To say 2022 has been a roller-coaster of a year would be understating things. For Australian Bushranging it has been yet another big one with book releases and talking events, as well all the usual stuff that rolls out on this website and social media.
The first book release of the year from Australian Bushranging was Georgina Stones’ Ah Nam. The book tells the story of Joe Byrne as a teenager, hired to escort a Chinese man back to Sebastopol and the misadventures along the way.
The first part of the book tells the story as a narrative, complete with original illustrations. This is followed by essays and source documents that explain the historical basis of the story. Stones not only uses the story as a vehicle to depict an interesting and important event in the early life of the future outlaw, but also to give a more humanised depiction of the Chinese and the prostitutes of Beechworth, who are frequently overlooked in standard history books.
This is the first Australian Bushranging book to be distributed by IngramSpark, which makes it a lot more cost effective on both ends, and allows readers outside of Australia to have access without the outrageous cost of postage.
Glenrowan: Definitive Edition
The second book release of the year was a new, revised edition of Glenrowan. At almost 600 pages, it has a bit of heft to it. The revised text includes passages omitted from the first edition due to the extra printing cost, as well as new illustrations and supplementary material.
The new cover design replaces the original Matthew Holmes one to draw more of a distinction between the two by focusing on the central figure of the story rather than the more abstract image of the armour.
For those who may have missed the first edition in 2020, Glenrowan tells the story of the final months of the Kelly Gang, centred around their last battle at Glenrowan. It takes historical events and figures and uses the dramatised narrative to fill in the gaps in the historical record in a way that humanises the characters and makes the situations more relatable for readers in the modern day.
Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata
This year’s second Australian Bushranging book release was Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata, a biography of the man whose death sealed the film of the Kelly Gang. Though not an exhaustive account, it it the first time a book has focused on Sherritt rather than frame him only in relation to Ned Kelly or Joe Byrne.
The book launch for Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata was held at the El Dorado Museum, which is right in the heart of the region Sherritt was raised in and lived out his short life. The building itself is the former common school where Aaron and Joe Byrne had stolen a cow that they then slaughtered and butchered. Some of those in attendance were Sherritt descendants, and a presentation was given that looked at how Sherritt had been portrayed over time versus how he actually was according to history.
William Westwood: In His Own Words
The third Australian Bushranging release for the year was a collection of autobiographical writings by bushranger William Westwood. The anthology of memoirs and letters also includes a short biography in the introduction for comparison with the main text, as well as contemporary news articles for context.
There are few extant memoirs by bushrangers, and though Westwood’s have been published elsewhere, this text connects them in a way that allows the reader to get a more full, chronological perspective on the writing. There will be future releases from Australian Bushranging that are similar, but none have been announced as yet.
Bushranging Tales Volume One
The final release from Australian Bushranging in 2022 was Bushranging Tales Volume One.
Written as a fifth anniversary commemoration for A Guide to Australian Bushranging, the book consists of short stories depicting real bushranging events as well as biographies and archival material. Included in the volume are stories about Michael Howe, Matthew Brady, Martin Cash, Daniel Morgan, Johnny Gilbert, Harry Power, Captain Thunderbolt, Captain Moonlite and Ned Kelly.
There has been an awful lot going on in the world of bushrangers and the Bushranging Gazette has kept abreast of it all. Here are five of the biggest stories from 2022.
1. Books Galore!
2022 has seen a huge influx of books about bushranging and Australian history. Here are the most notable releases from 2022 that feature bushrangers:
2. End of an Era at Glenrowan
Chris and Rod Gerrett, who owned and operated Kate’s Cottage in Glenrowan for more than thirty-five years have called it a day and handed the reins over to new owners, Doug and Michelle Coad.
The shop, which includes a small museum and replica of the Kelly family’s house at Greta, has been a mainstay of Glenrowan and is located a stone’s throw from the Big Ned statue. Thousands of visitors have enjoyed the attraction, and since taking over Doug and Michelle have revitalised the attraction.
The replica cottage had been engulfed by creeper vines, which Doug Coad says was “six tonnes” worth when they cleared it all off to reveal the struggling building underneath. Since then the work to undo the decades of neglect has been ongoing: repairing the roof, re-papering the interior walls, restoring the clothes on display in the rooms, cleaning up the blacksmith shop where blacksmithing demonstrations are now held, as well as acquiring new display cabinets for the museum and putting some objects on display for the first time since they were added to the museum’s collection three decades earlier.
Currently the outside of the gift shop is undergoing a transformation too, with rendering being applied in preparation for new murals to be painted on in February of 2023. It is fair to say this staple attraction in Kelly Country has had a major glow-up.
One of the most significant episodes in bushranging history was Frank Gardiner’s heist on the Orange gold escort at Eugowra Rocks. On 15 June 1862 Gardiner and a gang of bushrangers ambushed the gold escort after blocking the road with bullock drays. In the attack two police officers were shot and injured, but the troopers and the coach driver managed to escape alive.
It was estimated that the gang got away with around £4000 in gold and cash from the escort, making it one of the biggest gold heists in Australia’s history.
Natural disasters continued to devastate bushranger country in 2022, however this time instead of fire it was floods. Flash flooding wreaked havoc in parts of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania leaving many people displaced, livestock and crops destroyed and many other knock-on effects that will be felt well into 2023 and beyond.
As of December 2022, the estimated damage costs are in the billions, with the disasters not only interrupting transportation of goods but dramatically impacting the supply of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables and grain.
2022 saw a number of exhibitions and special events on around the country themed around bushrangers.
From February to June Heide MOMA hosted a special exhibition of Sidney Nolan’s artwork, including many of his Ned Kelly paintings.
In March a short season of Matthew Ryan’s play Kelly was performed at La Mama Theatre.
In May Narryna in Battery Point hosted a talk about the bushranger letter in their collection.
In July, Rebecca Wilson exhibited her Kelly paintings at the Parkes library.
In Jerilderie a new exhibition titled Doing the Bolt was opened, depicting the lives of bushrangers, convicts, and rebels, housed in the old printery building.
At the National Art School, formerly Darlinghurst Gaol, an exhibition titled Captivate opened in September and included paintings by Frank Pearson, formerly the bushranger known as Captain Starlight.
In October the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery opened the exhibition Jingo was Born in the Slum featuring photography by Matthew Thorne from the making of True History of the Kelly Gang, as well as some of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings.
Later in October Jacqui Stockdale launched an exhibition of her work inspired by the animated theatre at Glenrowan, titled The Outlaws’ Inn.
Finally, December saw the launch of the Crime Time TV exhibition at Geelong Gaol, which includes memorabilia from film and television about crime, including some about bushrangers.
Alan Crichton: In July the Kelly world bid farewell to Alan Crichton, a prominent and outspoken member of the community and author. Crichton had been a frequent contributor to the Ironoutlaw website, writing for a series called Keep Ya Powder Dry. Crichton, a noted poet, published a book of verse about the Kelly Gang titled Bound for Judgement, as well as presenting at several events including the Greta Heritage Weekend. He also penned a novel set in Kelly Country entitled Far Beyond the Falls that entwines aspects of the Kelly story into its narrative.
Jack Charles: Veteran actor and Aboriginal activist Jack Charles passed away on 13 September following a stroke. Uncle Jack was a Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta man who was part of the stolen generations, co-founded Australia’s first Aboriginal-led theatre group in Melbourne in 1971, and overcame periods of homelessness and drug addiction to become one of the most valued and respected elders. Uncle Jack will be familiar to fans of bushranger stories on screen, having portrayed Billy Dargin in the 1970s Ben Hall television series, appeared as Harry Edwards in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and latterly cameoing in True History of the Kelly Gang as a waiter. He leaves behind a proud legacy on stage and screen as well as his important role in the indigenous community as an Elder and activist.
Tommy Dysart: Scottish-Australian actor Tommy Dysart may remembered from brief appearances in Ben Hall and The Last Outlaw or as the mysterious wizard in the Glenrowan animated theatre. Dysart had a long and varied career in film and television, but was most beloved for his appearances in advertisements for the Yellow Pages phone directory and Don Smallgoods.
Australian Bushranging on Social Media
One of the most popular posts on the A Guide to Australian Bushranging Facebook page this year was this post from 21 January:
Few sidearms are as common in the armoury of the bushrangers as the pepperbox revolver, so named because of its resemblance to a pepper grinder. From the 1840s through to the 1870s this weapon was a standard piece of the kit of bush bandits. In later years, as Colt revolvers became more commonplace in Australia, the humble pepperbox took a backseat to the pocket Colt and the Colt Navy.
Other popular posts included this photo of the new replica suit of Ned Kelly armour at Kate’s Cottage, and a repost of the link to the article The Gilbert-Hall Gang: An Overview. The metadata indicates that the most popular content on the page was images related to either Ben Hall or Ned Kelly. As seems to be the trend over the past couple of years, posts with links to the articles on the website had far less reach and therefore far less interaction. Facebook’s tendency to throttle any posts that take users away from the app or site continues to stifle many content creators and pages that rely on Facebook in some capacity as a platform to promote their website, YouTube channel or business.
On Instagram the five most popular posts in 2022 were:
The Grave of Joe Byrne (04/11/22)
An empty block of land (04/11/22)
Ned Kelly Waxwork (12/11/22)
The Ned Kelly Death Mask (04/02/22)
Russell Crowe as Harry Power (05/12/22)
Again, Ned Kelly related content seems to be the winner on Instagram, accounting for the entire top five and eight of the top ten posts of the year.
There was far less content on the A Guide to Australian Bushranging YouTube channel this year owing to time constraints, however a guided tour through Glenrowan did make it. Going forward, there will be more video content, though nothing specific has been planned yet for 2023.
Victorian Bushrangers at Old Geelong Gaol
On 7 August, A Guide to Australian Bushranging‘s Aidan Phelan gave a presentation at the Old Geelong Gaol about Victorian bushrangers. The talk ranged from an introduction to bushrangers to the lives and careers of several notable Victorian outlaws.
Among the stories told during the presentation were those of Bradley and O’Connor, Captain Melville, Harry Power and Thomas Menard. Menard has a special connection to the gaol as he was hanged there for murder and was buried in the grounds.
The event was well received and the venue proved to be suitably atmospheric, with replicas of the death masks of Thomas Menard, Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite adding to the effect.
Features on A Guide to Australian Bushranging in 2022
There were scores of items published on A Guide to Australian Bushranging in 2022, but you may have missed some of the key feature articles from this year. Here is a list of the features that rolled out over the course of the year, with links so that you can catch up on any you missed.
Thomas Jeffries: An Overview — A short biography of Tasmanian bushranger Thomas Jeffries, infamous for his acts of infanticide and cannibalism.
Bushranging and our Police System — A twelve part series of articles published anonymously by a New South Wales trooper, in which he reflects on the police force and his role in the pursuit of the Clarkes and Connells around the Braidwood district. First published in 1867, many names were censored to avoid causing legal issues and potential reprisals.
And with that we conclude 2022. As can be seen it has been a big year, but 2023 looks to be every bit as big. So from A Guide to Australian Bushranging to you have a happy and safe new year, and we look forward to seeing you again.
Heavy rains in October have resulted in floods that continue to affect many communities in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Over the coming weeks the full extent of the damage will become clearer, but there has already been mass loss of livestock and property, damage to homes and roads, as well as damage to the natural environment in the affected regions.
Many of the worst floods are in “bushranger country”, notably around Forbes and surrounds in New South Wales, Deloraine in Tasmania where locals are experiencing the worst floods in living memory, and “Kelly Country” in Victoria, particularly around Seymour. There is no doubt that there will have been damage to places of significance where bushranger history is concerned, and possibly buildings and items of historical significance have been damaged or destroyed.
Even as the flooding was first unfolding, efforts were being made to help these communities get back on their feet. A number of charities have established funds for this purpose. With more flash flooding predicted for New South Wales and northern Victoria, including places like Tumut and Gundagai, there is still much to endure before a clean-up effort can be launched in earnest.
Braidwood historian Judy Lawson has launched an online petition in a bid to gain support for her push to have the signs related to the Clarke story in the district updated to reflect a more nuanced and historically accurate take on the story.
Lawson argues that the current signs are too unambiguous and portray a skewed version of events that place the Clarkes and their relatives as murderers and thieves, despite many of these charges never having been laid against them in life, nor any conviction secured for many of the ones that were.
In particular, Lawson posits, the claim that Tommy Clarke and his gang ambushed and murdered a party of Special Constables near Jinden should be retracted as there is no clear or definitive evidence to back it up. This is the central conceit of her book The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures, in which she outlines and discusses the evidence that does exist and the alternative explanations for the crime.
Retired marketing man John Donohoe has written a book about Frederick Wordsworth Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt, entitled, Captain Thunderbolt’s Folly – The Day the Gentleman Bushranger Got Himself Killed. The book will cover the events that led to the death of Frederick Ward, and Donohoe indicates he will cover ground rarely trodden.
Much like my book about Ben Hall, I have got a barrow to push. I have certain chapters where I deal with controversies that haven’t been dealt with before.
The book will attempt to explain how Thunderbolt, a renowned horseman, could have ended his career and his life in a horseback chase.
Donohoe is no stranger to the subject of bushrangers, having published the books Ben Hall’s Treasure: The Search for Bushranger Loot in 2014, and Ben Hall’s Last Days: The End of the Road for Australia’s Greatest Bushranger in 2016. After a career in marketing for chemical industries, Donohoe kindled a passion for Australian history that led to authoring books on the subject.
Captain Thunderbolt’s Folly is slated for a November 2022 release.
Work on the Glenrowan viewing tower continues, with the multi-million dollar project beginning to take shape. Despite protests from Joanne Griffiths, a descendant of Ned Kelly’s younger sister Grace, that the tower was violating the heritage precinct, the project has continued unabated.
The tower will overlook the site of the Glenrowan siege, where police fought the Kelly Gang in 1880, enabling visitors to get a more detailed understanding of how the siege unfolded and where key landmarks fit into the current landscape.
Additionally, plans to build a new bridge over the train line at Glenrowan are set to continue despite locals furious at the potential impact to local businesses and the damage it will cause to the siege site. Based on the current previsualisations on display at the temporary ARTC office in Glenrowan, the new bridge will be built next to the existing bridge, which will be demolished, and will extend from the rear of the Kellyland Glenrowan animated theatre and museum to approximately halfway alongside the site of the Glenrowan Inn. This will result in dramatic changes to road access and requires alterations to the Woolshed Road. Work on the bridge has not yet begun.
Benalla-raised artist Jacqui Stockdale has launched a new exhibition at the Benalla art gallery that she has called The Outlaws’ Inn, which features her heavily stylised multimedia artwork inspired by the Kelly family.
Having launched on 28 October, on 5 November 2022 the exhibition will be complemented with a performance including “a cast of teenage hooligans […] signing in Auslan” and a dance-off, Stockdale’s newest exhibition, a sequel to ger 2020 take on the Kellys, The Long Shot, is intended as something of a parody of the animated theatre in Glenrowan.
The Outlaws’ Inn will be in the Simpson Gallery at Benalla Art Gallery until 29 January 2023.
Hanging Ned Kelly by Michael Adams: When it came time to hang Ned Kelly, the job fell to crap-carrier-turned-quack-doctor-turned-drunken-chicken-thief Elijah Upjohn. Such is life indeed. Hanging Ned Kelly looks at the life and times, crimes and demise of Australia’s most famous antihero from a new perspective: that of the ‘rogue and vagabond’ who finally put the noose around his neck. Elijah Upjohn was the latest in a long line of flogging hangmen allowed to run amok because they’d do the dirty work that let officials keep their hands clean. Despite being duly appointed ‘finishers of the law’, Upjohn and his fellow boozing bunglers were so hated they were hunted by angry mobs. As one writer asked: ‘Who shall hang the hangman?’ In Hanging Ned Kelly, Elijah Upjohn’s tale becomes the rusty scalpel that slices open the underbelly of colonial Victoria. Written by Michael Adams, creator of the acclaimed podcast Forgotten Australia, this is an odyssey into an infernal underworld seething with serial killers, clueless cops, larrikin vigilantes, renegade reporters, racist settlers, furious fallen women and cunning waxworks showmen. Looming over them all: the depraved hangmen paid to execute convicted men and women – some of them innocent or unfairly condemned – in Melbourne before it was marvellous.
Justice in Kelly Country by Lachlan Strachan: Part way through the Jerilderie Letter, Ned Kelly accused Senior Constable Anthony Strahan of threatening him: ‘he would not ask me to stand he would shoot me first like a dog’. Those few fateful words have echoed through Australian history as the cause of much bloodshed and violence. They marked Anthony forever and ushered in a national myth: the legend of the Kelly Gang. Two days after Anthony allegedly made this threat, Ned and his gang shot dead several police in an act of brutality that became known as the Stringybark Creek killings. Ned’s reason for opening fire? He said he had mistaken one cop for Strahan. Lachlan Strahan, Anthony’s great-great-grandson, grew up with the familiar story of Ned Kelly, the egalitarian rebel, and his ancestor as the villainous cop who had threatened him. Yet as he began to probe into Anthony’s life, he discovered that the truth — and the Kelly legend it has given rise to — was more complex than he believed. Anthony Strahan was a boy from County Kildare who joined the Victoria Police and embodied the thin blue line of law and order in the bush for nearly thirty-five years. He was also possessed of a fiery temper and a desire for justice, and was a major player in the hunt for Ned Kelly, though never recognised for it. Did he utter those incendiary words about Ned? Whose version of history do we believe? This is a tale about law enforcement — about justice and retribution, character and morality. It is also about making a life against the odds in a wild frontier society, race relations, intergenerational shame and anger. Readers will learn more about the Kelly Gang, the Wooragee Outrage, Saucy Jack, a game called Swindle, the Pender Affair and many other criminals, some petty and some villainous. They will strap in for a damn good ride.
