Spotlight: Mother of the Kellys

The following article from 1923 begins with the death of Ellen Kelly then recaps the story of the Kelly Gang as it was understood at the time. Mrs. Kelly (she had returned to using her first husband’s surname) was a remarkable woman who lived almost a century, outliving nearly all of her own children. She had been cared for by her only surviving son Jim but lived in desperate poverty. The hardships of colonial life, and of the drama that unfolded around her family, must have taken a severe toll on her. It wasn’t until authors like Max Brown began researching and writing about the Kelly story that public opinion began to soften toward them, but right up until Ellen’s death there remained a strong sentiment of condemnation that was only exacerbated by the half-remembered and outright fabricated stories that were circulating at the turn of the century. The following article demonstrates this point remarkably well. Statements about how bloody their record ~AP

Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), Sunday 8 April 1923, page 11



Stories of Blood and Terror. Outlaws’ Last Stand at Glenrowan.

The death of Mrs. Ellen King. formerly Kelly, which took place at Greta West, near Wangaratta (Victoria), last week, recalls memories of her sons, Ned and Dan Kelly, leaders of the most notorious gang of law-breakers that ever infested the Australian bush. From 1878 to 1880 the Kelly gang terrorised a considerable area of Victoria and New South Wales. They were practically the last of the bushrangers, as they were undoubtedly the worst, their record being the most daring and bloody in all the list. Several histories of their career have been written, and the story has been dramatised for stage and film. They serve to illustrate a period in the development of the country that has happily passed, and which, with increased settlement, and improved means of rapid communication, will never come again.

The mother of the Kellys was 95 years of age at the time of her death, and for the past 40 years she has lived in the wild hills of Greta West, the scene of many daring exploits by her sons. She was a native of Antrim (Ireland), and came to Australia with her parents in 1841. Her maiden name was Quinn. In 1851, at Ballarat, then in its heyday as a goldfield, Ellen Quinn married John Kelly, who had been transported from Ireland some time previously. Their son, Edward, was born in 1854 at Wallan Wallan ; James was born in 1856, and Daniel in 1861. There were, besides, four daughters. At the time of the brothers’ exploits one of these was married to a man named Gunn, another to a man named Skillian, and two others, Kate and Grace, were single.


The Kellys, like the Kenniffs in later years in Queensland, appear to have started on the downward path by stealing horses. F. A. Hare, P.M., who, as Superintendent of the Victorian police, was personally concerned in the hunt for the Kellys, declares in his book, “The Last of the Bushrangers,” that “Ned Kelly was regarded as a horse and cattle thief from earliest boyhood. He was known to steal carriers’ horses at night, ‘plant’ them in the bush until a reward was offered for them. and then in the most innocent manner produce them and claim the reward. When he was 16 years of age he joined the bushranger, Power, taking charge of the outlaw’s horses whilst he committed his depredations. In 1870 he was arrested and charged with having assisted Power, but no one could identify him, and so he was discharged. In 1870 Jim Kelly, then only 15 years of age, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on two charges of horse-stealing. On his discharge in 1876 he went to New South Wales and stuck up a number of people, but was captured immediately and was sent to gaol for 10 years, so that he was out of the way when his brothers were outlawed. In 1871 Ned Kelly was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for horse-stealing. Many stories are told of the manner in which the Kellys and their associates used to run mobs of horses into the Warby and Strathbogie Ranges, fake the brands with iodine, keep them until the marks had healed, and then drive them to Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong, and even as far as Sydney, where they would be sold openly in the auction yards.


