The bushranger, James McCabe, who had for a considerable stretch been Matthew Brady’s right-hand man, eventually left the gang after one of their most successful raids, that being on the property of George Meredith at Little Swan Port in October of 1825. Despite the popular story that Brady had shot him in the hand for “interfering” with a female then turfing him, the real reason McCabe left the gang was apparently far less poetic: Brady had destroyed all of his booze after a drunken brawl in which a man had been killed. Though it seems to have been somewhat glazed over in the contemporary press, the brawl had resulted in the death of the gang’s hostage, a staffer from Meredith’s property named Henry Hunt, which was the main reason Brady took the action he did.
No doubt this was all the culmination of a brewing resentment between Brady and McCabe, and it was hardly the first time McCabe had left Brady’s company. It seems McCabe was either to proud to ask forgiveness or too arrogant to realise he would not cope on his own. Naturally this would end in disaster for McCabe.
He didn’t last long on the run after this, but did his best to elude authorities, and made his way back to Bothwell on foot where he became increasingly desperate after he lost his supplies, and even some of his clothing, after an ambush. In the end a man he had taken prisoner escaped while McCabe was committing a robbery, and alerted the police in town as to the bushranger’s presence. McCabe was quickly subdued, arrested and taken to Hobart Town. On 6 January the following year he was finally executed for his various crimes.
What follows is a dramatic recreation of the event. Unfortunately there is little to nothing recorded about the details of the falling out between McCabe and his colleagues, so this interpretation may help paint the picture by putting what we do know into context.
The waters of Grindstone Bay lapped at the shore and receded gently as the stolen whaleboat glided down along the coastline. On board the vessel were the members of Matthew Brady’s gang, with the booty from their latest raid and a hostage named Henry Hunt. The craft was shallow and open, and allowed just enough room for the men to squeeze in and grab an oar to row. Brady sat at the stern, watching the men and keeping an eye on Hunt. Despite his diminutive stature, he was solidly built and his blue eyes were piercing in a way that could both intimidate and charm depending on his mood. He had a cloak wrapped around him to brace against the wind that was kicking up against his back. Peeking out from the cloak was his pistol, which was ready to go off at any moment if Hunt tried to do anything rash.
Hunt directed the landsmen in how to manoeuvre the whaleboat in the coastal waters as they came in close to the bay. The boat was steered towards the mouth of the 80 Acre River and allowed to lurch onto the banks. The bushrangers set about unloading their ill-gotten gains and established a camp close to the water. They knew they had to work quickly as it was growing steadily dark and the area was known to be the haunt of Aboriginals who were not at all pleased to have white men encroaching on their space. Brady knew only too well how the Aborigines of nearby Oyster Bay, led by the infamous Musquito, in particular had problems with the whites as their murderous raids had put the entire colony on edge over the previous two years.
In fact, George Meredith, whose Little Swan Port property Brady’s gang had just ransacked, was one of the men who had set out to capture Musquito and his “Tame Mob” following a deadly attack close to where the gang now assembled their camp. Meredith claimed that his posse had found the mob but they had all escaped unharmed under cover of darkness, but rumours persisted that in fact the men under Meredith’s instructions had found the mob asleep in their camp and had been ordered to put them all to death. Nobody cared enough about the lives of the Aborigines to try and find any bodies, doubly so seeing as they had ambushed and murdered men. Some saw it as just desserts if indeed the rumour was true.
As darkness blotted out the horizon, the rush of the waves was mingled with the sound of revelry. A hogshead of rum had been tapped and the men drank freely from it, but none more so than James McCabe. McCabe and Brady were the last of the Macquarie Harbour escapees still at large, and they had been through a great many misadventures together. He was slightly built, with sharp features and pouty lips, his face was careworn and pockmarked. With a pewter tankard in one hand and conducting an invisible choir with the other, McCabe regaled the gang with a rendition of John Barleycorn before slumping down against a tree, giggling. Brady glared at his companion. The pair were polar opposites in just about every manner possible. McCabe was brash, impulsive and hot-headed while Brady was calm, measured and controlled. McCabe was a devil for the drink, while Brady avoided it as much as he could manage.
In all their time together, since escaping from Sarah Island, they had seen all of their other companions captured or killed, and in fact Brady himself had almost been nabbed himself on one occasion, no thanks to McCabe who bolted at the first sign of trouble. It was McCabe that had convinced him to go to Thomas Kenton’s hut, despite everything telling him it was a bad idea, then when Brady’s misgivings were vindicated and they were jumped by a pair of redcoats, McCabe has shot off like a rocket, leaving Brady to his fate. Fortunately, Brady was resolute enough to have affected his own escape (though not unscathed) and it took a considerable amount of begging for Brady to allow McCabe to share his company when they eventually reunited. It was a marriage of convenience, but the convenience had worn off.
McCabe staggered to his feet and made his way to the rum for a refill. He was halted by William McKenney blocking his path.
“That’s enough, Jim. Go take a seat; you’re drunk,” McKenney replied firmly.
“To Hell with you, I know how I am,” McCabe replied.
He attempted to push past McKenney, but the more sober man simply shifted to deny him passage. McCabe’s face scrunched into a scowl.
“What’s your problem, McKenney?” McCabe slurred.
“Get out of it, McCabe; you’re three sheets to the wind.”
“I’ll show you a sheet…”
McCabe wobbled, then lunged at McKenney. They fell to the ground, wrestling. It didn’t take much effort for McKenney to get the upper hand, straddling McCabe and grabbing him by the throat. McCabe fished around and grabbed a pistol that had fallen from his trousers as he hit the ground. With the weight of the firearm enhancing his blow, McCabe struck McKenney in the head, causing him to roll off.
Seeing the commotion, the other gang members rushed over, with Josiah Bird and Patrick Dunne leaping in to join the fisticuffs. Bird and Dunne were, just like McCabe, drunk as newts, and swung punches at everyone and no-one in particular.
“Arrah!” Dunne shouted as he landed a blow on McCabe, hurting his hand. McCabe returned the gesture, jabbing the Irishman in the ribs.
McKenney spear-tackled McCabe to the ground and tried to disarm him but McCabe rose and swung his pistol around, levelling it at his opponent and cocking it. At that moment, Henry Hunt, who had been seated nearby patiently, ran to McKenney’s side and tried to prevent McCabe from shooting him. In so doing he made himself the target. McCabe, unable to stop himself, pulled the trigger and a ball of lead pushed through Hunt’s chest. He collapsed with a groan.
Brady stormed across and snatched the pistol out of McCabe’s hand. He cursed at his companion and struck him across the head with the pommel of the pistol’s stock, knocking him unconscious. He ordered other members of the gang to tie McCabe up as he attended to their fallen prisoner.
Brady knelt beside Hunt and put his fingers to his throat to feel for a pulse. Hunt was unresponsive and lying in a pool of his own blood. There was no pulse. Brady felt numb.
“He’s dead,” Brady stated coldly. McKenney gazed on the body in horror.
“What do we do, Matt?”
“We bury him. In the morning we’ll get moving.”
Brady stood slowly then crossed to a pile of tools and took up a hatchet. He proceeded to hack the rum cask apart, freeing the liquid, which melted the dust into mud. A rivulet of rum snaked between his feet and downhill. He did the same with the remaining ceramic bottles of porter and a bottle of wine. His gang looked on with disappointment but none intervened.
Brady took several of his men to an area close to the beach and dug a grave for McCabe’s victim with what implements they had at their disposal. The corpse was then carried down from the camp and placed in the hole, far too shallow to rightly be considered a grave, then filled it in. Throughout the process, all men wore a look of grim determination and did not speak. Once the hole had been filled, the men stood in silence for a moment of respect before returning to the camp.
William Young, or Tilly as he was better known to the gang, seemed particularly disturbed by the turn of events.
“It’s a bad business, Matthew,” Tilly said to Brady. Brady simply grunted.
The following morning the gang packed up their camp as James McCabe slowly came to. Realising he had been tied to a tree, he began straining at his bonds and screaming furiously with every profanity he could muster. He was soon freed and as he made his way to the cask of rum, he realised it had been destroyed.
“What did you do to the drink?”
“I did away with it, McCabe,” Brady replied.
“What in Hell for?”
“It’s no good. After your display last night, I cannot trust any of you to behave sensibly with the stuff. You put a man to death for no good reason. You’re lucky I don’t put a ball through you myself.”
McCabe, who had been so drunk his memory of the previous night was almost non-existent, immediately reeled with confusion. In his addled state of mind, he balled his hand into a fist and swung at his leader. Brady dodged the blow easily and grabbed McCabe.
“That bastard McKenney put you up to it, didn’t he?” McCabe hollered.
“I want you gone,” Brady said calmly. McCabe was red in the face and scowled as he pushed Brady away from him.
“Fine; I don’t need you lot at any rate. Good riddance.”
