Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 13 May 1873, page 2
THE EXECUTION OF SMITH AND BRADY.
Yesterday was enacted in the Beechworth Gaol, one of those tragedies which are the necessity, as they are the curse, of civilised communities. Two men, James Smith and Thomas Brady were hanged till they were dead. They had been convicted of one of the most causeless and brutal murders which has ever occurred in this colony. John Watt, of Wooragee, a man who was never known to do an ill turn to another, was shot down in his own house, without provocation, and he died from the effects of his wounds. Three men, Smith, Brady and Happenstein were arrested on the charge of being participes criminis, but Happenstein turned Queen’s evidence, and seriously inculpated the others. Smith and Brady were tried with painful care by a jury, Judge Williams presiding, at the last Beechworth Circuit Court. They were found Guilty, and sentenced to death. Yesterday morning that sentence was carried out. There were about sixty spectators present, some compelled, by duty, but others, and these formed the larger part, simply avid of strong excitement. For these latter, we have no sympathy; they were present to gratify a morbid taste, and they gratified it; c’esttout! If they enjoyed it, no one will grudge them their enjoyment; if they did not enjoy it, it may perhaps be hoped that they learned a useful lesson. Seldom have men gone to the scaffold more self-possessed and self-contained than these showed themselves to be. One of them said a few words, to be mentioned elsewhere, but the other was scarcely standing on the drop before the death-dealing handle was pulled by Bamford. It should be stated that both prisoners had previously informed the sheriff that their dying statement was contained in a written paper, which had been handed to the governor of the gaol for the sheriff, and for publication, and that they would not, personally, address the public. That understanding was not fulfilled.
The sheriff received the paper in question, and refused to hand it to the representatives of this journal, or rather of the Press generally. That request was refused; on what ground Mr Brett probably knows. At a later hour, Mr Warren, proprietor of this journal, called at Mr Brett’s office, and saw that gentleman. He asked some questions with reference to the serious matter at issue, and received only indefinite replies. Stronger language might be used, but that Mr Brett, being an officer of the Government, and therefore unable to reply, we have no desire to characterise his conduct as it deserves. Failing to obtain a definite answer to his request, Mr Warren took further action immediately by telegraphing to two of the Government departments, viz., the Hon. the Chief Secretary and the Hon. the Solicitor-General, to ask that authority should be sent to Mr Brett to communicate the contents of the document in his possession. We append the substance of the telegrams, viz.:—
Beechworth, May 12th, 1873.
Applied personally to sheriff for Smith’s written document. He (Smith) expressed wish made public after execution. Mr Brett not only refuses to give the document, but declines to intimate his course of action or any way in which the public can get it. Please advise by telegram.
The following correspondence passed between Mr Warren and the sheriff, and we commend it carefully to all whom it may concern:—
The Ovens and Murray AdvertiserOffice, May 12th, 1873.
Sir,—I beg, as proprietor of The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, to request formally from you, permission for a member of my staff to take a copy of the paper handed to you, by or from, one of the convicts, Smith and Brady, this morning. According to your own statement, this paper was given to you to be made public by the special request of the men now dead. It is therefore the property of the public, and as an act of justice to Smith and Brady, as well as to the public, it should appear at the same time as the record of the death of these men. Should your official instructions compel you to refuse this request, I shall publish a copy of this letter to satisfy my readers that all that was possible has been done to provide them with the words of a paper, the publication of which they have certainly a right to expect.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
W. G. Brett, Esq.,
Sheriff of the Beechworth District.
I regret that I cannot comply with this request pending the decision of the Government, to whom the statement has been referred by me, and perhaps Mr Warren will be kind enough to address his request to the Hon. the Chief Secretary.
W. G. BRETT, Sheriff.
Mr Brett is afraid to do his duty to the public, and afraid, it seems, of doing anything! We must urge that the withholding from publication of the paper handed in by the deceased, even for a single day, is without justification, any law in that case made and provided notwithstanding. Mr Brett will have to regain wisdom, and to drop down to the level of his really very commonplace functions soon! Till then, we can afford to wait.
With November 2019 seeing the 140th anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, the decision was made to make a pilgrimage to Wantabadgery. As no formal acknowledgement of the anniversary or notification of any organised commemoration thereof had been announced, I decided that somebody ought to fill the void — and who better than the chap that does all the bushranger stuff online? It should be pointed out before we continue that this recap is not all about bushrangers, but rather a recounting of the things that happened during the trip. Hopefully it will give you some travel ideas. That said, let us continue…
With Georgina Stones from An Outlaw’s Journal in tow, I headed up northeast of Melbourne. On the way we passed through Benalla, where Georgina added some fake flowers to Joe Byrne’s grave. Previously she had left real flowers, but this time wanted to leave something a little more enduring. Every time we go up I see if I can spot the little bust I placed on the grave. The tiny polymer clay portrait has been there through searing heat, bucketing rain and everything in between but is still looking pretty good despite being put through the ringer.
Our first night was spent in The Empire in Beechworth. This heritage hotel was around in the days of the Kelly Gang and has an interesting anecdote connecting it to the Kelly story. Following the murder of Aaron Sherritt, his widow Belle and her mother Ellen were lodging in The Empire. Aaron’s inquest had been held in The Vine (no longer in existence, and definitely not the one in Wangaratta) and the pair had stayed on in Beechworth long enough to see Ned Kelly arrive for his committal. Having been convalescing in the hospital in Melbourne Gaol, he had been deemed fit enough for transportation to Beechworth via train. When being taken from the station to the gaol by buggy, he was taken past The Empire where he saw two women watching him from the balcony. He tipped his hat to them in a conspicuous show of gentlemanly behaviour, perhaps unaware that it was his machinations that had led to the brutal slaying of the husband and son-in-law of the two women he was saluting.
Dining at The Empire was exquisite. Food and drink were top notch, and the service equally as commendable. That night we were the only ones in the building, which should have meant a nice, quiet stay. However, there were other occupants that were not keen on staying quiet — occupants who were not of the physical world. Disembodied footsteps and the sound of objects being shifted or dropped was pervasive throughout the night, though we did get some shut-eye. It should be added that the rooms at The Empire are nice and cosy with very comfortable beds, so if you’re looking for a place to stay, give them a look-in (the ghosts don’t cost extra).
The next morning after an obligatory visit to the Beechworth Bakery, we headed to the Beechworth Cemetery so that Georgina could pay her respects to Aaron Sherritt. While there I tracked down the grave of John Watt. Watt was the proprietor of the Wooragee Hotel on the outskirts of Beechworth. One night he answered the door of the pub to reveal three bushrangers who ordered him to bail up. Rather than comply, Watt turned to head back inside. One of the bandits shot him in the back, then they fled. It took Watt over a week to die from his wound. Subsequently, two of the bushrangers, James Smith and Thomas Brady, were hanged in Beechworth Gaol for the murder.
Upon leaving the cemetery, we began the journey into New South Wales. Our prior search for accommodation had led us to a motel in Gumly Gumly, just outside the city of Wagga Wagga. The accommodation was nice enough for the price, however our neighbours weren’t exactly the quiet type. One couldn’t help find some amusement in their loud interrogation as to whether their companions were “giving wristies” while blaring Spotify over a Bluetooth speaker right in front of our door. In fairness, they did apologise when they realised that it was actually people they had seen park and enter the room they were in front of and not a very potent hallucination.
For the next few days we were right in the heart of the territory connected to Dan Morgan and Captain Moonlite. After so many visits to Kelly Country, it was great to finally be immersing myself in other bushranger stories. The only major drawback was the threat of fire. Following prolonged drought, much of New South Wales was suffering from their worst bushfires in living memory. Though the region we were exploring was safe, one couldn’t help but think about the beleaguered fireys battling the blazes further north on the other side of the Blue Mountains. Driving through the lower portion of the state and seeing how bone dry it was and how wispy the vegetation looked, it did not take much imagination to picture it going up like a celluloid girdle on bonfire night. With the anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, there are no prizes for guessing where was first on the list of locations.
Wantabadgery is a small town between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai that is mostly farmland and built on a mix of steep hills and flat pasture. It was here in November 1879 that Andrew George Scott would seal his name in infamy. Having been the target of police harassment since his release from prison earlier in the year, Scott had decided to seek his fortune in New South Wales. Venturing out on foot from the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy with his companion James Nesbitt, Scott soon added Frank Johns, August Wernicke and Thomas Rogan to the mix. A few miles outside of Wantabadgery they convinced a swaggie named Graham Bennett to join them and from there they continued on to Wantabadgery station, which Scott had been told would provide them food, shelter and possibly work. When they got there they were made to wait outside for two hours to see the superintendent, who simply told them to go away. On that day 140 years ago it was cloudy and raining, but when we were there the heat was unrelenting, as were the flies. Despite the difference in climate, the immersion was easy. The terrain doesn’t appear to have altered much all these decades after the fact. It is very easy to picture the bushrangers huddled among the boulders on the outskirts of Wantabadgery station, trying to get some sleep after being turned away.
The first stop for us was the Webb-Bowen memorial (“The hero of Wantabadgery”), which is the only real public acknowledgement of the bushranging event in Wantabadgery. The result of a wonderful community effort to honour the fallen officer, it features a metal sculpture by Max Burmeister and artworks by locals that portray Webb-Bowen as something of a pop culture figure (I personally really love the Warhol inspired piece on display there and would like to see that become a poster of some description). A simplified map is on display to indicate the significant spots in the area related to the events, which gives a decent indication of where to go and came in handy. It would have been nice to see some signage at the relevant sites akin to those placed at locations pertaining to the Ned Kelly story, but it is understandable that more of an effort hadn’t been made to draw attention to these places in that manner, especially as these are still working farms. Regardless of where you go that is connected to the Moonlite story, there is almost no acknowledgment of it or only a vague understanding of it. Captain Moonlite does not bring tourists into towns like Ned Kelly does, unfortunately.
Wantabadgery Station is currently a working cattle farm, concerned with raising black Angus, and by all accounts they do a very good job of it. No doubt they occasionally get visitors asking to see the homestead the Moonliters bailed up in 1879, but on this occasion I decided it was better to be more respectful than simply rocking up and asking to have a sticky beak. It must be remembered that a great many of the sites associated with bushranger stories are on private property, especially in the Riverina where bushrangers preferred to raid farms rather than rob mail coaches. One day, perhaps, I’ll pluck up the courage to get a look at the farm, but until then I must be satisfied with having stood at the gate, much as Moonlite and his boys did while waiting to see Percy Baynes.
McGlede’s farm was the location of the final shootout between the gang and police. While a gunfight had occurred at Wantabadgery station, there were no casualties. When a combined troop of police from Wagga Wagga and Gundagai intercepted the gang at the McGlede selection, however, a deadly battle ensued. It was here that James Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke were killed, and Constable Webb-Bowen was mortally wounded. There is nothing left of the selection now apart from the land. There are no signs pointing to it or seemingly anything at all to indicate the site. I stopped to ask some locals if they knew where to find it and they merely stared at me with the vaguely confused look cows usually give humans (Georgina did not find my bovine interrogation a-moo-sing). Having to be satisfied with having gone to the approximate location, the decision was made to head for Gundagai, where hopefully at least one of us might get enough phone reception to plot our return trip. I annoyed Georgina greatly by cranking up Slim Dusty’s version of “The Road to Gundagai” as we approached the town. It was a place that I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little boy. Some of my family members had visited back in the ’90s and brought us back souvenirs related to the statue of Dad and Dave, Mum and Mabel. It became something of an ambition of mine to see the real deal myself. It wasn’t hard to find exactly what I had sought for so long. The statue is right next to the visitor centre. The familiar shapes of the popular Steele Rudd characters immediately caught my eye. We parked and walked down to the statue. It was incredible to see these strange, almost malformed figures looming over me with hollow eyes. The statue was far bigger than I had imagined, and far more detailed. It’s original location when unveiled in the 1970s was opposite the statue of The Dog on the Tuckerbox (more on that later), but in 2005 it was relocated to the reserve next to the info centre. The connection to Gundagai comes from the old radio series of Dad and Dave of Snake Gully that used the song “The Road to Gundagai” at the beginning of each episode. To get a sense of Australian culture from the turn of the century, I recommend getting your hands on some form of media pertaining to Dad and Dave. I think Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, starring Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush in the title roles, is a great way to get an introduction to the quirky world of the Rudd family.
One of the best and newest attractions in Gundagai is the statue of Yarri and Jacky Jacky. These two courageous men are hugely important in the history of the town and more than deserving of such a beautiful sculpture to commemorate them. In the 1850s Gundagai was first founded on the flood plains of the Murrumbidgee river. Of course, the local Wiradjuri people had warned the whites about the risk of flooding; after all, the name of the place came from a word in the local dialect meaning “big water”. In 1852 the area was subjected to a catastrophic flood, destroying homes and leaving many people stranded amongst the gurgling floodwaters. Seeing that the people needed assistance, Jacky Jacky and Yarri led a rescue mission, riding out in bark canoes with other Wiradjuri men into the torrent to rescue survivors, saving 69 people. 89 of the 250 settlers perished in the flood, which left only three buildings intact when things settled. It is hard to say anything to adequately emphasise or exaggerate what is already an incredible turn of events. Happily, the statue stands in front of a series of information panels that describe Gundagai’s history. More effort needs to be made to highlight these stories of unity from our history, but this is a good start.
Antique shops have always been attractive to me, most likely because of my Dad’s hobby of looking for a bargain in any obscure place he came across. A collector of items ranging from ceramic horses to Inuit soapstone carvings, he played a big part in my fascination with collecting. Naturally, the moment I saw what appeared to be a decent collection of vintage knick-knacks I had to poke my head in. Beyond the rows of vintage clothing and antiques in Junque and Disorderly, a creaky staircase led up to the Gabriel Gallery, a collection of photography from the turn of the century by Dr. Charles Gabriel. The images were a fascinating look at the history of Gundagai and portrayed a vibrant community at the dawn of Federation. Of course, as is the way with basically every museum, big or small, there was one very unique part of the collection. In this case it was a walking stick and letters belonging to Henry Lawson, the great bush poet. If you have an interest in photography or early federal Australian history, the Gabriel Gallery is a great attraction to visit in Gundagai.
After a brief rest to have a cool drink, we decided it was time we headed for the gaol. Gundagai Gaol is located on a steep incline behind the courthouse and is only accessible on a tour, which you can book in the information centre. The blistering heat proved not to be very conducive to getting up the hill without becoming out of breath, but it was good to tick off the list, even though we didn’t go in. The gaol consists of two small buildings around the size of camp dormitories, and was the location where the Moonliters were held after their capture. The courthouse being so close to the gaol meant that it was no effort to have a quick walk around the outside on the way back down the hill from the gaol. The courthouse is a handsomely designed and built structure that operates very rarely, but is still a functional courthouse. It was the place where the Moonliters were committed for trial, which would take place in the Supreme Court in Sydney.
We geared ourselves up for a visit to the local museum but a makeshift sign informed us that the opening hours had changed and we would not be getting in this particular day. Unfortunate, but not unexpected. The itinerary was subsequently shifted around and we made way for the cemetery. By this stage I was glad to be taking advantage of the air conditioning in the car. Throughout the trip the temperature rarely dipped below 30°C.
The Gundagai Cemetery was a little way out of town but worth the visit. It is the one location that makes an effort to signpost anything connected to Captain Moonlite. The cemetery is surprisingly vast and open and the ground rock hard from the rigorous drought that has plagued the region. The monument marking the resting place of Senior Constable Webb-Bowen is hardly inconspicuous and juts out of the smattering of squat and crumbling grave markers, gleaming white. Next to it is the far more humble headstone belonging to Sergeant Edmund Parry who was killed by Johnny Gilbert in 1864. To see two officers of high esteem next to each other in such a way is just brilliant for the die-hard bushranger buffs.
