Benalla Ensign and Farmer’s and Squatter’s Journal (Vic. : 1869 – 1872), Friday 13 May 1870, page 2
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 recover 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 soon 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 EXECUTION OF EDWARD KELLY.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 12 November 1880: 6.
Immediately after sentence of death was passed on Kelly, additional precautions were taken to ensure his safe custody in the Melbourne Gaol. He was placed in one of the cells in the old wing, and irons were riveted upon his legs, leather pads being placed round his ankles to prevent chafing. The cell had two doors — an outer one of solid iron, and an inner one of iron bars. The outer door was always kept open, a lamp was kept burning overhead, and a warder was continually sitting outside watching the prisoner. During the day he was allowed to walk in the adjoining yard for exercise, and on these occasions two warders had him under surveillance. He continued to maintain his indifferent demeanour for a day or two, professing to look forward to his execution without fear but he was then evidently cherishing a hope of reprieve. When he could get anyone to speak to, he indulged in brag, recounting his exploits and boasting of what he could have done when at liberty had he pleased. Latterly, however, his talkativeness ceased, and he became morose and silent. Within the last few days he dictated a number of letters for the Chief Secretary, in most of which he simply repeated his now well-known garbled version of his career and the spurious reasons he assigned for his crimes. He never however, expressed any sorrow for his crimes; on the contrary, he always attempted to justify them. In his last communication he made a request that his body might be handed over to his friends—an application that was necessarily in vain.
On Wednesday he was visited by his relatives and bade them farewell. At his own request his portrait was also taken for circulation amongst his friends. He went to bed at half-past 1 o’clock yesterday morning, and was very restless up to half-past 2, when he fell asleep. At 5 o’clock he awoke and arose, and falling on his knees prayed for 20 minutes, and then lay down again. He rose finally at about 8 o’clock, and at a quarter to 9 a blacksmith was called in to remove his irons. The rivets having been knocked out, and his legs liberated, he was attended by Father Donaghy, the Roman Catholic clergyman of the gaol. Immediately afterwards, he was conducted from his cell in the old wing to the condemned cell alongside the gallows in the new or main building. In being thus removed, he had to walk through the garden which surrounds the hospital ward, and to pass the handcart in which his body was in another hour to be carried back to the dead-house. Making only a single remark about the pretty flowers in the garden, he passed in a jaunty manner from the brilliant sunshine into the sombre walls of the prison.
In the condemned cell the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church were administered to him by Father Donaghy and Dean O’Hea. In the meantime a large crowd of persons had commenced to gather in front of the gaol, and the persons who had received cards of admission assembled in the gaol yard. A few minutes before 10 o’clock, the hour fixed for the execution, Colonel Rede, the sheriff, and Mr. Castieau, the governor of the gaol, proceeded to the condenmed cell, followed by the persons who had been admitted. The latter numbered about 30, and included Superintendent Winch, Sub-inspector Larner, several constables and detectives, three or four medical men, a number of justices of the peace, and the representatives of the press.
The gallows is situated in the centre of the new wing, and consists simply of a beam of timber running across the transept over the first gallery, with rope attached and a trap-door in the gallery floor. Warders were arranged on the side galleries, and the onlookers stood on the basement floor in front of the drop. The convict had yet two minutes to live, but they soon flew away. The sheriff, preceded by the governor of the gaol, then ascended to the cell on the left hand side of the gallows, in which the condemned man had been placed, and demanded the body of Edward Kelly. The governor asked for his warrant, and having received it, in due form bowed in acquiescence. The new hangman, an elderly grey-headed, well-conditioned looking man, named Upjohn, who is at present incarcerated for larceny, made his appearance at this juncture from the cell on the opposite side of the gallows, entered the doomed man’s cell with the governor, and proceeded to pinion Kelly. At first Kelly objected to this operation, saying, “There is no need for tying me;” but he had to submit, and his arms were pinioned behind by a strap above the elbows. He was then led out with a white cap on his head. He walked steadily on to the drop; but his face was livid, his jaunty air gone, and there was a frightened look in his eyes as he glanced down on the spectators. It was his intention to make a speech, but his courage evidently failed him, and he merely said, “Ah, well, I suppose it has come to this,” as the rope was being placed round his neck. He appeared as in court, with beard and whiskers, never having been shaved. The priests in their robes followed him out of the cell repeating prayers, and another official of the church stood in front of him with a crucifix. The noose having been adjusted, the white cap was pulled over his face, and the hangman stepping to the side quickly drew the bolt, and the wretched man had ceased to live.
He had a drop of 8ft., and hung suspended about 4ft. from the basement floor. His neck was dislocated and death was instantaneous; for although muscular twitching continued for a few minutes, he never made a struggle. It was all over by five minutes past 10 o’clock, and was one of the most expeditious executions ever performed in the Melbourne gaol. Half an hour afterwards the body was lowered into the hospital cart, and taken to the dead-house. On removing the cap the face was found to be placid, and without any discolouration, and only a slight mark was left by the rope under the left ear. The eyes were wide open.
The outside crowd had increased by 10 o’clock to about 4,000—men, women, and children; but a large proportion of them were larrikin-looking youths, and nearly all were of the lower orders. When the clock struck 10 the concourse raised their eyes simultaneously to the roof of the gaol expecting to see a black flag displayed; but they looked in vain, for no intimation of the execution having taken place was given. One woman, as the hour struck, fell on her knees in front of the entrance, and prayed for the condemned man. As the visitors left the prison the crowd dispersed also, and no disturbance occurred.
An inquest was subsequently held upon the body, and the jury returned a verdict that deceased had been judicially hanged, and that the provisions of the act for the private execution of criminals had been properly carried out. The remains will be interred in the gaol yard this morning.
“In 2003, Margaret Titterton discovered her uncle’s suitcase of film memorabilia under her Vaucluse home, including this portrait of her uncle Leslie Hay-Simpson in his first screen role. Titterton told the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘I don’t think it was his dream to be an actor. I think his dream was to follow in the family footsteps and be a good, solid solicitor.’ In October 1936, Hay-Simpson disappeared at sea. After finishing filming for Mystery Island (1937), he was sailing back from Lord Howe Island in a small skiff called the Mystery Star with fellow actor Brian Abbot when the two men hit bad weather.”
The great talkie dealing with one of the skeletons in our historic cupboard has been made. Photographs of Messrs, and Miss Kelly in their habits as they are supposed to have lived are beginning to appear in Sydney shop windows. Do they bear any relation to the truth?
Well, here’s the scene as it appeared to an American, one Augustus Baker Peirce, whose Australian adventures are described in a handsome memorial volume on the foundation of the Read Memorial fund, by the Yale Press (1924).
About the second year of my stay in Geelong, I was surprised by a hurried and excited call of my old friend Joseph Nash, a reporter on the Melbourne “Age,” who informed me that the notorious Kelley [sic] brothers had been captured at Greta and that he was going up to investigate and write up the affair. He asked me to go with him and make the sketches.
The Kelley boys and their companions, well-known outlaws — all of whom had prices on their heads dead or alive, among them Burns and Sherritt — had swooped down on Greta the day before and, having bailed up the town and torn up the railroad, proceeded to gather the principal townspeople into Jones’s Hotel and make merry. Word, however, was sent to the police; and a large body of troopers came up, surrounded the house, and demanded the surrender of the outlaws. On their refusal the police shot into the house, and the Kelleys returned the fire. Then the Greta priest appeared at the door and informed the police that if they would withhold fire the Kelleys would allow the townspeople to leave the premises. This was done and a second demand of surrender made. But the Kelleys refused to move, and the police were at a loss what to do.
They contemplated burning the house, and even sent to Melbourne for a cannon to blow it down. Finally, they charged the place, firing heavy volleys into it as they advanced. Receiving no answer, they broke in and found the outlaws dead or dying — all of them, except Ned Kelley, their leader, who had disappeared. Early the following morning he was discovered by Troopers O’Callaghan and Steele, who were watching in the fog. They saw something of gigantic size rise in the mist and move away. Taking no chances they fired. The object returned the fire and then fell; whereupon they rushed upon it and found it to be Ned Kelley, dressed in full armour of ploughshares, later found to weigh some 200lb.
We arrived soon after Kelley was taken and witnessed the placing of the dead bodies of the outlaws in the courtyard to be photographed. Ned Kelley was taken to Melbourne, where his trial was the sensation of the time. After it I saw him hanged; on the scaffold he turned coward….
It sounds unpromising, even as an alternative to “The Squatter’s Daughter” type of picture. As a matter of fact, there was a much better story in Morgan. He ended by holding up a station at Peechebla and, according to Peirce (who arrived there a few weeks after and had the story from Rutherford, the manager), the manager’s wife had to entertain him by playing the piano all night. “In fact, after the first fright had passed away, the whole family did their best to propitiate their unwelcome guest.” A servant-girl managed to send a message to the local police camp, and Morgan was shot in the back as he was going towards the horse paddock in the morning.
Peirce has quaint drawings, by himself, in his book which should gladden the hearts of our local directors. And listen to this :—
The outlaw was hardly dead when the police, brave enough now that there was nothing to fear, bounded into the path, followed by a large number of people. Among them was an excited photographer who, in his eagerness to secure a portrait of the body, broke his camera while climbing a fence. However, with the aid of some brown paper the damage was soon repaired, and the corpse, propped up against some wool-bales in the shed, was photographed between the Macphersons. The Superintendent of Police at Beechworth ordered that Morgan’s face be skinned, so that he might preserve the magnificent black beard as a trophy.
Christian burial was refused. They laid the de-bearded corpse outside the fence of the large cemetery on the road from Wangaratta to Peechebla. Here surely is a ready-made drama of the mellowest hue all ready for local consumption. Think of that last shot, the lonely grave and, above all, the face-skinning incident! I doubt if Hollywood itself could have thought of that.
[Source: The Bulletin, 23 May 1934, page 5.]
WHEN THE KELLYS RODE.
‘When The Kellys Rode,’ the Cinesound Feature Film production, which is listed for presentation at the Tivoli Theatre on Saturday, centres around the exploits of ‘The Kellys,’ the most notorious of all Australian bushrangers. ‘When the Kellys Rode,’ filmed against the glorious background of Australia’s natural beauty, features a splendid cast of young Australians, headed by Hay Simpson as Ned Kelly, Regina Somerville, John Appleton and Norman Walt.
When The Kellys Rode
IT’S ABOUT: Bushrangers.
YOU’LL SEE: Hay Simpson.
THIS woefully comic curiosity is 14 years old.
The Chief Secretary’s Department banned it in New South Wales as a bushranging drama, lifted the ban a few years ago.
Made in Burragorang Valley and the Blue Mountains, When The Kellys Rode is a raw and crude piece of work.
Even in 1934, its year of production, it must have been an anachronism.
It is a pure old silent in technique.
Writer-director Harry Southwell has not captured any of the high adventure in the Kelly saga — an adventure that is still waiting for the right Australian film-maker.
His bushrangers and police lollop up and down the one stretch of mountain. His unfortunate actors, a couple of whom are well-known today, are grotesquely stilted.
Only the late Hay Simpson, as Ned Kelly, shows a rude vigor in the role. The women in the cast are lamentable.
But why go on? The film is worth preserving in some museum.
Bushranger history has long been the province of male authors and historians, even as far back as 1818 with the infamous pamphlet Michael Howe: The Last and Worst of the Van Diemen’s Land Bushrangers by T. E. Wells being perhaps the first dedicated text on the subject. However, in recent years we have seen a new guard forming that is being largely driven by female authors and historians, whose unique perspectives on both an emotional and intellectual level have challenged long held beliefs and, in many cases, set the record straight by digging up information that has long been forgotten or ignored by their predecessors. The first signs of this shift in the 1970s when Margaret Carnegie wrote the first biography of Daniel Morgan, Morgan: The Bold Bushranger. It went beyond the oft-repeated hyperbole about how nasty Morgan was and returned to the source material with a fresh pair of eyes to sift through it all and get to the truth of the man rather than the infamous legend. Similarly, Dagmar Balcarek’s contributions in subsequent decades infused many bushranger stories with more feminine sensibilities and helped inject some life into what was seen at the time as stale and boring by many.
Here we will showcase some of the more notable individuals who are, at present, making a big impact on our understanding of some of the most notorious men (and women) in Australian history.
Carol Baxter is one of the most notable female historians where bushranging is concerned. Her biography of Frederick Wordsworth Ward and Mary Ann Bugg is the most definitive account to date, locking in place an understanding of the story derived from recorded facts rather than folklore and hearsay. This refusal to accept many of the long held assumptions and oral traditions has seen her looked down upon in some quarters, but respected by others. Baxter describes her situation succinctly on the website for her book:
I soon realised that the role of mediator had become my own. As a professional researcher, genealogist and historian, I had no personal connection to either Fred or Mary Ann and no pre-conceived ideas, prejudices or agendas. All I sought was the truth. And the truth was most surprising. Many of the well-known Thunderbolt and Mary Ann stories proved to be wrong. Utterly and unquestionably wrong. They were myths propagated by the ignorant and perpetuated by the gullible, and are still being voiced today – vociferously – by those with a personal, political or financial agenda.
Baxter’s background in genealogy has given her a knack for sniffing out information that is often overlooked or forgotten. Rather than regurgitating the same old stories about Thunderbolt that have done the pub circuit for 150 years, Baxter made an effort to find the truth of who the historical Ward and Bugg were. The result is a new understanding of these fascinating historical figures that has redefined how they are portrayed.
Not all librarians have a knack for writing, but in the case of Jane Smith it is certainly true. A desire to write children’s books cane to Smith after working with children in a library setting, resulting in her series of children’s non-fiction books on Australian bushrangers. Since then she has written a historical fiction series (Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy), and the definitive biography of Captain Starlight.