McCabe found his belongings and set off on foot, glaring at each man as he went. He hoped someone would stop him and beg him to stay but nobody did. As he reached the outskirts of the camp, he turned around to face his former colleagues.
“Damn the lot of you to Hell. You won’t last a month!”
With that last burst of defiance, James McCabe left Matthew Brady’s company for the last time.
William Fletcher had a respectable trade before he joined Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell in bushranging, though he had recently been in trouble after getting drunk at the races and attempting to try out one of the horses. It was April 1865 and the bushrangers had long been operating in the Braidwood district, but had decided to branch out. They set their sights on the Gulph goldfields and Nerrigundah, a mining boom town, but they needed someone who knew the area to scout for them, which it appears Fletcher was willing and able to do.
On 9 April, the gang set to work. They picked a spot on the road out of Nerrigundah near Deep Creek to bail up passers-by and waited. The identities of the members of the gang that day are, as in most crimes attributed to the Clarkes, debatable. What is most likely, based on witness reports, is that Tommy and John Clarke, their uncles Pat and Tom O’Connell (referred to more commonly by the Anglicised ‘Connell’), William Fletcher. There was also a man named “Joe”, who was identified as a man named Joe Bishop, but he had not worked with the gang before and was not known to have done so later on. Some have speculated that Bill Berriman’s brother Joseph was the mystery man, partly because one of the witnesses claimed Bill Berriman was present, although he may have mistaken Pat O’Connell for Berriman. For the sake of this retelling, we will be working on the assumption that Pat was mistaken for Bill Berriman, and we will refer to the other man simply as Joe.
The bushrangers disguised themselves with cloth masks and cloaks as other bushrangers had taken to doing in recent crimes. Pat O’Connell wore a blue mask and cloak, some of the others wore red masks and grey cloaks. Tommy Clarke seemed to prefer a blue coat and a blackened face. While most of the bushrangers wore disguises, it does not appear from witness accounts that Fletcher was disguised. The cloak and mask combination helped stymie efforts to identify the offenders, as evidenced by the subsequent confusion as to the identities of the bushrangers that struck at Nerrigundah.
The first robbery of the day was of a small group of Chinese men who were then kept under guard in the bush as more victims were added. Marian Groves, the innkeeper at Deep Creek, was bailed up but not robbed as she was carrying no valuables. A mailboy named Griffith was robbed, the bushrangers taking £50 in half-notes from the mail. It was typical of the time for cash bills to be sent in halves at separate times due to highway robbery, as half a note was valueless without its pair.
Robert Jones of the Golden Fleece Hotel in Nerrigundah was also bailed up, as was a store owner named Donald Sutherland. Jones was obviously familiar with members of the gang as Tommy Clarke addressed him as “Bob”.
The biggest haul came when John Emmott was riding on horseback to his father’s store, the Bee Hive in Moruya, when he found his path blocked by Tommy Clarke. As he tried to turn back he was cut off by the other bushrangers. He plunged his hand into his coat to grab the gold nuggets he was carrying, intent on throwing them into the scrub. The gang opened fire, and Emmott’s horse was shot dead. A bullet went through the back of Emmott’s thigh, passing straight through. The unlucky traveller found himself pinned under the dead horse and bleeding freely from his wound. He was robbed and ordered to join the other prisoners. When he tried to explain he could not walk he was struck with the butt of a pistol. However, Tom O’Connell took pity on Emmott and reprimanded his rough accomplice, then helped Emmott rest before fetching him water.
The prisoners were then taken to the pub in Deep Creek where they were kept under guard. A group consisting of the two Clarkes, Pat O’Connell and William Fletcher headed to Nerrigundah, where they hoped to steal gold from Pollock’s store. Pollock was a gold buyer, and since gold escorts no longer took the gold from the diggings after Ben Hall’s gang had attempted to rob the Araluen escort in 1865, he kept it in a safe in his store for when he made his trips to Sydney every four weeks. Of particular interest to the gang was that Sgt. Nelson Hitch, the head of the local police, was absent to give evidence in a stock theft case in Moruya. The only other policeman they knew of was Constable Miles O’Grady, who was bedridden with ‘Colonial Fever’, which was likely a euphemism for Cholera. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to strike it rich.
Despite the confusion, it is very likely that the party that entered Nerrigundah around 6:00pm consisted of Tommy Clarke, Pat O’Connell, William Fletcher and John Clarke. It is possible that Tom O’Connell was acting as a scout on the outskirts of town, explaining his apparent absence from Deep Creek and his absence from the events that were unfolding in Nerrigundah.
The gang set about rounding up prisoners and lodging them in Willis’ London Tavern. It was estimated that forty people had already been imprisoned there without violence when two of the bushrangers, probably Tommy and Pat, decided to tackle Pollock’s store, which was across the road.
When they entered the store, Mrs. Pollock was tending to a handful of customers. Immediately they were bailed up and Clarke demanded the key to the safe. Reluctantly it was given over and the bushrangers plundered the store, taking silver-mounted meerschaum pipes, clothes and boots. As they escorted their new prisoners to the London Tavern, Mrs. Pollock snatched the key from Tommy’s hand and threw it into the street. As it was already dark, being almost 8:00pm, and there were no street lamps, it could not be found. In his fury, Clarke was said to have slapped Mrs. Pollock and told her that if she were a man he’d have killed her for such an act. The new prisoners were added to the collective and Tommy searched in the street with a candle for the key but without success.
As this was unfolding, a messenger had slipped away down a side street and notified Constable Smyth of what was taking place. Smyth was new to the town, having only been in Nerrigundah for four days prior, and only having graduated to a full constable on the first of the month. It seems that Fletcher had not been updated about the new copper, and thus had not been able to relay that information to the gang. Unsure how to proceed, Smyth suggested that the messenger find Constable O’Grady and notify him.
Upon hearing the news, O’Grady hauled himself out of his sick bed, dressed in his uniform and armed himself. Despite being in a terrible state from his fever, or woozy from the laudanum that would have been given to him to treat it, he headed out to meet Smyth. As he passed the Golden Fleece Hotel, Mrs. Jones begged O’Grady not to proceed as he was in no state to confront bushrangers. O’Grady replied, “I must do my duty.” As noble a statement as that was, the reality was that O’Grady could barely walk in a straight line but Smyth was not in a position to confront a gang of armed bushrangers alone.
The last of the prisoners were being rounded up at the London Tavern when Fletcher bailed up the local butcher, Robert Drew. When ordered to fork out his money, Drew scrunched up the £40 in notes he had in his pocket and threw it over the heads of the gang. There was a commotion as Drew was roughed up and forced inside while Tommy looked for what had been thrown.
It was just after 8:00pm when O’Grady and Smyth made their way down the main drag of Nerrigundah towards the London Tavern. O’Grady staggered and stumbled along, very unsteady on his feet. Upon seeing the lights on in the tavern, the police knew where they were headed.
William Fletcher was standing outside when O’Grady spotted him, Pat O’Connell next to him just inside the door. Without a word, O’Grady raised his rifle and fired at who he assumed was one of the bushrangers. The bullet struck Fletcher in the right arm, passing through the flesh and punching into his ribcage and lodging in his chest. He collapsed, fatally wounded. A second later, Smyth fired and the bullet lodged in the door jamb next to Pat’s head.
The bushrangers rushed into the street and fired at the troopers; one appeared to kneel for a better shot or to check on his fallen confederate. All were armed with pistols. Immediately the crowd inside the tavern spilled out into the street to see what was happening. Down the road, upon hearing the gunshots, Mrs. Jones doused the lights in the Golden Fleece. Not seeing a way they could fire effectively with such a big crowd of civilians in the firing line, the police hared down a side street. Several more shots were exchanged until a rifle bullet struck O’Grady in the back, piercing his kidney and pushing out of his navel. It was too dark to see who the rifleman was.
Smyth took O’Grady’s revolver and ran all the way back to the police barracks, while O’Grady struggled to the Golden Fleece. When Mrs. Jones opened the door, O’Grady explained that he was shot and collapsed into her arms. Meanwhile, the surviving bushrangers mounted up and fled, leaving Fletcher behind. An hour after Fletcher had been shot, he expired. O’Grady was carried by a group of miners back to the barracks where he died about three hours later.
Smyth attempted to form a posse, but only one man volunteered and he changed his mind when he saw that nobody else was willing. It wasn’t until Sgt. Hitch got back and found out what had happened that men were willing to volunteer to track the bushranger’s down.
The bushrangers had returned to Deep Creek, where they drank and gathered supplies. A Chinese man was roughed up, and another made an escape as the gang were loading up their packhorses. One of the gang made a move to raid the store across the creek when a cry rang out for the gang to mount up, “The Gulph people are upon us!” The gang took off along an old bridle track as an army of enraged Chinese miners descended upon the pub with their lanterns lighting the way.
By some accounts, Hitch’s posse managed to cut the gang off at a creek, laying in ambush until they arrived to water their horses. The posse opened fire and the gang retreated without their packhorse. With no ammunition left, and having not been able to capture the bushrangers, the posse returned home with what could be retrieved from the horse.
