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.
There is a strong probability that there will be more such presentations in the gaol, as there are plenty more stories to explore.
The Crisis of Captain Moonlite
On 23 August Dr. Matthew Grubits presented an online seminar conducted via Zoom for Melbourne Irish Studies Seminars on Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite. The focus of the talk was predominantly on Scott’s religiosity and faith, and how this influenced his behaviour throughout his life.
Grubits drew particular attention to Scott’s most highly valued traits, those being truthfulness, honour and manliness and how the philosophy of “Muscular Christianity” influenced his beliefs. This also came into play when discussing Scott’s most intimate relationship, being the one between himself and James Nesbitt. Grubits pointed to Scott’s unwavering Christianity and his profound grief as key factors in why Scott wrote about Nesbitt posthumously with such passion, imbuing him with the very traits he himself valued above all others. It was suggested that this may potentially be a more accurate way to contextualise their relationship and the way Scott expressed his feelings about it than a perspective that indicates it being sexual in nature, when looked at in the broader context of Scott’s life.
While the 1869 Egerton bank robbery and Scott’s subsequent running afoul of the law were covered, much of this was only touched upon due to time constraints. The emphasis was decidedly on Scott’s personality and beliefs, and less on his bushranging, which is an approach rarely taken when discussing the infamous former lay reader.
The seminar proved to be an enlightening and engaging exploration of Scott’s life and psyche that raised many questions that will hopefully be answered when Grubits manages to secure a publisher for his doctoral thesis. It is an indicator of very exciting things to come. Watch this space.
New Jessie Hickman book brings the Lady Bushranger to a new audience
With so much emphasis in recent years having been put on highlighting the stories of female bushrangers, and especially educating children about notable women in history, it seems odd that it has taken so long for the “Lady Bushranger” to get her own children’s book.
Wild Bush Days is a new children’s book from MidnightSun Publishing, written by Penny Harrison and illustrated by Virginia Gray that introduces you for readers to the bold Jessie Hickman through the eyes of two young adventurers. The book is aimed at three to six year-olds and features many charming, full colour illustrations.
Jessie Hickman was Australia’s bold, but little-known, Lady Bushranger. Raised in the circus during the early 1900s, she later turned to a life of crime and cattle hustling. She used her skills as a rough-rider and tightrope walker to elude police, often hiding in a cave, deep in the mountains.
Told through the eyes of two young, modern-day explorers who go looking for the bushranger’s cave, Wild Bush Days conjures the spirit of adventure, from a time when girls weren’t expected to be daring.
Wild Bush Days is now available from most book retailers.
The Legend of Ben Hall on Amazon Prime
Fans of Matthew Holmes’ 2017 bushranger epic, The Legend of Ben Hall, can now rent or buy the film to stream on Amazon Prime.
The film’s shift to streaming makes it accessible to an even larger audience, with DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the film having been out of print for several years.
While the film was shown on Australian free-to-air television on Channel Nine in 2019, the commercial broadcaster has not aired it since. The Legend of Ben Hall has also been available on other services, such as YouTube and HBO Europe, with every distribution to a new platform boosting exposure for the epic indie film.
Director Matthew Holmes is about to embark on a new project, Fear Below, a Jazz Era crime flick featuring a fearsome bullshark. It is his second feature since The Legend of Ben Hall, with upcoming thriller The Cost due to premiere in early December of this year. In the intervening years he has launched several unsuccessful efforts to gain funding for films about Ned Kelly and the Glenrowan siege, Frank Gardiner, John Vane, and a streaming series about bushranging in Victoria and New South Wales during the 1860s through to 1880.
Aussie Icons by Ian Coate
The keen-eyed may have seen garden sculptures popping up in Woolworths and Bunnings stores recently including a platypus wearing a very familiar suit of armour. Bushranger Platypus is part of a series of garden statues called Dinkum Aussie Icons designed by Australian artist Ian Coate.
Other characters include Convict Crocodile, Swaggie Koala, Nurse Possum and Digger Wombat. Each is a cartoony Australian animal dressed like a figure from Australian culture or history. They are designed to educate and amuse, encouraging children to take an interest in Australian culture and nature.
I am delighted to announce the ‘DINKUM AUSSIE’ icons I designed have finally hit the shelves at Bunnings and Woolworths. We have just launched a website and Facebook page dedicated to these little Aussie characters and I would love for you to be the first to follow our Dinkum Aussie Page and join us for some ridgy-didge fun.
While there is certainly no shortage of videos about Ned Kelly on YouTube, precious few could be said to be both informative and hilarious. Brian Pilchard recently released a short documentary from his ongoing Super History series on his YouTube channel, OK Champ, where he covers the Kelly story with an imaginative mash-up of dodgy costumes, excessive amounts of cardboard, green screen, pop culture references and hilariously bizarre re-enactments.
You can watch the video below:
A Fateful September Day by Julia Dąbrowska
The following is a piece penned by long-time follower of A Guide to Australian Bushranging (and contributor) from Poland Julia Dąbrowska in commemoration of the death of Jack Donahoe who was shot in a stand off this day in 1830. — AP
The setting sun shines through the branches of gum trees covered with thick leaves. The fallen twigs crackle under the boot heels of the bushrangers and the hooves of a packhorse. Jack Donahue walks at the head of the gang. He gazes at his mates, William Webber and John Walmsley, and at a horse carrying several sacks. Suddenly, John Walmsley stops, pointing at something.
“It’s a campfire,” he said. They have seen campfires in the bush many times before, so they didn’t pay any special attention to it.
Little do they know that the campfire is in the police camp. Jack’s anxiety is increasing. He realises that the policemen are following him and his gang.
He stands, waving his hat, shouting, “Come on, you bloody bastards! We are ready to fight you all!”
The bushrangers decide to abandon the packhorse and seek some hideout. The police party and the bushrangers were less than hundred yards apart from each other. A sound of shooting breaks the silence of the bush. The first shot finds its mark in the tree Webber hides behind. Jack continues to tease the policemen, encouraging his gang members to fight and not surrender. It’s getting increasingly darker. John Muckleston, the best marksman in the police party, notices the head of Jack Donahue, protruding from behind a tree. Not wanting to wait anymore, the trooper squeezes the trigger. One ball hits Jack Donahue in the back of the neck, another one in his left temple. Jack falls, shaking, dropping his weapon upon the ground. Blood stains his flaxen hair and white shirt. William Webber and John Walmsley decide to run away.
It’s completely dark now. Jack Donahue lay on the ground, shivering, barely breathing, with his hair sticky with drying blood. Yes, he chose death in a battle over surrendering to the authorities. This is the death that any true Irishman would like to receive.
Conservators at Work
A photograph shared recently by the State Library Victoria shows a team of conservators working on the specialised display case for Ned Kelly’s armour.
Times have certainly changed since the days when the armour was displayed in the open on an old cockatoo perch in the old Melbourne Aquarium, and when it was worn as a costume during Australia Day parades.
The new case also contains Ned’s boot and a rifle attributed to him, and is climate controlled to protect the items from moisture and a risk of oxidisation. The armour is also occasionally removed for cleaning by the conservation team to remove any rust or decay.
Gifted with a splendid memory, endowed with a particularly alert and observant mind, and possessing the Irishman’s natural knack for telling a tale well, no one can gossip more interestingly about the early days of Melbourne than Mr. Frank Madden, Speaker of His Majesty’s Legislative Assembly of Victoria, whose activities exactly cover the span of “Punch’s” existence.
