On the weekend of the 11th of November I went on a trip through the Kelly Country in North East Victoria. Ostensibly I was going up for a meeting of Kelly enthusiasts on the Saturday night but one does not simply go into Kelly Country for an evening! The following is an abridged account of some of the things that occurred during the trip.
Starting from the Melbourne region, it takes a few hours to get to the heart of Kelly Country. On the way up you will pass through Beveridge, where you can see the dilapidated remains of the old Kelly house where Red Kelly and Ellen Quinn started their family. An interesting example of 1850s bush carpentry, years of neglect and vandalism have left the building as little more than a husk. For many years various people have made a pledge to preserve and restore the house but the most that appears to have been done is the installation of a sign telling visitors what they’re looking at. Nearby you can also visit the old church where the Kelly children went to school. It’s a handsome bluestone building with boarded up windows that is kept safely removed from visitors by fences and gates.
As you continue you’ll pass Wallan, where Ned’s relatives, the Quinns, once resided. You will also pass Avenel where the Kelly family lived after Red lost the selection in Beveridge. The family likely had few positive memories there but for one that has become an integral part of the Kelly legend – Ned rescuing Dick Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek. For this act he received his green silk sash, which is displayed in Benalla. Avenel is also where Red Kelly is buried (there is some speculation as to whether his grave is in the same location as the marker due to cemetery boundaries being shifted).
Further on, Euroa was the location the gang chose for their first bank robbery, though the original building is long gone. A sign marks where the bank once stood. It is a small town perfect for a quick stop on your journey (though this time there was no stop there).
A must-see whenever I go to Kelly Country is Benalla. It is one of the more “modern” towns in the region boasting lots of shopping and art. Various buildings throughout Benalla are painted by local artists depicting all manner of scenes ranging from Ned Kelly holding his helmet to a pair of bright green ninja turtles. Like Melbourne, Benalla has cafes and laneways where you can procure a cuppa. For Kelly buffs, Benalla is home to the Costume and Pioneer Museum where several important artifacts are housed: Ned Kelly’s sash (mentioned earlier), the old lockup doors (one of which was the one that Joe Byrne’s body was strung up on for photographs) and an exact replica of Joe Byrne’s armour made from molds of the original suit. The museum is also home to a great display of militaria and old clothing from the 20th century.
Benalla is also home to King’s bootmaker shop, which Ned Kelly sought refuge in while running from the police after being arrested for drunkenness. Across the road is the old courthouse where Ned appeared immediately after that incident, but where he was also briefly held in the lockup cell after his capture.
However, the most significant stop in Benalla for Kelly buffs has to be the cemetery. Here you will not only find the grave of gang member Joe Byrne, but also several other graves related to the story including Martin Cherry, who was killed by police fire at Glenrowan, and William Reardon, who survived the Glenrowan siege as a toddler. Finding the Kelly-related graves can be quite an undertaking if you don’t know where they are and I found myself wandering through row after row of graves reading the lecterns where the names of those buried are listed. I found Cherry’s by accident as he is buried separately to the other graves in his section. Joe’s grave, however, is easy to find under a huge tree that is perpetually adorned with ribbons and tinsel. The grave itself never seems to be without some kind of floral adornment or a cup to hold an “eye opener” (Joe’s expression for a drink of whiskey first thing in the morning), something that no doubt would be seen as bad taste by some. I made a mental note to save up for some flowers to lay on old Cherry’s grave next time. It is a charming and well maintained cemetery and worth a wander.
My hub for the weekend was Wangaratta, a town I’d only been through a handful of times. It is not a town that soaks itself in the Kelly history, rather it reminds one very much of most any outer suburban town with its variety of supermarkets and fast food restaurants. Not knowing much about the layout of the town the info centre seemed to be a logical stop-off to look for a map of some kind. Alas, no map, however there was a nice little section about the Kelly Gang and a fascinating life-size statue of Ned Kelly that appears to be wearing Steve Hart’s helmet from the 2003 Ned Kelly film. In a case in the info centre is also the replica of Ned’s sash that Heath Ledger wore in that same movie. Wangaratta is definitely a good spot for a “city mouse” to use as their hub for a North-East trip.
Of course, the key part of the weekened was the trip into Beechworth for the meetup. It began with a visit to the Ned Kelly Vault. The Vault is one of the most remarkable collections of Kelly artifacts you are likely to find anywhere. Ranging from firearms used by the gang to Mick Jagger’s replica armour used for the 1970 film, the collection incorporates elements of the history and the influence on popular culture. No doubt the collection could benefit greatly from a larger space, but as it is the Vault is fantastic.
Director of The Legend of Ben Hall, Matthew Holmes, was present also and got a chance to hold an original reward poster (with protective gloves of course).
The meetup then moved to the Hotel Nicholas, a significant site for local Kelly history. The interior is adorned with framed imagery of all things Kelly and Beechworth including portraits of the gang and their sympathisers and archival imagery of the hotels that populated Beechworth. The site was reputed to be where Joe Byrne’s armour was fashioned by Charles Knight (though there are accounts that would disagree), as well as being where Ned Kelly and Wild Wright had their famous bare-knuckle boxing match. The food was delicious and the drinks – well, it’s hard to get that wrong in a pub – all complimented by live music. As the meetup occurred during the Celtic Weekend there was a lot of Celtic music playing throughout the night.
It was a great chance to meet a few people from the community, many of whom are readers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging. The group was also lucky enough to get an exclusive update on the in-development film Glenrowan. I made sure to stay sober for the drive back to Wangaratta.
The next day some of the people from the previous night met at Beechworth cemetery where we visited several graves including Anton Wick (neighbour to Aaron Sherritt and the Byrnes who was used as a decoy to lure Sherritt to his demise) and Aaron Sherritt. The exact location of Aaron’s grave was somewhat disputed but based on the description of it being sunken with a brick border, it seems to have been the right one. For me it was strange visiting the Beechworth cemetery as it was the first time in 20 years I had been there, the first visit being part of the school camp that stoked my interest in Ned Kelly.
The rest of the day was very eventful. In the blistering sun I was accompanied by Georgina Rose Stones (whose writings on Joe Byrne you can find here, here and here) on a visit to Greta cemetery where we visited the graves of a great many of the key players in the Kelly story including Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart, Ellen Kelly, Tom Lloyd and Kelly siblings Jim, Maggie and Grace. It was a profound experience to visit the final resting place of these people I’ve read and written so much about. To know that under a dry, dusty patch of earth under my feet lay the remains of Australia’s most notorious outlaw was humbling. The Greta Cemetery Trust are doing incredible work maintaining and restoring the graves and one can’t even begin to thank these dedicated volunteers enough.
One of the best parts of the trip was driving through El Dorado – Byrne and Sherritt Country. Following the path on the Heritage Route, which starts in town and ends near the Woolshed Falls, we saw the site of the Chinese Gardens where Chinese miners grew and harvested vegetables; Reedy Creek; Buttrey’s Rock where a gold escort was allegedly bailed up in the 1850s; Sebastopol Flat, a former mining town where Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt frequented; and the site of Aaron Sherritt’s hut at the Devil’s Elbow.
The dryness of the area resulted in incredible clouds of dust that completely engulfed the car when people drove ahead of us, forcing me to drive slowly to avoid a collision. The views were beautiful and you certainly feel like you’re in another time and place as you move through the dense forest or witness the sunlight hitting Reedy Creek in just the right way. I highly recommend this self-guided tour (look out for the blue markers on the roadside to find points of interest).
The eeriest location on the tour was the site of Sherritt’s hut. Nothing of the hut remains, it is merely a patch of dirt behind a barbed wire fence, however the echoes of that terrible tragedy still resound. The events that transpired here signified the end for the Kelly Gang. One is certainly inclined to consider the knock-on effects for the Byrnes and Sherritts after such a terrible twist of fate. It is important to look out for the info on the side of the road to locate the site as it has no street address you can jaunt off to.
As we drove through Beechworth we stopped at the former site of The Vine Hotel, where Joe Byrne would visit his girlfriend. The hotel is long gone, now the site of a house. It’s unlikely the residents know that where they live used to be the pub most frequented by the Kelly Gang. A hotel called The Vine still exists in Wangaratta and is considered to have some connection to the gang but it is a different hotel altogether.