To find Moonlite’s grave one must trek further uphill to the back of the cemetery. Here you will find a large rock with a plaque on it marking the resting place of the notorious preacher. Were it not for the seating heat and the incessant flies, the moment would have been quite profound – after all, this was my first time visiting the resting place of one of my favourite historical figures. I left a copy of my article about Wantabadgery on the grave, both as a sign of respect to Scott and his mates as well as the police, but also so that people that visited after us could learn something about the reason why the grave was significant enough to earn signage. I should point out that Scott would be fairly chuffed at being in such a prime location in the cemetery, looking down on the rest of the graves from beneath the shade. It was very rewarding to have finally connected with these historical figures.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox statue is a must-see if you are in Gundagai. This humble canine has become an icon ever since its unveiling in 1939. Inspired by a poem about a bullocky who is having a bad day, the statue depicts a cattle dog perched on a tuckerbox and is mounted on a plinth in a little pool. Recently the statue was vandalised but was quickly repaired and put back on his pride of place. There are some ruins adjoining the courtyard that used to be hotels for travellers going through the region, and there is a cafe where you can get a bite to eat and a Dog on the Tuckerbox souvenir. One of the more unexpected sights in this location is a cubist statue of folk musician Lazy Harry. Long time Kelly buffs will be well acquainted with Lazy Harry from his album about Ned Kelly, which has been on loop in Glenrowan for several decades.
After our jaunt through Moonlite country, we headed into Junee for a day without the focus being on bushrangers. Though Junee was on Ben Hall’s beat and was the location of a store his gang robbed multiple times, we had something else in mind.
Junee itself is quiet and pleasant, with easy to navigate streets. It wasn’t difficult to find the Licorice and Chocolate Factory, a huge brick building surrounded by gardens and gravel car parks. We were greeted by the sound of live music wafting as we walked into the premises. There were statues of sheep and dogs, the meaning of which were somewhat lost on us, and we made our way inside. Crossing through the cafe, we reached the factory where many warm and tasty smells lingered in the air – the rich aroma of chocolate mingling with the tang of licorice. There was not much to see through the big windows that kept the onlookers separated from the equipment on this day, but it would be interesting enough if we were on a guided tour, which the television display was obviously a part of. We went upstairs and looked at the homewares and knick-knacks, noting the beautiful writing sets and kitchenware. There was a lot of cast iron pieces as well, which were quite nice. We went back to the cafe and had hot chocolates, which were delicious and creamy. Georgina bought Orange Whiskey Marmalade, and although we didn’t buy any chocolate for fear it would simply melt in the heat, there was a lot of items we would have snapped up (though the chocolate boobs – yes, that’s a thing – were not on that list).
Monte Cristo is one of the most spooky and well-known attractions in New South Wales and probably the best known thing in Junee. Billed as Australia’s most haunted homestead, it dates back to the mid-1870s and has many spooky stories attached to it. Restored from essentially ruins by Reg and Olive Ryan, the homestead is an impressive example of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian architecture. Though the buildings are starting to look a little shabbier than in the glory days after the restoration, one can appreciate the degree of work that went into essentially rebuilding the place. While I had believed that the property must have been remote, it turns out that Monte Cristo is right in the heart of Junee, making it super easy to find.
Though the place dates from later than the height of bushranging in the area, one can still imagine how the Crawleys who owned the property might have responded to news that the Kelly Gang and the Moonliters were close by in the late 1870s. Of course, the one thing everyone wants to experience at Monte Cristo is the paranormal, and if you’re open to it you won’t be disappointed. I personally witnessed a man’s shadow moving in “the boy’s room” when nobody was in there, and there were plenty of weird vibes in certain rooms. The Dairy Room is the most disturbing part of the property. Both Georgina and I entered thinking it looked nice and cozy, but that quickly changed. For me it struck when I realised the chain looped through a hole in the wall was not for locking the door. See, it was in this room that an intellectually disabled boy was restrained by a chain in that same spot, resulting in the extreme wear and tear on the bricks. In fact he had been in there, restrained, when his mother died of heart failure right in front of him and left there for days before someone went to investigate. It was in this building also that a caretaker was murdered by a local youth who allegedly was inspired to kill after watching the movie Psycho.
One must be careful not to let the spooky reputation get the better of you, as we almost gave a visitor a heart attack when he came past the original homestead and saw Georgina and I taking the weight off our feet on a bench. Certainly the place could have done without all the Halloween decorations everywhere, most of which appeared to have been left partly taken down. In the courtyard between the servants’ quarters and the ballroom were two old hearses filled with plastic skeletons. It cheapened the vibe of the place considerably. A recent addition to the site is the Doll Museum, which I knew we had to do as soon as I saw it. Though only a small building, the collection is huge and very impressive. The horror section should appeal to many visitors with replicas of Annabelle and Chucky in glass cabinets. There’s even a Ned Kelly doll in the mix. Seriously, Ned is everywhere!
When our time in Wagga Wagga was at an end, it was time to head back towards the border. Of course, the Riverina was the home to many notorious bushrangers – Dan Morgan, Blue Cap, Harry Power – but our next stop put us in a key location in the Kelly story. Jerilderieis not far from the border, but it isn’t exactly the kind of place you would go to unless you had a specific reason to, and you would be able to see the attractions in an afternoon. While trucks rumble through it at all hours, there is hardly any other traffic, and the place is so small that it really isn’t hard to understand how easy it was for the Kelly Gang to keep essentially the whole town prisoner in the pub. Alas, such is life where many of these old country towns are concerned, as infrastructure has frequently bypassed many of them, leading to isolation and a reduction in the strength of the local economy. A town like Jerilderie could definitely use the cash injection that tourism would bring, but the lack of tourism has led to many of the tourist attractions becoming little more than dots on a map. It’s a “catch 22”.
By the time we arrived, the heat was fairly intolerable. We stayed in Ned’s Studio Apartment, which was a really lovely spot. With its close proximity to everything the town offers as well as its own amenities enabling us to cook and clean our clothes, it was a perfect base during our stay. There was only one downside. At first we didn’t make much of the fact that the water tasted strange but when we washed our clothes and they smelled like they had been washed in a swimming pool we knew something was up. Sure enough, a bit of Googling revealed that Jerilderie has an issue with chlorine in the water supply. While easy to get around, it’s the kind of thing that is helpful to be aware of in advance and the sort of thing you don’t find out about unless you specifically look for information about it.
After our arrival in town, we stopped in at the Royal Mail Hotel, where the Kelly Gang had kept their prisoners while they robbed the bank. In 1879, this building was attached to the bank, which is now the location of a motor mechanic shop, and this feature proved useful to the Kellys. While Dan Kelly kept the prisoners guarded in what is now a dining room, Joe Byrne walked next door to the bank via a rear passage and began the work of robbing it. Where once Ned Kelly gave a speech about the circumstances of his life that led him to become an outlaw, now stand inactive arcade machines and dining tables. The walls are decorated with a mix of historical photos and framed photocopies of images from Ned Kelly: A Short Life. As Georgina had a whiskey and I unwound from driving through kilometres of parched New South Welsh farmland, the other patrons comprised entirely of a man of around his late thirties and his friend who was a “little person”. The pair added a bit of life to the bar. Perhaps we just went in at the wrong time, seeing as that night when we went there for dinner the bar room was full of men knocking back beers after a hard day’s work.
After settling in at the accommodation, we decided to take a quick look around town. It soon became apparent that when reports described Ned Kelly and Constable Richards going through the streets so Ned could make a mental map of the town, it wasn’t quite as much effort as one might imagine. Where the gang’s plot unfolded was in a small section in the heart of the town.
The old printing shop that was run by Gill, the newspaper editor, was only a short distance away from the hotel. Gill was the man Ned Kelly wanted to publish his letter. At some stage the place had been turned into a museum but there was no way in as the place was locked up and left alone, though a peek in the windows showed there were displays set up inside still. No doubt there would have been interesting things to see in the museum had it ever opened, but alas it was another closed door to add to the list.
The Traveller’s Rest is situated in the street behind the council building, right by a giant windmill. This was the location of the infamous incident wherein Steve Hart took a watch from Reverend Gribble. Gribble complained to Ned Kelly, who in turn made Steve return the watch. It was also here that Ned had his last drinks before heading home after the bank robbery. It is said that he placed his pistol on the bar and said in his typical braggadocio fashion, “There is my gun. Anyone can take it and shoot me; but if you do, Jerilderie will drown in its own blood.”
The telegraph office is probably the most iconic building in Jerilderie, owing to its very conspicuous signage stating its connection to the Kelly story. In the past it was open for visitors but now remains closed. A peek through the windows reveals not only the huge cracks in the walls, but also the few exhibits that have been left out to gather dust, the plaque on the wall in the main room and a bunch of boxes and crates that were evidently used for packing up items in the building. There is also a plastic box out front that presumably used to contain maps or pamphlets of some kind, but is now empty. I left a printout of my article on Jerilderie in the box for a visitor to collect with the intention that it could help set the scene as they explored the town.
The old blacksmith shop was where Joe Byrne took the gang’s horses to be shod. No longer publicly accessible, in previous years it was able to be explored for $2, and a radio interview with Andrew Nixon, one of the smithies that worked there when the gang visited, would play in the background to set the scene. Now, apart from the Kelly trail signage there is nothing to indicate the historical significance of the building.
Jerilderie’s information centre doubles as a lolly shop, appropriately dubbed Sticky Fingers. In a back room you can get information about the town and surrounding areas, while in the main entrance you can buy souvenirs and lollies. As well as getting maps and useful tips, I procured some sweet treats to enjoy. The souvenirs are the usual Kelly fare with Jerilderie slapped on where otherwise it would say “Glenrowan” or “Beechworth” or whatever town the things were to represent. It would be great to have something to purchase that reflected Jerilderie specifically, but sometimes you have to be satisfied with what you have on offer.
A little further out is the site of the old police complex, where once stood the barracks, stables and lock-up. All that remains is the stables, and what I took to be the adjoining lock-up cell, but the printed sheet that explained the building was long rotted by the elements so it wasn’t exactly easy to find the info. Road works were being undertaken at the site so we had to dodge earth moving vehicles as we headed up to the stables. There is something strangely poetic about the dilapidated state of the building, excepting the recently installed guttering. It was here that the Kelly Gang had their base of operations in the town after locking the police up in the cell. The original police station is long gone, now a big empty patch of dirt marks where the police station used to be.
As was becoming a recurring theme in our travels, we started our days in town at the bakery. The food is good, the prices reasonable and the service friendly. The mural of notable figures from the town’s history was certainly… unique. Now, at the risk of sounding perhaps a smidge insensitive, I am used to seeing wall murals that adhere to artistic conventions like balance in the layout and verisimilitude in the portraits. Evidently some degree of effort went into the portraits, but there’s something odd about seeing a depiction of Joe Byrne with what looks like an advanced case of Proteus syndrome. Fortunately around the corner is a nice little exhibit of items found on the site, including a shortened Martini Henry rifle that may have been dropped by one of the trooopers that went to the town from Victoria in search of the gang. Out the back there is also a big statue of Ned Kelly made from bread tins, which I quite liked. It gave me a few little flashbacks to my short-lived baker apprenticeship seeing all those tins.
After a short stay in Jerilderie, it was time to hit the road again. I made the executive decision to pass through Culcairn so that I could get a chance to see some key sites related to Dan Morgan. We stopped for brunch at the Culcairn Bakery and had some of the best, freshest food we had had the entire trip. Honestly, it was tempting to linger in town a bit longer, but we had places to be and things to see.
Just outside of town is the grave of John McLean, the stockman who has the dubious honour of being the first man murdered by Dan Morgan. After Morgan had drunkenly fired his pistol into a crowd of captives at Round Hill Station, a local squatter named John Heriot had been badly wounded when a bullet struck his leg. McLean had gotten Morgan’s permission to fetch a doctor, but Morgan’s accomplices convinced him that McLean was going for the police instead. When Morgan ordered McLean to stop and the man continued riding, Morgan shot him. He took McLean back to the station and stayed with him all night. McLean died soon after and even though the grave by the side of the road has a big sign next to it to tell the story, it is in fact a fake grave. The real grave is actually several hundred metres away by Round Hill Station.
Round Hill Station is another example of a bushranger site that has continued to thrive beyond its infamous past. Now billed as Round Hill Homestead, it is both a farm and a perfect place for functions such as weddings. As with Wantabadgery Station, I elected not to go wandering in uninvited, satisfied with knowing I had been to the spot, more or less, where Morgan went from just another highwayman to Morgan the Murderer.
The brief spell outside the car saw me swarmed with flies and seriously wishing I had one of those hats with the corks hanging off the brim. I happily shooed the last of them out of the car before we headed off towards Walla Walla.
Morgan’s Lookout was one of the few things on the list that I had positioned as a must. Located on the outskirts of Culcairn, northwest of Walla Walla, the lookout is essentially a collection of huge boulders where Dan Morgan is believed to have made a camp so he could monitor the movements of police and potential victims from afar. There is no admission fee and it opens from sunrise to sunset. By the time we arrived the heat was blistering and the moment we stood outside it hit like opening a preheated oven. It appeared that some effort had been made to create a set of signs detailing the history and ecology of the location. Walking through the huge boulders was incredible. You could easily imagine Morgan sleeping inside the overhangs or lurking between the rocks, ready to pounce. A steel staircase allowed access to the top of the largest boulder. On the way around we met another visitor that was taking photographs – the only other living soul at the spot at the time. The hike up the stairs was almost as breathtaking as the view from the top of the lookout; once up on the platform you realise just how far Morgan would have been able to see. For what seemed thousands of miles around, everything was dry, mostly flat and yellow. It was easy to see how an enterprising bushranger would find the viewpoint useful. Unfortunately the weather proved intolerable and we headed back to the car quicker than originally intended. Once inside our conveyance we spent five or more minutes trying to get the flies out before resuming the trip.
We returned over the border much earlier than originally planned due to a decision to power through to Beechworth. This decision may have proved to have been wise given that only an hour or so after passing back through Wodonga we heard news of fires breaking out in Albury. Once we were back in Victoria we were relieved to once again see hills and the colour green. The trip was slowed considerably by road works, but hopefully soon there will be nice new road surfaces for drivers in the area. When we finally made it to Beechworth we checked in at the George Kerferd Hotel. This lavish accommodation, especially in comparison to our previous lodgings, is situated within the grounds of the former lunatic asylum (somewhat appropriate, some may say, for someone such as I). That night we indulged in Chinese food from the Chinese Village Restaurant. Georgina probably wouldn’t have felt the trip was complete without having done so at least once.
One of the best things to do in Beechworth is to explore the darker side by going on a ghost tour of the old lunatic asylum. As an enthusiast of all things paranormal, this came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Our original plan to walk from the accommodation was vetoed by our disinclination to walk after our dinner. This proved a wise decision as the asylum grounds are deceptively huge. The winding road to where the tours operate was suitably eerie as night closed in and a light drizzle began. The Asylum Ghost Tours signs, with their ominous bloody handprints, led us to the Bijou Theatre from where the tour would begin. The theatre is decked out with a mix of historical medical paraphernalia and ghostly themed decorations of questionable taste, but you can buy merchandise from there either before or after the tour. I bought a copy of the book Palace of Broken Dreams, which is an interesting read and details the history of the site. Our guide Bronwen was excellent, leading us through the buildings and recounting the history, both earthly and otherworldly, clearly and without any forced theatricality. It should be noted that this is not one of those tacky tours where you’re led into darkened rooms where some git in a Halloween costume will jump out and scare people. No, this tour lets the history and the location do all the work. As for paranormal experiences, both Georgina and I experienced things on the tour. For myself, I saw what appeared to be a young boy with a shaved head trying to hide behind some cars parked outside of what was at one stage an arts room, as well as hearing the voice of an older male in an empty room as we entered the complex where the nursery was housed. Throughout the tour, our guide was gracious in answering questions. My inclination during such tours is always to dig deeper where possible and Bronwen demonstrated that she was intimately acquainted with the place and the entities therein, as much as the history side of things, which was very impressive. Ultimately I would rate this tour extremely highly and recommend it for anyone with an interest in the paranormal or even just in the history of medicine in Australia.