“We came to Melbourne in 1857,” he said, when asked to recall some early impressions. “I was then a very dedicate boy. I nearly died on shipboard. I have thrived in Victoria. My first recollection of Melbourne is that we could not land at Sandridge — why, I do not know. We came up the Yarra in a barge towed by a steamer. The wharf accommodation was very meagre, and the south side of the river was covered with a ti-tree swamp, gridironed with little, rivulets. When we got off the barge we went to the Yarra Hotel, which looked on an open space, since filled with the Customs House. We had hard work to find somewhere to stay. Not a single place would take us in — there were ten of us. For the first two nights we slept in Temple Court, where a relative gave up his chambers to us. Finally we had to choose between a little shop in Smith-street and a tiny cottage in Richmond, behind Wren’s Racecourse.
“Of course, we got very familiar with the Survey Paddock, which reminds me that not many of the present generation know how it came by its name. It was due to the fact that the pegs employed in surveying the whole of the colony were cut in this paddock. Near it was Sir James Palmer’s house. It still stands on the top of the hill, midway between the Hawthorn Railway Station and the Richmond Bridge. Meetings of the Legislative Council were held there, and he had specially substantial furniture made for it. The streets of the infant city were terribly low lying. There was no gas — just oil lamps here and there. The paths were only partly made, and it was no unusual thing to sink up to your knees in mud. The centres of the roadways were cut into deep channels, and there was a regular river in Elizabeth-street, after rain, which was spanned by a Bridge in Collins-street. When this hollow was filled in they covered up bridge and all, and years afterwards, when the tramway track was laid, I saw that bridge, which I crossed so many times when a lad, dug up from the excavations.
Iron Houses Imported.
“The Crimean war was just ended, and much of the materials which were made for the Crimea were purchased by long-headed Jews and brought out to Melbourne. The bridge across the Yarra at Church-street, with the high sides, was specially constructed for use in the Crimean War. It was to be thrown across a Russian river, and the high sides were to serve as a screen for troops marching across. Such a bridge could only be put where it was not exposed to the full force of the wind. If it were swept by a gale the sides would offer so much resistance that it would be smashed. Down where it is now it is protected from fierce winds. Officers’ quarters — there were British regiments in the Colony then — were built in Clarendon-street and Albert-street, and they have just recently been removed. They were constructed of iron, all the parts being made in England and then shipped to Melbourne. Several other houses of a similar class were put up. Mr. Francis’ (once Premier) original house in Albert-street was one of them, and that which Mr. James M’Kean lived in for so many years, and which still stands though hidden in modern improvements, was another.
A Practical Joke.
“Most of the buildings in the city were considerably above the level of the paths. The Bank of Australasia, for instance, was high up. M’Cracken’s Brewery stood back also, and in front of it was open land. I remember that about this time some wags in Temple Court collected some gold-bearing quartz and put them conspicuously on Flagstaff Hill, which was then a popular rendezvous because shipping was signalled from it, People found this quartz, and getting the gold fever pegged out the ground one Sunday morning, and promised to dig pits sufficient to give the hill the appearance of a man whose face is pock-marked. But the practical jokers relented in time, and let it be known how they had humbugged the amateur diggers.
“Bourke-street was a very lively place, because there were four or five horse bazaars in it — Kirk’s Yard, at the corner of William street; Kirk’s Bazaar, where it stands to this day; M’Caw’s yard, where Morris and Meeks’ place is now, and a couple of others which I forget. It was the regular practice for horses to be brought in and sold unbroken, and it was most interesting to see these horses taken away afterwards, with an ordinary halter. John Abbott, a daredevil fellow, bought seven colts one morning — all raw. He ran one of them into the crush, got on him, and rode, him there and then. When it stopped bucking he got the lot together and drove them off to Heidelberg as if it were a most everyday feat.
The Coaching Days.
“The Albion Hotel was another fascinating place, for the coaches started from it for Bendigo, Ballarat, Mansfield, and other long journeys. They had grand horses then, the very type which we want to-day and can’t get, arched necked, round-barrelled, splendid shoulders, high-spirited, and with plenty of courage. You know, the roads were very rough and ready, but the teams pulled the heavy coaches over them long distances, and delivered their freight to time. The drivers were wonderful whips — Cabbage Tree Ned, John Peck and Billbow, to mention only three. In Bourke-street, too, were the big shops. Copper coins were unknown in those days. Big firms like Hyde and De Carle, grocers, issued tokens, which were accepted in circulation, and which were taken by the Post Office for stamps. They were a good advertisement for the shops and a considerable convenience to the public. Only when the Government Departments refused to honour them was the present copper coinage introduced.
Processions of Bullock Waggons.
“Of water supply as we know it to-day there was none. Water was drawn from the Yarra, and it cost 2/6 a barrel. Subsequently a pumping station was built at the foot of Spencer-street, and two huge tanks were constructed close to the Eye and Ear Hospital. Well do I recall when the water from the Yan Yean was first started flowing at the corner of Bourke-street and Elizabeth-street. The first results were not altogether pleasing. The reticulation pipes were not properly cleaned. Several people died, and inquiry revealed that they had been killed by lead poisoning. The pipes were then thoroughly overhauled. It was a picturesque period. The great rush of diggers had ceased, but there was still a steady stream of men to the great mining camps, and they mostly travelled in bullock drays, which all passed up Elizabeth-street.
“You would see dozens of these drays crawling and creaking along, carrying men and machinery, with twenty-four bullocks constituting a team. Then there were the coaches running between the distant suburbs and the city. In particular there was the Brighton Coach, which Jack Martin drove. Many people lived in Brighton just because they enjoyed the wit of Jack Martin. He was one of the wittiest Irishmen I ever met, and when he gave up the reins and became a horse clipper at Kirk’s Bazaar, he used to maintain a running fire of raillery and badinage, which hugely entertained a large crowd every day. Peter Hanslow — Collingwood to the city — was another noted driver, and he kept going until the cabs spoilt his business. The cost of living was very high, and prices varied most curiously. A grand big schnapper could be bought for a shilling, whilst eggs were priced sixpence a piece.
Riot Against Parliament.
“I shall never forget my first visit to a court. Convicts tried to murder Col. Price, father of Colonel Tom Price — who had charge of the convict hulks. They killed him with shovels, and the case was tried in the court which is still being used for the City and District Courts. And my first peep of Parliament was also pretty early, when a no-confidcnce motion had been tabled against the O’Shanassy Government. I was greatly impressed with the debate and the proceedings. Some time afterwards there was a great riot in Spring-street, intended as a demonstration against Parliament. Round Parliament House was a low fence, and behind this Captain Dana and about twenty troopers were stationed. Dr. Eades read the Riot Act to the crowd, and as this did not disperse them, the order to charge was given. The troopers smashed down the fence, and were soon amongst the rioters. They were told only to use the flat of their swords, but I saw many people carried out with blood streaming from their wounds.
Flemington Rabbits and Flash Squatters.
“In 1859 I made my first acquaintance with the Flemington course. Flying Buck, a three year-old gelding, ran away with the Champion Stakes. Yeend rode him, and he is still a hale and hearty man. Amongst others who I recollect were there were L. L. Smith, Herbert and Robert Power, Reginald Bright, J. Cleland, J. Carter (who was a jockey then, and is now one of the assistants employed on the course), and Squire Austin, (who died some little time back). Squire Austin used to dress in typical John Bull style, just as you see him in old prints.