No trip to Kelly Country is complete without swinging by Glenrowan. Leaving early in the morning meant getting the chance to grab breakfast in the town from the Glenrowan Vintage Hall (though the Billy Tea Rooms are a must for a bite if you’re in town). After breakfast and a look around the eclectic collection of new and second hand wares, a trip to the siege site and the site of Ned’s capture were necessities. It seems so bizarre that the site of the most famous shoot-out in Australian history is now little more than an empty lot, yet, as is a recurring theme with Kelly sites, the history is there even if there’s nothing tangible left.
There are other things to do in Glenrowan of course. You can visit Bob Hempel’s animated theatre (we chose not to), visit the museum in the basement of Glen Rowen Cobb and Co, and to pop in to Kate’s Cottage to browse the second-hand books and see the replica homestead. You can also go to the Mount Morgan Store and get a portrait done in old time clothing. I personally nabbed a very reasonably priced copy of Superintendent Sadleir’s memoirs that was published over forty years ago, though there were many more I would have snapped up if I had the money.
As we left we swung past Joe Byrne’s grave one more time so Georgina could pay her respects. This was, perhaps, my most eventful trip to the North-East yet. To have covered so much is an incredible privilege (there were things that I didn’t cover here, you got the edited highlights). I can’t wait for my next trip!
Black Snake: The Real Story of Ned Kelly by Leo Kennedy and Mic Looby is one of those rare occasions when you get a truly fresh insight into familiar history. Driven by the desire to tell the story of his great-grandfather, Sergeant Michael Kennedy, after decades of bullying and seeing the killer of his forebear glorified, Leo Kennedy has produced a marvelous family history. His account of the life of Ned Kelly, however, is a different matter entirely.
Where Black Snake stands head and shoulders above so many other books about this history is in its account of the Kennedy family and the police force. The love for the family history drips off every page where we see their tale unfold. One could be forgiven for thinking that Kennedy and Looby have gone out of their way to paint them in a good light, but there is nothing here that contradicts the information already readily available about the Kennedys. Little anecdotes really bring the story to life like Michael Kennedy digging out and constructing the cellar of the family home and Kennedy and Scanlan ambushing a sheep thief.
Michael Kennedy himself is portrayed in the most heroic way possible. There is nothing on record to suggest that Kennedy was anything other than a model citizen, but at times the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth characterisation used in this book runs the risk of betraying the author’s hero-worship and leading the reader to question how much of what they’re reading is merely romance.
Despite this starry-eyed artifice employed to portray the hero of the story, we learn a lot in these sections about the family and the unenviable lifestyle of the police of the late 19th century. These are points that have not really been featured in any significant way in Kelly biographies to date. Seeing how the dire situation the police found themselves in impacted on law enforcement portrayed in a Kelly book is refreshing. Many times we see the lack of training, the stretched resources and the kinds of dangerous situations police would find themselves in illustrated clearly and vividly. That there is no moral grandstanding in these passages, for the most part, is what makes them so good.
Had Black Snake been just about the Kennedys with Ned Kelly only popping up in relation to the Stringybark Creek tragedy, this would be an essential text to illustrate the other side of the story. However this content only comprises around half of the book and what balance it creates in these passages is completely dwarfed by the remaining content.
Alas, where the book falls down, and it is a significant pitfall, is its depiction of the other side of the story it tells. The title of the book says everything you need to know about the author’s position on its subject. The attempts to illustrate how despicable the Kellys and their ilk were rely very heavily on dramatisation based on little information. For example, referring to the Ah On incident (wherein Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne were charged with injuring a Chinese man with rocks) as evidence that the Greta Mob indiscriminately attacked the Chinese and indigenous people as a matter of course. Furthermore where he feels that he hasn’t made them out to be villainous or cretins he tries to attack their masculinity by referring to Steve Hart frequently riding around in a dress and gang members dancing with other men instead of women at Glenrowan, implying homosexuality. Such vitriol is lazy and draws on just enough factual information to make the conclusions believable. One can forgive Kennedy for wanting to push this interpretation forward given his past. The public perception of Kelly was (and in many cases still is) quite warped thanks to decades of myth-making and regurgitation of half-truths as fact, but you don’t remedy one warped viewpoint by pushing more falsehoods in the opposite direction. What a pity that this should be the focus of the book – not an elevation of the Kennedys but a degradation of the Kellys. No doubt this is largely shaped by the works of Doug Morrissey, who provides a glowing assessment of the book in his foreword and whose books have been referred to heavily throughout Black Snake.
As for the man behind the words on the page, Mic Looby does an excellent job of dramatising the information provided by Kennedy, really engaging the reader. It is clear that he had a strong connection to Kennedy during the writing process and portrays his interpretation of history clearly and consistently, even if it isn’t one everyone would agree with. Looby’s extensive writing background in the media and journalism is put to good use here and is undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the tome. Despite the often difficult content, a reader should have no issue devouring the writing the way they would with, say, the work of Peter FitzSimons.
In a nutshell, Black Snake is a tender love letter to ancestors who have inspired a strong moral understanding while also being primarily a scathing character assassination against the man who caused so much heartache in the family for generations.
It is heartening to think that descendants are finally giving themselves and their forebears a voice. In the case of the gallant Sergeant Kennedy, the release of this book just in time for the 140th anniversary of his slaughtering at Stringybark Creek could not be more appropriate.
This is a book that will repulse the majority of pro-Kelly die-hards, be championed by anti-Kelly crusaders as a masterpiece and met with disappointment by anyone looking for a balanced and objective approach to the subject. However, for someone only just getting into the story it is highly recommended reading, if only for the fact that it elevates the Kennedys beyond merely being the names of victims, but should be paired with something more nuanced as a counterpoint.
Leo Kennedy deserves kudos on the admirable research into his family history and the history of the Victoria Police that has gone into this book. It is no trivial task to piece together so much information where so little has been written on it before. Grab a copy and judge for yourself.
A massive thank you to Affirm Press for providing Black Snake: The Real Story of Ned Kelly for the purposes of this review. The book is available now in stores across Australia.
[The following account of the capture of the notorious John Dunn, former member of the Gilbert-Hall Gang and proclaimed outlaw, was taken from The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 11 January 1866. Dunn was the last member of the gang to be at large and had been identified as a member of Thunderbolt’s gang following the death of Gilbert, though the descriptions of Dunn from those encounters do not match the real Dunn.]
THE CAPTURE OF DUNN.
A correspondent of the Bathurst Times gives the following graphic account of the capture of the outlaw Dunn. It differs in some important respects from the accounts hitherto published.
Dating from Dubbo, 2nd January, the writer says :
Your readers will no doubt be curious to know the full particulars of the desperate engagement between Dunn and the police, in which I may say all engaged were wounded. Constable Hawthorne had a bullet put through his hat, senior constable Elliott received a wound from a blow of the pistol Dunn carried, whilst Dunn himself and McHale were badly wounded, and both are in a very low state, neither of them being out of danger. Sub-inspector Hogg, of this place, set off this morning for the scene of the affray.
From a comparison of Elliott’s statement with that of a gentleman just arrived at Dubbo, and who went expressly some twenty miles out of his way to Coonamble to hear the facts of the case, I can vouch for the perfect accuracy of the following information.