The inquests on Fletcher and O’Grady were held the following day, a verdict of justifiable homicide was lodged in the case of Fletcher. Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell were found culpable in O’Grady’s death. O’Grady was buried in the local cemetery then later transferred to the cemetery in Moruya. A monument was subsequently erected in Nerrigundah to his memory. As for Fletcher, he was buried without a coffin or a marker in the bush outside Nerrigundah.
Soon after this the recently legislated Felon’s Apprehension Act was implemented to declare Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell outlaws.
By March 1865 the Hall Gang were struggling. The murders of Sergeant Parry and Constable Nelson had elevated these highwaymen to murderers and thus the hunt for them had ramped up. Because of the lowered success from highway robbery, the gang decided to take a crack at the big game: a gold escort.
In 1861 Frank Gardiner had successfully robbed the Orange gold escort at Eugowra Rocks. Among his gang were members of what would come to be popularly known as the Gilbert Gang, then later the Hall Gang. While Hall’s involvement in the heist is questionable, Gilbert’s was undeniable and thus it is possible that it was his idea to attempt another escort robbery in the bush at Araluen. Araluen, near Braidwood, was outside the gang’s usual beat, but its gold diggings were yielding much treasure even though most of the other goldfields had stopped rewarding diggers. The gang’s plan seemed to be as simple as ambushing the escort in the bush en route from the diggings. To achieve this they had to recruit at least one man more for the job.
Historians have debated over who the mysterious fourth gang member was, but there are two leading theories. The first is that it was up and coming bushranger Thomas Clarke, whose stomping ground encompassed the very spot where the heist was to happen. Clarke, despite being the popular suspect as far as the police were concerned, was not known to have worked with the gang on any other occasions, nor indeed with any of the other notable bushrangers in the region apart from those in his own gang. The second, most likely theory, is that it was Daniel Ryan, a friend of John Dunn with a criminal history of his own who went unaccounted for at the time of the robbery. While he wasn’t positively identified at the time, he was later arrested for his suspected involvement with the gang.
The gang descended upon Paul Burke’s Jinglemoney station on the Sunday night and swapped their horses for three of his. With fresh horses at the ready the gang headed for their point of attack at Major’s Creek. The hiding place the gang chose was a large, hollow tree at a bend where four paths converged. Two years previously a gold escort had been attacked in a similar fashion. The gang were equipped with a sledgehammer, an axe and a chisel to enable them to get the lockbox open once they had it in their possession.
Just after 8:00am on 13 March, 1865, the wagonette carrying the gold from the Araluen diggings left on it’s journey to Braidwood, rattling along the road. Riding ahead of the escort was a man named Payne who worked for a company called Rodd and bros. Unfortunately for Payne, he was bailed up by Gilbert who kept him covered with his Tranter revolving carbine. Payne was ordered to dismount and stay quiet as he was taken to the gang’s hiding place. With Payne’s being horse unrestrained, it naturally wandered off. Soon others were added to the collection of prisoners: a man named Nairn, another named Griffin, and a woman named Mrs. Jonas. The prisoners were restrained and kept on an embankment between the gang’s horses and the road. While held prisoner, the captives got a good look at their captors. Gilbert was in control, calling the shots to the other three and interrogating the captives regarding the escort. Hall remained, as always, quiet and subdued. Dunn concerned himself with preparing for the incoming escort while the mystery man kept well back from the group with his face hidden behind a red scarf or handkerchief. Gilbert declared to the captives that if the driver of the coach were to be unarmed he would not be targeted.
As the gang went about bailing up travellers, a local splitter noticed what they were up to and upon finding Payne’s horse, mounted up and went straight in to Major’s Creek to report the activity. This news quickly spread and within minutes a posse of thirty armed men had gathered and begun heading towards the scene of the crime. Unfortunately by the time they would reach the spot it would be too late, though they would gather more to their number as they passed through Araluen.
The wagonette bearing the gold was being driven by a man named John Blatchford, a gold buyer and owner of the vehicle, and was being escorted by constables MacEllicott, Byrne and Kelly, and Senior Constable Stapylton. Byrne rode abreast of the escort, acting as a kind of pilot. In the lockbox stored on the coach was 1,900oz, or £4000 worth, of gold.
At ten o’clock the escort descended into the bend. When the escort was within four yards of the gang, heading up to the ridge, Constable Byrne was allowed passage, however Gilbert ordered the others to open fire on Constable Kelly, who was shot in the chest above the heart. It was estimated that eight shots were fired, two striking the coach, two striking Stapylton’s horse in the rump. The firing spooked Kelly’s horse and it bucked the rider off before galloping away back the way the escort had come. Likewise, the coach horses became spooked and tore away from the escort. Blatchford lost his balance and tumbled from the vehicle, also receiving a bullet wound when one of the projectiles ricocheted off the wagonette. Constable Byrne managed to halt the coach as it climbed the rise. He then proceeded to set up a spot next to the wagonette from which to defend the gold.
Kelly remained wounded on the road as Blatchford attempted to fetch the fallen constable’s horse. Kelly used the strength he could muster to call out, “for God’s sake, Mr. Blatchford, don’t leave me here to die!” Blatchford helped drag Kelly to the embankment and propped him up before grabbing the terrified horse and riding it full pelt back towards Araluen.
With Constable Kelly down for the count, and Blatchford riding away, the remaining police dismounted and crept into the bush in an effort to flank their attackers. Gilbert ordered the gang to double back to their prisoners. Payne asked if anyone had been injured, which Gilbert responded to by stating that the gang were fine but the police were “bloody well licked”. The gang continued over the embankment and mounted their horses to pursue the runaway coach, one of Burke’s greys in exchange for Mr. Nairn’s horse. Gilbert barked at the gang to hurry but Hall’s stirrup leather had fallen out and he was attempting to fix it. As this was transpiring, Stapylton and MacEllicott had dismounted and come up behind the bushrangers. They opened fire and a shot from Stapylton nearly clipped Gilbert’s ear, to which he called out “That was a bloody fine shot, mark that man!”
The bushrangers locked on to Constable Byrne and rode furiously towards him but realised that the spot where the coach had come to rest was too open and would leave them vulnerable if they attempted to grab the lockbox. They cut their losses and bolted without the booty. They left behind their “safe-cracking” kit and a shotgun worth £30 with a broken stock.
Blatchford’s flight had not merely been a terrified escape. He stopped at Mr. Nelson’s and gave instructions on how to retrieve Constable Kelly, then continued into Redbank where he went straight to the telegraph office and reported the attack to the Braidwood police. It had only taken around twenty minutes for him to accomplish the task. As soon as the news reached Braidwood, the police geared up and took off with Superintendent Orridge leading the way.
Orridge and Dr. Pattison were the first to arrive in the scene and they retrieved Constable Kelly and rode him back to Norman’s. Pattison immediately went to work, noting that despite there being two bullet holes in Kelly’s waistcoat there was only one wound. The bullet that had struck Kelly passed through his body without hitting any organs before lodging at his back just below the skin. Dr. Pattison extracted the bullet straight away. The wound was, fortunately, not life-threatening but just in case Rev. O’Brien was sent for.
The community was up in arms over the affair and in particular over the shooting of Constable Kelly, who had been serving in the New South Wales police for three years. This was his first time on escort detail for the Araluen line and would have been his last action as a New South Wales trooper as he was due to head to Queensland to be with his parents.
As for the bushrangers, the failure seemed to do little to deter them from crime and very soon they would re-emerge to continue their nefarious trade. Little did they know that things were aligning to bring in new legislation that would be known as the “felons apprehension act”. This act would enable the government to declare certain individuals “outlaws” and deny them access to the protection of the law. Anyone could shoot them for the reward money and not suffer any negative consequences.
It was only a matter of time before their days on the run would come to an abrupt and violent end.
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.
The bushranger gangs of the 1860s were not too different to the rock bands of the 1970s. The members were larger than life, they were constantly travelling, and the members were constantly changing either because of “creative differences”, imprisonment or through untimely death. So it was with the highest profile gang of the era – that belonging to Johnny Gilbert and Ben Hall. Having just lost three of their gang within a span of months (Mickey Burke to suicide, John Vane gaoled, and John O’Meally shot dead), the pair were quick to find replacements. Thus was added into the mix Jim Gordon, alias Mount, an old hand known not-so-affectionately as “Old Man”.
Gordon assisted the bushrangers on several outings in 1864, but it was on 20 May he would distinguish himself as a formidable bushranger. The trio began their work by bailing up two men on the road from Cowra and relieving them of £6. The men were on their way to the races at Young (formerly Lambing Flat) and one was carrying pastry to be had there. The brigands helped themselves to the pastry and Hall complained that it was “devilish dry”. Surely it was one thing to rob a man of his lunch, but to criticise his cooking on top of it all must have been insult on injury. At any rate the bushrangers decided to ride to the nearest pub to wash it down.