He was a good patriot, and in his scheme of importing English ways and things to the new country he conceived the idea of bringing out rabbits. He thought they would be kept in check, as in England, and provide both sport and food. Charles Fisher knew them better, and the moment he heard of Austin’s intention he had Corangamite Station fenced with heavy pickets to save the property from the plague which he was certain would follow. Portions of that fence are still in position, and testify to his sound judgment. It was amusing to see some of the men who called themselves ‘squatters’ in those days. They were chiefly cattlemen from the Northern districts. They wore red shirts, riding pants, bushmen’s boots, and had coloured handkerchiefs round their necks, and wore cabbage-tree hats, with the string caught under their noses instead of their chins. We used to call them ‘flash squatters.’ Thinking of Flemington reminded me of them. The stand looked as if it were made of derelict gin-cases. People could go anywhere except on the course proper, and all sorts of amusements were provided, including Aunt Sally and Doodleumbuck. There was a rail round the course, and men with fast horses often followed the races in this smaller circle. The Champion in Flying Buck’s year was rendered notable by the wreck of the Admela. There were interstate entries as far back as 1859. Horses were being brought round from Adelaide for the race, and Hurtle Fisher asked the captain if he could not alter his course a little, to save the horses feeling the full strength of the sea. The captain complied with his request, and had cause to regret it, since the Admela was wrecked. One of the horses, The Barber, managed to swim thirteen miles to land, and actually took part in the race. Mr. Fisher was imprisoned on the wreck for a week, but was ultimately rescued after suffering fearful privations.
Sixpence to Cross Collins Street.
“There were great floods in the Yarra. I was not snagged. I remember a contractor erecting a bridge at the end of Victoria-street across to Studley Park. I asked him if it was high enough. He replied that it was higher than any flood had ever reached. When fishing in the river I had noticed debris caught in a corner just below, and I pointed it out as likely to mean trouble at some time. Within a week of the completion of the bridge there was a big flood; the water got penned up at this very spot, and the bridge was swept away. In the city bridges were just as dangerous. There were little, curved structures over the rivulets in Elizabeth-street. One day a woman fell into one of these streams. A policeman tried to fish her out, and fell in himself. He was swept under one of the bridges, and before he was rescued everything he had on, except the leather collar then worn by members of the force, was torn off. Things were so bad in Collins-street, too, that people wishing to cross from one side to the other paid sixpence to be driven, and thought it cheap at the money. When you walk down the Block to-day, think of that, and you will realise why Melbourne is marvellous.
A Popular Tenor’s Ill-luck.
“The theatres were good. At any rate, the principals were. I can remember Brooke, Jefferson, Squires, Lyster, and many others. And we got in the pit for a shilling, what you can’t get to-day, because neither in drama or opera is the standard as high as it used to be. Well do I recall one day that I was fishing on the Saltwater near the Flemington Racecourse. Some sportsmen were shooting quail on the other side. One of them — Lyster —- accidentally shot Armes Beaumont in the face. I got across as fast as I could when I saw that something was amiss, and found out what happened.
A Notable Surgeon’s First Chance.
“Returning to the city, the Cattle Market was at the top of Elizabeth-street, alongside the old cemetery. There were wild and savage beasts, and dangerous to any people on foot who might be walking along the stock route. This was realised by the powers that be, and retreats were made into which pedestrians could go for shelter. They were V-shaped pens, with the apex of the V outwards. Men could get in, but the cattle could not follow. It was a Cattle Market accident which gave Sir Thomas Fitzgerald his first big lift. A drover was rushed by a bullock at Newmarket, and its horn thrust into his neck severed the jugular vein. The man was taken to the Melbourne Hospital bloodless, and apparently lifeless. The other doctors would not give him a chance of living, but Sir Thomas Fitzgerald took the man in hand, attended him continuously for two days and two nights, and pulled him through. The drover lived for many years afterwards — a fine advertisement for the young surgeon’s resource and skill.
Priceless Wine for a Song.
“Curious things happened in those times. We had been hunting one day near Laverton, and when we got to Williamstown we determined to return by boat, and made ourselves comfortable at an hotel. I did not like the idea of drinking waterside public-house draught stuff, so I asked the landlord if he had any colonial wine. ‘I have some sour stuff in the cellar,’ he replied — ‘claret.’ He brought it up, and the minute the cork came out with a pop I smelt the aroma of a first-class wine. I found that he had ten cases of this claret, told him I was partial to that kind of wine, and offered him 15s a case for the lot delivered on board the steamer. He jumped at my offer, and I got the wine, than which I have never tasted better, though it had no label. Talking about this incident with Mr. Alston, of Alston and Brown, he told me that when things were booming in the early fifties wines and other commodities of great value were shipped to Victoria. When the steamers reached the bay the seamen deserted, and the ships were left without adequate protection. Those left on board, or thieves from the shore, used to get the fine wines, which were not to their taste, and exchange them for raw spirits which they enjoyed. The Williamstown publican did not know where the claret came from, and probably this was the explanation.
Power, the Bushranger.
“Bushrangers! Yes, I had to see Power, the notorious bushranger, on one occasion. There was a dispute, as to who captured him, and I represented Mr. Charles Hope Nicholson in the matter. I saw Power at Pentridge. When first he was pointed out to me I thought he was a small man, whereas I always understood he was very big. But when I got close to him I discovered my mistake, for he towered over me. His enormous breadth detracted from his height. He told me that Ned Kelly deserved to be taken, as he ‘peached’ on him, (Power). I said I knew how he (Power) was captured. He had a gunyah on the far side of a clearing, and was surprised when asleep. A man ran across the clearing and grappled with him before he could get his gun, which was slung within reach, and he was brought to justice. I asked, ‘Who was that man?’ and he replied, ‘Nicholson; and it was lucky for him I couldn’t get my gun, as I would have shot him to get away.’
Sir William Stawell’s Courage.
“Talking about his life he said that the bravest, man he ever knew was Sir William Stawell the Chief Justice of the Colony. The Chief Justice gave him a very heavy sentence at one time, and Power nursed a bitter resentment and swore to revenge himself. When Sir William Stawell was on Assizes in the country he had a police escort, but he was a man entirely without fear, and frequently went on ahead of his guard, despite the desperate men abroad. Power said, ‘I reckoned on his carelessness, and plotted to catch him unawares on a bit of the road where he would be at my mercy. On a lovely morning, deep in the heart of the Gippsland bush, I pulled my pistols out of the holsters cocked them, and held them in readiness. By and bye I heard a horse cantering quietly along, and a man singing merrily in the pure morning air. As he came round a bend I knew it was Sir William Stawell, and gripped my pistols tighter. As he neared me Sir William shot a swift glance at me from his eagle eyes, never moved a muscle, although he must have guessed my purpose, said “Good morning, Power,” and cantered on. I could not shoot.’
Ned Kelly’s Mistake.
“Power held that Ned Kelly made a fool of himself at the end. ‘Thank God!’ he exclaimed, as he rapidly sketched his life, ‘I never killed a man. Kelly ought to be hanged. If he had had any sense he would not have shot Sergeant Kennedy, but have bided his time, caught him, tied him up, and put all the troopers in the pub, and have left them until called for. That would have covered the force with ridicule, and have gained him great public sympathy.’
The Brave Man’s Silence.
“A brave, taciturn man was C. H. Nicholson. When he was a cadet he went to the Kilmore district with a warrant to arrest a noted Tasmanian bushranger. He lost one of his men in the first attempt, got assistance from the Kilmore police, picked up the bushranger’s tracks and went after him armed with one of the old pepper-box four-barrelled pistols. When he overtook the desperado, the latter, resting his pistol on the pummel of his saddle, fired at Nicholson. The bullet cut obliquely across his cheek, severing the nerve which connects with what we call the eye tooth. From this wound Nicholson suffered for many a year. But to continue, Nicholson fired and missed. The chase commenced again, and Nicholson fired two more shots without result. The bushranger, finding that he was still followed, lifted his jacket to show that his waist belt was studded with pistols. But Nicholson was not to be frightened away. He determined to get to close quarters before using his last barrel. Getting on the left-hand side of his quarry, so that he could not use his pistol-hand freely, he rode right up to him, pulled the trigger and it missed fire. Letting it drop, he threw his arm round the bushranger’s neck, and both rolled to the ground. After a struggle, Nicholson took him prisoner. Except to his family, who got it out in bits, Nicholson never told how he risked his life in this venture. I looked up the court trial in the papers to learn something about the adventure, and all that I read was — ‘Charles Hope Nicholson, a cadet in the police force, duly sworn, said, “I arrested accused on a warrant near Kilmore.”‘”
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 Kellystory into its narrative.