One of the important things we had to do while in the region was visit the El Dorado Museum for a meeting. Georgina’s work on An Outlaw’s Journal has led to a very close relationship with the museum as they are in the process of updating their collections and displays. As small local museums go, El Dorado is a beauty. Their collection ranges through all sorts of history from the colonial era to militaria and even geology. Our work with the museum at present is super secret, but Georgina took the opportunity to give the museum a beta copy of the book she has been working on about the El Dorado cow that Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt stole. As usual, it was a fruitful meeting and an absolute pleasure to meet the committee with whom we look forward to working with in future.
As in previous visits, we went to the Beechworth Courthouse, where many infamous faces had their day in court. Recently restoration works were performed in parts of the building and the historical books in the library were treated to prevent any creepy crawlies from making a meal out of them. The courtroom is basically unchanged from the era that saw members of the Kelly gang and their families on trial there and there are some very interesting exhibits. The staff are friendly and happy to have a chat about the building and its history, and even though I’ve heard the spiel a half dozen times it never gets dull.
We also made a trip to theBurke Museum, where they are doing refurbishment to a portion of the interior where the Chinese collection is housed. The Chinese artifacts are one of the most important collections in the museum, owing to the cultural significance both to the Beechworth community and the Chinese in equal measure, many of whom travel to Beechworth specifically to connect with their heritage. In light of this, I purchased a set of postcards with illustrations depicting frontier life for the Chinese featuring artwork by Andrew Swift. We were privileged enough to get a look through some of the historical photographs in their archives in search of sites connected to Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go back and get copies as intended. The team at the museum are friendly, enthusiastic and very helpful if you are looking for assistance in your research.
We also went to the Ned Kelly Vault, one of Beechworth’s best attractions. The small building houses the best singular collection of Kelly related relics in the world, spanning the whole story and it’s cultural influences. As a big enthusiast of film, it is always a hoot to see armour worn by Mick Jagger, John Jarratt and Heath Ledger on display, among the various other exciting items such as Ann Jones’ table, helmets and weapons used by Victoria Police, and a range of photos of people involved in the story, including an image purporting to show Ned and Dan Kelly prior to their outlawry (which can only be viewed in a specially constructed box). The volunteer-run museum has thousands of people going through its doors every year and hopefully things will continue to grow.
Another spot we visited in Beechworth was the remnants of the old hospital. Essentially, all that remains of the busy frontier hospital is the stonework from the front wall. As impressive as it is, there is something rather melancholy in the absence of the rest of the building, but that’s progress for you. Once upon a time, this would have been bustling with nurses and doctors going about their duties, attending to patients from the town and the goldfields. Now, it’s just a bunch of carved stone leading onto an empty lot.
The following day we started with a trip to the El Dorado Pottery, a favourite of mine. After making a few purchases, we headed through the Woolshed Valley. Although the speed limit along the trail is 100km p/h, the road is covered in fine dust and gravel – not exactly prime conditions in case of a need to stop suddenly at top speed. We briefly stopped at Reedy Creek so Georgina could dip her toes in the water. As we were leaving there were already locals coming down in their swimmers to cool off. It’s a beautiful spot to have a swim and no doubt Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt did as much back in the day. As we continued, we stopped at the site of the Sebastopol Flats, where Joe Byrne used to work and socialise with the Chinese. Georgina made a series of videos for her Facebook page covering aspects of the story related to the locations we were visiting, the last of which was The Devil’s Elbow, where Aaron Sherritt lived at the time of his murder. The trail is conveniently signposted throughout and you can read up on the history as you go. Unfortunately there is not a lot of structures left to see, so the signs do a fantastic job of explaining what things were there and their significance.
We then made our way back to Beechworth where we managed to get in on a tour through the Beechworth Gaol. Despite some factual inaccuracies on this occasion that only big nerds like myself would pick up on, the tour was lively and engaging. The gaol itself is in excellent condition, owing to the fact that it was only fifteen years ago that it was decommissioned. If you are in Beechworth, try and get on the tour, which operates twice daily. There are many links to not only the Kelly Gang (all of whom had served time there), but also more recent high-profile criminals such as Squizzy Taylor and Carl Williams. To drive home the Kelly connection, a set of dummies dressed in replica armour stands between the corridors of cells. For some reason Joe Byrne’s helmet had been swapped with a second Dan Kelly helmet, but not everyone is as pedantic enough to notice as I am. Hopefully there will be more attractions at the gaol soon to encourage visitors beyond the tour, but as in all things it requires money and time, which is often in short supply these days.
That night we returned to the Beechworth Gaol for an evening hunting for ghosts. The Beechworth Gaol is the location of the four hour long paranormal investigations hosted by Danni from Paranormal Prospectors. Entering the gaol with the lights off, after dark, was a confronting experience itself, but this was heightened by the fact that the electronic temperature gauge that had been set up in the aisle of the male cell block appeared to be floating when we entered, though it may have been an optical illusion caused by the dramatic change in lighting. Regardless of whether or not it was, this has to be hands down the single most paranormally active place I’ve ever been. We got EVPs, Georgina was poked in the back by a disembodied finger (with an EVP capturing a voice describing exactly that), the laser grid was manipulated to go brighter and duller, there were intelligent responses where whistling patterns were being repeated by a disembodied voice in various points in the prison, there were disembodied footsteps, and intelligent responses on the spirit box. One of the most incredible things was the table tipping, where the group lightly rested their fingertips on the edge of a small table and it began to tilt and spin. It spun so fast we were all running in a circle and it tipped so intensely it fell over several times, and yet nobody was gripping the table at all – I have no conventional explanation for it. Overall, it was absolutely exhilarating to experience and as a ghost buff I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth.
On the return trip we popped into the Beechworth Galleries, where we examined the bric-a-brac and marvelled at the welded sculptures. The statues, of which a considerable number depicted Ned Kelly in armour, are made by a South African artist and range from the whimsical to the absolutely astounding. Any garden or deck would be immediately improved by having one of these amazing artworks on display there – just don’t ask me how you’ll get a life-size elk made of steel home. A keen observer might recognise the artist’s work on display outside of the Billy Tea Rooms in Glenrowan.
We also made sure to visit Glenrowan. For me, this is where it all began in 1998 during a stop on the way to Beechworth for my grade six school camp. Of course, in some ways it was a very different place back then. For one, back then Bob Hempel was still fit enough to charge out of the animated theatre ringing a bell to attract visitors whenever a session was due to begin. Nowadays, he’s far more subdued but you still hear the crack of the “gunfire” echoing through the main strip to remind you of the attraction’s presence. Kate’s Cottage hasn’t really changed, though the pet birds are dead now and the re-created Kelly house is starting to sag like an under-baked cake, but they still play Lazy Harry on loop, and you can still get your Ned Kelly tea towels and ciggie lighters from there. The site of the siege has recently had the stolen wooden replica of the inn sign replaced with a metal one that is hopefully harder to pinch, though the metal sculpture approximating Ned’s armour at the capture site has already had the helmet stolen, having been there for only around a month.
We had our brunch at the Vintage Hall Cafe, which is both a cafe and a shop that sells a mix of souvenirs and second hand items. It was here in 1970 that the Mick Jagger film had it’s Victorian premiere, and some local brainboxes decided to set off explosives around the building in protest (surprisingly this act did not somehow stop the film from existing). I managed to pick up a copy of the Monty Wedd Ned Kelly comic strip in a hardcover book, which was something I had been wanting for a long time. Then Georgina and I did our usual trip to Kate’s Cottage to browse the books. If you’ve got a decent wad of cash on you, you can pick up some really great titles from the range of second-hand books. I was very tempted by a number of the titles but decided to save up. Then it was a quick sojourn at the Billy Tea Rooms, which provide a lovely spot to have a bite to eat. We walked to the site of the siege where we had a moment of contemplating. It probably would have been longer than a moment if it wasn’t so hot that we could feel our skin baking.
After this we made our way to Greta to visit the cemetery, but ended up going to Moyhu and buying a fake plant centrepiece because we couldn’t find anywhere nearby that we could get flowers from. The volunteers that have been working to maintain and upgrade the facilities in the cemetery have done exemplary work and it is a pity that more of the smaller country cemeteries don’t get as much TLC. The Kelly graves are not marked, though with some research you can find out where the plots are. While many people complain that the graves are unmarked, it is very unlikely that it would make much of a difference. The marker at the gate is a tasteful memorial to the whole family, unified in the afterlife. Of course, having visited three quarters of the gang, we had to visit Joe Byrne one more time as we returned via Benalla (I doubt Georgina would have forgiven me if we hadn’t). From that point it was just a straight ride into the sunset on our way home where I hoped the cat hadn’t baked to death in my heat-trap of a house. Fortunately my mum had been an angel, as always, and made sure that the cat was looked after in my absence. By the time we got home we were both exhausted and decided that it was time to order a pizza now that we were somewhere that it would actually get delivered to.
It was indeed a very eventful trip. To experience the places where these incredible stories unfolded is always wonderful and exciting. It was good to see so much of the history preserved, but at the same time the amount of attractions that were poorly maintained or not maintained at all was disappointing. Australia’s heritage may not be full of Roman hippodromes or Greek amphitheatres, but what we do have is valuable and it is disheartening to see so much being lost because people either can’t afford to restore and maintain, or just can’t be bothered. Ideally, a town like Jerilderie could be thriving with frequent visitors coming through to visit the Kelly sites, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are so small and off the beaten track. Towns like Beechworth, in comparison, embrace their history and perhaps it could even be said that they take it for granted along with their accessibility due to proximity to the highway. It’s sad to see, but the reality is that it’s getting harder and harder to keep these things up and running in Australia, and these attractions will exist only as long as the people owning them are physically able to be there. Some young entrepreneur with a bit of cash behind them could revolutionise the tourism industry in bushranger country, but it would require real passion for the history as much as a fat bank account. These sites are our history and our culture and deserve to be maintained and cared for. Perhaps in the not too distant future, they will get the attention they need. Only time will tell.
Few figures in history reach the notoriety and cultural impact of the Kelly Gang. As so much is easily available on the subject already, here is an easily digestible summary of the so-called Kelly Outbreak. For more detailed information, there is a swathe of articles available on A Guide to Australian Bushranging that examine elements of the history in more depth.
The story of the Kelly Gang begins on 15 April, 1878. Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was sent by Sergeant Whelan at Benalla to take charge of the police station at Greta. Greta was well-known to police in the district as members of the Kelly, Quinn and Lloyd families(all related) had selections there. These families were under particularly strict scrutiny by the police due to their recidivism and suspected involvement in crimes such as stock theft. In fact, Constable Fitzpatrick had heard there was a warrant out for the arrest of Dan Kelly, the seventeen year-old son of the notorious Ellen Kelly, for his suspected involvement in horse stealing. He made it known to Whelan that he intended to arrest Dan en route to Greta police station. Despite popular understanding, Fitzpatrick was not required by law to carry a copy of a warrant with him.
When Fitzpatrick arrived at the Kelly selection, Dan was not at home so he spoke with Ellen Kelly (who was nursing a newborn), then rode to their neighbour, William “Brickey” Williamson, and questioned him about whether he had a permit for the logs he was splitting. He lingered until dusk and returned to the Kelly selection in case Dan had returned rather than riding to Greta to take charge of the station as ordered. Dan Kelly answered the door and Fitzpatrick made his intentions known. Dan agreed to go quietly with Fitzpatrick on condition that he could finish his dinner first as he had been riding all day. He denied having stolen any horses and it would later be revealed that he had been in gaol when the animals in question were stolen, corroborating his assertions. What happened next is not known for sure due to conflicting evidence. What seems to have been the case, according to popular understanding, is that Fitzpatrick possibly made an unwanted sexual advance on fifteen year-old Kate Kelly and a fight broke out. Fitzpatrick claimed that Ellen Kelly hit him in the head with a coal shovel and Ned Kelly entered the house and shot him in the wrist, accompanied by Brickey Williamson and Ellen Kelly’s son-in-law Bill Skillion who were both brandishing revolvers. Ned Kelly would claim he was never there and Ellen would indicate that Fitzpatrick was drunk and had fought with Ned and Dan. Another version of the story states that Fitzpatrick injured his arm on a door latch and claimed it was a bullet wound, cutting himself to make it look like he had removed a bullet. Regardless, Fitzpatrick returned to Benalla and lodged a report. The following day Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with aiding an attempted murder. Ned and Dan Kelly had gone into hiding at Dan Kelly’s hut in the bush, and a £100 reward was posted for the capture of Ned Kelly for attempted murder.
While the brothers were hiding in the Wombat Ranges Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Bill Skillion were sentenced. Ellen Kelly received three years hard labour, the two men were given six years each. Days later a search party was sent from Mansfield to find the Kelly brothers. Word soon reached the bushrangers that they were being hunted and they tracked the police as they ventured into the bush from Mansfield on 25 October, 1878. Despite the fact they had constructed a fortified hut with huge logs for walls and an armoured door made of sheet metal to protect them in an ambush, they remained on edge. The Mansfield police party consisted of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas McIntyre, Michael Scanlan (of Mooroopna) and Thomas Lonigan (of Violet Town). They set up camp on the banks of Stringybark Creek, less than a mile from Dan Kelly’s hut. The following day Kennedy and Scanlan headed off to scout for the brothers, leaving McIntyre and Lonigan to tend the camp. McIntyre shot some parrots with a shotgun Kennedy had left him for the task of hunting something for supper. He returned to camp and began cooking bread. Unknown to them, the sound of McIntyre shooting had been heard and Ned Kelly decided to bail up the police. He and Dan were joined by Joe Byrne, a young man from the Woolshed Valley who had recently been involved in stock theft with Ned, and Steve Hart, a jockey from Wangaratta. Ned claimed his intention was to rob the police of their food and weapons.
In the afternoon of 26 October, 1878, the Kelly Gang emerged from the bush and ordered McIntyre and Lonigan to bail up. McIntyre did as instructed but Lonigan ran and was shot by Ned with a quartered bullet. A piece of shrapnel pierced Lonigan’s eye and entered his brain, killing him. Ned insisted that Lonigan had gotten behind a log and was about to shoot him. McIntyre would refute this, stating that there was not enough time for Lonigan to have done so. The bushrangers raided the camp, gathering what they could. Dan Kelly insisted McIntyre be handcuffed but Ned refused. He ordered McIntyre to tell the other police to surrender when they returned or be shot. Joe Byrne drank tea and smoked with McIntyre as they waited. When Kennedy and Scanlan returned the gang hid and McIntyre attempted to get the police to surrender. Very suddenly shots were fired. Ned shot Scanlan in the back as his horse tried to run away. Kennedy jumped out of the saddle and began shooting with his pistol. McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse and rode into the bush. Kennedy attempted to follow McIntyre and shot Dan Kelly in the shoulder. Ned pursued Kennedy and they fired at each other in a running gunfight. Kennedy was wounded and fell a considerable distance from the camp. Ned finished him off by shooting him in the chest at close range. He would claim it was a mercy killing. The bushrangers then looted from the corpses and took everything they needed from the camp before burning the tent. Constable McIntyre, meanwhile, had been badly injured as he escaped and hid in a wombat hole overnight. The following day he walked to a farm and raised the alarm.
Almost immediately parliament passed the Felons Apprehension Act, which gave them the power to declare people “outlaws”. This was based on the legislation of the same name passed in New South Wales in response to bushrangers such as Ben Hall and Dan Morgan. It meant that the outlaws were not protected by the law and could be murdered without provocation and the killer would not only be exempt from any repercussions, they would receive the reward money. Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly and their two accomplices (Joe Byrne and Steve Hart had not yet been identified) were officially declared outlaws in the colony of Victoria. £1000 was put on Ned’s capture, another £1000 was offered for the others. The assistant commissioner of police, Charles Hope Nicolson, was assigned to lead the hunt for the gang.