While most historians and authors have been more inclined to write about the Kellys, Ben Hall or Frank Gardiner, Smith’s decision to chronicle the life of the notorious Frank Pearson has gifted bushranger enthusiasts a detailed account of a frequently forgotten figure. The ability to put her resources to use in nailing down the narrative of a renowned conman, notable for his use of aliases, demonstrates her formidable prowess as a historian.
It is also important that so much of her work is aimed at younger audiences, as it reflects a desire to ensure these stories are kept alive into the future, which is essentially the purpose of historians and authors. In an interview with A Guide to Australian Bushranging, Smith explained what keeps her so engaged with researching and writing about bushrangers, and history in a broader sense:
I really enjoy history; I enjoy learning about how things were in the past and marvelling at the differences and similarities compared with life today. I think that knowing something of history is really important if you want to be a well-rounded human who can make informed decisions. When I was at school, however, I found history lessons boring. It seemed to me that history just meant memorising names and dates – and yet it’s so much more than that!
One of the most important things a historian must do is ask questions. In the case of Judy Lawson, her journey of exploration is a series of questions that started from one key query: did Tommy Clarke really murder the special constables in the Jingera Ranges?
This question resulted in her book The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures, which explores the crimes attributed to the Clarke bushrangers and the cultural context in which they arose. The discussion around the police murders raises more questions than answers, leaving the conclusion open for the reader to interpret rather than the author feeding their opinion as fact. By providing an alternative viewpoint on the crimes, Lawson has challenged the deeply held assumptions that have made the Clarkes a taboo subject in the Braidwood district for 150+ years.
The second edition of her book goes further, examining many of the other crimes attributed to the Clarkes and their associates in the same way, bringing readers to reassess their views. Ultimately, this was all born from encountering a depiction of events that contradicted the information that she had come upon herself independently. This assumption of guilt, combined with the assumption that the crimes were the result of some innate criminality, or simply the product of work-shy laggards who simply didn’t want to follow the rules proved irksome, and were motivations to set the record straight.
Today we can sit back in our climate controlled houses, complaining about our increasing weight while planning our next overseas trip and say well if they had lived an honest life they would not have had those dreadful things happen. But is that the answer? Can the events of the 1860s in Braidwood be attributed only the the fact that the boys were seen as dishonest? They were not in this class alone.
Judy Lawson, The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures
This assumption of guilt where many bushrangers are concerned has been all too common, but authors like Lawson are working hard to turn the tide.
Followers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging will be familiar with Georgina Stones, who has frequently contributed to the website and social media. Her work on Joe Byrne sheds light on parts of his story that had been overlooked or completely ignored by other historians, and has allowed Byrne’s story to be studied in much the same level of detail as Ned Kelly’s. Her ongoing project, An Outlaw’s Journal, is a mixture of her historical research and short stories based on, or inspired by, the recorded history. While this has, in some corners, attracted some level of controversy, Stones’ work does not shy away from some of the more taboo or risque aspects of Joe’s life and times. In her research she has uncovered some aspects of Joe’s early life not otherwise talked about such as his role as a witness in the murder case of Ah Suey, and his relationship to Ellen Salisbury.
Since then, Stones has also begun a second project titled Michael Howe: Governor of the Woods, which operates in much the same way as An Outlaw’s Journal. Her research has quickly redefined the way Howe is viewed, and is proving to be invaluable in learning the stories of his gang members, and the men that hunted them. Though the research is ongoing, the impact this has on our understanding of the early Tasmanian bushrangers is profound, and she has plans to release a book later this year.
Stones’ interest is firmly on peeling away the myths to uncover the forgotten histories of the bushrangers, but she is the first to admit that her age and gender play a significant role in how her work is perceived. During a live stream on A Guide to Australian Bushranging’s Facebook page she explained:
Sometimes I don’t think that we’re taken seriously for our work and I think we’re dismissed. I mean, I honestly believe sometimes that if I was a man perhaps some of my work might be taken a bit more seriously and I mightn’t be sometimes spoken down to as often as sometimes I am, which is a bit upsetting but true. I think people assume we are soft on these men, like because we’re females we’re just doe-eyed, but I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of the time people like Judy Lawson and Carol Baxter, the reason why they’ve been able to kind of shine a new light is because as females we can kind of… understand things a bit different and deeply than maybe what men sometimes do.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Thursday 12 May 1870, page 3
Power’s cub has been taken, though (states the Benalla Ensign) the old fox has up to the present managed to escape. It was hoped when the information reached here that Kelly was visible in his old whereabouts, that Power was not very far off, and superintendent Nicolas himself went to look after the prey. We purposely pass over the particulars ; but it came to pass that very early on Wednesday morning, while everybody else was sleeping, Mr. Nicolas, with sergeant Whelan and mounted-constables Arthur and Mullane, found themselves surrounding Mrs. Kelly’s shanty, about four miles on the Benalla side of Greta, on the Eleven Mile Creek, well armed with breech-loaders and revolvers, where they captured their quarry at daybreak, and conveyed him to the lock-up. The entrance of the escort into Benalla was quite imposing, the prisoner being surrounded by his captors, and every now and then a smile passed over his face as he recognised some one he knew. Prisoner has grown since he was last in the dock charged with robbing a Chinaman at the shanty, when the cunning of himself and mates got him off. On being lodged in the lock-up he became very moody in his old quarters, not relishing them at all, and appeared quite exhausted with the life he had been leading. He is very pale, and has learned to smoke while out at night with Power. It is well known that he professes not to care for his life, but we rather incline to think that, however well he might be armed, if he was met by a firm, bold man, equally well armed, he would give in. We hold the same opinion of Power, but might be mistaken. Kelly was brought up at the Police Court on Thursday morning, and two charges were preferred against him — the first for robbery in company, and the second for highway robbery under arms. Mr. Nicolas applied for a remand for a week, as he said it would be impossible for him to collect the evidence in a shorter time, and the application was granted, when it is to be hoped we may have the satisfaction of witnessing Power arraigned alongside the young man whose ruin he has sealed.
It is well known that the story of the Kelly Gang is the bushranging tale most often depicted in film (only rivalled by adaptations of Robbery Under Arms). Depictions of Ned Kelly in media are so numerous that it would be almost impossible for one person to document them all. Given less attention, however, are the other members of the gang. Of the three other gang members, only Joe Byrne’s story has been documented in any considerable detail. Byrne is generally considered to be Ned Kelly’s right hand man and most people only know his story as it relates to Ned Kelly. Joe is a mainstay of film adaptations of the Kelly saga, unlike his best mate Aaron Sherritt, and thus we have a wealth of sources to compare and evaluate.
Because of the sheer volume of Kelly movies dating back to the silent era, there is a daunting task in evaluating all of them in terms of their accuracy to history, so for the sake of this article we will only be looking at the four of the most recent examples:
* Ned Kelly (1970) featuring Mark McManus as Joe Byrne.
* The Last Outlaw (1980) featuring Steve Bisley as Joe Byrne.
* Ned Kelly (2003) featuring Orlando Bloom as Joe Byrne.
* True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) featuring Sean Keenan as Joe Byrne.
These portrayals will be reviewed based on how they are written and overall creative choices. This will allow us to see what works and what doesn’t in each version, based on common criteria. Given the number of portrayals that will be looked at, this will be a bit longer than most articles in this series.
Physical appearance and mannerisms
The 1970 depiction of Joe Byrne has a reasonably close physical resemblance to the historical Joe, however he is clearly a man in his thirties. McManus’ Joe has brown hair, a stubbly beard, and blue eyes. His clothing is quite odd. He favours worn down bush clothes with muted colours, as well as a big floppy hat and tall lace-up boots that appear to be 20th century army boots. After raiding the hawker’s wagon he wears a black hat, high heeled shoes, and light coloured plaid suit. He is also occasionally seen with a velvet waistcoat and a brown scarf. This Joe speaks with a nasally Irish brogue, and tends to range in temperament from high energy and playful, to snappy and brooding. He has a fondness for an old-fashioned pint of ale, but does not exhibit any other particular vices.
The 1980 Byrne is the most physically similar on the list to the historical Byrne. He has a long face with large, protruding ears, blue eyes, coppery hair, full beard and light moustache. Again, he looks to be in his early to mid thirties. This Joe favours more fashionable clothes in blues and browns, and is particularly fond of flares, high heeled boots with spurs, light coloured shirts and waistcoats. His signature item of clothing is a hat with a flat crown and very wide brim that curls slightly. He can also occasionally be spotted wearing a ring on his left hand. This interpretation of Joe speaks with a mongrel accent that is mostly Irish, but occasionally slips into something Australian. He is often quiet and thoughtful, though he has bursts of exuberance and joviality, and can be very passionate and hot-tempered. He is frequently seen smoking a pipe, and sometimes drinks liquor. At Euroa he nabs himself brown flares, a brown jacket and a blue waistcoat with brown lapels. He can speak Chinese and is seen to negotiate with a gold merchant.
Orlando Bloom’s Joe is very sober in appearance and manner. He appears to be the right age, with dark brown eyes, a mop of curly black hair and wispy black facial hair. This Joe is seen briefly wearing a sort of Homburg hat, and usually favours fashionably cut clothes in black and dark greys with cowboy boots. During the Euroa robbery he sports a light grey tweed suit, which gives him a much friendlier appearance. At Glenrowan he favours black garb, a long greatcoat and a white knitted scarf. He is occasionally spotted wearing a large silver ring with a black stone set in it. He rarely smokes or drinks, and generally has a quiet, melancholic temperament when not trying to seduce women, to whom he seems to be irresistible. He can speak Chinese, and uses it to seduce a Chinese servant. He talks softly with an Irish brogue, but prefers to stay quiet.
In the 2019 interpretation, Joe is presented at first as a highly excitable dullard, and possibly homosexual, speaking with a broad Australian accent. This continues to be the case throughout the production, but he becomes increasingly prone to nervous breakdowns and zoning out. After the Stringybark Creek incident he tries to convince Ned to escape to America with him so they can eat donuts. He smokes opium almost constantly and is occasionally shown to be so completely stoned that an ember landing in his eye doesn’t register to him. Keenan strongly resembles the historical Joe physically, excepting his long, blonde hair. In terms of clothing, nothing he wears is period accurate. He is shown wearing a brown duffle coat and chinos, or tight shorts, cowboy boots, an Akubra and a cardigan with no shirt underneath. At Glenrowan he wears a pink dress with black and white face paint. He tends not to get involved much in Ned’s scheming, except at Stringybark Creek where he tries to dissuade Ned from attacking the police camp. His temperament generally ranges from childlike enthusiasm to haunted and morose.
The real Joe Byrne was only in his early twenties when he became mixed up with Ned Kelly. He stood just shy of six feet tall, and was well-built with long, delicate features, large ears, pale blue eyes, coppery coloured hair and usually wore a full beard and wispy moustache. He favoured fashionable clothing, especially flared trousers, high-heeled boots and was known to wear a felt hat with the crown turned down. At Euroa he scored a new outfit of elastic-sided boots, brown trousers with matching waistcoat, a grey coat, black tie and a Rob Roy shirt. Occasionally he was seen wearing long boots with long-necked spurs. At Glenrowan he wore brown trousers and waistcoat, a great striped Crimean shirt, blue sack coat and a tattered scarf. He notably wore rings taken from Constables Lonigan and Scanlan. In terms of personality, he could be warm and friendly, usually quiet and reserved, and was known to be very tender with women. On the flip side, he could be quick to rage and became violently angry when pushed. He smoked tobacco frequently, and was known to be addicted to whiskey and opium. Some reports describe him having a peculiar swagger when he walked. Like most young men of his generation, he spoke with an Australian accent and used Australian slang (the accent has been recorded as far back as the 1850s). He spoke in a “clipped” fashion, which probably meant that he tended to drop letters off words (eg. drinkin’, smokin’), or spoke in short bursts.
Relationship with Aaron Sherritt
Perhaps the most important part of Joe’s life was his relationship with Aaron Sherritt, his lifelong mate. It was his connection to Sherritt that stood to potentially jeopardise the gang’s freedom and liberty.
In the 1970 film, Joe and Aaron have just gotten out of prison and are looking for work. Their relationship is clearly one of two friends who are joined at the hip. When together they seem to have boundless energy and muck around. When Joe learns of Aaron’s betrayal he does not hesitate to assume Aaron has sold him out in order to afford new clothes. There is no internal conflict about what to do to him.
Aaron and Joe in The Last Outlaw are more like brothers. Joe trusts Aaron completely, and it takes a great deal of convincing to get him to accept Aaron’s betrayal. When he does, it boils over into an unquenchable hatred. In this version it is clear that Aaron is trying to confuse the police to help his mates, with Joe being in on it. This serves to make the collapse of their relationship all the more tragic and accurate.
The 2003 iteration has much the same dynamic as the 1970 one, except that Aaron and Joe have been friends with Ned since they were teens so it is more of a three-hander. Joe doesn’t appear to be any closer to Aaron than anyone else. The revelation that Aaron has betrayed them simply makes Joe sad, and he is left questioning why he did it.
In True History of the Kelly Gang Aaron Sherritt is never included, which only serves to push Joe further into the background and make things all the more about Ned.
In reality, Joe and Aaron had known each other since they were very young. They were pretty much inseparable from that time, and did everything together. They both worked with Ned stealing horses, but for some unknown reason only Joe was present at Stringybark Creek. However, Aaron vitally provided shelter and protection in the immediate aftermath, then acted as a double agent to keep the police distracted while the gang moved around. It is probable that Joe knew of this in some regard, which is why he tested Aaron’s loyalty repeatedly when faced with rumours of his treachery. This makes Joe’s anger and subsequent willingness to murder Aaron make more sense, for such a betrayal would have had far more meaning.
