The Forbes correspondent of the Western Examiner (Orange), of May 13th, furnishes the following not unfriendly biography of Ben Hall :—
In estimating the character of this man, who has obtained such an unenviable notoriety throughout the colonies during the past three years an insight into his early life may be of some assistance, and I have therefore, taken some pains to collect the following brief history of certain incidents concerning him. I can assure the reader that the facts were obtained from what I believe to be the most authentic sources. He was born at Breeza, Liverpool Plains, in February, 1837, and was therefore twenty-eight years old last February. His parents are still living at Murrurundi, where his father is a freeholder and well-to-do farmer. It was at Breeza and Murrurundi, where the elder Hall had charge of a station (Duna) that young Hall lived until he was about ten years old. While in Murrurundi he attended school for about two years and a half, and learned to read and write, and obtained sufficient knowledge of arithmetic to enable him to conduct his own business. Thus early in life and while assisting his father upon the station, it is related that he evinced a remarkable degree of perception and aptness in regard to stock. If he saw a calf dropped, he could in a year afterwards identify the cow and the calf, and locate them. When this lad was about ten years old, his father, Benjamin Hall, senior, who is a native of Bedminster, Devonshire, and who has resided in New South Wales more than forty years, removed to the Lachlan district, and took charge of a station belonging to Mr. Hamilton, called Uah. This station is about fifteen miles from Forbes, on the road to the Pinnacle. The son resided with his father upon this station until he was about eighteen years old, and was almost exclusively engaged in stock-keeping, looking after the stock of Mr. Hamilton, as well as that belonging to himself and father. About 13 years ago, the elder Hall returned to Murrurundi, purchased a farm, and has since cultivated the land. The father and son have never seen each other since. It was very much against the father’s desire that the son remained behind. The young man, however, had formed an intimacy with Bridget Walsh, the second daughter of Mr. John Walsh, of Wheogo, and nothing could induce him to leave. The father, intent upon separating his son from this connexion, not only removed his own, but the cattle belonging to his son, to the other side of the country. A short time previous to his father’s departure, Ben surreptitiously left home, and went into the employment of Mr. Walsh, at Wheogo, as stock-keeper. In about one year after, he was married to Miss Bridget Walsh. Two children were born to him by this marriage; the youngest, Henry, is still living, and about six years old. It was not far from twelve months after the birth of this child, and while he was yet in arms, that his wife eloped with a Mr. James Taylor, with whom she has continued to live since. They reside somewhere on the Fish River. Shortly after his marriage, he, in company with Mr. John Maguire, obtained a lease of a run adjoining Wheogo, called Sandy Creek, which they stocked with cattle and horses. Sandy Creek, Wheogo, and Bundaburra are estimated to be among the very best runs in the Lachlan district. Up to this period Ben Hall was held in high esteem by the settlers throughout the district, not only for his generous, open-hearted qualities — always showing a disposition to assist his neighbours —but for the enterprise and energy he displayed in conducting his business affairs. Very shortly after the elopement of his wife with Taylor, which occurred while he was absent attending a muster at Bland — and after he had taken a most affectionate leave of her, without for one moment entertaining the slightest suspicion of her infidelity — he was arrested by Sir Frederick Pottinger at the Wowingragong racecourse, charged with highway robbery under arms. The surprise that was expressed by the residents of this district that such a charge should be made against Ben Hall is well remembered. However, after lying in the lock-up four or five weeks, and being taken to Orange and undergoing trial, the jury acquitted him without leaving their seats. He then returned to his station, Sandy Creek, and commenced mustering his horses. This was during the latter part of May, 1862. Mustering necessarily required several weeks, and the business was still progressing, and before the mustering was completed, during the latter part of July, 1862, he was again arrested by Sir Frederick Pottinger and Sub-inspector Saunderson, charged with being in some way implicated in the celebrated escort robbery. He remained in Forbes lock-up six or seven weeks, being brought before the bench of magistrates from time to time, and remanded at the instance of Sir F. Pottinger and Inspector Saunderson, for the production of further testimony. He was ultimately admitted to bail, himself in £500, and two sureties of £250 each, to appear when called upon. He was not committed. When he returned to Wheogo and Sandy Creek, he found that all his labour in mustering his horses was in vain. The horses had all dispersed. Some had perished in the yards. After looking about to see if he could recover them, he found they were hopelessly scattered, and gave up the idea of collecting them that season. About this time the police station at the Pinnacle was stuck up and robbed of firearms and other things by Patsey Daley. The same night this was done, Ben Hall, unfortunately for himself, happened to be stopping, by mere chance, at the house of a Mr. Allport, on the Lambing-flat road. It was to this house that Patsey Daley went after robbing the police station. It was further unfortunate that Ben Hall left Allport’s in company with Daley. The police tracked the single horseman to Allport’s, and from that point they tracked two horsemen, Daley and Hall. It may be remarked that when the police station at the Pinnacle was stuck up, only one constable (Knox) was in charge, and he had gone to Mrs. Fechley’s for his breakfast, and was thus engaged when Daley took the firearms. It should also be remembered that Frank Gardiner, Gilbert, and O’Meally were at that time operating rather extensively upon the road between Lambing Flat and Forbes. It is supposed that Daley intended to join Gardiner and company — in fact he had joined them, but it was unknown to the police, and was making himself acceptable to that fraternity by this preliminary exploit by which he supplied himself with arms. Hall knew at this time that Daley was compromised with Gardiner and Co., but the police did not. But Hall did not know that Daley had just robbed the police station. When he discovered that they were being pursued by the police, knowing that he was in company with one of Gardiner’s gang, he fled, and from that time took to the roads, and made his name notorious. The police pursued and fired upon them, but they escaped. From that time both were lost to all and everything desirable in life. Some two or three months afterwards, Patsey Daley was captured, having secreted himself in a shaft at the Pinnacle. Upon being tried, he was convicted at Bathurst and sentenced to 15 years. Hall was not taken, but continued to pursue a daring and desperate career, the particulars of which are too well known to need comment. But with all his crimes, I believe he has never been accused of being bloodthirsty, nor did he directly kill any of the victims he robbed. It is claimed by his relatives and those who knew him best that he was affectionate and generous. It is said that the miniature found upon his person by the police after his death is that of a favourite sister, now living on the Maitland side, and that he has constantly worn it upon his person during the last three years. Such then, in brief, are some of the incidents connected with the early life of a most desperate bushranger, who has eluded the grasp of a strong and active police force for three years, and who was ultimately captured, but not until his body was pierced by bullets and slugs from his feet to the crown of his head. The Forbes correspondent of the Western Examiner communicates the subjoined description of the funeral of Ben Hall :—
“The corpse of Ben Hall, after being enclosed in a coffin, remained at the police barrack until 10 o’clock on Sunday morning. In the meantime his relations had arrived from the Pinnacle, and were allowed to take charge ot it. From the barracks it was removed to the residence of Mr. J. Smith Toler, undertaker, Templar street. A very handsome coffin, covered with black cloth and trimmed with gilt ornaments, was here substituted. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon individuals began to collect in the neighbourhood, and soon after the face of the corpse was exposed, so that those who had not seen it on Saturday now had the privilege. A great many availed themselves of the opportunity. When his brother’s wife was turning from a last look, it is said she remarked that, ”had it not been for Ben Hall’s wife, he would not have been lying there.” The funeral procession started for the cemetery at 4 o’clock, and consisted of hearse, ornamental with black plumes in profusion, and drawn by a black horse, driven by Mr. Toler. Immediately following were his brother William Hall and wife, two three carriages, and 40 or 50 persons on foot. In this way they passed into Lachlan street on their way to the grave. The procession turned by Jones’s store, and passed by the head of the North Lead. Arrived at the cemetery, where about 100 persons, from motives of curiosity or otherwise, had collected, the coffin was taken from the hearse and placed over the grave. A bottle of holy water was then sprinkled over it by Mr, Toler, and the burial service of the Roman Catholic Church was read by Mr. Jas. K. Montgomery. The coffin was then lowered into the ground and covered with earth. Amongst the spectators there were between 40 and 50 females, young and old.”
In 2013 Paul Terry published what was rightly considered the most definitive account of the life of Andrew George Scott up to that point. Drawing on many sources, some of which had only recently been discovered, Terry’s In Search of Captain Moonlite was detailed but easy to read. Yet it left the reader wanting more. Now we have Garry Linnell’s Moonlite taking on the challenge and not merely rising to the occasion but usurping the throne.
Very few authors have really sunk their teeth into the Moonlite saga but for one reason or another, possibly due to the questions around Scott’s sexuality in light of the increasing visibility of the LGBT+ community, interest in the story of Captain Moonlite has really been booming in recent years. A number of projects in various stages of fruition since Paul Terry’s book was released have raised the prestige of Captain Moonlite to equate him more with Morgan, Hall and Thunderbolt in the bushranging pantheon, and have even come close to giving him his own little niche in Australian culture on his own terms. Thus Linnell’s grasping of the challenge of tackling this story with both hands is welcome and timely.
Anyone familiar with Captain Moonlite, as regular readers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging will be, have no doubt heard of the tragic love story between Andrew Scott and James Nesbitt, the infamous Mount Egerton bank robbery, the daring escape from Ballarat Gaol, the Wantabadgery siege and Andrew Scott’s spectacular fall from grace. All of that is covered in this book and much more besides. Like many history and non-fiction books, this is written in a style more commonly seen in a novel. People who have read Peter Fitzsimons’ books will know exactly what that looks like. However, unlike Fitzsimons’ books, this is not a bloated and absolutely comprehensive account. Though it is the most comprehensive to date, the focus is more on a narrative that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read while getting the information as accurate as possible. This will appeal to people that normally would steer away from non-fiction in favour of more breezy novels or memoirs. To put it another way, this is a text with broad appeal.
It is heartening to see the shift in the way Scott’s story has been told move away from the days of George Calderwood’s dry, sensationalist and frequently inaccurate 1971 biography to this more human depiction of Scott that relies very heavily on getting to the root of the myths to understand the man. Furthermore, rather than being a blow-by-blow account of Scott’s life, a musing on his sexuality or an exploration of the conflict between fact and fiction in his story, this is a more holistic view of Scott and what makes him such a compelling figure in history. There are brief tangents into the lives of “Nosey Bob” Howard, Sir Alfred Stephen, Sir Redmond Barry, Frank Gardiner, Ned Kelly, Marcus Clarke, Boulton and Park, and more all in the service of explaining the society that Andrew Scott was railing against and what shaped his life. By doing this we get a very enriched story of the mid to late 1800s on top of the most complete and accurate version of Scott’s biography to date. It is in seeing the world of Captain Moonlite that we fully comprehend what made him so remarkable.