Too Young to Hold a Gun by Peter Spencer: Too Young to Hold a Gun is a true story written in the form of a historical novel. It tells the tale of a long-time resident of Howell, William Monckton and his mentor Frederick Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. [It relates] the story of William Monckton through his eyes and from his perspective, taking into consideration his age at the time, and the era in which he lived. This fictionalised account reveals firsthand the hardships of life on the run and the challenges of returning to community life after serving time as a convicted felon. It is really two stories running alongside each other, as he often reminisces about the time he was Thunderbolt’s Apprentice. It has often been said that truth is stranger than fiction.
William Westwood: In His Own Words edited by Aidan Phelan: William Westwood was only sixteen when he was transported from Essex as a convict for stealing a coat. After landing in New South Wales and being assigned to a cruel master who would have him flogged at any opportunity, he decided that he would reclaim his freedom by any means necessary. Years later, as an inmate on Norfolk Island, a place known as the Isle of Despair, William Westwood immortalised his life in written word, and it is reproduced here in full, along with transcriptions of his letters. Contemporary news reports and a collection of images help to fill the gaps and more fully immerse the reader in the world of the notorious “Jackey Jackey”.
Scottish-Australian actor Tommy Dysart has passed away. Some bushranger enthusiasts may remember him from brief appearances in Ben Hall and The Last Outlaw or as the mysterious wizard in the Glenrowan animated theatre.
Dysart had a long and varied career in film and television, but was most beloved for his appearances in advertisements for the Yellow Pages phone directory and Don Smallgoods.
Rebecca Wilson, painter and author of the recent Kate Kelly book, is exhibiting her work this month. The exhibition will be hosted at the Parkes Library on 15 July, Wilson will be doing a talk for the opening night event on Monday 4 July. Admission to the talk is a gold coin donation with RSVP required in advance for catering purposes Entry to see the exhibition is free.
Eliza Reilly, author of Sheilas: Badass Women of Australian History, has made her views on Ned Kelly abundantly clear in a piece for The Sydney Morning Herald and in an interview on ABC Radio. Her dismal assessment of Ned as a “tin-hat weirdo” whose story has been done to death extends to those who have a fascination with him. In her opinion piece, Reilly states that a more important historical figure is Grace Tame who she refers to as a “Rebel, game changer, outlaw. This sheila is the real deal.”
The Yarrawonga Chronicle published a piece this month about a reputed link between the Kelly Gang and the Jones family at Mulwala.
The article explains that as the story goes the bushrangers visited Mary Jones’ saloon near Mulwala cemetery while on their way to Jerilderie. They bought drinks and chaff and miraculously avoided detection by the police. They also reputedly met Mrs. Jones’ daughter the next day and Ned yelled at Steve for frightening the girl after he tried to steal her horse.
Glenrowan, Definitive Edition, launched on 28 June in conjunction with the anniversary of the Glenrowan siege. The new version of the book includes revised and expanded text, new illustrations and bonus material, bringing the page count to just under six hundred.
Punishment hood: In the mid to late colonial period prisoners were often made to wear hoods that covered their face to prevent other inmates from recognising them. This was combined with absolute silence, being housed in individual cells, and restricted exercise and labour to force the prisoners to be trapped with their conscience and contemplate the error of their ways. Prisoners were made to communicate with warders using sign language, and often times the corridors would be carpeted to muffle the sound of the warders footsteps. In more extreme cases, such as seen at the Port Arthur separate prison, the isolation and silence induced madness. This example is on display at Old Melbourne Gaol.
Chris and Rod Gerrett, who have owned and operated Kate’s Cottage in Glenrowan for more than thirty-five years are calling it a day and handing the reins over to new owners.
The shop, which includes a small museum and replica of the Kelly family’s house at Greta, has been a mainstay of Glenrowan and is located a stone’s throw from the Big Ned statue. Thousands of visitors have enjoyed the attraction, and hopefully will continue to do so under its new proprietors, Michelle Coad & Douglas Stoneman, for many years to come.
Representatives for the defunct Ned Kelly Vault took to Facebook to eulogise the end of an era.
Chris and Rod will be greatly missed by many making the pilgrimage up and down the Hume. It really is the end of an era! We wish them every happiness in their retirement.
At Narryna, the 1830s merchant’s house at Battery Point in Tasmania, a special presentation will be held on May 5th titled “The Bushranger Letter”. The details are being kept under wraps, but the event is being promoted as an evening of “storytelling and facts”.
Secrets of the collection Narryna presents our Secrets of the Collection series. We will be hosting a series of talks on items that are normally hidden away behind the doors of Narryna. The first one is on the curious story of ‘The Bushranger’s Letter’.
Official Press Release
The event will run from 6:00pm until 8:00pm. Tickets start at $10 and include entry to the museum; bookings preferred.
Films have had a hard time during the pandemic due to audiences not being able to visit cinemas, and Australia’s already embattled offerings have struggled. So it was with Leah Purcell’s feature film The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, a historical epic inspired by Henry Lawson’s short story The Drover’s Wife, which depicts the hardships of pioneer women who were left behind while their husbands would travel on musters.
Leah Purcell has previously adapted the reimagined story into a stage play, which was then adapted by her into a novel. It greatly expands on the Lawson text by weaving in a troubled pregnancy, murder, fugitives and emphasis on the relationship between whites and Aboriginals.
Originally slated for a 2021 release to coincide with Purcell’s novel, the pandemic saw the film, which has had a positive reception at festivals and in early reviews, pushed back until this year. In April Leah Purcell was awarded the Chauvel award at the Gold Coast Film Festival’s Screen Industry Gala Awards.
The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson will hit Australian cinemas on 5 May.
Thomas Jeffries at George Town
…So I had the pleasure of seeing my lads go to Port Macquarie, while the choice was given to me to come here on the Derwent. This I chose and to my sorrow I landed at George Town…
Thomas Jeffries, 1826
While stationed at the George Town convict barracks in 1822, Thomas Jeffries (or Jeffrey) gained the rank of constable. This gave him a level of authority over other convicts and he would later brag that there were no men under his watch that were flogged or had escaped.
His time as constable came to a dramatic end after he tried to stab the chief constable in a drunken rage upon being caught attempting to chip through a wall with a pickaxe.
He was stripped of his privileges and sentenced to be sent to Macquarie Harbour, but instead was placed on a work party, from which he absconded in June 1825.
Escapes at Eaglehawk Neck
Many prisoners attempted escape from Port Arthur, but not many succeeded — and most who made it as far as Eaglehawk Neck were soon found naked, starving and hopelessly lost only days later. The isthmus connected the Tasman Peninsula to the Forestier Peninsula, which in turn connected to the Tasmanian mainland. Across the breadth of Eaglehawk Neck was a line of dogs that were chained to their kennels and illuminated at night by lamps. The dogs had such fun names as Caesar, Ajax, Achilles, Ugly Mug, Jowler, Tear’em and Muzzle’em. They were kept tethered close enough that their noses almost touched, so that nobody could pass between. The area under the lamps were covered in white shells to increase the visibility of the dogline.
On one side of the neck is Eaglehawk Bay, which is a much narrower corridor where the dogline extended onto a pair of wooden pontoons in the water. On the opposite side is Pirates Bay, thus named for its connection to a gang of convict bolters who stole a schooner, that included Bob Greenhill and Matthew Travers who would later escape from Macquarie Harbour with Alexander Pearce.
This is also where Martin Cash tried to escape a second time, accompanied by Lawrence Kavanagh and George Jones on Boxing Day 1842. After escaping from their jobs at the quarry at Port Arthur, they hid in the bush for three days before continuing to Eaglehawk Neck. They stripped nude and deliberately swam across on the opposite side of the isthmus to where dogs had been stationed on pontoons. They lost their bundles in the waves and had to continue through the bush naked and unarmed, until they found a hut for a convict work party where they got clothes, supplies and weapons.
On 28 December 1852 Andrew Kelly and James Dalton managed to survive the swim across the neck. Four fellow escapees, however, either drowned or were taken by sharks. The pair continued on, acquiring a shotgun from a man named Reardon then continued to Prosser’s Plains (Buckland). They would subsequently manage to move through Tasmania, bushranging along the way, then pirate their way across Bass Strait only to be apprehended in Melbourne.
Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1881, page 1
THE POLICE COMMISSION AT GRETA.
[BY OUR SPECIAL REPORTER.]
The royal commission appointed to inquire into the working of the police department concluded their task of taking evidence at Benalla on Friday night. On the following morning an early start was made for Greta, the party being conveyed in three two-horse waggonettes. The morning being fine, the drive proved a most enjoyable one. We drove over a tolerably good bush road to the north of Winton, and did not stop until we arrived in the locality of Seven-mile Creek, in front of the land occupied by Mrs. Kelly, the mother of the deceased out-laws. It is an allotment of 68 acres, pleasantly situated on a well grassed flat, the Warby ranges rising not far off in the back-ground. Immediately fronting the road are the ruins of a slab shanty that at one time did duty us an unlicensed bush public house. Within the larger enclosure a small plot of ground is securely fenced, and is carefully cultivated as a kitchen garden. This appears to be the only cultivation going on. The house in which the Kelly family live is a slab hut of small dimensions. It is roughly built, but, like thousands of its class, it is well calculated to afford all the shelter and convenience required by its bush occupants. In front of the door a domesticated kangaroo was browsing ; a few fowls, a cow and a horse in the distance, appeared to be all the livestock on the ground.
Mr. Graves and Mr. Anderson went to the house and knocked at the door. Their summons was answered by Mrs. Kelly, who has been liberated from gaol for some eight weeks. They told her that they had called to ask her if she or any members of her family wished to make any statement to the commission, as they were quite prepared to hear their complaints if they had any to make. They told her that it had come to their knowledge that the female members of the family had complained of the conduct of the police, and if they desired to prefer any such complaint the commission would hear it. Mrs. Kelly replied that her daughters, Grace and Kate, would tell the commission how they had been treated. After some delay Grace came forward, but owing to an awkward shyness, not unnatural to a girl of 14 in her station of life, she was unable to make any statement. Mr. Longmore and Mr. Graves went into the hut and endeavored to put the girl at her ease. Her mother asked her to relate what Ned Kelly had told her as his last request to repeat to the authorities. The girl, then, after some hesitation, said that Inspector Brook Smith had dragged her and her sister out of their beds and made them go before them (the police), while they searched the place, their object being, to protect themselves against any sudden onslaught of the bushrangers. She further stated that Inspector Brook Smith had wantonly upset dishes of milk, a bag of flour, and had torn down the wall paper without reason or provocation. Mr. Longmore then asked the mother if any of the police had made improper overtures to any of her daughters, and was answered in the negative. Grace further said that Detective Ward had threatened to shoot her if she did not tell where her brothers were. Some words passed as to the question of Mrs. Kelly selling out. She stated that she would be willing to sell out and go to another district, but there was some difficulty about the title. The interview closed, and the two commissioners retired. There are some very young children about the premises, the offspring of Mrs. Kelly. Grace Kelly is not a prepossessing girl, though her sister Kate is said to be tolerably good looking. Mrs. Kelly is a woman who might very well pass for 40, and if she were well dressed, for even less. Her hair is jet black : she has a good color, regular features and by no means a bad figure. There is, notwithstanding, a restless and furtive movement in her dark and somewhat small eyes, and a worn expression creases her face at intervals, showing that the calamities that have overtaken her have left their shadows of sorrow. Kate Kelly, who was said to be in the house, did not make her appearance.
Before leaving this part of the sketch it is advisable to say a word or two about the position of the allotment held by Mrs. Kelly. If it was not chosen for its many advantages, it has happened that good fortune gave the late outlaws a situation that was admirably suited to serve the purposes of their vocation. They had an allotment on a flat piece of land where they could watch the approach of anyone coming ; they were within a few minutes’ ride of two intricate and almost inaccessible ranges of hills; they could reach the hills after a short ride, going to almost any point of the compass ; they had all the back country on which to operate, and for a market they had New South Wales to reach, which was only a long day’s ride ; they were within easy riding distance of Mansfield, Myrtleford, Everton, Beechworth, Wangaratta, Glenrowan, Benalla, Violet Town, Euroa, Longwood, Avenel and Mangalore. These advantages were used with perhaps as much skill as could be employed by any set of uncultivated bushmen. This Alpine country, with its rugged and inaccessible hills, intricate ranges, its numerous caves and its many swamps, may at any time become the retreat of a class of criminals who either wish to escape from the officers of the law or to lead lives of open lawlessness. The commission left Mrs. Kelly’s selection and drove on through what is known as the Gap to Greta. This place can hardly be called a village. It has one public house, a store, and one or two other places of business. There are four mounted constables stationed here.
After a short stay the commission drove on towards Glenrowan, leaving the long Greta swamp on the right hand at some distance from the road. It has been settled now beyond a doubt that the outlaws spent many months of undisturbed repose in the quiet retreats afforded by the islands in this swamp. The tall reeds make it impossible to see men at any distance beyond a few yards. In some places a horse can travel without being seen until you actually come upon it. The gang acted upon the plan of never remaining twenty-four hours in the same place, and whenever they were seen by accident they put long distances between the place where they were observed and their next resting-place. They had no horses with them ; they were always left with friends or blood relations. They slept by day and travelled by night. Although they changed their quarters frequently, there can be no doubt they spent the major part of their eighteen months’ liberty within six hours’ ride of Greta. They changed from the ranges to the swamps, and vice versa. The advantages of this plan were obvious enough. They were near their faithful blood relations, without whose assistance and information they could not have lived, and they were in a country every intricate nook of which they were familiarly acquainted with. Many and many a night the members of the Kelly family turned out from the several places where they assembled, and, with their half-dozen dogs, dislodged the police who were lying in ambush under cover near their houses. Of course they never made themselves offensive to the police, but they came upon them, chaffed them, and allowed that they knew perfectly well where they were. This made further watching for the time futile. In the matter of search, again, it is well known that the gang had better opportunities for watching the police than the police had for searching after them. In addition to their being advised of every movement of the police, Ned Kelly always carried a powerful field glass. On one occasion when Mr. Hare and his party were in the Glenrowan Ranges, Ned and his men were on the opposite slopes. The police could never tell at a long distance what men they might be looking at, but the bushrangers could always make a very shrewd guess as to whether men they saw were police or not.
The party arrived at Glenrowan station at a tolerably early hour in the day. The primary object of the visit was to ascertain if Mr. O’Connor had any special qualifications entitling him to be promoted over the heads of several deserving officers in the force, who have striven hard for several years to distinguish themselves. The commission were advised that if Mr. O’Connor were promoted or appointed over the heads of other Victorian officers it would create intense jealousy and dissatisfaction, even if the effect were not the demoralisation of the force. It has been pointed out that Sergeant Steele, Sergeant Whelan, Senior-constable Kelly and other sub-officers distinguished themselves, and that the effect of placing a stranger over their heads would have a most dispiriting effect, unless the person so appointed had special qualifications of such a character that all the sub-officers would have to admit his superior claims. The immediate object of the commission was to solve this question. Though some evidence was taken, the major portion of the work done was to go over the scene of the contest, and by a series of observations and questions fight the battle over again. The more the plan of the gang is examined the more is its diabolical cunning and cruelty seen. The soundness of Kelly’s judgment in going to the station at all may be questioned. Had the gang remained in ambush at the point where they intended to wreck the train, made prisoners of all they saw, and cut the line themselves, the success of their scheme was almost certain. Just before the curved embankment, over which the train was to have been wrecked, is reached, a curved cutting has to be passed through, and even the precaution of using the pilot engine would not have saved the party. The pilot only ran about two yards ahead of the police train, and as the curve in the line would have hidden the lights of the pilot from view the rear train would have been too near to the scene of the first accident to be able to pull up when the disaster was discovered. Both engines would have shot over the bank, one after the other. The mode adopted by Mr. Curnow in warning the police of this awful trap was as clever as it was brave. To avoid being seen by the gang, he went some distance along the line, and, before displaying the light, he got down a deep cutting through which the train had to pass. According to the evidence of Reardon, a platelayer, as given on Saturday, as soon as Kelly heard the train stop in the distance, he remarked at once, “This is that —— Curnow’s work.” Mr. Hare pointed out on Saturday the exact spot on which he stood when he was shot by Ned Kelly — within a few yards of the point of the house. Mr. Hare passed through the wicket-gate on the side of the railway, and being the first on the ground, became a conspicuous object for the gang to fire at. From that moment the fight became a work of earnestness. Senior-sergeant Kelly took up the work, and carried it on with energy till Mr. Sadleir came from Benalla. The trench in which Mr. O’Connor stood was examined, and found to be quite up to the terse description of a constable on the previous day, “a safe place!” At the same time it is only fair to say that the position commanded the front of the house. The plan of attack proves, on examination, to be a gross mistake. The surrounding of the house by a cordon of police, all of whom were allowed to carry on independent file firing, was an error of judgment, as the firing to the centre involved the necessity of the police practically firing at one another. How they all escaped is a miracle. The corrugated plates of the roof of the hotel are lying about in all directions, and there is not one of them that is not riddled with shot, showing that the firing must have been “high.” The relic-mongers have cut away parts of the fence and niches out of the trees to get the bullets, while they have neglected the riddled iron plates of the roof. The evidence given on Saturday went to confirm previous evidence, and showed clearly that the men, after receiving a general order to surround the house, were left to their own devices. Sergeant Steele pointed out the tree from which he started to attack Ned Kelly alone, and before he was joined by his comrades. He also showed the place where the outlaw fell after being shot in the groin by him (Steele).