Meeting Ned Kelly
The first time Joe met Ned Kelly is a mystery. There is much speculation, but it remains simply that.
In the 1970 film, Joe and Aaron meet Ned at the sawmill where he works when they are fresh out of gaol and looking for jobs. Immediately the trio have a rapport, with Ned declaring that despite there being a lack of work he had best look out for his own kind, suggesting that he will find jobs for them. Indeed, later on we see Joe shifting lumber at the sawmill when Constable Fitzpatrick arrives to question Ned about his brother.
This is almost identical to the how the meeting is depicted in The Last Outlaw. Where this version differs is that Joe and Aaron are introduced to Ned by his brother Jim, the three of them having supposedly just come out of gaol. This time the sawmill is packing up to go to Gippsland, so instead they then join Ned in mining for gold and Joe teaches him how to build sluices.
In the 2003 film we do not see the meeting, Ned is already a friend of Joe and Aaron, demonstrated by the three of them napping together under a tree in the very first scene of the film. Joe and Aaron are next seen waiting for Ned as he leaves gaol. It is indicated that Joe is a family friend and has been checking in on Ned’s family while he was in gaol. There is no indication that they worked together.
In the 2019 film, we first see Joe when he is working as Ned’s boxing promoter. He collects the bets and hypes up Ned’s boxing match, calling him a “dancing monkey” to get him revved up. It is clear that there is a strong bond between the two.
Of course, this is an area of history that is unrecorded, so to write about the meeting is pure speculation. That said, there is no indication in any recorded history that Joe or Aaron ever worked with Ned at a sawmill, and as Ned was only ever involved in one boxing match we know of, which took place before he knew Joe, it is unlikely he would have needed a promoter. Moreover, the earliest that we know of Joe and Aaron being associated with Ned is 1877, when they helped him steal, shift and sell horses. However, Joe and Aaron could have met Ned as early as 1876, when they were in court at Beechworth on the same day as Dan Kelly, meaning they may have waited in the holding cell together. Ned was present as a witness for Dan, so this may have provided am opportunity for their paths to cross. We will never know for sure, but we can guess based on available information, and on that level The Last Outlaw gets the closest to the truth on this point.
In True History of the Kelly Gang, Joe is frequently seen smoking opium from a special pipe (seemingly a 19th century Chinese water pipe). The historical Joe’s opium habit is well known. He is often described as an opium addict, though the extent to which he used the drug is unknown. What is known is that he sourced it from the Chinese in Sebastopol, which is where he was spotted buying it by a police spy. Of course, to suggest that Joe smoked it very occasionally as a recreational drug would not have fitted with the grim and gritty story Justin Kurzel wanted to portray, so this version of Joe is rarely straight.
None of the other productions even hint at opium use. At most we see Joe smoking tobacco from a pipe or perhaps a cigar. It could reasonably be argued that this was entirely down to content standards for film and television in the ’70s and ’80s, but as the opium use was not well known at that time it may have simply been that it wasn’t considered. As for the 2003 film, no doubt it was about not only time constraints, but also the connotations that come with a main character using narcotics.
In the 1970 film, Joe is never shown mingling with the opposite sex. There is no indication of any romance at all.
In The Last Outlaw and the 2003 film, his love life is portrayed rather accurately. In the former he visits his girlfriend at night at the Vine Hotel in Beechworth where she is employed as a maid. Though here her name is Helen, in all other respects she is identical to the historical Joe’s girlfriend. In the 2003 film his girlfriend is a barmaid named Maggie who he occasionally visits. In both portrayals she is the one that convinces him Aaron is betraying him. In reality, Joe’s girlfriend was indeed known as Maggie, though this was supposed to have been a pseudonym, and her supplying of information to Joe about Aaron proved important to what eventuated only a few days later in the lead up to the Glenrowan siege.
Where the 2003 film veers from known history is in Joe’s promiscuity. He is portrayed as a lothario who can pick up any woman he wants. He seduces Mrs. Scott at Euroa and Julia’s servant girl when he is in the bath. Though there are accounts of Joe’s life that state he was popular with the ladies, who gave him pet names like Sugar and Little Birdy, there were no definitive sources that claimed he went from pub to pub seducing barmaids or anything of that sort. It is reasonable to suggest he had romantic dalliances with women like Mary Jordan, a barmaid near Jerilderie, and Ellen Byron, his teenage sweetheart who was also a sympathiser, but it is only speculation.
The 2019 film it is heavily implied he is either in a romantic relationship with Ned Kelly or desires to be. Their physical intimacy in particular is on the nose in this regard.
In 1877, Ned Kelly set about getting back at the squatters who he had taken exception to, stealing their horses and selling them over the border for profit. This is usually a staple of adaptations of the story to film, but not always.
In the 1970 film, Joe and Aaron are eager participants, joining Ned and his stepfather George King in the trade. In one scene we see Ned negotiate horse prices with William Baumgarten by playing a match of hop-step-jump in the rain. Joe and Aaron eagerly act as adjudicators, measuring the distances. They also stick with Ned after King departs, helping him paint horses so they appear piebald in order to disguise them for sale.
In The Last Outlaw there are more people helping out with the horse stealing racket, including Wild Wright, Tom Lloyd, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. This portion of the story is portrayed as if it were a great adventure with the men frequently sitting around in camp talking about how what they are doing is an affront to their enemies from high society. Eventually everyone leaves apart from Ned, Joe and George King, though King eventually does part ways with them on a river boat. Oddly, we see very little of the actual stealing and selling of horses.
The 2003 film portrays the horse stealing through a montage, where the horses are taken at night and sold discreetly. It is very similar to the sequence in the 1970 film, but instead of a jaunty, cheeky vibe there is more of a sense that this is an uplifting moment. The horse stealing is conducted by Ned, Joe, Aaron, Dan and Steve, as George King is not featured in this film.
In the 2019 film the horse stealing is conducted by George King, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. Joe is uninvolved. Instead, while the thievery is going on Joe is mostly camping with Ned and getting stoned.
This is the part of the history where we get our confirmation of Joe and Aaron being associated with Ned. Aaron would later brag about their exploits to Superintendent Hare. At this time Joe used the alias Billy King, which was at one time misreported as George King.
The 1970 and 2019 films don’t spend a lot of time at Stringybark Creek. The former presents it as a musical sequence, the latter reduces it to a couple of minutes rampage with dizzying camera work. Neither of these does a good job of portraying Joe’s involvement.
When one takes time to break down the Stringybark sequence of the 1970 film we see Joe portrayed as Ned’s follower, but also somewhat twitchy and uncertain. He is shown shooting Scanlan with a rifle as the constable struggles to get to his feet. This is obviously Ian Jones’ influence as it was he that championed the notion that Joe was the one that killed Scanlan. By the time Ned brings Kennedy down, we see that Joe is particularly disturbed by the turn of events and appears quite rattled. It is Joe who tries to convince Ned to leave the sergeant to die, clearly afraid to remain at the site of such a horrific crime. As far as appearances are concerned, Joe is here presented as disheveled and wearing a waistcoat and shirtsleeves, and no hat, which is a far cry from how he presented to Constable McIntyre.
The 1980 miniseries took time to build up to Stringybark, showing Joe joining Ned and following him to the police camp out of loyalty. Joe also hands tea to a visibly shaken McIntyre, which is accurate. In fact, McIntyre made a point of noting Joe’s kindness to him in order to emphasise the point that despite treating the constable with apparent empathy, when it came down to it Joe was willing to kill the man in order to demonstrate his loyalty to Ned. Once again, Joe is depicted landing the killing blow on Scanlan, this time with a pistol. This is later used to suggest that Joe continuing to stay with Ned is because he murdered one of the police, despite there being no difference in the eyes of the law at the time between one of the gang killing, or all of them. According to McIntyre’s evidence, Scanlan was shot by Ned Kelly, causing him to fall from his horse with blood pouring from under his arm. This is consistent with the wound identified as having brought about his death due to puncturing both lungs. In this case, even if Joe had fired one of the two other shots that hit Scanlan, which struck his hip and shoulder, it was still Ned Kelly that killed him. It would seem that Ian Jones preferred the idea of Joe killing one of the police in order to take some of the heat off Ned and help reinforce his own bias against Joe.
In the 2003 film, Joe follows Ned’s lead, as in the other depictions, but does not exhibit any notable compassion or kindness towards McIntyre. His head is very much in the game, and it seems that he and Ned are both calling the shots. Joe does not exhibit any remorse or fear, but rather a steely determination. He is armed with a snub-nosed revolver, which is a far cry from the old fashioned rifle with a large bore that McIntyre described him with. When Kennedy and Scanlan arrive, Joe engages in the gunfight with complete coolness, but notably doesn’t actually shoot anyone.
True History of the Kelly Gang shows Joe trying to convince Ned to go around the police, but to no effect. We also see him immediately traumatised by the violence Ned inflicts on the police, breaking down in tears and sobbing. It seems that in this incarnation, Joe was the only gang member with any empathy. The sequence is so fleeting that there is not much to pick from it.
The Euroa sequence in the 1970 film is played as a farce, with jaunty music and comedic, campy moments played up for effect. One example of this is the gang in sped up footage walking around behind a hawker’s wagon then emerging out of the other side fully dressed in new clothes. In this depiction Joe and Ned go to the bank alone and while Joe is emptying the drawers and the safe, Ned bails up the manager and his family. This is a very amusing sequence, but only resembles the history in broad brushstrokes.
The Last Outlaw remains the most accurate depiction of Euroa, with only very minor details that stray from recorded fact, including Joe’s new outfit which was almost completely different from the one depicted. Notably, we see Joe guarding the prisoners at Younghusband’s Station on his own while some of the men inside conspire to break free, which is correct. Joe remains fairly quiet throughout proceedings, which is also accurate, though we don’t see him interact with Mrs. Fitzgerald as he did in reality. Overall, there is nothing especially deserving of criticism in this depiction.
In the 2003 film, however, Joe is present at the bank during the robbery. In fact, he even manages to seduce Mrs. Scott in the process. The gang’s use of Younghusband’s Station as a headquarters is entirely omitted, and many of the moments portrayed are incorrect, but it still maintains a sense of the farcical nature of the raid that was embodied in the 1970 film.
True History of the Kelly Gang completely omits the Euroa robbery from the story. It is possible this was due to time constraints, but given the importance of the robbery in the story, its absence is important. It was during the Euroa robbery that Steve Hart was finally identified as one of the gang members, Joe having been named a short time prior after the connection to Aaron Sherritt had been established (the gang having visited him shortly after the police killings and made their presence known with gunshots). It was this event that began to change perceptions of the gang in the public eye.
In all productions Jerilderie is delivered in a truncated form. As this event took place over multiple days, it would take considerable time to portray all aspects of the affair on screen.
In the 1970 film, Jerilderie is presented as part of the musical montage, resuming after a brief narrative pause. Here we see the entire gang in police uniforms and it is Ned and Joe who rob the bank in disguise as policemen. We also see Ned and Joe take the gang’s horses to the blacksmith. Throughout the sequence Joe remains quiet except for when bailing up the bank manager in his bath.
Once again, The Last Outlaw nails this sequence. It is almost exactly as it happened, albeit in a streamlined depiction that leaves details out. We see Joe getting the gang’s horses shod by the blacksmith and charging the work to the government account, as well as assisting Ned in scoping out the town dressed in a police uniform. Joe is also the one that initiates the bank robbery after entering through a side door, which is correct given that the Jerilderie bank was connected by a corridor to the pub where the gang were holding their prisoners. In this scene, Joe is very much in command until Ned arrives to take over. As the events unfold, Joe seems to be enjoying the escapade immensely. When we see the gang taking breakfast, and Ned makes a point of emptying the bathtub, we see Joe pulling faces at the children in the background. This flash of silliness is clearly a creative choice by Bisley, and not based on anything from history, though it is amusing.
The 2003 film cuts out nearly the entire Jerilderie raid, keeping it confined to a single scene in the middle of robbing the bank. The townsfolk are being held prisoner in the bank while Joe clears out the cash. After Steve pinches Reverend Gribble’s watch, Ned makes Joe begin to transcribe the letter he wishes to send to Premier Berry in Melbourne. Thus, Joe is relegated to little more than Ned Kelly’s PA in this scene. Apart from the odd nod to moments that happened, this sequence is completely inaccurate.
In True History of the Kelly Gang, Jerilderie is a moment of absolute absurdity. Beyond it being in the snow, and the bank being attached to the printing office, we see a group of pallbearers inexplicably carrying a coffin past the scene, as Joe, dressed in hotpants and a sheepskin jacket and not much else, writhes around on the ground. To state the obvious, there is no resemblance to history in this depiction.
Aaron Sherritt’s betrayal is a mainstay of most interpretations of the story, as his murder is one of the few major crimes actually committed by the gang.
In the 1970 film, Aaron is caught out when Joe spots him spying on his mother’s house with police. It takes no further convincing to get this version of Joe to turn, and he bitterly states that it explains all his new clothes. This truncated version works for the limited runtime, but there’s something a bit empty about how overly simplified it is.
In 1980, however, the betrayal is built up more, culminating in Joe being informed by his girlfriend that Aaron was with a policeman in he pub where she works. This moment is played melodramatically with turbulent wind and intense music while Joe scowls and thrashes around in fury. He announces that the “bastard Sherritt” has got to die. Up to this stage Joe had been reluctant to believe Aaron would betray the gang and was acting as a double agent. This is much closer to the history but requires time to play out, which the mini series format luckily allowed.