Dunn, Thunderbolt, and Co, were in November last sticking-up on the Birres River, in the Northern country. They afterwards visited the Bemo, Gulgoa, and all the country circumscribed by the Bogan, the Macquarie, the Castlereagh, the Darling and the large creeks tributary to these Inspector Zouch and sergeant Flynn let the party slip through their hands, and only for the pluck and activity of constable McHale, this trebly-dyed murderer would be at large still. McHale, who had been but a few months in charge of the Coonamble station on Duck Creek, together with one of his men, named Hawthorne, and Elliott, of the Coonamble station, came early on the morning of the 24th December, before daylight, to the hut of a man named Walton, in the employ of Mr. Perry, on the Marthaguy. This Walton was suspected of harbouring a most notorious scoundrel, a half-caste, that went by the name of George Smith, alias Yellow George. Elliott had a warrant for him. About dawn of day the three policemen proceeded to the hut, and early and cautions as was the approach, the party “wanted” was astir. Without returning the civilities of the morning to the strangers, Yellow George bolted off in the direction of the bush. Elliott and Hawthorne immediately gave chase straight after him, whilst McHale, unconscious of the nobler game he was to light on, doubled quickly round the corner of the hut to intercept the fugitive. Having got to the back of the house, he saw a young man running at tip-top speed across the paddock, and he perceived firearms in his hand. He at once said, “There goes Dunn.” He jumped the fence, and after him he went, and as McHale was very active and complete master of the use of his limbs (of which, poor fellow, he no longer is) he soon overhauled Dunn considerably. McHale three different times challenged the pursued to stand, as he believed him to be Dunn, and each time Dunn turned his head round, shewed his revolver, and still kept on with all his might. McHale then fired a random shot. Dunn turned round to fire, but did not, as he was evidently husbanding the few shots he had (having only one revolver with him). McHale again called on him to stand as “JohnDunn,” and then put forth all his speed of running, and when he came within forty or fifty yards of Dunn be stood, took deliberate aim, fired, and forthwith Dunn fell flat on his face to the earth, dangerously wounded in the loins. The blood soon covered his person, and be was hors de combat. And now it was that Dunn’s ferocity, like that of a furious bull at bay, displayed itself. McHale had reached within fifteen or twenty yards of Dunn. When the latter saw him so near at hand, and found the officers of justice were about to clutch him for the misdeeds of his life, he made a desperate effort, rolled himself round on his back, and by the exercise of the energy which the dreadful nature of his case afforded, he managed to get into a sitting posture. He took deadly aim at McHale, fired twice; the second bullet wounded him in the thigh. From that moment, McHale was powerless. The ball hit him above the knee, glanced along, and finally lodged itself in the groin. There they were, the constable and the outlaw, within a few yards of each other, each dangerously and desperately wounded by the other. All this time McMale’s mates were firing after Yellow George. When McHale found himself unable to apprehend the man be had so gamely crippled and brought to earth, he called out in a loud voice to his mates, some 200 or 300 yards off, “I am shot.” They at once desisted from pursuit of the half-caste, and by McHale’s directions took positions behind some trees near at hand. Dunn by this time had drawn breath, and seeing that his only hope was to get the police near him and from behind the trees, he made a desperate effort and got on his feet. Of course, wounded as he was he did not go far before the police were beside him, but he certainly partly succeeded in his intention, for as Hawthorn was about to apprehend him, he turned round and fired, driving the bullet through the rim of Hawthorn’s hat. Elliott then laid hands upon him, upon which Dunn desperately clutched his revolver (it being now unloaded), and wounded him with it on the head. McHale had fainted from loss of blood. During the fracas Mr. Hogg was distant from the spot only about fifteen miles, after young Murphy.
It was evidently intended to form the nucleus of another band of bushrangers, that should reproduce, during the year 1866, under the command of Dunn and company, the lawless dramas hitherto enacted by Gilbert and Co., but fortunately for the country, the career of the future banditti has been cut short. The Clerk of Petty Sessions at Coonamble, who happens to be a doctor, paid every attention, and did all that skill and kindness could effect, till the arrival of Cr. Ramsay. He has been a surgeon in the army, and will, it is hoped, succeed in extracting the bullets from the bodies of McHale and Dunn.
Source: “THE CAPTURE OF DUNN.” The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893) 11 January 1866: 3.
[The following is an article that was published in the days following the death of Dan Morgan at Peechelba Station. It recalls details of his life as regaled by those who knew him for better or worse, in an effort to record his depredations and decipher his wild life. ~AP]
It is nearly certain that the man known variously as John Smith, alias Bill the Native, alias Down-the-River Jack, alias Moran, alias DanielMorgan, was born of convict parents, going under the name of Moran and who resided, at the time of his birth, in 1831, at Appin, near Campbelltown, in the colony of New South Wales. The first, portion of his life appears to have been passed in a manner similar to that of other children and, for some time, he attended a respectable school at Campbelltown.
What we know, chiefly, of his very early life has been, at various times, derived from prisoners who had been in jail with him, and to whom he was occasionally — only occasionally — very communicative. He was, according to his own account, a very bad boy. His parents could make nothing of him, and his education was entirely neglected.
He had even then solitary habits, living in the bush, and subsisting on ‘possums, grubs, or whatever else he could find, for days together, Morgan described himself as always having a dread of darkness ; a dread that was not in the least dispelled by company. He always longed for daylight as for a friend. He was passionately fond of horses, and had an extraordinary and, from his own account, what would appear to be a mysterious mastery over them ; following, as a child, horses about the bush, and fondling them, until they would allow him to mount them bare-backed while feeding. These moments Morgan used to refer to with extraordinary pleasure when he was in a talkative mood. Without paying anything more of his characteristics, even as he himself described them to other prisoners, we will come at once to his known criminal career, premising that any reference we make to his motives or feelings, has been derived, as we said, from men who have been in jail with him, or with whom — and there are many of these — he has been on intimate terms in New South Wales. We attach no further importance to the narratives of such men than will be found to be confirmed by his life, and we omit many things that appeared to us to be evident attempts at romancing.
We first find him as a criminal — although, by his own admission, he had committed frequent crimes in New South Wales — attracted here by the gold fields, sticking up two hawkers close to Castlemaine, and, of course, robbing them, half shipping them, tying them to trees, and leaving them there until half dead from cold: They were found by. some passers-by in the morning. This is the crime of which he complains as having been unjustly convicted. He was on this occasion known by the police to be well aimed, and they surrounded a shepherd’s hut in the dead of night, to which he was tracked by one of the old black troopers, then a hanger-on to the Camp at Castlemaine. The shepherd afterwards described him as having a revolver in each hand, and swearing he would use them, but, on finding the party outside too strong to leave any hope of escape, he hid under the bed, from which he was dragged ignominiously. So bad a character did he bear with the police that, on taking him into Castlemaine the next morning, they handcuffed him to the front of the saddle, and led the horse on which he was mounted, and which was one he himself had stolen. The stolen horse, it appears, was a good one, having the foot of anything in his escort. Suddenly Morgan, alias ‘ Bill, the Native,’ stuck his heels in his horse’s ribs, and, with a shout that all horses understand, started away from his captors, endeavouring to guide him with his legs alone. The horse, probably not feeling the support of the bit, stumbled, and before he recovered a trooper, coming alongside of the prisoner, struck him with the butt of his pistol. Morgan fell over on the other side, and, between the grip of his knees and the handcuffs, pulled the saddle over with him. Then there was a painful scene, the horse in full career, and the man dragged by his hands at the horse’s hind legs until he had kicked the man and the saddle from him. In this daring attempt at escape he suffered severe injuries, for which he was for a long time under medical treatment, and from this moment may be traced his now celebrated expression of ‘flash Victorian Police.’ For the crime for which he was captured, and to his innocence of which attributed his subsequent ‘ down’ on society in general, he was at once picked out of a crowd of prisoners by each of the men whom he had stuck up ; and, by a, string of the clearest testimony that ever was produced in a court of justice found guilty, and sentenced to 12 years on the roads. In jail he never hid from his mates his being the perpetrator of the crime; but attributed his capture to the treachery of the shepherd in whose hut he took shelter ; his failure in his attempt at escape to the looseness of his girths and the ‘b—y flashness’ of the Victorian Police ; and his sentence to a want of knowledge on the part of the jury to the laws of evidence. This cut him more sorely than anything in his whole career to-think that a jury of his countrymen should not discover some flaw in the testimony, which he always proudly repeated. Previous to this conviction he as ‘Bill, the Native,’ was known as a notorious horse thief, and was the terror of horse owners in the neighbourhood of Avoca, where he used to live a lonely life in the Mallee scrub which then abounded there. He had several narrow escapes from the squatters, who frequently pursued him, and on one occasion he was raced for his life for several miles by two settlers, one of whom seeing that he was getting the best of him shot him in the knee.
This is a statement of his own to his fellow prisoners, He also, says and mentions the name, that he gave one squatter, whom he met by himself in the bush, an awful horsewhipping because ‘he made himself too busy ‘ about his own horses. In fact he appeared to think himself a very badly ill-used poor fellow because men would not allow him quietly to rob them. The particular trait in his character, that he always desired to excuse himself to those with whom he was present at the moment, is shown by the fact that even in jail, where he occasionally gave all the details of the Castlemaine affair, he invariably explained that he had left blankets with the hawkers ; quietly blinking the fact that he had taken all he could carry, and that the naked men, being tied to a tree, could not get at the blankets; which among other property useless to him, their own clothes for instance, he had left behind him. In prison he was very quiet and orderly, — was believed by officers and prisoners to be a determined but not desperately wicked man, and was a great mark for being drawn out of his solitariness to spin a yam of his bush experiences and bush crimes. He was sent from Castlemaine to Melbourne Jail, thence to the ‘ President’ hulk, subsequently to the ‘Success,’ and lastly to Pentridge. While working with a gang from the ‘Success’ at a quarry near Williamstown he lost the top of the finger, the absence of which has been one of his peculiar marks. The finger was jammed between a heavy bar and the stone they were lifting at the moment.