People who have read Paul Terry’s In Search of Captain Moonlite will probably feel like some passages tread familiar terrain, which is natural given that both books tackle the same subject in a similar way. But there is so much more in this version of the story that whether you have read the previous books on the subject or not this will be a refreshing and enlightening take on it and show you things that you likely haven’t come across before. However, it feels at times like some parts of the story could have been explored a bit more. This is not to the detriment of the text by any means and possibly some readers would feel that any more detail than what is given would be too much. Any person that has done research on Captain Moonlite will likely tell you that it is very hard to cover everything in a complete and comprehensive way where this story is concerned, especially if you’re one person doing the research on your own. On that front Linnell has done an absolutely brilliant job. Reading through the acknowledgements it is clear that he had some really great people helping guide him where he needed to go, but the legwork was definitely done by Linnell himself.
Though it probably seems like a small thing, one of the best parts of this book is the inclusion of several pages of illustrations. The mix of photographs, etchings, records, and so on, really helps to visualise things that are described in the text, which is something most previous books on the subject have mostly avoided for one reason or another. As wonderful as the descriptions of the main players are, nothing has the same effect as being able to see the faces or places you’re reading about.
Moonlite is without doubt one of the most important bushranger books published to date and one of the best Australian history books that has hit the market in the past few years. Such a complete history of Andrew Scott and those who were drawn into his sphere of influence will provide an extremely useful resource for future researchers and that really is something that comes once in a blue moon. For anyone interested in the story of Captain Moonlite this is an absolute must have book. It is not only incredibly detailed, but it is a very enjoyable read. Linnell’s use of language really does breathe life into the story in a way many of the dry old history books just don’t seem capable of. It will captivate and most importantly is very re-readable.
Moonlite will be available on multiple formats from September 29, 2020. Find out more here.
A special thank you to Penguin Random House for providing an advance copy of the book for the purposes of this review.
The following is an account of the life and career of Andrew George Scott that appeared in print shortly after his capture at McGlede’s farm. It is accurate to what was publicly confirmed or at least believed at the time. Despite the many inconsistencies in the case of the Mount Egerton bank robbery, it was generally accepted that he was guilty of the crime. Scott would always protest his innocence, even long after any hope of having his name cleared in the matter had passed.
The following sketch of the career of this desperado, taken from the Melbourne Argus, will be read with interest at the present time:—
His real name is Andrew George Scott, and he is now 37 years of age. He was born in the north of Ireland, was of respectable parentage, and was brought up as a civil engineer. When yet a youth he emigrated to New Zealand, and joining the volunteers there he fought against the Maories. In an engagement he received a charge of shot in both legs. The slugs were extracted, but they left their marks. Subsequently he came to Victoria, and having entered the Church of England was stationed as a lay reader at Bacchus Marsh. Whilst administering to the spiritual wants of the district he became acquainted with the manager of the Egerton Bank and also with, the schoolmaster of that township. He used to visit the bank manager very frequently, and was on the most friendly and intimate terms with him. He also associated with the schoolmaster. One night a man with a mask on his face and armed called at the bank and bailed up the manager. The manager recognised the voice to be that of his friend Scott, but this discovery did not have any deterrent effect on the robber. Gagging his friend, Scott marched him into the schoolhouse, which was close at hand, and made him write and pin upon a desk the following line : —
“Captain Moonlite has stuck me up and robbed the bank.”
He then took him out side, tied him up in his gagged state to a tree, and having obtained possession of the bank key, he ransacked the coffers and stole up wards of £2,000 in notes, coin, and cake gold. He had a horse ready close by, and immediately galloped to a neighbouring township, seven miles distant. This journey was accomplished in half an hour, and on his arrival he asked several of his friends what o’clock it was. It was afterwards seen that he did this on purpose to prove an alibi, for he argued that as he was in this township half an hour after the robbery, he could not have been the robber.
So successful was he in throwing suspicion off himself, that the bank manager and the school master were arrested as the criminals, and he (Scott) was used by the local police as a witness against them. At the trial the jury could not agree on the manager’s case, and he was discharged. The school master was admitted to bail, but was bound over to surrender when called upon. In the meantime Scott had gone to Sydney, and lived there for a brief period in very grand style. When his funds became about exhausted he purchased a yacht, and engaged a crew with the intention of trying his fortunes in Fiji, or in the South Seas generally. It was, however, discovered that he had passed a valueless cheque for about £150, and before he had got beyond Sydney Heads he was arrested. A charge of false pretences was established, and he was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment. During his incarceration at Sydney it transpired that he had sold the exact amount of cake gold which had been stolen-from the Egerton Bank to the Sydney Mint. When his sentence expired he was therefore brought back in custody to Victoria, and a police court investigation having taken place he was committed to stand his trial for the Egerton Bank robbery. Pending the trial he was lodged in the Ballarat gaol.
On the night before the day fixed for his trial he cut a hole through the wall of his cell into another occupied by a prisoner named Dermoodie. He made Dermoodie join him, and together they managed to take off the lock of the cell door. They got out into the corridor just as a warder was approaching. Springing upon the warder they choked and gagged him, and tied him up. They then relieved him of his keys, and liberated four other prisoners. All six of them reached the outer yard without any alarm having been raised. The wall being very high they were at a loss as to how they could scale it. Scott’s genius, however, was equal to the occasion. A blanket was brought from a cell and torn into strips, which were then tied together so as to form, a rope. Scott then placed himself at the wall, a second man climbed up and stood on his shoulders, a third did the same and stood on the shoulders of the second, and so on until Scott bore the weight of all five. They succeeded in doing this by means of their blanket rope, to which they had previously attached a heavy stone, throwing then the weighted end over the wall. The last man easily managed to seat himself on the top, and he then pulled up the one next him. The others scrambled up in turn by means of the rope. The descent on the other side was conducted in the same way, the order of the operation being: simply reversed. The six men thus all escaped.. Three hundred pounds, or £50 each, was offered for their recapture, and all but two were eventually arrested.
Scott and Dermoodie stuck together, and the former obtained arms. As they, were travelling together through the bush Scott, intimated that it was his intention to stick up a bank. Dermoodie declined to take part, saying they might have to take life, and their case was bad enough already. Scott thereupon turned upon him in a passion, called him a mean coward, and gave him five minutes to live. So convinced was Dermoodie that his time had come that he fell on his knees and pleaded with tears in his eyes for mercy. Scott relented, but kicked him away contemptuously. Shortly afterwards the police authorities received information that Scott was lurking about some diggings in the vicinity of Sandhurst. Detectives Brown and Alexander and Sergeant (now Sub-Inspector) Drought set out at once to effect his capture. They arrived at the place at about 2 o’clock, in the morning, and soon learned that the desperado was asleep in a hut. The hut was in charge of a boy who was working in the neighborhood. This lad was hunted up and questioned. He frankly told them that there was a man asleep in his hut, and that he was fully armed. The hut was cautiously approached. Going round to the door Detective Brown could see through a chink a man lying on a stretcher, sleeping soundly. By his hand stood a gun, and on a table lay a revolver and bowie-knife. These things were easily recognised through a log being alight in the fireplace. How to enter without disturbing, or alarming the sleeper was, however, a question difficult to be solved. The door was made of heavy timber ; it covered the whole end of the hut, and rested on heavy side-posts. An iron chain was passed through two holes in the centre, and through the loop of this chain in the inside was passed a ponderous bar, which was turned round so that its ends had a firm grasp of the door-posts. Detective Brown endeavored to push the bar aside by inserting a knife through a chink, but failed to more it far enough. He then gave this attempt up, and resolved on using the boy as a snare for the ruffian. The lad, after much persuasion — for be was in mortal fear of being shot— consented to act as desired on Brown saying that he would simply have to speak from behind his back. The two then took up their positions at the door, and in accordance with his instructions the boy called out — ‘Please, Sir, will you give me out my billy-can? ‘ A grunt from within was the only answer, and the request was repeated. Scott then demanded “What do you want it for?’ The lad promptly answered, ‘For tea; it is now our tea time.” “What o’clock is it?” inquired Scott, and the boy still speaking as he had been previously directed, said “Just 12 o’clock — our tea time.” There was a pause for a minute, and the detective feared that the scoundrel had discovered the truth and was preparing to fight. He, however, exercised patience,and by-and-by the bar was removed. The door was then slightly opened, and a hand held out with a billy-can. Brown at once seized the man’s wrist with a firm grasp, whilst with his other hand he thrust a revolver into his face, and said, “If you move, you are a dead man.” The other officers came promptly forward, and the fellow was secured. He denied at first that he was Scott, but Brown settled his identity by pulling up his trousers and showing’ the shot-marks in his legs. For escaping from legal custody the desperado was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment in irons. He was also convicted and sentenced to ten years for the Egerton Bank robbery. His conduct in Pentridge has been already adverted to in previous reports. He was discharged in March last, and has now, we hope, committed his final outrage on humanity.
[Source: South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1868 – 1881), Saturday 29 November 1879, page 22]
Joseph Byrne was the eldest son of Patrick (Paddy) and Margret Byrne (nee White). Paddy was the son of an ex-convict from County Carlow, his mother was from County Clare and had travelled to Australia due to the Great Famine. Joe was born in the Woolshed Valley in 1856, though there is no known birth certificate, nor is there a baptism record to verify the date. He was soon joined by John in 1858, Catherine (“Kate”) in 1860, Patrick jnr (“Paddy” or “Patsy”) in 1862 , Mary in 1864, Dennis (“Denny”) in 1866, Margaret in 1869 and Ellen (“Elly”) in 1871.
All of the Byrne children went to school and church in the Woolshed Valley. Joe was a good student and demonstrated early signs of the gift for language that would become a major part of his persona. He was at one time, according to the recollections of a former classmate, dux of his school, but academic excellence was irrelevant to the lifestyle thrust upon the Byrne children. The small Byrne selection was a functional dairy and the cows didn’t milk themselves. It was a case of all hands on deck where farm life was concerned.
Joe was always considered to be quiet and unassuming by most that encountered him. As he got older he would become more outgoing, largely thanks to the influence of his closest friend, Aaron Sherritt. It is unclear when and how Joe and Aaron met. The Sherritts were an Irish protestant family from El Dorado and moved in different circles to the Byrnes. Regardless of the nature of their meeting, the two became such firm friends that Aaron managed to get himself transferred to the Woolshed School so he could spend time with Joe while still getting a basic education. Aaron was far more outgoing and seemed to get himself into mischief regularly. This would prove to be a defining aspect of the relationship between the pair.