The 2003 version depicts Aaron’s betrayal as a result of police brutality. Again, Joe’s girlfriend is the one to tell Joe that he’s up to something. Joe and Ned inform Aaron that they are going to rob the bank in Beechworth and then wait to see if police arrive. When they do, the outlaws know Aaron is the traitor and decide he has to die.
True History of the Kelly Gang, because it omits Aaron entirely, loses this vital part of the story. It was Aaron’s death, or at least the gang causing a scene at Aaron’s hut, that was to lure the police out on a special train. By removing Aaron and the rest of the sympathisers, the 2019 film completely changes the dynamic that drove the escalation in the gang’s activities.
In reality, Aaron had been working with both sides. Assisting the police paid his bills, but also gave him an opportunity to keep the police distracted so that the gang could move around undetected. Aaron actually had an agreement with the chief commissioner that if he could get Joe to turn himself in, and betray the other three, then Joe’s life would be spared. Joe frequently tested Aaron’s loyalty, in a manner very similar to that shown in the 2003 film, but as in the 1980 and 2003 depictions, it was Maggie telling Joe about Aaron’s betrayal that sealed the deal.
Murder of Sherritt and Glenrowan
1970’s depiction of the murder of Sherritt is abrupt, to say the least. We see Aaron in his hut with his head on his wife’s lap, the mother-in-law nearby, when there comes the knock at the door. We hear, “It’s Anton Week; I’ve lost my way,” then Aaron gets up and answers the door. Aaron jokingly asks Anton if he’s lost and then after a confused “Ja,” we see a shotgun poke out from under the German’s arm and blast Aaron in the chest. Aaron falls wordlessly and Joe sprints away into the night.
At Glenrowan, Joe arrives in the morning and informs Ned that Aaron is dead. His demeanour throughout the sequence is more boredom than grief, only perking up during the dances. He is depicted in the same costume that he has worn for most of the film, with an oilskin over the top. We barely see anything of him throughout and when it gets to the final shootout it becomes difficult to keep track of which one he is due to the darkness and the fact that his costume looks almost identical to Ned’s.
The Last Outlaw fares much better in both the murder and the Glenrowan depictions. The scene in Aaron’s hut matches the historical account almost exactly. Aaron opens the door to direct Anton home when Joe pushes the German away and blasts Aaron twice in the chest. Aaron falls silently (but dramatically) and Joe grabs his wife, Belle, and orders Dan be let in from the other door. All of this is almost to the letter. There is a brief moment of Joe trying to get the police out of the bedroom, and the scene ends with Joe firing into the ceiling and ordering the police out. The sequence has obviously been truncated for pacing reasons, but the way the scene ends is a little bizarre and very melodramatic. As far as historical accuracy goes, it remains faithful enough to the reality that it conveys an authentic, if not entirely accurate, representation of what happened.
Joe and Dan are depicted as arriving at Glenrowan some time in the middle of the day. Joe is morose and haunted, quickly downing whiskey to steady his nerves. The only thing that is wide of the mark is that we don’t really see Joe interacting with Ann Jones or engaging in the dancing. When it comes to the siege, we see a reckless and defiant Joe in action. He seems to be fuelled by liquid courage and anger. He is shot in the leg and falls against the outer wall before being transferred inside. Once inside his movement is unrestricted and he merely limps slightly to get around. In reality, Joe’s wound was severe enough that he could only crawl to get around.
The 2003 depiction of Sherritt’s murder is highly fanciful, without any clear motivation as to why. Aaron is shown losing at cards to the police in his hut before going to bed with his pregnant (thirteen year-old!) wife. A flutey voice is heard in the night calling for Aaron and the police surmise it is one of his “whores”. When Aaron goes out he is confronted by Joe on a distant hill dressed in unconvincing drag. Joe shoots Aaron in the chest with a shotgun and leaves him dead in the mud before rejoining Ned on horseback.
At Glenrowan, Joe is stern and business-like, as in the Jerilderie scene. He is dressed in a long grey overcoat, and white crocheted scarf, reminiscent of how the historical Joe was dressed while remaining distinctly unique to this interpretation. Joe discovers that Thomas Curnow has escaped and raises the alarm to Ned. Obviously this is a huge divergence from history as Curnow had been allowed to go home by Ned personally, and Joe had been with him at the time. When the siege unfolds, Joe goes from nervous to hysterical with terror, giggling when the circus monkey is shot, to absolutely traumatised. He staggers around with not an ounce of fight left in him.
True History of the Kelly Gang’s overly stylised depiction of Glenrowan has almost no resemblance to reality, least of all in the depiction of Joe. Here Joe walks around in a lacy pink dress with black and white warpaint, his long hair partly tied back and a durry hanging limp from his lips. He bosses Thomas Curnow around and acts as Ned’s enforcer. As Ned prepares for battle, it is Joe that gaffa tapes Ned’s memoirs to his bare torso and kisses him. When the gang realise that the train hasn’t crashed, they retreat to the inn and Joe vomits on the floor in terror. For some reason they never don the bulletproof armour and they all are quickly drenched in blood (though it is unclear where from).
Joe Byrne’s death is well recorded thanks to witness accounts. At around 5:30am on 28 June 1880, Joe toasted the Kelly Gang and was almost immediately after killed by a bullet to the groin. He bled out and was dead almost immediately.
In the 1970 film, Joe gets thirsty after ducking around the bullet-riddled bar room. He pops up to grab a drink and is shot by a tracker. He mumbles, “oh, shit,” and falls. What ought to be a serious moment ends with an odd comical note.
In The Last Outlaw, Joe hobbles to the bar and pours a drink. Ned appears in the doorway and Joe responds in awe, as if this was a sign they were saved. He aggressively toasts the gang and a barrage of bullets strikes him. He awkwardly slumps to the floor as Ned dramatically screams his name. Later we see Father Gibney find his corpse.
In the 2003 film, Joe, as in the 1970 version, takes a break to have a drink. However, in this version Joe is clearly rattled by the carnage around him and wanders through the bar with a thousand yard stare. He pours his drink and leans back only to have the glass explode from a bullet and then cop a bullet through the gap in his armour. There is no toast. He stares in bewilderment then slides awkwardly down the bar and dies.
The 2019 film never actually shows Joe dying. We see him drenched in blood, whose is never made clear, and he abuses Ned for getting them into the situation. That is the last we see of him before the inn goes up in flames.
It wasn’t until 1980 that any production attempted to recreate Joe Byrne’s body being displayed for photographers and onlookers at Benalla police station. Steve Bisley’s costume is almost 100% accurate, and his posing is as close to that visible in the photographs as we are likely to see. The recreation of the lockup is pitch perfect, and the whole scene with the onlookers and the photographer is, again, as accurate as you are ever likely to see in a recreation. Helen rushes through the crowd and stares in horror at the two-day-old corpse of her lover. The makeup accurately depicts the discolouration and scorch marks that are partly visible in the historical images. It is impossible to find a reasonable fault in the way this scene was portrayed.
Though a similar scene was planned for the 2003 film, True History of the Kelly Gang is when we next see a display of Joe’s body. However, in this version he is roped to a tree while poncho-clad police pose next to the corpse as if for a camera. If any attempt at historical accuracy had been employed in the costumes and location, no doubt this could have been a very impactful shot, but it is hampered by the fact that the only aspect of this that is accurate is that the body was strung up for photographs.
If it comes down to a matter of ranking the portrayals, the above criteria must all be factored in. Ultimately, there is yet to be a fully accurate depiction of Joe Byrne, encompassing his personality, appearance and the facts of his life with attention to complete historical accuracy, which is a shame.
Ned Kelly (1970) – 3/5
Mostly accurate on a very basic level, but the characterisation is so superficial as to miss nearly all of Joe’s personality including his sense of style, his hedonism, and gift for language. Instead we only see the boyish, larrikin aspect of Joe, which is oddly lacking in most other depictions.
The Last Outlaw (1980): 4/5
This remains the best on-screen Joe. Bisley resembles the historical Joe closely in appearance and personality. However, this Joe is played fairly safe, with his alcoholism and drug use notably absent. The decision to portray him as the murderer of Constable Scanlan is problematic, but not egregious enough to damage an otherwise fairly accurate depiction of Joe’s outlaw career.
Ned Kelly (2003): 3/5
This version of Joe goes to pains to portray him as sombre, intelligent, and a lothario. There are many notable inaccuracies in the portrayal, such as his relationship with Ned pre-dating Ned’s prison sentence, and dressing as a woman to lure Aaron Sherritt to his doom. When the odd historically accurate detail appears it almost seems accidental, yet it happens enough to give some degree of merit to the portrayal.
True History of the Kelly Gang (2019): 1/5
The only things stopping this getting a zero are the inclusion of Joe’s opium use and Sean Keenan’s engaging performance and physical resemblance to the real Joe. Everything else from the inexplicable costumes, to this version’s apparent obsession with donuts, is so far off the mark that the character could go by any other name and nobody would recognise it as an attempt to portray Joe Byrne. The fact that any resemblance to the real Joe is apparently accidental would otherwise be enough that it should not even rate a mention as a portrayal of Joe Byrne. A horribly squandered opportunity to utilise a superb casting choice to portray this historical figure accurately.
Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1881, page 1
THE POLICE COMMISSION AT GRETA.
[BY OUR SPECIAL REPORTER.]
The royal commission appointed to inquire into the working of the police department concluded their task of taking evidence at Benalla on Friday night. On the following morning an early start was made for Greta, the party being conveyed in three two-horse waggonettes. The morning being fine, the drive proved a most enjoyable one. We drove over a tolerably good bush road to the north of Winton, and did not stop until we arrived in the locality of Seven-mile Creek, in front of the land occupied by Mrs. Kelly, the mother of the deceased out-laws. It is an allotment of 68 acres, pleasantly situated on a well grassed flat, the Warby ranges rising not far off in the back-ground. Immediately fronting the road are the ruins of a slab shanty that at one time did duty us an unlicensed bush public house. Within the larger enclosure a small plot of ground is securely fenced, and is carefully cultivated as a kitchen garden. This appears to be the only cultivation going on. The house in which the Kelly family live is a slab hut of small dimensions. It is roughly built, but, like thousands of its class, it is well calculated to afford all the shelter and convenience required by its bush occupants. In front of the door a domesticated kangaroo was browsing ; a few fowls, a cow and a horse in the distance, appeared to be all the livestock on the ground.
Mr. Graves and Mr. Anderson went to the house and knocked at the door. Their summons was answered by Mrs. Kelly, who has been liberated from gaol for some eight weeks. They told her that they had called to ask her if she or any members of her family wished to make any statement to the commission, as they were quite prepared to hear their complaints if they had any to make. They told her that it had come to their knowledge that the female members of the family had complained of the conduct of the police, and if they desired to prefer any such complaint the commission would hear it. Mrs. Kelly replied that her daughters, Grace and Kate, would tell the commission how they had been treated. After some delay Grace came forward, but owing to an awkward shyness, not unnatural to a girl of 14 in her station of life, she was unable to make any statement. Mr. Longmore and Mr. Graves went into the hut and endeavored to put the girl at her ease. Her mother asked her to relate what Ned Kelly had told her as his last request to repeat to the authorities. The girl, then, after some hesitation, said that Inspector Brook Smith had dragged her and her sister out of their beds and made them go before them (the police), while they searched the place, their object being, to protect themselves against any sudden onslaught of the bushrangers. She further stated that Inspector Brook Smith had wantonly upset dishes of milk, a bag of flour, and had torn down the wall paper without reason or provocation. Mr. Longmore then asked the mother if any of the police had made improper overtures to any of her daughters, and was answered in the negative. Grace further said that Detective Ward had threatened to shoot her if she did not tell where her brothers were. Some words passed as to the question of Mrs. Kelly selling out. She stated that she would be willing to sell out and go to another district, but there was some difficulty about the title. The interview closed, and the two commissioners retired. There are some very young children about the premises, the offspring of Mrs. Kelly. Grace Kelly is not a prepossessing girl, though her sister Kate is said to be tolerably good looking. Mrs. Kelly is a woman who might very well pass for 40, and if she were well dressed, for even less. Her hair is jet black : she has a good color, regular features and by no means a bad figure. There is, notwithstanding, a restless and furtive movement in her dark and somewhat small eyes, and a worn expression creases her face at intervals, showing that the calamities that have overtaken her have left their shadows of sorrow. Kate Kelly, who was said to be in the house, did not make her appearance.
Before leaving this part of the sketch it is advisable to say a word or two about the position of the allotment held by Mrs. Kelly. If it was not chosen for its many advantages, it has happened that good fortune gave the late outlaws a situation that was admirably suited to serve the purposes of their vocation. They had an allotment on a flat piece of land where they could watch the approach of anyone coming ; they were within a few minutes’ ride of two intricate and almost inaccessible ranges of hills; they could reach the hills after a short ride, going to almost any point of the compass ; they had all the back country on which to operate, and for a market they had New South Wales to reach, which was only a long day’s ride ; they were within easy riding distance of Mansfield, Myrtleford, Everton, Beechworth, Wangaratta, Glenrowan, Benalla, Violet Town, Euroa, Longwood, Avenel and Mangalore. These advantages were used with perhaps as much skill as could be employed by any set of uncultivated bushmen. This Alpine country, with its rugged and inaccessible hills, intricate ranges, its numerous caves and its many swamps, may at any time become the retreat of a class of criminals who either wish to escape from the officers of the law or to lead lives of open lawlessness. The commission left Mrs. Kelly’s selection and drove on through what is known as the Gap to Greta. This place can hardly be called a village. It has one public house, a store, and one or two other places of business. There are four mounted constables stationed here.