He was at work with the gangs on the day Mr. Price was murdered, and although his assistance was eagerly sought by the murderers he refused to have any complicity. It was, however, well known among the prisoners that he would have joined in any plan of escape, and, indeed, concocted a few. In all these matters, however, he was invariably solitary, lonely, and tried to make others his tools in the way of gaining information for his own ends. In June, 1860, he obtained his ticket of leave for the Yackandandah district, but never reported himself. As a matter of curiosity, we give his description as gazetted :— ‘Native of Sydney ; jockey; aged 29; height 5 feet 10 ¼ inches; complexion fresh, hair brown, eyes hazel, nose long, medium mouth and chin, small lump under left jaw.’
He was next heard of at the Howqua Station, near Mansfield, and afterwards crossed to the Buffalo, where he for some time hung about the stations on that, the King, and Upper Ovens Rivers, occasionally employed as a horse breaker, but always leading a most secluded life in the bush, not mixing with the men, and never courting the women. While in that part of the country, he was known as ” Down-the-River-Jack,” as a petty pilferer of the commonest necessaries of life, and as a horse stealer. It is believed that he was one of the men who stuck, up a digger’s hut at the Buckland about the time, and subsequently a man returning towards Wangaratta from the Myrtleford races. It was not until after the appearance of Gardiner in New South Wales, that he showed any signs of being the desperate character he afterwards proved, but during the period of Gardiner’s exploits, he certainly made his appearance on the New South Wales side of the river at Mr. Rand’s station, whence several horses were suddenly missed, and where he was found camped one day in Mr Rand’s paddock by that gentleman. Mr. Rand told him to be off, and the answer was that the station was his as much as Rand’s, and that if he talked to him again like that, he would blow his b— guts out.
It proved afterwards that this station and several others appeared rather to belong to Morgan — now ‘DanielMorgan’ — more than to anyone else, and Mr Rand had personally for a time to quit his in danger of his life. By pretending that he was ‘the poor man’s friend,’ and spending the fruits of his robberies pretty freely among shepherds and stockmen, almost all of whom in New South Wales sympathise with such a villain, he gained a most extraordinary influence. While in the Piney Range, Table Top, or Roundhill country, or on any part of the Billabong, he was looked upon with admiration and treated and sheltered as the most gallant and injured of men. His business at this time was horse stealing, in which, it being a congenial employment, he was assisted in every direction by the stock keepers, servants, bushmen, and others all over the territory. Soon too some of the squatters became, partly from terror and partly that they themselves might be free from his depredations, tainted with the prevailing sympathy.
At length in June, 1863, he commenced the real career of a highwayman by robbing mails and stations, having successively stuck up Walla Walla, Cookendina, and Wallandool, all in the same month. On the 21st of August he committed his first known capital offence, by shooting at and wounding, near Urana, Mr Bayliss, Police Magistrate of Wagga Wagga, whom he had robbed on the previous day after a severe race, and firing at that gentleman. When shot Mr Bayliss was camped with a party of police at night, in search of the very man who shot him. There was issued against him a warrant for the capital offence, and he was particularly marked by the police as a dangerous character. The reward of £200 was offered for his apprehension. It would be impossible in this short notice even to mention half the crimes he is known to have, or one hundredth part of the crimes and offences he is suspected to have committed, but among the more heinous we may mention the sticking up the Roundhill Station, owned by Mr Henty, in that gentleman’s absence. His first murder was here committed on Sunday, the 19th July, 1863, and curiously enough, and as will appear to many to be more than a coincidence, on a Sunday he met his doom. And here is the case in which the villain says he has been so cruelly misrepresented by the Press, as we had the affair from the lips of young Mr Heriot himself on the day following the outrage, while that, poor lad was lying wounded after the massacre : Morgan entered the station with a revolver in each hand, and four more ostentatiously displayed in his belt. There were present, Mr Watson, the superintendent, Mrs Watson, a Mr McNeil, a cattle dealer, Mr McLean, the overseer, and Heriot, a young gentleman from a neighboring station. He marched all the men out to a small shed, where they found eight or ten of the men already bailed-up, one of them complacently holding Morgan’s horse. He sent a servant girl in for all the gin in the house, and made those present drink six bottles, he, himself, scarcely tasting it, so that it is quite true that every one on the station was more drunk than himself, but he forgot to add that he made them so. When he was mounting to go away; Mr Watson incautiously said, ‘These are the stirrup irons you stole, Morgan ;’ and, being the writer of the following, we give the report as taken from Mr Heriot’s lips, as already stated ; that young man being then perfectly cool and collected although badly wounded :—” On Mr Watson making the remark, the ruffian coolly turned round in his saddle, took deliberate aim at Mr Watson’s head and fired. Seeing the deadly aim, Mr Watson involuntarily put up his hand, through which the ball passed, turning it probably aside, as it only touched his scalp. The wounded man ran behind the shed, and hid himself, but Morgan returned to the door of the shed, fired right and left, amongst the inmates, crying out, “Now,you b—— b——, clear out of this.” The first shot went through young Mr Heriot’s leg, between the knee and ankle, shattering the bone in pieces, and then hit another man’s leg behind, maiming him; but not, luckily, breaking the skin as its force had been spent. The men then all ran away in different directions, the poor wounded young man among them, dragging his broken leg after him for about thirty yards, when he fell from pain and exhaustion. In the meantime Morgan galloped after another man, across the yard, with pistol cocked, but the fugitive escaped through the kitchen. The horse stood fire well. Morgan then galloped back to young Heriot, dismounted, and put the revolver to his head (Mrs Watson, in the meantime, was running, screaming, and terrified about the yard). Young Heriot said, ‘Don’t kill me, Morgan, you have broken my leg ; ‘ and Mr Watson, who had also, seeing Morgan with a pistol to the boy’s head, come out of his hiding place, cried out, ‘For God’s sake, Morgan, don’t kill any one.’ The villain, who seemed to act with the inconsistency of drunkenness, or of a murderer gone mad, then cried out, Where are the d- wretches gone to?’ and swore a fearful oath that he would blow the brains out of every man on the station if they did not come to Heriot’s assistance. He himself knelt down, cut the boot off the wounded leg, and carried the unfortunate youth to the gate next the house. Two men then, frightened by his threats, came forward and he swore he would shoot them dead if they did not carry him in, which they did, and laid him on a bed. At this time, also, two men (one a half-caste aboriginal) who had not yet appeared on the scene, but evidently Morgan’s men, came up and remained on the ground while young Heriot was carried to bed, where Morgan cut off the other boot and sent a man to attend him. Seeing Morgan apparently relenting, as if satiated with bloodshed, Mr McLean asked him if he might go for a doctor. Morgan answered ‘Yes,’ and then for a short time regaled himself and his mates ; but apparently mistrusting Mr McLean, he followed him along the road, overtook him five or six miles from the station, and without ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ coming close behind him, fired at him. The ball entered the unfortunate man’s back above the hip and came out close to the navel, and he, of course, fell mortally wounded.” For the first time the squatters and people were aroused to the danger in which they stood, and a party of volunteers, chiefly squatters, who knew every inch of the country, started in pursuit. This, together with the greater activity of the police, made that part of the country too hot for him, and he made for Tumberumba, and here his second cold blooded murder was committed. Sergeant McGinnerty, a man with a wife and family, was riding, along the road on the 24th July, with another trooper; not having heard (having been in the bush) of the Roundhill affair, when they saw a man riding quietly ahead of them. Not for a moment imagining who it was, they rode up to the horseman, as policemen will do, McGinnerty ahead of his companion. On coming alongside, and before a word passed, Morgan fired a revolver into McGinnerty’s breast, and the other policeman seeing him fall, bolted, or as he says, his horse bolted. Morgan robbed the dead man of his money, his arms, accoutrements, and horse, and laid him out on the road side, putting his cap in the middle of the road.