Brad Webb of Ironoutlaw wrote the following to commemorate Crichton:
Today we say our goodbyes to a very special friend – Alan Crichton. In 2008, I had the pleasure of publishing his novel ‘Far Beyond The Falls’, but Alan was better known around the Kelly world for his poetry and his semi-regular IronOutlaw column ‘Keep Ya Powder Dry’ where he shone an extremely bright light on the serious and the ridiculous in equal measure. Alan’s sharp wit and eye for detail coupled with his ability to enjoy himself (no matter what the circumstances) made this fellow a joy to be around. We shared many an hour drinking and talking about the contemplative and the balderdash in equal measures. If I knew Alan was going to a particular Kelly event it usually convinced me to join in as well. He was that much fun to be around. Quick to laugh at and with, he could give shit and take it with ease. He was a dear mate and a friend to many. My thoughts go out to Ros and the family. Alan Crichton, you will be sorely missed, my comrade-in-arms…
On 7 August, Aidan Phelan will be giving a talk at the old Geelong Gaol about some of Victoria’s intriguing bushranger stories. It will be a mixed bag of familiar names like Harry Power and the Kelly Gang, along with more obscure ones like Thomas Menard, and Bradley and O’Connor.
With 2022 marking 160 years since Frank Gardiner’s legendary gold heist, several publications ran an article about the event. The robbery was one of the largest gold heists on Australian history and has been the subject of numerous books and other media.
The gang of bushrangers, dressed in red serge shirts and red night caps and with blackened faces, hid behind the big boulder and other rocks, waiting for the approach of the Gold Escort Coach on this late winter’s afternoon.
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 anti-hero from a new perspective: that of the ‘rogue and vagabond’ who finally put the noose around his neck. Here, 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 deranged hangmen paid to execute convicted men and women – some of them innocent or unfairly condemned – in Melbourne before it was marvelous.
Hanging Ned Kelly is due for release in September 2022.
Mystery Road: Origin
Viewers of the ABC crime drama Mystery Road: Origin would have quickly found the many references to Ned Kelly in the series. From a John Williamson track playing in the background during a pub scene to various quotation, the keen observer had much to find. One of the key cast members is Steve Bisley, who famously portrayed Joe Byrne in The Last Outlaw in 1980, although this time he’s on the other side of the law. Of course, the most obvious reference was in the fact that the main antagonists wore Ned Kelly masks while committing crimes.
This is not the first time nods to Ned have been used in film and television to highlight a theme, but it is the most on the nose in recent memory.
Now available from Australian Bushranging are two new releases from Aidan Phelan: Glenrowan- definitive edition and Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata.
Glenrowan tells the story of the last months of the Kelly outbreak, culminating in the deadly siege at Glenrowan. Based on detailed historical research, it weaves the real with the imagined to fill the gaps in the record in a way that is both enlightening and engaging. This new edition features revised and expanded text, new illustrations and additional material not included in the first edition.
Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata is the first book dedicated to the story of Aaron Sherritt, who was one of the Kelly Gang’s greatest supporters until he became their final victim. This book focuses on Aaron’s character, his role in the Kelly outbreak and what led to his demise at the hands of his best friend and challenges the long held beliefs about who he was.
Both titles are available as print-on-demand and eBook through various online retailers including Booktopia, Dymocks, Book Depository, The Nile, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.
This month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging
The forgotten story of Thomas Menard, the American-born bushranger who went on the run after committing murder in Warrnambool, and ended up on the gallows at Geelong Gaol.
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.
Henry Power, alias Johnston, was brought up charged with highway robbery under arms, near Hooper’s Crossing on the Ovens, on the 7th May, 1869. Arthur Woodside, a squatter, detailed the occurrence. He deposed that he was on the road when the Bright coach was approaching the crossing. He saw the prisoner walk out of the bush with a double-barrelled gun in his hand and stop the coach. Witness rode up; but Power presented the gun at him and ordered him to dismount. Prisoner then told the driver to throw out the parcels, which was done. (Prisoner here told witness to speak up, and said he could speak loud enough when they had met on a previous occasion.) Prisoner, after making a Chinaman in the coach show his money, some few shillings, took witness’s horse, bridle, saddle, and spurs. Prisoner promised to return the horse, and did so about five weeks afterwards. The prisoner’s gun was cocked and capped. Witness offered no resistance. Edward Coady, coachdriver, stated that on 7th May he was returning from Bright to Beechworth. When about two miles on the Beechworth side of Hooper’s, the prisoner came across the bush, and, presenting a gun at witness, told him to ”pull up.” He then told witness to turn out the swag of gold he had on the coach. Told him there was no gold. Prisoner said. “Here’s another coming; don’t you stir.” When Woodside came, close, prisoner told him to pull up and dismount. Witness then pulled out some of the mail bags. Prisoner took one or two of them in his hand and threw them back, saying there was nothing he wanted in them. He did not open them. Witness then threw a paper parcel out. Prisoner broke the paper and threw it back, saying it was of no use to him. The Chinaman’s carpet bag was then thrown out by the owner. Prisoner opened the bag, looked at some of the things which were in it, but took nothing from it. Prisoner wanted to take the leading horse. He (witness) told the prisoner that the horse would be of no use to him, as it had not been broken in to saddle. Prisoner said that he wanted nothing from witness on that occasion, as whatever he (witness) had he worked hard for. Woodside got on the coach with witness, and prisoner told them that they could start. Prisoner rode off on Mr. Woodside’s horse towards the Ovens River.
The prisoner informed the magistrate that the gun was cocked, and entered into an explanation as to his having wished to purchase an oilskin coat and pair of leggings from the driver, which the latter refused to sell. He further stated that he told the driver that he would not take any money from him, as he (Power) knew that drivers earned their money hardly, as he did himself.
Power was next charged with highway robbery under arms from Thomas Thomas, at the Buckland road, on the 7th May, 1869. Thomas Oliver Thomas, storekeeper, residing at Wangaratta, stated that on 7th May, 1869 he was on the Buckland road travelling on horseback to Hooper’s Crossing. He was riding one horse and leading another, and when within about seven yards of him observed that the prisoner had him covered with a double-barrelled gun. Prisoner called out to witness to stop. Witness was on the point of going when prisoner called out “If you go, I’ll fire.” He (witness) then came towards prisoner, who told him not to come too near, and said that his gun could kill at 300 yards. Prisoner then asked witness what money he had. Told him first that he had none. Told him afterwards that he had a couple of notes. Prisoner said to hand them to him, which witness did. Prisoner then asked him what had become of the other fellow who was with him (witness). Told prisoner that he did not know. Witness then asked prisoner to give him one of the pounds back, as he had taken all his money. Prisoner said he would not, as he had just stuck up the coach and got nothing. He further told witness to consider himself lucky that he did not take his hat and coat from him. In answer to the prisoner, witness said that he did not remember his asking whether he was a policeman or detective, or inquiring what he was doing off the road. Power then entered into an explanation of the circumstances that occurred, stating it was a matter of indifference to him what charges were brought, only he wanted to hear the truth spoken.