The plunge to crime of the most violent character was taken in 1878. Warrants had issued for the arrest of Dan Kelly on no less than six charges of horse stealing. Constable Alexr, Fitzpatrick, on April 15, 1878, went to the Kellys’ hut at Greta, with the object of effecting an arrest. As he rode up he saw Dan standing at the door, and he said, “You’re my prisoner.” Dan replied. “All right; but wait until I get something to eat. I’ve been riding all day.” The constable agreed. After Dan sat down, his mother said, “You won’t take Dan from here this night.” Dan told her to shut up. The woman continued to grumble, and presently asked, “Have you got a warrant?” Fitzpatrick replied, “I have a telegram, which is just as good.” The constable then accepted Dan’s invitation to have some food, and as he sat down Mrs. Kelly said, “If my son Ned was here, he’d throw you out of the window.” Dan looked out of the window and said, “Why, here he is!” As Fitzpatrick turned to look, Dan sprang on him, and at the same moment, Mrs. Kelly struck him on the head with a heavy spade that had been used as a fire shovel. As Fitzpatrick fell several persons rushed into the room, including Ned Kelly, who held a revolver in his hand. Evidently he had fired, for Fitzpatrick was wounded in the arm. Ned Kelly said, “I’m sorry I fired. You are the civilest — — trap I’ve seen.” He offered to cut out the bullet and bind the wound, but Fitzpatrick refused to let him touch it. Ned said the constable could not be allowed to go until he had promised not to tell how he got wounded, and Mrs. Kelly cried, ” Tell him if he does tell he won’t live long after.” Fitzpatrick promised not to tell, and after himself extracting the bullet he bound up the wound with his handkerchief and was allowed to depart. On the following day a party of troopers arrested Mrs. Kelly, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for her part in the affair. William Skillian and William Williams were each sentenced to six years.


A party of 25 troopers with black trackers were sent out to capture Ned and Dan Kelly. On October 25 one party of searchers went into camp at Stringy Bark Creek, about eight miles from the Wombat Ranges. Sergeant Kennedy, who was in charge, had information of the movements of the wanted men, but it appears that his informant had also told the Kellys of the approach of the police. Sergeant Kennedy and Constable Scanlan went into the scrub seeking track of their quarry, whilst Constables Lonergan and McIntyre were left in charge of the camp. Lonergan was making tea when four men rode up on horseback and cried, “Bail up ; put up your hands.” Lonergan made a jump to get behind a tree at the same time reaching to his belt for his pistol. As he did so he was shot dead, his last words as he fell being, “Oh, Christ, I’m shot.” McIntyre, who was unarmed, surrendered. Ned Kelly, after examining Lonergan’s body, said, “What a pity ; why didn’t the —— fool surrender.” The bushrangers then hid themselves until Kennedy and Scanlan returned. As they came close, McIntyre said, “Sergeant we’re surrounded; you’d better surrender.” Scanlan put his hand to his belt, and Ned Kelly fired at him, but missed. Scanlan jumped from his horse and made for a gum tree, but was shot dead before he reached it. Kennedy wheeled his horse and started to gallop off, but was brought down by a bullet from the rifle of one of the terribly accurate marksmen. As the frightened horse dashed through the camp McIntyre threw himself upon it, but it had not galloped far before the animal was shot through the heart. McIntyre fell clear, and crawling into a patch of scrub, he secreted himself in a wombat hole, where he lay hidden whilst the bushrangers searched all around, swearing what they would do to him when they found him. After dark he got clear, and walked 20 miles to Mansfield, where he made known the facts of the murder of his three comrades.


Rewards of £100 each had been offered for the capture of Ned and Dan Kelly, and these were increased to £500. As time went on the rewards offered by the New South Wales and Victorian Governments, and the associated banks were increased until they totalled £8000 for the capture of the gang, which now included Steve Hart (aged 20 years), and Joe Byrnes (aged 19 years); who had been identified as having been with the Kellys in the fatal encounter just described. The next exploit of the bushrangers was the sticking up of Younghusbands station on Faithfull Creek on December 8. This was a carefully planned coup, the statlon hands, manager, and several callers being locked up in a store room. The outlaws helped themselves to arms and clothes, they took it in turns to sleep, two reposing whilst two watched, and an itinerant hawker who called during their stay had his stock ransacked for new clothes, etc. Some quaint fancy led the outlaws to smother their clothes with the contents of bottles of perfume from the cart. On December 11 Joe Byrnes was left in charge of the prisoners, whilst the others rode to Euroa, where they robbed the National Bank, taking possession of just on £2000 in notes, gold, and silver, besides 31oz of smelted gold. Everything was carried out in the boldest possible manner. The telegraph lines had been cut on each side of Younghusband’s station, so that no alarm could be given, and Mr. Robert Scott, the manager of the bank at Euroa, was forced to put his wife and child in a buggy and drive the whole party back to Younghusband’s after the robbery. That night the robbers left the station with the booty, after first threatening that the manager, Mr. Macauley, would be ‘shot like a b—— dingo,’ if anyone stirred for three hours after they had gone.