When Joe’s father Paddy died of a heart attack, Joe was expected to take on the mantle of head of the household. It fell on Joe to earn some money, so, as a fifteen year-old, he took up work doing odd jobs for the Chinese in Sebastopol. It was during this time that he witnessed a man named Ah Suey strung up outside a shop screaming for help. Days later Ah Suey was found murdered due to debts he owed to Chinese mobsters. Joe was a witness in the trial of the two Chinese men charged with the murder but gave very little information, possibly due to fear of a reprisal as the accused were apparently members of the Triad, a Chinese crime syndicate with branches all over the world. This would not be the only time Joe would end up in court thanks to his association with the Chinese. Joe spent much of his youth around the Chinese and learned Cantonese by ear. He indulged in the food and other cultural aspects such as gambling and opium smoking.
For a brief time, Margret Byrne attempted to court their German neighbour Anton Wick, who they referred to as Antonio. Joe seems to have disliked Wick, who was known for being something of a drunk and a brawler. Joe defiantly stole a horse from Wick and even flaunted his act by showing off his riding at Wick’s selection on the stolen horse. Wick took Byrne to court but the case was dismissed. No doubt this rebellious act did nothing to improve the already strained relationship Joe had with his mother.
As Joe and Aaron got older they became so intertwined in each other’s lives that Aaron became unofficially engaged to Joe’s sister Kate and Joe was in a long term relationship with Aaron’s sister Bessie and expected to be engaged. For whatever reason, Joe seems to have been reluctant to commit to Bessie, a dressmaker, but people would report on their relationship well into future events. The pair tended to get up to greater and greater mischief, eventually engaging in stock theft together. This brought the pair in frequent contact with two Beechworth-based policemen, Detective Michael Ward and Constable Patrick Mullane. The first recorded incident of Aaron and Joe getting into trouble with the law was in May 1876 when they stole the pet cow from the El Dorado school common. The pair butchered the unfortunate animal and divvied up the carcass between their families. The evidence against them was overwhelming and Joe and Aaron were both sent to Beechworth Gaol for six months. Joe appears to have been well behaved in prison and gained his release on 6 November, 1876. This was to be the only time that Joe would be convicted.
The pair had barely gotten readjusted to life on the outside when they were charged with assaulting a Chinese man named Ah On in February 1877. Joe and Aaron had been skinny dipping in the dam where Ah On got his water and a disagreement arose during which the Chinese man chased them with a bamboo rod and Aaron threw a large rock that cracked Ah On’s skull. They were arrested and held in Beechworth to await trial.
It is likely that it was in the holding cells of Beechworth while awaiting their day in court, that Joe and Aaron met 16 year-old Dan Kelly who was waiting for his own appearance on a charge of stealing a saddle. Despite the evidence being fairly conclusive against the pair, Joe and Aaron were let off. No doubt Joe was counting his lucky stars, but it wasn’t enough to convince him to walk the straight and narrow.
In late 1877 and early 1878, Joe and Aaron joined a horse stealing gang with Dan’s big brother Ned. Under the alias ‘Billy King’, Joe helped Ned, his stepfather George King, Aaron Sherritt and an array of others that came and went, to steal horses from wealthy squatters and perform an elaborate ruse to sell them over the border. Ned would ride into town with the stock, joined shortly after by Joe. Then Ned would “sell” Joe the horses, complete with bill of sale and Joe would sell the horses on. This way everything seemed legitimate and above board to witnesses who had never met the men before. Ned Kelly claimed they stole more than 250 animals and they were never caught (although some of the men who bought the stock from them ended up in gaol). What caused the lucrative operation to be stopped is a mystery, but likely it had something to do with Ned feeling like he had taught the squatters he was taking a swipe at a lesson.
In April 1878, Ned and Dan Kelly took to the bush after an incident at the Kelly homestead where Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was shot in the wrist while trying to arrest Dan. Some historians have speculated that the Kellys’ brother-in-law William Skillion was misidentified by Fitzpatrick who had actually seen Joe, despite Skillion being shorter, heavier and older than Joe with no comparable facial features. At any rate, the Kelly brothers were joined by Joe and Dan’s mate Steve Hart at Dan’s hut on Bullock Creek. The Kelly brothers were attempting to raise money for their mother’s court appearance by mining for gold and distilling bootleg whiskey. Ned soon received news that there were parties of police heading into the Wombat Ranges to capture them and in response the four decided to bail up the police and rob them.
On 26 October, 1878, a party of four policemen consisting of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas McIntyre from Mansfield, Michael Scanlan from Mooroopna and Thomas Lonigan from Violet Town, entered the bush in pursuit of the fugitive brothers and camped at Stringybark Creek, less than a mile from the hideout. The next day Ned, accompanied by the other three, ambushed the police. Lonigan was shot dead while attempting to fire at Ned. Ned interrogated McIntyre, who revealed that Kennedy and Scanlan were out scouting. Joe attempted to settle the terrified trooper by drinking tea and smoking with him. When the other police returned, McIntyre attempted to get them to surrender but a gunfight erupted. Constable Scanlan was shot and killed, then Kennedy was also killed after a running gunfight. It has been suggested that Joe Byrne fired the shot that killed Scanlan, but there is not enough evidence to conclusively prove the notion. Regardless, Joe took Scanlan’s solitaire ring, a gold band with a blue topaz set in it, as well as Lonigan’s wedding band and watch. The watch was eventually returned but Joe always wore the rings and is seen wearing them in the post morte. photos taken of him at Benalla. The gang were soon declared outlaws by act of parliament, with Joe for the first time having a price of £250 on his head, though he was unidentified at the time. Based on descriptions given by Constable McIntyre, some people recognised his as Billy King, another name put forward was Bob Burns.
The outlaws’ next move was to rob a bank to pay their supporters. After weeks of scouting and collecting tips, the gang struck on 7 December, 1878. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station, Faithful Creek where the staff and visitors were locked in a shed. The gang dressed in new clothes taken from a hawker’s wagon. The following morning Joe joined Ned and Steve in vandalising the telegraph lines. Later, Joe was left to guard the prisoners while Ned, Steve and Dan rode into Euroa to rob the bank. Joe had written a letter in red ink, dictated by Ned, which was Ned’s attempt to explain his side of the story. This would become known as the Cameron letter as it was sent to Donald Cameron MP whose political posturing Ned had mistaken as being sympathy. The gang released the prisoners in the evening and escaped with £1500 in gold and cash.
The gang went to ground briefly following the robbery, but they were still active in planning their next heist. In February 1879 Joe convinced Aaron Sherritt that the gang would strike at Goulburn. Aaron duly passed this information on to Superintendent Hare in Benalla. Hare had been given the job of leading the hunt for the Kelly Gang after the previous leader, Superintendent Nicolson, was deemed unfit for purpose. So, while the police headed for Goulburn, the gang headed for Jerilderie. Ned and Joe spent a night drinking in the company of Mary Jordan, a barmaid known locally as Mary the Larrikin. The next day they joined Dan and Steve and rode into Jerilderie at night where they roused the police and bailed them up. The police were held in their own lock-up and the gang took over occupancy of the police station. Over the weekend the gang dressed in the policemen’s uniforms and scoped the town out. Joe had the gang’s horses shod on the government account and helped Ned plan the big robbery. Another letter was written up by Joe, dictated by Ned, to be printed in the local rag, since named the Jerilderie letter. It was a much longer version of the previous letter and appears to have had much more content influence by Joe. On the day of the heist the locals were rounded up into the pub and Joe went next door into the bank via a rear entrance, pretending to be a drunk. He held the staff at gunpoint declaring “I’m Kelly!” and was soon joined by Ned and Steve. The bank was raided and Ned even took to burning debt records. Afterwards the gang shouted everyone drinks and Ned gave a speech before the gang rode away with £2000 in unmarked, untraceable banknotes, gold and change. The New South Wales government immediately doubled the reward for the gang to £8000. In the wake of the gang’s increased notoriety, a song began circulating supposed to have been written by none other than Joe Byrne himself, telling the story of the gang’s exploits.
The few months after Jerilderie saw Joe and Dan testing the Sherritt brothers for their loyalty. On numerous occasions Joe would write threatening letters to Detective Ward and draw caricatures that were both insulting an a threat. He would give them to Jack Sherritt to pass on to Ward. Joe would frequently tell Jack and Aaron about supposed plans the gang had for future robberies and at one point suggested he and Dan would recruit Jack and Aaron to join them in robbing a bank behind Ned’s back, because Joe did not agree with Ned’s method. Joe was soon being pressured by sympathisers to murder Aaron and in a letter sent to Aaron on 26 June, 1879 he stated:
The Lloyds and Quinns wants you shot but I say no, you are on our side.
It was around this time that Joe’s opium addiction because problematic. Opium is a powerful drug that is highly addictive and when Joe’s supply ran out he suffered withdrawals. With this came weightloss, fever, mood swings, and anxiety among other symptoms. While opiate withdrawal can induce a form of psychosis, it is unclear if this was something Joe suffered. Some speculate that he was paranoid that the Sherritts were plotting against him, but it must be remembered that not only was this belief fostered by the Kelly sympathisers, it was actually true (at least where Jack Sherritt was concerned). There was even suggestions that one of the Sherritt brothers, likely Jack, was masquerading as Joe to plant stolen horses in people’s paddocks and harass station-masters at railway crossings in order to stimulate police presence in areas where there were suspected sympathisers.
Throughout his outlawry Joe was seeing a general maid named Maggie at The Vine Hotel in Beechworth. The hotel was run by the Vandenbergs, a prominent family in the community, and was far enough outside of the town centre that Joe could access it with hardly any risk of being spotted. On Saturday nights Joe would sneak out of the bush for a drink and a bit of horizontal refreshment, then catch up on the gossip from around town. The last time they saw each other was just before Glenrowan when Maggie informed Joe that Aaron Sherritt had been in The Vine with a policeman who had interrogated her.
Despite Joe’s apparent misgivings about Aaron’s supposed infidelity, it was decided to make Aaron a vital part of Ned Kelly’s masterplan to lure a train full of police to Glenrowan. Many questions still loom about the details of Ned’s original plan but what is known is that Joe and Dan bailed up Anton Wick and used him to lure Aaron to open the door to his hut, whereupon Joe blasted him twice with a shotgun, killing him instantaneously. For two hours Joe and Dan terrorised the four armed police hiding in the bedroom, threatening to shoot them or burn the hut down, before setting Wick free and heading off for Glenrowan to meet Ned and Steve.