Henry Power was then charged with highway robbery under arms at the Buckland Gap, on 28th August, 1869. Edward Coady stated he was driving the Buckland coach from Beechworth to Bright on the 28th August, 1869. When going down the Gap, witness observed some logs on the road. Put his foot on the break to stop the coach, and pulled up, when he saw prisoner standing on the bank about five or six yards distant with a gun presented. Prisoner said that he thought he had seen witness before, and asked whether there were any constables on board, whether he had any firearms, and how many passengers there were. Told him that there were no constables or firearms, and that there were three passengers besides the boy. Mr. Hazleton, a passenger, turned out his pockets and produced some silver and a watch at prisoner’s direction. Prisoner told Mr. Hazleton to put his money and watch on the ground, and he did so. Prisoner told Hazleton to stand back, and came forward and took up the money and watch. Prisoner then told witness to turn out whatever money he had. Gave him a pocket-book and purse, in which were £2 13s. 6d. and a threepenny piece; the latter coin prisoner gave to the little boy in the coach. After emptying the purse, prisoner returned the pocket-book, containing some papers, to witness. Prisoner told the ladies to turn out. Both came out of the coach, and one of them, Mrs. Le Goo, handed her purse to prisoner. He opened it and took out the money, which amounted to 13s. She told prisoner that was all the money she had, and asked him for a shilling back to get a cup of coffee on the road. Prisoner returned her a shilling. Miss Hart told prisoner she had no money, and he took no further notice of her. At this time, another young, lady — Mrs. Boyd he believed was her name — came down the Gap on horseback. Prisoner also told her to bail up, and asked whether she had any money, and she replied that she had not. Prisoner said he did not know how it was that young ladies could ride round the country with horses and side-saddles and yet had no money in their pockets. Prisoner then said he would take the horse and saddle from her. Mrs. Boyd asked him if he would allow her to go back to her father’s on top of the Gap, and she would give him anything he wanted. Prisoner told her he would not, but that if she gave him £5 he would give her the horse. Mrs. Boyd replied she had no money. Prisoner said if she chose to borrow the money from the other ladies in the coach — he knew that the tall one had money — he would not ask where she got it, but would give her back the horse. Prisoner then said as it was a cold morning he had got a fire ready for them close by, at his camp. Prisoner then said he had a good mind to shoot him (witness). He inquired what for. Prisoner replied for speaking disrespectfully of him in Fisher’s bar. Witness replied that he had said nothing further than that if he met Power at a shanty or public house he would shout for him. The other persons then went to the fire, about a hundred yards distant, close to the road side, leaving witness on the coach. Prisoner stopped close to the coach and purchased a knife from a little boy, who also remained. He gave the boy a shilling for the knife, and the little boy offered him back the shilling if prisoner would give his sister (Mrs. Boyd) her horse. The prisoner smiled at this. The passengers then came back from the fire, and prisoner told him (witness) to turn out some of the mail bags, which was done. Mr. Hazleton told him that the bags would be of no use to him, as no money went that way, that all went by escort. Prisoner returned the bags. A man. on foot was at that time coming up the Gap, and on his approach prisoner told him to bail up and deliver up his money. The man put his hand into his coat pocket, when prisoner told, him to take it out, saying, “It was not there people were in the habit of carrying their money.” Prisoner then told the man to turn out his trousers’ pockets, which was done, but there was no money in them. Witness had his foot on the break all this time, and asked prisoner to allow him to take the coach further down the Gap. Prisoner gave him permission to do so. A Chinaman coming along was then stopped; then two drays were noticed proceeding towards where they were standing. Power told all who were standing round to keep still, or he would shoot them. When the drays, with which were two men, came near, prisoner ordered them to stop and deliver up their money. A man with a spring cart then came forward, and he was likewise stopped by prisoner, and told to give up his money. This man said, that he was a very poor man, and had not much money. Prisoner told him to get out of the cart, put his money on the ground, and then stand back. This was done. Prisoner then came forward and took up the money. Prisoner then said to witness that he must have one of his horses. He took a saddle and bridle from one of the drays that came down the Gap. Prisoner said that he must have the snip horse — the off-side wheeler from the coach — and told some of the men who were standing about to unharness the horse and saddle it for him. One of them led the horse to the prisoner after it was saddled. Prisoner led the horse about forty yards further off. He tried to get on the horse with the gun in his hand, but the horse would not allow him to get near it. Witness thought that prisoner then laid down the gun and tried to mount the horse but could not. Prisoner then said he would take the brown horse, one of the leaders. The horse was unharnessed and saddled and led away by prisoner. He got on this horse, and rode back to where the coach was, and told those assembled there they could start. Before starting prisoner gave Mrs. Boyd her horse, saddle, and bridle. Prisoner said that he would ride on ahead and stick up in front of the coach. He rode down as far as Rowe’s, and then turned back. When he met the coach on his return, he said to witness and the others that he had changed bis mind. That was the last witness saw of the prisoner. The coach was stopped about three hours.
Prisoner, on being asked whether he had any questions to ask witness, said no that all the driver had said was correct.
Wm. S. Hazleton, storekeeper, residing at Bright, and Ellen Hart, residing at, Wahgunyah, also gave corroborative testimony. Prisoner, to last witness : I never asked you for money. Witness : Yes; you asked me if I had any, money, and when I replied, “No,” you replied, “I don’t, suppose you have.” This closed the evidence in the third charge.
The prisoner was then charged with the highway robbery of John Hughes, on the 28th. August. John Hughes, dairyman, residing at Whorouley, deposed that on the 28th of last August he was traveling towards Beechworth. On coming near the Buckland Gap he saw the coach standing in the road and a number of persons crowding about. On driving up saw prisoner walking about with a gun in his hand. Prisoner ordered witness to drive on one side, and then told him (witness) that he was doing a little sticking-up business. He asked witness for money, and on being told that he had very little, prisoner cocked both barrels of the gun and ordered witness out of the cart, in order to see how much, he had. Witness got down and drew £1 18s. from his pocket, which he handed to prisoner. This witness corroborated the evidence of Hazleton and Coady. William B. Montford, sergeant of police stationed in Melbourne, deposed to the arrest of the prisoner in the Glenmore ranges as already reported in these columns.
In reply to the bench, prisoner said he had nothing to say to any of the charges. The prisoner was committed to take his trial on the first three charges at the General Sessions to be held in August, and on the fourth charge he was committed for trial at the Circuit Court in October.
The Ovens Spectator writes :— “It is not generally known, but it is nevertheless a fact, that about four years ago, when Power’s former companion, McKay, was arrested and placed in Beechworth gaol, he stated to one of the police officers that Power and another man were the murderes of Somes Davis, who disappeared so mysteriously about six or seven years ago, and that Power took the most prominent part in the foul deed. The information given was not sufficient for the police to act upon, and so the matter dropped. Among those, however, who made inquiry into the matter, suspicion was generally directed against Power and tho notorious Toke, of Mitta Mitta. It will be in the recollection of our readers that about six or seven years back, Somes Davis, a storekeeper and gold buyer, left Yackandandah in the direction of the Mitta Mitta, to buy gold, and he disappeared and was never seen again. From the marks of his spurs on the saddle, and from some other circumstances, it seemed as if he had been violently dragged from his horse, previously to his being killed. The rumor at first spread that Davis was still alive and was keeping out of the way of his creditors was soon disproved, as it turned out on his affairs being wound up, that he could pay a good deal more than 20s in the pound. His body never yet has been found, and the mystery has never been cleared up. If, however, McKay’s statement was true, Power has something more to answer for than all his known crimes.”