Again, on a Sunday night, Morgan inflicted a mortal wound on Sergeant Smith, of Albury, on the 3rd September, 1864, while the officer was camped with three other men on Morgan’s track. Poor Smith lingered for some time, but finally died of the wound at Albury. Of persons, well known in Beechworth, he has stuck up on the New South Wales side of the river, Mr Manson twice, Mr Braschs twice, Dr Mackay’s station on the Billabong once, Dr Stitt’s station at Walla Walla once at least; Mr Kidston’s station, by common report, constantly (but this has been denied by Mr Kidston on oath), and others, whose names we cannot recall at this moment. He wound up his career in New South Wales by sticking up the Sydney and Deniliquin mails, and by shooting an unfortunate shepherd in a most brutal and cowardly manner, of course, because lie had a ‘down’ on Society. And we are asked, after all this, to believe that this is the much-injured individual, who was so badly treated by being fired at for stealing horses on the Avoca, fired at again for robbing hen roosts, and stealing legs of mutton on the King River, but, above all, because he got twelve years for an offence, which he avowed he had committed, but in the proof of which this jail lawyer discovered a flaw.
It is hard to talk so of a man, who is dead, but not of a beast, who is dead. For some time he has been egged on by his mates in New South Wales to show the b—y newspapers, and the flash police here what he could do, but his own cunning for a long time resisted the temptation of the cowardly scoundrels, who dare not attempt it themselves, yet who thought that the name of Morgan would terrify the people of Victoria, as it did those of the other colony. At length, in a happy moment, but evidently after a mature study of the course he might best pursue, he crossed the river Murray to his doom. Our readers already know his short career here, and the manner in which he finally was disposed of, by the whole of the Ovens district being aroused to the danger of allowing the presence of such a visitant by the pluck of the people, men and women, at the station where he was to pass his last night in Victoria, and where he did pass his last night on earth ; by the persistent pursuit of the police, who had never given him a single hour’s rest, and by the courage of an Irish girl whose name, Alice Keenan, deserves to be immortalised. That Morgan was an extraordinary character is shown by his whole career, but that he had one single manly quality we utterly deny. He cared more about being the talk of a few bad men than :f gaining the admiration or love of one woman good or bad. He never desired the society of the fair sex, or sought it except in the spirit of bravado, and had he had that one redeeming quality he must have been a much worse or a much better man. His fellow prisoners say that in any talk about women he took no interest, but in any conversation about crime he was immediately excited. His head, which has been sent by the police to Melbourne, will show, if there be any truth in phrenology, Locality, Music, Destructiveness, (immense), no Veneration, no Benevolence, Combativeness and Self-esteem large, but Caution larger, and a total want of Amativeness or Philoprogenitiveness. We cannot absolutely tell what Morgan would have been in a fair fight, even for his life, but he never sought a fight of any kind, and was altogether about the most selfish, cold, calculating, and cowardly scoundrel, of whom we ever remember to have heard. He was perfectly cool where he thought he was perfectly safe, and never for a second placed himself in a position where he did notbelieve himself, with his cold drawling voice, his deadly look, the sympathy of convicts, the terror of his atrocities, his stolen race horse, and his loaded revolver, to be master of the situation. Can anyone tell us where Morgan ever did the act of a man?
The few additional items below are contributed by our Wangaratta correspondent :—
The excitement concerning Morgan is still intense. The body was removed from Peechelba to Wangaratta yesterday, and placed in one of the cells of the lock-up. Hundreds from all parts visited the body of the bushranging chief. A cast of the head was taken yesterday. It appears the name of the young man who fired the fatal shot is Wendlan, not Quinlan. He has been in the employ of Messrs Rutherford and McPherson for several years. He was in Wangaratta on last Thursday when, the express arrived from the Messrs Evans’s station; King River. He wished, very much to proceed to the scene of the outrage, but was unable to find a horse. Some of his friends said that Morgan might, next visit Peechelba. Wendlan said if he ever did he was bound to shoot him. It is said,that Mr Rutherford also promised £100 to the man who would shoot Morgan, and Mr Rutherford is a gentleman who will not break his word. One particular Scotch air played by Miss McPherson struck Morgan’s fancy, he asked her to play it over and over again. It was the last time she played, he called the piano an organ, and said often come Miss give me, another tune on that ere organ. He also told Mr McPherson that he passed through Benalla at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Friday last. Mr McPherson said he was in Benalla himself about the same time but did not see him there. Morgan assured him that it was quite true he was in Benalla on that day, and at the hour mentioned. It is said that Morgan told some of the persons at Evans’ station that he was in Melbourne lately, and had the pleasure of seeing himself in wax — he also told the man that it was a very striking likeness of himself. He also told Mr John Evans that he was on Oxley Plains last winter ; he met Mr Bond on the Plains by accident, and would have shot him dead there and then, but he was afraid of creating a b-—-y stink at the time. Some bullock drivers, who reside in Wangaratta, state most positively that they saw ‘Down-the-River-Jack’ at Oxley last winter, coolly riding on a horse. It has since been proved beyond a doubt that ‘Down-the-River-Jack’ and ‘Bill-the-Native’ was one and the same person.
Morgan also stated at the Whitfield station that Mr Bond must have also observed him, for he looked d——d hard at him. ‘Down-the-River-Jack’, was a frequent visitor at other stations. He was in the district for about two months. It was supposed at the time that he had just got out of prison, as his hair then was cut very short. He was in the habit in those days (four years ago) of stealing saddles, bridles, horses, cattle, &c. When he slept at some of the most remote stations on the King River, it was always with a tomahawk under his head. Two young lads in charge of one of the upper stations on the river used to call him ‘Jack,’ and did not look upon him then as a very dangerous member of society. When engaged chatting, over the fire, he told them he knew every inch of bush in the three colonies. He suddenly disappeared and has never been heard of until seen by the bullock drivers, who reported him at Oxley in last winter.
A reporter, representing the Melbourne Herald, arrived in town yesterday. He has especially been sent up to report concerning Morgan. Mr Evans, the constable, recognises Morgan as the same person who was tried at Castlemaine in 1854, under the name of Smith, alias ‘Bill, the Native,’ for some crime, and for which, he received a severe sentence.
Source: “SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND CAREER OF DANIEL MORGAN, THE NOTORIOUS BUSHRANGER” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 13 April 1865: 3.
[The following report was published in Cootamundra Herald, 3 July 1880. While some minor errors pepper it, this is one of the few times we get a somewhat choerent glimpse of Ned Kelly’s motivations at Glenrowan. ~ AP]
After the house had been burnt, Ned Kelly’s three sisters and Tom Wright were allowed an interview with him. Tom Wright, as well as his sisters, kissed the wounded man, and a brief conversation ensued, Ned Kelly having to a certain extent recovered from the exhaustion consequent of his wounds. At times his eyes were quite bright, although he was of course excessively weak, his remarkably powerful physique enabled him to talk rather freely. During the interview he stated: “I was at last surrounded by the police, and only had a revolver, with which I fired four shots; but it was no good. I had half a mind to shoot myself. I loaded my rifle, but could not hold it after I was wounded. I had plenty of ammunition, but it was of no use to me. I got shot in the arm, and told Byrne and Dan so. I could have got away, but when I saw them all pounding away I told Dan I would see it over and wait till morning.”
“What on earth induced you to go to the hotel?” inquired a spectator.
“We could not do it anywhere else,” replied Kelly, eyeing the spectators, who were strangers to him, suspiciously. “I would,” he continued, “have fought them in the train, or else upset it, if I had the chance. I did not care a — who was in it, but I knew on Sunday morning there would be no usual passengers. I first tackled the line and could not pull it up, and then came to Glenrowan station.”
Since the Jerilderie affair,” remarked a spectator, “we thought you had gone to Queensland.”
“It would not do for all to think alike,” was Kelly’s reply. “If I were once right again,” he continued,”I would go to the barracks and shoot every one of the — traps, and not give one a chance.”
Mrs. Skillian to her brother: “It’s a wonder you did not keep behind a tree.”
Ned Kelly: “I had a chance at several policemen during the night, but declined to fire. I got away into the bush and found my mare, and could have rushed away to beggary, but wanted to see the thing out, and remained in the bush.”
A sad scene ensued when Wild Wright led Mrs. Skillian to the horrible object which was all that remained of her brother Dan. She bent over it, raised a dirge-like cry, and wept bitterly. Dick Hart applied for the body of his brother, but was told he could not have it until after the post mortem examination.