At 5pm Hall, Gilbert and Gordon rode up to the Bang Bang Hotel, Koorawatha, where around thirty-five men were enjoying a leisurely drink. Hall was mounted on a superb chestnut horse with one white foot, the others rode a bay and a black horse. Each man was armed with a rifle and trio of revolvers. Promptly, the bushrangers bailed up the patrons. All of the occupants of the building were rounded up and guarded by Hall, while Gilbert and Gordon positioned themselves at the gate, still mounted.
In the paddock plainclothes Senior Constables MacNamara and Scott were with their horses, who were grazing. The officers were on special duty to escort race horses from Cowra to the Burrangong races and had been on the road since 10am that morning. They had been in the company of messrs Wilson of Young, and Skillicorn of Bathurst, and while the civilians were in the bar the troopers had taken the horses to the yard to feed them. Suddenly the troopers were startled when Gilbert and Gordon entered the yard on horseback. Gilbert presented a revolver and Gordon a carbine.
“Leave them horses,” shouted Gordon, but the police were baffled and did not respond. “I say once more, Leave them horses!”
Suddenly realising the danger, the troopers went for their pistols but were covered by Gilbert who stated, “Take your hands out of that, you wretches, or I’ll blow your brains out!”
Gilbert fired three shots before the police replied. Seven shots were exchanged with the police advancing upon the mounted bushrangers. As the police closed the thirty yard gap between themselves and their attackers, Hall and Gordon took off, leaving Gilbert to defend himself. Upon realising he was on his own, Gilbert took off after the others with Senior Constable Scott in hot pursuit.
Scott stuck to Hall who unloaded his revolver at the trooper while riding full gallop. After each shot Hall would rest his revolver upon his thigh while looking to see if the shot took effect. Scott kept at him, resting his weapon on his left arm to steady it. One of Scott’s shots struck Hall’s cabbage tree hat causing it to fly off, though it was attached to a string. Hall clutched at his head and swore before speeding away. With Hall out of reach, Scott returned to the hotel where Gilbert and Gordon were sheltering behind the building. Gordon, seeing Scott 350 yards away, dismounted and fired at him shouting, “Take that, you wretch!” The shot hit the ground and ricocheted into the building. Seeing his shot so ineffective, Gordon mounted and retreated. The trio threatened a return visit as they galloped away with their proverbial tails between their legs.
By the end of the fight around 30 shots had been fired, but there were no casualties. Inspector Singleton was soon informed and a party to search for the bushrangers was dispatched, anticipating that they could be headed to a local race meeting. The search was fruitless and the gang would strike again three days later.
The gang soon drew 19-year-old John Dunleavy into the fold and after a few more outings, including one wherein a victim was viciously flogged for having been part of a search party, Gilbert decided to take his leave of the gang. It is unclear what prompted his decision, but thereafter the gang would be seen to be led by Ben Hall and referred to as such in the press.
“Surrender to such cowardly dogs is a thing I’ll ne’er do. This day I’ll fight with all my might,” cried Bold Jack Donahue.
Lyrics from Bold Jack Donahue. Traditional.
As with most bushrangers who transcend history to become enshrined in folklore, Jack Donahoe (aka Donohoe, Donahue) made the leap from brigand to legend in his final stoush with the forces of law and order. His recklessness in the face of death seemed to strike a chord with Australians of a certain class.
This year marks 190 years since Donahoe’s death, so it seems appropriate to recount the final battle that sealed his place in history.
Donahoe and his partners William Webber and John Walmsley had been ruling the roads, sheltered by sympathisers who kept them fed and clothed in clean garments. These merry highwaymen approached their occupation with great pluck and a level head, one time even liberating a victim of his rum by pouring it into a chamber pot that they took away with them. Naturally such flagrant lawlessness was causing the settlers to wring their hands in dread, lest they be bailed up on the road or have their homes raided.
As is typical of the press throughout Australian history, the more the bushrangers eluded the police, the more the press put them on blast. Donahoe in particular had become something of a celebrity and everyone seemed to have a story about being bailed up by him.
One could feasibly have overheard conversation in the pub that sounded like, “I was robbed by Donahoe on the Cobbity Road, I was! There he were, bold as brass, astride a cob with a pair of barking irons in his hands. ‘Up with your copper,’ says he. Who am I to refuse a bushranger? So I gives it him and off he trots waving his hat about and whooping like a mad owl! So as you can imagine, I’m a bit light on cash so you’ll have to pay for the ale this time, my handsome.”
In July, Donahoe had been shot in the right shoulder during a shootout. The wound had mostly healed, but not well, and continued to give him trouble. Victims described him as having visible stiffness in the shoulder, though it didn’t hinder him terribly. In the afternoons he and his colleagues would perform robberies then escape to their hideouts in the Parramatta region just before dark when the police were unable to track them properly.
The authorities were growing tired of chasing the bushrangers through the wilderness and were hoping for a breakthrough. This came in the form of locating one of the gang’s treasure troves in an old cave hideout, but the bushrangers were nowhere to be found. The search party, under Lieutenant MacAlister, magistrate of Argyle, with the assistance of an Aboriginal tracker referred to as “Black Jemmy”, decided to change tactics. Rather than root around for the bandits like a bushpig in search of truffles, they elected to split up and keep watch on hotspots where the fugitives were known to haunt.
Sergeant Hodson of the 57th regiment led a party of troopers to the vicinity of Bringelly. The team consisted of Hodson, two men named Muckleston and Warburton, Chief Constable Farley, Constable Gorman and some others. They spent a fortnight combing through the bush with no success and at sunset retired to their camp in a hollow on the property of a man named Wentworth. It is easy to imagine the frustration the mounted police were feeling after months of fruitless bush-bashing.
After yet another day without result, on the 1st of September 1830, Farley headed off on his grey horse to procure provisions as the rest of the party unsaddled their horses. It was about five o’clock when fate decided to throw the beleaguered bluebottles a bone.
A Fortuitous Arrival
The thing about bushranging that often gets overlooked is that riding horses through the bush is far more romantic than it is practical. The reality was that much of the time was spent travelling on foot, simply because it was a far more efficient way to get through tangled scrub and between the gnarled, twisted trees with branches that jut out at just the right height to peg out an incautious rider like washing. Thus, on the afternoon of the first of September the trio of Donahoe, Webber and Walmsley headed back to their hideout on foot. Of course, riding a horse in the bush is not the same as guiding one through it, and the bushrangers were leading a black packhorse laden with their ill-gotten gains into the scrub. No doubt they would have seen the police campfire about a mile away.
“‘Ere, do you see that fire over yonder?”
“Ah, probably some hapless gloak got stuck out in the bush as the sun went down. Pay it no mind; keep walking.”
And so it was that the police clapped eyes for the first time upon the men that had been causing them such frustration. They too opted not to mount up, dashing into the bush on foot to cut the bushrangers off, leaving two of their number to watch the camp. Hodson was determined to bring the bushrangers in by any means necessary. As the bushrangers approached a creek, Hodson decided to split the group up to get the bandits in a pincer movement should they cross. Hodson took two constables to the left, the others went on the right.
The right-hand party kept up with the fugitives seemingly undetected, but when they got within a hundred yards, the bushrangers knew something was up. Donahoe signalled to the others by taking off his hat and waving it. They ditched the packhorse and took shelter behind the trees. Being resourceful, they were equipped for battle already. Donahoe was the first to take a snap at the authorities.
“Come on you cowardly rascals, we’re ready if there’s a dozen of you!”
The Battle of Bringelly
Donahoe had long made it known that he’d rather receive his death on the receiving end of a musket ball than at the end of a rope. He even carried a small pistol secreted in his trousers so that in the event that he was captured he could shoot himself. Two of his previous colleagues had been sent to the gallows, one of whom suffered the trauma of his rope snapping once he fell through the drop. The poor fellow then had to wait for the executive council to decide whether he could be freed. They decided it was better to have another crack at making the bushranger dance on air, so the drama on the scaffold was played out a second time, and this time it went to plan. No doubt Donahoe was aware of how easily executions were botched and the thought of such indignity was unpalatable to him. It is not unlikely that such a fate was on his mind when he tried to encourage Webber and Walmsley to engage the troopers in battle with him.
For half an hour there was an awkward lull as both sides debated about starting the attack. Eventually it was the troopers that felt the itch in their trigger finger first. Warburton raised his firing piece and launched a ball at a tree where he had seen Webber take cover. This shot, however, only succeeded in hitting the tree trunk and sending a small shower of splinters flying out. The shot was only off by about an inch.
The bushrangers opened fire, exchanging shots with the police through the gloom and the ashen puffs of gun smoke. Though the firing was intense at such close quarters and under such limited cover none of the blows landed. Donahoe continued to taunt his attackers.
“Come on, I could beat the whole bloody colony! Charge, my boys!”