After arriving at Glenrowan, Joe was tasked with escorting Jane Jones, the daughter of the Glenrowan Inn’s publican, into the inn to prepare for the gang’s prisoners. Throughout the day he guarded the prisoners. At one stage Joe had to calm a situation outside the gatehouse, where Ned was verbally abusing a teenage boy to the point that the boy was shaking uncontrollably in terror. As time went on Joe’s mood seemed to improve and he grew friendly with Ann Jones, dancing with her and at one point playing with her hair while she tugged at Scanlan’s ring on his finger. In the evening Joe accompanied Ned to bail up Constable Bracken, the town’s only policeman.
In the early hours of Monday morning, 28 June, the police special train Ned had planned to derail finally arrived in Glenrowan. It was warned by the school teacher who had been allowed to go free by Ned the night before. The gang put on suits of iron armour and confronted the police. In the gunfight Ned was injured as was Superintendent Hare and Joe, who was shot in the right calf, an injury that would have damaged nerves, tendons and ligaments. During the fight Joe and Ned were overheard bickering, Joe reportedly telling Ned:
I always told you this bloody armour would bring us to grief, and now it has!
The armour had been constructed mysteriously in the early part of 1880. They were made mostly from repurposed plough mouldboards. Each suit had a slightly different design. Joe’s is considered the best made suit and has small plates to connect the backplate and breastplate. The helmet has a distinct scalloped faceplate that gives the impression of two individual eye holes, rather that a single eyeslit like the rest of the gang’s helmets. Despite it’s effectiveness in protecting the head and torso, the arms, legs and groin were still vulnerable. Ned seemed to think the armour would lead them to victory, but the opposite seemed true.
Over the next few hours Ned disappeared and the rest of the gang retreated into the inn. Police reinforcements began to arrive and the inn was continuously riddled with bullets. Some of the prisoners, mostly women and children, managed to escape, mostly unharmed. With Ned missing and no sign of an escape route, the gang’s morale was low. Joe began to drink heavily. At around 5am Joe poured himself a drink and stood at the bar giving a toast:
Here’s to many more long and happy days in the bush, boys!
At that moment a fusillade of bullets penetrated the inn and Joe was hit in the groin. He collapsed on top of two of the trapped civilians and bled to death within minutes, the bullet having severed his femoral artery.
In the afternoon, after Ned was captured and the prisoners freed, the inn was set on fire by police. Father Gibney, a priest from Western Australia, rushed in to try to rescue Dan and Steve but found them dead. Joe’s body was dragged from the inferno by police but the other two gang members were incinerated. Joe was still dressed in his armour when he was dragged out.
Joe’s body was taken to Benalla police station where it was sketched by artist Julian Ashton, then tied to a lock-up door for photographers. The sight attracted a number of curious spectators but was described with great disgust in the press. The skin on the hands had begun to crack and blister from the fire, and the face was black with smoke. The clothes were stained with dirt and blood.
The inquest on Byrne’s body was conducted in secret that night and immediately followed by a casting of the body for the Bourke Street wax museum. Stripped of his clothing and jewellery, Byrne was given a pauper’s burial in an unmarked grave in Benalla cemetery, before the family had a chance to claim it. This was deliberately engineered by Captain Standish, the chief commissioner of police. The report from the inquest was never released, only a summary of the findings.
Decades later a grave marker was placed in the approximate location of Joe’s grave. To date he is the only member of the Kelly Gang with a marked gravesite. His family later moved further north but tragedy seemed to follow them. His sister Kate was briefly admitted to a lunatic asylum. His brother Paddy apparently committed suicide by drowning and Margret Byrne refused to discuss Joe, referring to him only as “The Devil”.
The popular perception of Joe Byrne is to either typify him as a romantic balladeer with Bohemian proclivities or a murderous, paranoid and unhinged drug addict. Neither interpretation is correct. Joe was a complex man who at once was loyal to a fault and hopelessly addicted to sex, booze and opium. At the same time he had a fierce temper that would result in violent acts, sometimes extremely so, and his intellect was hamstrung by his lack of education and opportunities to flex his grey matter. Under more favourable circumstances Joe Byrne could have become a successful bush balladeer like Lawson or Patterson. Instead, his poverty stricken home life and lack constructive outlets to indulge his artistic leanings resulted in delinquency and eventually outlawry that resulted in his premature death.
A Special thank you to Georgina Stones for her assistance in putting this brief biography together.
If you would like to read some of Georgina’s writings about Joe Byrne, you can read them at An Outlaw’s Journal.
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.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when Stephen Hart was once one of the most infamous bushrangers in Australia. Now he is often thought of as no more than an also-ran, an afterthought, the “other Kelly”. According to an article in the Evening News, Sydney, 14 February 1879, “Ned Kelly is looked upon as a hero all over the North-eastern district, and Steve Hart is second only in popular esteem.” So what changed the public perception of one of only four people ever outlawed in the history of Victoria? What led to Steve Hart becoming the forgotten Kelly Gang member?
To understand the story of Steve Hart, we must look at his parents. Steve’s father Richard Hart was transported to Australia as an eighteen year old convict in 1835 on the Lady McNaughton for being a pick-pocket. Earning his ticket of leave on 26 January 1840, he would later gain his Certificate of Freedom on 18 June 1843. In the subsequent years he would be joined by his sister Anne and brother Richard, both were transported as convicts. Richard was employed at Gunning Station at Fish River working for Elizabeth O’Neill, the widow of John Kennedy Hume, brother of explorer Hamilton Hume, who had been murdered by bushranger Thomas Whitton on 20 January 1840. The widow Hume had been left with nine children to care for (she was pregnant with her ninth at the time of the murder) and nobody to protect them, so Richard’s presence was likely very welcome.
Ten years after Richard gained his ticket of leave, recently orphaned Bridget Young, aged sixteen, and her sister Mary, aged twenty-one, travelled to Australia from Galway on the Thomas Arbuthnot as part of the “Earl Grey Famine Orphan Scheme“. No doubt the potential opportunities in Australia were a glimmer of hope as they escaped the crushing existence of being employed at workhouses back in Ireland and trying to stave off starvation due to the Great Hunger, also known as the Great Famine or the Irish Potato Famine. They arrived in Sydney and were stationed at the Hyde Park Barracks for several weeks before travelling to Yass for work, Bridget then became indentured to Mr. Smith of Mingay Station in Gundagai, which was one of the various stations affected by the horrendous flood of June 1852.
One of the young women who had accompanied Bridget all the way to Yass since their initial departure from Galway on the Thomas Arbuthnot was Margret White, who would later move to Goulburn where she would marry Paddy Byrne. These two were the parents of Kelly gang member Joe Byrne. What interaction these women had, if any, remains an unanswered question.
When Elizabeth O’Neill left Gunning and took up residence at her property Burramine (aka Byramine) at Yarrawonga in the 1850s it is likely that Richard travelled with her. By this time, Richard had met Bridget Young and the pair were raising a family in Gundagai, but a short time thereafter the family arrived in South Wangaratta where they soon established themselves, possibly with more than a little assistance from Elizabeth.
Stephen Hart was born at the Hart property on Three Mile Creek, Wangaratta, on 4 October 1859 to Richard and Bridget Hart (née Young), and baptised on 13 October that year. Steve was one of thirteen children. His siblings were William (who died as an infant in Gundagai in 1852), Ellen, Julia, Richard jr (Dick), Thomas Myles, Esther (Ettie), Winifred, Agnes, Nicholas, Rachel and Harriet – certainly Richard snr and Bridget had their hands full with such a brood. Steve’s was not an overly troubled childhood by the standards of the time and place. In factthe Hart family seemed to be quite well to do with a 53 acre property in Wangaratta on the Three Mile Creek and a larger 230 acre block at the foot of the Warby Ranges. As with all selector’s sons, Steve was expected to work on the selection as soon as he was old enough but he had at least some education and could read and write.
Steve was an able, if not necessarily dedicated, worker. Employed for a time as a butcher boy in Oxley to a Mr. Gardiner, Steve soon ended up working with his father and siblings stumping properties for what would have been around £6 a month. Hardly glamorous work, but honest. No doubt he was frequently roped into doing jobs for the Bowderns who were neighbours to the Harts and close friends.
As a teenager, Steve was a jockey who had a few minor prizes under his belt including the Benalla Handicap. His small frame and natural affinity with horses made him the perfect fit and would come in handy later on when combined with his excellent geographical knowledge of Wangaratta and the Warby Ranges. He was evidently a popular youth, quite likely due to his fun loving nature and eagerness to please. It’s easy to imagine Steve strutting past O’Brien’s hotel with his hat cocked, chinstrap under his nose and a bright sash around his waist accompanied by the likes of Dan Kelly, Tom Lloyd, John Lloyd and, later on, Aaron Sherritt, Joe Byrne and Ned Kelly. His time with the Greta Mob, as they called themselves, was probably the only time Steve felt a sense of belonging, his adolescent mind far more preoccupied with socialising than work. It seems he built a strong bond with Dan Kelly in particular during this time, perhaps drawn in by the self-assuredness and natural charisma the younger Kelly seemed to possess. The Kelly boys were seemingly blessed with the ability to leave a favourable impression on most anyone they met while also projecting a ‘don’t mess with me’ vibe likely forged due to their harsh upbringing. In contrast, Steve’s slender build and delicate features likely made him someone who was far from intimidating, so being around someone like Dan would have been a good move to make him tougher by association. The Greta Mob were larrikins and what Steve lacked in physicality he made up for in horsemanship – a primary interest of the larrikin class. The gang were fond of showing off their skills on horseback and this kept them in the cross-hairs of the local police.
Of course, Steve was not exempt from the seemingly obligatory prison stint. On 7 July, 1877, Steve Hart appeared in Wangaratta Police Court during the general sessions charged with stealing a horse from David Green of Glenrowan. Green’s grey mare had gone missing and Sergeant Steele had been tasked with finding the culprit. Going to the Hart property in Wangaratta, Steele interrogated Steve and a lodger named James O’Brien about the horse in the paddock behind them. “What, that grey mare?” Steve asked incredulously. Steele pressed the point and Steve indicated he had been loaned the horse from a man in town. When Steele asked for a name, Steve replied “Have you a warrant for me? I’ll give you no bloody information unless you have.” Steele promptly arrested Hart and O’Brien, who had also gotten Dick Hart implicated in a horse theft at the same time. The initial charge of theft was altered to ‘illegally using a horse’ and Steve was shortly convicted and sent to Beechworth Gaol for twelve months. It was here that he befriended Dan Kelly who was doing time over an incident at a shop where he had gotten drunk and broken in. The freezing winter months and stifling summer heat would have taken their toll on the lad, then just eighteen. Undoubtedly this would have made him seem rather a black sheep in the family by the time he got home, so instead of staying at the farm he left to find work elsewhere, first supposedly shearing in New South Wales and later at a sawmill near Mansfield before he joined the Kelly brothers at their gold claim on Bullock Creek. It was honest enough work and no doubt his body had been bulked up from the hard labour smashing granite with a hammer in Beechworth Gaol for a year. The one known photograph of Steve depicts him as a slender youth, but descriptions of Steve in 1878 painted a different picture.