On 9 December, 1878, the Kelly Gang re-emerged. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station at Faithfull’s Creek and imprisoned the staff in a storeroom. That evening a hawker arrived to camp at the station and he was bailed up as well. The outlaws took new outfits from the hawkers wagon and spruced themselves up with perfume. Later, Ned held a Q&A session in the shed where he answered all the questions his prisoners had about his life and crimes. The next morning, Dan guarded the prisoners while the other gang members destroyed the telegraph lines. A hunting party was also captured and added to the prisoners in the shed.
In the afternoon of 10 December, Ned, Dan and Steve rode to Euroa to rob the bank. Dan guarded the back door as Steve went into the manager’s homestead via the kitchen. Here he was recognised by one of the servants who had been a schoolmate of his. He locked her in the drawing room with the rest of the manager’s family before heading into the bank. Meanwhile, Ned had tried to get in the front door with a dodgy cheque he had made the superintendent of Younghusband’s Station write out. When the bank clerk tried to tell him they were closed, he burst in and bailed the staff up and ordered them to give him all the money. Once the till was emptied he ordered them to open the safe but they needed the manager’s key. Ned and Steve bailed up the manager, Robert Scott, and after much hassle, including sending Scott’s wife to get the key from the study, the safe was emptied too. The outlaws then took the staff and the Scotts with them back to the station where Joe had been guarding the prisoners, and had even captured the linesman sent to repair the broken telegraph wires. The gang stayed until night time and then left, ordering the prisoners to wait until they were gone before leaving themselves. The gang escaped with over £1500 on gold and money. In response the reward was raised to £4000 and Assistant Commissioner Nicolson was replaced by Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare.
With all four gang members now officially named, it was harder for them to move around, so they got Joe Byrne’s best friend Aaron Sherritt to keep the police distracted by giving them false information. In early 1879 he informed Superintendent Hare that the Kelly Gang would be going to Goulburn. The police immediately headed for Goulburn, but the outlaws were actually heading for Jerilderie, further west. They split up and Ned and Joe went to the Woolpack Inn to get information about Jerilderie. They soon rejoined Dan and Steve and headed into the town.
At midnight on 7 February, 1879, the Kelly Gang woke the Jerilderie police up and captured them. They locked the police in their own lock-up cell and planned their next heist. The next day Ned and Joe disguised themselves as police reinforcements and went through the town with one of the constables. They made note of where everything was. Later, Joe and Dan traced the telegraph lines and got their horses shod. The next day Dan guarded the wife of the town’s Sergeant as she decorated the town hall for mass. The gang then began to round the townsfolk up and imprisoned them in the Royal Hotel. Joe went into the bank via the back door and bailed up the staff. Ned and Steve soon appeared. They robbed the till, but again had to get the manager’s key for the safe. Steve was sent to find the manager and caught him having a bath. Eventually the safe was opened and emptied. Ned began destroying records of the bank’s debtors and the bank staff were added to the prisoners in the hotel. Ned and Joe had written a letter that was to be published in the local newspaper, but the local news editor had run out of town once he realised the Kelly Gang were robbing the bank. Ned gave the letter to one of the bankers to be passed onto the press. The gang soon headed off with £2000 pounds of stolen money and gold. This caused the New South Wales government to contribute another £4000 to the reward.
For months the gang seemed to disappear. During this time Aaron Sherritt kept the police distracted by hosting watch parties at the Byrne selection every night. Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor was sent from Queensland with a party of native police. The native police were feared for their incredible tracking abilities and their discipline. During the latter months of 1879, Superintendent Hare took ill and was replaced by Assistant Commissioner Nicolson. Nicolson stopped the watch parties and relied on a syndicate of police informants to keep track of the Kelly Gang. Unfortunately a lot of information the police received was either outdated, false or cases of mistaken identity. The media criticised the police for their apparent ineptitude.
At this time the outlaws had begun to collect steel plates, mostly plough mouldboards, in order to craft bulletproof armour. Ned Kelly would claim his original intention was to wear the armour during bank robberies as the banks were now all guarded by armed soldiers. Each gang member had their own suit, but mystery still surrounds who made the armour. Many believe it was made by blacksmiths or by the gang themselves.
The gang had also been very reliant on their sympathisers for fresh horses, food, shelter and information. The proceeds from the bank robberies had all gone to their supporters. The most prominent sympathisers were Tom Lloyd, Wild Wright, Paddy Byrne, Ettie Hart and the Kelly sisters. Aaron Sherritt was a sympathiser too, but many of the gang’s other supporters thought he was working for the police and had told the gang to murder him. Sherritt’s family had actually been working as police informants, his brother Jack Sherritt in particular, but Aaron had remained a supporter of his closest friend. Nevertheless, the rumours were persistent and Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly frequently tested the Sherritts by giving them useless information to see if it reached the police. When Superintendent Hare returned as head of the pursuit, he re-employed Aaron to take watch parties to spy on Mrs. Byrne. When the threats against Aaron became worrisome, Detective Michael Ward, one of the heads of the hunt based in Beechworth, had arranged for Aaron to be guarded day and night by police. Meanwhile, Ned Kelly had decided to escalate the conflict with the police and take out as many of them in a single go as possible. He planned to lure them out on a special train and derail it. A commotion at Aaron Sherritt’s hut would cause the police, who were based in Benalla, to go by train to Beechworth and resume the hunt with a fresh trail. In order to get to Beechworth they had to pass through Glenrowan, where the train line would be broken on a treacherous bend, causing the train to fly off the tracks. The intention seems to have been to murder the police on board in order to force the government to stop pursuing the gang out of fear.
On 26 June, 1880, Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne bailed up a German neighbour of Aaron Sherritt named Anton Wick. They took him to Sherritt’s hut and used Wick to lure Aaron to the back door. When Aaron opened the door Joe murdered him, shooting him twice with a shotgun. Aaron died instantly. The four police constables that had been assigned to protect Aaron cowered and hid in the bedroom. Joe and Dan tried to force the police out of the bedroom for two hours before giving up and riding off to join Ned and Steve at Glenrowan.
At Glenrowan, Ned and Steve bailed up a team of quarrymen and some plate-layers to pull up a section of the train track. Ned also captured Ann Jones, proprietor of The Glenrowan Inn, and her daughter Jane. The prisoners were taken to the gatehouse where Joe and Dan arrived at around five in the morning. At daybreak the prisoners were split into two groups: women and children were kept in the gatehouse to be guarded by Steve, everyone else was taken to The Glenrowan Inn. Throughout the day more prisoners were captured as Ned waited for the police. To keep the prisoners occupied there were sporting games held at the inn, card games were played inside, drinks flowed freely and there was even a dance in the bar room. Still, there was no sign of police. As it was a Sunday, no civilian trains would be running and Ned expected the police to arrive as soon as they heard the news of what had happened at Aaron’s hut. What Ned had not discovered was that the news of Aaron’s murder did not reach the police in Benalla until after lunchtime. The police took a long time to make any arrangements but as dusk approached, arrangements were made for a special police train to be sent to Beechworth.
That evening Ned decided to bail up the local policeman, Constable Bracken. Thomas Curnow, the schoolteacher, had been trying to convince Ned he was on his side all day and Ned finally agreed to let Curnow take his sick wife home when they went to capture Bracken. As soon as he got home, Curnow gathered materials to help him stop the train. He took a candle and a red scarf and rode off to the train line. Back at the inn there was more dancing and after midnight Dan Kelly told everyone to head home. However, Ann Jones stopped them from leaving so Ned could give a speech. As Ned was talking the police train finally arrived and stopped at the station. Curnow had used the lit candle behind the red scarf as a danger signal and warned the train about the damaged line. The Kelly Gang donned their armour and prepared for battle. Constable Bracken escaped and ran to the train station where he informed Superintendent Hare that the gang were in The Glenrowan Inn. The police headed to the inn and a battle commenced.
In the initial exchange Superintendent Hare’s wrist was smashed by a shot, Joe Byrne was shot in the calf, and Ned Kelly was shot in the foot and his left elbow was smashed. As the battle continued, the prisoners tried to escape. Jane Jones led a group of women and children to safety after she had been hit in the head by a police bullet and her little brother had also been mortally wounded by police fire. Over the next few hours, Ned escaped into the bush, most of the women and children escaped even though the police continued to try and shoot them, and Joe Byrne was killed by a police bullet to the groin. Police reinforcements continued to arrive throughout the early hours of the morning and just before sunrise Ned Kelly reappeared behind the police lines.
Ned fought the police for almost half an hour before Sergeant Steele blasted his unprotected knee. He was captured alive but badly wounded. Dan and Steve remained in the inn. At ten o’clock the rest of the prisoners were let out. By this time people from all around had descended upon Glenrowan to watch the siege. At three in the afternoon the police decided to burn the inn down to flush Dan and Steve out. They had previously ordered a cannon to be sent from Melbourne to blown the inn up but it had not yet arrived. As the inn was set on fire a Catholic priest, Matthew Gibney, ran inside to rescue anyone that was still in there. Joe Byrne’s corpse was dragged out and the dead bodies of Dan and Steve were found in the bedroom but could not be retrieved before the fire took hold. Another civilian shot by police, Martin Cherry, was rescued from the fire but only lived long enough to be given the last rites. After the fire had stopped, Dan’s and Steve’s bodies were retrieved. They were charred beyond recognition. The onlookers crowded around to get a good look at the dead bodies and to grab any souvenirs they could. Photographers captured images of many of the scenes.
Ned Kelly was taken to Benalla, where Joe Byrne’s corpse was strung up against a door of the police lock-up to be photographed. Ned was then sent to Melbourne Gaol to be treated for his wounds but was not expected to survive. Meanwhile, Dan and Steve were buried in unmarked graves to prevent the police taking the bodies away from the families. Months after Glenrowan there were still bullets and bits of shot being removed from Ned’s hands, feet and limbs. When he was deemed fit, he was sent to Beechworth for a committal hearing. Authorities were worried that having a trial in Beechworth would mean there was a strong likelihood of there being sympathisers in the jury so in order to have the best chance at convicting him, he was transferred back to Melbourne for his murder trial.
The trial in the Supreme Court was quick and Ned Kelly was found guilty of murdering Constable Thomas Lonigan and sentenced to death by Sir Redmond Barry, the judge that had sentenced his mother to gaol in 1878. While he was held in Melbourne Gaol to await his execution, his sympathisers tried to get a reprieve. Petitions with tens of thousands of signatures were gathered and there were protests and riots in the streets of Melbourne. Kate Kelly met with prominent politicians to beg for mercy but the Executive Council were unmoved and the sentence was upheld. Ned dictated several letters from his cell in order to make his version of events heard. As he was unable to write due to his injuries another prisoner was made to write for him. On 11 November, 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged in Melbourne Gaol. Thousands of people gathered outside the prison and Ellen Kelly worked in the prison laundry within earshot of the gallows. After his execution, his body was taken to the dead house, his head was shaved and a cast made, then his body was removed to be dissected by university students. The remains were buried in the gaol.
The Kelly Gang was not prolific by a far stretch. They did fewer robberies than the Hall Gang; they murdered less people than Jimmy Governor; they were not at large as long as Captain Thunderbolt; and there were not as many members as The Ribbon Gang. But what distinguished the Kelly Gang was that there was a political element to their story that was unprecedented, and a sophistication to their operations that surpassed similar feats from the “golden era” of bushrangers. Most people believe bushranging ended with the Kelly Gang, but in fact bushranging continued well into the 1920s before it began to evaporate.
Certainly the armour is a powerful piece of iconography and it encapsulates a lot of what makes the Kelly story so unique. In almost 100 years of bushranging, starting with Black Caesar in 1788, nobody had thought to protect themselves from bullets. Ned Kelly mixed the best bits of old fashioned bushranging with a fresh, more methodical approach: to prevent being shot they made armour; because mail coaches were not lucrative targets they robbed banks; they destroyed telegraph lines to prevent information reaching the police quickly; to gain sympathy they gave speeches and wrote letters to the press and politicians; to prove they were not cold blooded murderers they performed intricate heists with no bloodshed. They were bushrangers that didn’t act like typical bushrangers and that made them a cut above the rest.
Because the Kelly Gang came from the selector class and so many people identified with them, they became representatives of people in a way not seen since Jack Donohoe became the hero of the convict class. They came to represent everything one group of people tried to suppress, at the same time as being everything the other group wanted to be, which struck a chord and captured the imagination. Even now, they capture that same spirit because a lot of the class conflict in the modern day is merely a mutation of what it was then and stems from the same things. People will always be able to find something in the Kelly Gang they either love or hate because they have transcended history and become part of the cultural tapestry.
Forever consigned to popular culture as Ned Kelly’s little brother, Dan Kelly was a young man of only nineteen when he lost his life fighting the police. Like so many “boy bushrangers” his young life was snuffed out without him having ever fulfilled his potential, wasting his youth on a life of crime. But there was more to Dan Kelly than just having Ned Kelly as his big brother.
Daniel Kelly was born on 1 June, 1861 to John “Red” Kelly and Ellen Quinn. He was named after one of his father’s brothers and christened in the church in Beveridge, Victoria, where the family were living in a house John had built. Before Dan was born, there had been Mary Jane (died in infancy), Annie, Ned, Maggie and Jim. Dan would be followed by Kate and Grace. Dan’s infancy years were quiet for the family. John turned his hand to a number of occupations but was primarily employed doing odd jobs around the district and splitting timber. Financial strain, however, soon saw John attempting to distill his own whiskey. Unfortunately he took to drinking most of the produce himself. The difficulty saw the family relocate to Avenel, but here their problems would not only continue, they would worsen.
John spent six months in gaol in 1866 for stealing and butchering a calf. This meant that for half a year Ellen was reliant on her brothers for help around the place. The Quinn brothers were not model citizens by the furthest stretch, Jimmy Quinn being the worst of the lot. Jimmy was too fond of liquor, quick to violence and did not discriminate when choosing a target. No doubt Dan’s exposure to this would have negatively shaped his young mind. When John was released from gaol he was a broken man. Dan was barely five years old when his father died of dropsy, an old term for oedema (build-up of fluid in the soft tissues), likely linked to his alcoholism. He was buried in Avenel. The family soon found themselves frequently homeless, moving from Avenel to an abandoned pub in Greta. Here the Kellys co-habited with Ellen’s sisters, both of whose husbands were in prison at the time, and their children while they attempted to make ends meet.
The new home in Greta was short-lived. One night John Kelly’s brother James had arrived at the house drunk and his sexual advances were rebuffed by Ellen. He returned later that same night and burned the place to the ground. The children inside were asleep but the sisters remained awake, fearful of retribution. After another binge at the local pub, James threw incendiary devices at the house until a fire took hold, but thankfully there were no fatalities. The families were now homeless again and devoid of earthly possessions such as clothes and furniture. When James was tried he was sentenced to death by Sir Redmond Barry. This was later commuted to a long prison sentence by the executive council. The Greta community got together and helped the victims get back on their feet. Ellen soon gained a lease on a selection on the 11 Mile Creek. Things were starting to look up.
With his big brother Ned, only twelve himself when Red died, acting as man of the house, Dan and his brother Jim often ran wild. By 1870 things had changed dramatically for the family. Ellen had her selection but the land was not fit for crops. The family had to rely on the money they made from lodgers and travellers looking for a drink. Fifteen year-old Ned worked for a time as Harry Power‘s offsider, and then found himself in and out of gaol, eventually copping three years for receiving a stolen horse. Jim was now the man of the house in Ned’s absence. Jim was not a good candidate, however, and would coax Dan into mischief; their first arrest occurring when Dan was only ten years old.