At midnight on February 8, 1879, Constables Devine and Richards were at the station and lock-up, just outside the town of Jerilderie (N.S.W.), when they were advised that a row had taken place at Davidson’s Hotel, and a man killed. When the police reached the scene they were confronted by Ned Kelly who, with revolver in hand, ordered them to bail up. As they were unarmed there was nothing for it but to comply and the two officers were locked up in their own cells. The next day was Sunday, and the outlaws, donning the uniforms of the police, spent the day at the police station. On the Monday they took possession of the Royal Hotel, the largest in the town, they locked up everyone likely to interfere with their plans, and proceeding to the Bank of New South Wales, which adjoined the hotel, they surprised the officials, overpowered them, and obtained possession of sums which again totalled over £2000 in notes and gold. At the hotel Ned Kelly had drinks served to everyone. In a speech, he blamed Constable Fitzpatrick for all that had happened. He said he had not been within 100 miles of Greta when Fitzpatrick was shot; he blamed Lonergan for having threatened his mother and sister ; and said he was going to shoot Devine and Richards. He added “The police are worse than the —— black trackers.” The robbers remained masters of the whole town, consisting of about 300 inhabitants, from Saturday night. until the afternoon of the following Wednesday, when they rode off, flourishing their revolvers, and shouting “Hurrah for the good old times of Morgan and Ben Hall.”


For some time after this the gang remained in hiding, and little was heard of them until on June 27, 1880, they shot and killed Aaron Sherritt for giving information of their whereabouts to the police. Sherritt, it appears, had been engaged to a sister of Joe Byrnes, but he was suspected of playing traitor, and the engagement was broken off, Sherritt then marrying a daughter of a settler on Woolshed Creek. On the date mentioned, a party of four policemen were secreted in Sherritt’s house, watching the home of Byrnes’s mother. Dan Kelly and Joe Byrnes held up a German named Weeks, who was walking along the road, and they compelled him to call out to Sherritt. When Sherritt came to his door to see who had called, he was shot dead by the outlaws, who called to Mrs. Sherritt: “Send out some of the — traps to bury your husband. We’ve shot him for being a traitor.” The outlaws were hidden in the outside darkness, and there was a bright wood fire burning in the house, which would have made the police easy marks for the rifles of the murderous pair had the officers moved. Finding the police would not come out, the bushrangers fired their rifles several times through the windows and doors. At about 2 o’clock in the morning they rode off without doing further mischief.


The news of this fresh outrage led to the despatch of a strong party from Melbourne by special train. These included Sub-inspector O’Connor of Queensland, with six black trackers, Superintendent Hare, Inspector Pewtress, several other Victorian police officers and Press representatives. Amongst these latter was Mr. J. Melvin, a veteran who, many years later, worked in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Brisbane. As the police train drew near to the scene of the trouble, it was pointed out that the brightly lighted carriages provided a fine mark for the rifles of the outlaws. Mr. Melvin thereupon climbed on to the roof, as the train sped through the darkness, and he put out all the lights. Approaching Glenrowan the party learned that the bushrangers had torn up the railway line a short distance ahead, and had taken possession of the Glenrowan Inn, about 100 yards distant. The inn, which was fated to be the scene of the bushrangers’ last stand, was a long, low weather-board building, with a wide veranda on the front. Into this building the gang had collected a total of 62 of the townspeople, including Constable Bracken.