After examining the site of the fight thoroughly, the commission proceeded to examine witnesses. Mounted-constable Wm. Canny was examined, but his evidence was not of much importance. James Reardon, a railway laborer, described how he had been imprisoned on the Sunday by the outlaws, and how he was obliged to take part in breaking up the line with a man named Sullivan. At that time Kelly said he had shot a lot of police at Beechworth, and threatened to shoot witness if he did not do as he was told. He (witness) said Hart was drunk on Sunday. The others refused drinks several times, though they were under the influence of drink to some extent. Towards the evening they got more sober. There was no chance of escape from the hotel, Mrs. Jones insisted on their remaining in the hotel after Dan Kelly said they might go. He (witness), with others, made three attempts to escape, but was driven back each time by the volleys fired. It was very hot, and any one would have said so if they had been there. When he made the third attempt he went towards the railway, and was challenged by someone in the trench, who said, “Who goes there?” He answered, “A lot of women and children.” Immediately after a volley came from the trench, and he ran back towards a place occupied by Mr. Sadleir, who told him to lie down on the ground, and he did so. He did not hear the police call out to the prisoners to come out till half-past nine. Three or four hours before that the outlaws were willing that they should go out. At one time they held up a white handkerchief to the window as a sign of truce, so that the prisoners might get out. Immediately three bullet holes were made in the handkerchief. The women attempted to get out but were driven back. Sergeant Steele fired at his wife, who had a child in her care. Her dress and the dresses of several of the women were torn with shots. Constable Arthur threatened to shoot Sergeant Steele if he fired at his (witness’s) wife again. On one occasion one of the police called out, “Cease firing,” and Constable Dwyer said, “Let us polish this lot off first.” Sergeant Steele shot his son as he was attempting to escape with his little brother. He had to turn back into the hotel. He had the bullet in his breast now. On the evening before the fight Mrs. Jones led off the dance and gave her boy 6d. to sing the Wild Colonial Boy. It is only just to Sergeant Steele to say that he stated that he saw a young man coming out in the dawn of the morning on his hands and knees. He challenged him, and told him to hold up his hands. When he did not obey he (Steele) fired at him. The lad is evidently broken down in consequence of the shot. He has never worked since. The commission returned to town by the last train.
TUESDAY, 17th MAY, The sittings of the Police Commission were resumed, there being present Messrs. Longmore (in the chair), Fincham, Graves, Hall, Gibb, Anderson and Dixon. Mr. O’Connor said he wished to call the attention of the board to the great injustice which had been done him by the publication of a paragraph in The Age on the previous day. In that paragraph it was alleged that the object of the board was to inquire into his fitness for the position which the Government proposed to appoint him. Under the circumstances he felt it to be his duty to ask the commission if they had given authority for the paragraph alluded to. Mr. Graves replied that he simply answered the question out of courtesy. He knew nothing about the paragraph. Mr. Hall remarked that he had replied to the interrogations of the members of the press to the effect that so far as he knew the visit of the board was made to the country respecting the conduct of O’Connor, and the appointment it was proposed to give him. He believed that was so, as the inquiry was confined to that point. Mr. O’Connor said he still must say that he felt that a great injustice had been done him, and that the statements made in the paragraph were perfectly unjustifiable, because the evidence that had been taken showed that he left the station with Mr. Hare. No evidence had been given that he acted in a cowardly manner, and the insinuation that he was in a place of safety went for nothing. The chairman remarked that the commission were not responsible for paragraphs which appeared in the press.
Constable Daniel Barry was called, and deposed that he was ordered to do duty in the North-eastern district when the Kelly gang was at large. He thought, at the first, Aaron Sherritt was acting faithfully to the police, but his apathy towards the last caused him to doubt him. When the cave party was in existence he heard one night some voices and reports like crackers. In consequence he asked Sherritt to go and see the cause. He replied there is nothing in it, but he at once ran into the bush and hid himself. He was of opinion that Mrs. Barry, Sherritt’s mother-in-law, knew of the existence of the cave party. The witness proceeded to describe the scene at Glenrowan. When within about twenty-five yards of the house, Mr. Hare was fired on, and the police returned the fire. The order to stop firing was given, and then Mr. Hare said “O’Connor, get your boys and surround the house.” He also said to Senior-constable Kelly, “For God’s sake surround the house, and see that none of them escape.” Mr. Hare, in passing him from the front, said, “Good gracious, I’m hit, the very first shot.” Heard him calling out to them not to let one of the outlaws escape. Saw Mrs. Jones, who walked about the house and abused the police, and saw Stainhurst, Mrs. Jones, her children, O’Neil, and McHugh come out of the house. After Mr. Hare left, and until Superintendent Sadleir arrived he looked upon Senior-contable Kelly as being in command. He received orders from him, and was told by him to remain where he was, as the position was a good one. During the whole of that day he fired about twenty-five shots out of his rifle. A number of the police did not fire at all, as they, with himself, did not think it would be advantageous to do so. The witness gave evidence with regard to the cave party, similar to that already given by Constable Faulkener. Mr. Hare said that when at Benalla, Constable Kirkham had been asked if he had seen him (Mr. Hare) firing after he had been wounded, and he replied in the negative. Mr. O’Connor insinuated at that time that he (Mr. Hare) could not load his gun with one hand, and Kirkham had agreed with him. To show that his (Mr. Hare’s) evidence that he had loaded and fired his gun was correct, he had obtained the gun he had used on the occasion and would show how he used it. Mr. Hare then loaded his gun with empty cartridges, using one hand only, and fired rapidly. Mr. O’Connor said it was because Mr. Hare was in pain that caused the opinion he formed that he could not load and fire his gun. It should be remembered that he was not now in the same condition as on that morning. Constable Barry continued his evidence. In reply to Superintendent Sadleir he said that it was generally understood that the Kelly horses were shod. He did not know why that opinion was formed, but he believed that those horses appropriated by the Kellys, and seen with them, were gazetted as shod horses. To Mr. Hare : It was after Sherritt got married that he lost faith in him. When the first attack was made on the outlaws at Glenrowan the gang fired about fifty shots. The police fired at least twice that number. Mr. Hare remained near to where he was hit for a short time giving orders. Witness heard him say, “O’Connor, get your boys and surround the house.” He did not see O’Connor. He was not on the hotel side of the railway fence. It was Mr. Hare’s order, on the pilot engine, that if any of the men were wounded to leave them and throw their whole attention into the capture of the Kellys. To the board ; Received an order during the day, but none direct from Mr. Sadleir. The order came by a constable, and he supposed it emanated from an officer. When the prisoners were escaping he heard shots fired by the police. To Mr. O’Connor : He was one of the first party which watched Mrs. Byrne’s house. Mr. O’Connor asked if the witness considered it a wise thing to turn the police horses out in Aaron Sherritt’s paddock. Mr. Fincham remarked that he would like to know what object Mr. O’Connor had in asking these questions. Mr. Hare said his object was to throw discredit on him. Mr. Nixon considered that officers should only examine witnesses with regard to matters afecting themselves, and not go out of their way to attack their brother officers. He thought every member of the board would agree that the witness had given his evidence in a straightforward and manly way. Mr. Hare had only examined him with regard to his own conduct. The officers were not there to attack one another. Mr. O’Connor desired to say that he thought he should be permitted to continue his line of cross-examination. Mr. Hall said if this sort of thing was to go on they had better adjourn and determine whether the officers should be present. Mr. Anderson said it was the desire of the board that the officers should only ask questions affecting their own conduct. Mr. O’Connor said he considered he should be allowed to elicit evidence which would throw discredit on Mr. Hare, who had made insinuations against him. Mr. Dixon said that it appeared as if Mr. O’Connor was desirous of usurping the functions of the board. Mr. Graves said it was clearly the desire of the board that one officer should not attack another. Mr. Sadleir said he concurred in the wisdom of the determination of the board, and so far as he was concerned he would assist them, but, at the same time, if the board were going to do this now they should excise some of the evidence that had been given. The board, for instance, should excise that portion of the letter from Mr. Carrington which had so unfairly been put in by Mr. Hare. Mr. Dixon said that it had already been pointed out that Mr. Carrington would be called to give evidence, and Mr. Sadleir would then have an opportunity of cross-examining as severely as he chose. Mr. Hare said he would have no objection to the letter being withdrawn. Mr. Graves thought that could not be done, because the letter was in print. Mr. Hare pointed out that the evidence was only undergoing correction. A discussion ensued, in which it was stated that the evidence was sent to witnesses for correction, but only verbal amendments were permitted. The chairman informed Mr. O’Connor that he could only cross-examine the witness with regard to his own conduct. The witness continued : He did not see Mr. O’Connor in the drain, but heard he was there. It was a good place for personal safety. Hero, the black tracker, conducted himself well, but Jacky was rendered speechless with fear when the firing commenced. At this stage the board adjourned till next day.
In part one we covered Ned Kelly’s Glenrowan plot, the murder of Sherritt, the gang’s occupation of Glenrowan, the bungling of the police response and the machinations of Thomas Curnow to foil Kelly. At the conclusion, Ned Kelly had allowed Thomas Curnow to return home and the police train was leaving Melbourne with a team of journalists on board. This is where we resume ournarrative…
At 10:00pm the train departed from Spencer Street and proceeded north. A little under an hour later it arrived at Essendon train station where it collected Sub-Inspector O’Connor, his five trackers, his wife and sister-in-law. Once the passengers were settled in it was full steam ahead until they reached Craigieburn. Despite the order to close the railway gate, the Craigieburn stationmaster had left the gates open across the track to allow the regular traffic to cross unimpeded on the Sunday. As a result when the engine did not slow down as it passed the station, believing the track was clear, it ploughed through the iron gates causing considerable damage. The collision had destroyed part of the braking mechanism as well as pulverising a lamp and the footplate on the carriage. A stop at Seymour allowed the passengers to get coffee while the engine was patched up well enough to continue.
The police special arrived at Benalla a little after midnight. In the meantime, a second engine organised by Hare and Sadleir had been raising steam and was ready for action. When Hare was informed about the damage to the engine there was a discussion about how to assess if there were further hazards along the tracks, especially in light of the rumours circulating that Kelly sympathisers had sabotaged the line. Hare’s initial idea was to tie a constable to the engine as a lookout, but this was scrapped when it was pointed out that this would be lethal and impractical. Instead the damaged engine would journey ahead as a pilot to ensure a clear path, and the carriage would be shunted onto the spare engine to carry the passengers.
Curnow swings into action
All the time that the drama had been unfolding with the trains, Curnow had been attempting to convince his wife to allow him to leave and warn the police train. She was terrified that the bushrangers or their sympathisers would find out and murder them but Thomas’s mind was made up. Once his wife was asleep, he snuck out with a candle, matches and his sister’s red llama wool scarf. He took his horse and rode down the train line to a spot where it would be safe to flag down the train.
A Fateful Decision by Mrs. Jones
Once Ned had returned from capturing Bracken, things had stayed fairly quiet. It was just before 2:00am when Margaret Reardon asked Dan Kelly for permission to go home. Dan agreed that it was time for everyone to leave and instructed the prisoners to head home through the back door. However, Ann Jones panicked and blocked the door, telling the crowd that Ned would give a lecture first. Ned, of course, relished the opportunity to hold court again and proceeded to begin a rambling rant. Twice he attempted to stand on a chair and failed, seemingly incapable of retaining the necessary balance either through exhaustion, intoxication or the weight of his armour. During the lecture he took verbal potshots at the police, which Constable Bracken rebuffed with great indignation. While all this took place in the inn and unbeknownst to the gang and their captives, the police train was approaching Glenrowan and was minutes away from arrival.
Curnow stops pilot engine
As the pilot engine came into view, Curnow lit the candle and held it behind the red scarf as a warning signal. When the engine stopped, Curnow explained the danger ahead and the warning lanterns were lit. A whistle was blown to alert the police special bringing up the rear.
While the trains sat idle, Hare went outside to get information about what was happening. He positioned some of the constables on the rise that overlooked where the trains were stopped and learned that the Kellys had pulled up the tracks just beyond the Glenrowan station. Curnow mounted and rode home, fearing that the longer he stayed the more likely he would get caught. The journalists in the press carriage caught wind that something was amiss and brought the lamp in from outside the carriage and pressed the seat cushions into the windows so they couldn’t be seen. Slowly the trains began to move towards the station.
As Dan kept watch outside the inn, he heard the train whistle then ran inside, interrupting Ned to tell him the train was coming. Joe Byrne locked the front door and put the key on a shelf as the gang ran into the bedroom they were using as their armoury. When he was certain the outlaws were occupied, Bracken stole the key and hid it in his trouser cuff before positioning himself near the rear passage to eavesdrop. In the bedroom, Dan and Steve helped each other into their armour while Ned went outside to investigate.
By his own account, Ned mounted his horse and rode out of the inn’s paddock and down towards the train line. Here he was able to see the pilot engine arriving and slowing down, the police special close behind. Ned would have realised at that moment that he had been betrayed. Some of the police on the train spotted Ned as he rode back to the inn to break the news to his gang.
As the train arrived, Hare saw a candle burning in the window of the gatehouse. As the police and their equipment and horses were being unloaded, Hare took a small party with him to the gatehouse, leaving Sub-Inspector O’Connor in charge at the station. At the gatehouse, Hare roused Mrs. Stanistreet who, terrified and weeping, informed him that the Kelly Gang had kidnapped her husband and taken him away, pointing towards the Glenrowan Inn. The police, thinking Mrs. Stanistreet had pointed to the Warby Ranges, headed back to the station where they would prepare to ride into the mountains on horseback.
The daring of Constable Bracken
When Ned returned to the inn he ordered Ann and Jane Jones to snuff out the lights and put out the fires, which they promptly did. The gang then went outside where they presumably discussed their plan of attack.
Meanwhile in the inn, Bracken told the prisoners to keep low in case there was shooting before unlocking the front door and leaving. He ran across the railway reserve as fast as he could go. When he reached the train station platform he found Superintendent Hare and explained that the outlaws were in Jones’s inn.
The Kellys, in full armour and well-armed, shifted the sliprail next to the inn’s sign as they walked around the side of the building, believing the doors were still locked, and took position along the verandah. Hidden by the shadows, there was no way for the police combatants to see they were in armour. They waited patiently for the onslaught.
Hare called out to his men to join him in storming the inn. There was some confusion and only a handful of the men initially headed down with Hare leading the charge. The police horses that were being unloaded were let go and allowed to run free. Bracken took one of the horses and began to ride towards Wangaratta in order to gain police reinforcements.
As Hare passed through a gate and took position, a blast from Ned Kelly hit him, shattering his wrist. He reeled and perched himself on a tree stump. He managed to get at least one shot off before realising he needed first aid. With the opening of fire the rest of the police ran to join the fray. O’Connor and the trackers took cover in a drainage ditch, which provided reasonable cover directly in front of the inn.
The outlaws mocked and jeered from the verandah as their armour protected them. Bullets went past them into the building, causing mass panic inside. The gang’s sense of invulnerability was short-lived however as Ned was injured when a bullet struck him in the foot, and became lodged. Another shot struck his bent left arm at the elbow rendering it essentially useless. He wasn’t the only outlaw casualty, with a bullet tearing through Joe Byrne’s calf, leaving him unable to walk.
It was at this stage of the battle that two skyrockets were fired from just near McDonnell’s railway tavern. Whether this was a signal to summon an army of sympathisers or a signal to turn them away, or perhaps something else altogether, remains a mystery, with only oral traditions providing any explanation.
Hare, losing copious amounts of blood due to the severity of his wound combined with a pre-existing heart condition, was forced to retreat to the train station. He left instructions to surround the inn and ensure the outlaws were unable to escape. When he reached the train station, the journalists had created a barricade with the police saddles. Upon seeing Hare was injured, Thomas Carrington offered to help as he had some knowledge of first aid. A handkerchief and scissors were taken from O’Connor’s wife and cut into strips that were used to bandage Hare’s wrist. Once the makeshift bandages were applied, Hare attempted to go back onto the battlefield but soon passed out from blood loss. He was helped back to safety by Rawlins, the volunteer.
Back at the inn, with Joe and Ned injured, the gang decided to retreat to the rear of the building to regroup and reload. While Dan and Steve went inside, Joe and Ned were overheard at the back door having a discussion by Constable Phillips, who had positioned himself at the rear of the inn. Unable to reload his carbine, Ned ordered Joe to perform the fiddly task for him. The pair bickered about their situation with Joe saying, “I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.” Ned tried to buoy his spirits by bragging about Hare having been taken out and boasting that they would soon do the same to the rest of the police. It was at this time Ned was able to observe that the only way Joe could move around was by crawling on all fours.
In the early fray the police fire had resulted in multiple civilian casualties. Johnny Jones had been hit by a police bullet that tore through his pelvis and up through his body, exiting under his arm. George Metcalf was hit in the eye as police bullets hit the bricks of the chimney he was hiding behind (though it was later claimed by some of his colleagues, when questioned by police, that he was shot by Ned Kelly the day before, though no other witnesses seemed to notice one of the prisoners having been shot in the eye during during the many hours leading up to the siege.) In the kitchen, a police bullet ricocheted and hit Jane Jones, cutting across her forehead and lodging behind her ear. Civilians were laying low in the inn, the bulk of the women and children were sheltering in the kitchen where they were further away from the police who continued to fire into the inn relentlessly even when there was no return fire. The order was raised to fire high to avoid civilians cowering on the floor after the police had heard women screaming inside the inn.
Ned Kelly decided to find an escape route. He tried to mount Joe’s horse but she broke free and bolted into the bush. Ned followed her. This was noticed by Gascoigne who shot Ned, but the bullet took no effect except to throw him off balance, leading Gascoigne to surmise that he was wearing protection of some kind.
Shortly after heading into the bush, Ned passed out near a fallen tree. It is uncertain how long he was unconscious for, but when he came to he crawled into the bush leaving his carbine and skull cap behind in the mud.
Brave Jack McHugh
Ann Jones was distraught over the wounding of her son and began wandering through the inn, shouting at Dan, Joe and Steve to go out and fight, before turning her ire towards the police. A torrent of lead saw her retreat to the kitchen.
Aware that the boy needed urgent medical attention if there was any hope of preserving his life, Jack McHugh draped the boy over his shoulders and ran out into the crossfire. Somehow avoiding getting shot, he made it to the train line where he was spotted by police. After explaining his mission he was allowed to seek shelter in McDonnell’s tavern. Young Jones was made as comfortable as possible, but his life was fading fast.
Emboldened by McHugh’s miraculous escape and desperate to get out of the mess, John Stanistreet also managed to escape under fire to warn the police that there were women and children trying to escape. Ann Jones rallied the women and children in the kitchen and Jane took a candle and held it aloft to guide the escapees as they ran and to show they were not the bushrangers. Despite being fired at, most of the women and children escaped, with only an odd few retreating or remaining inside the main building.