The inquest on the bodies will be held at Benalla.
The wound received by Sergeant Hare pierced right through the wrist. It bled profusely, and he had to be removed for medical treatment.
The son of Mrs. Jones, landlady of the Glenrowan Hotel, was shot in the back, but not killed.
Ned Kelly was shot in the left foot, the left leg, the right hand, and left arm, and twice in the region of the groin; but no bullet pierced his armour.
It always astounds that so few books have been published about the Clarkes. Of course, this likely has to do with the fact that for the longest time it was a taboo and much of the story has been lost as subsequent generations disappeared, a phenomena not suffered by Ned Kelly or Ben Hall. So it is with much excitement that one approaches a tome that tries to shed new light in the dark corners of this complex and intriguing story.
Judy Lawson’s book, may appear slim and a quick and breezy read but it is quite deceptive in this regard. In reality it is a heavily immersive and detailed exploration of the Clarkes and the various murders attributed to them that warrants careful reading. Lawson has clearly done her homework and conveys in easy to follow language and structure her impressive research that combines the recorded history with the socio-political climate of 1860s Australia. The bookncontaons several useful diagrams and lists to allow readers to keep track of people and places but if you’re expecting a wealth of pretty pictures you will be disappointed – though the writing more than makes up for it. It is clear from the outset that Lawson’s angle is quite different than what has gone before, stating her mission statement clearly on the cover: “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”.
Without going into too much detail (that’s what the book is for) Lawson breaks down the Jinden murders as well as the deaths of Miles O’Grady, Billy Noonang, Pat O’Connell, Jim Dornan and Bill Scott – all deaths that were attributed to Thomas Clarke and his gang in some respect. Each incident is presented without judgement and with all available information from witness accounts and testimony from various trials and commissions pertaining to the events to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions that may indeed be counter to the accepted narrative. Previous works have been written with the author’s judgement firmly in place, usually declaring that the Clarkes were guilty as sin. What Lawson achieves is providing a potent counter to this assessment. Many questions still hang over the deaths of the special constables: was it the bushrangers or their harbourers that pulled the triggers? Were the local police involved? None of the questions have simple answers but this book brings us closer than perhaps ever before to seeing a miscarriage of justice in the case of the Clarke brothers being hanged. By presenting each potential scenario and breaking it down to discuss what is and isn’t feasible it allows readers, especially those unfamiliar with the stories, to really understand the complexities of each case.
Lawson also discusses the Irish culture, including the roles of men and women, and emphasises the way that tension between English Protestants and Irish Catholics formed a key aspect of the Clarke outbreak. By describing historical conflict and ideological differences that contributed to the treatment of families like the Clarkes we see a dimension of the story that is not often factored into most retellings. The way that these conflicts as well as the division between upper and lower class people manifested in laws and the prevailing culture in New South Wales during the 19th century are incredibly important in understanding what may have pushed the Clarkes and their ilk into a lawless lifestyle. By looking at the larger context of this infamous outbreak of bushranging we get a feel for how situations like this resulted in similar stories in other colonies such as the Kellys in Victoria and the Kenniffs in Queensland. Lawson also highlights the unfortunate reality that the charge that sent Tommy and Johnny Clarke to the gallows was not the one that they were tried for, that there was a bigger motivation behind it and that the execution was a foregone conclusion as in the cases of Ned Kelly and Paddy Kenniff. A big part of the taboo of the Clarke story seems to stem from the concerted effort local police made to demonise their enemies. Without a means of recourse to the various accusations the bushrangers were not able to explain their own situation (and there was certainly more to it than simple disregard for law and order as evidenced by their wide syndicate of supporters and harbourers).
Lawson herself possesses a Bachelor of Arts, having studied geography and history for three years before becoming a science teacher in various states, territories and abroad. Her passion for the Clarke story has led to her researching and documenting it for almost four decades in the pursuit of truth and removing the stigma of the story on descendents and the broader community. Lawson discovered that she is in fact a descendant of the O’Connells in her thirties due in large part to her father refusing to talk about it, such was the potency of the taboo. This motivation and passion is evident in every drop of ink in this book and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the Clarke story, a tale with so many twists, turns and mysteries it easily rivals that of the Kellys. Her aim is not to hold the bushrangers up as heroes or deny any wrongdoing, but merely to ask the questions that need to be answered and find whatever information possible to answer them.
In 1970 a film was released that has become infamous in Australian pop culture. It was directed by one of Britain’s most acclaimed stage directors, featured music by some of America’s greatest country musicians of the time, was written by a man who would in later years become known as the authoritative voice on the film’s subject (who himself had an illustrious career in Australian television), and starred one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll stars of all time. Yet, despite all of these ingredients that should amount to a legendary film, somehow it created the exact opposite reaction to what was expected and it seems to boil down to two words:
Yes, the 1970 film Ned Kelly has become a byword for bad adaptations of the Kelly story based purely on the unfortunate miscasting of the lead singer of the Rolling Stones as Australia’s favourite bank robber. So is it really as bad as it is made up to be? When compared with other stand alone films the answer may surprise you.
Films usually live or die on their cast and this film is a prime example of this. Any Ned Kelly film is expected to have Ned as a lead match the appearance of Ned in the popular consciousness: tall, muscular, heavily bearded – a bushman fit for the cover of a Harlequin romance. Mick Jagger did not fit the bill. His average height seems diminished by his weedy frame and awkward gait and his trademark pouty lips are far from the thin determined mouth Ned sported in all known images. In reality Ned Kelly stood at around 5’10” to 6′ tall, average by modern standards and tall in his own day, and as demonstrated by his commemorative boxing photo his physique was rather odd. The Ned of history is long limbed and a little pigeon chested with small hands and feet, likely very toned beneath the white long johns and undershirt from years of manual labour but certainly not adorned with washboard abs like most people would imagine (very few men of the time had access to gyms and protein shakes). By comparison, Mick Jagger at 178cm (5’10”) is actually Ned’s height but at around 73kg (161lbs) is much lighter. At the time of the film’s release Jagger was 27 years old, making him the closest in age to Ned at the time of his execution than any actor in the role in a major production so far, most actors being 28 or over (Godfrey Cass who portrayed Ned Kelly in several productions was in his forties the last time he portrayed Ned on screen).
As for the remainder of the cast, while many are far from the most striking likenesses of the people they play they are generally well acted. Mark McManus as Joe Byrne is a remarkably good likeness for Joe despite being more than ten years older than his real life counterpart was at the time of his death. Allan Bickford is also surprisingly accurate as Dan Kelly with his black hair and blue eyes and a performance that has him being at times forceful, playful and often at odds with his big brother, which is absolutely spot on. Clarissa Kaye depicts Ellen Kelly with gravitas, strength and dignity while presenting her as a witty and fiery force of nature, again just as the role calls for. Other standout roles include Diane Craig as Maggie, Frank Thring as Judge Barry, Ken Goodlet as Nicholson and Martyn Sanderson as Fitzpatrick. While most of the roles are not 100% accurate in terms of appearance and the police characters are often mere approximations of their historical counterparts it is a very strong cast for the time and perform admirably.
2. Production design
Perhaps one of the weaker elements of the film is the production design that tends to be quite inconsistent. The costumes, sets and props feel authentic and look magnificent but are often very lacking in accuracy. The prime example is Ned Kelly robbing the Euroa bank in a black tuxedo and white frilled shirt. No doubt this look, which was featured heavily in promotional material, was meant to represent Ned’s flashness and add a touch of theatricality to the portion of the film which is deliberately farcical, but is rather a jarring direction even for the late 60s. However the costumes worn by Ned in other scenes that usually consisted of dark coloured woolen clothes, grubby shirts, heeled boots and felt hats were far more accurate and were a great improvement over the high waisted moleskins, tall boots, shirts with rolled up sleeves and rumpled hats that seemed to be the extent of the bushranger costume in the majority of films on the topic such as The Glenrowan Affair or When the Kellys Were Out.
The towns in the film felt like real places of the time and they all felt very similar to the locations they were mimicking. The sets felt lived in and grubby without resorting to dim lighting and a desaturated palette to emulate the ambience of a house in the 1870s.