After a short stay the commission drove on towards Glenrowan, leaving the long Greta swamp on the right hand at some distance from the road. It has been settled now beyond a doubt that the outlaws spent many months of undisturbed repose in the quiet retreats afforded by the islands in this swamp. The tall reeds make it impossible to see men at any distance beyond a few yards. In some places a horse can travel without being seen until you actually come upon it. The gang acted upon the plan of never remaining twenty-four hours in the same place, and whenever they were seen by accident they put long distances between the place where they were observed and their next resting-place. They had no horses with them ; they were always left with friends or blood relations. They slept by day and travelled by night. Although they changed their quarters frequently, there can be no doubt they spent the major part of their eighteen months’ liberty within six hours’ ride of Greta. They changed from the ranges to the swamps, and vice versa. The advantages of this plan were obvious enough. They were near their faithful blood relations, without whose assistance and information they could not have lived, and they were in a country every intricate nook of which they were familiarly acquainted with. Many and many a night the members of the Kelly family turned out from the several places where they assembled, and, with their half-dozen dogs, dislodged the police who were lying in ambush under cover near their houses. Of course they never made themselves offensive to the police, but they came upon them, chaffed them, and allowed that they knew perfectly well where they were. This made further watching for the time futile. In the matter of search, again, it is well known that the gang had better opportunities for watching the police than the police had for searching after them. In addition to their being advised of every movement of the police, Ned Kelly always carried a powerful field glass. On one occasion when Mr. Hare and his party were in the Glenrowan Ranges, Ned and his men were on the opposite slopes. The police could never tell at a long distance what men they might be looking at, but the bushrangers could always make a very shrewd guess as to whether men they saw were police or not.
The party arrived at Glenrowan station at a tolerably early hour in the day. The primary object of the visit was to ascertain if Mr. O’Connor had any special qualifications entitling him to be promoted over the heads of several deserving officers in the force, who have striven hard for several years to distinguish themselves. The commission were advised that if Mr. O’Connor were promoted or appointed over the heads of other Victorian officers it would create intense jealousy and dissatisfaction, even if the effect were not the demoralisation of the force. It has been pointed out that Sergeant Steele, Sergeant Whelan, Senior-constable Kelly and other sub-officers distinguished themselves, and that the effect of placing a stranger over their heads would have a most dispiriting effect, unless the person so appointed had special qualifications of such a character that all the sub-officers would have to admit his superior claims. The immediate object of the commission was to solve this question. Though some evidence was taken, the major portion of the work done was to go over the scene of the contest, and by a series of observations and questions fight the battle over again. The more the plan of the gang is examined the more is its diabolical cunning and cruelty seen. The soundness of Kelly’s judgment in going to the station at all may be questioned. Had the gang remained in ambush at the point where they intended to wreck the train, made prisoners of all they saw, and cut the line themselves, the success of their scheme was almost certain. Just before the curved embankment, over which the train was to have been wrecked, is reached, a curved cutting has to be passed through, and even the precaution of using the pilot engine would not have saved the party. The pilot only ran about two yards ahead of the police train, and as the curve in the line would have hidden the lights of the pilot from view the rear train would have been too near to the scene of the first accident to be able to pull up when the disaster was discovered. Both engines would have shot over the bank, one after the other. The mode adopted by Mr. Curnow in warning the police of this awful trap was as clever as it was brave. To avoid being seen by the gang, he went some distance along the line, and, before displaying the light, he got down a deep cutting through which the train had to pass. According to the evidence of Reardon, a platelayer, as given on Saturday, as soon as Kelly heard the train stop in the distance, he remarked at once, “This is that —— Curnow’s work.” Mr. Hare pointed out on Saturday the exact spot on which he stood when he was shot by Ned Kelly — within a few yards of the point of the house. Mr. Hare passed through the wicket-gate on the side of the railway, and being the first on the ground, became a conspicuous object for the gang to fire at. From that moment the fight became a work of earnestness. Senior-sergeant Kelly took up the work, and carried it on with energy till Mr. Sadleir came from Benalla. The trench in which Mr. O’Connor stood was examined, and found to be quite up to the terse description of a constable on the previous day, “a safe place!” At the same time it is only fair to say that the position commanded the front of the house. The plan of attack proves, on examination, to be a gross mistake. The surrounding of the house by a cordon of police, all of whom were allowed to carry on independent file firing, was an error of judgment, as the firing to the centre involved the necessity of the police practically firing at one another. How they all escaped is a miracle. The corrugated plates of the roof of the hotel are lying about in all directions, and there is not one of them that is not riddled with shot, showing that the firing must have been “high.” The relic-mongers have cut away parts of the fence and niches out of the trees to get the bullets, while they have neglected the riddled iron plates of the roof. The evidence given on Saturday went to confirm previous evidence, and showed clearly that the men, after receiving a general order to surround the house, were left to their own devices. Sergeant Steele pointed out the tree from which he started to attack Ned Kelly alone, and before he was joined by his comrades. He also showed the place where the outlaw fell after being shot in the groin by him (Steele).
After examining the site of the fight thoroughly, the commission proceeded to examine witnesses. Mounted-constable Wm. Canny was examined, but his evidence was not of much importance. James Reardon, a railway laborer, described how he had been imprisoned on the Sunday by the outlaws, and how he was obliged to take part in breaking up the line with a man named Sullivan. At that time Kelly said he had shot a lot of police at Beechworth, and threatened to shoot witness if he did not do as he was told. He (witness) said Hart was drunk on Sunday. The others refused drinks several times, though they were under the influence of drink to some extent. Towards the evening they got more sober. There was no chance of escape from the hotel, Mrs. Jones insisted on their remaining in the hotel after Dan Kelly said they might go. He (witness), with others, made three attempts to escape, but was driven back each time by the volleys fired. It was very hot, and any one would have said so if they had been there. When he made the third attempt he went towards the railway, and was challenged by someone in the trench, who said, “Who goes there?” He answered, “A lot of women and children.” Immediately after a volley came from the trench, and he ran back towards a place occupied by Mr. Sadleir, who told him to lie down on the ground, and he did so. He did not hear the police call out to the prisoners to come out till half-past nine. Three or four hours before that the outlaws were willing that they should go out. At one time they held up a white handkerchief to the window as a sign of truce, so that the prisoners might get out. Immediately three bullet holes were made in the handkerchief. The women attempted to get out but were driven back. Sergeant Steele fired at his wife, who had a child in her care. Her dress and the dresses of several of the women were torn with shots. Constable Arthur threatened to shoot Sergeant Steele if he fired at his (witness’s) wife again. On one occasion one of the police called out, “Cease firing,” and Constable Dwyer said, “Let us polish this lot off first.” Sergeant Steele shot his son as he was attempting to escape with his little brother. He had to turn back into the hotel. He had the bullet in his breast now. On the evening before the fight Mrs. Jones led off the dance and gave her boy 6d. to sing the Wild Colonial Boy. It is only just to Sergeant Steele to say that he stated that he saw a young man coming out in the dawn of the morning on his hands and knees. He challenged him, and told him to hold up his hands. When he did not obey he (Steele) fired at him. The lad is evidently broken down in consequence of the shot. He has never worked since. The commission returned to town by the last train.
TUESDAY, 17th MAY, The sittings of the Police Commission were resumed, there being present Messrs. Longmore (in the chair), Fincham, Graves, Hall, Gibb, Anderson and Dixon. Mr. O’Connor said he wished to call the attention of the board to the great injustice which had been done him by the publication of a paragraph in The Age on the previous day. In that paragraph it was alleged that the object of the board was to inquire into his fitness for the position which the Government proposed to appoint him. Under the circumstances he felt it to be his duty to ask the commission if they had given authority for the paragraph alluded to. Mr. Graves replied that he simply answered the question out of courtesy. He knew nothing about the paragraph. Mr. Hall remarked that he had replied to the interrogations of the members of the press to the effect that so far as he knew the visit of the board was made to the country respecting the conduct of O’Connor, and the appointment it was proposed to give him. He believed that was so, as the inquiry was confined to that point. Mr. O’Connor said he still must say that he felt that a great injustice had been done him, and that the statements made in the paragraph were perfectly unjustifiable, because the evidence that had been taken showed that he left the station with Mr. Hare. No evidence had been given that he acted in a cowardly manner, and the insinuation that he was in a place of safety went for nothing. The chairman remarked that the commission were not responsible for paragraphs which appeared in the press.
Constable Daniel Barry was called, and deposed that he was ordered to do duty in the North-eastern district when the Kelly gang was at large. He thought, at the first, Aaron Sherritt was acting faithfully to the police, but his apathy towards the last caused him to doubt him. When the cave party was in existence he heard one night some voices and reports like crackers. In consequence he asked Sherritt to go and see the cause. He replied there is nothing in it, but he at once ran into the bush and hid himself. He was of opinion that Mrs. Barry, Sherritt’s mother-in-law, knew of the existence of the cave party. The witness proceeded to describe the scene at Glenrowan. When within about twenty-five yards of the house, Mr. Hare was fired on, and the police returned the fire. The order to stop firing was given, and then Mr. Hare said “O’Connor, get your boys and surround the house.” He also said to Senior-constable Kelly, “For God’s sake surround the house, and see that none of them escape.” Mr. Hare, in passing him from the front, said, “Good gracious, I’m hit, the very first shot.” Heard him calling out to them not to let one of the outlaws escape. Saw Mrs. Jones, who walked about the house and abused the police, and saw Stainhurst, Mrs. Jones, her children, O’Neil, and McHugh come out of the house. After Mr. Hare left, and until Superintendent Sadleir arrived he looked upon Senior-contable Kelly as being in command. He received orders from him, and was told by him to remain where he was, as the position was a good one. During the whole of that day he fired about twenty-five shots out of his rifle. A number of the police did not fire at all, as they, with himself, did not think it would be advantageous to do so. The witness gave evidence with regard to the cave party, similar to that already given by Constable Faulkener. Mr. Hare said that when at Benalla, Constable Kirkham had been asked if he had seen him (Mr. Hare) firing after he had been wounded, and he replied in the negative. Mr. O’Connor insinuated at that time that he (Mr. Hare) could not load his gun with one hand, and Kirkham had agreed with him. To show that his (Mr. Hare’s) evidence that he had loaded and fired his gun was correct, he had obtained the gun he had used on the occasion and would show how he used it. Mr. Hare then loaded his gun with empty cartridges, using one hand only, and fired rapidly. Mr. O’Connor said it was because Mr. Hare was in pain that caused the opinion he formed that he could not load and fire his gun. It should be remembered that he was not now in the same condition as on that morning. Constable Barry continued his evidence. In reply to Superintendent Sadleir he said that it was generally understood that the Kelly horses were shod. He did not know why that opinion was formed, but he believed that those horses appropriated by the Kellys, and seen with them, were gazetted as shod horses. To Mr. Hare : It was after Sherritt got married that he lost faith in him. When the first attack was made on the outlaws at Glenrowan the gang fired about fifty shots. The police fired at least twice that number. Mr. Hare remained near to where he was hit for a short time giving orders. Witness heard him say, “O’Connor, get your boys and surround the house.” He did not see O’Connor. He was not on the hotel side of the railway fence. It was Mr. Hare’s order, on the pilot engine, that if any of the men were wounded to leave them and throw their whole attention into the capture of the Kellys. To the board ; Received an order during the day, but none direct from Mr. Sadleir. The order came by a constable, and he supposed it emanated from an officer. When the prisoners were escaping he heard shots fired by the police. To Mr. O’Connor : He was one of the first party which watched Mrs. Byrne’s house. Mr. O’Connor asked if the witness considered it a wise thing to turn the police horses out in Aaron Sherritt’s paddock. Mr. Fincham remarked that he would like to know what object Mr. O’Connor had in asking these questions. Mr. Hare said his object was to throw discredit on him. Mr. Nixon considered that officers should only examine witnesses with regard to matters afecting themselves, and not go out of their way to attack their brother officers. He thought every member of the board would agree that the witness had given his evidence in a straightforward and manly way. Mr. Hare had only examined him with regard to his own conduct. The officers were not there to attack one another. Mr. O’Connor desired to say that he thought he should be permitted to continue his line of cross-examination. Mr. Hall said if this sort of thing was to go on they had better adjourn and determine whether the officers should be present. Mr. Anderson said it was the desire of the board that the officers should only ask questions affecting their own conduct. Mr. O’Connor said he considered he should be allowed to elicit evidence which would throw discredit on Mr. Hare, who had made insinuations against him. Mr. Dixon said that it appeared as if Mr. O’Connor was desirous of usurping the functions of the board. Mr. Graves said it was clearly the desire of the board that one officer should not attack another. Mr. Sadleir said he concurred in the wisdom of the determination of the board, and so far as he was concerned he would assist them, but, at the same time, if the board were going to do this now they should excise some of the evidence that had been given. The board, for instance, should excise that portion of the letter from Mr. Carrington which had so unfairly been put in by Mr. Hare. Mr. Dixon said that it had already been pointed out that Mr. Carrington would be called to give evidence, and Mr. Sadleir would then have an opportunity of cross-examining as severely as he chose. Mr. Hare said he would have no objection to the letter being withdrawn. Mr. Graves thought that could not be done, because the letter was in print. Mr. Hare pointed out that the evidence was only undergoing correction. A discussion ensued, in which it was stated that the evidence was sent to witnesses for correction, but only verbal amendments were permitted. The chairman informed Mr. O’Connor that he could only cross-examine the witness with regard to his own conduct. The witness continued : He did not see Mr. O’Connor in the drain, but heard he was there. It was a good place for personal safety. Hero, the black tracker, conducted himself well, but Jacky was rendered speechless with fear when the firing commenced. At this stage the board adjourned till next day.