In September 1871, Jim and Dan had borrowed horses without permission from a hawker named Mark Krafft. Krafft had been grazing his horses at the Kelly selection, as he had frequently done, and the boys had taken them for a joyride. Jim had previously been working as Krafft’s servant to get some extra money, the pudgy child being less physical than his big brother and thus less suited to splitting work. Constable Ernest Flood, newly stationed in Greta, nabbed them on a charge of illegally using a horse and took the children to Wangaratta to be kept in the logs until trial. When they went to court two days later the case was quickly dismissed on account of Jim’s and Dan’s ages (12 and 10 respectively) and the fact that Jim had been a servant of Krafft for a time. One can only imagine the impact that the experience of being taken away from their family and locked up in a cell with a bunch of strange, grown men waiting for trial for two days would have been on the children. It would eventuate that Flood was nothing but bad news for the family, allegedly stealing their horses and selling them to railway workers and sexually assaulting Dan’s big sister Annie and making her pregnant, though the truth of this is debatable owing to there being no solid evidence to back the claims.
Jim, only fourteen, ended up in gaol in 1873 with two sentences of 2 1/2 years to be served consecutively for helping shift stolen cattle. With Red gone and Ned and Jim in gaol, Ellen was on the lookout for a new man to help around the house and to protect her from her brothers or anyone else that might come sniffing around with bad intentions. She took the bold move of selling grog on the sly to travellers and seemed to think she had found her man in Bill Frost, an itinerant worker who had lodged with the family. Frost engaged in a sexual relationship with Ellen, from which she became pregnant with a daughter. Frost was apparently not keen to be a father and skipped town. Ellen, not one to be passive, tracked him down and took him to court for maintenance. After a long and bitter dispute she won but the infant died before the first maintenance payment came through. One can only imagine how this would have impacted young Dan, who had to assume the role of man of the house.
It wasn’t all gloomy for Dan though. According to some accounts, while his big brothers were doing time, Dan was lavished with affection from his sisters. Some considered this made him spoiled, but at any rate he managed to keep his nose clean during this period. It was at this time that Ellen took in George King, a 25 year-old American-born traveller, miner and stock thief. It was a remarkably short courtship as they were married in 1874, just after Ned came home from Pentridge. Within a month Ellen gave birth again. No doubt Dan, now thirteen, was relieved not to have the responsibility of being the male head of the household anymore. Between Ned and George the role was well taken care of.
Dan’s main hobbies at this time were much the same as the majority of young men in the country – riding and hunting. Dan would latch onto groups of boys who were out kangaroo hunting and took much pride in his marksmanship. He also took much joy in racing his peers on horseback. A brilliant description of Dan came from Joseph Ashmead, a friend of the Kelly family, in an unpublished memoir:
He was riding a smart black pony, and proudly told us it was a galloper and could clear any fence in the north east. The boy was alert and active with piercing black eyes that took in everything at a glance. He wore strapped trousers, a red shirt and straw hat tilted forward, secured by a strap under his nose. The back of his head was broad and covered with close cropped hair as black and shiny as a crow; his jaw was heavy, his lips thin, and when closed tightly, there seemed to be something cruel in them, but when they relaxed into a smile, he appeared to be a jovial, good-natured fellow. His name was Dan Kelly and he was a great lover of horses. I was the only one of the boys who had a horse. A bay pony. She had belonged to a clergyman and was an honest goer. Dan ran his eye over my over my horse and proposed that we should have a race, a challenge that I gladly accepted. When Dan found that he could not shake me off, he developed a great respect for me, and declared there was not a kangaroo in all the country who could get away from us, so we went kangaroo hunting, not once but many times. I left my cows to look after themselves, or bribed some of the boys to look after them for me, with the promises of some sinews out of the kangaroo’s tail to make whip crackers with.
No doubt Dan’s hunting provided much needed meat for the family, or at least was able to be sold to raise money for other goods. Seemingly Dan left home at the first opportunity to seek work. By some reports he travelled into New South Wales to work on sheep stations around the Monaro region as a shearer. He was also reported to have worked in Chesney Vale with Ned as a brick layer, but was not very good at it. It is likely that this is when Dan took up possession of an abandoned miner’s hut by Bullock Creek in the Wombat Ranges and began prospecting for gold. Sluices were later constructed along the creek and this would have provided a bit of pocket money. No doubt the seasonal nature of most of these jobs left Dan with a considerable amount of free time in between and he soon found himself adopting the larrikin culture of the day.
The fast riding, clownishly attired, skirt chasing lifestyle of the larrikin had become a widespread issue throughout the colonies. Gangs of youths in porkpie or billycock hats worn on jaunty angles, short Paget coats and jackets, bell-bottom trousers, colourful sashes and pointy high-heeled boots would loiter in public areas making a nuisance of themselves. Dan became a founding member of the “Greta Mob”, who populated the streets around Greta and Wangaratta. Apart from Dan, the mob consisted mostly of his cousins Tom and Jack Lloyd and a young Wangaratta jockey named Steve Hart, with the rotating roster of associates typical of these forms of social group. Their primary interests were fast horses, smoking, booze and chatting up girls. The boys were known to ride full gallop through the streets and challenge each other to various horse tricks. Steve Hart, for instance, could get his horse to vault over the railway gates, much to the chagrin of the gatekeeper. The Greta Mob adopted as their signature the larrikin badges of high-heeled boots, cocked billycock hats with the hatstring worn under the nose (to stop the hat flying off when riding at full gallop) and brightly coloured sashes worn around the waist. The style was clownish but that’s not unusual for teenage boys of any era. Unfortunately, Dan was still living in hand-me-downs and cut an odd figure in his threadbare, oversized, outdated outfits. The only verified photographic images we have of Dan illustrate this clearly. He wears a rumpled hat, a baggy sack coat with missing buttons and fraying cuffs as well as baggy trousers held up with a piece of rope. He was known to grow his hair long and seems to have cultivated a moustache at some point. But what Dan lacked in creole couture he made up for in his riding and his drinking. It has been written that Dan had many sweethearts but whenever they were unavailable for a night of frivolity he would employ the services of working girls, though it is incredibly unlikely that a fifteen year-old boy would have the presence of mind or the funds to engage in that lifestyle, regardless of the usual rampant libido they enjoyed.
One of the few times Dan graced the courts was in relation to a supposedly stolen saddle. In March 1877 he was charged with stealing the saddle in question in Benalla and was tried during the Beechworth general sessions before Judge Hackett. It had taken five months to lay charges against the teenager. The saddle in question was one that Dan had purchased from a man named Roberts in exchange for a different saddle and £1, and he produced a receipt to prove it, which was verified in court. Along with Jack Lloyd and his brother-in-law Bill Skillion, Ned Kelly was present during the hearing as a witness to back up his little brother. In the end the case was dismissed and Dan walked away with a sense of vindication. Judge Hackett stated that he “did not see why the prisoner was there at all” as his case was clear-cut. During this case Dan displayed a trait that distinguished him from his older brothers – he provided no resistance to arrest and complied happily with the police. This could be interpreted by some as overconfidence in his ability to dodge a conviction, but more likely Dan understood that resisting arrest was a fool’s game and further that he was innocent of the crime of which he was accused (which a trial would – and did – prove). This would not be the last time he displayed a conspicuous willingness to comply.
While he had been waiting to appear in court over the saddle charge, Dan met two boys from the Woolshed Valley named Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. They were also waiting to appear in court that day over a charge of assault against a Chinaman named Ah On. It would eventuate that the pair would not get their day in court that same day, remanded to be tried in the next session. What exactly transpired between the young men in that cell can only be guessed at, but this would prove to be a fateful friendship.
Dan’s first and only conviction came from an incident at Goodman’s store, Winton, on September 28, 1877. Dan had travelled into town to exchange meat for goods. When he arrived the establishment wasn’t open and therefore no trade took place. Annoyed, Dan went drinking with his cousins Tom and Jack then returned with them to Goodman’s store, drunk. Dan smashed in the door and took the goods he sought. A man going by the name Moses Solomon was also there and claimed he was assaulted by the rowdy larrikins. Tom Lloyd lingered and flashed Mrs. Goodman, the other two pushing Tom into her with the lights out. Dan was found guilty of wilfully damaging the property and sentenced to three months in Beechworth Gaol. Tom Lloyd was additionally charged with intent to rape but was found not guilty, yet still got six months for his part. Dan did his time in Beechworth Gaol without incident. Almost miraculously for a Kelly boy he managed to get through his sentence without incurring any additional penalties. Three months crushing granite would have given Dan bigger muscles, but also greater resolve to walk the straight and narrow once he was out. Unfortunately fate had a different plan for him.
While Dan was still in prison a warrant was issued for his arrest. A witness saw two young men they believed to be Dan Kelly and Jack Lloyd leading a mob of stolen horses near Chiltern. They reported it to the police and the paperwork was duly issued. This was noted by Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick after reading the announcement in the Police Gazette. On April 15, 1878, Fitzpatrick was sent from Benalla to take over at Greta police station. Fitzpatrick informed his superior, Sergeant Whelan, that he knew of a warrant for Dan Kelly and intended on arresting him on his way to the station. Fitzpatrick went alone to the Kelly property and what occurred has been subject to much scrutiny and debate. The general thrust is that Fitzpatrick enquired after Dan but found he was away. The constable then asked a neighbour, Brickey Williamson, about Dan’s whereabouts before electing to return to the Kelly house and wait. He was greeted by Dan who offered to go quietly on the provision that he could finish his dinner first. After this, a scuffle broke out and Fitzpatrick was wounded in the wrist. The policeman claimed Ned Kelly had shot him, Ned Kelly claimed he wasn’t even there. Each witness account conflicted with the others in some way. Regardless, Dan and Ned immediately fled to the Wombat Ranges. Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Dan’s brother-in-law Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with aiding attempted murder.
For six months Dan and Ned hid in the ranges. A second, fortified, hut was built further up the creek from Dan’s place using thick logs, and both huts were equipped with whiskey stills. The intention was to raise money for Ellen Kelly’s defence by selling gold and bootleg whiskey. Unfortunately it was not enough and Ellen got three years, the men each received six years.
After the trial police parties were organised to bring the Kelly brothers to justice. Warrants had been issued for their arrest. There was £100 on each of their heads; Ned for attempted murder, Dan for aiding and abetting. A party was sent from Mansfield to find the Kellys in the Wombat Ranges. The party consisted of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and constables Michael Scanlan, Thomas McIntyre and Thomas Lonigan. When Ned found the police party’s tracks he sent Dan to find their camp, which he duly did. The next day the brothers, roused by McIntyre firing a shotgun while hunting parrots, went to the police camp with Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. They hid in the spear-grass and intended on ambushing the camp to take the police guns and horses. When the bushrangers emerged they held McIntyre at gunpoint. When Lonigan ran to cover and moved to fire at the arrivals, Ned shot him. There was a moment of disbelief as Lonigan struggled on the ground. Dan remarked “He was a plucky fellow. Did you see how he went for his gun?” He then seized the police shotgun and searched the tent. When Lonigan’s identity was revealed, Dan exclaimed that “He won’t be putting any of us poor buggers away again.”
McIntyre took a particular dislike to Dan, describing his nervous laughter and his “grotesque” appearance in his oversized hand-me-down clothes. McIntyre fully believed that Dan would be the one to put a bullet in him.
Dan insisted McIntyre be handcuffed but Ned refused, believing a fear of being shot was incentive enough for the trooper to obey his orders. This did not sit well with Dan who grumbled that the police would just as soon clap cuffs on them.
When Kennedy and Scanlan returned from scouting McIntyre tried to persuade them to surrender but a gunfight broke out. Scanlan was shot, McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse and Kennedy fired at the Kellys with his pistol. A bullet from Kennedy hit Dan’s shoulder as the sergeant retreated into the bush after McIntyre. Kennedy was soon killed by Ned a considerable distance from the camp. The gang looted the bodies and Dan took Scanlan’s pocket watch. The salvageable items were collected and the tent burnt as the gang escaped.
As a result of the incident at Stringybark Creek, Ned and Dan were outlawed with a reward of £500 each. At this stage Joe and Steve were unidentified.
In December 1878 the gang re-emerged near Violet Town. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station on Faithfuls Creek in the afternoon and began herding the staff into a shed. They kept the staff as prisoners in the tool shed overnight and stole new outfits from a hawker’s wagon. That night the gang chatted with their captives, answering questions but with Ned doing most of the talking. Dan and Steve were overheard talking about how they’d like a lark with the female prisoners. In the morning the nearby telegraph poles were damaged by Ned, Joe and Steve. In the afternoon Ned, Dan and Steve headed into Euroa to rob the bank, leaving Joe on sentry at the station. The timing was meticulously arranged to coincide with a funeral that would keep the townsfolk occupied during the gang’s activities. Dan acted as a guard, standing at the rear of the bank, making sure that nobody escaped or interrupted while Ned and Steve robbed the place. Once the loot had been acquired the bushrangers headed back to the station with the bank staff and the manager’s family and servants. On the way Dan rode in the stolen hawker’s wagon and kept his gun trained on Mrs. Scott, the bank manager’s wife, who was driving a buggy alongside, in case she tried to escape or raise an alarm. The raid went off without a hitch and the gang escaped with thousands of pounds to distribute among their families and sympathisers. Before they left, Dan gave Constable Scanlan’s watch to Becroft, the hawker’s assistant, and money with which to repair it. It is unclear what the nature of the damage was.
In February 1879 the gang struck again at Jerilderie. They travelled over the border to answer a challenge that they wouldn’t last 24 hours in New South Wales. The gang roused the police in the middle of the night and locked them in their own cells. Mrs. Devine, the wife of the senior constable, recalled how as the gang occupied their home during their stay Dan would bounce her son on his knee but later spoke in quite a violent manner in order to make her work faster as she decorated the courthouse for mass. The gang then went through town disguised in police uniforms pretending to be reinforcements against the Kelly Gang. On the Monday Dan and Joe had their horses shod at the blacksmith and investigated the telegraph lines before the gang put their plan into full effect. Ned, Steve and Joe robbed the bank while Dan kept prisoners under control next door in the hotel. The gang had successfully managed to occupy the town for a whole weekend unmolested and rode away with thousands of pounds in unmarked notes that could not be traced. In response, the New South Wales government doubled the reward for the gang to £8000.
Upon leaving New South Wales, the gang split up to reconvene at the Byrne selection at a set date and time. Only Dan arrived on time. He stayed for dinner and questioned the Byrnes about whether the other gang members had been past. Dan seems to have had a good relationship with the Byrnes, frequently stopping by in much the same manner for a meal and a chat. Dan also seemed to be the most active gang member, being reported as having been spotted more than any other member of the Kelly Gang. It is also probable that he partook in Joe’s favourite past-time of visiting the Sebastopol opium dens for a smoke and card games.
Over the course of 1879 and early 1880, Dan and Joe Byrne tested the loyalty of the Sherritts and various other sympathisers that were suspected of turning on the gang. On 14 May, 1880, Dan paid a visit to his uncle Tom Lloyd. Lloyd’s neighbour, a police informant named Jacob Wilson, saw horses in Lloyd’s garden and began snooping. He was found behind the cow shed by the dogs and the barking roused everyone in the house. Uncle Tom sent the dog to chase the man down and he climbed up a cherry tree. Dan Kelly and cousin Tom Lloyd, who were unarmed, fetched the dog and yelled taunts to the police they assumed were nearby, before going back inside. Wilson was so terrified he stayed in the tree until morning. Incidents like this were increasingly common and the gang began to stop visiting certain people in case they were spotted.