Nobody can deny the appeal of the soundtrack to this film. With songs written by the legendary Shel Silverstein (who wrote Johnny Cash’s legendary ‘A Boy Named Sue’) and performed by artists like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson (though, strangely, the latter’s songs don’t make it into the film, only the soundtrack album), it’s a perfect blend of lyrical cleverness and folksy musical arrangements that perfectly underscore the film. The refrain ‘The Shadow of the Gallows’, the jaunty ‘Blame it on the Kellys’ and the soulful ‘Lonigan’s Widow’ are just a tiny sample of the stunning musical content that accurately reflect the tone of the film.
“Shadow of the Gallows”
“Blame it on the Kellys”
Ned Kelly is undoubtedly one of the best film versions of the story thanks to Gerry Fisher (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Highlander, Yellowbeard). The imagery is full of soulful ambience, texture, colour and contrast from the beautiful silhouetted stock thieving scenes to the eerie, foggy last stand. The tones feel authentic, the earthy colours of the clothing and buildings drab without resorting to desaturating the shots to create a false sense of the dusty, worn out and dreary existence of the characters. Yet there are bursts of colour such as the inclusion of bright green ribbons to signify Kelly sympathisers, which break up the gritty realism. No other Kelly film to date has managed to feature such beautifully cinematic images while remaining authentic to the time and place. This Kelly story is full of fun moments as well as dark and moody ones.
Perhaps the crowning glory of this film visually is the atmospheric shots of Glenrowan during Ned Kelly’s last stand that show the iron-clad outlaw walking through eldritch mist, monolithic against the swirling plumes of gun smoke and fog as swarms of police descend upon him. This captures the feel of how the event was described by witnesses in a way that no other on-screen version seems to have managed to date. It was also the first film depiction of the last stand to effectively incorporate the helmet interior perspective shots that have become a staple of Kelly films ever since.
The beats of the screenplay are precisely accurate thanks to the original screenplay having been written by Ian Jones, who would later inspire generations of Kelly enthusiasts with The Last Outlaw as well as his books The Fatal Friendship (aka The Friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly) and Ned Kelly: A Short Life. The dialogue is often very theatrical, probably due to Toby Richardson’s theatre background, and often rather clever but at times this gets lost when the performances or film making are weak. Where it falls down, however, is where it was later tinkered with by the director who reshaped it into more of a depiction of the spirit of the story than a faithful recreation. Yet, despite these rewrites (which includes the addition of an invented love interest for Ned named Caitlin O’Donnell, odd moments such as James Whitty offering Ned work as a stockman and having Ned’s last stand in a railway cutting) it still remains more accurate than the vast majority of other depictions, including the Heath Ledger film. If you can move past the emphasis on condensing characters and events, there’s a decent screenplay in there.
6. Historical accuracy
This film, despite lording over the majority of adaptations in this regard, is prone to historical inaccuracy. As a foreigner, Tony Richardson can be somewhat forgiven for not adhering strictly to history. However there are glaring inaccuracies worthy of pointing out.
The costumes, despite generally having the right feel and look are often wide of the mark. The police uniforms seem to be mostly based on the real deal but with some artistic flourishes to make them look better as costumes. The gang’s apparent fondness for bandoliers has no basis in fact, but rather takes its cues from Westerns. Most of the inaccuracies here are minor and don’t distract from proceedings – except for the outfits the gang change into at Faithfuls Creek that are so loud, gaudy and flamboyant they could only have come from a film made in 1969.
The collapsing of Nicolson and Hare into one “super cop” called Nicholson was likely done to streamline the story for film and was replicated in the 2003 ‘Ned Kelly’ by creating a “super cop” in Geoffrey Rush’s Hare. To include all police in the way many would like is not a possibility in a theatrical release. Sergeant Steele, Captain Standish, Sadleir and Bracken all make appearances but are not always made a point of. It should be noted that emphasis was placed on key aspects of the pursuit that other adaptations glaze over or omit entirely such as the temporary arrest of sympathisers, the watch party at the Byrne house and the black trackers.
The buildings, such as the Glenrowan Inn, look fairly close but are approximations rather than loving recreations as seen in The Last Outlaw a decade later. This is, again, forgivable as despite not being 100% accurate they feel accurate and reflect the sort of environments that the story took place in, a far cry from the mud soaked huts in the bleak. flat and drab environs of Gregor Jordan’s 2003 film.
There are many things woven throughout the script based on oral history and rumours that can’t be qualified such as the Republic, the army of sympathisers in the hills at Glenrowan, the secret wedding on the eve of the execution and Ned Kelly’s girlfriend “Caitlin O’Donnell”.
Many of the inaccurate moments are very minor for the most part but done for artistic reasons such as Ned’s last stand taking place on the train tracks in a gully to show the police piling in on him or the gang bailing up the staff at Younghusband station at dinner to expedite the narrative of the bank robbery rather than spend ages having the gang round people up into a shed. It must be remembered that this was meant to be a film that captured the spirit of the story rather than a slavish recreation. Yet despite the occasional divergence from history it fares a lot better than the 2003 film that is so rife with inaccuracy it requires its own article!
7. The Little Things
Repeat viewings of the film reveal small touches that show a surprising level of detail likely thanks to Ian Jones’ influence.
Little moments like Maggie and Tom Lloyd staring lovingly at each other during the party to celebrate Ned’s return from gaol, the camera lingering on Aaron Sherritt when Ellen makes a disparaging comment about “orange men”, or the way that the boys hoot and holler when they take the bull Ned caught to the pound to demonstrate their larrikinism help the film feel that little bit more understanding of the story than overt appearances might portray. There are many lovely nods towards the history that will reward the attentive viewer, such as when Ned sings The Wild Colonial Boy and is cautioned when Constable Fitzpatrick enters the pub because it was prohibited to sing the song in public, then he just keeps on singing (what a rebel!) before sculling a beer.
Ned Kelly is far from a perfect film and wasn’t without its controversies but it is hardly worthy of being the “bad” Ned Kelly film, especially seeing how much it got right in comparison. It looks gorgeous, it has fun and engaging moments, a killer soundtrack and one of the most accurate screenplays on the subject co-written by one of the most important Kelly scholars – all things that should elevate it in popular culture. It is a film deserving of more respect and at least a watch all the way through and all it takes is getting past the fact that Mick Jagger is a little too skinny and awkward to look like Ned Kelly.
Being a young man with large hands and strong arms you’d think I was perfect for brick laying but alas it was not for me. I tried to help Ned out on a job but the job just wasn’t suited to me. I tried my best to carry the blocks and mix the mortar and to be honest they were overworking me as I was the new fellow. I tried my best but couldn’t keep up, they said I wasn’t fast enough then when I went faster they said I wasn’t careful enough. The other bricklayers had a good old chuckle at my expense and once the job was done and everyone went to the pub to celebrate “Henry the German”, the foreman, bought beers for everyone but me, said I could drink like a man when I could work like a man. I’d have smacked him in his kraut mouth if I’d not have incurred the wrath of the others.
Three weeks I was there helping out and I got a decent pay out of it so I went and got myself new boots. They were good boots and they were the first I remember wearing that hadn’t had Ned’s and Jim’s sweaty feet rotting them to pieces before they reached me. The others at work thought I was a tramp because my shoes were held together with twine. I didn’t care, I had known nothing else. There was one bloke at the job who was called Bluey and he thought my rags was a great joke. If ever I took off my jacket he’d hide it so that the next day I had to come to work in the cold with nothing on but my undershirt and an old crimean shirt of Ned’s that were full of holes. Bluey was a real bastard, would call me the brat and once threw an old dog blanket at me and told me it was better than my coat and more than I deserved. But with my new boots on I felt a million pounds and was strutting about the place like I owned it. Of course the rest of me was a shambles but my feet never looked smarter. They were elastic sided boots, black leather with a tall heel and they fit into my stirrups right splendid. No socks of course – useless bits of cloth in my opinion but the calluses on my feet might have said otherwise.
Where was my big brother Ned through all of this? The one who was told by Ma to keep an eye on me and make sure I don’t come into no mischief or get taken advantage of? He got as far away from me as he could. Arm’s length were too close. Here was Ned with his fine clothes with no holes, that fit him like a glove, bought with his felling money (none of that ever reached Ma I might add as he were of the opinion George King would take it and lose it on the cards as he were a lousy gambler) his beard all neat, laying stones like a machine because of all the time he’d done on Success, and here was I his kid brother in the moth eaten wool suit with floppy hair, a fluffy moustache and boots held together with twine trying to carry his own weight in stone to stop the other men from laughing at him. As soon as the job was done I didn’t speak to Ned for a month. I went shearing with Steve and just got away from that whole scene. It were at that time that George in his infinite Yankee wisdom took up thieving with Ned. Ned were so proud of how his skills breaking horses and the tricks for rebranding Power had taught him made him a master thief. He and George daren’t breathe a word to Ma or she’d have cut their bollocks off right there and then. I tried to keep my nose clean but in the off season when there weren’t no sheep to shear and there was only so many logs to split to get an income, one falls into bad habits.