While it is popularly considered that Ned Kelly’s lawless life came effectively to an end upon his capture at Glenrowan – his execution a foregone conclusion and his trial merely a formality – the last burst of Ned’s fighting spirit came forward when given the opportunity to speak after being found guilty by the jury at his trial.in the Melbourne Supreme Court. The transaction between Kelly and Sir Redmond Barry, his judge, has often been considered to be one of the most remarkable occurrences in a trial in Australian history. Ned’s unadulterated and unshakeable belief in his own abilities is displayed brazenly as he asserts that he could have single-handedly changed the result of the trial. Barry, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to bemoan that such lawlessness continues despite the consequence – death – being what a rational person might deem a deterrent. Such a remarkable exchange was this that it was published in full in the press. The following transcript of the argument comes from the Queanbeyan Age.
Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 – 1904), Wednesday 3 November 1880, page 4
TRIAL OF NED KELLY.
The trial of Kelly was resumed on Friday morning. The attendance on the part of the public was much smaller, and there was an absence of all excitement. Prisoner appeared listless at times, but generally paid great attention to the evidence. The witness examined were Frank Beecroft, draper’s assistant; Scott, bank manager at Euroa; Henry Richards, constable at Jerilderie; Edward Living, clerk in the bank of New South Wales, Jerilderie; J. W. Tarleton, senior-constable Kelly, and sergeant Steele. This closed the case for the Crown, and Mr. Bindon addressed the Court for prisoner. When he concluded his speech, Judge Barry summed up, only occupying a few minutes, and the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. The prisoner, having been asked in the usual way if he had any statement to make, said, “Well, it is rather too late for me to me to speak now. I thought of speaking this morning and all day, but there was little use. There is little use blaming anyone now. Nobody knew about my case except myself, and I wish I had insisted on being allowed to examine the witnesses myself. If I had examined them I am confident I would have thrown a different light on the case. It is not that I fear death; I fear it as little as to drink a cup of tea. On the evidence that has been given, no juryman could have given any other verdict that is my opinion. But, as I say, if I had examined the witnesses, I would have shown matters in a different light, because no man understood the case as I do myself. I do not blame anybody, neither Mr Bindon nor Mr Gaunson; but Mr Bindon knew nothing about my case. I lay blame. on myself that I did not get up yesterday and examine the witnesses; but I thought that if I did so it would look like bravado and flashness.”
The Court-crier having called upon all to observe a strict silence whilst the Judge pronounced the awful sentence of death, his Honor then said,— “Edward Kelly, the verdict pronounced by the jury is one which you must have fully expected.”
The prisoner: “Yes, under the circum- stances.”
His Honour: “No circumstances that I can conceive could have altered the result of your trial.”
The prisoner: “Perhaps not from what you now conceive, but if you had heard me examine the witnesses it would have been different.”
His Honor: “I will give you credit for all the skill you appear to desire to assume.”
The prisoner: “No, I don’t wish to assume anything. There is no flashness or bravado about me. It is not that I want to save my life but because I know I should have been capable of clearing myself of the charge, and I could have saved my life in spite of all against me.”
His Honour: “The facts are so numerous and so convincing, not only as regards the original offence with which you are charged, but with respect to a long series of transactions, covering a period of eighteen months, that no rational person would hesitate to arrive at any other conclusion but that the verdict of the jury is irresistable, and that it is right. I have no desire whatever to inflict upon you any personal remarks. It is not becoming that I should endeavor to aggravate the sufferings with which your mind must be sincerely agitated.”
The prisoner: “No; I don’t think that; my mind is as easy as the mind of any man in this world, as I am prepared to show before God and man.”
His Honour: “It is blasphemous for you to say that. You appear to revel in the idea of having put men to death.”
The prisoner: “More men than I have put men to death, but I am the last man in the world that would take a man’s life. Two years ago — even if my own life was at stake — and I am confident, if I thought a man would shoot me — I would give him a chance of keeping his life, and would part rather with my own; but if I knew that through him innocent persons’ lives were at stake, I certainly would have to shoot him if he forced me to do so, but I would want to know that he was really going to take innocent life.”
His Honour: “Your statement involves a cruelly wicked charge of perjury against a phalanx of witnesses.”
The prisoner: “I dare say; but a day will come, at a bigger Court than this, when we shall see which is right and which is wrong. No matter how a man lives he is bound to come to judgment somewhere, and as well here as anywhere. It will be different the next time there is a Kelly trial, for they are not all killed. It would have been for the good of the Crown had I examined the witnesses, and I would have stopped a lot of the reward, I can assure you, and I don’t know but I won’t do it yet if allowed.”
His Honour: “An offence of this kind is of no ordinary character. Murders had been discovered which had been committed under circumstances of great atrocity. They proceeded from motives other than those which actuated you. They had their origin in many sources. Some have been committed from a sordid desire to take from others the property they had acquired; some from jealousy; some from a desire of revenge; but yours is a more aggravated crime, and one of larger proportions; for, with a party of men, you took arms against society, organised as it is for mutual protection and for respect of law.”
The prisoner: “That is how the evidence came out here. It appeared that I deliberately took up arms of my own accord, and induced the other three men to join me for the purpose of doing nothing but shooting down the police.”
His Honour: “In new communities, where the bonds of societies are not so well linked together as in older countries, there is unfortunately a class which disregards the evil consequences of crime. Foolish inconsiderate, ill-conducted, and unprincipled youths unfortunately abound, and unless they are made to consider the consequences of crime, they are led to imitate notorious felons whom they regard as self-made heroes. It is right therefore, that they should be asked to consider, and reflect upon what the life of a felon is. A felon who has cut himself off from all, and who declines all the affections, charities and all the obligations of society is as helpless and as degraded as a wild beast of the field; he has nowhere to lay his head; he has no one to prepare for him the comforts of life; he suspects his friends, and he dreads his enemies. He is in constant alarm lest his pursuers should reach him, and his only hope is that he might lose his life in what he considers a glorious struggle for existence. That is the life of an outlaw or felon; and it would be well for those young men who are so foolish as to consider that it is brave of a man to sacrifice the lives of his fellow-creatures in carrying out his own wild ideas, to see that it is a life to be avoided by every possible means, and to reflect that the unfortunate termination of the felon’s life is a miserable death. New South Wales joined with Victoria in providing ample inducement to persons to assist in having you and your companions apprehended; but by some spell, which I cannot understand — a spell which exists in all lawless communities more or less and which may be attributed either to a sympathy for the outlaws, or a dread of the consequences which would result from the performances of their duty — no persons were found who would be tempted by the reward, or love to country, or the love of order, to give you up. The love of obedience to the law has been set aside, for reasons difficult to explain, and there is something extremely wrong in a country where a lawless band of men are able to live for eighteen months disturbing society. During your short life, you have stolen, according to you own statements, over 200 horses.”
The prisoner: “Who proves that?”
His Honour: “More than one witness has testified that you made that statement on several occasions.”
The prisoner: “That charge has never been proved against me and it is held in English law that a man is innocent until he is found guilty.”
His Honour: “You are self-accused. The statement was made voluntarily by yourself that you and your companions committed attacks on two banks, and appropriated therefrom large sums of money amounting to several thousands of pounds. Further, I cannot conceal from myself the fact that an expenditure of £50,000 has been rendered necessary in consequence of acts which you and your party have been connected in. We have had samples of felons, such as Bradley and O’Connor, Clarke, Gardiner, Melville, Morgan, Scott and Smith, all of whom have come to ignominious deaths. Still the effect expected from their punishment has not been produced. This is much to be deplored. When such examples as these are so often repeated society must be reorganised, or it must soon be seriously affected. Your unfortunate and miserable companions have died a death which probably you might rather envy, but you are not offered the opportunity.”
The prisoner: “I don’t think there is much proof they did die the death.”
His honour: “In your case the law will be carried out by its officers. The gentlemen of the jury have done their duty, and my duty will be to forward to the proper quarter the notes of your trial, and to lay before the Executive all the circumstances connected with your trial that may be required. I can hold out to you no hope, and I do not see that I can entertain the slightest reason for saying that you can expect anything. I desire to spare you any more pain, and I absolve myself from saying anything willingly in any of my utterances that may have unnecessarily increased the agitation of your mind. I have now to pronounce your sentence.” His Honour then sentenced the prisoner to death in the usual form, ending with the usual words, “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”
The prisoner: “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there where I go.”
The court was cleared and the prisoner was removed to the Melbourne gaol. Everything was quiet, and nothing approaching to any scene occured, although some of Kelly’s relatives were in court.
In 2019 there was much consternation about the new Kelly Gang films that were brewing. The adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, was set to be a big budget extravaganza with many Nedheads expecting to see a burly, bearded bushranger clad in armour with guns blazing on the big screen. The other film project that was getting good press was Stringybark, a small-scale indie production that caught the attention of some notable Kelly-critical commentators thanks to a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign.
Well, True History fell short of its lofty ambitions. As it turns out, a scrappy, post-modern interpretation of their favourite bushranger full of cross-dressing and bad haircuts wasn’t what people expected when they heard a Ned Kelly film starring Russell Crowe was being made. On the other hand, Stringybark stayed pretty low-key even after its official launch at the Lorne Film Festival. In a way that has actually served it well – a sort of “tortoise-and-hare” way – that means the home audiences won’t necessarily be going in with big expectations of sturm und drang with helmets and Hollywood glitz.
With Stringybark making its way to Ozflix, straight off the bat it must be pointed out that if you go into this expecting a Ned Kelly film you’re going to be disappointed. This is unashamedly a film about the police who were sent to arrest Ned and Dan Kelly for the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick, with particular emphasis on the party’s leader Sergeant Michael Kennedy. It’s a perspective that, frankly, is refreshing after so many variations on Ned Kelly’s response to discovering the police coming after him as part of the bigger scheme of his outlawed life.
It is abundantly clear from the outset that the angle this film takes is that the cops are the good guys and the Kellys are the bad guys. It is a perfectly valid viewpoint to take, of course, given that the police were there to capture men wanted for attempted murder and were shot dead by said fugitives in response. It is a perspective that has its fair share of strident champions – many of whom got involved with the film at the crowdfunding stage and were pushing Stringybark as a game-changer. Given that the filmmakers were not industry professionals, that was a lot of pressure to put upon them and, honestly, they did a valiant job of living up to the expectations of those who were pushing them to be the definitive anti-Kelly portrayal of the police killings.
On a technical level this film isn’t quite where it needs to be, unfortunately. It suffers at times from audio issues as well as camera work that struggles to maintain proper framing. Some of the action sequences are difficult to follow because there’s a lot of movement that obscures the action (this was rife with True History as well, so seems to be more of a stylistic trend in modern films than a fault per se.) That said, given that this is a film made by students on a tiny budget with limited resources it’s an admirable effort and they still manage some excellent work in spite of the rough edges. There are some very inspired shots that demonstrate that there was an aesthetic vision before the thing was put together rather than just a sort of on the fly attempt to craft interesting shots around what was happening on the day. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some of the shots that appear in this film are some of the best that we have seen in an on-screen depiction of this story thus far.
The score by Simon Rigoni is also a real strength as it is atmospheric and melodic without being overpowering. There is a trend in film scores now to have the music merely tie a scene together so that there’s something interesting to hear when people aren’t talking. Apart from one scene, where the police chat around a campfire, one never gets the sense that the music is ever just there because it has to plug a gap in the soundtrack, and that one exception is really only a result of the way the music is edited in the scene.
Hair and makeup was fantastic with some minor prosthetic work on the murdered police looking convincing without being too gruesome, though given the contemporary descriptions of Kennedy’s body upon its discovery the gore could have been amplified by ten and still been pulling punches. Likewise, the costumes felt authentic even if some of the details may have been off. There was a definite attempt to be as true to the descriptions of what the gang wore, as well as historical knowledge of how police dressed for bush work. It was good to see a film where the police were not shown in their uniforms while hunting the fugitives in the bush. It was also nice to see the correct firearms being used.
The cast were an interesting ensemble. Some performances were definitely stronger than others, Tim Head as Kennedy, Joshua Charles Dawe and Ned Kelly, and Ben Watts as McIntyre being absolutely the strongest in the ensemble. Given the nature of the project you were never going to see A-listers popping up, and everyone who appears does a solid job with their material. The characterisations were one of the weaker aspects of the film as while some characters were en pointe – specifically Kennedy, who feels like the most fleshed out – some others bore no resemblance to their historical counterpart – Joe Byrne being the worst offender in this regard. Those who side with the gang more than the police are going to struggle with this one because the Kelly Gang are outright villains. In fact, I would go so far as to describe them as cartoonishly villainous. They are vulgar and enjoy bullying the police who are powerless against them. While critics of the bushrangers and their supporters would suggest this is accurate, witness accounts do not exactly bear this out (but that’s a discussion for another article, and one well worth having.) Much of Ned Kelly’s more aggressive behaviours, such as driving the barrel of a pistol into someone’s cheek to intimidate them, are given to the other gang members in order to amplify their intimidation factor while Ned seems positively civil by comparison. In fact, Joshua Charles Dawe is probably one of the best on screen Ned Kellys to date, despite the lack of physical resemblance. There’s a nuance to the performance that makes the viewer feel like there’s something bubbling underneath the cruel and bullying exterior and subsequently it’s a shame he gets such limited screen time.