Donahoe’s reckless shouting and gesticulating made him the obvious target for Muckleston, whose aptitude with the rifle was well known. He watched the bushranger’s shelter like a hawk eyeing off a rodent in the grass, waiting for the opportunity to strike. He held his breath as Donahoe stuck his head out from cover to take aim. The smooth face and flaxen hair catching the last hints of light as darkness set in provided an ample target. Mucklesworth’s finger squeezed the trigger and his rifle kicked like a mule as it squeezed two lead balls out of the muzzle in a puff of smoke. They found their mark in the left temple and the neck of the man referred to as “Bold Jack”.
Seeing their leader fall, the others elected to give up and retreat. They ran at top speed deeper into the bush, discarding their hats, coats and shoes in order to facilitate an easier, more stealthy passage through the wilderness.
Abandoned by Webber and Walmsley, Donahoe lay on the ground, bleeding and barely conscious. As he gurgled his last breaths he must have realised that he had died as he had hoped – in battle, not on the scaffold. He hadn’t had to use his secret weapon after all. The battle had been as abrupt as it was violent.
The troopers attempted to follow Webber and Walmsley but by now the darkness had set in. They returned to Donahoe and his body was searched. As well as the horse pistol and rifle, the troopers found his secret pistol tucked away in his trousers pocket. The packhorse was also retrieved and searched. In the cargo were a watch, stolen bank documents, flour, meat and women’s clothes – hardly the treasure trove one would expect from a renowned highwayman.
The confrontation had been brief and violent. The constabulary had their prize lashed to the back of a packhorse and taken to Sydney. The body was then taken to the hospital where it was kept until the official procedures were carried out.
Sketches were made of the body laid out on the mortician’s slab, and a death mask was made by a tobacconist. Unlike later masks that were used for phrenological study, this mask would provide a reference for a collection of tobacco pipes shaped like the outlaw’s head, complete with bullet wounds. If contemporary accounts are to be believed, they were very popular.
After the inquest was conducted, Donahoe was buried in an unmarked grave in Raby. The lack of a marker or monument meant the bushranger’s admirers would have nowhere to go to spare a thought for the wild colonial boy.
With Donahoe buried, all that remained was to catch up with Webber and Walmsley. They would not remain at large long, and when the law finally caught up with them their true colours went on display.
After months of hiding and the rapid decrease in the size of their gang, Matthew Brady and James McCabe were the only remaining members of the gang that had boldly escaped from Sarah Island on a stolen whaleboat in June 1824. Though they had numerous harbourers, there was always room for more. Enter District Constable Thomas Kenton.
Kenton was an opportunist who had absconded from a whaling ship at Norfolk Island, from which place he made his way to Van Diemens Land. He settled on 50 acres at Brown’s River and worked as a stock-keeper, but found that the agrarian lifestyle was not his métier. He was frequently in trouble with the law and his neighbours, often going to court as either defendant or prosecution. He sold the property to a man named John Lucas and relocated to the more unruly frontier at Jericho where he took up employment as a District Constable. While he was entrusted with maintaining law and order, crimes began to increase under his watch – particularly stock theft. There was never any evidence to pin on Kenton, but it was clear who the prime suspect was.
A copper on the take was just what the doctor ordered as far as Brady and McCabe were concerned and they struck up a friendship with Kenton. Arranging meetings through a bush telegraph, a young man named Hyte who was enamoured with Brady, the group would rendezvous in Kenton’s hut to talk business. It was Kenton that masterminded the pair’s depredations in the area, in return for a hefty cut of the proceeds. Whenever it was time for a meeting, Kenton would hang a white sheet outside his hut to signal to the bushrangers that the coast was clear, however, Kenton’s behaviour was being closely monitored by local busybodies who suspected he was up to something and they reported the news to Kenton’s superiors.
Kenton received a rude awakening in March of 1825 when he was told in no uncertain terms that it was his duty to apprehend the bushrangers, and failing that he could be up for a very harsh penalty as a harbourer. Kenton knew the odds and agreed to betray Brady and McCabe. He informed his superiors of the next arranged meeting, and two soldiers, Spicer and Thompson, were stationed in Kenton’s hut to strike when Brady and McCabe arrived.
On the day in question, Kenton hung up the white sheet as usual, yet Brady was hesitant to go, having had ominous dreams in which he put much stock. It was only after convincing from McCabe and Hyte that he went. The trio were watched from inside the hut, seen to be arguing. When they reached the domicile, Kenton and the soldiers burst out, knocking Brady and Hyte over. McCabe took off like a rocket as his companions were bound and taken inside, knowing the cost of allowing the troopers to get the better of you. Kenton and Brady verbally sparred as the soldiers prepared to escort young Hyte to the police station. They gave Kenton a gun then made their way into town.
In the scuffle Brady had received a nasty gash on his head and was beginning to feel woozy. He asked Kenton to take him to lie down on the bed, which he did. Brady then suggested a cup of tea might fortify him more so Kenton took a Billy can to the creek to fetch water. Meanwhile, Brady got off the bed and put his hands in the fire until his ropes burnt away. With bad burns on his hands, and his head and clothes covered in blood, he armed himself with Kenton’s gun. When Kenton returned, Brady presented a dreadful spectacle, and though he threatened to shoot him, he relented. Brady promised Kenton that one day he would exact revenge, before escaping into the bush. Kenton was subsequently arrested as a result of the escape and would later claim it was he that had removed the bonds to alleviate Brady’s suffering.
Months passed and Brady’s gang endured many misadventures and changes in line-up. McCabe left the gang after a drunken fight with gang member James McKenney, which in turn had seen Brady destroy all of the gang’s rum supply. After setting off on his own, McCabe had soon after gotten himself arrested.
By 1826, Kenton had been booted out of the police and was working at the Cocked Hat Inn. Word had got around that Kenton had been cowardly in letting Brady go, and he had begun spinning lies to all and sundry to save face. Brady learned of this and decided to pay the traitor a visit. Brady was accompanied by two gang members, Patrick Bryant and Ryan Williams, and the trio travelled to the Cocked Hat Inn searching for Kenton. Brady was moving slower than usual, having been shot in the leg in a gunfight at Elphin, near Launceston. The bushrangers utilised their bush telegraphs well by encouraging them to ply the police with false leads to throw them off the gang’s trail while they set about their business.
On Sunday, 5 March 1826, Brady, Bryant and Williams rode over Cocked Hat Hill on stolen horses. When they arrived at the inn it was still early and there was nobody awake. Brady bashed on the door until someone awoke and answered. The proprietor opened the door and received a barked interrogative.
“Have you got Tom Kenton in there?”
The proprietor confirmed at gunpoint and allowed the bushrangers inside. Lighting a candle, he guided them to a bedroom where Kenton and another man named Yates were in bed. Kenton sat bolt upright at the intrusion and Brady immediately reminded him of his promise of the previous year. A small crowd had formed behind Brady to see the commotion, but drew back when he announced his motivation.
“So you old villain, I have fallen in with you at last, and mean now to clear off old scores with you for all the mischief you have done me since we last parted, when I told you we should meet again, and what would come of it if you ever did me another bad turn. Now after letting you off as I did when you betrayed me and others to the military, you have told a hundred lies about me, and for which you shall suffer before I leave this room.”
Brady then proceeded to explain to those assembled exactly what lies Kenton had been telling and to declare the truth of what happened. Far worse Kenton’s lie that he allowed Brady to escape, was the attribution of murders to Brady’s name that he did not commit. A man with such a keen sense of his public image as Brady could not stand idly by as he was described as such a brute. Brady felt justified in administering punishment with lead and powder and levelled his pistol at Kenton’s head.
“I’ll give you five minutes to prepare yourself for your death.”
To drive home the seriousness of what he threatened, Brady began to count down the minutes on a watch. It was more than Kenton could take. He was remorseless and sneered at Brady, whose previous leniency and his reputation for avoiding bloodshed emboldened the former crooked cop to respond with mockery.
“Five minutes to prepare myself in? I don’t want one,” Kenton said, “I believe in neither God nor devil, and have no fear about dying. Fire away!”
Brady remained cool and continued the count down. This seemed to infuriate Kenton further.
“You know better than to do it. You are afraid to do it, you cursed cur dog.”
With that, Kenton got out of bed, brushed past Brady and had just reached the door when Brady shot him in the back of the head. Kenton was dead before he hit the ground. Not a single onlooker lifted a finger to intervene, they simply allowed the bushrangers to leave.
This would be the only murder carried out by Brady personally and it would be the crime that saw him at the end of a rope only two months later. Time was running out for the bushrangers, and Brady’s freedom was to be cut short when his wounded leg became infected, leaving him too weak to fight back when he was finally intersected by the notorious bounty hunter John Batman. By the time he was convicted for Kenton’s murder, Brady had already become a legend and Kenton’s story was already becoming obscured by myth.