I only helped them on one raid and all I done was to help muster the animals once they was out of the farm and lead them into the ranges, I never stole any. I can rest easy knowing my conscience is at least that clear. Ned were a clever duffer but Jim were thick as two planks and got caught every time. He were a habitual liar our Jim, heart of gold but mouth full of lies. Ma would tell him “your forked tongue will get you into strife someday Jim Kelly” and it was too true. He was in Darlinghurst Gaol after getting caught red handed through a lot of that time. When he helped me on the claim he were a good worker but he were itchy footed. He thought the work boring and hated being surrounded by men so he left us to go and chase girls. He said their sweet scent were summoning him, I told him the only summons he was like to get is one to court if he didn’t behave. I guess I were right on that.
But those boots though. I loved those boots. Over time I pieced together a whole outfit – a whole outfit that were my own and there was no holes or frayed edges or mysterious stains on the trousers. I should point out that my main trousers were an old pair of Jim’s with the knees worn out and a big dark stain over the privates where the clod had spilled grease from his frying pan after a cooking mishap. You can imagine the comments I got about “the brat’s wet himself again” when I was on the site. I can’t ever say that those were happy days. I suppose being a Kelly you’re not allowed to have many happy days. Seems to be our lot in life.
THE people of Queensland may be congratulated on the speedy termination of the bushranging career of the three ruffians who escaped from the Rockhampton Gaol and for a short time lived by plundering travellers and the residents of the surrounding districts. The credit for their extermination is due not to the police force, but to civilians, and if the same determination to put down crime was exhibited by the residents of the Southern and Western districts of this colony as that which characterized the conduct of Messrs. Jardine, Paton, and Caldwell, we should soon be rid of Ben Hall, the murderer
Morgan, and others, whose acts of violence have brought this colony and its inhabitants into unmerited disrepute, and enabled some of our envious neighbours to cast a stigma on the whole of the people of New South Wales. Howson was the first of the gang brought to justice. Webster another of the party, visited Tregilgus’ public-house on the 9th of June; the police having received information of his whereabouts surrounded the house, but Webster, though fired at by the police, rushed off, and would probably have
effected his escape but for the exertions of Mr. Jardine, who borrowed a revolver from Sub-Inspector Foran, pursued Webster, and coming within range fired, exclaiming, “That will do, he will not go any farther. ” Webster then fell, and the constables coming up took him prisoner and conveyed him back to his former residence, the gaol. In the end of June, Fegan and Wright visited and robbed a number of stations along the Peak Downs road. At Mr. Caldwell’s Fegan helped himself to a fresh horse and to about £30 in cash. Shortly after the bush-rangers left, Mr. Caldwell sent round, and having collected and armed six or seven of his employes, started in pursuit, accompanied by a young man named Paton. Near a lagoon on the outskirts of the station, Mr. Caldwell discovered his horse feeding quietly at the edge of the scrub. The party, believing that the bushrangers were not far off, and would soon be searching for the horse, concealed themselves in the scrub, and in a short time Fegan was seen coming along on foot; he was about to endeavour to repossess himself of the horse, when the party, springing from their ambuscade, surrounded him, and the sight of half a dozen revolvers levelled at his head convinced him of the folly of attempting to escape ; he therefore quietly submitted, and was conveyed back to Rockhampton, where he and his companions have since been committed for trial. Wright, the last of the gang, continued his robberies until the 4th July, when he was met by Mr. Paton and Mr. Bedford near the Wilpend station ; on seeing Wright approaching, Mr. Paton picked up a revolver and presented it at the bushranger, saying, “You are my prisoner ; throw your hands up !” Wright replied in a saucy tone, “All right,” and partially lifted his hands, but immediately afterwards lowered them towards his belt. Again Mr. Paton exclaimed, “Throw your hands up, or I’ll fire !” and the bushranger not immediately complying, he (Mr. Paton) turned to speak to one of his men who had followed, though still keeping the bushranger under cover. In turning he touched the trigger unintentionally, and the contents of the revolver were instantly lodged in the body of Wright, who exclaimed ” Oh, my God! what is that for?”and sank to the ground a corpse. On the body was found a revolver loaded and capped. Information of the circumstances was at once sent to Mr. Caldwell, the nearest magistrate, and an inquiry took place next day. Four gentlemen—-Messrs. Stanley, Gerard, Mackay, and Macdonald—-were empanelled as a jury, and concurred with the opinion of the presiding magistrate, that the act of shooting Wright was justifiable homicide.
Source: “THE CAPTURE OF FEGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872) 17 August 1864: 1.
You cannot believe anyone else’s version of an event. You must search it out yourself. – Ian Jones
With the passing of Ian Jones on 31 August, the world of Ned Kelly buffs was shaken. Jones had dedicated the best part of his life to recording and popularising the story of the Kelly Gang and for a considerable number of people in the community they had never been in a world without Ian Jones. His masterpiece Ned Kelly: A Short Life, released in 1995, remains a must-read for all people interested in the story. On top of this, his work on Ned Kelly (1970) and The Last Outlaw (1980) helped entrench Ned in the Australian popular culture.
Beyond his contributions to Kelly scholarship and culture, Jones is best remembered for his work in film and television, for which he was awarded the Longford Lyell Award in 2006 by the AFI. He began his career as a journalist for the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial before moving into broadcasting. His first work in television was on the broadcasts of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne for HSV7 and later a foundation director at Channel Seven in Melbourne. But he soon moved into other programming such as Consider Your Verdict and Video Village. In the 1960s he began working for Crawford Productions and in 1964 was the first writer and director for the classic Australian crime drama Homicide. For Crawfords he also worked on The Sullivans, Matlock Police, Hunter, The Bluestone Boys, Bluey, Division 4, Ryan and The Box. But perhaps his most popular work at the time was Against the Wind, a 1978 drama set in the convict era starring Jon English that gained a devoted fanbase around the world. He created the series with his wife Bronwyn Binns, with whom he would go on to create The Last Outlaw.
Ian Jones was also a military historian with a passion for the Australian Light Horse Brigade and in 1987 wrote and produced The Lighthorsemen starring Peter Phelps and Sigrid Thornton. The film depicted the actions of the 4th Light Horse Brigade in the Battle of Beersheba, a key event in WWI and a major victory for Australian forces in the war.
Jones credited his love affair with all things Kelly to a gardener named Tom Maine who would tell him stories about Ned Kelly when he was ten. The obsession began when he read conflicting accounts of Ned Kelly and determined to find out the truth. His fascination with film meant that it was destiny that he would create what is widely considered to be the definitive on-screen depiction of the story. His first attempt during his time as a university student did not pan out as expected resulting in an empty bank account and an injured foot. His experience as co-writer on Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly film, seeing how it was tampered with after his own involvement ceased, led to him going over all elements of The Last Outlaw with a fine-toothed comb. In 1992 he released his first book on the subject, The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt (later re-released in a revised edition as The Fatal Friendship: Ned Kelly, Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne) and was finally able to immortalise some of his own research in print. After the release of Ned Kelly: A Short Life in 1995, Ian Jones cemented his place and became a celebrity to aficionados of the Kelly story. Whenever Ned Kelly was in the news his would be the opinion everyone would seek, even only a few months ago in relation to a controversial work by Stuart Dawson refuting the idea that Ned Kelly was attempting to create a republic – one of the key ideas Ian Jones had popularised after learning of it in his interviews with descendants. Jones was instrumental in the creation of the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth, a museum dedicated to the story with an eclectic collection of artifacts spanning the history and the cultural legacy of the story. He never wavered in his high opinion of Ned Kelly, championing the outlaw as an inherently fine man who found himself falling foul of the law after years of oppression. As Ned Kelly appears to be regaining a foothold in the Australian collective consciousness after a lull it seems almost poetic that Jones has departed now, his success in helping to preserve the story for future generations now assured.