The police besieged the building, and in the exchange of rifle fire between them and the outlaws a number of innocent people were wounded. Supt. Hare’s wrist was shattered. Mrs. Jones, the landlady of the hotel at one stage rushed on to the veranda calling the police “murderers,” and declaring that her son had been killed and her daughter wounded. The police ceased firing, and the boy was removed and taken to Wangaratta Hospital, where he died. An old man named Martin Cherry was also killed. During a short truce the whole of the non-combatants were removed from the hotel. Shortly after day-break police reinforcements from Benalla were being placed in position, when they were fired at from behind a tree, which stood some distance behind the hotel, and a tall, stout figure, with what looked like a nail can over his head, was soon to appear. Several of the besieging force fired at this, but the bullets seemed to rebound. Sergeant Steel then fired at the legs, and at the second shot the figure toppled, crying : “I’m done for.” It proved to be Ned Kelly. As the police rushed forward he raised himself on his elbow, and commenced shooting wildly, shouting: “You shall never take me alive.” However he was soon overpowered and handcuffed. In the meantime a successful attempt had been made by the police to fire the building. Whilst this was being done Mrs. Skilllan. a sister of the Kellys, attempted to ride up to the building to persuade her brother Dan to surrender, but was stopped by the police, who pointed out that she would be in great danger. As the flames began to envelope the building the Rev. Father M. Gibney walked to the front door, crucifix in hand, and followed by a number of police. On entering the front bar they found the body of Joe Byrne, who was said to have been shot dead as he drank a glass of brandy. The bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were found dead in a small parlour off the bar. It was surmised that they had either suicided or had shot each other simultaneously. Ned Kelly was convicted and hanged in Melbourne gaol on November 11, 1880. And so at last the law was vindicated, as it must ever be, and the whole gang of desperadoes perished as violently as their victims had done. It was officially estimated that the cost of capturing the gang was not less than £40,000, exclusive of the salaries and wages of those engaged.


The following article appeared in the Singleton Argus on 12 April, 1924. It has all the hallmarks of the retrospectives of the time – poetic descriptions, adherence to oral history and enough accurate information sprinkled throughout to legitimise the unsubstantiated claims in the eyes of most casual readers. Articles such as this helped to entrench much of the inaccurate information that many clung to – and in some cases still do – in order to justify their opinions of the players.