Senior Constable Kelly and Constable Arthur ventured into the bush behind the inn hoping to find a spot to close off any escape route. Here they found Ned’s carbine and skull cap. While Arthur took position, Kelly took the items. When he returned to the front he wore Ned’s skull cap, claiming that his own hat had gone missing. Ned, who had been close by, managed to go deeper into the bush without being noticed.
Superintendent Hare tried to gain passage back to Benalla, but the pilot engine was hit by bullets from the inn and took off without him. The police special then turned around and carried him back. Once in Benalla he managed to make it to the telegraph office and secure medical assistance from Doctor Nicholson. Superintendent Sadlier was summoned and Hare sent word to Beechworth, Wangaratta and Violet Town to send all available police to Glenrowan before falling unconscious.
Death of Joe Byrne
Witnesses in the inn reported that close to 5:00am Joe Byrne was killed. Joe was observed pouring himself a drink and shortly after toasting to the effect of, “Here’s to many more days in the bush, boys!” It is unlikely this was a triumphant gesture so much as a darkly sarcastic one. After this he was struck by a bullet in the groin and collapsed across the prisoner named Sandercook and bled out within a couple of minutes, the femoral artery having been severed. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence to support the claim that Ned was present at this moment. In fact, all of the prisoners in the inn that testified stated that once the firing started Ned never re-entered the inn. The only account that stated otherwise was Ned Kelly’s, though his personal recounting of what transpired at Glenrowan changed slightly every time he discussed it, making such accounts unreliable.
Arrival of Police Reinforcements
Bracken had by this time ridden to Wangaratta and roused Sergeant Steele who had received the telegram from Hare and organised a police train. Not wanting to waste a moment, Steele and his mounted troopers headed to Glenrowan on horseback while the foot constables took the train. The train arrived slightly before the rest of the Wangaratta party and Rawlins briefed them on what was happening. As the mounted troopers arrived, they heard clanking in the bush that they dismissed as stirrup irons. Ned Kelly would later claim they had ridden so close to him as he lay in the bush that he could have reached out and grabbed them, but instead he tried to remain silent and let them pass. Immediately upon arriving at the inn, Steele took a position at the rear and began firing into the building without having received any instructions or waiting to be updated on the situation.
Simultaneously, a train from Benalla carrying Sadleir and his party arrived. The men were sent out to reinforce the existing troopers while Senior Constable Kelly and Sub-Inspector O’Connor got Sadleir up to speed. Sadleir maintained the strategy of surrounding the inn and directed his men to fan out.
A mad dash for freedom by Mrs. Reardon
Margaret Reardon had enough of hiding and attempted to flee with her children. Dan Kelly called out that women and children were coming out and as they did, police ordered them to stay back. The prisoners continued to run towards the fence, desperate to escape the firing. Sergeant Steele took aim at Margaret Reardon and fired, the shot passing through the swaddling cloth her baby was wrapped in and cutting the infant’s head. The group scattered in terror. 19 year-old Michael Reardon tried to double back and get inside the inn, but Sergeant Steele shot him in the back, the lead lodging in the teen’s back and lung. When the police around him told him to stop firing he simply replied “I don’t care; I shot mother Jones in the —!”
Where is Ned?
By now Ned had been missing for several hours while Dan and Steve had been left to hold the fort. The police had shot dead all of the horses in the paddock, whether they were the gang’s or not, to cut off a potential escape. A local man named Martin Cherry had been shot in the belly by a police bullet and was taken to the kitchen and hidden under a mattress. Dan had taken to standing at the back door and calling out to his big brother with no reply. Witness accounts stated that both remaining outlaws seemed greatly deflated after Joe’s death.
The remaining prisoners were almost entirely men, with a few children in the mix. The majority of those who were trapped had migrated to the bedrooms in order to get some distance and some barriers between them and the police. With the arrival of Sadleir’s party and Steele’s party the opportunity for the prisoners to escape had effectively evaporated.
Nobody in the inn had any idea what had happened to Ned. Oral tradition states that he had been found in the bush by his cousin Tom Lloyd who helped him prepare for a return to the inn. Ned himself would never make such a statement, but evidently something transpired in the bush and at sunrise, rather than make good his escape Ned decided, for whatever reason, to turn back and face the police again in open combat.
Ned Kelly’s last stand
The first policeman to take notice of Ned was Constable Arthur who warned him to stay back. Instead Ned threatened him and drew a pistol. Arthur fired his Martini Henry rifle at close range, badly denting the armour but not stopping the outlaw, who replied by bashing his revolver against his chest and boasting about his invulnerability. Other police left their posts to confront the mysterious figure. For around half an hour, Ned stumbled around half-conscious through blood loss, sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption. He occasionally steadied himself by resting his broken foot on the odd tree stump. For all the firing he managed, cycling through three different revolvers, not one trooper was killed or injured.
Eventually Ned reached the fallen tree where he had collapsed earlier that morning. Senior-Constable Kelly and Jesse Dowsett, a railway guard, approached. Dowsett began shooting Ned’s helmet and taunting him. As Ned was distracted, Sergeant Steele emerged from the bush and shot Ned in his right knee and pelvis. The shots were enough to knock the wind out of his sails and Ned collapsed. In a moment police piled on top of him. Senior-Constable Kelly removed Ned’s helmet, whereupon Steele began to strangle the outlaw and put a pistol to his head. Before Steele could pull the trigger he was threatened by Constable Bracken who levelled his shotgun at Steele and declared, “If you shoot him, I will shoot you.”
The crowd that had formed around the fallen bushranger had to react quickly as they were being shot at by Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. Ned was picked up and carried a short distance where Dr. Nicholson was able to use a penknife to cut the straps on one side of the armour to remove it. He was lifted over a fence and taken to the train station. He was put in the guard van of the train, but a flurry of bullets struck the van so he was transferred to the station building. A mattress was procured and Ned was laid upon it with his head resting on a large roll of cotton. The boots were cut off his feet and most of his clothing stripped from his body for medical examination. The main injuries that required attention were his shattered left elbow, a pistol ball lodged in his right thumb, the injury to his right knee and the bullet lodged in his foot. The rest of the injuries, of which there were more than twenty, were considered minor. He complained of hunger and was given bread and brandy, the dribbles of which he sucked out of his beard.
While he was in the station various police and journalists interviewed him, though he would often slip into unconsciousness. He explained that he had intended to fight to the bitter end and that the other bushrangers would not surrender. The whole time Steele kept watch over Kelly as if he were afraid he would vanish.
Then there was two
Likely believing Ned had been killed, Dan and Steve remained in the inn. Occasionally they would shoot at police but Dan was shot in the knee and retreated inside where he remained. When Dave Mortimer asked permission to try and escape Dan allowed it but as soon as the white handkerchief was presented to the police to signify surrender, the police opened fire at it. Thinking better of walking out to be gunned down, the prisoners remained in the inn. Now they were made prisoners by the police rather than the outlaws.
At 10:00am the decision was made to allow the civilians to come out. They were instructed to keep their hands raised and to lie on their bellies. The terrified victims were then scrutinised to prevent the risk of Kelly or Hart escaping. Two brothers were recognised as Kelly sympathisers and arrested; the rest of the crowd were allowed to disperse. Now the inn was empty apart from Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, Joe Byrne’s corpse and old Martin Cherry who was still in the kitchen under a mattress.
Sadleir brings in the artillery
Desperate for a way to get into the inn that would mean no police casualties, Sadlier ordered artillery be sent up from the garrison in Melbourne to blow the inn apart. Sadleir had also brought thick ropes with him to pull the chimneys down, thinking the outlaws could be hiding therein, but had decided it was too risky. Sadleir continued to mull over options for capturing the two remaining outlaws while bored police continued to shoot at the inn.
By this time the rails had been repaired and trains were running along the line, bringing gawkers in from all over the region. Amongst the crowds, Father Matthew Gibney arrived. Gibney, the Vicar General of Western Australia, had heard of what was transpiring and wanted to be available to provide spiritual assistance where possible. He gave Ned the last rites and asked if the others would surrender to him. Ned told him they would not know him from a policeman but Gibney was determined to get into the inn, believing that a man of the cloth could bring the outlaws to reason.
More reinforcements arrived from Beechworth, led by Senior-Constable Mullane. Given how late in the siege it was, they had little to do other than use the inn for target practice, which was exactly what they did. There remained no definitive instructions for the police from Sadleir though the suggestion had been made to him that the police should rush the inn. Sadleir considered even one police casualty to be too many and refused to agree to such a measure.
Kelly sympathisers arrived in Glenrowan to see what was happening. Among them were Ned and Dan’s sisters Maggie, Kate and Grace who were all dressed as if for a great celebration. They were granted admittance to see Ned and briefly spoke with him. When Superintendent Sadlier asked Maggie if she would get Dan to surrender she proclaimed she would see him burn first. Also present were Wild Wright, Tom Lloyd and Dick Hart. The presence of such high profile sympathisers put the police on edge.
That afternoon a telegraph was set up by the telegraph operators from Beechworth using a portable receiver and transmitter that was connected to the wire that went past the train station. This enabled messages to be transmitted directly to Melbourne from the battlefield.
Burning the inn
After consulting with Sadlier, Senior-Constable Johnston gained permission to start a fire to smoke the remaining gang members out. Johnston gave the inn a wide berth as he gathered items to use to light a fire. While going about this duty he was stopped by armed Kelly sympathisers who interrogated him about what was happening. Luckily for Johnston, they did not suspect him of being a policeman. He gathered straw, kerosene and matches and as he approached the inn, the police intensified their firing to create a diversion. At 3:00pm Johnston set fire to the exterior wall of the parlour and ran for cover.
The fire spread quickly through the weatherboard building. Seeing this Kate Kelly attempted to run to the inn but was held back by police. Instead Father Gibney rushed inside in search of survivors. He entered the dining room and upon entering the bar saw Joe’s corpse. After establishing it was cold and stiff, he checked the other rooms. In the makeshift armoury he found Dan Kelly and Steve Hart lying dead on the floor with their heads propped up on sacking. Beside them was the greyhound, which had been shot. With the inferno spreading to the bar, the alcohol exacerbated the fire. Joe’s body was dragged out by police but the bedrooms were too aflame to risk retrieving the others. As the kitchen was explored Martin Cherry was found and rescued. Once he was dragged clear Gibney gave him the last rites, whereupon Cherry passed away.
With the exterior wall having Byrne’s away, the crowds gathered to see Dan and Steve burning within the bedroom. Thomas Carrington took the time to draw the scene as the crowd watched the gruesome spectacle.
The fire was allowed to take its course and the burnt out shell collapsed around half an hour after the fire had started. As the wrecked lay smouldering the police began sifting through the rubble. The unrecognisable corpses of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were dragged out with long poles and laid out on sheets of bark. One of the bodies was photographed.
The burnt bodies were taken to the train station where they were seen by Maggie Skillion and Kate Kelly, who wailed mournfully at the sight. Sadleir made the executive decision to allow the families of the outlaws to take possession of the bodies. He assumed that such a gesture would quell any rumblings of revenge against police. When Captain Standish arrived at 5:00pm he agreed that the families should have taken the bodies, though he would later try (unsuccessfully) to retrieve them for a coronial inquest.
Ned was loaded onto a train and, along with the bodies of Byrne and Cherry that were loaded onto the guard van as well taken to Benalla. Overnight the corpses were kept in the police lockup with Ned housed in a lockup under the Benalla courthouse. Thus ended the Glenrowan Siege.
The following day Joe Byrne’s corpse was strung up for photographs and gawkers. After his post mortem his results casts were made of his head and hands that were then used for a wax figure in the Bourke Street Waxworks. At the same time the corpse was being viewed Ned Kelly was surreptitiously taken to the train station and transported to Melbourne.
Ned was taken to Melbourne Gaol where he was put in the prison hospital in order to recover well enough to stand trial.
Souvenir hunters took no time in scouring the Bartley and picking it clean of bullets, bits of the inn, even dirt and leaves. Charred bits of Dan and Steve which had separated from the trunk were even salvaged. Nothing was sacred and everything was up for grabs. Some might say not much has changed.
When Ann Jones eventually returned, she build a hut around the parlour chimney to live in. Thereafter she faced many more difficulties. On the day of Ned Kelly’s execution she was arrested for harbouring outlaws, but beat the charge. Magistrates refused to issue her with a liquor licence, which meant she eventually opened a wine saloon in place of the inn. Jane Jones died two years after the siege. She had been in failing health ever since that weekend in 1880. The inn site was later leased to the police department in a strange turn of events.
Joe Byrne was buried in a pauper’s grave in Benalla cemetery, while Dan and Steve were buried in unmarked graves elsewhere. Officially they were buried in a twin plot in Greta cemetery, but oral tradition begs to differ, helping to fuel rumours that they never died at Glenrowan and it was all a hoax to allow them to escape.
The siege of Glenrowan has become an important part of Australian culture, taking on the significance of historic battles such as Gettysburg or Waterloo (even if the scale was hardly comparable.) It is often seen as an exciting tale of rebellion and defiance though the reality is far less fanciful. While some may speculate the different outcome that may have come about if the police train had been derailed as planned, perhaps it is more apt to consider the fact that the outlawry on the bushrangers was weeks away from expiring when they were destroyed. It is unlikely that the police would ever have allowed the gang to avoid meeting their demise at the end of a rope or a bullet, but it is curious to consider a world where the Kelly Gang managed to run out the clock, so to speak, and regain the rights and protections of the law. Speculation aside, there was no glory in what transpired at Glenrowan. It was a tragedy from beginning to end with no real winners. Civilians lost their lives or were permanently scarred and traumatised; three of the outlaws were killed; a considerable number of police were later demoted or sacked either directly or indirectly due to their conduct during the siege. The site where it all played out is marked by signs and plaques, but there are no monuments to memorialise the tragedy. Thus, with many myths and half-truths still accepted as facts, Glenrowan sits in the awkward place between history and folklore where imagination turns devastating tragedy into a rollicking good yarn. Such is life.
Few events in bushranging history have the fame of the Glenrowan Siege. The incredible and spectacular close to the career of the Kelly Gang has been immortalised in print, song, film, painting and more. Over time the events have become obscured by retellings that embellish and dramatise them. Here, on the 140th anniversary of the siege, we will take a concise look at what ended one of the most renowned and dramatic chapters in Australian history.
There is no definitive understanding of what the Glenrowan plot actually was. Most of what we know has been taken from the witnesses accounts of being told by the outlaws, and Ned Kelly’s own unreliable narratives in his interviews and the letters he wrote in gaol. Anything else is either unsubstantiated oral history or inference. All we know for certain is that Ned Kelly intended to derail a train full of police and trackers at Glenrowan, and an event on a Saturday night at the hut of Aaron Sherritt – a sympathiser who the gang had reason to believe had been assisting police – was to provide a lure for a special police train. No civilian trains ran on a Sunday, so the only vehicle that would be on the tracks that day would be one specially assigned to move police from Benalla to Beechworth. This is all that we know beyond dispute. There are many various elaborations on this information that historians and researchers have put forward to describe Ned Kelly’s plan:
1) The Republic of North East Victoria
One explanation that was championed by some notable Kelly historians was that Ned Kelly was attempting to kick-start a revolution and establish a republic. Once the train was derailed, the survivors would be killed excepting any notable survivors who would be bartered for Ned’s mother’s release from prison. The Kelly Gang, in armour, would be joined by a “phantom army” of heavily armed sympathisers that were waiting in the hills behind the Glenrowan Inn, summoned by skyrockets acting as a signal. The militia would then ride to Benalla, capture the town, and declare a republic. It must be noted that there is no official contemporary record to indicate this was the plan or even rumoured, and none of the documents that were supposed to have proved the legitimacy of the claim have surfaced.
2) Mass Murder
The least imaginative explanation of Ned’s plot is that he had no plans beyond murdering as many people as he could. This supposition relies on a very skewed perspective. It derives from the simplistic view that Ned Kelly was a psychopathic terrorist that was only interested in killing people, specifically police. Given Kelly’s two previous well-planned outings in Euroa and Jerilderie, during which no blood was spilled, it seems unlikely for straight up massacre to have been his next move. Given the efforts he had previously gone to in order to prove he was not bloodthirsty, this is not a consistent mindset. To accept this explanation does not require a deeper look into the behaviour and psychology of Ned Kelly or his gang, relegating them to be cast as cartoon villains.
3) Escalation of a war with police
By looking at what has been definitively established, contemporary rumours, and Ned Kelly’s own statements such as the Cameron and Jerilderie letters and the letters he dictated in gaol, we can see that Ned Kelly saw himself as being in some kind of war with police, referring to them as his “natural enemies”. In light of this, it could be supposed that Kelly intended to disable the police in order to remove the threat of capture. Such a large scale attack would in turn potentially make the government wary of continuing to pursue the outlaws. Taking out the bulk of the police force that were stationed in Benalla, the regional headquarters, would leave the Benalla police station unmanned, whereupon the gang and sympathisers would be able to take control of the station as a headquarters for themselves and take control of the town. Ned intimated on occasion that he desired to rob the bank in Benalla, and it was well known that since the Jerilderie raid the gang had been looking desperately for a suitable target for a robbery around Beechworth or Yackandandah in particular. Such a plan is more in line with what the gang did when they bailed up the town of Jerilderie, using the police barracks as a base of operations. It also demonstrates a more extreme thought process, whereby Ned was willing to take out huge numbers of police in order to ensure a greater chance of success and to intimidate his remaining opponents into backing down. If this was his aim, it has echoes of the kind of guerrilla warfare carried out by the IRA and implies a far more militaristic mindset than on the gang’s previous two outings. Ned established that he felt that he was right in striking first, even with lethal force, in order to protect himself. By 1880 the pursuit had likely taken a physical and mental toll on him and made him desperate. It is also worth noting that Mrs. Byrne had been bragging the gang we’re going to do something to make all of Australia’s ears tingle.
There is room to speculate what the intention was at Sherritt’s hut. Ned Kelly would later claim he had not ordered Sherritt’s murder; that it must have been a decision made by the others. This seems to marry up with Ned’s claim at the time he was trying to break the train line that many police had been shot in Beechworth and he was expecting a train full of police and trackers in response. It was known that Aaron Sherritt had police staying in his hut with him. Later, Ned would suggest that the police must have tortured Aaron to make him complicit. It stands to reason that if Ned was intent on taking out a train load of police that he would also be inclined to take out a party of police that he suspected were stationed with his friend against his will.