“It is alleged,” says the KynetonGuardian, that the black tracker who led the police to Power’s retreat was no other than the man Kelly, who was so soon discharged after his arrest, in consequence of no one being able to identify him. If it had been reflected that Kelly was standing in the dock of the Kyneton Police Court between 10 and 11 o’clock on Friday morning, it would have been seen that it was a physical impossibility for him to have assisted in any way in the capture of Power, which took place, at half past 7 on Sunday morning, at a place over 200 miles distant from Kyneton. Kelly has never left Kyneton since his discharge. He has been seen about the streets every day, and he is waiting for his friends either to come for him — they, were expected last night — or to send him money with which to defray the expenses of his journey home.”
On 18 May HarperCollins publishers, through their 4th Estate imprint, launched a new novel by Australian author Felicity McLean simply titled Red. The book is, in the words of the publishers:
…a spirited and striking contemporary retelling of the Ned Kelly story.
The story is set in New South Wales in the 1990s and follows a female protagonist, Ruby “Red” McCoy, as she falls foul of the law – or, rather, as the law’s vendetta against her family turns its focus onto her.
While the Kelly story provides a vague framework for the story, this approach gender-swaps the outlaw and drags the story into a setting that the target audience will be able to relate to. No doubt the book will employ the “blackly comic” sensibilities of her debut, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, a modern reimagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
The book has gained a very positive write-up from Brendan Cowell, writer/director of The Outlaw Michael Howe, who states:
This electrifying and unique revamp of the Ned Kelly myth will leave you breathless. The accumulative prose of rusted car doors and sliding suburban loyalties make way for an unforgettable female protagonist who is as fearsome as her life is young. Winton meets Tarantino in Woy Woy and it all makes perfect sense to me.
For more information, you can visit the HarperCollins website here.
Ned Kelly Game on Steam
Indie Game developers Tobop Productions have a new FPS (first person shooter) game coming to Steam on 28 June 2022 titled, Ned Kelly: Armoured Outlaw. The game is an alternative reality that allows the player to be Ned Kelly and fight their way out of the siege of Glenrowan.
The single-player game will be available for Windows and MacOS, and tasks the player with getting the Kelly Gang from Glenrowan to Melbourne. While it is not slavish to history, effort has been made to make the characters, buildings and weapons period accurate.
Sue Thompson has penned a short piece for the Star Mail wherein she introduces readers to the boy bushranger William Parsons. Though the article does not go into any considerable detail, it gives readers a flavour of the story. There is as much focus given to Redmond Barry (incorrectly named as “Edmond” in the article) as to Parsons, in particular a quote from Barry to Parsons from his trial:
It is almost incredible that you, with arms in your hands, should have stuck up three men. You could scarcely know how to use them; indeed you did wound yourself, and nearly blew your own brains out. It is almost incredible crimes like this should occur in our neighbourhood, and it would be laughable were it not lamentable.
On the 25 May 2022 edition of Self-Improvement Wednesday hosted by Richard Glover, Tom Wright was interviewed about the life and bushranging career of Fred Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt. Wright, the artistic director of the Belvoir Theatre, spoke about the infamous outlaw on the anniversary of his death, with particular emphasis on the cultural impact of the story.
The Beetoota Advocate, a satirical news website, recently poked fun at both Ned Kelly and “cancel culture” in an article entitled Ned Kelly Cancelled After Discovery Of Controversial Anti-Police Tweets from 1875. The tongue-in-cheek article suggests that Kelly had made a series of anti-police Tweets in the 1870s that were uncovered by “internet sleuths”, causing quite a stir.
At the time of writing there has been no formal statement from Kelly’s PR team which is primarily made up of the type of volunteers who might throw a chair at you if you mention that Kelly killed police officers as well.
Benalla Ensign and Farmer’s and Squatter’s Journal (Vic. : 1869 – 1872), Friday 13 May 1870, page 2
The Benalla Police Court was crowded yesterday to see the young bushranger Kelly, and to hear the result of the charges laid against him. The prisoner has greatly improved under the better and regular diet he has had since his incarceration, and has become quite “flash.” We are told that his language is hideous, and if he recover his liberty at Kyneton, and again join Power—as no doubt he soon would—we are inclined to think he would be far more dangerous than heretofore. He has managed to get out of several ugly scrapes, and this success has not only emboldened but it has hardened him. Kelly was dismissed on the first two charges—that of robbing Mr. McBean in company with Power, and of the robbery near Seymour. Mr. McBean could not identify him, and the man robbed near Seymour could nowhere be found. It will be remembered that Mr. McBean did not see the face of the young man who was with Power when he was stuck-up, as he turned his back on Mr. McBean all through. But the Seymour case looks very like aiding and abetting. We shall see how the young criminal will fare at Kyneton, to which place he has been remanded, and where he will be brought up on Friday next, when it will be soon whether Murray can identify him. We regret to learn that there is no word of Power, who is believed to be in ambush in this vicinity.
The annual Moondyne Festival in Toodyay, Western Australia, is all set to kick off on Sunday 1 May this year. The festival, named for local bushranger Joseph Bolitho “Moondyne Joe” Johns, features a range of activities and attractions, as well as reenactments of some of the infamous bushranger’s escapades.
Visitors are encouraged to dress in period costume when they attend, and scheduled attractions include music performances, a street parade, Morris dancing, a moustache competition, a photo room, sheep dog demonstrations, camel rides, and a “floozy” competition. The events and attractions will be spread around town, encouraging visitors to explore.
The Conversation has published an insightful article by Julian Meyrick about Douglas Stewart’s 1940s play NedKelly. The article gives a background to the play as well as Meyrick’s own observations regarding Australians’ attitude to their own history, and how the play embodies this through its use of language and theatrical techniques.
In 1997, I directed Ned Kelly in one of its few professional productions. Spruiking the show to audiences, I heard many times that people “already knew the story”. But when I asked what they knew, they were often at a loss to give even the basic facts. They felt they knew the Kelly story, but they did not. This combination of belief the past is known, and actual ignorance of it, fuels Australia’s “history wars”. Stewart’s play thus falls into a historical black hole as well as a theatrical one. A nation dismissive of its past dramatic forms is also dismissive of its past. Reclaiming Ned Kelly is therefore about more than its disinterment from the sarcophagus of neglected plays; it is an act of intellectual recovery whereby Australian history is made available as a dramatic resource, and drama is validated as a mode of historical inquiry.
Mary Ann Bugg, the little known Australian bushranger
On ABC Radio program Night Life with Philip Clarke, the host interviewed historian Carol Baxter, author of Thunderbolt and his Lady, about Australia’s most famous female bushranger, Mary Ann Bugg.
Baxter’s work on the Thunderbolt story has been prominent over the years since her book was first released in 2011, in particular her championing of the story of Mary Ann Bugg. In the interview, Baxter discusses Bugg’s background and relationship with Frederick Ward and her work in researching the history.
Spectator Australia have published an opinion article by Ross Eastgate about the difficulties of police life, specifically in reference to the dangers and difficulties that officers are put in as a matter of course, and the need for officers to be able to defend themselves – with lethal force if necessary. Specific mention is made of the shootings at Stringybark Creek, amongst more modern examples, particularly the current issue of Constable Zachary Rolfe in the Northern Territory. Being an opinion piece, the views stated therein will not appeal to all.
On October 25, 1878, the criminal Ned Kelly and his gang ambushed four armed Victorian police at Stringybark Creek. Three, of Irish descent like Kelly, were murdered, resulting in the Kelly gang being declared outlaws to be hunted until death or capture. After nearly 150 years the murders still arouse strong emotions around nearby Mansfield among the surviving families and in the Victorian Police.
On ABC Radio’s Self Improvement Wednesday with Richard Glover from 9 March, Grace Karskens, Emeritus Professor of History in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales, discusses some of the New South Wales bushrangers that operated around the Sydney region in the early years of the settlement.