The police on the other hand are much more rounded and sympathetic characters, McIntyre being shown as something of a cheeky jack-the-lad figure that is quite at odds with the bookish and determined McIntyre we see depicted in the ex-policeman’s memoirs and contemporary accounts. An early scene has Kennedy, McIntyre and Scanlan pulling a nasty prank on Lonigan, which is obviously intended to show a sort of “locker room” mentality in the police station. Lonigan here comes across as somewhat oafish and paranoid, which is not an accurate depiction of a man who was known as a very capable officer who had a very justified wariness of their mission, though we do get a great character moment from him in recounting his clash with Ned in Benalla. It would have been nice to get more of Scanlan’s story as he is often forgotten owing to the fact that he neither survived the encounter to tell the story nor did he leave a widow or children to mourn him, but Jim Lavranos makes for a memorable performance all the same.
Some of the more heightened aspects of the ambush sequence are only disappointing because they weren’t necessary. Having the Kelly Gang dropping c-bombs may portray them as uncouth and therefore create a roughness that makes them seem dangerous, but it’s not necessary for making them intimidating. Case in point, Dawe’s Ned Kelly manages to be intimidating while speaking in a mostly civil manner with McIntyre just after Lonigan’s death simply by virtue of the body language employed. Another example of where the heightened drama didn’t quite work was in the death of Kennedy, which is written so as to show Ned Kelly as a cold blooded murderer. Kennedy appears to be in good health despite a cut on his forehead, so it isn’t clear why he would feel like he would need to write a letter for Ned to give to his wife if he dies, let alone for Ned to agree. Ned’s decision to allow Kennedy to write the letter is immediately undercut by his execution of the sergeant without any indication of why. What perhaps worked on paper lost a little something in translation to screen.
While the idea of having the gang appear at the end is actually a really clever one, the lack of motivation for their crimes can be hard to stomach, which is one of the reasons why most interpretations focus on their perspective rather than on the police. It feels like violence for the sake of violence, even though from the perspective of the victims that’s exactly how it would have seemed. This aspect is both one of the biggest strengths of the film and one of its notable weaknesses. It is a strength because it really drives home exactly why the story is being told the way it is, but it is also a weakness because by dehumanising the bushrangers it creates a disconnect that is very jarring. Without any indication of why the gang attack they are no more than soulless monsters that emerge from the wilderness to cause mayhem. To “unperson” the bushrangers makes them no different to the shark from Jaws or the Raptors from Jurassic Park. Perhaps having Ned talk to his gang and explain their plan could have changed that and given some sense of understanding to both sides rather than opting to cut one side out in favour of the other.
Overall Stringybark has notable flaws, but it also has significant strengths. It has enough respect for the history to stick closely to it throughout the majority of the film and weave in details that even the most lauded of Kelly films and miniseries have gotten wrong or omitted. It has a clarity of vision that means that nobody watching can possibly doubt what angle the film is taking. There are plenty of great visuals and performances in the mix as well as a great, understated score. It’s a Kelly film that dares to tell the other side of the story, which in itself is noteworthy. These are not aspects to be taken lightly, especially considering that this is not the work of some Hollywood veteran with tens of millions of dollars to play with. As a debut feature, tackling a historical piece, let alone one as turbulent and divisive as the Kelly story, is jumping into the deep end with lead weights on your ankles so it takes a certain amount of guts to even attempt it. Say what you want about whether or not you agree with the portrayal, or of the directorial choices, one thing that can’t be disputed is that when it comes to taking on as big a task as dramatising one of Australian history’s most controversial events Ben Head is as game as Ned Kelly.
Stringybark is available to rent online via Ozflix HERE
In part one we covered Ned Kelly’s Glenrowan plot, the murder of Sherritt, the gang’s occupation of Glenrowan, the bungling of the police response and the machinations of Thomas Curnow to foil Kelly. At the conclusion, Ned Kelly had allowed Thomas Curnow to return home and the police train was leaving Melbourne with a team of journalists on board. This is where we resume ournarrative…
At 10:00pm the train departed from Spencer Street and proceeded north. A little under an hour later it arrived at Essendon train station where it collected Sub-Inspector O’Connor, his five trackers, his wife and sister-in-law. Once the passengers were settled in it was full steam ahead until they reached Craigieburn. Despite the order to close the railway gate, the Craigieburn stationmaster had left the gates open across the track to allow the regular traffic to cross unimpeded on the Sunday. As a result when the engine did not slow down as it passed the station, believing the track was clear, it ploughed through the iron gates causing considerable damage. The collision had destroyed part of the braking mechanism as well as pulverising a lamp and the footplate on the carriage. A stop at Seymour allowed the passengers to get coffee while the engine was patched up well enough to continue.
The police special arrived at Benalla a little after midnight. In the meantime, a second engine organised by Hare and Sadleir had been raising steam and was ready for action. When Hare was informed about the damage to the engine there was a discussion about how to assess if there were further hazards along the tracks, especially in light of the rumours circulating that Kelly sympathisers had sabotaged the line. Hare’s initial idea was to tie a constable to the engine as a lookout, but this was scrapped when it was pointed out that this would be lethal and impractical. Instead the damaged engine would journey ahead as a pilot to ensure a clear path, and the carriage would be shunted onto the spare engine to carry the passengers.
Curnow swings into action
All the time that the drama had been unfolding with the trains, Curnow had been attempting to convince his wife to allow him to leave and warn the police train. She was terrified that the bushrangers or their sympathisers would find out and murder them but Thomas’s mind was made up. Once his wife was asleep, he snuck out with a candle, matches and his sister’s red llama wool scarf. He took his horse and rode down the train line to a spot where it would be safe to flag down the train.
A Fateful Decision by Mrs. Jones
Once Ned had returned from capturing Bracken, things had stayed fairly quiet. It was just before 2:00am when Margaret Reardon asked Dan Kelly for permission to go home. Dan agreed that it was time for everyone to leave and instructed the prisoners to head home through the back door. However, Ann Jones panicked and blocked the door, telling the crowd that Ned would give a lecture first. Ned, of course, relished the opportunity to hold court again and proceeded to begin a rambling rant. Twice he attempted to stand on a chair and failed, seemingly incapable of retaining the necessary balance either through exhaustion, intoxication or the weight of his armour. During the lecture he took verbal potshots at the police, which Constable Bracken rebuffed with great indignation. While all this took place in the inn and unbeknownst to the gang and their captives, the police train was approaching Glenrowan and was minutes away from arrival.
Curnow stops pilot engine
As the pilot engine came into view, Curnow lit the candle and held it behind the red scarf as a warning signal. When the engine stopped, Curnow explained the danger ahead and the warning lanterns were lit. A whistle was blown to alert the police special bringing up the rear.
While the trains sat idle, Hare went outside to get information about what was happening. He positioned some of the constables on the rise that overlooked where the trains were stopped and learned that the Kellys had pulled up the tracks just beyond the Glenrowan station. Curnow mounted and rode home, fearing that the longer he stayed the more likely he would get caught. The journalists in the press carriage caught wind that something was amiss and brought the lamp in from outside the carriage and pressed the seat cushions into the windows so they couldn’t be seen. Slowly the trains began to move towards the station.
As Dan kept watch outside the inn, he heard the train whistle then ran inside, interrupting Ned to tell him the train was coming. Joe Byrne locked the front door and put the key on a shelf as the gang ran into the bedroom they were using as their armoury. When he was certain the outlaws were occupied, Bracken stole the key and hid it in his trouser cuff before positioning himself near the rear passage to eavesdrop. In the bedroom, Dan and Steve helped each other into their armour while Ned went outside to investigate.
By his own account, Ned mounted his horse and rode out of the inn’s paddock and down towards the train line. Here he was able to see the pilot engine arriving and slowing down, the police special close behind. Ned would have realised at that moment that he had been betrayed. Some of the police on the train spotted Ned as he rode back to the inn to break the news to his gang.
As the train arrived, Hare saw a candle burning in the window of the gatehouse. As the police and their equipment and horses were being unloaded, Hare took a small party with him to the gatehouse, leaving Sub-Inspector O’Connor in charge at the station. At the gatehouse, Hare roused Mrs. Stanistreet who, terrified and weeping, informed him that the Kelly Gang had kidnapped her husband and taken him away, pointing towards the Glenrowan Inn. The police, thinking Mrs. Stanistreet had pointed to the Warby Ranges, headed back to the station where they would prepare to ride into the mountains on horseback.
The daring of Constable Bracken
When Ned returned to the inn he ordered Ann and Jane Jones to snuff out the lights and put out the fires, which they promptly did. The gang then went outside where they presumably discussed their plan of attack.
Meanwhile in the inn, Bracken told the prisoners to keep low in case there was shooting before unlocking the front door and leaving. He ran across the railway reserve as fast as he could go. When he reached the train station platform he found Superintendent Hare and explained that the outlaws were in Jones’s inn.
The Kellys, in full armour and well-armed, shifted the sliprail next to the inn’s sign as they walked around the side of the building, believing the doors were still locked, and took position along the verandah. Hidden by the shadows, there was no way for the police combatants to see they were in armour. They waited patiently for the onslaught.
Hare called out to his men to join him in storming the inn. There was some confusion and only a handful of the men initially headed down with Hare leading the charge. The police horses that were being unloaded were let go and allowed to run free. Bracken took one of the horses and began to ride towards Wangaratta in order to gain police reinforcements.
As Hare passed through a gate and took position, a blast from Ned Kelly hit him, shattering his wrist. He reeled and perched himself on a tree stump. He managed to get at least one shot off before realising he needed first aid. With the opening of fire the rest of the police ran to join the fray. O’Connor and the trackers took cover in a drainage ditch, which provided reasonable cover directly in front of the inn.
The outlaws mocked and jeered from the verandah as their armour protected them. Bullets went past them into the building, causing mass panic inside. The gang’s sense of invulnerability was short-lived however as Ned was injured when a bullet struck him in the foot, and became lodged. Another shot struck his bent left arm at the elbow rendering it essentially useless. He wasn’t the only outlaw casualty, with a bullet tearing through Joe Byrne’s calf, leaving him unable to walk.
It was at this stage of the battle that two skyrockets were fired from just near McDonnell’s railway tavern. Whether this was a signal to summon an army of sympathisers or a signal to turn them away, or perhaps something else altogether, remains a mystery, with only oral traditions providing any explanation.
Hare, losing copious amounts of blood due to the severity of his wound combined with a pre-existing heart condition, was forced to retreat to the train station. He left instructions to surround the inn and ensure the outlaws were unable to escape. When he reached the train station, the journalists had created a barricade with the police saddles. Upon seeing Hare was injured, Thomas Carrington offered to help as he had some knowledge of first aid. A handkerchief and scissors were taken from O’Connor’s wife and cut into strips that were used to bandage Hare’s wrist. Once the makeshift bandages were applied, Hare attempted to go back onto the battlefield but soon passed out from blood loss. He was helped back to safety by Rawlins, the volunteer.
Back at the inn, with Joe and Ned injured, the gang decided to retreat to the rear of the building to regroup and reload. While Dan and Steve went inside, Joe and Ned were overheard at the back door having a discussion by Constable Phillips, who had positioned himself at the rear of the inn. Unable to reload his carbine, Ned ordered Joe to perform the fiddly task for him. The pair bickered about their situation with Joe saying, “I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.” Ned tried to buoy his spirits by bragging about Hare having been taken out and boasting that they would soon do the same to the rest of the police. It was at this time Ned was able to observe that the only way Joe could move around was by crawling on all fours.
In the early fray the police fire had resulted in multiple civilian casualties. Johnny Jones had been hit by a police bullet that tore through his pelvis and up through his body, exiting under his arm. George Metcalf was hit in the eye as police bullets hit the bricks of the chimney he was hiding behind (though it was later claimed by some of his colleagues, when questioned by police, that he was shot by Ned Kelly the day before, though no other witnesses seemed to notice one of the prisoners having been shot in the eye during during the many hours leading up to the siege.) In the kitchen, a police bullet ricocheted and hit Jane Jones, cutting across her forehead and lodging behind her ear. Civilians were laying low in the inn, the bulk of the women and children were sheltering in the kitchen where they were further away from the police who continued to fire into the inn relentlessly even when there was no return fire. The order was raised to fire high to avoid civilians cowering on the floor after the police had heard women screaming inside the inn.
Ned Kelly decided to find an escape route. He tried to mount Joe’s horse but she broke free and bolted into the bush. Ned followed her. This was noticed by Gascoigne who shot Ned, but the bullet took no effect except to throw him off balance, leading Gascoigne to surmise that he was wearing protection of some kind.
Shortly after heading into the bush, Ned passed out near a fallen tree. It is uncertain how long he was unconscious for, but when he came to he crawled into the bush leaving his carbine and skull cap behind in the mud.
Brave Jack McHugh
Ann Jones was distraught over the wounding of her son and began wandering through the inn, shouting at Dan, Joe and Steve to go out and fight, before turning her ire towards the police. A torrent of lead saw her retreat to the kitchen.
Aware that the boy needed urgent medical attention if there was any hope of preserving his life, Jack McHugh draped the boy over his shoulders and ran out into the crossfire. Somehow avoiding getting shot, he made it to the train line where he was spotted by police. After explaining his mission he was allowed to seek shelter in McDonnell’s tavern. Young Jones was made as comfortable as possible, but his life was fading fast.
Emboldened by McHugh’s miraculous escape and desperate to get out of the mess, John Stanistreet also managed to escape under fire to warn the police that there were women and children trying to escape. Ann Jones rallied the women and children in the kitchen and Jane took a candle and held it aloft to guide the escapees as they ran and to show they were not the bushrangers. Despite being fired at, most of the women and children escaped, with only an odd few retreating or remaining inside the main building.
Senior Constable Kelly and Constable Arthur ventured into the bush behind the inn hoping to find a spot to close off any escape route. Here they found Ned’s carbine and skull cap. While Arthur took position, Kelly took the items. When he returned to the front he wore Ned’s skull cap, claiming that his own hat had gone missing. Ned, who had been close by, managed to go deeper into the bush without being noticed.