Regardless of the exact plan, Glenrowan was picked as the location and Ettie Hart was sent to scope out the area and gauge the sympathies of Ann Jones who owned one of the two pubs in town, the other being the McDonnell’s Railway Tavern, which was run by known sympathisers. As Glenrowan had no telegraph station of its own it would be unlikely that news of the train line being damaged there would be able to get out in time to warn the police. Ned knew there was a chance, however, that he might need to take prisoners to prevent someone raising the alarm, thus it suited his purpose to have access to Ann Jones’s inn.
The gang each had a home-made suit of iron armour to protect them from bullets. It is unclear what the initial idea behind the armour was, but based on Joe Byrne’s later comments it was Ned Kelly’s idea alone. Ned would at one time indicate they were meant to protect the gang from guards when robbing banks, but the unprotected legs and arms may have gone against this idea.
Some have speculated that the design of the armour was devised with the intention that the wearers would be shooting downwards from an embankment, thus eliminating the need for leg protection. This very specific application seems unlikely if there was to be any further use of the armour after the derailment. It may simply have been the case that armour thick enough to be bulletproof would simply have been too heavy if it also covered the arms and legs.
The notion of the armour is mysterious as there has never been a definitive primary source found that explains the genesis of the idea. It is known that the gang’s hideout on Bullock Creek had an armoured door, so it seems likely that Ned Kelly was aware of the usefulness of a bulletproof protection as far back as mid-1878. There have been scores of suggestions as to where the idea for the armour originated from the novel Lorna Doone to a suit of Japanese armour in the Burke Museum in Beechworth.
The armour covered the head, chest, back, thighs, and in Ned’s case his upper arms as well (he probably also had a plate to protect his buttocks that has long disappeared, but is featured in contemporary illustrations.) Joe and Dan also had iron plates that joined the body armour together to encase the torso like a cuirass. The helmets offered limited scope of vision and we’re supposed to have had quilted lining sewn inside to pad them. The iron was taken mostly from ploughs, the mouldboards being an appropriate shape and size to use. It also appears that some sheet metal was likely also used in some instances such as Steve Hart’s backplate. Rumours persist that the armour was either made by sympathetic blacksmiths or the gang themselves using a partly submerged green log as an anvil that would dull the sound of hammering. The quality of the smithing indicates that a blacksmith was probably involved at some point.
Murder of Sherritt
On the evening of 26 June, 1880, Anton Wick was walking along the road to El Dorado as night fell. He knew the way well enough as he had lived there a long time. As he was walking, he was passed by two riders leading a packhorse who ignored him before doubling back. One of the riders asked Wick if he recognised him, to which Wick replied that he didn’t. The rider revealed himself to be Joe Byrne and flashed his pistol. Wick was handcuffed by Dan Kelly, the other rider, and walked back up the road to the Devil’s Elbow where Aaron Sherritt lived in an old miner’s hut with his wife. The bushrangers hitched their horses and walked up to the hut. Joe Byrne took Anton Wick to the back door and Dan Kelly guarded the front door in case anyone tried to escape.
Byrne ordered Wick to call out to the occupants. Inside were Aaron Sherritt, his wife Belle as well as his mother-in-law and four policemen, who were in the bedroom preparing for the evening’s watch party at the Byrne selection. When Wick called for assistance it was Belle who asked who it was. “It’s Anton Wick; I’ve lost myself,” was the reply. Ellen Barry told Aaron to tell the old German where to go. Aaron opened the back door and said “Do you see that sapling?” before noticing movement by the chimney. Aaron asked, “Who’s there?” Suddenly Byrne pushed Wick aside and unloaded a barrel from his shotgun into Sherritt’s torso, followed by a second blast that tore Sherritt’s throat apart. Sherritt staggered back and hit the dirt floor without any utterance. Joe coldly stated “That’s the man I want.” He would also say, “The bastard will never put me away again.” As Belle wailed over her husband’s body, Dan Kelly was brought inside. For two hours the bushrangers attempted to flush the police out of the bedroom but the officers cowered inside, even trapping Belle under the bed, pinning her against the wall with their feet until she passed out and did the same with her mother. At one point Dan Kelly attempted to set fire to the house but the wood was too wet to catch and there was no available kerosene. Dan and Joe freed Wick and left at about 9:00pm. Inside, constables Duross, Dowling, Alexander and Armstrong remained, too petrified to see if the bushrangers had gone until after sunrise the following day. They were convinced the gang had surrounded the hut to trap them. It was unclear what the packhorse the bushrangers had with them was carrying. There is some reason to believe it was their armour, which they never wore during the affair.
Meanwhile in Glenrowan
Ned Kelly and Steve Hart arrived in Glenrowan around the same time Dan and Joe left El Dorado. They put their horses in the paddock of McDonnell’s tavern and took tools to try and take up the railway track. They went a short distance down the line to where the track curved on an embankment and attempted to break it. In the event that a train did not stop before hitting a broken line at this spot it would have resulted in catastrophe, but they had the wrong tools and were unsuccessful in their sabotage. Already things were not going to plan, but Ned Kelly was resourceful.
Realising that they were out of their depth, the bushrangers went to a row of tents pitched between the train station and Ann Jones’ inn. Thinking these were railway workers, they awoke them one by one with the intention of making them damage the tracks for them. Ned interrupted the foreman Alfonso Piazzi attending to “country matters” and a scuffle ensued. Piazzi pulled a gun on Ned but the bushranger knocked it aside with his carbine causing it to go off. Fortunately nobody was injured, but soon all the men, and the woman Piazzi had in his tent, were rounded up and ordered to break the line. It was then explained to the outlaws that they were not able to do as asked as they were not railway workers, they were labourers who had been working with the gravel along the line and knew nothing about the tracks. Ned was then informed that he would need the stationmaster. He proceeded to take the men with him to the gatehouse where John Stanistreet, the stationmaster, resided.
Stanistreet and Jones
John Stanistreet and his wife were roused by knocking at the door, which was not uncommon as they had frequently been pestered by people travelling late at night requesting that the railway gates be opened so they could pass through (a substantial amount of whom were Kelly sympathisers.) However, before the door could be answered, Ned Kelly burst in and held the couple at gunpoint, demanding Stanistreet come with him. When Ned ordered Stanistreet to instruct the gravel collectors on how to disassemble the track, Stanistreet informed him that he had no understanding of how to do that himself and that it was the plate-layers that would know what to do. Ned’s patience was wearing incredibly thin and he took Stanistreet with him to the Glenrowan Inn which was not much more than a few metres away. Steve Hart was left to guard the labourers.
Ann Jones and her daughter Jane, who were sharing a bed, were woken up by Ned knocking at the door. When Ann answered, John Stanistreet and Ned Kelly were there waiting. Ned ordered Ann to accompany him to the gatehouse but before they left Ned watched Ann and Jane get dressed to make sure there was no funny business. He then took the keys and locked the door to the bedroom where Ann’s sons were sleeping. Ann and Jane were taken to the gatehouse and added to the growing number of prisoners. Ned left Steve in charge while he went to look for the plate-layers.
Bailing up the plate-layers
Ned walked down the line and bailed up a plate-layer named Sullivan, then as he was crossing the tracks they met James Reardon. Reardon had been roused by his dog barking and asked what Sullivan was doing out at such an hour, whereupon he was told that Ned Kelly had bailed him up. Ned appeared and pushed the muzzle of his pistol into Reardon’s cheek and demanded to know who he was. When Reardon confirmed he was a plate-layer, Ned stated that there had been a conflict near Beechworth and many police were killed. He explained that he was expecting a train full of police to come in response and that the plate-layers would help him dismantle the track to wreck the train. They were marched back to the gatehouse.
When Ned returned, the gravel collectors and Stanistreet were waiting with Steve Hart. Reardon announced that his tools were at home. Ned sent Steve to get the men to fetch tools from the shed while he went back with Reardon. After much hassle a length of the rail was displaced. The half hour job had taken two hours. With this, the group retired to the gatehouse for refreshments.
At around 5:00am, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly arrived in Glenrowan, left their horses at McDonnell’s and went to the gatehouse to meet Ned. It is unclear if they expressed any details to him about what had transpired in El Dorado the previous night.
At breakfast time, Ann Jones suggested sending Jane across to stoke the fires and begin preparing meals. She also suggested Ned could have a wash up there. Ned sent Joe Byrne across to the inn with Jane to keep an eye on her. The fires were stoked and Jane checked on her brothers. Soon the male prisoners were brought across to the inn and the women and children were left at the gatehouse under Steve’s watch, excepting the Joneses who remained at the inn to serve the food and drinks.
The police in Aaron’s hut
When the police felt safe to leave the bedroom it was already morning. They asked Ellen Barry for a drink. She told them that there was water on the table. Belle tossed the water out saying it may have been poisoned and was then told by the men to go outside and fetch water. The first attempt by the police to get help failed when the local schoolteacher they asked told them his wife wouldn’t let him go. The next attempt was when a Chinese man was stopped and paid to take a note to Beechworth police station. The Chinese man soon returned saying he couldn’t take the note as it was too far. He kept the money.
Stuck for options, the police asked Aaron’s neighbour to send word but although the neighbour said he would do it when he made a trip into town the police did not trust him to follow through. Frustrated, Constable Armstrong commandeered a horse and rode to Beechworth. It was midday when he arrived to tell Detective Ward the news. Once the information reached Ward he sent telegrams to inform his colleagues.
As Sunday rolled on the gang continued to add to the number of prisoners. The longer the wait, the more difficult it was proving to be to stop people from noticing what the gang was up to. Male captives in the Glenrowan Inn occupied themselves with card games such as cribbage and bought drinks. Ann Jones would comment to Ned Kelly that she would be glad if he came every weekend given how much business he had drummed up for her. Steve Hart continued to guard the women and children in the gatehouse but grew increasingly laissez-faire, drinking heavily and even napping on a sofa with two revolvers resting on his chest. Mrs. Stanistreet would note that despite how much he had to drink, he managed to retain an admirable level of sobriety and self control. At one point Dan Kelly burst into the gatehouse in search of a bag. It was unclear why he was so desperate to find it.
Around mid-morning, three boys, the Delaney brothers, went out with the intention of going kangaroo hunting with their greyhound. They went looking for Michael Reardon to accompany them. Unable to find anyone at the Reardon house they continued to walk down the line. As they reached the crossing they were bailed up by Ned Kelly, who was riding Joe’s grey mare. He escorted them back to the gatehouse but when he recognised 15 year-old Jack Delaney as a youth that had helped police some months earlier, he became apoplectic. Kelly ranted and abused the boy, accusing him of trying to sell him out to the police. Delaney was trembling so violently with fear that he shattered a clay pipe he was borrowing. Ned went so far as to thrust a pistol into Delaney’s hand, suggesting he shoot him right there if he was so keen on helping the police. Within moments, Joe Byrne emerged from the gatehouse and intervened, telling Ned to go away and cool off. Such an incredible outburst showed how the stress of his plan falling apart, combined with alcohol consumption and a lack of sleep, was causing him to act irrationally.
As the drama with the Delaney boys was unfolding, Thomas Curnow was driving his buggy, accompanied by his wife and baby, his sister and his brother-in-law. As they reached the railway crossing, they were flagged down by Stanistreet who warned them Ned Kelly had bailed everyone up. A moment later, Kelly appeared and confirmed this. He sent the women into the gatehouse and Curnow parked his buggy at the I before he and his brother-in-law joined the other male prisoners inside.
The Glenrowan Games
In the afternoon, the outlaws became aware of the growing restlessness of their prisoners. Ned initiated a series of sporting games, even participating in hop-step-jump while holding a revolver in each hand. After the sports, Dan Kelly suggested a dance and the bar was cleared out to allow space for the activity. Dave Mortimer played concertina and Dan asked Thomas Curnow to join him. Curnow insisted he needed to fetch his dancing shoes and asked to go home and fetch them. Ned considered the request until he was informed that in order to get to Curnow’s house it required passing the police station. Ned immediately refused the request and Curnow begrudgingly accepted this outcome. He had spent the preceding hours gathering information about Ned’s plan and was determined to stop the police train from derailing. His first attempt may have failed, but he continued to scheme.
Superintendent Hare received word that there was a telegram waiting for him at 2:30pm. He immediately went to the Benalla Telegraph Office where he was informed by a telegram from Captain Standish of Sherritt’s murder. A request was sent to Captain Standish to arrange for Sub-Inspector O’Connor and his native police, who were about to return home to Queensland, to come back to Beechworth for a fresh pursuit. Hare was joined by Superintendent Sadleir and they began to formulate a plan to pursue the outlaws from El Dorado as soon as possible.
After buttering Ned up, Curnow received consent to visit his pregnant wife at the gatehouse. Here he attempted to curry favour with Steve Hart by helping him remove his boots and soaking his sore feet in warm water. He later informed Ned that Stanistreet kept a loaded revolver in his office, which Ned ordered Steve to confiscate. Curnow hoped that this would bring Ned to trust him, then once trust was established he would be able to seek permission to leave.
Special train organised
It wasn’t until the evening that Standish was able to arrange for O’Connor and his trackers to return to active duty for the Victorian police. He then organised a special train to leave Spencer Street that night, consisting of a locomotive, guard van and first class carriage. Just as Ned had asserted, this was not to be a civilian train but a conveyance specifically to get O’Connor and his team to Benalla and then the entire police search party to Beechworth from there.
Once O’Connor confirmed his involvement, it was agreed that he and his trackers (Hero, Jacky, Barney, Johnny, and Jimmy) would board the special train at Essendon station that night. His wife and sister-in-law decided they would accompany him to Beechworth and packed for a holiday up north.
Late in the evening another dance was held, with Dave Mortimer calling the sets and playing concertina. Those who weren’t dancing were mostly indoors playing cards or drinking. At this time Jane Jones was observed sitting on Dan Kelly’s knee and kissing him. Ned spent considerable time outside talking with Ann Jones who seemed to be going out of her way to accommodate him. As the dancing died down, Ann Jones was also seen flirting with Joe Byrne, attempting to pull Scanlan’s ring off his finger while he played with her hair. Johnny Jones sang for the crowd, performing “Cailin deas cruitha na mo” (The Pretty Girl Milking a Cow) and then performing “Farewell to Greta” for Ned Kelly with the promise of a sixpence from his mother if he did so.
Bailing up Bracken
At 9pm Ned and Joe put on their armour and gathered a group of prisoners to escort them to the police barracks, where they could capture Constable Bracken. Curnow convinced Ned to take Dave Mortimer to lure Bracken out, while also gaining permission to take his family home from the barracks. Bracken was the only policeman in the town, having been stationed there to keep an eye on Kelly sympathisers for Superintendent Hare. At the barracks the group roused Bracken, who had been in bed with gastro. Ned bailed him up, but as Ned was dressed in his full armour Bracken thought it was a prank. He was made to mount up but Joe kept a close eye on him to ensure he didn’t escape.
With Bracken captured, Ned allowed Curnow to leave, warning him not to dream too loud. When the Curnows arrived home, Thomas informed them of his plan to stop the train before it reached Glenrowan. His wife feared that if the bushrangers discovered he had stopped the train they would murder the whole family.
Word sent to journalists
As the special train was being prepared, journalists from multiple publications were requested to ride to Beechworth in the train so they could report first-hand on the work the police were doing to catch the Kelly Gang. The police had been regularly criticised in the press for their apparent ineptitude for catching bushrangers since the Euroa raid in December 1878, and the government seemed keen to get good press for their officers of the law as a fresh lead had presented itself. John McWhirter, Joe Melvin, Thomas Carrington and George Allen were all sent to join the train, which left Melbourne at 10pm. Apart from rumours of a murder, there was no indication for the reporters of what was unfolding in Kelly Country, but they were soon to find themselves in a journalist’s dream and recording history unfolding right before their very eyes.
With November 2019 seeing the 140th anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, the decision was made to make a pilgrimage to Wantabadgery. As no formal acknowledgement of the anniversary or notification of any organised commemoration thereof had been announced, I decided that somebody ought to fill the void — and who better than the chap that does all the bushranger stuff online? It should be pointed out before we continue that this recap is not all about bushrangers, but rather a recounting of the things that happened during the trip. Hopefully it will give you some travel ideas. That said, let us continue…
With Georgina Stones from An Outlaw’s Journal in tow, I headed up northeast of Melbourne. On the way we passed through Benalla, where Georgina added some fake flowers to Joe Byrne’s grave. Previously she had left real flowers, but this time wanted to leave something a little more enduring. Every time we go up I see if I can spot the little bust I placed on the grave. The tiny polymer clay portrait has been there through searing heat, bucketing rain and everything in between but is still looking pretty good despite being put through the ringer.
Our first night was spent in The Empire in Beechworth. This heritage hotel was around in the days of the Kelly Gang and has an interesting anecdote connecting it to the Kelly story. Following the murder of Aaron Sherritt, his widow Belle and her mother Ellen were lodging in The Empire. Aaron’s inquest had been held in The Vine (no longer in existence, and definitely not the one in Wangaratta) and the pair had stayed on in Beechworth long enough to see Ned Kelly arrive for his committal. Having been convalescing in the hospital in Melbourne Gaol, he had been deemed fit enough for transportation to Beechworth via train. When being taken from the station to the gaol by buggy, he was taken past The Empire where he saw two women watching him from the balcony. He tipped his hat to them in a conspicuous show of gentlemanly behaviour, perhaps unaware that it was his machinations that had led to the brutal slaying of the husband and son-in-law of the two women he was saluting.
Dining at The Empire was exquisite. Food and drink were top notch, and the service equally as commendable. That night we were the only ones in the building, which should have meant a nice, quiet stay. However, there were other occupants that were not keen on staying quiet — occupants who were not of the physical world. Disembodied footsteps and the sound of objects being shifted or dropped was pervasive throughout the night, though we did get some shut-eye. It should be added that the rooms at The Empire are nice and cosy with very comfortable beds, so if you’re looking for a place to stay, give them a look-in (the ghosts don’t cost extra).