In November 1863 the Gilbert-Hall gang were at the apex of their infamy. Raids on Canowindra and Bathurst had elevated them beyond the run-of-the-mill farm raiders, stock thieves and highwaymen that the pantheon of bushrangers mostly comprised of. Things had started falling apart however with the gruesome death of Mickey Burke during a siege and the subsequent split from the group by John Vane who had decided that prison was preferable to bushranging. The remaining members were Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert and John O’Meally, all of whom had been working together since 1861 when they were united under the leadership of Frank Gardiner.
The trio were determined not to let the sudden decrease in the size of their gang impact on their notoriety and the intimidation factor that came with it. With this in mind they decided to target the Campbells at Goimbla Station near Forbes.
Word had reached the gang that David Henry Campbell, a police magistrate, had been boasting of how well prepared he was to fend off an attack by the bushrangers. Campbell was known to have spoken very openly about his desire to see the bushrangers brought to justice and was even known to have gone hunting for them. Such an avowed enemy, it seemed, could not be left unmolested.
At around 9pm, on 19 November, 1863, David Campbell was in his drawing room when he heard footsteps near the verandah. He immediately fetched a double-barrelled shotgun and headed for the bedroom. He went to the back door of his dressing room where he was met by the indistinct figure of one of the armed bushrangers, likely O’Meally, who promptly fired two barrels from a shotgun near Campbell’s face, but missed. Campbell returned the gesture and the man fled, joining the rest of the gang at the front door of the house. Campbell followed, staying out of sight, and observed the bushrangers as they began firing into the house.
Roused by the sudden bursts of gunfire, William Campbell, David’s brother, went out to the verandah where he saw one of the bushrangers. Immediately the bandit fired at him, striking him in the chest. A second shot proved ineffective. William, in pain from his wound, struggled to his feet and ran to an oat crop for cover. Concealed in the vegetation, he tried to gauge the situation so he could mount a return to the house.
David Campbell retreated into the house and raised the alarm. His wife Amelia ran into the drawing room, which was lit up by lamps with the blinds still open, leaving her exposed. The bushrangers fired at her as she fetched a shotgun that was resting against the fireplace and the necessary ammunition. Shots zipped past her as she boldly made her way back through the room to safety. Campbell reloaded his shotgun and the couple took cover between two slab walls that led to the kitchen. From here they had a decent field of view and were able to catch their breath in relative safety. After fifteen minutes of relentless firing, the gang ceased long enough to threaten the occupants of the fortified house verbally.
“If you don’t immediately surrender, we’ll burn your place down!”
Campbell was game and hollered back, “Come on; I’m ready for you!”
Clearly this was not the desired response and one of the bushrangers was heard to exclaim “Oh, that is it!”
Within moments the bandits set about gathering incendiary tools. Fire was something they believed had great persuasive power, and if it did not force their prey to bow to the demands it would teach a valuable lesson about dealing with the bushrangers. They set fire to the barn and it went up quickly. From inside his house, Campbell screamed at the bushrangers to free his horses. Spitefully, they refused to comply. As the flames leaped into the night sky, illuminating the house, the horrific cries of the horses emanated from the barn as they were burned alive. Not satisfied with such wanton cruelty, the bandits proceeded to set fire to a shed opposite the burning barn. Hall, Gilbert and O’Meally must have taken no small amount of joy from the terror they were inflicting upon the Campbells and they continued to mock them as they fired into the house.
Mrs. Campbell ran out of the safety of the house to rouse the workmen for assistance 150 yards away. She was unsuccessful and returned to her husband with a servant girl.
Outside, the gang moved behind a fence to admire their handiwork as the fires raged, the heat incredible and the glow brilliant. Hall and Gilbert continued to fire at the front door and taunt the Campbells, keeping low to avoid being targeted. O’Meally was seemingly entranced by the gang’s handiwork and stood up, watching the fire. Mrs. Campbell spotted him by his cabbage-tree hat, reflecting the glow of the flames. David Campbell ran to the end of the house and aimed at O’Meally then fired. While Campbell reloaded O’Meally fell, blood gushing from a wound in his neck. As the vicious brigand lay dying, blood spurting from the bullet hole, his companions dragged him to the cover of some oak trees. Gilbert and Hall, who only weeks earlier had been willing to brutalise the Keightleys and hold them ransom for hours in retaliation for Mickey Burke’s death, seemed unwilling to show any degree of loyalty to O’Meally. They rifled through his pockets, taking anything valuable, and even took a ring from his right pinky finger. The neck was rested on a comforter, the body was then covered in a towel and a woolpack (sleeping bag) and abandoned.
With the firing having ceased, William Campbell headed off on foot to procure police. In the morning he returned with a constable and the scene was investigated. They found O’Meally’s cabbage-tree hat and carbine by the fence where he fell, then a trail of blood led them to O’Meally’s corpse. He was dressed in a corduroy jacket, buckskin, tall boots with long spurs, and three Crimean shirts. Inspecting the fatal wound, it was seen that there was a gaping wound in O’Meally’s neck where the shot had ripped through and smashed his vertebra. Blood was all over O’Meally’s neck and face. It was a grim sight, but a welcome one as far as the broader community was concerned. The body was examined then buried in an unmarked grave in Gooloogong Cemetery as it had not been claimed.
As much of a menace as the Hall Gang were, O’Meally was widely considered to be the worst of the bunch. To that point, O’Meally was the only member of the gang that was believed to have committed murder, that being the shooting of John Barnes near Wallendbeen. His aggressive and intimidating manner held many of his victims in a state of terror. The news of his death was welcomed by many in the Forbes district, with members of the community even coming together to write a letter of commiseration and thanks to the Campbells. Amelia also received a silver tea urn and silk cloth as gifts from the grateful people of Adelong.
Meanwhile, Hall and Gilbert were licking their proverbial wounds. They had not been injured in the fight but had been most resoundingly defeated. Yet, like the mythical Hydra, where one head was lopped off, two grew in its place. It did not take long for Hall and Gilbert to find replacements for O’Meally in the forms of John Dunleavy and Jim Gordon, nicknamed “Old Man”. This new outfit would be very short lived with Gilbert splitting off from the group after another gun fight, this time at the Bang Bang Hotel.
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.
Few events in bushranging history have the fame of the Glenrowan Siege. The incredible and spectacular close to the career of the Kelly Gang has been immortalised in print, song, film, painting and more. Over time the events have become obscured by retellings that embellish and dramatise them. Here, on the 140th anniversary of the siege, we will take a concise look at what ended one of the most renowned and dramatic chapters in Australian history.
There is no definitive understanding of what the Glenrowan plot actually was. Most of what we know has been taken from the witnesses accounts of being told by the outlaws, and Ned Kelly’s own unreliable narratives in his interviews and the letters he wrote in gaol. Anything else is either unsubstantiated oral history or inference. All we know for certain is that Ned Kelly intended to derail a train full of police and trackers at Glenrowan, and an event on a Saturday night at the hut of Aaron Sherritt – a sympathiser who the gang had reason to believe had been assisting police – was to provide a lure for a special police train. No civilian trains ran on a Sunday, so the only vehicle that would be on the tracks that day would be one specially assigned to move police from Benalla to Beechworth. This is all that we know beyond dispute. There are many various elaborations on this information that historians and researchers have put forward to describe Ned Kelly’s plan:
1) The Republic of North East Victoria
One explanation that was championed by some notable Kelly historians was that Ned Kelly was attempting to kick-start a revolution and establish a republic. Once the train was derailed, the survivors would be killed excepting any notable survivors who would be bartered for Ned’s mother’s release from prison. The Kelly Gang, in armour, would be joined by a “phantom army” of heavily armed sympathisers that were waiting in the hills behind the Glenrowan Inn, summoned by skyrockets acting as a signal. The militia would then ride to Benalla, capture the town, and declare a republic. It must be noted that there is no official contemporary record to indicate this was the plan or even rumoured, and none of the documents that were supposed to have proved the legitimacy of the claim have surfaced.
2) Mass Murder
The least imaginative explanation of Ned’s plot is that he had no plans beyond murdering as many people as he could. This supposition relies on a very skewed perspective. It derives from the simplistic view that Ned Kelly was a psychopathic terrorist that was only interested in killing people, specifically police. Given Kelly’s two previous well-planned outings in Euroa and Jerilderie, during which no blood was spilled, it seems unlikely for straight up massacre to have been his next move. Given the efforts he had previously gone to in order to prove he was not bloodthirsty, this is not a consistent mindset. To accept this explanation does not require a deeper look into the behaviour and psychology of Ned Kelly or his gang, relegating them to be cast as cartoon villains.