More concerning to the gang however was the rumour that had been circulating that the Sherritts were in cahoots with the police, fuelled by the vicious game of “Chinese Whispers” that accounted for the gang’s bush telegraph. On one occasion Dan arrived at the Sherritt selection on Sheepstation Creek looking for Jack Sherritt, Aaron’s younger brother. When he was told Jack wasn’t home he pushed his way inside with a revolver drawn and searched for him. Dan said they wanted to speak with him. Unbeknownst to Dan, Jack was at that moment speeding away to speak to Assistant Commissioner Nicolson in a desperate attempt to seek protection. Nicolson told him to go to a local pub and use that as his alibi. It was clear to everyone that the gang was getting desperate and had cottoned on that something was up and Ned was determined to address it in his next big scheme.
In early 1880 a plan had been devised by Ned Kelly to escalate the gang’s activities. The banks were too heavily guarded to rob as they had done previously, so now they were struggling to find ways to keep their network of sympathisers on-side. The gang’s health was also deteriorating as the rigours of life on the run was wearing them down. Ned suffered sciatica and sandy blight, Joe struggled with withdrawals as his opium supply was cut off due to lack of funds, and Dan was described by one witness as looking gaunt and hollow-cheeked. Police parties were coming closer than before to catching the gang and even had the assistance of an elite team of black trackers from Queensland on top of a network of police spies and informants. Ned wanted to end the pursuit in dramatic fashion by luring a trainload of police and trackers to be derailed at Glenrowan. He sent Dan and Joe to create a commotion at Aaron Sherritt’s hut, where a team of constables had been allocated to protect him, as the bait. On Saturday 26 June, Dan and Joe kidnapped Aaron’s neighbour Anton Wick and used him to lure Aaron to his back door whereupon he was murdered by Joe with a shotgun. Dan guarded the front door in case the police that were hiding inside tried to escape. The two bushrangers then terrorised the party of constables as they cowered in the bedroom, Aaron’s mother-in-law and pregnant wife stuck between the two sides. Attempts to burn the place failed and the outlaws rode away two hours later. It would be midday the next day before any of the police were brave enough to see if they had gone. Initially Ellen Barry, the mother-in-law, stated that Dan had been quiet when entering the hut with a pistol. It was only later when attempts were being made to gain a payout from the police that she would describe him resting on the table as he looked at the murdered Sherritt with a grin.
Dan and Joe arrived at Glenrowan at around 5am on 27 June, 1880. Dan was immediately employed with tending the horses and carrying the gang’s armour into the Glenrowan Inn. Over the course of the day Dan guarded the prisoners in the inn and even initiated dancing to keep them entertained. He was seen to get intimate with Jane Jones, the publican’s daughter, she having been spotted sitting on his knee and kissing him, even being given one of his revolvers to use while she kept the prisoners at bay when Dan had to leave the room. As the weekend rolled on and the special train did not appear as expected, tensions began to rise. Multiple times during the gang’s stay at Glenrowan, Dan told Ned they should leave and argued the point only to be shouted down by his brother who was determined that they would stay and fight. The longer they waited the more difficult it became to keep the prisoners under control and the more they risked accidentally derailing a civilian train. Ned refused to heed his brother’s pleas. When Ned decided to release Thomas Curnow, the school teacher, Dan argued publicly with him as he knew Curnow could not be trusted. Curnow had spent the day trying to butter Ned up, a suspicious Dan watching like a hawk. Sure enough, when the train did appear in the early hours of 28 June, Curnow warned the police that the tracks were damaged and the gang was in Glenrowan. Just before the train arrived, Dan had told the prisoners to head home, however they were detained by Ann Jones who told them to wait for Ned to make a speech. If Dan’s instructions had not been countermanded a considerable amount of the tragedy that was to unfold could have been avoided.
When the train arrived the gang dressed in their homemade armour and engaged in a gun battle. Ned and Joe were wounded early on and they retreated inside. Ned soon disappeared into the bush behind the inn and Dan took control of the situation, doing his best to evacuate the women and children despite the relentless firing from police. Joe was shot dead by a police bullet early in the morning and Dan and Steve became very disheartened, believing Ned had also been killed or had abandoned them. When Ned re-emerged just before 7am the remaining gang provided covering fire from the inn, but within a half hour Ned was captured and the two bushrangers were stuck in the inn surrounded by police in broad daylight. Dan had received a bullet in the leg that shattered his knee and necessitated a retreat into the inn. At 10am the rest of the prisoners were released and Dan and Steve remained inside. As the prisoners left they shook Dan’s hand.
What happened in the inn next is unknown but it is possible that Dan was struck in the neck by a bullet while his helmet was off and killed or that he took his own life by taking poison. All that is known for certain is that at 3pm the inn was burned and while it was on fire his corpse was witnessed by multiple people, in the back room still in body armour and resting on a pillow made of sacks. The body was effectively cremated in the fire and the burnt remains released to his family. Later, Dr. Hutchison, a medic who had been called up to assist during the siege, retrieved what was believed to be Dan’s foot from the ruins and the scorched bones were handed down through the family.
Around 200 people attended the wake at Maggie Skillion‘s home, many of whom were drunk and armed. Police efforts to reclaim the bodies were scrapped in response, the risks being too high. Though there are a number of (probably deliberately) conflicting oral histories with respect to the location of the last resting place of the two outlaws, most accounts indicate Dan Kelly was buried in an unmarked double grave in Greta cemetery with Steve Hart. The location within the cemetery of the exact double grave they were interred in is a closely guarded secret in family traditions in an effort to avoid the graves being disturbed. Unfortunately, this has added fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories and in one infamous case a particularly motivated “truther” went through the cemetery plunging steel probes into grave sites hoping to prove that there were no coffins in them. When Ellen Kelly died the 1923, she was buried in an unmarked plot next to the official spot where Red Kelly’s youngest son is buried.
In the years after Glenrowan there were rumours that Dan and Steve had escaped to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. In 1911, novellist Ambrose Pratt, author behind the memoirs of Captain Thunderbolt’s apprentice William Monckton, published a book claiming to be the memoirs of Dan Kelly. In fact, many people claimed to be Dan Kelly over the years, most notably a tramp called James Ryan whose ridiculous attempt to cash in on the survival rumours were published in the press and convinced scores of people who lacked knowledge of basic facts of the story. Ryan’s story even inspired the utterly woeful film The Glenrowan Affair. Ryan was killed by a coal train in the 1933 and is buried in Ipswich, Queensland. In order to lure tourists, the cemetery even erected a memorial telling the story of the claimant. None of the alleged Dans ever had any solid case to back their claims up but the myths of a miraculous escape from the burning inn persist to this day.
Dan Kelly was, in most ways, at least as competent as his big brother. As a horseman, tracker and marksman, his abilities were perhaps even better. Certainly he was more ruthless than Ned, a pragmatism that some interpreted as callousness or even psychopathy. It must be remembered that the gang were wanted dead or alive (preferably dead) and mistakes could not be afforded. Dan was a much better judge of character than Ned and certainly better at performing under pressure. Even the Kelly matriarch was known to have held Dan in more regard than Ned in these measures.
Unlike his brothers, Dan was fairly successful at avoiding trouble. In fact, it is probably telling that the worst trouble in Dan’s life seemed to come from following Ned’s and Jim’s lead. Imagine how different the story would have turned out if Dan had been able to accompany Fitzpatrick as intended, before Ned and Ellen had attacked the policeman. A stint in the logs, a quick trial during which the mistaken identity could be proven and Dan could have gone home as a free man. Sadly, as in all things, life never pans out the way we think it should.
On the weekend of the 11th of November I went on a trip through the Kelly Country in North East Victoria. Ostensibly I was going up for a meeting of Kelly enthusiasts on the Saturday night but one does not simply go into Kelly Country for an evening! The following is an abridged account of some of the things that occurred during the trip.
Starting from the Melbourne region, it takes a few hours to get to the heart of Kelly Country. On the way up you will pass through Beveridge, where you can see the dilapidated remains of the old Kelly house where Red Kelly and Ellen Quinn started their family. An interesting example of 1850s bush carpentry, years of neglect and vandalism have left the building as little more than a husk. For many years various people have made a pledge to preserve and restore the house but the most that appears to have been done is the installation of a sign telling visitors what they’re looking at. Nearby you can also visit the old church where the Kelly children went to school. It’s a handsome bluestone building with boarded up windows that is kept safely removed from visitors by fences and gates.
As you continue you’ll pass Wallan, where Ned’s relatives, the Quinns, once resided. You will also pass Avenel where the Kelly family lived after Red lost the selection in Beveridge. The family likely had few positive memories there but for one that has become an integral part of the Kelly legend – Ned rescuing Dick Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek. For this act he received his green silk sash, which is displayed in Benalla. Avenel is also where Red Kelly is buried (there is some speculation as to whether his grave is in the same location as the marker due to cemetery boundaries being shifted).
Further on, Euroa was the location the gang chose for their first bank robbery, though the original building is long gone. A sign marks where the bank once stood. It is a small town perfect for a quick stop on your journey (though this time there was no stop there).
A must-see whenever I go to Kelly Country is Benalla. It is one of the more “modern” towns in the region boasting lots of shopping and art. Various buildings throughout Benalla are painted by local artists depicting all manner of scenes ranging from Ned Kelly holding his helmet to a pair of bright green ninja turtles. Like Melbourne, Benalla has cafes and laneways where you can procure a cuppa. For Kelly buffs, Benalla is home to the Costume and Pioneer Museum where several important artifacts are housed: Ned Kelly’s sash (mentioned earlier), the old lockup doors (one of which was the one that Joe Byrne’s body was strung up on for photographs) and an exact replica of Joe Byrne’s armour made from molds of the original suit. The museum is also home to a great display of militaria and old clothing from the 20th century.
Benalla is also home to King’s bootmaker shop, which Ned Kelly sought refuge in while running from the police after being arrested for drunkenness. Across the road is the old courthouse where Ned appeared immediately after that incident, but where he was also briefly held in the lockup cell after his capture.
However, the most significant stop in Benalla for Kelly buffs has to be the cemetery. Here you will not only find the grave of gang member Joe Byrne, but also several other graves related to the story including Martin Cherry, who was killed by police fire at Glenrowan, and William Reardon, who survived the Glenrowan siege as a toddler. Finding the Kelly-related graves can be quite an undertaking if you don’t know where they are and I found myself wandering through row after row of graves reading the lecterns where the names of those buried are listed. I found Cherry’s by accident as he is buried separately to the other graves in his section. Joe’s grave, however, is easy to find under a huge tree that is perpetually adorned with ribbons and tinsel. The grave itself never seems to be without some kind of floral adornment or a cup to hold an “eye opener” (Joe’s expression for a drink of whiskey first thing in the morning), something that no doubt would be seen as bad taste by some. I made a mental note to save up for some flowers to lay on old Cherry’s grave next time. It is a charming and well maintained cemetery and worth a wander.
My hub for the weekend was Wangaratta, a town I’d only been through a handful of times. It is not a town that soaks itself in the Kelly history, rather it reminds one very much of most any outer suburban town with its variety of supermarkets and fast food restaurants. Not knowing much about the layout of the town the info centre seemed to be a logical stop-off to look for a map of some kind. Alas, no map, however there was a nice little section about the Kelly Gang and a fascinating life-size statue of Ned Kelly that appears to be wearing Steve Hart’s helmet from the 2003 Ned Kelly film. In a case in the info centre is also the replica of Ned’s sash that Heath Ledger wore in that same movie. Wangaratta is definitely a good spot for a “city mouse” to use as their hub for a North-East trip.
Of course, the key part of the weekened was the trip into Beechworth for the meetup. It began with a visit to the Ned Kelly Vault. The Vault is one of the most remarkable collections of Kelly artifacts you are likely to find anywhere. Ranging from firearms used by the gang to Mick Jagger’s replica armour used for the 1970 film, the collection incorporates elements of the history and the influence on popular culture. No doubt the collection could benefit greatly from a larger space, but as it is the Vault is fantastic.
Director of The Legend of Ben Hall, Matthew Holmes, was present also and got a chance to hold an original reward poster (with protective gloves of course).
The meetup then moved to the Hotel Nicholas, a significant site for local Kelly history. The interior is adorned with framed imagery of all things Kelly and Beechworth including portraits of the gang and their sympathisers and archival imagery of the hotels that populated Beechworth. The site was reputed to be where Joe Byrne’s armour was fashioned by Charles Knight (though there are accounts that would disagree), as well as being where Ned Kelly and Wild Wright had their famous bare-knuckle boxing match. The food was delicious and the drinks – well, it’s hard to get that wrong in a pub – all complimented by live music. As the meetup occurred during the Celtic Weekend there was a lot of Celtic music playing throughout the night.
It was a great chance to meet a few people from the community, many of whom are readers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging. The group was also lucky enough to get an exclusive update on the in-development film Glenrowan. I made sure to stay sober for the drive back to Wangaratta.
The next day some of the people from the previous night met at Beechworth cemetery where we visited several graves including Anton Wick (neighbour to Aaron Sherritt and the Byrnes who was used as a decoy to lure Sherritt to his demise) and Aaron Sherritt. The exact location of Aaron’s grave was somewhat disputed but based on the description of it being sunken with a brick border, it seems to have been the right one. For me it was strange visiting the Beechworth cemetery as it was the first time in 20 years I had been there, the first visit being part of the school camp that stoked my interest in Ned Kelly.
The rest of the day was very eventful. In the blistering sun I was accompanied by Georgina Rose Stones (whose writings on Joe Byrne you can find here, here and here) on a visit to Greta cemetery where we visited the graves of a great many of the key players in the Kelly story including Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart, Ellen Kelly, Tom Lloyd and Kelly siblings Jim, Maggie and Grace. It was a profound experience to visit the final resting place of these people I’ve read and written so much about. To know that under a dry, dusty patch of earth under my feet lay the remains of Australia’s most notorious outlaw was humbling. The Greta Cemetery Trust are doing incredible work maintaining and restoring the graves and one can’t even begin to thank these dedicated volunteers enough.
One of the best parts of the trip was driving through El Dorado – Byrne and Sherritt Country. Following the path on the Heritage Route, which starts in town and ends near the Woolshed Falls, we saw the site of the Chinese Gardens where Chinese miners grew and harvested vegetables; Reedy Creek; Buttrey’s Rock where a gold escort was allegedly bailed up in the 1850s; Sebastopol Flat, a former mining town where Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt frequented; and the site of Aaron Sherritt’s hut at the Devil’s Elbow.
The dryness of the area resulted in incredible clouds of dust that completely engulfed the car when people drove ahead of us, forcing me to drive slowly to avoid a collision. The views were beautiful and you certainly feel like you’re in another time and place as you move through the dense forest or witness the sunlight hitting Reedy Creek in just the right way. I highly recommend this self-guided tour (look out for the blue markers on the roadside to find points of interest).
The eeriest location on the tour was the site of Sherritt’s hut. Nothing of the hut remains, it is merely a patch of dirt behind a barbed wire fence, however the echoes of that terrible tragedy still resound. The events that transpired here signified the end for the Kelly Gang. One is certainly inclined to consider the knock-on effects for the Byrnes and Sherritts after such a terrible twist of fate. It is important to look out for the info on the side of the road to locate the site as it has no street address you can jaunt off to.
As we drove through Beechworth we stopped at the former site of The Vine Hotel, where Joe Byrne would visit his girlfriend. The hotel is long gone, now the site of a house. It’s unlikely the residents know that where they live used to be the pub most frequented by the Kelly Gang. A hotel called The Vine still exists in Wangaratta and is considered to have some connection to the gang but it is a different hotel altogether.
No trip to Kelly Country is complete without swinging by Glenrowan. Leaving early in the morning meant getting the chance to grab breakfast in the town from the Glenrowan Vintage Hall (though the Billy Tea Rooms are a must for a bite if you’re in town). After breakfast and a look around the eclectic collection of new and second hand wares, a trip to the siege site and the site of Ned’s capture were necessities. It seems so bizarre that the site of the most famous shoot-out in Australian history is now little more than an empty lot, yet, as is a recurring theme with Kelly sites, the history is there even if there’s nothing tangible left.