A name that looms large in the criminal records of Australia is that of Aaron Sherritt. Physically, he was a man in a thousand, and his beautifully proportioned limbs were the envy of his companions, whilst his facial expressions belied the deep scheming propensities of his vicious nature. As a lad he attended the State School at Woolshed, and had as two bosom companions Joe Byrne and another lad, who, for obvious reasons, we will call Wallace James. On leaving school these three youths remained, almost to the last, the same trusting friends as in their happy boyhood days. Each was possessed of a fairly good education; in fact, James became a State school teacher and served in the Victorian Education Department. Sherritt and Byrne were intimate friends of the Kelly brothers, and the quartette indulged in an orgy of horse stealing which has no parallel in Australia. Horses stolen in Victoria would be taken to N. S. Wales and there sold, and vice-versa. The Kelly’s eventually took to the bush to evade arrest for the shooting of Constable Fitzpatrick, and Sherritt and Byrne rarely saw them for some months, and it was the irony of fate that eventually thrust Byrne and Hart into their company on Saturday, October 26th, 1878. These two young men had no intention, or desire, to meet
the Kellys that day, but, after meeting them accidentally, accepted an invitation to their (Kellys) camp, and a few hours later the murder of Sergeant Kennedy and his companions was enacted. Byrne and Hart did not participate in the callous crime, though
both were present in company with the murderers. Ned Kelly then induced the two young men to throw in their lot with him and become bushrangers.
Sherritt at this time was engaged to be married to Byrne’s sister, so the gang made for his hut in anticipation of succour in the way of food, and with the hope that Aaron would join in their exploits. On reaching the hut they hung around for hours, but not seeing
Sherritt about they fired off eight shots in an endeavor to attract his attention.
The report’s of the firearms caused consternation among some of the residents, who immediately communicated with the police, and in a short time a cavalcade of 52 troopers was galloping towards the Sherritt homestead. It can well be imagined the noise 52 horsemen would make galloping along a metalled road, and had the outlaws been near could have heard the approach of their enemy for miles, and have easily made their escape. As everything was quiet at Sherritt’s, the police continued their gallop to Sebastopol, and this incident was ever after known as the “Charge of Sebastopol.”
The absurdity of the proceedings that day were so apparent that the three officers, including the Chief Commissioner, denied responsibility for them; however, they met Aaron, and endeavored to enlist his services in the capture of the gang. Sherritt said he
would do nothing, as Joe Byrne might be one of the party. The police assured him that Byrne was in no way connected with the outlaws, and that the companions of the Kellys were men named Brown and King, and so sure were they on the point that they coupled their names with those of the actual murderer in the ”Gazette” notice offering the reward for their bodies dead or alive. For weeks these two innocent men’s lives were in jeopardy of being taken by either police or civilian, and it was not till the Euroa Bank robbery occurred that the real companions of the Kellys were discovered, and then in a curious manner. Hart was busily engaged rounding up the bank manager’s family and servants, when one of the domestics – a girl from Wangaratta – who knew Hart for years, said: “Hello, Steve, is this your game?” The same girl had noticed a nice young man, for a couple of days, at De ‘Boos hotel, adjoining the bank: This young chap was Byrne, who had left his companions, camped in Beggs’ paddock, just outside the town, whilst he could look around and finalise arrangements for the robbery.
The names of Byrne and Hart were now substituted for those of Brown and King in the outlawry notices. It is interesting to note that old Mrs Kelly, the mother of the outlaws, died last year, not as Mrs. Kelly, but as Mrs. King, she having remarried. Some few years ago a son of this marriage appeared here with Wirth’s Circus in an equestrian and stockwhip turn; he was billed as a brother of the Kellys. This young man is at present doing well in America.
After persistent endeavours the police succceded in enlisting Sherritt as a spy, but only on condition that Byrne’s life would, if possible, be spared. Sherritt used all his persuasive powers to induce Byrne to surrender, but the latter said: ”No, I am in with them now, and I must remain so.” During the greater portion of the time the outlaws
were at large they fully trusted Sherritt, and had no idea he was assisting the police. One time a party of police (25) was camped in a cave behind Mrs. Byrne’s house, and the old lady, being suspicious, made a detour and found Aaron lying asleep in the midst of the
troopers; she said nothing, but movedon, and then Sherritt was awakened and rushed to the house to prove an alibi. Whether he succeeded or not was not known, as the old lady never mentioned the incident to him. About this time the young school teacher, Wallace James, began to got mixed up with both police and outlaws. He offered his services to the former, and though he was almost daily supplying information not one particle of it was
worth considering; in fact, the police accused him of assisting the outlaws. They had abundant proof that he had been with certain members of the gang, and he admitted having seen Ned Kelly and his old pal Joe Byrne. He also admitted visiting Sherritt’s house at the unearthly hour of 2 o’clock in the morning, at the time the outlaws began
to lose faith in Aaron. The police theory was that these visits were made in the interests of the gang, who thought police camped at Sherritt’s at night. Immediately after the Jerilderie bank robbery, James and Aaron Sherritt had a gay time at Beeehworth, where both spent money lavishly, & produced several £5 notes, which they boasted were part
of the proceeds of that robbery. James was always enquiring of the Sherritt family if there were any police about Woolshed, and one day, to test his bona-fides, Jack Sherritt said: “Yes, 10 and two trackers passed to-day.” Two hours later Mrs. Byrne sent word to Mrs. Sherritt to tell the outlaws if they called at her house that there were 10 constables and two black trackers searching Woolshed for them. A Royal Commission was appointed to enquire into the Kelly business, and with regard to James the report runs:
“That in consequence of the reprehensible conduct of Wallace James, the school teacher at —- , during the Kelly pursuit, and his alleged sympathy with the outlaws, together with the unsatisfactory character of his evidence before the Commission, your Commissioners