The next morning after an obligatory visit to the Beechworth Bakery, we headed to the Beechworth Cemetery so that Georgina could pay her respects to Aaron Sherritt. While there I tracked down the grave of John Watt. Watt was the proprietor of the Wooragee Hotel on the outskirts of Beechworth. One night he answered the door of the pub to reveal three bushrangers who ordered him to bail up. Rather than comply, Watt turned to head back inside. One of the bandits shot him in the back, then they fled. It took Watt over a week to die from his wound. Subsequently, two of the bushrangers, James Smith and Thomas Brady, were hanged in Beechworth Gaol for the murder.
Upon leaving the cemetery, we began the journey into New South Wales. Our prior search for accommodation had led us to a motel in Gumly Gumly, just outside the city of Wagga Wagga. The accommodation was nice enough for the price, however our neighbours weren’t exactly the quiet type. One couldn’t help find some amusement in their loud interrogation as to whether their companions were “giving wristies” while blaring Spotify over a Bluetooth speaker right in front of our door. In fairness, they did apologise when they realised that it was actually people they had seen park and enter the room they were in front of and not a very potent hallucination.
For the next few days we were right in the heart of the territory connected to Dan Morgan and Captain Moonlite. After so many visits to Kelly Country, it was great to finally be immersing myself in other bushranger stories. The only major drawback was the threat of fire. Following prolonged drought, much of New South Wales was suffering from their worst bushfires in living memory. Though the region we were exploring was safe, one couldn’t help but think about the beleaguered fireys battling the blazes further north on the other side of the Blue Mountains. Driving through the lower portion of the state and seeing how bone dry it was and how wispy the vegetation looked, it did not take much imagination to picture it going up like a celluloid girdle on bonfire night. With the anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, there are no prizes for guessing where was first on the list of locations.
Wantabadgery is a small town between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai that is mostly farmland and built on a mix of steep hills and flat pasture. It was here in November 1879 that Andrew George Scott would seal his name in infamy. Having been the target of police harassment since his release from prison earlier in the year, Scott had decided to seek his fortune in New South Wales. Venturing out on foot from the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy with his companion James Nesbitt, Scott soon added Frank Johns, August Wernicke and Thomas Rogan to the mix. A few miles outside of Wantabadgery they convinced a swaggie named Graham Bennett to join them and from there they continued on to Wantabadgery station, which Scott had been told would provide them food, shelter and possibly work. When they got there they were made to wait outside for two hours to see the superintendent, who simply told them to go away. On that day 140 years ago it was cloudy and raining, but when we were there the heat was unrelenting, as were the flies. Despite the difference in climate, the immersion was easy. The terrain doesn’t appear to have altered much all these decades after the fact. It is very easy to picture the bushrangers huddled among the boulders on the outskirts of Wantabadgery station, trying to get some sleep after being turned away.
The first stop for us was the Webb-Bowen memorial (“The hero of Wantabadgery”), which is the only real public acknowledgement of the bushranging event in Wantabadgery. The result of a wonderful community effort to honour the fallen officer, it features a metal sculpture by Max Burmeister and artworks by locals that portray Webb-Bowen as something of a pop culture figure (I personally really love the Warhol inspired piece on display there and would like to see that become a poster of some description). A simplified map is on display to indicate the significant spots in the area related to the events, which gives a decent indication of where to go and came in handy. It would have been nice to see some signage at the relevant sites akin to those placed at locations pertaining to the Ned Kelly story, but it is understandable that more of an effort hadn’t been made to draw attention to these places in that manner, especially as these are still working farms. Regardless of where you go that is connected to the Moonlite story, there is almost no acknowledgment of it or only a vague understanding of it. Captain Moonlite does not bring tourists into towns like Ned Kelly does, unfortunately.
Wantabadgery Station is currently a working cattle farm, concerned with raising black Angus, and by all accounts they do a very good job of it. No doubt they occasionally get visitors asking to see the homestead the Moonliters bailed up in 1879, but on this occasion I decided it was better to be more respectful than simply rocking up and asking to have a sticky beak. It must be remembered that a great many of the sites associated with bushranger stories are on private property, especially in the Riverina where bushrangers preferred to raid farms rather than rob mail coaches. One day, perhaps, I’ll pluck up the courage to get a look at the farm, but until then I must be satisfied with having stood at the gate, much as Moonlite and his boys did while waiting to see Percy Baynes.
McGlede’s farm was the location of the final shootout between the gang and police. While a gunfight had occurred at Wantabadgery station, there were no casualties. When a combined troop of police from Wagga Wagga and Gundagai intercepted the gang at the McGlede selection, however, a deadly battle ensued. It was here that James Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke were killed, and Constable Webb-Bowen was mortally wounded. There is nothing left of the selection now apart from the land. There are no signs pointing to it or seemingly anything at all to indicate the site. I stopped to ask some locals if they knew where to find it and they merely stared at me with the vaguely confused look cows usually give humans (Georgina did not find my bovine interrogation a-moo-sing). Having to be satisfied with having gone to the approximate location, the decision was made to head for Gundagai, where hopefully at least one of us might get enough phone reception to plot our return trip. I annoyed Georgina greatly by cranking up Slim Dusty’s version of “The Road to Gundagai” as we approached the town. It was a place that I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little boy. Some of my family members had visited back in the ’90s and brought us back souvenirs related to the statue of Dad and Dave, Mum and Mabel. It became something of an ambition of mine to see the real deal myself. It wasn’t hard to find exactly what I had sought for so long. The statue is right next to the visitor centre. The familiar shapes of the popular Steele Rudd characters immediately caught my eye. We parked and walked down to the statue. It was incredible to see these strange, almost malformed figures looming over me with hollow eyes. The statue was far bigger than I had imagined, and far more detailed. It’s original location when unveiled in the 1970s was opposite the statue of The Dog on the Tuckerbox (more on that later), but in 2005 it was relocated to the reserve next to the info centre. The connection to Gundagai comes from the old radio series of Dad and Dave of Snake Gully that used the song “The Road to Gundagai” at the beginning of each episode. To get a sense of Australian culture from the turn of the century, I recommend getting your hands on some form of media pertaining to Dad and Dave. I think Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, starring Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush in the title roles, is a great way to get an introduction to the quirky world of the Rudd family.
One of the best and newest attractions in Gundagai is the statue of Yarri and Jacky Jacky. These two courageous men are hugely important in the history of the town and more than deserving of such a beautiful sculpture to commemorate them. In the 1850s Gundagai was first founded on the flood plains of the Murrumbidgee river. Of course, the local Wiradjuri people had warned the whites about the risk of flooding; after all, the name of the place came from a word in the local dialect meaning “big water”. In 1852 the area was subjected to a catastrophic flood, destroying homes and leaving many people stranded amongst the gurgling floodwaters. Seeing that the people needed assistance, Jacky Jacky and Yarri led a rescue mission, riding out in bark canoes with other Wiradjuri men into the torrent to rescue survivors, saving 69 people. 89 of the 250 settlers perished in the flood, which left only three buildings intact when things settled. It is hard to say anything to adequately emphasise or exaggerate what is already an incredible turn of events. Happily, the statue stands in front of a series of information panels that describe Gundagai’s history. More effort needs to be made to highlight these stories of unity from our history, but this is a good start.
Antique shops have always been attractive to me, most likely because of my Dad’s hobby of looking for a bargain in any obscure place he came across. A collector of items ranging from ceramic horses to Inuit soapstone carvings, he played a big part in my fascination with collecting. Naturally, the moment I saw what appeared to be a decent collection of vintage knick-knacks I had to poke my head in. Beyond the rows of vintage clothing and antiques in Junque and Disorderly, a creaky staircase led up to the Gabriel Gallery, a collection of photography from the turn of the century by Dr. Charles Gabriel. The images were a fascinating look at the history of Gundagai and portrayed a vibrant community at the dawn of Federation. Of course, as is the way with basically every museum, big or small, there was one very unique part of the collection. In this case it was a walking stick and letters belonging to Henry Lawson, the great bush poet. If you have an interest in photography or early federal Australian history, the Gabriel Gallery is a great attraction to visit in Gundagai.
After a brief rest to have a cool drink, we decided it was time we headed for the gaol. Gundagai Gaol is located on a steep incline behind the courthouse and is only accessible on a tour, which you can book in the information centre. The blistering heat proved not to be very conducive to getting up the hill without becoming out of breath, but it was good to tick off the list, even though we didn’t go in. The gaol consists of two small buildings around the size of camp dormitories, and was the location where the Moonliters were held after their capture. The courthouse being so close to the gaol meant that it was no effort to have a quick walk around the outside on the way back down the hill from the gaol. The courthouse is a handsomely designed and built structure that operates very rarely, but is still a functional courthouse. It was the place where the Moonliters were committed for trial, which would take place in the Supreme Court in Sydney.
We geared ourselves up for a visit to the local museum but a makeshift sign informed us that the opening hours had changed and we would not be getting in this particular day. Unfortunate, but not unexpected. The itinerary was subsequently shifted around and we made way for the cemetery. By this stage I was glad to be taking advantage of the air conditioning in the car. Throughout the trip the temperature rarely dipped below 30°C.
The Gundagai Cemetery was a little way out of town but worth the visit. It is the one location that makes an effort to signpost anything connected to Captain Moonlite. The cemetery is surprisingly vast and open and the ground rock hard from the rigorous drought that has plagued the region. The monument marking the resting place of Senior Constable Webb-Bowen is hardly inconspicuous and juts out of the smattering of squat and crumbling grave markers, gleaming white. Next to it is the far more humble headstone belonging to Sergeant Edmund Parry who was killed by Johnny Gilbert in 1864. To see two officers of high esteem next to each other in such a way is just brilliant for the die-hard bushranger buffs.
To find Moonlite’s grave one must trek further uphill to the back of the cemetery. Here you will find a large rock with a plaque on it marking the resting place of the notorious preacher. Were it not for the seating heat and the incessant flies, the moment would have been quite profound – after all, this was my first time visiting the resting place of one of my favourite historical figures. I left a copy of my article about Wantabadgery on the grave, both as a sign of respect to Scott and his mates as well as the police, but also so that people that visited after us could learn something about the reason why the grave was significant enough to earn signage. I should point out that Scott would be fairly chuffed at being in such a prime location in the cemetery, looking down on the rest of the graves from beneath the shade. It was very rewarding to have finally connected with these historical figures.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox statue is a must-see if you are in Gundagai. This humble canine has become an icon ever since its unveiling in 1939. Inspired by a poem about a bullocky who is having a bad day, the statue depicts a cattle dog perched on a tuckerbox and is mounted on a plinth in a little pool. Recently the statue was vandalised but was quickly repaired and put back on his pride of place. There are some ruins adjoining the courtyard that used to be hotels for travellers going through the region, and there is a cafe where you can get a bite to eat and a Dog on the Tuckerbox souvenir. One of the more unexpected sights in this location is a cubist statue of folk musician Lazy Harry. Long time Kelly buffs will be well acquainted with Lazy Harry from his album about Ned Kelly, which has been on loop in Glenrowan for several decades.
After our jaunt through Moonlite country, we headed into Junee for a day without the focus being on bushrangers. Though Junee was on Ben Hall’s beat and was the location of a store his gang robbed multiple times, we had something else in mind.
Junee itself is quiet and pleasant, with easy to navigate streets. It wasn’t difficult to find the Licorice and Chocolate Factory, a huge brick building surrounded by gardens and gravel car parks. We were greeted by the sound of live music wafting as we walked into the premises. There were statues of sheep and dogs, the meaning of which were somewhat lost on us, and we made our way inside. Crossing through the cafe, we reached the factory where many warm and tasty smells lingered in the air – the rich aroma of chocolate mingling with the tang of licorice. There was not much to see through the big windows that kept the onlookers separated from the equipment on this day, but it would be interesting enough if we were on a guided tour, which the television display was obviously a part of. We went upstairs and looked at the homewares and knick-knacks, noting the beautiful writing sets and kitchenware. There was a lot of cast iron pieces as well, which were quite nice. We went back to the cafe and had hot chocolates, which were delicious and creamy. Georgina bought Orange Whiskey Marmalade, and although we didn’t buy any chocolate for fear it would simply melt in the heat, there was a lot of items we would have snapped up (though the chocolate boobs – yes, that’s a thing – were not on that list).
Monte Cristo is one of the most spooky and well-known attractions in New South Wales and probably the best known thing in Junee. Billed as Australia’s most haunted homestead, it dates back to the mid-1870s and has many spooky stories attached to it. Restored from essentially ruins by Reg and Olive Ryan, the homestead is an impressive example of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian architecture. Though the buildings are starting to look a little shabbier than in the glory days after the restoration, one can appreciate the degree of work that went into essentially rebuilding the place. While I had believed that the property must have been remote, it turns out that Monte Cristo is right in the heart of Junee, making it super easy to find.
Though the place dates from later than the height of bushranging in the area, one can still imagine how the Crawleys who owned the property might have responded to news that the Kelly Gang and the Moonliters were close by in the late 1870s. Of course, the one thing everyone wants to experience at Monte Cristo is the paranormal, and if you’re open to it you won’t be disappointed. I personally witnessed a man’s shadow moving in “the boy’s room” when nobody was in there, and there were plenty of weird vibes in certain rooms. The Dairy Room is the most disturbing part of the property. Both Georgina and I entered thinking it looked nice and cozy, but that quickly changed. For me it struck when I realised the chain looped through a hole in the wall was not for locking the door. See, it was in this room that an intellectually disabled boy was restrained by a chain in that same spot, resulting in the extreme wear and tear on the bricks. In fact he had been in there, restrained, when his mother died of heart failure right in front of him and left there for days before someone went to investigate. It was in this building also that a caretaker was murdered by a local youth who allegedly was inspired to kill after watching the movie Psycho.
One must be careful not to let the spooky reputation get the better of you, as we almost gave a visitor a heart attack when he came past the original homestead and saw Georgina and I taking the weight off our feet on a bench. Certainly the place could have done without all the Halloween decorations everywhere, most of which appeared to have been left partly taken down. In the courtyard between the servants’ quarters and the ballroom were two old hearses filled with plastic skeletons. It cheapened the vibe of the place considerably. A recent addition to the site is the Doll Museum, which I knew we had to do as soon as I saw it. Though only a small building, the collection is huge and very impressive. The horror section should appeal to many visitors with replicas of Annabelle and Chucky in glass cabinets. There’s even a Ned Kelly doll in the mix. Seriously, Ned is everywhere!
When our time in Wagga Wagga was at an end, it was time to head back towards the border. Of course, the Riverina was the home to many notorious bushrangers – Dan Morgan, Blue Cap, Harry Power – but our next stop put us in a key location in the Kelly story. Jerilderieis not far from the border, but it isn’t exactly the kind of place you would go to unless you had a specific reason to, and you would be able to see the attractions in an afternoon. While trucks rumble through it at all hours, there is hardly any other traffic, and the place is so small that it really isn’t hard to understand how easy it was for the Kelly Gang to keep essentially the whole town prisoner in the pub. Alas, such is life where many of these old country towns are concerned, as infrastructure has frequently bypassed many of them, leading to isolation and a reduction in the strength of the local economy. A town like Jerilderie could definitely use the cash injection that tourism would bring, but the lack of tourism has led to many of the tourist attractions becoming little more than dots on a map. It’s a “catch 22”.
By the time we arrived, the heat was fairly intolerable. We stayed in Ned’s Studio Apartment, which was a really lovely spot. With its close proximity to everything the town offers as well as its own amenities enabling us to cook and clean our clothes, it was a perfect base during our stay. There was only one downside. At first we didn’t make much of the fact that the water tasted strange but when we washed our clothes and they smelled like they had been washed in a swimming pool we knew something was up. Sure enough, a bit of Googling revealed that Jerilderie has an issue with chlorine in the water supply. While easy to get around, it’s the kind of thing that is helpful to be aware of in advance and the sort of thing you don’t find out about unless you specifically look for information about it.
After our arrival in town, we stopped in at the Royal Mail Hotel, where the Kelly Gang had kept their prisoners while they robbed the bank. In 1879, this building was attached to the bank, which is now the location of a motor mechanic shop, and this feature proved useful to the Kellys. While Dan Kelly kept the prisoners guarded in what is now a dining room, Joe Byrne walked next door to the bank via a rear passage and began the work of robbing it. Where once Ned Kelly gave a speech about the circumstances of his life that led him to become an outlaw, now stand inactive arcade machines and dining tables. The walls are decorated with a mix of historical photos and framed photocopies of images from Ned Kelly: A Short Life. As Georgina had a whiskey and I unwound from driving through kilometres of parched New South Welsh farmland, the other patrons comprised entirely of a man of around his late thirties and his friend who was a “little person”. The pair added a bit of life to the bar. Perhaps we just went in at the wrong time, seeing as that night when we went there for dinner the bar room was full of men knocking back beers after a hard day’s work.
After settling in at the accommodation, we decided to take a quick look around town. It soon became apparent that when reports described Ned Kelly and Constable Richards going through the streets so Ned could make a mental map of the town, it wasn’t quite as much effort as one might imagine. Where the gang’s plot unfolded was in a small section in the heart of the town.
The old printing shop that was run by Gill, the newspaper editor, was only a short distance away from the hotel. Gill was the man Ned Kelly wanted to publish his letter. At some stage the place had been turned into a museum but there was no way in as the place was locked up and left alone, though a peek in the windows showed there were displays set up inside still. No doubt there would have been interesting things to see in the museum had it ever opened, but alas it was another closed door to add to the list.
The Traveller’s Rest is situated in the street behind the council building, right by a giant windmill. This was the location of the infamous incident wherein Steve Hart took a watch from Reverend Gribble. Gribble complained to Ned Kelly, who in turn made Steve return the watch. It was also here that Ned had his last drinks before heading home after the bank robbery. It is said that he placed his pistol on the bar and said in his typical braggadocio fashion, “There is my gun. Anyone can take it and shoot me; but if you do, Jerilderie will drown in its own blood.”