There are other things to do in Glenrowan of course. You can visit Bob Hempel’s animated theatre (we chose not to), visit the museum in the basement of Glen Rowen Cobb and Co, and to pop in to Kate’s Cottage to browse the second-hand books and see the replica homestead. You can also go to the Mount Morgan Store and get a portrait done in old time clothing. I personally nabbed a very reasonably priced copy of Superintendent Sadleir’s memoirs that was published over forty years ago, though there were many more I would have snapped up if I had the money.
As we left we swung past Joe Byrne’s grave one more time so Georgina could pay her respects. This was, perhaps, my most eventful trip to the North-East yet. To have covered so much is an incredible privilege (there were things that I didn’t cover here, you got the edited highlights). I can’t wait for my next trip!
Forever remembered as the Kelly Hunter, Francis Augustus Hare was an intriguing man with a biography full of excitement and misadventure. From a privileged upbringing in South Africa to good fortune on the Victorian gold fields and a thrilling career as a frontier policeman, Hare is a man often maligned for his seeming ineptitude when hunting for some of the most remarkable bushrangers that Australia has produced.
Hare was born in Wynberg in the Cape of Good Hope on 4 October, 1830. One of seventeen children of Captain Joseph Hare of the 21st Light Dragoons and his second wife Sally, Francis received a good education due to his father’s good social standing. Joseph Hare passed away in 1856 after many years as a professional wine taster and warehouse-keeper at customs, as well as the owner of a farm named Oude Wynberg where Francis farmed sheep for a time with his brothers. However, the life of a grazier was not one that held any kind of allure for Frank Hare and when news reached him of the remarkable quantities of gold that had been found in Australia, he knew where he wanted to be.
On 10 April 1852 Hare arrived in Melbourne. After a jaunt in Sydney with a mate who had escaped from Norfolk Island, the 22 year old South African headed straight to the Goldfields in Bendigo where he staked a claim and later, on his claim on Springs Creek, he managed to dig up £800 worth of gold in one day. During his prospecting days he managed to avoid being nabbed for not having a mining licence, a serious offence in the days before the Eureka Stockade. Unfortunately, Hare’s constitution failed him and he fell deathly ill. Such problems would regularly plague him, but this illness was such that he ended up giving up mining in an effort to get to Sydney for treatment. At one point on his journey he found himself on a dray under a gum tree being watched by crows who he feared would peck out his eyes. Hare’s fear of death and carrion birds gave him the resolve to survive and recuperate. He soon got work with the gold escort, becoming a mounted lieutenant on 1 June 1854 and was assigned to escort the gold delivery from Beechworth to Buckland. The track upon which the escort travelled was notoriously difficult to traverse, the escort regularly having to swim across floodwaters and rivers and on one occasion a mule bearing 2000 ounces of gold broke away from the escort and bolted up a mountain pass and was shot to enable the escort to retrieve the gold as it would have been too treacherous to retrieve the mule as well. It was during this time that Hare had his first encounter with bushrangers.
At Dr. Mackay’s station on the Ovens River in 1855, the bushranger Meakin stuck up the station in search of £700 in cash Dr. Mackay had been paid the day before for horses. There were a number of people in the house that evening, the doctor’s wife bedridden and in precarious health, two women including the doctor’s niece and none other that Francis Augustus Hare, at that time a lieutenant stationed at Wangaratta. At 2am Hare was roused from his makeshift bed on a sofa by the two visiting women rapping on the French windows. They informed him there was a strange man on the deck with a gun and a large knife. Hare told the women to return to bed but they refused to leave his quarters until they were convinced he knew the seriousness of their observation. Five minutes after sending the women to bed the dogs began barking and Hare saw Meakin bolting across the courtyard for the fence. Hare called on him to stop to no avail and pursued him on foot. The chase was farcical, the hunter and the prey tripping up repeatedly as they headed for the garden fence, at one point Meakin becoming entangled in the vines in the garden. Hare took a shortcut to head Meakin off whereupon he tackled the bushranger into a mullock heap comprised mostly of rose bush cuttings. He grasped Meakin’s colt revolver in his right hand and with his left repeatedly pounded Meakin between the eyes. Of the event Hare would later recall:
The struggle was for life, and notwithstanding it was on the top of a heap of rubbish, principally rose cuttings, men never fought harder.
After wrestling for five or six minutes, Dr. Mackay finally arrived to discover the hullabaloo and Meakin surrendered. One can only imagine the sight of a 6’3″ tall South African dressed in nothing but trousers and a ripped shirt pinning a bushranger on top of a pile of rose clippings. Meakin was taken to the kitchen but made a run for it when Hare left the room to get dressed. Once more Hare was bounding after the criminal and brought him again to the ground, this time threatening to dash his brains out with a rock if he tried anything. Mackay bound Meakin with saddle straps and a constable was brought from Beechworth the next morning. Meakin was tried for burglary, having committed numerous similar offences. He was kept guarded by Hare at Wangaratta, the police station little more than a slab hut with earth floor. Despite having irons riveted to his legs, Meakin attempted again to escape custody. During the night he had fooled the sentry by getting right underneath his blankets and digging the earth floor of his cell and piling the dirt underneath the blanket to give the impression he was still asleep. Unfortunately for him the process took longer than he had anticipated and he was caught in the act the next morning. After he was transferred to Benalla he escaped through the roof of his cell, still in his irons, and was never seen again. It was not a complete loss for Hare, however, as Dr. Mackay gifted him a handsome gold watch as a token of his esteem for Hare’s astounding feat of daring. Hare would carry it with him until the day he died. Inscribed on the watch was:
Presented to Lieutenant Francis Hare for his gallant capture of an armed bushranger at Tarrawingee, the 23rd of June, 1855.
1855 also saw Hare attempt to bring justice to another bushranger known as “Billy the Puntman”. When the Ovens river had no bridges, the only way to cross was by punt. Billy, whose real name was John Hyde, was the puntman on the Ovens as well as a known stock thief. When a bridge was finally built, Billy was out of a job and turned to bushranging. On one occasion he robbed a mailman just outside of Greta, then known as 15 Mile Creek, but not far behind was a coach bound for Melbourne carrying Lieutenant Hare. When they found the mailman distraught on the side of the road and learned of his plight, Hare took one of the coach horses and rode off bareback after Billy the Puntman. Alas he soon lost the tracks and had to be satisfied with providing the information to the police at Benalla.
On 28 July 1857, Hare married 37 year old Janet Wright Harper, the eldest daughter of Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass at Raymond Terrance in New South Wales. Harper had been married in 1844 to George Mitchell Harper who had died the previous year. In the years that followed, Hare moved between stations in the roughest areas such as Back Creek, Chinaman’s Flat, and White Hills, near Maryborough. This was almost like the Wild West where murder was scarily frequent (almost weekly) and the frontier lifestyle was one fraught with danger and excitement, Hare even having to attempt placate a lynch mob who tried to break a murderer out of his cell to summarily hang him resulting in a riot. In a strange sequence of events, that murderer – a man named Brooks – died that afternoon of wounds received from his victim. The coroner severed the head as a memento and during the inquest, which was held in a theatre, the disembodied head rolled downstage and landed in front of the assemblage. The head, stripped of flesh stayed in that coroner’s possession for many years until his widow gave it to Hare who kept it as a keepsake in his den. Yet, as grisly as that place was, Hare’s tenure there also had its share of absurd moments. Hare would recall fondly the cases he was privy to in those days such as that of the drunk coroner forgetting to put a heart back into a body after an autopsy and the organ being pinched by an enterprising feline, or the coroner who got the sack for misidentifying ham bones from a fire as human remains only for the real human victim to be located dead of suffocation from the fire in a tunnel underneath the burned shop a few days after the funeral. Fortunately for Hare his time in the region was relatively safe apart from once when he had a narrow escape from being shot at Back Creek by one of his own troopers. At this time Hare was routinely referred to by some officers as ‘kaffir’, a racist term used by white South Africans in reference to black people.
Hare gradually climbed the ranks of the Victoria police, soon reaching the rank of superintendent. His conduct had brought him friends within the force, none so conspicuous as Captain Frederick Charles Standish, the chief commissioner of police. It was Standish who sent Hare to north east Victoria in 1870 to help lead the hunt for the notorious Harry Power, the infamous highwayman bushranger who had been committing his depredations unhindered. Hare was not used to operating in this region in such a capacity but his ego refused to allow him to fail. While he worked closely with Superintendent Nicolson on the chase, the two would often clash due to their dramatically different approaches. Hare was a very hands-on policeman, whereas Nicolson, who had been a detective for decades, tended towards establishing a sophisticated net of spies and traitors to entrap his prey. Both superintendents were present at Power’s capture, though Hare would later suggest his own role in the event was far greater than what had been reported. Hare and Nicolson had worked closely with a magistrate named McBean to convince a man named Jack Lloyd, a sympathiser of Power’s, to assist in his capture for the £500 reward – the largest yet offered in Victoria for a bushranger at that time. Lloyd led the police to a mountain near Whitfield and after making initial contact with Power to prove his presence, abandoned the police to avoid being suspected as the informant. The journey through the bush was treacherous, torrential rain hampering the police in their quest. Nicolson and Hare were accompanied by Sergeant Montford and a tracker named Donald who was able to point out the location of Power’s camp on an outcrop overlooking the King Valley. Power was asleep in his gunyah when Nicolson pounced on him, grabbing his wrists. Hare and Montford dragged the indignant bushranger out by his feet. After Power was restrained, the police ate his rations as they hadn’t eaten for two days. The exposure took its toll on Hare’s health. Nonetheless, Hare was lauded as a hero and this led to him gaining a reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
It was business as usual until after that. Hare was a keen sportsman, taking much joy in hunting for kangaroo and fowl, often going for trips hunting ducks along the Murray river. Nine years after his famous encounter with Power he was appointed by Captain Standish as the head of the hunt for the Kelly Gang, which was to be the defining period of his life. Hare took over from Superintendent Nicolson on 2 June 1879 after public perception of Nicolson had soured after the failure to apprehend the Kelly Gang, the outlaws even managing to rob a bank in Euroa during Nicolson’s watch. Hare was equipped with an indomitable spirit and was determined to bring the bushrangers to heel.
Hare’s hands-on approach led to a dramatic change in the way the police conducted their hunt. Bush work was the main focus of the operation and Hare would take parties of men out with black trackers to search the forested haunts of the gang. Hare took to leading search parties through the Warby Ranges in pursuit of the gang, believing them to be hidden in that region rather than around the Woolshed Valley or Strathbogie Ranges. Captain Standish had headed up from Melbourne to keep an eye on proceedings and such was his obsession for Hare that he would wait at the gate of the Benalla police station fretting like a hound awaiting its owner until Hare returned safely. Hare would later express great frustration in the fact that the gang’s network of sympathisers constantly hampered his attempts to ensnare the outlaws. This combined with the police inexperience in such rugged and mountainous terrain proven to be an almost insurmountable obstacle. Hare also instituted a bold plan formulated by Superintendent Nicolson back in Melbourne to cut off support for the gang. Officers arrested anyone suspected of being a sympathiser and had them remanded indefinitely until a charge could be laid. The downside of the plan was that it required Hare to travel to Beechworth every week to apply for a further seven days remand because no evidence could be produced to formulate charges for the prisoners. The plan proved impractical with the key sympathisers, the sisters of the outlaws specifically, still supplying them with information and sustenance, and the prisoners were soon released but not before stoking sympathy among the masses. This calculated move to try and eradicate support for the outlaws seemed to reinforce a resentment of the authorities instead. It was at this time also that the police would, through their agents, start to receive frequent reports that the outlaws or their sympathisers were intending on blowing up a police train. Additionally, pressure was put on the police to investigate every reported sighting regardless of how unlikely leading to Hare allocating officers to go in pursuit of dead ends or else be forced to deal with complaints that the reports were not being taken seriously. Hare, like Nicolson before him, began to rely ever more heavily on spies and informants to get an upper hand. The most prominent of Hare’s informants was Aaron Sherritt, a young man from the Woolshed Valley who was the childhood companion of gang member Joe Byrne and a bush telegraph for the gang.
Aaron would supply Hare and Detective Michael Ward with information in exchange for money, which would soon become his primary income. While Sherritt’s motivations and sympathies have been debated ad nauseum, Hare believed that Sherritt was honest in his support for the police effort, aided by the fact that Sherritt’s father had been a constable in Ireland (Sherritt’s brothers would later seek employment in the police force with their father writing a letter to Hare for his support in getting them jobs). Sherritt’s information often resulted in no successes for the police, though Hare continued to rely on him. It was Sherritt who informed Hare that the gang were planning a bank raid in New South Wales, stating he had been asked by the gang to accompany them to Goulburn. However the information proved incorrect and at the time the police were preparing to strike at Goulburn they stuck up the township of Jerilderie instead. On Sherritt’s guidance Hare established watch parties at the Byrne homestead to ensnare the outlaws on their return trip from Jerilderie. The stake-out proved a farce but Hare trusted Aaron enough that in the coming months he would establish a permanent watch party to observe the Byrne farm, fed all the while by information from Aaron that he had obtained from his fiancée, Kate Byrne, Joe’s sister. During this time Aaron and Hare became very close, Aaron letting Hare in on the trade secrets from his time with the Greta Mob when he would help Ned and Joe steal and sell horses. Hare had given him the nickname ‘Tommy’ to make his involvement with the police less conspicuous and had developed a keen admiration for Sherritt’s hardiness. Hare’s search parties were bolstered in March 1879 by the arrival of Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor and his Queensland black trackers. Hare was so astounded by the abilities of one tracker in particular, named Moses, that he arranged for him to be transferred into the service of the Victoria Police, much to O’Connor’s chagrin.
Aaron’s insistence on keeping a police watch party (known as the ‘cave party’) watching the Byrne homestead would prove to be the larrikin’s undoing. Aaron would visit Kate Byrne and while he was there her mother would express a concern that there were police about the place. Aaron’s efforts to allay her fears were completely dashed when Mrs. Byrne found the police camp and Aaron along with the police stationed there after noticing a sardine tin glinting in the sun. Her recognition of Hare’s star informant made Aaron go deathly pale and break out in a cold sweat. When Hare asked what the matter was, Sherritt’s reply was nothing if not prophetic:
“Now I am a dead man.”
Mrs. Byrne subsequently broke off his engagement to Kate Byrne and in retaliation he stole a horse he had gifted to his fiancée and gave it to Maggie Skillion, Ned Kelly’s sister. At the time this arose Hare was greatly frustrated with the lack of progress and his health had begun to fail him, further exacerbated by badly injuring his back after jumping his horse over a fence, so he was removed from the hunt in July 1879 to recuperate, Nicolson being reinstated. Nicolson had pulled strings to get Aaron off the charge of horse stealing but the damage was done and eyes were now firmly on Sherritt from all quarters.
Upon Hare’s return to the campaign on 1 June 1880 he insisted that the trackers be sent back to Queensland, stating that their presence was too intimidating for the gang to be inclined to present themselves. Meanwhile, Hare had arranged for police to be stationed at key areas where they could keep an eye on the activity of the families of the outlaws. In addition, measures were put into place to protect Sherritt. A party of police were to remain with him at all times in the hut on his new selection at the Devil’s Elbow. Alas, word quickly shot through the bush telegraph and reached the gang that Aaron was working with the police and had constables living with him and his new wife Belle. Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne would begin a campaign of testing to see if Aaron was still loyal to the gang but in the end Sherritt’s fate was sealed.