3) Escalation of a war with police
By looking at what has been definitively established, contemporary rumours, and Ned Kelly’s own statements such as the Cameron and Jerilderie letters and the letters he dictated in gaol, we can see that Ned Kelly saw himself as being in some kind of war with police, referring to them as his “natural enemies”. In light of this, it could be supposed that Kelly intended to disable the police in order to remove the threat of capture. Such a large scale attack would in turn potentially make the government wary of continuing to pursue the outlaws. Taking out the bulk of the police force that were stationed in Benalla, the regional headquarters, would leave the Benalla police station unmanned, whereupon the gang and sympathisers would be able to take control of the station as a headquarters for themselves and take control of the town. Ned intimated on occasion that he desired to rob the bank in Benalla, and it was well known that since the Jerilderie raid the gang had been looking desperately for a suitable target for a robbery around Beechworth or Yackandandah in particular. Such a plan is more in line with what the gang did when they bailed up the town of Jerilderie, using the police barracks as a base of operations. It also demonstrates a more extreme thought process, whereby Ned was willing to take out huge numbers of police in order to ensure a greater chance of success and to intimidate his remaining opponents into backing down. If this was his aim, it has echoes of the kind of guerrilla warfare carried out by the IRA and implies a far more militaristic mindset than on the gang’s previous two outings. Ned established that he felt that he was right in striking first, even with lethal force, in order to protect himself. By 1880 the pursuit had likely taken a physical and mental toll on him and made him desperate. It is also worth noting that Mrs. Byrne had been bragging the gang we’re going to do something to make all of Australia’s ears tingle.
There is room to speculate what the intention was at Sherritt’s hut. Ned Kelly would later claim he had not ordered Sherritt’s murder; that it must have been a decision made by the others. This seems to marry up with Ned’s claim at the time he was trying to break the train line that many police had been shot in Beechworth and he was expecting a train full of police and trackers in response. It was known that Aaron Sherritt had police staying in his hut with him. Later, Ned would suggest that the police must have tortured Aaron to make him complicit. It stands to reason that if Ned was intent on taking out a train load of police that he would also be inclined to take out a party of police that he suspected were stationed with his friend against his will.
Regardless of the exact plan, Glenrowan was picked as the location and Ettie Hart was sent to scope out the area and gauge the sympathies of Ann Jones who owned one of the two pubs in town, the other being the McDonnell’s Railway Tavern, which was run by known sympathisers. As Glenrowan had no telegraph station of its own it would be unlikely that news of the train line being damaged there would be able to get out in time to warn the police. Ned knew there was a chance, however, that he might need to take prisoners to prevent someone raising the alarm, thus it suited his purpose to have access to Ann Jones’s inn.
The gang each had a home-made suit of iron armour to protect them from bullets. It is unclear what the initial idea behind the armour was, but based on Joe Byrne’s later comments it was Ned Kelly’s idea alone. Ned would at one time indicate they were meant to protect the gang from guards when robbing banks, but the unprotected legs and arms may have gone against this idea.
Some have speculated that the design of the armour was devised with the intention that the wearers would be shooting downwards from an embankment, thus eliminating the need for leg protection. This very specific application seems unlikely if there was to be any further use of the armour after the derailment. It may simply have been the case that armour thick enough to be bulletproof would simply have been too heavy if it also covered the arms and legs.
The notion of the armour is mysterious as there has never been a definitive primary source found that explains the genesis of the idea. It is known that the gang’s hideout on Bullock Creek had an armoured door, so it seems likely that Ned Kelly was aware of the usefulness of a bulletproof protection as far back as mid-1878. There have been scores of suggestions as to where the idea for the armour originated from the novel Lorna Doone to a suit of Japanese armour in the Burke Museum in Beechworth.
The armour covered the head, chest, back, thighs, and in Ned’s case his upper arms as well (he probably also had a plate to protect his buttocks that has long disappeared, but is featured in contemporary illustrations.) Joe and Dan also had iron plates that joined the body armour together to encase the torso like a cuirass. The helmets offered limited scope of vision and we’re supposed to have had quilted lining sewn inside to pad them. The iron was taken mostly from ploughs, the mouldboards being an appropriate shape and size to use. It also appears that some sheet metal was likely also used in some instances such as Steve Hart’s backplate. Rumours persist that the armour was either made by sympathetic blacksmiths or the gang themselves using a partly submerged green log as an anvil that would dull the sound of hammering. The quality of the smithing indicates that a blacksmith was probably involved at some point.
Murder of Sherritt
On the evening of 26 June, 1880, Anton Wick was walking along the road to El Dorado as night fell. He knew the way well enough as he had lived there a long time. As he was walking, he was passed by two riders leading a packhorse who ignored him before doubling back. One of the riders asked Wick if he recognised him, to which Wick replied that he didn’t. The rider revealed himself to be Joe Byrne and flashed his pistol. Wick was handcuffed by Dan Kelly, the other rider, and walked back up the road to the Devil’s Elbow where Aaron Sherritt lived in an old miner’s hut with his wife. The bushrangers hitched their horses and walked up to the hut. Joe Byrne took Anton Wick to the back door and Dan Kelly guarded the front door in case anyone tried to escape.
Byrne ordered Wick to call out to the occupants. Inside were Aaron Sherritt, his wife Belle as well as his mother-in-law and four policemen, who were in the bedroom preparing for the evening’s watch party at the Byrne selection. When Wick called for assistance it was Belle who asked who it was. “It’s Anton Wick; I’ve lost myself,” was the reply. Ellen Barry told Aaron to tell the old German where to go. Aaron opened the back door and said “Do you see that sapling?” before noticing movement by the chimney. Aaron asked, “Who’s there?” Suddenly Byrne pushed Wick aside and unloaded a barrel from his shotgun into Sherritt’s torso, followed by a second blast that tore Sherritt’s throat apart. Sherritt staggered back and hit the dirt floor without any utterance. Joe coldly stated “That’s the man I want.” He would also say, “The bastard will never put me away again.” As Belle wailed over her husband’s body, Dan Kelly was brought inside. For two hours the bushrangers attempted to flush the police out of the bedroom but the officers cowered inside, even trapping Belle under the bed, pinning her against the wall with their feet until she passed out and did the same with her mother. At one point Dan Kelly attempted to set fire to the house but the wood was too wet to catch and there was no available kerosene. Dan and Joe freed Wick and left at about 9:00pm. Inside, constables Duross, Dowling, Alexander and Armstrong remained, too petrified to see if the bushrangers had gone until after sunrise the following day. They were convinced the gang had surrounded the hut to trap them. It was unclear what the packhorse the bushrangers had with them was carrying. There is some reason to believe it was their armour, which they never wore during the affair.
Meanwhile in Glenrowan
Ned Kelly and Steve Hart arrived in Glenrowan around the same time Dan and Joe left El Dorado. They put their horses in the paddock of McDonnell’s tavern and took tools to try and take up the railway track. They went a short distance down the line to where the track curved on an embankment and attempted to break it. In the event that a train did not stop before hitting a broken line at this spot it would have resulted in catastrophe, but they had the wrong tools and were unsuccessful in their sabotage. Already things were not going to plan, but Ned Kelly was resourceful.
Realising that they were out of their depth, the bushrangers went to a row of tents pitched between the train station and Ann Jones’ inn. Thinking these were railway workers, they awoke them one by one with the intention of making them damage the tracks for them. Ned interrupted the foreman Alfonso Piazzi attending to “country matters” and a scuffle ensued. Piazzi pulled a gun on Ned but the bushranger knocked it aside with his carbine causing it to go off. Fortunately nobody was injured, but soon all the men, and the woman Piazzi had in his tent, were rounded up and ordered to break the line. It was then explained to the outlaws that they were not able to do as asked as they were not railway workers, they were labourers who had been working with the gravel along the line and knew nothing about the tracks. Ned was then informed that he would need the stationmaster. He proceeded to take the men with him to the gatehouse where John Stanistreet, the stationmaster, resided.
Stanistreet and Jones
John Stanistreet and his wife were roused by knocking at the door, which was not uncommon as they had frequently been pestered by people travelling late at night requesting that the railway gates be opened so they could pass through (a substantial amount of whom were Kelly sympathisers.) However, before the door could be answered, Ned Kelly burst in and held the couple at gunpoint, demanding Stanistreet come with him. When Ned ordered Stanistreet to instruct the gravel collectors on how to disassemble the track, Stanistreet informed him that he had no understanding of how to do that himself and that it was the plate-layers that would know what to do. Ned’s patience was wearing incredibly thin and he took Stanistreet with him to the Glenrowan Inn which was not much more than a few metres away. Steve Hart was left to guard the labourers.
Ann Jones and her daughter Jane, who were sharing a bed, were woken up by Ned knocking at the door. When Ann answered, John Stanistreet and Ned Kelly were there waiting. Ned ordered Ann to accompany him to the gatehouse but before they left Ned watched Ann and Jane get dressed to make sure there was no funny business. He then took the keys and locked the door to the bedroom where Ann’s sons were sleeping. Ann and Jane were taken to the gatehouse and added to the growing number of prisoners. Ned left Steve in charge while he went to look for the plate-layers.