After Steve’s exit from Beechworth Gaol and all during his time travelling for work, Sergeant Steele had been hounding his family for word on his whereabouts. Steele was convinced he was off duffing stock with the Kellys and even threatened the Harts that if they didn’t tell him exactly where Steve was that he’d be shot. Unfortunately the family had no idea of Steve’s whereabouts.
When Constable Fitzpatrick was assaulted at the Kelly house in April 1878, Steve was not involved. However he was reported to have made the decision to stick by his mates and while working with his father and siblings he downed his tools and took off declaring:
“A short life, but a merry one!”
This phrase not only summed up the youthful impulsiveness of the adolescent Hart, but became a sort of catchphrase for the Kelly gang later on when the meaning had far more sinister undertones. Though, it was usually attributed to Steve, there is some question over the accuracy of the attribution, though it certainly sounds authentic enough to be believable and has become the phrase that is synonymous with him.
Steve was with Dan and Ned in October 1878 when a party of police had entered the Wombat Ranges hunting for the two Kellys. On 26 October Ned Kelly led Dan, Steve and Joe Byrne in an assault on the police party. Three police were killed in the incident, though Steve was not one of the killers. When McIntyre escaped on horseback Dan Kelly had directed Steve and Joe to catch him. They had gone a distance into the bush but could not catch up. They fired ineffectually into the bush. No doubt this episode was traumatic for all involved, but for Steve and Joe, who came from comparatively sheltered lives compared to the Kelly brothers, it must have been doubly so.
The immediate aftermath of Stringybark Creek saw the gang desperate to escape capture long enough to establish a new base of operations. This was where Steve Hart had his chance to shine. Navigating the torrential flood waters that caused the rivers to swell to insurmountable levels, Steve took the gang into his playground. Crossing a secluded bridge he took the gang and their horses safely to Hart territory, successfully evading the police search parties. Steve would prove invaluable to the gang in their next undertaking – the robbery of a bank.
An oft related anecdote is that Steve Hart, dressed as a veiled woman riding side-saddle, would ride into towns close to the Strathbogie and Warby Ranges to gather information about the banks. On one of these reconnaissance missions Steve found the perfect target in the township of Euroa. Disguises were not a necessity for Steve at this stage as he was the only member of the gang yet to be identified.
Steve’s role in the bank robbery was straightforward but vital. When Ned and Dan set out from Faithful’s Creek, Steve rode ahead on his bay mare. Arriving in town in advance of the others, Steve got a bite to eat while he waited and used the time to assess whether the plan was still viable. When the others arrived he accompanied Dan around the back where he went into the bank manager’s residence and locked Susy Scott, her mother and children in the parlour, but not before being recognised by Fanny Shaw who was employed as a general maid for the Scotts. Steve and Fanny were schoolmates and Steve informed Fanny that he was in the process of robbing the bank before tricking her into joining the family in the parlour. Fanny Shaw’s testimony would finally expose the mysterious fourth member of the Kelly Gang. In the ashes of the fire from the gang’s old clothes was found what was believed to be a woman’s bonnet, but was after revealed to be Steve’s cabbage tree hat with a fly veil. While this would appear to indicate the cross-dressing rumours were no more than that it is very difficult to disprove the initial claim.
With the fourth member of the gang finally identified, a description was published in an effort to help the public recognise the miscreant:
He is described in the criminal records as being 21 years of age, 5ft. 6in. high, fresh complexion, brown hair, and hazel eyes ; right leg has been injured.
When the gang were officially declared outlaws it became much harder to move freely. Steve’s reconnaissance missions ended in favour of his sister Ettie feeding information back to the gang. When the raid on Jerilderie was decided upon the gang crossed into New South Wales in pairs, Ned and Joe heading for the pub where they received intelligence from Mary the Larrikin before meeting up with Dan and Steve the next day.
Steve’s role in the raids seems to have very much been as Ned’s attack dog. He was the only gang member to not don a police uniform after the Jerilderie police had been locked in their own cells. When the bank was robbed it was Steve who found the bank manager Tarleton having a bath (and subsequently made to guard him as he dressed). Witnesses in the hotel would describe Steve as seeming very nervous. While Ned was going about his work Steve stole a watch from Reverend Gribble. The outrage made it to Ned Kelly who ordered Steve to return the watch, which he did under sufferance. It must have seemed a strange paradox to be an outlawed bushranger but not be allowed to steal from people. Once again he and Dan performed horse tricks as they left the town after a victorious raid.
For months the gang seemingly disappeared. More detailed descriptions were offered that appeared to do very little to help identify the gang:
Steve Hart, about 21 years of age, 5 feet 4 inches high, dark complexion, black hair, short dark hair on sides of face and chin, bandy legs, stout build, clumsy appearance, speaks very slowly; dressed in dark paget suit, light felt hat, and elastic-side boots.
Watch parties were assigned to the Kelly, Hart and Byrne properties to stop them from returning home. During this time the banks were guarded by men of the garrison artillery, which made future plans for bank robbery impossible to carry out. But by the beginning of 1880 the gang were making appearances again, this time they were stealing metal to make suits of armour.
At Glenrowan, Steve initially attempted to pull up rails from the train track with Ned but soon became the attack dog again, keeping prisoners under control while Ned found the men who could lift the rails. Steve’s behaviour was typically aggressive, but as he was confined to guarding the women and children in the station-master’s house he became bored and took to drinking and even napped on the sofa with his revolvers resting on his chest. Depending on which account you read, at one point either Thomas Curnow helped Steve remove his boots and wash his feet in warm water to alleviate swelling or Steve ordered some of the women to wash his feet. He was also seen with his head on Jane Jones’ lap while he complained of feeling unwell. When Steve tired of being isolated he took the women and children to the inn to join the rest of the party.
When the police train was stopped and firing broke out, Steve seemed to avoid injury. However later on witnesses claimed he had injured his arm. Some witnesses described him cowering behind the fireplace to avoid gunfire, his initial overconfidence brought about by the armour supplanted by terror. After Joe Byrne’s death and Ned Kelly’s apparent disappearance Steve was despondent. When the prisoners were allowed to exit the inn he was overheard asking Dan Kelly “What shall we do now?” to which the reply was “I shall tell you directly.” Many have interpreted this to indicate a suicide pact. The truth about Steve’s cause of death will never be determined, however, as his corpse was burned beyond recognition in the fire that destroyed the inn. Stories of Steve and Dan surviving the fire are ludicrous and easily disproved.
After the fire, Steve’s body was retrieved and Superintendent Sadleir made the controversial decision to hand it over to the Hart family. A coffin was quickly procured and the remains placed inside and buried in a clandestine service in Greta Cemetery next to Dan Kelly in an unmarked grave. Steve’s untimely demise seemed to weigh heavily on the family but manifested in various ways. Ettie Hart appeared in a stage production entitled Kelly Family, whereas Dick preferred to stew over the turn of events and even agitated to form a second gang with Patsy Byrne, Wild Wright, Jim Kelly and Tom Lloyd. The agitation amounted to nothing however. In 1899, Tom Lloyd would marry Steve’s younger sister Rachel.
Over time Steve’s notoriety faded and soon he became “the other guy” in popular culture. Yet, Steve Hart is one of the more tragic characters in the Kelly saga, his youth and poor choices leading to a horrific and untimely death. There is perhaps no better example of the folly of youth than this accidental bushranger who just wanted to back up his mate and ended up one of the most wanted men in the British Empire.
A very special thank you to Noeleen Lloyd whose advice and additional information on the Hart family was invaluable in the compiling of this biography.
LA citation”STEPHEN HART’S BOYHOOD.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 10 July 1880: 6.
“More Facts About the Kelly Raid.” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 14 February 1879: 3.
“DESCRIPTION OF THE OUTLAWS.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 14 December 1878: 16.
“THE KELLY GANG” The Kyneton Observer (Vic. : 1856 – 1900) 8 March 1879: 2.
“WHEN GUNDAGAI WAS A TRAGIC SIGHT” The Gundagai Independent (NSW : 1928 – 1939) 1 August 1935: 6.
[The following is an article that was published in the days following the death of Dan Morgan at Peechelba Station. It recalls details of his life as regaled by those who knew him for better or worse, in an effort to record his depredations and decipher his wild life. ~AP]
It is nearly certain that the man known variously as John Smith, alias Bill the Native, alias Down-the-River Jack, alias Moran, alias DanielMorgan, was born of convict parents, going under the name of Moran and who resided, at the time of his birth, in 1831, at Appin, near Campbelltown, in the colony of New South Wales. The first, portion of his life appears to have been passed in a manner similar to that of other children and, for some time, he attended a respectable school at Campbelltown.
What we know, chiefly, of his very early life has been, at various times, derived from prisoners who had been in jail with him, and to whom he was occasionally — only occasionally — very communicative. He was, according to his own account, a very bad boy. His parents could make nothing of him, and his education was entirely neglected.
He had even then solitary habits, living in the bush, and subsisting on ‘possums, grubs, or whatever else he could find, for days together, Morgan described himself as always having a dread of darkness ; a dread that was not in the least dispelled by company. He always longed for daylight as for a friend. He was passionately fond of horses, and had an extraordinary and, from his own account, what would appear to be a mysterious mastery over them ; following, as a child, horses about the bush, and fondling them, until they would allow him to mount them bare-backed while feeding. These moments Morgan used to refer to with extraordinary pleasure when he was in a talkative mood. Without paying anything more of his characteristics, even as he himself described them to other prisoners, we will come at once to his known criminal career, premising that any reference we make to his motives or feelings, has been derived, as we said, from men who have been in jail with him, or with whom — and there are many of these — he has been on intimate terms in New South Wales. We attach no further importance to the narratives of such men than will be found to be confirmed by his life, and we omit many things that appeared to us to be evident attempts at romancing.