On 26 June, 1880, Aaron Sherritt was murdered by Joe Byrne in his home. News of the murder was delayed in reaching the police until the following day. Hare was notified of the event at the hotel he was staying in and proceeded to attempt communication with Captain Standish in Melbourne. After much back and forth a special train was organised to leave Spencer Street train station. The train would collect O’Connor and the black trackers from Essendon and then Hare and his police party from Benalla before going express to Beechworth for a rendezvous with Detective Ward to pick up the trail of the Kelly Gang before it was too late. There was no inkling that the police were playing right into a trap set up by the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan who were finally making good on the threats to destroy a police train. When the train arrived at Benalla it had been badly damaged by a closed railway gate. Fortunately a second engine was ready to go as a contingency if the train from Spencer Street hadn’t arrived so the locomotives were swapped over and the damaged engine was to go ahead as a pilot. Hare proposed that the civilian volunteer Rawlins be tied to the front of the pilot engine with ropes and equipped with a lantern and rifle so he could spot danger. It was promptly pointed out that Rawlins would be killed by such action and the idea was dropped. The train, carrying Hare, 5 police officers, Rawlins, O’Connor and his black trackers, O’Connor’s wife and sister-in-law, a team of journalists, the police armoury and horses, headed out from Benalla not long after midnight on 28 June. Just outside of Glenrowan the train was stopped by Thomas Curnow, the local school teacher, who explained that the Kelly Gang had damaged the tracks. Hare climbed out of the window of his carriage to see what was up and instructed the pilot engine to guide them into the station. When they arrived in Glenrowan, Hare, accompanied by Rawlins and Senior Constable Kelly visited the Stanistreet house where a distressed Mrs. Stanistreet explained that the gang had taken her husband. By the time they returned to the station Constable Bracken had escaped from Ann Jones’ inn and informed Hare that the gang was there. Hare led a charge to Jones’ inn and in the opening exchange of fire between the police and the Kelly Gang Hare was shot in the left wrist, shattering the bones and severing an artery. He managed to fire another shot while perched on a tree stump before retreating to the train station where Thomas Carrington, a press artist, dressed the wound with a handkerchief from the ladies that had accompanied them. After a failed return to the battlefield Hare retired from the siege. No doubt Hare was disappointed in not being able to capture the Kellys himself, but he was more concerned with recovering from his injury. Recuperating in Rupertswood Mansion in Sunbury, an initial assessment was that he was to lose his hand. Fortunately for Hare he was able to recover without amputation. He later gifted the Clarkes, who had helped him recuperate in Rupertswood, Joe Byrne’s armour and Ned Kelly’s colt revolving carbine.
After the execution of Ned Kelly there was still work to be done. A Kelly Reward Board was formed in late 1880 to assess claims for the £8000 reward for the gang. Of this Hare received £800. The following year a Royal Commission was held to investigate the conduct of police during the Kelly outbreak. The findings of the commission did not reflect favourably on many of the senior officers with a great many being demoted or recommended to be removed from active duty. One of those recommended to be removed from active duty immediately was Superintendent Hare, who was still suffering from the effects of his injury at Glenrowan. In his later years Hare worked as a police magistrate while living at Janet Terrace in Hotham street, St Kilda. In 1892 Hare’s health rapidly deteriorated. Diabetes saw him bedridden once more and he underwent surgery at T.N. Fitzgerald’s private hospital before being transferred to Rupertswood Mansion where he collapsed, slipped into a coma and died the following day, 10 July. He was survived by his wife Janet, but left no heirs of his own. Janet would pass away herself in 1896, collapsing after a shopping trip in East Melbourne. Hare’s body was interred at the Melbourne General Cemetery.
Hare, Francis Augustus. The Last of the Bushrangers: an Account of the Capture of the Kelly Gang. 3d. ed. London: Hurst and Blackett ltd., 1894. [Link]
“OBITUARY.” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946) 16 July 1892: 43.
For this week’s feature we invited Georgina Rose Stones to pen her thoughts on Joe Byrne, lieutenant of the Kelly Gang. Georgina is a journalism student who has studied the Kelly story in detail and has been active in the bushranging history community for some time. Her knowledge of Joe Byrne’s story is in depth and she provides a very interesting perspective on an often overlooked member of the bushranging fraternity. So now I turn over to Georgina for your reading pleasure. Enjoy! ~ AP
Try as I might, I am unable to recall exactly what it was that first enticed me into the depths of the Kelly story and outbreak. I can vividly recall reading Peter Carey’s True History of The Kelly Gang for silent reading as a mere twelve year old, but what made me pick up the novel to begin with escapes me. Whatever it was, however, I will forever remain truly grateful. For many individuals, it is Ned Kelly who incites the most sympathy and interest in regards to the gang as a whole. There is no harm in that, given especially, as it is Ned who has been given the most exposure through the years. For me, however, this place has always been reserved for Ned’s “lieutenant”, Joe Byrne.
When I was first asked the question “what compels you to Joe?” I had a handful of answers flash through my mind, but now, as I sit here at my desk, I’m finding it harder to pinpoint the exactness of why, when compared with Ned, Steve and Dan, I drift towards Joe. Two aspects, I believe which have drawn me to Joe, are in regards to his schooling and personality. It is these two characteristics which I find most compelling about Joe’s persona, as when one thinks of a ‘bushranger’ or ‘outlaw’, being “a bit of a poet” or “soberly dressed” are not words which often spring to mind. Furthermore, by all accounts Joe was well read, and, like Ned, frequented James Ingram’s bookshop in Beechworth with his lifelong friend, Aaron Sherritt. Coupled with Joe’s literary interests, he was “for a bushman rather clever with his pen.” This is another aspect I have always found engaging about Joe, as like me, he loved to write, specifically in the guise of ‘bush ballads’. These ballads dealt with the exploits and overall boldness of the gang, with my favourite verse being “long may they reign – the Kelly’s, Byrne and Hart.” Further to these ballads, it is noted that while at Jerilderie, “plotting for the following day’s robbery”, Joe wrote down a riddle to amuse himself, “Why are the Kellys the greatest matchmakers in the country? Because they brought loads of ladies Younghusbands, Euroa, Victoria.” Combined with this detail, I have always been fascinated by the letters Joe sent to both Aaron and Jack Sherritt, in conjunction with, the mock reward posters and caricatures of Detective Ward. Finally, the existence of Joe’s journal has always been of great interest to me, and is something, which I believe, further highlights Joe’s clever and complex mind. The pieces of Joe’s personality are area’s with which I am also drawn. Most individuals who came into his presence, found Joe to be “quiet” and “unassuming”. At Jerilderie, an unknown individual recounted that “his manner is quiet and he appears to the casual observer an inoffensive man.” Moreover, Constable McIntyre would recount that he found Joe to be “a nervous man, thoroughly under the control of Ned Kelly.” I have always found this assessment of Joe to be interesting, as there does seem to be some alteration in his disposition when he was out of Ned’s presence. This is a factor about Joe with which I have always been compelled by and one that I find quite moving, as it demonstrates, I believe, the two ideals Joe was constantly torn between. The first, concerning him as an outlaw, and secondly, as both lover and poet. The first source I have, which represents the way Joe’s manner could change, comes from a Mr Turner, from Mt Battery Station, who met the gang while they resided at Bullock Creek. While under Joe’s watchful guard, Mr Tuner recollects a detail about Joe I have always loved, “from a billy hanging over the fire, Byrne produced some hot water, and standing with his rifle near him shaved himself most carefully, after which he gave his hair a vigorous brushing, all the time carrying on a disjointed conversation with me.” He concluded by adding, “his tone was affable and quiet” and goes on to declare, “I could not understand the different conduct in the absence of his comrades.” Another lovely detail, which I feel shows the ‘other side of Joe’, comes from Mrs Fitzgerald at Faithfuls Creek. She described that Joe “chatted with her on general topics” and, in my favourite detail, “played for her entertainment on a concertina” and seemed much more outgoing with her than with the male prisoners. Finally, I do not think it feasible to discuss what compels me to Joe, without at least mentioning his fondness for barmaids. There are two barmaids in particular who are known to have turned Joe’s head, Mary the Larrikin from the Woolpack Inn, and his last earthly lover, Maggie, from the Vine Hotel. Regarding Mary the Larrikin, I have always loved the detail of Joe riding back to the Woolpack Inn to see Mary, after meeting her the previous night while the gang were on route to Jerilderie. On their first encounter, Joe was so charmed by her presence, Ned had to warn him to “ease off and quietly told Mary not to serve Joe anymore whiskey.” On the following evening, Joe rode back to the Woolpack Inn to spend some more time with Mary, and it was noted, “had to be helped on his horse when he left at midnight.” Nevertheless, it has been Joe’s connection to Maggie that has captivated me the most and it has always saddened me that we do not know more about her. However, it is known that Joe visited her frequently, the last time being the “Wednesday or Thursday night” before the Kelly Gang’s destruction.
As I type, my eyes drift upwards to my intricately framed photo of Joe, positioned on the wall above my desk. Standing before me I see a young man dressed soberly in ‘town clothes’, his slightly flared trouser hems revealing larrikin heels, highlighting his rebellious bush spirit, which I will forever admire. Joe was a man with many complexities to his character; he was outlaw and scholar, opium user and balladeer, lover of whiskey and barmaids. A young man who often frequented the Burke Museum and whom was also in good relations with many of the Beechworth Chinese community, who called him “Ah Joe.” He was a man who declared he would “die at Ned’s side”, yet at Glenrowan, when Ned expressed the hopefulness of the situation, Joe had heatedly proclaimed, “Well it’s your fault, I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.” Furthermore, I see a fearless young man who in just three short years would meet his end, shot by a policeman’s bullet which tore into his thigh, severing the femoral artery. Resulting in Joe bleeding to death, and who just moments before had defiantly toasted “many a long and happy day still in the bush, boys!” In conclusion, while I do not wish to dwell on the final photo taken of Joe, finding it equally heartbreaking and repulsive, I feel I should at least mention it. The gentle calmness of Joe’s countenance does not depict a young man, who only four days previous, had shot and killed his lifelong friend and who had declared, “you will not blow now what you do with us anymore.” And, it is this that has always struck me, how quickly the outlaw guise was discarded for the “mild mannered” Joe.
This is what compels me to Joe Byrne.
Ian Jones, A Short Life
Ian Jones, The Fatal Friendship
J.J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang
Keith McMenomy, Ned Kelly The Authentic Illustrated History
Having spent a lot of time researching the Kelly story as a hobby, then examining it more in-depth as a screenwriter, I found the nature of Joe Byrne’s relationship to the Kelly brothers intriguing. It is a matter of fact that Joe Byrne was considered by Ned Kelly to be his greatest friend, describing him as “cool and firm as steel”, but there are still many mysteries around the friendship. How did they meet? How did Ned’s relationship to Joe compare to the relationship between Dan and Joe? Do Joe’s actions and words to Ned at Glenrowan demonstrate that the two weren’t as close as Ned suggested?
In order to ascertain how the Kelly brothers met Joe Byrne and, by association, Aaron Sherritt, we must look for the earliest possible provable instance of their paths crossing. In early 1876 Joe and Aaron were arrested for assault. They had been skinny dipping in a dam when they were approached by a Chinese man, Ah On, and Aaron believed he had stolen from their piled up gear. Aaron, probably spurred on by Joe, threw rocks at the unfortunate Chinese man and badly wounded him when one of the rocks collided with his head. They were held in Beechworth awaiting their hearing, which was on February 13. They were committed to stand trial at the circuit court on February 28. At the same time Daniel Kelly, the teenage tearaway who was the youngest of the Kelly boys, was about to be put through the same proceedings for the offence of stealing a saddle. The incident was innocuous enough: a saddle had gone missing from a hotel and Dan was later seen riding with the saddle on his horse. Dan claimed he had bought the saddle from a man named Roberts and produced a receipt for £1 as evidence. Given that the two cases were to be heard in the same court on the same day it’s probable that Dan would have been in the holding cell at the back of the court room with Joe and Aaron. Perhaps they got to talking about the charges and Dan drew a parallel between the situation Joe and Aaron were in and the assault case his big brother Ned went through because of a Chinese miner named Ah Fook years prior. Joe would have gotten along easily with Dan as he was known for being personable. Perhaps they agreed to hit the pub afterwards if their cases were dismissed. It’s important to note that Ned was present to offer his brother support as a witness. Given that both cases resulted in a ‘not guilty’ verdict a celebration would have been in order and alcohol is the greatest social lubricant.
So given that Dan and Joe were acquainted first, could this have meant that Joe identified as Dan’s friend rather than Ned’s? Certainly Ned refers to Joe and Steve Hart in the Jerilderie letter as his brother’s mates. It is also true that according to reports of sightings of the gang Dan was often spotted with Joe whereas Ned was only really seen with Joe when all four gang members were seen together according to police reports. One could assume that this was some strategy from Ned to keep someone in the gang from doing something they shouldn’t, but more likely it was simply a matter of who worked well together. If we account for the suggestion that Ettie Hart was Ned’s girlfriend at the time, that may also provide reason for Ned spending more time with Steve, though that’s a topic for another discussion.
When the gang decided that Aaron Sherritt needed to be exterminated, Ned went to Glenrowan with Steve Hart while Joe was accompanied by Dan to Aaron’s hut. It is probable that the decision to murder Sherritt was Joe’s as he had the most grievance with Aaron’s supposed betrayal. No doubt Ned would have had misgivings but saw it as an opportunity to escalate whatever it was he was trying to kickstart at Glenrowan, whether it was a full-blown war between the bushrangers and the police, or a republic as some have suggested despite this claim relying solely on anecdotal evidence. As unstable as Ned’s mindset was at the beginning of 1880, Joe’s was clearly more so as he had spent months testing Aaron and Jack Sherritt, on one occasion meeting Jack in the bush looking pale, thin, jittery and having pushed his horse so far his spurs were bloodied, on another occasion luring Aaron to the puzzle ranges for a rendezvous but proved to be a no-show (perhaps he was observing from afar to see if Aaron would show up?).
It is no secret that Joe was an opium addict and given that the months after the robbery at Jerilderie had resulted in no more heists and therefore depleted funds, it is unlikely that Joe would have been able to score the hit that he would have been craving regularly if at all. Opium is an extremely addictive drug and the withdrawal symptoms are severe. Weight loss, fever, diarrhoea, nausea, depression, paranoia and violent mood swings are typical. This would explain Joe’s threatening letters to Detective Ward and Aaron Sherritt, as well as his obsession with Aaron and Jack’s fidelity to him and the gang. That Ned would buy into the aggression of a man suffering severe opiate withdrawal enough to factor in his revenge fantasy when plotting his Glenrowan campaign speaks much to the desperation that Ned was experiencing that had pushed him into even contemplating mass murder.
Finally, it seems pertinent to highlight Joe’s demeanour at Glenrowan. He was sullen and quiet the majority of the time and clearly had a short temper. He conspired with Steve and Dan to leave the inn, though they never got the opportunity. That he would even consider abandoning Ned alludes to him not being quite as firm a supporter of Ned as has been previously thought. Furthermore, Joe’s famous line about the armour:
I told you this bloody armour would bring us to grief!
Implies that Joe had had little faith in Ned’s lofty plans at Glenrowan. It is reported that after the initial volleys of gunfire, Ned and Joe went to the breezeway between the inn and detached kitchen and spoke at length. What they spoke about can’t be certain. Perhaps it was during this exchange that Joe revealed that he had spoken to the others about leaving the inn. If so, had he painted Dan or Steve as the instigators? This might shine a light on Ned’s resentment of the pair after his capture. Could it be that he believed they had tried to turn Joe against him? No doubt with Ned’s alcohol muddied and sleep deprived mind it wouldn’t have taken much to convince him, having previously had a very public argument with Dan about the very same matter.
Unfortunately, this remains merely theoretical. Without clear evidence, such as first hand accounts by Joe Byrne or Dan Kelly to fill in some of the blanks we can never get a full understanding of the relationships and genesis of one of the most renowned bushranging teams in history. Thus it falls on historians, both professional and amateur, to fill in those blanks as well as possible. Certainly examining the gaps in the narrative opens the door to a great deal of speculation and some very interesting interpretations.