think it very undesirable that Mr. James should be retained in any department of the public service. We, therefore, recommend his instant dismissal from the Education Department.”
After a time the engagement between Aaron and Miss Byrne was broken off without the latter assigning any reason. She had a very fine horse, a present from her lover, but on the engagement terminating she got rid of it and bought another. This horse had hardly been in the paddock when Aaron stole it and gave it to Kate Kelly.
Miss Byrne now took out a warrant for Aaron’s arrest for horse stealing, but the police would not put it into execution, as they felt Aaron’s services were too valuable to them. Sherritt now made a counter move against the Byrne family; he had a lady’s side-saddle, and he planted it, one dark night, on Mrs. Byrne’s property, and then got a warrant for her arrest, as well as that of a young son, for stealing it. Both were acquitted of the theft. This action was supposed to have precipitated the murder of Sherritt, for up to this point Byrne (the outlaw) had shown much thought for his old schoolmate. Byrne knew that Ned Kelly intended shooting him (Sherritt) some time prior to this, so he rode to Mrs. Sherritt (mother) and warned her against allowing Aaron to sleep indoors, as Ned Kelly fully intended to carry out his dire threat.
At the time of the Jerilderie bank robbery, the gang offered great inducements to Aaron to accompany them on the expedition, but he was adamant in his refusal. Though this crime was committed 600 miles from here, its influence had a considerable effect in
Singleton, by reason of the fact that this town was made a breaking-in depot for remounts for the troopers engaged in the pursuit of the outlaws. A lot of the handling was done in the old Pound Yard, at the back of the Caledonian Hotel, and all the mounting in the heavy sand opposite the “Loom Hole.” Constable Willis, of this town, and Constable Coglan, of Jerry’s Plains, were both despatched to the Murray River in pursuit of the gang.
On the return of the outlaws from Jerilderie to their mountain home in Victoria, Joe Byrne had a remarkable escape from capture. Sherritt informed the police that the whole gang would arrive at Mrs. Byrne’s house on a certain night, and that they would pass through the stockyard. Superintendent Hare surrounded the house and placed
a number of men in the stockyard, and he and Sherritt were with them. After a tedious wait, footsteps were heard; then a fair-sized man jumped over the fence and nearly fell on the Superintendent, who wanted to arrest him. Sherritt said: “It’s not Byrne, but Scotty”, however, that was only a ruse, as it was discovered, too late, to be Byrne.
On Boxing Day, l879, Sherritt decided upon marriage with a young girl 15 years of age, and the ceremony was duly celebrated. In anticipation of entering the holy bonds of wedlock he “jumped” a little deserted hut at the Woolshed. It was a one-roomed little
building, but with the aid of some calico, he converted it into a two-roomed domicile. One day the rightful owner came along to eject Aaron, but as there were a number of police hiding in the place, and to turn them out would disclose their plans, they subscribed the few pounds necessary to purchase the hut, and thus Aaron became a land owner. On June 26th, 1880, it was decided that the batches of police that were ‘guarding Mrs. Kelly’s, Mrs Byrne’s, and Mrs Hart’s houses should be withdrawn that night, as the chances of capturing the gang in that way appeared hopeless. The night previous the police surrounding Mrs. Byrne’s house were startled by something, and Aaron went to investigate, but did not return, nor did he appear again till next day; he refused to say what had happened, or where he had been, but he did remark to the police: “I’m a goner.” How prophetic his words were is ancient history, for at 6 o’clock that night Byrne and Dan Kelly visited his house, and the former shot him dead. His young wife – they were only six months married – her mother, and four constables were present at the time. The outlaws called upon the police to go outside, but they got under the bed, and made the women get on the outside of them. The two outlaws peppered the building, but
none of the shots took effect on the police or women. Whilst this was going on Ned Kelly and Hart were busy at Glenrowan pulling up the railway in their endeavor to wreck the train with the police, who, it was known, would travel by it on Sherritt’s murder becoming known. Three of the police who were in Sherritt’s hut at the time of the murder were dismissed the force, whilst the fourth tendered his resignation before a charge of cowardice could be entered against him. Two days after Sherritt’s death the
Kelly gang was destroyed, and even in this tragic event there is a humourous side – the four constables who sheltered themselves between the two women under the bed received £42 each of the reward money. It was through Aaron Sherritt that the authorities ascertained the particulars of Sergeant Kennedy’s cruel death. After expending all his ammunition in an endeavor to shoot the Kellys, the gallant officer ran from tree to tree in his endeavor to escape the murderous fire. At last a bullet from
Ned Kelly’s rifle brought him down, and the Kellys endeavored to obtain information from him about certain police, but the brave man would tell them nothing. He would only speak of his family. For two hours the Kellys sat by his side trying to get him to
answer questions, but to no purpose. He asked the Kellys to convey certain messages to his wife and family, and between sobs, he could be heard appealing to the Almighty for forgiveness of his sins. He spoke of a darling little one whom he had recently buried,
and beside whom he would soon be sleeping. He said the little girl would be spared the pain and anguish his dear wife and other loving children would soon be called upon to bear, he then asked the murderers if he wrote a last farewell to his dear ones would
they deliver it to them? He said: “Kelly, I forgive you; may Almighty God also forgive you.” He then began to write, and it was quite evident his life was slowly ebbing away, when Ned Kelly raised his rifle to finish his sufferings, but the movement of the outlaw attracted his attention, and he made one last pathetic appeal, and said: “Oh, Kelly, do not kill me; let me once again look on those dear ones who are all in all to me. Surely you have done enough already.” Ned lowered his gun, and the unfortunate man continued to write, but with the greatest difficulty. At last Ned gave his brother the “office,” and in an instant the latter raised his gun and blew half the brave man’s head away.


