Watch. 11 June 1870: 3.
“LATEST TELEGRAMS.” The Cornwall Chronicle. 11 June 1870: 1.
TOWN TALK. Geelong Advertiser. 11 June 1870: 2.
“MONDAY, JUNE 13, 1870.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 13 June 1870: 4.