Karskens gives a good introduction to the early history of bushranging in New South Wales, and discusses the relationships between some early bushrangers and indigenous peoples, and the convict era. Bushrangers discussed include William Geary, the McNamara Gang, John Armstrong, and Jack Donahoe (The Wild Colonial Boy).
The Daily Mail in the UK have interviewed author Grantlee Kieza about his new book The Kelly Hunters, and focused on the Queensland Native Police that were employed to capture the Kelly Gang. The article gives a good overview of the story of the trackers, who are a prominent feature of Kieza’s new release, which is about the police who pursued Ned Kelly.
They could distinguish even between the sort of boot heels the gang were wearing, […] There’s talk of them having found a sweat smudge from someone who had put their hand on a branch hours before. Uncanny kind of tracking abilities. […] They had the best weapons and they knew how to use them as well, Certainly Ned Kelly feared what they could do. It’s significant that as soon as they arrived he never did another bank robbery. He didn’t really show himself publicly anywhere until the siege of Glenrowan.
New websites focus on Tasmanian bushranging legends
Two new websites have been launched by Aidan Phelan and Georgina Stones to focus on the history around Matthew Brady and Cash and Company. These sites will host archival material as well as original work that distills the research into easily digested articles on key events, people and places.
Martin Cash and Company, co-authored by Phelan and Stones, also has a Facebook page and Instagram account to act as companions to the core website. The material mainly concentrates on the three outlaws, Cash, Jones and Kavanagh, but will also provide insights into the pursuers, victims, friends and lovers of the trio.
Matthew Brady: The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land is singly authored by Phelan and takes much the same approach to the material. While in its infancy still, it is hoped to be a one-stop shop for people who wish to learn more about Brady’s story, with plans for a book based on the research to come soon.
If you would like to check out these websites, you can follow the links below.
Bushrangers with disabilities were not very common, apart from missing fingers, crippled hands or habitual limping caused by poorly healed broken legs. Yet, it was not unheard of for more significant disabilities to be present, such as in the case of William Brown, one of Matthew Brady’s gang, who was deaf.
Details of his deafness are almost non-existent; it seems likely that it could have been acquired through some form of trauma prior to becoming a convict, but is just as likely to have been congenital. This significant setback doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted on his ability to perform crimes with the rest of the gang, yet it must have required a considerable level of adjustment for the others to be able to include him in their operations given how important active communication and detection of approaching threats were to their survival. It was certainly significant enough to warrant mention in several contemporary reports about the gang’s activities.
He was described in the runaways list as follows:Brown, William, 5 feet 6¼ inches, light brown hair, blue eyes, 25 years of age, deaf, a labourer, tried at Middlesex April 1819, sentence life, arrived by the Dromedary 1820, native place London, Britannia, Adam and Eve, sun and moon, right arm, sun and moon, and two hearts, on left, from Public Works at the Coal River October 31, 1825—£20 Reward.
229. Brown, William, 5 feet 6¼ inches, light brown hair, blue eyes, 25 years of age, deaf, a labourer, tried at Middlesex April 1819, sentence life, arrived by the Dromedary 1820, native place London, Britannia, Adam and Eve, sun and moon, right arm, sun and moon, and two hearts, on left, from Public Works at the Coal River October 31, 1825—£20 Reward.
Source: “RUNAWAY NOTICE.” The Hobart Town Gazette (Tas. : 1825 – 1833) 26 November 1825: 1
In February 1879 the Kelly Gang crossed the border into New South Wales. The reward on their heads was £4000 and having been declared outlaws by act of parliament, they could be shot dead without challenge. Having successfully robbed the bank at Euroa and made Victoria’s police the target of much derision from the press, the gang decided to take the flashness out of the NSW police as well.
The Kelly Gang performed an incredible raid on the township of Jerilderie over the course of a weekend. They locked up the police, scoped the town in stolen police uniforms, then took the townsfolk as prisoners while they robbed the bank. The plot was executed almost perfectly, except that Ned Kelly’s attempt to apprehend the newspaper editor, Gill, to make him publish a letter he had dictated to Joe Byrne (largely based on the one he had earlier sent to Donald Cameron M.P.) had been thwarted by the man’s fleeing town at the sight of the outlaws in the bank.
Letter writing was a key part of Ned’s public relations campaign to soften his image. He wanted his version of events published so that the public would have a different perspective on events to the one pushed by the press. He believed, quite inexplicably, that he could both state his interpretation of crimes associated with him, as well as graphic insults and threats against his enemies, and come away with people seeing him as the victim.
It was not altogether unheard of for bushrangers to write to the press to state their opinions or try to clear their name. Both Frank Gardiner and John Peisley had done so in the 1860s. The key difference was in the brevity of their correspondence, whereas Ned’s letter spanned 50+ pages.
In response to the Jerilderie affair, Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, doubled the reward for the gang to £8000. This was an incredible sum, equivalent to over $1000,000 in modern Australian decimal currency. This, naturally, raised eyebrows and seemingly prompted Ned Kelly to pen a letter, mocking the New South Wales government and police force.
March 14, 1879
To Sir Henry Parkes
Premier N S W
My dear Sir Henry Parkes
I find by the newspapers that you have been very liberal in offering a reward for the Kelly gang or any one of them Now Sir Henry the man that takes I Captain E. Kelly will have to be a plucky man for I do not intend to be taken alive. And as I would as soon die in NSW as Victoria I will give you or any other person who wishes to take me a fair chance to try your pluck. I am at present not very far from Bathurst (in fact I have been in the town of Bathurst and has taken a peep at the bank) Now I tell you candidly that I intend to rob Bathurst and particularly the bank. So now you are warned of course I will not say what time I and the gentlemen that follows in my train will visit the City of the plains. But one thing you can count on that I will pay it a visit. Now Sir Henry I tell you that highway robbery is only in its infancy for the white population is been driven out of the labour market by an inundation of mongolians and when the white man is driven to desperation there will be desperate times. I present my respects to the Sydney police
yours E. Kelly
Needless to say, the Kelly Gang did not rob the bank in Bathurst as suggested, and this was likely a ploy to redirect attention to allow the gang to move without risk of being caught, if indeed the letter was genuine.
If this is truly a letter from Ned Kelly, apparently written without the input of Joe Byrne, it gives an intriguing insight into Kelly that the other letters do not offer. Here, rather than trying to justify his criminal career and threatening violent retribution against his foes, this Kelly engages in a much more playful manner of speaking that is more reflective of the tone used in many of his speeches, albeit with less emphasis on his own victimhood and more on a political bent. It seems he is trying to summon up the spectre of the golden era of bushrangers that he grew up with in an effort to get the government on edge, if only for his own amusement. Again, if this is genuine, it provides a glimpse at a playful, boastful side of Ned that takes a back seat in his other missives.
The author does make a rather odd claim that the Chinese (referred to as “Mongolians”, as per the racist styling of the time) are forcing white men to turn to crime by squeezing them out of the labour market. Such invective was not uncommon at the time, and the prevailing belief among many lower class white men was that the pitiful wages Chinese workers commanded was undercutting their competitors, thus giving an unfair advantage that put white men out of work. Such a mentality was not helped by the press, who seemed to prey on the xenophobia. Little has changed on these fronts. The reality was that economic depression was the root cause of much of the unemployment, as would be experienced by Captain Moonlite’s gang only a few months after this letter was written, leading to their depredations at Wantabadgery.
Ned, as is well known, did not exactly have a good track record with the Chinese. In 1870 he was put on trial for assaulting a Chinese man named Ah Fook. Ned got off due to the prosecution case being weak (much of this likely due to poor translation.) Ah Fook, or at least a countryman of the same name, would later suffer a hideous fate at the hands of his fellows, being mutilated then murdered. Ned didn’t exactly deny that he had beaten the man with his own bamboo staff, justifying himself by stating that he was responding to his sister’s distress as the man verbally abused her. However, this does not automatically translate to Kelly having a racist hatred of the Chinese.