The telegraph office is probably the most iconic building in Jerilderie, owing to its very conspicuous signage stating its connection to the Kelly story. In the past it was open for visitors but now remains closed. A peek through the windows reveals not only the huge cracks in the walls, but also the few exhibits that have been left out to gather dust, the plaque on the wall in the main room and a bunch of boxes and crates that were evidently used for packing up items in the building. There is also a plastic box out front that presumably used to contain maps or pamphlets of some kind, but is now empty. I left a printout of my article on Jerilderie in the box for a visitor to collect with the intention that it could help set the scene as they explored the town.
The old blacksmith shop was where Joe Byrne took the gang’s horses to be shod. No longer publicly accessible, in previous years it was able to be explored for $2, and a radio interview with Andrew Nixon, one of the smithies that worked there when the gang visited, would play in the background to set the scene. Now, apart from the Kelly trail signage there is nothing to indicate the historical significance of the building.
Jerilderie’s information centre doubles as a lolly shop, appropriately dubbed Sticky Fingers. In a back room you can get information about the town and surrounding areas, while in the main entrance you can buy souvenirs and lollies. As well as getting maps and useful tips, I procured some sweet treats to enjoy. The souvenirs are the usual Kelly fare with Jerilderie slapped on where otherwise it would say “Glenrowan” or “Beechworth” or whatever town the things were to represent. It would be great to have something to purchase that reflected Jerilderie specifically, but sometimes you have to be satisfied with what you have on offer.
A little further out is the site of the old police complex, where once stood the barracks, stables and lock-up. All that remains is the stables, and what I took to be the adjoining lock-up cell, but the printed sheet that explained the building was long rotted by the elements so it wasn’t exactly easy to find the info. Road works were being undertaken at the site so we had to dodge earth moving vehicles as we headed up to the stables. There is something strangely poetic about the dilapidated state of the building, excepting the recently installed guttering. It was here that the Kelly Gang had their base of operations in the town after locking the police up in the cell. The original police station is long gone, now a big empty patch of dirt marks where the police station used to be.
As was becoming a recurring theme in our travels, we started our days in town at the bakery. The food is good, the prices reasonable and the service friendly. The mural of notable figures from the town’s history was certainly… unique. Now, at the risk of sounding perhaps a smidge insensitive, I am used to seeing wall murals that adhere to artistic conventions like balance in the layout and verisimilitude in the portraits. Evidently some degree of effort went into the portraits, but there’s something odd about seeing a depiction of Joe Byrne with what looks like an advanced case of Proteus syndrome. Fortunately around the corner is a nice little exhibit of items found on the site, including a shortened Martini Henry rifle that may have been dropped by one of the trooopers that went to the town from Victoria in search of the gang. Out the back there is also a big statue of Ned Kelly made from bread tins, which I quite liked. It gave me a few little flashbacks to my short-lived baker apprenticeship seeing all those tins.
After a short stay in Jerilderie, it was time to hit the road again. I made the executive decision to pass through Culcairn so that I could get a chance to see some key sites related to Dan Morgan. We stopped for brunch at the Culcairn Bakery and had some of the best, freshest food we had had the entire trip. Honestly, it was tempting to linger in town a bit longer, but we had places to be and things to see.
Just outside of town is the grave of John McLean, the stockman who has the dubious honour of being the first man murdered by Dan Morgan. After Morgan had drunkenly fired his pistol into a crowd of captives at Round Hill Station, a local squatter named John Heriot had been badly wounded when a bullet struck his leg. McLean had gotten Morgan’s permission to fetch a doctor, but Morgan’s accomplices convinced him that McLean was going for the police instead. When Morgan ordered McLean to stop and the man continued riding, Morgan shot him. He took McLean back to the station and stayed with him all night. McLean died soon after and even though the grave by the side of the road has a big sign next to it to tell the story, it is in fact a fake grave. The real grave is actually several hundred metres away by Round Hill Station.
Round Hill Station is another example of a bushranger site that has continued to thrive beyond its infamous past. Now billed as Round Hill Homestead, it is both a farm and a perfect place for functions such as weddings. As with Wantabadgery Station, I elected not to go wandering in uninvited, satisfied with knowing I had been to the spot, more or less, where Morgan went from just another highwayman to Morgan the Murderer.
The brief spell outside the car saw me swarmed with flies and seriously wishing I had one of those hats with the corks hanging off the brim. I happily shooed the last of them out of the car before we headed off towards Walla Walla.
Morgan’s Lookout was one of the few things on the list that I had positioned as a must. Located on the outskirts of Culcairn, northwest of Walla Walla, the lookout is essentially a collection of huge boulders where Dan Morgan is believed to have made a camp so he could monitor the movements of police and potential victims from afar. There is no admission fee and it opens from sunrise to sunset. By the time we arrived the heat was blistering and the moment we stood outside it hit like opening a preheated oven. It appeared that some effort had been made to create a set of signs detailing the history and ecology of the location. Walking through the huge boulders was incredible. You could easily imagine Morgan sleeping inside the overhangs or lurking between the rocks, ready to pounce. A steel staircase allowed access to the top of the largest boulder. On the way around we met another visitor that was taking photographs – the only other living soul at the spot at the time. The hike up the stairs was almost as breathtaking as the view from the top of the lookout; once up on the platform you realise just how far Morgan would have been able to see. For what seemed thousands of miles around, everything was dry, mostly flat and yellow. It was easy to see how an enterprising bushranger would find the viewpoint useful. Unfortunately the weather proved intolerable and we headed back to the car quicker than originally intended. Once inside our conveyance we spent five or more minutes trying to get the flies out before resuming the trip.
We returned over the border much earlier than originally planned due to a decision to power through to Beechworth. This decision may have proved to have been wise given that only an hour or so after passing back through Wodonga we heard news of fires breaking out in Albury. Once we were back in Victoria we were relieved to once again see hills and the colour green. The trip was slowed considerably by road works, but hopefully soon there will be nice new road surfaces for drivers in the area. When we finally made it to Beechworth we checked in at the George Kerferd Hotel. This lavish accommodation, especially in comparison to our previous lodgings, is situated within the grounds of the former lunatic asylum (somewhat appropriate, some may say, for someone such as I). That night we indulged in Chinese food from the Chinese Village Restaurant. Georgina probably wouldn’t have felt the trip was complete without having done so at least once.
One of the best things to do in Beechworth is to explore the darker side by going on a ghost tour of the old lunatic asylum. As an enthusiast of all things paranormal, this came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Our original plan to walk from the accommodation was vetoed by our disinclination to walk after our dinner. This proved a wise decision as the asylum grounds are deceptively huge. The winding road to where the tours operate was suitably eerie as night closed in and a light drizzle began. The Asylum Ghost Tours signs, with their ominous bloody handprints, led us to the Bijou Theatre from where the tour would begin. The theatre is decked out with a mix of historical medical paraphernalia and ghostly themed decorations of questionable taste, but you can buy merchandise from there either before or after the tour. I bought a copy of the book Palace of Broken Dreams, which is an interesting read and details the history of the site. Our guide Bronwen was excellent, leading us through the buildings and recounting the history, both earthly and otherworldly, clearly and without any forced theatricality. It should be noted that this is not one of those tacky tours where you’re led into darkened rooms where some git in a Halloween costume will jump out and scare people. No, this tour lets the history and the location do all the work. As for paranormal experiences, both Georgina and I experienced things on the tour. For myself, I saw what appeared to be a young boy with a shaved head trying to hide behind some cars parked outside of what was at one stage an arts room, as well as hearing the voice of an older male in an empty room as we entered the complex where the nursery was housed. Throughout the tour, our guide was gracious in answering questions. My inclination during such tours is always to dig deeper where possible and Bronwen demonstrated that she was intimately acquainted with the place and the entities therein, as much as the history side of things, which was very impressive. Ultimately I would rate this tour extremely highly and recommend it for anyone with an interest in the paranormal or even just in the history of medicine in Australia.
One of the important things we had to do while in the region was visit the El Dorado Museum for a meeting. Georgina’s work on An Outlaw’s Journal has led to a very close relationship with the museum as they are in the process of updating their collections and displays. As small local museums go, El Dorado is a beauty. Their collection ranges through all sorts of history from the colonial era to militaria and even geology. Our work with the museum at present is super secret, but Georgina took the opportunity to give the museum a beta copy of the book she has been working on about the El Dorado cow that Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt stole. As usual, it was a fruitful meeting and an absolute pleasure to meet the committee with whom we look forward to working with in future.
As in previous visits, we went to the Beechworth Courthouse, where many infamous faces had their day in court. Recently restoration works were performed in parts of the building and the historical books in the library were treated to prevent any creepy crawlies from making a meal out of them. The courtroom is basically unchanged from the era that saw members of the Kelly gang and their families on trial there and there are some very interesting exhibits. The staff are friendly and happy to have a chat about the building and its history, and even though I’ve heard the spiel a half dozen times it never gets dull.
We also made a trip to theBurke Museum, where they are doing refurbishment to a portion of the interior where the Chinese collection is housed. The Chinese artifacts are one of the most important collections in the museum, owing to the cultural significance both to the Beechworth community and the Chinese in equal measure, many of whom travel to Beechworth specifically to connect with their heritage. In light of this, I purchased a set of postcards with illustrations depicting frontier life for the Chinese featuring artwork by Andrew Swift. We were privileged enough to get a look through some of the historical photographs in their archives in search of sites connected to Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go back and get copies as intended. The team at the museum are friendly, enthusiastic and very helpful if you are looking for assistance in your research.
We also went to the Ned Kelly Vault, one of Beechworth’s best attractions. The small building houses the best singular collection of Kelly related relics in the world, spanning the whole story and it’s cultural influences. As a big enthusiast of film, it is always a hoot to see armour worn by Mick Jagger, John Jarratt and Heath Ledger on display, among the various other exciting items such as Ann Jones’ table, helmets and weapons used by Victoria Police, and a range of photos of people involved in the story, including an image purporting to show Ned and Dan Kelly prior to their outlawry (which can only be viewed in a specially constructed box). The volunteer-run museum has thousands of people going through its doors every year and hopefully things will continue to grow.
Another spot we visited in Beechworth was the remnants of the old hospital. Essentially, all that remains of the busy frontier hospital is the stonework from the front wall. As impressive as it is, there is something rather melancholy in the absence of the rest of the building, but that’s progress for you. Once upon a time, this would have been bustling with nurses and doctors going about their duties, attending to patients from the town and the goldfields. Now, it’s just a bunch of carved stone leading onto an empty lot.
The following day we started with a trip to the El Dorado Pottery, a favourite of mine. After making a few purchases, we headed through the Woolshed Valley. Although the speed limit along the trail is 100km p/h, the road is covered in fine dust and gravel – not exactly prime conditions in case of a need to stop suddenly at top speed. We briefly stopped at Reedy Creek so Georgina could dip her toes in the water. As we were leaving there were already locals coming down in their swimmers to cool off. It’s a beautiful spot to have a swim and no doubt Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt did as much back in the day. As we continued, we stopped at the site of the Sebastopol Flats, where Joe Byrne used to work and socialise with the Chinese. Georgina made a series of videos for her Facebook page covering aspects of the story related to the locations we were visiting, the last of which was The Devil’s Elbow, where Aaron Sherritt lived at the time of his murder. The trail is conveniently signposted throughout and you can read up on the history as you go. Unfortunately there is not a lot of structures left to see, so the signs do a fantastic job of explaining what things were there and their significance.
We then made our way back to Beechworth where we managed to get in on a tour through the Beechworth Gaol. Despite some factual inaccuracies on this occasion that only big nerds like myself would pick up on, the tour was lively and engaging. The gaol itself is in excellent condition, owing to the fact that it was only fifteen years ago that it was decommissioned. If you are in Beechworth, try and get on the tour, which operates twice daily. There are many links to not only the Kelly Gang (all of whom had served time there), but also more recent high-profile criminals such as Squizzy Taylor and Carl Williams. To drive home the Kelly connection, a set of dummies dressed in replica armour stands between the corridors of cells. For some reason Joe Byrne’s helmet had been swapped with a second Dan Kelly helmet, but not everyone is as pedantic enough to notice as I am. Hopefully there will be more attractions at the gaol soon to encourage visitors beyond the tour, but as in all things it requires money and time, which is often in short supply these days.
That night we returned to the Beechworth Gaol for an evening hunting for ghosts. The Beechworth Gaol is the location of the four hour long paranormal investigations hosted by Danni from Paranormal Prospectors. Entering the gaol with the lights off, after dark, was a confronting experience itself, but this was heightened by the fact that the electronic temperature gauge that had been set up in the aisle of the male cell block appeared to be floating when we entered, though it may have been an optical illusion caused by the dramatic change in lighting. Regardless of whether or not it was, this has to be hands down the single most paranormally active place I’ve ever been. We got EVPs, Georgina was poked in the back by a disembodied finger (with an EVP capturing a voice describing exactly that), the laser grid was manipulated to go brighter and duller, there were intelligent responses where whistling patterns were being repeated by a disembodied voice in various points in the prison, there were disembodied footsteps, and intelligent responses on the spirit box. One of the most incredible things was the table tipping, where the group lightly rested their fingertips on the edge of a small table and it began to tilt and spin. It spun so fast we were all running in a circle and it tipped so intensely it fell over several times, and yet nobody was gripping the table at all – I have no conventional explanation for it. Overall, it was absolutely exhilarating to experience and as a ghost buff I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth.
On the return trip we popped into the Beechworth Galleries, where we examined the bric-a-brac and marvelled at the welded sculptures. The statues, of which a considerable number depicted Ned Kelly in armour, are made by a South African artist and range from the whimsical to the absolutely astounding. Any garden or deck would be immediately improved by having one of these amazing artworks on display there – just don’t ask me how you’ll get a life-size elk made of steel home. A keen observer might recognise the artist’s work on display outside of the Billy Tea Rooms in Glenrowan.
We also made sure to visit Glenrowan. For me, this is where it all began in 1998 during a stop on the way to Beechworth for my grade six school camp. Of course, in some ways it was a very different place back then. For one, back then Bob Hempel was still fit enough to charge out of the animated theatre ringing a bell to attract visitors whenever a session was due to begin. Nowadays, he’s far more subdued but you still hear the crack of the “gunfire” echoing through the main strip to remind you of the attraction’s presence. Kate’s Cottage hasn’t really changed, though the pet birds are dead now and the re-created Kelly house is starting to sag like an under-baked cake, but they still play Lazy Harry on loop, and you can still get your Ned Kelly tea towels and ciggie lighters from there. The site of the siege has recently had the stolen wooden replica of the inn sign replaced with a metal one that is hopefully harder to pinch, though the metal sculpture approximating Ned’s armour at the capture site has already had the helmet stolen, having been there for only around a month.
We had our brunch at the Vintage Hall Cafe, which is both a cafe and a shop that sells a mix of souvenirs and second hand items. It was here in 1970 that the Mick Jagger film had it’s Victorian premiere, and some local brainboxes decided to set off explosives around the building in protest (surprisingly this act did not somehow stop the film from existing). I managed to pick up a copy of the Monty Wedd Ned Kelly comic strip in a hardcover book, which was something I had been wanting for a long time. Then Georgina and I did our usual trip to Kate’s Cottage to browse the books. If you’ve got a decent wad of cash on you, you can pick up some really great titles from the range of second-hand books. I was very tempted by a number of the titles but decided to save up. Then it was a quick sojourn at the Billy Tea Rooms, which provide a lovely spot to have a bite to eat. We walked to the site of the siege where we had a moment of contemplating. It probably would have been longer than a moment if it wasn’t so hot that we could feel our skin baking.
After this we made our way to Greta to visit the cemetery, but ended up going to Moyhu and buying a fake plant centrepiece because we couldn’t find anywhere nearby that we could get flowers from. The volunteers that have been working to maintain and upgrade the facilities in the cemetery have done exemplary work and it is a pity that more of the smaller country cemeteries don’t get as much TLC. The Kelly graves are not marked, though with some research you can find out where the plots are. While many people complain that the graves are unmarked, it is very unlikely that it would make much of a difference. The marker at the gate is a tasteful memorial to the whole family, unified in the afterlife. Of course, having visited three quarters of the gang, we had to visit Joe Byrne one more time as we returned via Benalla (I doubt Georgina would have forgiven me if we hadn’t). From that point it was just a straight ride into the sunset on our way home where I hoped the cat hadn’t baked to death in my heat-trap of a house. Fortunately my mum had been an angel, as always, and made sure that the cat was looked after in my absence. By the time we got home we were both exhausted and decided that it was time to order a pizza now that we were somewhere that it would actually get delivered to.
It was indeed a very eventful trip. To experience the places where these incredible stories unfolded is always wonderful and exciting. It was good to see so much of the history preserved, but at the same time the amount of attractions that were poorly maintained or not maintained at all was disappointing. Australia’s heritage may not be full of Roman hippodromes or Greek amphitheatres, but what we do have is valuable and it is disheartening to see so much being lost because people either can’t afford to restore and maintain, or just can’t be bothered. Ideally, a town like Jerilderie could be thriving with frequent visitors coming through to visit the Kelly sites, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are so small and off the beaten track. Towns like Beechworth, in comparison, embrace their history and perhaps it could even be said that they take it for granted along with their accessibility due to proximity to the highway. It’s sad to see, but the reality is that it’s getting harder and harder to keep these things up and running in Australia, and these attractions will exist only as long as the people owning them are physically able to be there. Some young entrepreneur with a bit of cash behind them could revolutionise the tourism industry in bushranger country, but it would require real passion for the history as much as a fat bank account. These sites are our history and our culture and deserve to be maintained and cared for. Perhaps in the not too distant future, they will get the attention they need. Only time will tell.
Few figures in history reach the notoriety and cultural impact of the Kelly Gang. As so much is easily available on the subject already, here is an easily digestible summary of the so-called Kelly Outbreak. For more detailed information, there is a swathe of articles available on A Guide to Australian Bushranging that examine elements of the history in more depth.