We first find him as a criminal — although, by his own admission, he had committed frequent crimes in New South Wales — attracted here by the gold fields, sticking up two hawkers close to Castlemaine, and, of course, robbing them, half shipping them, tying them to trees, and leaving them there until half dead from cold: They were found by. some passers-by in the morning. This is the crime of which he complains as having been unjustly convicted. He was on this occasion known by the police to be well aimed, and they surrounded a shepherd’s hut in the dead of night, to which he was tracked by one of the old black troopers, then a hanger-on to the Camp at Castlemaine. The shepherd afterwards described him as having a revolver in each hand, and swearing he would use them, but, on finding the party outside too strong to leave any hope of escape, he hid under the bed, from which he was dragged ignominiously. So bad a character did he bear with the police that, on taking him into Castlemaine the next morning, they handcuffed him to the front of the saddle, and led the horse on which he was mounted, and which was one he himself had stolen. The stolen horse, it appears, was a good one, having the foot of anything in his escort. Suddenly Morgan, alias ‘ Bill, the Native,’ stuck his heels in his horse’s ribs, and, with a shout that all horses understand, started away from his captors, endeavouring to guide him with his legs alone. The horse, probably not feeling the support of the bit, stumbled, and before he recovered a trooper, coming alongside of the prisoner, struck him with the butt of his pistol. Morgan fell over on the other side, and, between the grip of his knees and the handcuffs, pulled the saddle over with him. Then there was a painful scene, the horse in full career, and the man dragged by his hands at the horse’s hind legs until he had kicked the man and the saddle from him. In this daring attempt at escape he suffered severe injuries, for which he was for a long time under medical treatment, and from this moment may be traced his now celebrated expression of ‘flash Victorian Police.’ For the crime for which he was captured, and to his innocence of which attributed his subsequent ‘ down’ on society in general, he was at once picked out of a crowd of prisoners by each of the men whom he had stuck up ; and, by a, string of the clearest testimony that ever was produced in a court of justice found guilty, and sentenced to 12 years on the roads. In jail he never hid from his mates his being the perpetrator of the crime; but attributed his capture to the treachery of the shepherd in whose hut he took shelter ; his failure in his attempt at escape to the looseness of his girths and the ‘b—y flashness’ of the Victorian Police ; and his sentence to a want of knowledge on the part of the jury to the laws of evidence. This cut him more sorely than anything in his whole career to-think that a jury of his countrymen should not discover some flaw in the testimony, which he always proudly repeated. Previous to this conviction he as ‘Bill, the Native,’ was known as a notorious horse thief, and was the terror of horse owners in the neighbourhood of Avoca, where he used to live a lonely life in the Mallee scrub which then abounded there. He had several narrow escapes from the squatters, who frequently pursued him, and on one occasion he was raced for his life for several miles by two settlers, one of whom seeing that he was getting the best of him shot him in the knee.
This is a statement of his own to his fellow prisoners, He also, says and mentions the name, that he gave one squatter, whom he met by himself in the bush, an awful horsewhipping because ‘he made himself too busy ‘ about his own horses. In fact he appeared to think himself a very badly ill-used poor fellow because men would not allow him quietly to rob them. The particular trait in his character, that he always desired to excuse himself to those with whom he was present at the moment, is shown by the fact that even in jail, where he occasionally gave all the details of the Castlemaine affair, he invariably explained that he had left blankets with the hawkers ; quietly blinking the fact that he had taken all he could carry, and that the naked men, being tied to a tree, could not get at the blankets; which among other property useless to him, their own clothes for instance, he had left behind him. In prison he was very quiet and orderly, — was believed by officers and prisoners to be a determined but not desperately wicked man, and was a great mark for being drawn out of his solitariness to spin a yam of his bush experiences and bush crimes. He was sent from Castlemaine to Melbourne Jail, thence to the ‘ President’ hulk, subsequently to the ‘Success,’ and lastly to Pentridge. While working with a gang from the ‘Success’ at a quarry near Williamstown he lost the top of the finger, the absence of which has been one of his peculiar marks. The finger was jammed between a heavy bar and the stone they were lifting at the moment.
He was at work with the gangs on the day Mr. Price was murdered, and although his assistance was eagerly sought by the murderers he refused to have any complicity. It was, however, well known among the prisoners that he would have joined in any plan of escape, and, indeed, concocted a few. In all these matters, however, he was invariably solitary, lonely, and tried to make others his tools in the way of gaining information for his own ends. In June, 1860, he obtained his ticket of leave for the Yackandandah district, but never reported himself. As a matter of curiosity, we give his description as gazetted :— ‘Native of Sydney ; jockey; aged 29; height 5 feet 10 ¼ inches; complexion fresh, hair brown, eyes hazel, nose long, medium mouth and chin, small lump under left jaw.’
He was next heard of at the Howqua Station, near Mansfield, and afterwards crossed to the Buffalo, where he for some time hung about the stations on that, the King, and Upper Ovens Rivers, occasionally employed as a horse breaker, but always leading a most secluded life in the bush, not mixing with the men, and never courting the women. While in that part of the country, he was known as ” Down-the-River-Jack,” as a petty pilferer of the commonest necessaries of life, and as a horse stealer. It is believed that he was one of the men who stuck, up a digger’s hut at the Buckland about the time, and subsequently a man returning towards Wangaratta from the Myrtleford races. It was not until after the appearance of Gardiner in New South Wales, that he showed any signs of being the desperate character he afterwards proved, but during the period of Gardiner’s exploits, he certainly made his appearance on the New South Wales side of the river at Mr. Rand’s station, whence several horses were suddenly missed, and where he was found camped one day in Mr Rand’s paddock by that gentleman. Mr. Rand told him to be off, and the answer was that the station was his as much as Rand’s, and that if he talked to him again like that, he would blow his b— guts out.
It proved afterwards that this station and several others appeared rather to belong to Morgan — now ‘DanielMorgan’ — more than to anyone else, and Mr Rand had personally for a time to quit his in danger of his life. By pretending that he was ‘the poor man’s friend,’ and spending the fruits of his robberies pretty freely among shepherds and stockmen, almost all of whom in New South Wales sympathise with such a villain, he gained a most extraordinary influence. While in the Piney Range, Table Top, or Roundhill country, or on any part of the Billabong, he was looked upon with admiration and treated and sheltered as the most gallant and injured of men. His business at this time was horse stealing, in which, it being a congenial employment, he was assisted in every direction by the stock keepers, servants, bushmen, and others all over the territory. Soon too some of the squatters became, partly from terror and partly that they themselves might be free from his depredations, tainted with the prevailing sympathy.
At length in June, 1863, he commenced the real career of a highwayman by robbing mails and stations, having successively stuck up Walla Walla, Cookendina, and Wallandool, all in the same month. On the 21st of August he committed his first known capital offence, by shooting at and wounding, near Urana, Mr Bayliss, Police Magistrate of Wagga Wagga, whom he had robbed on the previous day after a severe race, and firing at that gentleman. When shot Mr Bayliss was camped with a party of police at night, in search of the very man who shot him. There was issued against him a warrant for the capital offence, and he was particularly marked by the police as a dangerous character. The reward of £200 was offered for his apprehension. It would be impossible in this short notice even to mention half the crimes he is known to have, or one hundredth part of the crimes and offences he is suspected to have committed, but among the more heinous we may mention the sticking up the Roundhill Station, owned by Mr Henty, in that gentleman’s absence. His first murder was here committed on Sunday, the 19th July, 1863, and curiously enough, and as will appear to many to be more than a coincidence, on a Sunday he met his doom. And here is the case in which the villain says he has been so cruelly misrepresented by the Press, as we had the affair from the lips of young Mr Heriot himself on the day following the outrage, while that, poor lad was lying wounded after the massacre : Morgan entered the station with a revolver in each hand, and four more ostentatiously displayed in his belt. There were present, Mr Watson, the superintendent, Mrs Watson, a Mr McNeil, a cattle dealer, Mr McLean, the overseer, and Heriot, a young gentleman from a neighboring station. He marched all the men out to a small shed, where they found eight or ten of the men already bailed-up, one of them complacently holding Morgan’s horse. He sent a servant girl in for all the gin in the house, and made those present drink six bottles, he, himself, scarcely tasting it, so that it is quite true that every one on the station was more drunk than himself, but he forgot to add that he made them so. When he was mounting to go away; Mr Watson incautiously said, ‘These are the stirrup irons you stole, Morgan ;’ and, being the writer of the following, we give the report as taken from Mr Heriot’s lips, as already stated ; that young man being then perfectly cool and collected although badly wounded :—” On Mr Watson making the remark, the ruffian coolly turned round in his saddle, took deliberate aim at Mr Watson’s head and fired. Seeing the deadly aim, Mr Watson involuntarily put up his hand, through which the ball passed, turning it probably aside, as it only touched his scalp. The wounded man ran behind the shed, and hid himself, but Morgan returned to the door of the shed, fired right and left, amongst the inmates, crying out, “Now,you b—— b——, clear out of this.” The first shot went through young Mr Heriot’s leg, between the knee and ankle, shattering the bone in pieces, and then hit another man’s leg behind, maiming him; but not, luckily, breaking the skin as its force had been spent. The men then all ran away in different directions, the poor wounded young man among them, dragging his broken leg after him for about thirty yards, when he fell from pain and exhaustion. In the meantime Morgan galloped after another man, across the yard, with pistol cocked, but the fugitive escaped through the kitchen. The horse stood fire well. Morgan then galloped back to young Heriot, dismounted, and put the revolver to his head (Mrs Watson, in the meantime, was running, screaming, and terrified about the yard). Young Heriot said, ‘Don’t kill me, Morgan, you have broken my leg ; ‘ and Mr Watson, who had also, seeing Morgan with a pistol to the boy’s head, come out of his hiding place, cried out, ‘For God’s sake, Morgan, don’t kill any one.’ The villain, who seemed to act with the inconsistency of drunkenness, or of a murderer gone mad, then cried out, Where are the d- wretches gone to?’ and swore a fearful oath that he would blow the brains out of every man on the station if they did not come to Heriot’s assistance. He himself knelt down, cut the boot off the wounded leg, and carried the unfortunate youth to the gate next the house. Two men then, frightened by his threats, came forward and he swore he would shoot them dead if they did not carry him in, which they did, and laid him on a bed. At this time, also, two men (one a half-caste aboriginal) who had not yet appeared on the scene, but evidently Morgan’s men, came up and remained on the ground while young Heriot was carried to bed, where Morgan cut off the other boot and sent a man to attend him. Seeing Morgan apparently relenting, as if satiated with bloodshed, Mr McLean asked him if he might go for a doctor. Morgan answered ‘Yes,’ and then for a short time regaled himself and his mates ; but apparently mistrusting Mr McLean, he followed him along the road, overtook him five or six miles from the station, and without ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ coming close behind him, fired at him. The ball entered the unfortunate man’s back above the hip and came out close to the navel, and he, of course, fell mortally wounded.” For the first time the squatters and people were aroused to the danger in which they stood, and a party of volunteers, chiefly squatters, who knew every inch of the country, started in pursuit. This, together with the greater activity of the police, made that part of the country too hot for him, and he made for Tumberumba, and here his second cold blooded murder was committed. Sergeant McGinnerty, a man with a wife and family, was riding, along the road on the 24th July, with another trooper; not having heard (having been in the bush) of the Roundhill affair, when they saw a man riding quietly ahead of them. Not for a moment imagining who it was, they rode up to the horseman, as policemen will do, McGinnerty ahead of his companion. On coming alongside, and before a word passed, Morgan fired a revolver into McGinnerty’s breast, and the other policeman seeing him fall, bolted, or as he says, his horse bolted. Morgan robbed the dead man of his money, his arms, accoutrements, and horse, and laid him out on the road side, putting his cap in the middle of the road.