“THE LATE AARON SHERRITT” Singleton Argus (NSW : 1880 – 1954) 12 April 1924: 5.

Image Source:

AARON SHERRITT. David Syme and Co. July 3, 1880. Illustrated Australian news. SLV Source ID: 1760484

Spotlight: Outlawed! Rebels, Revolutionaries and Bushrangers

In 2004, right on the tail end of the last bout of Ned Kelly mania, the National Museum of Australia put together an exhibition looking at outlaws from around the world. Jo Duke, curator, did an amazing job of assembling a formidable collection of items that covered everything from Robin Hood to Pancho Villa. The exhibition was fascinating and had an enormous amount of unique historical items, many of which I would love to see again in a similar showcase. In all the exhibitions that I’ve been to at the museum this is by far one of my favourites and not just for the obvious reasons. I had the good fortune to attend when it was housed at Melbourne Museum and below are some of the photographs I still have from my visit.

Ben Hall’s pocket colt revolver with initials carved into the grip (National Library of Australia)
At top is the Tranter revolving rifle used by Johnny Gilbert when he was shot dead at Binalong (John Pickup); at bottom is Constable Bright’s Calisher and Terry carbine used to shoot Gilbert (National Museum of Australia)
Sam Neill’s Captain Starlight costume from Robbery Under Arms (Performing Arts Collection of South Australia)
Joe Byrne’s armour (Private Collection)
Ned Kelly’s colt revolving carbine (Private Collection)
Death mask of Andrew George Scott alias Captain Moonlite (Historic Houses Trust of NSW)
Death mask of Thomas Rogan (Historic Houses Trust of NSW)
Death mask of Ned Kelly (School of Anatomy, University of Melbourne)
Death mask of Dan Morgan (School of Anatomy, University of Melbourne)
An iconic silhouette

Spotlight: The Wanton Callousness of Black Michael by J. H. M. Abbott

In the month of March, 1819, the first book published in Van Diemen’s Land was issued by Andrew Bent, editor and proprietor of ‘The Hobart Town Gazette,’ under the very hopeful and optimistic — but altogether futile — title of Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen’s Land.’ It’s price was 5/-, and the first edition sold out by the middle of the year. Another was issued in July at 2/6, and of the two of them there survives but a single copy, which is in the British Museum.

BUT the original MS., or a copy of it, came to light in Tasmania in 1925. About the same time as the latter date there came into the hands of the present writer, through a descendant of the author, the original MS. of another account of the outlaw, entitled, also, ‘Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen’s’ Land,’ which is dated ‘Hobart Town, December, 1818.’

It was written by Thomas E. Wells, and had never before seen the light of print until it was sold on behalf of the author to Angus and Robertson, Ltd, of Sydney, who produced an edition of 100 copies in 1926. T. E. Wells was a sort of secretary for a time in the office of Lieutenant Colonel Sorell. who succeeded Colonel Davey as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, and ruled the island for seven years, between 1817 and 1824.