Bailing up the plate-layers
Ned walked down the line and bailed up a plate-layer named Sullivan, then as he was crossing the tracks they met James Reardon. Reardon had been roused by his dog barking and asked what Sullivan was doing out at such an hour, whereupon he was told that Ned Kelly had bailed him up. Ned appeared and pushed the muzzle of his pistol into Reardon’s cheek and demanded to know who he was. When Reardon confirmed he was a plate-layer, Ned stated that there had been a conflict near Beechworth and many police were killed. He explained that he was expecting a train full of police to come in response and that the plate-layers would help him dismantle the track to wreck the train. They were marched back to the gatehouse.
When Ned returned, the gravel collectors and Stanistreet were waiting with Steve Hart. Reardon announced that his tools were at home. Ned sent Steve to get the men to fetch tools from the shed while he went back with Reardon. After much hassle a length of the rail was displaced. The half hour job had taken two hours. With this, the group retired to the gatehouse for refreshments.
At around 5:00am, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly arrived in Glenrowan, left their horses at McDonnell’s and went to the gatehouse to meet Ned. It is unclear if they expressed any details to him about what had transpired in El Dorado the previous night.
At breakfast time, Ann Jones suggested sending Jane across to stoke the fires and begin preparing meals. She also suggested Ned could have a wash up there. Ned sent Joe Byrne across to the inn with Jane to keep an eye on her. The fires were stoked and Jane checked on her brothers. Soon the male prisoners were brought across to the inn and the women and children were left at the gatehouse under Steve’s watch, excepting the Joneses who remained at the inn to serve the food and drinks.
The police in Aaron’s hut
When the police felt safe to leave the bedroom it was already morning. They asked Ellen Barry for a drink. She told them that there was water on the table. Belle tossed the water out saying it may have been poisoned and was then told by the men to go outside and fetch water. The first attempt by the police to get help failed when the local schoolteacher they asked told them his wife wouldn’t let him go. The next attempt was when a Chinese man was stopped and paid to take a note to Beechworth police station. The Chinese man soon returned saying he couldn’t take the note as it was too far. He kept the money.
Stuck for options, the police asked Aaron’s neighbour to send word but although the neighbour said he would do it when he made a trip into town the police did not trust him to follow through. Frustrated, Constable Armstrong commandeered a horse and rode to Beechworth. It was midday when he arrived to tell Detective Ward the news. Once the information reached Ward he sent telegrams to inform his colleagues.
As Sunday rolled on the gang continued to add to the number of prisoners. The longer the wait, the more difficult it was proving to be to stop people from noticing what the gang was up to. Male captives in the Glenrowan Inn occupied themselves with card games such as cribbage and bought drinks. Ann Jones would comment to Ned Kelly that she would be glad if he came every weekend given how much business he had drummed up for her. Steve Hart continued to guard the women and children in the gatehouse but grew increasingly laissez-faire, drinking heavily and even napping on a sofa with two revolvers resting on his chest. Mrs. Stanistreet would note that despite how much he had to drink, he managed to retain an admirable level of sobriety and self control. At one point Dan Kelly burst into the gatehouse in search of a bag. It was unclear why he was so desperate to find it.
Around mid-morning, three boys, the Delaney brothers, went out with the intention of going kangaroo hunting with their greyhound. They went looking for Michael Reardon to accompany them. Unable to find anyone at the Reardon house they continued to walk down the line. As they reached the crossing they were bailed up by Ned Kelly, who was riding Joe’s grey mare. He escorted them back to the gatehouse but when he recognised 15 year-old Jack Delaney as a youth that had helped police some months earlier, he became apoplectic. Kelly ranted and abused the boy, accusing him of trying to sell him out to the police. Delaney was trembling so violently with fear that he shattered a clay pipe he was borrowing. Ned went so far as to thrust a pistol into Delaney’s hand, suggesting he shoot him right there if he was so keen on helping the police. Within moments, Joe Byrne emerged from the gatehouse and intervened, telling Ned to go away and cool off. Such an incredible outburst showed how the stress of his plan falling apart, combined with alcohol consumption and a lack of sleep, was causing him to act irrationally.
As the drama with the Delaney boys was unfolding, Thomas Curnow was driving his buggy, accompanied by his wife and baby, his sister and his brother-in-law. As they reached the railway crossing, they were flagged down by Stanistreet who warned them Ned Kelly had bailed everyone up. A moment later, Kelly appeared and confirmed this. He sent the women into the gatehouse and Curnow parked his buggy at the I before he and his brother-in-law joined the other male prisoners inside.
The Glenrowan Games
In the afternoon, the outlaws became aware of the growing restlessness of their prisoners. Ned initiated a series of sporting games, even participating in hop-step-jump while holding a revolver in each hand. After the sports, Dan Kelly suggested a dance and the bar was cleared out to allow space for the activity. Dave Mortimer played concertina and Dan asked Thomas Curnow to join him. Curnow insisted he needed to fetch his dancing shoes and asked to go home and fetch them. Ned considered the request until he was informed that in order to get to Curnow’s house it required passing the police station. Ned immediately refused the request and Curnow begrudgingly accepted this outcome. He had spent the preceding hours gathering information about Ned’s plan and was determined to stop the police train from derailing. His first attempt may have failed, but he continued to scheme.
Superintendent Hare received word that there was a telegram waiting for him at 2:30pm. He immediately went to the Benalla Telegraph Office where he was informed by a telegram from Captain Standish of Sherritt’s murder. A request was sent to Captain Standish to arrange for Sub-Inspector O’Connor and his native police, who were about to return home to Queensland, to come back to Beechworth for a fresh pursuit. Hare was joined by Superintendent Sadleir and they began to formulate a plan to pursue the outlaws from El Dorado as soon as possible.
After buttering Ned up, Curnow received consent to visit his pregnant wife at the gatehouse. Here he attempted to curry favour with Steve Hart by helping him remove his boots and soaking his sore feet in warm water. He later informed Ned that Stanistreet kept a loaded revolver in his office, which Ned ordered Steve to confiscate. Curnow hoped that this would bring Ned to trust him, then once trust was established he would be able to seek permission to leave.
Special train organised
It wasn’t until the evening that Standish was able to arrange for O’Connor and his trackers to return to active duty for the Victorian police. He then organised a special train to leave Spencer Street that night, consisting of a locomotive, guard van and first class carriage. Just as Ned had asserted, this was not to be a civilian train but a conveyance specifically to get O’Connor and his team to Benalla and then the entire police search party to Beechworth from there.
Once O’Connor confirmed his involvement, it was agreed that he and his trackers (Hero, Jacky, Barney, Johnny, and Jimmy) would board the special train at Essendon station that night. His wife and sister-in-law decided they would accompany him to Beechworth and packed for a holiday up north.
Late in the evening another dance was held, with Dave Mortimer calling the sets and playing concertina. Those who weren’t dancing were mostly indoors playing cards or drinking. At this time Jane Jones was observed sitting on Dan Kelly’s knee and kissing him. Ned spent considerable time outside talking with Ann Jones who seemed to be going out of her way to accommodate him. As the dancing died down, Ann Jones was also seen flirting with Joe Byrne, attempting to pull Scanlan’s ring off his finger while he played with her hair. Johnny Jones sang for the crowd, performing “Cailin deas cruitha na mo” (The Pretty Girl Milking a Cow) and then performing “Farewell to Greta” for Ned Kelly with the promise of a sixpence from his mother if he did so.
Bailing up Bracken
At 9pm Ned and Joe put on their armour and gathered a group of prisoners to escort them to the police barracks, where they could capture Constable Bracken. Curnow convinced Ned to take Dave Mortimer to lure Bracken out, while also gaining permission to take his family home from the barracks. Bracken was the only policeman in the town, having been stationed there to keep an eye on Kelly sympathisers for Superintendent Hare. At the barracks the group roused Bracken, who had been in bed with gastro. Ned bailed him up, but as Ned was dressed in his full armour Bracken thought it was a prank. He was made to mount up but Joe kept a close eye on him to ensure he didn’t escape.
With Bracken captured, Ned allowed Curnow to leave, warning him not to dream too loud. When the Curnows arrived home, Thomas informed them of his plan to stop the train before it reached Glenrowan. His wife feared that if the bushrangers discovered he had stopped the train they would murder the whole family.
Word sent to journalists
As the special train was being prepared, journalists from multiple publications were requested to ride to Beechworth in the train so they could report first-hand on the work the police were doing to catch the Kelly Gang. The police had been regularly criticised in the press for their apparent ineptitude for catching bushrangers since the Euroa raid in December 1878, and the government seemed keen to get good press for their officers of the law as a fresh lead had presented itself. John McWhirter, Joe Melvin, Thomas Carrington and George Allen were all sent to join the train, which left Melbourne at 10pm. Apart from rumours of a murder, there was no indication for the reporters of what was unfolding in Kelly Country, but they were soon to find themselves in a journalist’s dream and recording history unfolding right before their very eyes.