Again, on a Sunday night, Morgan inflicted a mortal wound on Sergeant Smith, of Albury, on the 3rd September, 1864, while the officer was camped with three other men on Morgan’s track. Poor Smith lingered for some time, but finally died of the wound at Albury. Of persons, well known in Beechworth, he has stuck up on the New South Wales side of the river, Mr Manson twice, Mr Braschs twice, Dr Mackay’s station on the Billabong once, Dr Stitt’s station at Walla Walla once at least; Mr Kidston’s station, by common report, constantly (but this has been denied by Mr Kidston on oath), and others, whose names we cannot recall at this moment. He wound up his career in New South Wales by sticking up the Sydney and Deniliquin mails, and by shooting an unfortunate shepherd in a most brutal and cowardly manner, of course, because lie had a ‘down’ on Society. And we are asked, after all this, to believe that this is the much-injured individual, who was so badly treated by being fired at for stealing horses on the Avoca, fired at again for robbing hen roosts, and stealing legs of mutton on the King River, but, above all, because he got twelve years for an offence, which he avowed he had committed, but in the proof of which this jail lawyer discovered a flaw.
It is hard to talk so of a man, who is dead, but not of a beast, who is dead. For some time he has been egged on by his mates in New South Wales to show the b—y newspapers, and the flash police here what he could do, but his own cunning for a long time resisted the temptation of the cowardly scoundrels, who dare not attempt it themselves, yet who thought that the name of Morgan would terrify the people of Victoria, as it did those of the other colony. At length, in a happy moment, but evidently after a mature study of the course he might best pursue, he crossed the river Murray to his doom. Our readers already know his short career here, and the manner in which he finally was disposed of, by the whole of the Ovens district being aroused to the danger of allowing the presence of such a visitant by the pluck of the people, men and women, at the station where he was to pass his last night in Victoria, and where he did pass his last night on earth ; by the persistent pursuit of the police, who had never given him a single hour’s rest, and by the courage of an Irish girl whose name, Alice Keenan, deserves to be immortalised. That Morgan was an extraordinary character is shown by his whole career, but that he had one single manly quality we utterly deny. He cared more about being the talk of a few bad men than :f gaining the admiration or love of one woman good or bad. He never desired the society of the fair sex, or sought it except in the spirit of bravado, and had he had that one redeeming quality he must have been a much worse or a much better man. His fellow prisoners say that in any talk about women he took no interest, but in any conversation about crime he was immediately excited. His head, which has been sent by the police to Melbourne, will show, if there be any truth in phrenology, Locality, Music, Destructiveness, (immense), no Veneration, no Benevolence, Combativeness and Self-esteem large, but Caution larger, and a total want of Amativeness or Philoprogenitiveness. We cannot absolutely tell what Morgan would have been in a fair fight, even for his life, but he never sought a fight of any kind, and was altogether about the most selfish, cold, calculating, and cowardly scoundrel, of whom we ever remember to have heard. He was perfectly cool where he thought he was perfectly safe, and never for a second placed himself in a position where he did notbelieve himself, with his cold drawling voice, his deadly look, the sympathy of convicts, the terror of his atrocities, his stolen race horse, and his loaded revolver, to be master of the situation. Can anyone tell us where Morgan ever did the act of a man?
The few additional items below are contributed by our Wangaratta correspondent :—
The excitement concerning Morgan is still intense. The body was removed from Peechelba to Wangaratta yesterday, and placed in one of the cells of the lock-up. Hundreds from all parts visited the body of the bushranging chief. A cast of the head was taken yesterday. It appears the name of the young man who fired the fatal shot is Wendlan, not Quinlan. He has been in the employ of Messrs Rutherford and McPherson for several years. He was in Wangaratta on last Thursday when, the express arrived from the Messrs Evans’s station; King River. He wished, very much to proceed to the scene of the outrage, but was unable to find a horse. Some of his friends said that Morgan might, next visit Peechelba. Wendlan said if he ever did he was bound to shoot him. It is said,that Mr Rutherford also promised £100 to the man who would shoot Morgan, and Mr Rutherford is a gentleman who will not break his word. One particular Scotch air played by Miss McPherson struck Morgan’s fancy, he asked her to play it over and over again. It was the last time she played, he called the piano an organ, and said often come Miss give me, another tune on that ere organ. He also told Mr McPherson that he passed through Benalla at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Friday last. Mr McPherson said he was in Benalla himself about the same time but did not see him there. Morgan assured him that it was quite true he was in Benalla on that day, and at the hour mentioned. It is said that Morgan told some of the persons at Evans’ station that he was in Melbourne lately, and had the pleasure of seeing himself in wax — he also told the man that it was a very striking likeness of himself. He also told Mr John Evans that he was on Oxley Plains last winter ; he met Mr Bond on the Plains by accident, and would have shot him dead there and then, but he was afraid of creating a b-—-y stink at the time. Some bullock drivers, who reside in Wangaratta, state most positively that they saw ‘Down-the-River-Jack’ at Oxley last winter, coolly riding on a horse. It has since been proved beyond a doubt that ‘Down-the-River-Jack’ and ‘Bill-the-Native’ was one and the same person.
Morgan also stated at the Whitfield station that Mr Bond must have also observed him, for he looked d——d hard at him. ‘Down-the-River-Jack’, was a frequent visitor at other stations. He was in the district for about two months. It was supposed at the time that he had just got out of prison, as his hair then was cut very short. He was in the habit in those days (four years ago) of stealing saddles, bridles, horses, cattle, &c. When he slept at some of the most remote stations on the King River, it was always with a tomahawk under his head. Two young lads in charge of one of the upper stations on the river used to call him ‘Jack,’ and did not look upon him then as a very dangerous member of society. When engaged chatting, over the fire, he told them he knew every inch of bush in the three colonies. He suddenly disappeared and has never been heard of until seen by the bullock drivers, who reported him at Oxley in last winter.
A reporter, representing the Melbourne Herald, arrived in town yesterday. He has especially been sent up to report concerning Morgan. Mr Evans, the constable, recognises Morgan as the same person who was tried at Castlemaine in 1854, under the name of Smith, alias ‘Bill, the Native,’ for some crime, and for which, he received a severe sentence.
Source: “SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND CAREER OF DANIEL MORGAN, THE NOTORIOUS BUSHRANGER” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 13 April 1865: 3.
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.
With the death of Captain Thunderbolt and the arrest of Harry Power, many believed that bushranging was a thing of the past, a disgraceful chapter to relegate to the history books. However, despite the lack of big names in the majority of the 1870s, there was plenty of bushranging happening throughout the colonies. One of the various bushrangers in New South Wales during the early 1870s left out of the books is John Johnston.
John Johnston was a seaman from London, England, born in 1829. A man of notably diminutive stature, he only stood at four feet, seven inches tall (139cm). He had dark brown hair and hazel eyes, with a large nose that bore a conspicuous bump. He was employed on the ship Orphens but deserted when the ship was wrecked off the coast of New Zealand – a very dishonorable act. He arrived in New South Wales in 1863 but soon fell foul of the law, found guilty of horse and cattle stealing and given twelve years in Parramatta Gaol.
After serving nine years, Johnston found himself again at liberty. Not knowing what to do with himself, the now 44 year old turned to bushranging. In an appropriately short period of time, Johnston gained a warrant for horse stealing in Singleton. Johnston had stolen two horses and corresponding saddles and bridles from William John Dangar, a noted pastoralist whose brother Henry Dangar was a prominent surveyor, entrepreneur and politician on whose property the infamous Myall Creek Massacre took place; and another brother, Thomas Gordon Gibbons Dangar, was also a politician and owned a store in Singleton that had been robbed by the Jewboy gang in 1840 that had immediately led to their capture. When spotted on Long Bridge, West Maitland, by Constable Bowden and called upon to surrender, Johnston presented a revolver. After threatening the policeman the bandit took off. The next depredation took place on 24 July, 1873, when Johnston bailed up a boy named Willard at Camberwell, depriving him of his horse, saddle and bridle.
Following on from his previous robbery, Johnston struck again on 27 July at Warland’s Range, robbing Rev. Father Patrick Finn, the Roman Catholic priest from Murrurundi. Johnston approached the priest on foot. Stopping Finn on the road by grabbing the reins of the horse, Johnston demanded that Finn dismount. After some heated exchange, from Finn Johnston gained a horse, saddle, bridle and a purse containing seven sovereigns as well as the priest’s coat. Two days later the horse, minus accoutrements, was recovered by Constable Egan. Johnston was busted while working as a ploughman for a selector named Donnewald. Johnston was living in a hut in Double Gully provided by Jacob Donnewald, who was doing a five year stint in Parramatta Gaol, where he had probably befriended Johnston.
Constable George Thompson of Muswellbrook was aware of the warrant for Johnston’s arrest and had received intelligence that he had been spotted on Wybong Creek. On 15 August, taking with him mounted trooper Patrick Sweeney, he made a rendezvous with Constable James Rutherford, who had camped overnight at the creek in the hope of spotting Johnston. Unfortunately after a search they found no trace. The police then headed to Sandy Creek to the residence of a man named Donnewald where they suspected Johnston may have been hiding. To their relief and chagrin they found that Johnston had indeed been there but had left for Double Gully a half hour previous. The police took off for Double Gully and upon arrival found a horse saddled and bridled and tied to a tree near a house. The police dismounted and tied their horses about seventy yards from the house before proceeding on foot. Johnston appeared in the kitchen window, dressed in leggings, black felt hat with a white turban and dark coat, his face covered in black whiskers, and Sweeney, knowing it was their target, responded “That’s the man.” Johnston saw the troopers coming and bolted, Rutherford shouting “Man, man!” while gesturing towards the fugitive. The troopers switched their attention to the tiny figure hurtling over a paddock toward a mountain. Rutherford levelled his gun at the figure.
“Surrender, Johnston, and throw up your hands!”