The story of the Kelly Gang begins on 15 April, 1878. Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was sent by Sergeant Whelan at Benalla to take charge of the police station at Greta. Greta was well-known to police in the district as members of the Kelly, Quinn and Lloyd families(all related) had selections there. These families were under particularly strict scrutiny by the police due to their recidivism and suspected involvement in crimes such as stock theft. In fact, Constable Fitzpatrick had heard there was a warrant out for the arrest of Dan Kelly, the seventeen year-old son of the notorious Ellen Kelly, for his suspected involvement in horse stealing. He made it known to Whelan that he intended to arrest Dan en route to Greta police station. Despite popular understanding, Fitzpatrick was not required by law to carry a copy of a warrant with him.
When Fitzpatrick arrived at the Kelly selection, Dan was not at home so he spoke with Ellen Kelly (who was nursing a newborn), then rode to their neighbour, William “Brickey” Williamson, and questioned him about whether he had a permit for the logs he was splitting. He lingered until dusk and returned to the Kelly selection in case Dan had returned rather than riding to Greta to take charge of the station as ordered. Dan Kelly answered the door and Fitzpatrick made his intentions known. Dan agreed to go quietly with Fitzpatrick on condition that he could finish his dinner first as he had been riding all day. He denied having stolen any horses and it would later be revealed that he had been in gaol when the animals in question were stolen, corroborating his assertions. What happened next is not known for sure due to conflicting evidence. What seems to have been the case, according to popular understanding, is that Fitzpatrick possibly made an unwanted sexual advance on fifteen year-old Kate Kelly and a fight broke out. Fitzpatrick claimed that Ellen Kelly hit him in the head with a coal shovel and Ned Kelly entered the house and shot him in the wrist, accompanied by Brickey Williamson and Ellen Kelly’s son-in-law Bill Skillion who were both brandishing revolvers. Ned Kelly would claim he was never there and Ellen would indicate that Fitzpatrick was drunk and had fought with Ned and Dan. Another version of the story states that Fitzpatrick injured his arm on a door latch and claimed it was a bullet wound, cutting himself to make it look like he had removed a bullet. Regardless, Fitzpatrick returned to Benalla and lodged a report. The following day Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with aiding an attempted murder. Ned and Dan Kelly had gone into hiding at Dan Kelly’s hut in the bush, and a £100 reward was posted for the capture of Ned Kelly for attempted murder.
While the brothers were hiding in the Wombat Ranges Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Bill Skillion were sentenced. Ellen Kelly received three years hard labour, the two men were given six years each. Days later a search party was sent from Mansfield to find the Kelly brothers. Word soon reached the bushrangers that they were being hunted and they tracked the police as they ventured into the bush from Mansfield on 25 October, 1878. Despite the fact they had constructed a fortified hut with huge logs for walls and an armoured door made of sheet metal to protect them in an ambush, they remained on edge. The Mansfield police party consisted of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas McIntyre, Michael Scanlan (of Mooroopna) and Thomas Lonigan (of Violet Town). They set up camp on the banks of Stringybark Creek, less than a mile from Dan Kelly’s hut. The following day Kennedy and Scanlan headed off to scout for the brothers, leaving McIntyre and Lonigan to tend the camp. McIntyre shot some parrots with a shotgun Kennedy had left him for the task of hunting something for supper. He returned to camp and began cooking bread. Unknown to them, the sound of McIntyre shooting had been heard and Ned Kelly decided to bail up the police. He and Dan were joined by Joe Byrne, a young man from the Woolshed Valley who had recently been involved in stock theft with Ned, and Steve Hart, a jockey from Wangaratta. Ned claimed his intention was to rob the police of their food and weapons.
In the afternoon of 26 October, 1878, the Kelly Gang emerged from the bush and ordered McIntyre and Lonigan to bail up. McIntyre did as instructed but Lonigan ran and was shot by Ned with a quartered bullet. A piece of shrapnel pierced Lonigan’s eye and entered his brain, killing him. Ned insisted that Lonigan had gotten behind a log and was about to shoot him. McIntyre would refute this, stating that there was not enough time for Lonigan to have done so. The bushrangers raided the camp, gathering what they could. Dan Kelly insisted McIntyre be handcuffed but Ned refused. He ordered McIntyre to tell the other police to surrender when they returned or be shot. Joe Byrne drank tea and smoked with McIntyre as they waited. When Kennedy and Scanlan returned the gang hid and McIntyre attempted to get the police to surrender. Very suddenly shots were fired. Ned shot Scanlan in the back as his horse tried to run away. Kennedy jumped out of the saddle and began shooting with his pistol. McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse and rode into the bush. Kennedy attempted to follow McIntyre and shot Dan Kelly in the shoulder. Ned pursued Kennedy and they fired at each other in a running gunfight. Kennedy was wounded and fell a considerable distance from the camp. Ned finished him off by shooting him in the chest at close range. He would claim it was a mercy killing. The bushrangers then looted from the corpses and took everything they needed from the camp before burning the tent. Constable McIntyre, meanwhile, had been badly injured as he escaped and hid in a wombat hole overnight. The following day he walked to a farm and raised the alarm.
Almost immediately parliament passed the Felons Apprehension Act, which gave them the power to declare people “outlaws”. This was based on the legislation of the same name passed in New South Wales in response to bushrangers such as Ben Hall and Dan Morgan. It meant that the outlaws were not protected by the law and could be murdered without provocation and the killer would not only be exempt from any repercussions, they would receive the reward money. Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly and their two accomplices (Joe Byrne and Steve Hart had not yet been identified) were officially declared outlaws in the colony of Victoria. £1000 was put on Ned’s capture, another £1000 was offered for the others. The assistant commissioner of police, Charles Hope Nicolson, was assigned to lead the hunt for the gang.
On 9 December, 1878, the Kelly Gang re-emerged. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station at Faithfull’s Creek and imprisoned the staff in a storeroom. That evening a hawker arrived to camp at the station and he was bailed up as well. The outlaws took new outfits from the hawkers wagon and spruced themselves up with perfume. Later, Ned held a Q&A session in the shed where he answered all the questions his prisoners had about his life and crimes. The next morning, Dan guarded the prisoners while the other gang members destroyed the telegraph lines. A hunting party was also captured and added to the prisoners in the shed.
In the afternoon of 10 December, Ned, Dan and Steve rode to Euroa to rob the bank. Dan guarded the back door as Steve went into the manager’s homestead via the kitchen. Here he was recognised by one of the servants who had been a schoolmate of his. He locked her in the drawing room with the rest of the manager’s family before heading into the bank. Meanwhile, Ned had tried to get in the front door with a dodgy cheque he had made the superintendent of Younghusband’s Station write out. When the bank clerk tried to tell him they were closed, he burst in and bailed the staff up and ordered them to give him all the money. Once the till was emptied he ordered them to open the safe but they needed the manager’s key. Ned and Steve bailed up the manager, Robert Scott, and after much hassle, including sending Scott’s wife to get the key from the study, the safe was emptied too. The outlaws then took the staff and the Scotts with them back to the station where Joe had been guarding the prisoners, and had even captured the linesman sent to repair the broken telegraph wires. The gang stayed until night time and then left, ordering the prisoners to wait until they were gone before leaving themselves. The gang escaped with over £1500 on gold and money. In response the reward was raised to £4000 and Assistant Commissioner Nicolson was replaced by Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare.
With all four gang members now officially named, it was harder for them to move around, so they got Joe Byrne’s best friend Aaron Sherritt to keep the police distracted by giving them false information. In early 1879 he informed Superintendent Hare that the Kelly Gang would be going to Goulburn. The police immediately headed for Goulburn, but the outlaws were actually heading for Jerilderie, further west. They split up and Ned and Joe went to the Woolpack Inn to get information about Jerilderie. They soon rejoined Dan and Steve and headed into the town.
At midnight on 7 February, 1879, the Kelly Gang woke the Jerilderie police up and captured them. They locked the police in their own lock-up cell and planned their next heist. The next day Ned and Joe disguised themselves as police reinforcements and went through the town with one of the constables. They made note of where everything was. Later, Joe and Dan traced the telegraph lines and got their horses shod. The next day Dan guarded the wife of the town’s Sergeant as she decorated the town hall for mass. The gang then began to round the townsfolk up and imprisoned them in the Royal Hotel. Joe went into the bank via the back door and bailed up the staff. Ned and Steve soon appeared. They robbed the till, but again had to get the manager’s key for the safe. Steve was sent to find the manager and caught him having a bath. Eventually the safe was opened and emptied. Ned began destroying records of the bank’s debtors and the bank staff were added to the prisoners in the hotel. Ned and Joe had written a letter that was to be published in the local newspaper, but the local news editor had run out of town once he realised the Kelly Gang were robbing the bank. Ned gave the letter to one of the bankers to be passed onto the press. The gang soon headed off with £2000 pounds of stolen money and gold. This caused the New South Wales government to contribute another £4000 to the reward.
For months the gang seemed to disappear. During this time Aaron Sherritt kept the police distracted by hosting watch parties at the Byrne selection every night. Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor was sent from Queensland with a party of native police. The native police were feared for their incredible tracking abilities and their discipline. During the latter months of 1879, Superintendent Hare took ill and was replaced by Assistant Commissioner Nicolson. Nicolson stopped the watch parties and relied on a syndicate of police informants to keep track of the Kelly Gang. Unfortunately a lot of information the police received was either outdated, false or cases of mistaken identity. The media criticised the police for their apparent ineptitude.
At this time the outlaws had begun to collect steel plates, mostly plough mouldboards, in order to craft bulletproof armour. Ned Kelly would claim his original intention was to wear the armour during bank robberies as the banks were now all guarded by armed soldiers. Each gang member had their own suit, but mystery still surrounds who made the armour. Many believe it was made by blacksmiths or by the gang themselves.
The gang had also been very reliant on their sympathisers for fresh horses, food, shelter and information. The proceeds from the bank robberies had all gone to their supporters. The most prominent sympathisers were Tom Lloyd, Wild Wright, Paddy Byrne, Ettie Hart and the Kelly sisters. Aaron Sherritt was a sympathiser too, but many of the gang’s other supporters thought he was working for the police and had told the gang to murder him. Sherritt’s family had actually been working as police informants, his brother Jack Sherritt in particular, but Aaron had remained a supporter of his closest friend. Nevertheless, the rumours were persistent and Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly frequently tested the Sherritts by giving them useless information to see if it reached the police. When Superintendent Hare returned as head of the pursuit, he re-employed Aaron to take watch parties to spy on Mrs. Byrne. When the threats against Aaron became worrisome, Detective Michael Ward, one of the heads of the hunt based in Beechworth, had arranged for Aaron to be guarded day and night by police. Meanwhile, Ned Kelly had decided to escalate the conflict with the police and take out as many of them in a single go as possible. He planned to lure them out on a special train and derail it. A commotion at Aaron Sherritt’s hut would cause the police, who were based in Benalla, to go by train to Beechworth and resume the hunt with a fresh trail. In order to get to Beechworth they had to pass through Glenrowan, where the train line would be broken on a treacherous bend, causing the train to fly off the tracks. The intention seems to have been to murder the police on board in order to force the government to stop pursuing the gang out of fear.
On 26 June, 1880, Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne bailed up a German neighbour of Aaron Sherritt named Anton Wick. They took him to Sherritt’s hut and used Wick to lure Aaron to the back door. When Aaron opened the door Joe murdered him, shooting him twice with a shotgun. Aaron died instantly. The four police constables that had been assigned to protect Aaron cowered and hid in the bedroom. Joe and Dan tried to force the police out of the bedroom for two hours before giving up and riding off to join Ned and Steve at Glenrowan.
At Glenrowan, Ned and Steve bailed up a team of quarrymen and some plate-layers to pull up a section of the train track. Ned also captured Ann Jones, proprietor of The Glenrowan Inn, and her daughter Jane. The prisoners were taken to the gatehouse where Joe and Dan arrived at around five in the morning. At daybreak the prisoners were split into two groups: women and children were kept in the gatehouse to be guarded by Steve, everyone else was taken to The Glenrowan Inn. Throughout the day more prisoners were captured as Ned waited for the police. To keep the prisoners occupied there were sporting games held at the inn, card games were played inside, drinks flowed freely and there was even a dance in the bar room. Still, there was no sign of police. As it was a Sunday, no civilian trains would be running and Ned expected the police to arrive as soon as they heard the news of what had happened at Aaron’s hut. What Ned had not discovered was that the news of Aaron’s murder did not reach the police in Benalla until after lunchtime. The police took a long time to make any arrangements but as dusk approached, arrangements were made for a special police train to be sent to Beechworth.
That evening Ned decided to bail up the local policeman, Constable Bracken. Thomas Curnow, the schoolteacher, had been trying to convince Ned he was on his side all day and Ned finally agreed to let Curnow take his sick wife home when they went to capture Bracken. As soon as he got home, Curnow gathered materials to help him stop the train. He took a candle and a red scarf and rode off to the train line. Back at the inn there was more dancing and after midnight Dan Kelly told everyone to head home. However, Ann Jones stopped them from leaving so Ned could give a speech. As Ned was talking the police train finally arrived and stopped at the station. Curnow had used the lit candle behind the red scarf as a danger signal and warned the train about the damaged line. The Kelly Gang donned their armour and prepared for battle. Constable Bracken escaped and ran to the train station where he informed Superintendent Hare that the gang were in The Glenrowan Inn. The police headed to the inn and a battle commenced.
In the initial exchange Superintendent Hare’s wrist was smashed by a shot, Joe Byrne was shot in the calf, and Ned Kelly was shot in the foot and his left elbow was smashed. As the battle continued, the prisoners tried to escape. Jane Jones led a group of women and children to safety after she had been hit in the head by a police bullet and her little brother had also been mortally wounded by police fire. Over the next few hours, Ned escaped into the bush, most of the women and children escaped even though the police continued to try and shoot them, and Joe Byrne was killed by a police bullet to the groin. Police reinforcements continued to arrive throughout the early hours of the morning and just before sunrise Ned Kelly reappeared behind the police lines.
Ned fought the police for almost half an hour before Sergeant Steele blasted his unprotected knee. He was captured alive but badly wounded. Dan and Steve remained in the inn. At ten o’clock the rest of the prisoners were let out. By this time people from all around had descended upon Glenrowan to watch the siege. At three in the afternoon the police decided to burn the inn down to flush Dan and Steve out. They had previously ordered a cannon to be sent from Melbourne to blown the inn up but it had not yet arrived. As the inn was set on fire a Catholic priest, Matthew Gibney, ran inside to rescue anyone that was still in there. Joe Byrne’s corpse was dragged out and the dead bodies of Dan and Steve were found in the bedroom but could not be retrieved before the fire took hold. Another civilian shot by police, Martin Cherry, was rescued from the fire but only lived long enough to be given the last rites. After the fire had stopped, Dan’s and Steve’s bodies were retrieved. They were charred beyond recognition. The onlookers crowded around to get a good look at the dead bodies and to grab any souvenirs they could. Photographers captured images of many of the scenes.
Ned Kelly was taken to Benalla, where Joe Byrne’s corpse was strung up against a door of the police lock-up to be photographed. Ned was then sent to Melbourne Gaol to be treated for his wounds but was not expected to survive. Meanwhile, Dan and Steve were buried in unmarked graves to prevent the police taking the bodies away from the families. Months after Glenrowan there were still bullets and bits of shot being removed from Ned’s hands, feet and limbs. When he was deemed fit, he was sent to Beechworth for a committal hearing. Authorities were worried that having a trial in Beechworth would mean there was a strong likelihood of there being sympathisers in the jury so in order to have the best chance at convicting him, he was transferred back to Melbourne for his murder trial.
The trial in the Supreme Court was quick and Ned Kelly was found guilty of murdering Constable Thomas Lonigan and sentenced to death by Sir Redmond Barry, the judge that had sentenced his mother to gaol in 1878. While he was held in Melbourne Gaol to await his execution, his sympathisers tried to get a reprieve. Petitions with tens of thousands of signatures were gathered and there were protests and riots in the streets of Melbourne. Kate Kelly met with prominent politicians to beg for mercy but the Executive Council were unmoved and the sentence was upheld. Ned dictated several letters from his cell in order to make his version of events heard. As he was unable to write due to his injuries another prisoner was made to write for him. On 11 November, 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged in Melbourne Gaol. Thousands of people gathered outside the prison and Ellen Kelly worked in the prison laundry within earshot of the gallows. After his execution, his body was taken to the dead house, his head was shaved and a cast made, then his body was removed to be dissected by university students. The remains were buried in the gaol.
The Kelly Gang was not prolific by a far stretch. They did fewer robberies than the Hall Gang; they murdered less people than Jimmy Governor; they were not at large as long as Captain Thunderbolt; and there were not as many members as The Ribbon Gang. But what distinguished the Kelly Gang was that there was a political element to their story that was unprecedented, and a sophistication to their operations that surpassed similar feats from the “golden era” of bushrangers. Most people believe bushranging ended with the Kelly Gang, but in fact bushranging continued well into the 1920s before it began to evaporate.
Certainly the armour is a powerful piece of iconography and it encapsulates a lot of what makes the Kelly story so unique. In almost 100 years of bushranging, starting with Black Caesar in 1788, nobody had thought to protect themselves from bullets. Ned Kelly mixed the best bits of old fashioned bushranging with a fresh, more methodical approach: to prevent being shot they made armour; because mail coaches were not lucrative targets they robbed banks; they destroyed telegraph lines to prevent information reaching the police quickly; to gain sympathy they gave speeches and wrote letters to the press and politicians; to prove they were not cold blooded murderers they performed intricate heists with no bloodshed. They were bushrangers that didn’t act like typical bushrangers and that made them a cut above the rest.
Because the Kelly Gang came from the selector class and so many people identified with them, they became representatives of people in a way not seen since Jack Donohoe became the hero of the convict class. They came to represent everything one group of people tried to suppress, at the same time as being everything the other group wanted to be, which struck a chord and captured the imagination. Even now, they capture that same spirit because a lot of the class conflict in the modern day is merely a mutation of what it was then and stems from the same things. People will always be able to find something in the Kelly Gang they either love or hate because they have transcended history and become part of the cultural tapestry.
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.