Superintendent Hare tried to gain passage back to Benalla, but the pilot engine was hit by bullets from the inn and took off without him. The police special then turned around and carried him back. Once in Benalla he managed to make it to the telegraph office and secure medical assistance from Doctor Nicholson. Superintendent Sadlier was summoned and Hare sent word to Beechworth, Wangaratta and Violet Town to send all available police to Glenrowan before falling unconscious.
Death of Joe Byrne
Witnesses in the inn reported that close to 5:00am Joe Byrne was killed. Joe was observed pouring himself a drink and shortly after toasting to the effect of, “Here’s to many more days in the bush, boys!” It is unlikely this was a triumphant gesture so much as a darkly sarcastic one. After this he was struck by a bullet in the groin and collapsed across the prisoner named Sandercook and bled out within a couple of minutes, the femoral artery having been severed. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence to support the claim that Ned was present at this moment. In fact, all of the prisoners in the inn that testified stated that once the firing started Ned never re-entered the inn. The only account that stated otherwise was Ned Kelly’s, though his personal recounting of what transpired at Glenrowan changed slightly every time he discussed it, making such accounts unreliable.
Arrival of Police Reinforcements
Bracken had by this time ridden to Wangaratta and roused Sergeant Steele who had received the telegram from Hare and organised a police train. Not wanting to waste a moment, Steele and his mounted troopers headed to Glenrowan on horseback while the foot constables took the train. The train arrived slightly before the rest of the Wangaratta party and Rawlins briefed them on what was happening. As the mounted troopers arrived, they heard clanking in the bush that they dismissed as stirrup irons. Ned Kelly would later claim they had ridden so close to him as he lay in the bush that he could have reached out and grabbed them, but instead he tried to remain silent and let them pass. Immediately upon arriving at the inn, Steele took a position at the rear and began firing into the building without having received any instructions or waiting to be updated on the situation.
Simultaneously, a train from Benalla carrying Sadleir and his party arrived. The men were sent out to reinforce the existing troopers while Senior Constable Kelly and Sub-Inspector O’Connor got Sadleir up to speed. Sadleir maintained the strategy of surrounding the inn and directed his men to fan out.
A mad dash for freedom by Mrs. Reardon
Margaret Reardon had enough of hiding and attempted to flee with her children. Dan Kelly called out that women and children were coming out and as they did, police ordered them to stay back. The prisoners continued to run towards the fence, desperate to escape the firing. Sergeant Steele took aim at Margaret Reardon and fired, the shot passing through the swaddling cloth her baby was wrapped in and cutting the infant’s head. The group scattered in terror. 19 year-old Michael Reardon tried to double back and get inside the inn, but Sergeant Steele shot him in the back, the lead lodging in the teen’s back and lung. When the police around him told him to stop firing he simply replied “I don’t care; I shot mother Jones in the —!”
Where is Ned?
By now Ned had been missing for several hours while Dan and Steve had been left to hold the fort. The police had shot dead all of the horses in the paddock, whether they were the gang’s or not, to cut off a potential escape. A local man named Martin Cherry had been shot in the belly by a police bullet and was taken to the kitchen and hidden under a mattress. Dan had taken to standing at the back door and calling out to his big brother with no reply. Witness accounts stated that both remaining outlaws seemed greatly deflated after Joe’s death.
The remaining prisoners were almost entirely men, with a few children in the mix. The majority of those who were trapped had migrated to the bedrooms in order to get some distance and some barriers between them and the police. With the arrival of Sadleir’s party and Steele’s party the opportunity for the prisoners to escape had effectively evaporated.
Nobody in the inn had any idea what had happened to Ned. Oral tradition states that he had been found in the bush by his cousin Tom Lloyd who helped him prepare for a return to the inn. Ned himself would never make such a statement, but evidently something transpired in the bush and at sunrise, rather than make good his escape Ned decided, for whatever reason, to turn back and face the police again in open combat.
Ned Kelly’s last stand
The first policeman to take notice of Ned was Constable Arthur who warned him to stay back. Instead Ned threatened him and drew a pistol. Arthur fired his Martini Henry rifle at close range, badly denting the armour but not stopping the outlaw, who replied by bashing his revolver against his chest and boasting about his invulnerability. Other police left their posts to confront the mysterious figure. For around half an hour, Ned stumbled around half-conscious through blood loss, sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption. He occasionally steadied himself by resting his broken foot on the odd tree stump. For all the firing he managed, cycling through three different revolvers, not one trooper was killed or injured.
Eventually Ned reached the fallen tree where he had collapsed earlier that morning. Senior-Constable Kelly and Jesse Dowsett, a railway guard, approached. Dowsett began shooting Ned’s helmet and taunting him. As Ned was distracted, Sergeant Steele emerged from the bush and shot Ned in his right knee and pelvis. The shots were enough to knock the wind out of his sails and Ned collapsed. In a moment police piled on top of him. Senior-Constable Kelly removed Ned’s helmet, whereupon Steele began to strangle the outlaw and put a pistol to his head. Before Steele could pull the trigger he was threatened by Constable Bracken who levelled his shotgun at Steele and declared, “If you shoot him, I will shoot you.”
The crowd that had formed around the fallen bushranger had to react quickly as they were being shot at by Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. Ned was picked up and carried a short distance where Dr. Nicholson was able to use a penknife to cut the straps on one side of the armour to remove it. He was lifted over a fence and taken to the train station. He was put in the guard van of the train, but a flurry of bullets struck the van so he was transferred to the station building. A mattress was procured and Ned was laid upon it with his head resting on a large roll of cotton. The boots were cut off his feet and most of his clothing stripped from his body for medical examination. The main injuries that required attention were his shattered left elbow, a pistol ball lodged in his right thumb, the injury to his right knee and the bullet lodged in his foot. The rest of the injuries, of which there were more than twenty, were considered minor. He complained of hunger and was given bread and brandy, the dribbles of which he sucked out of his beard.
While he was in the station various police and journalists interviewed him, though he would often slip into unconsciousness. He explained that he had intended to fight to the bitter end and that the other bushrangers would not surrender. The whole time Steele kept watch over Kelly as if he were afraid he would vanish.
Then there was two
Likely believing Ned had been killed, Dan and Steve remained in the inn. Occasionally they would shoot at police but Dan was shot in the knee and retreated inside where he remained. When Dave Mortimer asked permission to try and escape Dan allowed it but as soon as the white handkerchief was presented to the police to signify surrender, the police opened fire at it. Thinking better of walking out to be gunned down, the prisoners remained in the inn. Now they were made prisoners by the police rather than the outlaws.
At 10:00am the decision was made to allow the civilians to come out. They were instructed to keep their hands raised and to lie on their bellies. The terrified victims were then scrutinised to prevent the risk of Kelly or Hart escaping. Two brothers were recognised as Kelly sympathisers and arrested; the rest of the crowd were allowed to disperse. Now the inn was empty apart from Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, Joe Byrne’s corpse and old Martin Cherry who was still in the kitchen under a mattress.
Sadleir brings in the artillery
Desperate for a way to get into the inn that would mean no police casualties, Sadlier ordered artillery be sent up from the garrison in Melbourne to blow the inn apart. Sadleir had also brought thick ropes with him to pull the chimneys down, thinking the outlaws could be hiding therein, but had decided it was too risky. Sadleir continued to mull over options for capturing the two remaining outlaws while bored police continued to shoot at the inn.
By this time the rails had been repaired and trains were running along the line, bringing gawkers in from all over the region. Amongst the crowds, Father Matthew Gibney arrived. Gibney, the Vicar General of Western Australia, had heard of what was transpiring and wanted to be available to provide spiritual assistance where possible. He gave Ned the last rites and asked if the others would surrender to him. Ned told him they would not know him from a policeman but Gibney was determined to get into the inn, believing that a man of the cloth could bring the outlaws to reason.
More reinforcements arrived from Beechworth, led by Senior-Constable Mullane. Given how late in the siege it was, they had little to do other than use the inn for target practice, which was exactly what they did. There remained no definitive instructions for the police from Sadleir though the suggestion had been made to him that the police should rush the inn. Sadleir considered even one police casualty to be too many and refused to agree to such a measure.
Kelly sympathisers arrived in Glenrowan to see what was happening. Among them were Ned and Dan’s sisters Maggie, Kate and Grace who were all dressed as if for a great celebration. They were granted admittance to see Ned and briefly spoke with him. When Superintendent Sadlier asked Maggie if she would get Dan to surrender she proclaimed she would see him burn first. Also present were Wild Wright, Tom Lloyd and Dick Hart. The presence of such high profile sympathisers put the police on edge.
That afternoon a telegraph was set up by the telegraph operators from Beechworth using a portable receiver and transmitter that was connected to the wire that went past the train station. This enabled messages to be transmitted directly to Melbourne from the battlefield.
Burning the inn
After consulting with Sadlier, Senior-Constable Johnston gained permission to start a fire to smoke the remaining gang members out. Johnston gave the inn a wide berth as he gathered items to use to light a fire. While going about this duty he was stopped by armed Kelly sympathisers who interrogated him about what was happening. Luckily for Johnston, they did not suspect him of being a policeman. He gathered straw, kerosene and matches and as he approached the inn, the police intensified their firing to create a diversion. At 3:00pm Johnston set fire to the exterior wall of the parlour and ran for cover.
The fire spread quickly through the weatherboard building. Seeing this Kate Kelly attempted to run to the inn but was held back by police. Instead Father Gibney rushed inside in search of survivors. He entered the dining room and upon entering the bar saw Joe’s corpse. After establishing it was cold and stiff, he checked the other rooms. In the makeshift armoury he found Dan Kelly and Steve Hart lying dead on the floor with their heads propped up on sacking. Beside them was the greyhound, which had been shot. With the inferno spreading to the bar, the alcohol exacerbated the fire. Joe’s body was dragged out by police but the bedrooms were too aflame to risk retrieving the others. As the kitchen was explored Martin Cherry was found and rescued. Once he was dragged clear Gibney gave him the last rites, whereupon Cherry passed away.
With the exterior wall having Byrne’s away, the crowds gathered to see Dan and Steve burning within the bedroom. Thomas Carrington took the time to draw the scene as the crowd watched the gruesome spectacle.
The fire was allowed to take its course and the burnt out shell collapsed around half an hour after the fire had started. As the wrecked lay smouldering the police began sifting through the rubble. The unrecognisable corpses of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were dragged out with long poles and laid out on sheets of bark. One of the bodies was photographed.
The burnt bodies were taken to the train station where they were seen by Maggie Skillion and Kate Kelly, who wailed mournfully at the sight. Sadleir made the executive decision to allow the families of the outlaws to take possession of the bodies. He assumed that such a gesture would quell any rumblings of revenge against police. When Captain Standish arrived at 5:00pm he agreed that the families should have taken the bodies, though he would later try (unsuccessfully) to retrieve them for a coronial inquest.
Ned was loaded onto a train and, along with the bodies of Byrne and Cherry that were loaded onto the guard van as well taken to Benalla. Overnight the corpses were kept in the police lockup with Ned housed in a lockup under the Benalla courthouse. Thus ended the Glenrowan Siege.
The following day Joe Byrne’s corpse was strung up for photographs and gawkers. After his post mortem his results casts were made of his head and hands that were then used for a wax figure in the Bourke Street Waxworks. At the same time the corpse was being viewed Ned Kelly was surreptitiously taken to the train station and transported to Melbourne.
Ned was taken to Melbourne Gaol where he was put in the prison hospital in order to recover well enough to stand trial.
Souvenir hunters took no time in scouring the Bartley and picking it clean of bullets, bits of the inn, even dirt and leaves. Charred bits of Dan and Steve which had separated from the trunk were even salvaged. Nothing was sacred and everything was up for grabs. Some might say not much has changed.
When Ann Jones eventually returned, she build a hut around the parlour chimney to live in. Thereafter she faced many more difficulties. On the day of Ned Kelly’s execution she was arrested for harbouring outlaws, but beat the charge. Magistrates refused to issue her with a liquor licence, which meant she eventually opened a wine saloon in place of the inn. Jane Jones died two years after the siege. She had been in failing health ever since that weekend in 1880. The inn site was later leased to the police department in a strange turn of events.
Joe Byrne was buried in a pauper’s grave in Benalla cemetery, while Dan and Steve were buried in unmarked graves elsewhere. Officially they were buried in a twin plot in Greta cemetery, but oral tradition begs to differ, helping to fuel rumours that they never died at Glenrowan and it was all a hoax to allow them to escape.
The siege of Glenrowan has become an important part of Australian culture, taking on the significance of historic battles such as Gettysburg or Waterloo (even if the scale was hardly comparable.) It is often seen as an exciting tale of rebellion and defiance though the reality is far less fanciful. While some may speculate the different outcome that may have come about if the police train had been derailed as planned, perhaps it is more apt to consider the fact that the outlawry on the bushrangers was weeks away from expiring when they were destroyed. It is unlikely that the police would ever have allowed the gang to avoid meeting their demise at the end of a rope or a bullet, but it is curious to consider a world where the Kelly Gang managed to run out the clock, so to speak, and regain the rights and protections of the law. Speculation aside, there was no glory in what transpired at Glenrowan. It was a tragedy from beginning to end with no real winners. Civilians lost their lives or were permanently scarred and traumatised; three of the outlaws were killed; a considerable number of police were later demoted or sacked either directly or indirectly due to their conduct during the siege. The site where it all played out is marked by signs and plaques, but there are no monuments to memorialise the tragedy. Thus, with many myths and half-truths still accepted as facts, Glenrowan sits in the awkward place between history and folklore where imagination turns devastating tragedy into a rollicking good yarn. Such is life.