Johnston paid no heed. Reeling off a shot, Rutherford missed his target. The police took off, Rutherford launching three more bullets in Johnston’s direction. Sweeney turned back to fetch the horses, sensing that they weren’t going to be able to catch the bushranger on foot. Roused by the gunfire, a local man named Brackenreg rode up to Thompson who commandeered Brackenreg’s horse and galloped forward. The pounding of hooves caught Johnston by surprise and he turned and ran towards the horse, possibly hoping that by doubling back he could throw the officer off his tail. When it became apparent that this was not a sound solution he doubled back again towards the mountain. In the meantime, Sweeney and Rutherford had mounted and were riding up. Sweeney presented his gun, Rutherford stating “It’s no use firing, you’ll never hit him. The man’s too far.” It was at that point that Sweeney fired his last shot which stuck true and Johnston pitched forward with his hands outstretched. He struggled back to his feet but collapsed onto his knees and elbows. With his right hand he fumbled about his body, Thompson assuming that the bushranger was searching for a revolver.
“Johnston, if you attempt to move your hands I’ll fire!” Thompson boomed from atop Brackenreg’s horse. Johnston looked up at the Constable with a pained expression:
“Thompson, I’m sorry…”
Johnston fell. The troopers took the limp body back the the house, Johnston vomiting en route and laid him out in the kitchen. By the time they reached the house Johnston had expired. The police examined the body and found that a bullet had entered his body from his right hip. On his person was a powder flask, two sovereigns, two half-sovereigns, two shillings and a sixpence, a comb, a pocket knife and a box of percussion caps.
An examination of the body was done by Jacob de Leon, on 16 August. He found that the bullet had penetrated the pelvis and ruptured the bladder and arterial vessels in the pelvic region leading to nervous shock and internal haemorrhage. After the inquiry, the jury deemed the shooting to be justifiable homicide.
“A BUSHRANGER SHOT DEAD.” The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889) 2 September 1873: 3.
“A SUPPOSED BUSHRANGER SHOT.” The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912) 23 August 1873: 239.
“INQUEST ON THE BODY OF THE BUSHRANGER JOHNSTON.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 22 August 1873: 5.
Yes, I’ve been a bad man, and I am sorry for my sins, but here in my dying bed I can swear that no woman was ever the worse for me – Harry Power
When we picture bushrangers we think of wild young men on horseback dodging police and sticking up coaches but Harry Power certainly did not fit that image. Power (alias Henry Power, Johnstone) is forever remembered as the tutor of Ned Kelly but there was a time when he could capture the imagination on his own terms.
Power was born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1819 before emigrating with his family to England during the great famine. Settling in the north of England, Harry worked in a spinning mill in Manchester. It was not long before his rebellious nature manifested.
Power received three months imprisonment for vagrancy and later did time for drunkenness. His first major offence, however, was stealing shoes which got him transported for seven years, arriving in Van Dieman’s Land on 21 May, 1842. It’s probable that Harry reunited with his mother upon gaining his freedom as she had been transported to Van Dieman’s Land for stealing chickens in 1841. Receiving his ticket of leave in November 1847, Harry soon travelled to the mainland. He worked as a stockman in New South Wales before going south and becoming a horse dealer in Geelong.
In 1855 Harry was accosted by two mounted troopers who questioned him on where he got his horse. They refused to believe that he had legitimate ownership of the animal and when he refused to go with them to the station one trooper drew his sabre and threatened him. In a panic, Power shot the trooper in the arm and fled for the border where he was arrested. He was tried for horse stealing as Henry Johnstone and on 26 September 1855 was sentenced to thirteen years despite having paperwork to prove the legitimacy of his ownership of the horse. He was sent to Williamstown where he was imprisoned on the prison ship Success.
While doing time on Success, Power was involved in a mutiny. The bushranger Captain Melville led a small group of inmates to steal the tow boat that took the launch boat from Success to shore on 22 October, 1856. During the ensuing scuffle a man named John Turner was drowned and a constable named Owen Owens was beaten to death with a rock breaking hammer. The convicts made it to shore but were soon recaptured. Harry, still as Henry Johnstone, was charged with the other seven men with two counts of murder. Only Melville was sentenced.
In the latter part of his sentence Power attempted to escape from imprisonment by trying to cut a hole in the floor of the prison hospital. Naturally he was foiled.
Power gained his ticket of leave in 1862 and headed back to Geelong where he immediately broke the conditions of his ticket and took to the diggings. He was soon back in court and in 1863 he was convicted of horse stealing in Beechworth. While in prison on that offence more charges were raised and Harry was dragged out of prison and tried again. He was found guilty of these charges, keeping him in prison for seven years. He was sent to Pentridge Prison but it would not hold him too long.
In Pentridge Harry befriended Jack Lloyd and his brother Tom. Harry would later call on them for sustenance when they were all out of gaol. He was prone to visits to the prison hospital due to a bowel stricture that could cause bouts of extreme discomfort and render him useless for labour for two to three weeks at a time.
On 16 February 1869 Power escaped from Pentridge. Having been assigned to a party clearing land by Merri Creek, Harry had made sure that he was on light duties due to his health. Entrusted with taking the refuse to the mullock heap, Power hid in a divot under the heap and when muster was called he slipped out through a gap in the wall. He acquired clothing from a nearby farm and armed himself with a crude handmade spear before stealing a horse and riding to freedom. He set up a camp on a mountain overlooking the King River Valley now known as Power’s Lookout. From here he sought support from the Lloyds and their relatives the Quinns, gradually expanding his network of sympathisers all the way out to Whitfield. Power knew that he would have to keep his sympathisers on his side and began a career of highway robbery in order to fund his supporters.
When Power robbed shanties and farms, unafraid to use violence on occasion, but this proved to be too much work for too little reward. Power now turned to highway robbery. Far from a charming highwayman, Power’s demeanour was coarse and belligerent and won him no sympathy from his victims. This sudden spate of robberies led to a big manhunt and much consternation around the colony. Power was believed to be cohabiting with a woman near Benalla at the time but nobody could find him.
In July he was spotted eyeing off horses at Mount Battery station and fired upon. With him was a young man who was probably fifteen year old Ned Kelly, a nephew of his sympathisers the Lloyds and Quinns. The owner of the station sneaked up behind the pair and fired at them causing young Kelly to momentarily freeze in terror before they mounted and escaped. Power seems to have discarded Kelly from his service after that for a time, courting others as assistants before opting to simply get on with bushranging solo.
One of Power’s most infamous robberies was near Porepunkah when he stopped a mail coach by placing logs in the road. He proceeded to take what little money he could from the travellers and attempted to deprive a young woman of her horse and saddle before sticking up a dairy cart and robbing that too. Power took one of the horses from the cart and used it to get away leaving the small group of his victims standing around a little bonfire he had made.
Power had quickly become the biggest thorn in the side of the Victoria Police and a £200 reward was offered for his capture. Power ventured into New South Wales at this time and committed a series of robberies around the Riverina. It seemed for all intents and purposes that Power was untouchable. By the end of 1869 Power had seemingly vanished with no reported sightings or leads, rendering police pursuits ineffective.
Unfortunately, Power was not invincible and his health made for a difficult time in the bush. His bowel stricture and bunions resulted in frequent clandestine visits to doctors. To alleviate the pain in his feet he would wear boots so oversized they curled at the toes. The fact that he was well into middle age wouldn’t have been much help either.
February 1870 saw Power re-emerge with a vengeance robbing everyone from stockmen to police officers. After the initial string of robberies Harry Power and Ned Kelly reunited briefly. Likely Ned, in a bid to get some money for his mother who was behind in her rent, had begged Power for another chance. Together they robbed Robert McBean, a well respected magistrate, of his watch, horse and riding gear. The duo travelled as far as Geelong where Power checked out his old haunts with Ned by his side.
When Ned was found trying to open the gates at the Moyhu pound to release impounded stock, the poundkeeper threw him out of the saddle and thrashed him. This resulted in Harry and Ned later bailing the poundkeeper up. Ned threatened to shoot the poundkeeper on the spot but Power gave him three months to get his affairs in order before he’d be shot. Shortly afterwards Ned was arrested for assisting Power. During interrogation, Kelly described Harry as irascible and with a violent temper. He also described a hollow tree Power used as a lookout point (his “watchbox”) and his habit of seeing a doctor about his stricture. Ned was bounced around the courts but the various charges never stuck and he was soon released.
At this time Jack Lloyd was detained on suspicion of highway robbery. It was believed that he had committed several of the crimes attributed to Power, which he denied. Robert McBean, still furious about his encounter with the bushranger, had remembered a statement Power had made that he could buy his watch back from Jack Lloyd for £15. McBean suggested this to the police and soon Lloyd negotiated a deal with superintendents Nicolson and Hare to turn Power in; the temptation of the reward – now £500 – proving irresistible. Lloyd took a police party, consisting of Nicolson, Hare, Sergeant Montford and a black tracker named Donald, most of the way but got spooked and left the police to find their own way up Power’s Lookout during torrential rain. Fortunately, after days without food or sleep, Donald was able to find the camp due to smoke from a campfire. They approached Power’s mia-mia as he slept and Nicolson pounced on him. Dragged out by his feet, Power was unable to resist and was promptly arrested, complaining about not having a fair chance of escape while the starving police ate his food rations.
Power was put on trial in Beechworth and promptly imprisoned in Pentridge for fifteen years. While in the gaol he became somewhat of a celebrity, being interviewed for a newspaper feature called the Vagabond Papers where he opened up about his life of roguery. He did not live quietly, frequently getting into trouble for smoking, being where he wasn’t meant to be and generally getting into mischief.
Once Power had completed his time he was released, in 1885, into a world that had left him behind. The Kelly Gang and the Moonliters had come and gone. The towns were becoming rapidly urbanised with trains and other modern conveniences. The prison ships at Williamstown were decommissioned and scrapped save for one – Success. Power now found himself in his twilight years acting as a tour guide on a craft that was once the source of much misery. Meanwhile, Power was living with his half-sister and her daughter in law. When Success went on tour in 1891 Power stayed behind to do a victory lap of the places he had known when his notoriety was fresh. Shortly after he departed, an unidentified (and unidentifiable) body was found drowned in the Murray River. Many historians have declared that this was Harry Power but without definitive proof his death remains a mystery.
“A MONTH IN PENTRIDGE NO. III” The Argus. 10 March 1877: 4.
“The Notorious Harry Power.” The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts. 19 December 1893: 3.
“HARRY POWER, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Narracoorte Herald. 13 March 1877: 4.
“A MEMORY OF HARRY POWER” The Argus. 27 June 1936: 6.
“RELEASE OF A RENOWNED BUSHRANGER.” The Herald. 9 February 1885: 2.
“Ned Kelly’s Tutor.” The World’s News. 26 December 1925: 8.