Now, it is certainly possible, if not probable, that the letter is a fake. People impersonating the gang was common for a myriad of reasons. In this case it may have been a practical joke to make fun of Parkes and the police. With that said, the tone and style in of language is quite in keeping with the patterns of speech we know Ned employed when he didn’t have Joe Byrne to refine it. The strangely polite, almost erudite, manner of speaking despite the rough edges, as well as the tendency to declare what will happen with absolute certainty, is typical of Kelly. However, much of the turn of phrase and the overall contents of the letter are so unusual for him that the most likely scenario is that this was a letter penned by someone else pretending to be him, maybe even a sympathiser or close associate who was familiar with the way Ned spoke.
If nothing else, the letter is an interesting curiosity that highlights the way that Ned Kelly had become such a celebrity, even by February 1879, that people could actively contribute to the mythos by impersonating him, and his actions had begun to suggest he represented something political to sections of the population. In essence, this letter encapsulated the zeitgeist of that small period between the bank robberies and the Glenrowan plot.
A new walking tour of Benalla has launched, capitalising on the infamous Ned Kelly. The guided tour, by Visit Benalla, takes visitors to key locations in Benalla that are connected to the Kelly saga such as the courthouse and bootmaker’s shop on Arundel Street, and includes morning or afternoon tea.
The tours will be conducted until 31st December 2022
Outlaw culture: Aboriginal women and the power of resistance
An article published by the University of New South Wales discusses the ways that Aboriginal women have empowered themselves through rebellion. Among the various examples, there are references to bushrangers such as Mary Ann Bugg and Mary Cockerill.
Other outlaw women secured a degree of autonomy by establishing relationships with male bushrangers. Among them was Mary Cockerill and Mary Ann Bugg. Cockerill – also born in Van Diemen’s land in the eighteenth century – “would go on to participate in raids on hapless settlers” after eloping with bushranger Michael Howe. Decades later, Worimi woman, Mary Ann Bugg formed a relationship with Frederick Wordsworth Ward – known as Captain Thunderbolt, the “gentleman bushranger”.
Eve Chappell has published a piece in the Glen Innes Examiner discussing the history of coaches, with an emphasis on highway robbery. The article gives a great glimpse into an Australian iteration of a type of crime popularised in England in the 1700s, and that would later find a niche in America’s Wild West era as well.
Early communication and spreading of news before the advent of mail coaches was often reliant on the remarkably active and accurate Bush Telegraph, passing horsemen and the slowly moving wagon entourages sometimes carrying mail. However, there were bushrangers lurking beside the mail coach routes, meaning many letters never arrived- as described in this report in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 20 June 1849 of the robbery of the Singleton to Maitland Mail Coach. Two miles from Lochinvar two men sprang from behind a fallen tree and ordered the driver to stop, each at the same time presenting a double-barrelled carbine cocked.The driver pulled up and the larger of the two men ordered him to throw out the  mail bags…The bushranger then cut open the mailbags, and selected therefrom a great quantity of letters, many apparently registered which he opened and took the contents from.Having finished a cool inspection of the bags, he ransacked all the letters that he desired, he gathered the letters into a heap, lit a match and set fire to them….and [two] passengers were also forced by the bushrangers to give up what silver they had about them, fortunately in each case only a few shillings.
The Melton Christ Church Anglican Parish is celebrating their 150th anniversary. The church has connections to the bushranger Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, as he performed a sermon there during his brief time as an Anglican lay reader before the Mount Egerton bank robbery that made him infamous.
The article published in Star Weekly gives an interesting overview of some of the notable happenings in the church’s history.
The Araluen Valley Hotel, right in the heart of territory where bushrangers such as the Hall Gang and the Clarkes operated, is up for sale. While the pub itself was built long after those outlaws had drawn their last breath, it’s a perfect spot to sink a beer and contemplate those rough and tumble times when Araluen and surrounds was more like the Wild West.
Beechworth Courthouse revamp seeking new creative team
The new immersive experience at the Beechworth courthouse, sweet to use modern technology to help tell the stories of the trials that took place there related to the Kelly saga, is in need of a new team to bring it to life after creative differences saw Arterial Design pull out.
Indigo Shire Council and Arterial Design reviewed the project’s curatorial and creative direction and agreed there was a divergence of interpretative methodology and creative approach.
Arterial Design (press release)
Cutting through the jargon, it would seem that there was an impasse between the project’s historical consultants and the creative team, and rather than reach a compromise, Arterial Design have pulled out. It remains to be seen how this will impact the plans to unveil the new project later in 2022.
Author Eliza Reilly has been interviewed by The Curb about the “badass women” of Australian history. Reilly was one of the creators of the webseries Shielas, which featured an episode about Mary Ann Bugg. Reilly has a passion for this side of history, and this has resulted in a new book titled Shielas: Badass Women of Australian History.
The big point that I’m trying to make is that, like, I don’t want Ned Kelly to have less movies. He can have 11 movies, he can have 120 movies. I’m not about taking away from the boys. I’m just about showing more. We talk about that in the web series, and in the book, ‘well, if you love bushrangers, there’s Mary Ann Bugg, there’s Jessie Hickman’, who’s another female Australian bushranger, who will probably be in the next Sheila’s book. I can’t wait to write about her. It’s just about being like, ‘Australia, if you love bushrangers, there’s so much bushranger stuff that you haven’t heard, and you obviously have an appetite for it, you love Ned Kelly so much’. I don’t know why there’s so many Ned Kelly’s, he’s like our Spider-Man. There’s always gonna be another fucking Spider-Man.
Just as there is usually an article or podcast written about Ned Kelly somewhere in the world once a month, so to does Ben Hall enjoy frequent iterations of the most popular version of his story. Website SOFREP has published a brief overview of Hall’s story that will be an introduction for many people who perhaps are unfamiliar with the bushranger, but it will likely infuriate those who are well-versed with the history.
Once old enough, Ben found his way to leave by working as a stockman(cattleman) on the Boyd Station for Mr. Hamilton and then for Mr. John Walsh of Wheogo. In 1858, he married Mr. Walsh’s daughter named Bridie Walsh. They settled on a farm that they purchased in Sandy Creek. It was a great beginning of their married life, but it did not last long as Bridie had a love affair with another stockman named John Taylor and decided to live with him, taking their two-year-old son with her. All these happened when Ben was away.
New Sidney Nolan exhibition to take place at Heide
Many of acclaimed Australian artist Sidney Nolan’s famed Ned Kelly paintings will be on display at the Heide Museum of Modern Art as part of the biggest exhibition of his works in Australia in over a decade.
Nolan was a founding member of Heide (the Heidelberg School of Art) in the 1930s, developing and creating his legendary series of paintings on the life of Ned Kelly, inspired by J. J. Kenneally’s book Inner History of the Kelly Gang.
One of Australia’s leading artists of the twentieth century, Sidney Nolan is synonymous with Heide, which for him was a Garden of Eden that he later saw as a season in hell. Nolan’s creativity was fueled by a life-long fascination with the elusive notion of paradise and the consequences of its loss. From his nostalgia for St Kilda, his childhood heaven, to his explorations of the Australian landscape and restless travels abroad, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise examines one of the artist’s deepest impulses and the journey of self-discovery it engendered.
The exhibition, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise, uses Nolan’s paintings to help illustrate his life story, and will run from 19 February 2022 – 13 June 2022. Entry is included in the price of admission to the museum, or is free for members.