Neither side showed a spark of mercy. It was a war that lacked both the giving of quarter to defeated opponents and the very elements of decency.
Michael Howe was born at Pontefract in Yorkshire, in 1787, and was bound as an apprentice to a merchant ship at Hull when a youngster in his ‘teens. He only served two years before he ran away from his ship and joined the Royal Navy.
When he was 24, in 1811, he was arrested for highway robbery, and put upon trial for his life at the York Assizes in the same year. An error in the indictment allowed him to escape the capital penalty, and he was sentenced to transportation for seven years.
Aboard the transport Indefatigable, he arrived in the Derwent in October, 1812, and was assigned to a settler, but soon absconded from his assigned service and joined the gang of bushrangers under John Whitehead, which had been plundering the country for more than two years.
His advent brought their number up to 29, and they must have been as sweet a crew of pirates as ever cut a throat or set fire to a house.

Then came Macquarie’s amnesty, by which his Excellency “was pleased to extend to them the Royal clemency for all offences committed during their unlawful absence (the crime of wilful murder excepted); provided they should return to their lawful occupations by the first day of December following; denouncing all who should neglect to do so as outlaws.”

The robbers betook themselves to Hobart Town and promised to be good boys in the future.
The proclamation had been made in May, 1814 — by the following August Whitehead and Howe, together with most of their following, were back on the warpath. They looted and robbed, carrying off provisions and taking all the arms and ammunition they could lay their hands upon.
In the middle of 1815 Whitehead was killed during the attack on Mr. McCarty’s farm, when they were warmly received by a detachment of the 46th Regiment.
Whilst Colonel Davey’s proclamation of martial law — afterwards disowned by Macquarie— was in force, a party of soldiers who were looking for what Mr. Wells generally alludes to as “the Banditti,” with a capital B, came across their hiding-place in a dense tea-tree’ scrub.

Close by a primitive sort of hut were two of the bushrangers named McGuire and Burne, who immediately took to the scrub and were no more seen. Inside the hut were found many articles which had been stolen from the raided farms, besides a goodly store of ammunition, muskets, and two or three kangaroo dogs.

Messrs. Burne and McGuire had no luck. They were separated from the rest of Howe’s gang, and, after wandering several days in the woods they applied to a settler near Kangaroo Point to procure them a boat for the purpose of proceeding to Bass’s Straits; for which service they promised the reward of a watch.


“The settler pretended to come into their views, and left them with, the assurance of going in search of the boat; but he privately repaired to Hobart Town and informed the Lieut. Governor of their intentions.
“A party of the 46th Regt. was immediately dispatched, who surrounded the place of their concealment and captured both. Burne was the most aired of the gang, and was severely wounded in endeavoring to escape from the party.
“They were brought before a General Court-martial, charged with being two of the ‘Banditti’ who murdered the unfortunate Carlisle, were convicted and received sentence of death. They were accordingly executed and their bodies gibbeted on Hunter’s Island, near to that of Whitehead, their leader, when that murder was committed.”
The gang was now reduced to Howe, Septon, Jones, Geary and Collier, and were continually chased and harried until they were in such a condition as to be quite unable to carry on their side of the war.

One of them having been taken prisoner turned King’s evidence, and ‘put away’ some of the people who had helped the bushrangers.

So a man named William Stevens, a prisoner of the Crown, and two youths who had come with their parents from Norfolk Island, in whose possession some of the stolen property was found, were all apprehended. They were found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death.

Martial law was repealed in October, 1815, and the bushrangers carried on for some time in a lively fashion, before betaking themselves to their mountain fastnesses to lie low and rest from their labors.


On November 7 they broke out again, and were heard of as having attacked the house of Mr. David Rose at Port Dalrymple (Launceston) ‘ where, says Mr. Wells, “their conduct while plundering here was aggravated, as on other occasions, by every wanton atrocity.”

They turned up next near Bagdad, about 100 miles away, ten days later, and raided the farm of Mr. T. Hayes.
Here they found an itinerant trader named Stocker with a cart-load of valuable goods, to the whole of which they helped themselves.
Howe’s early training in the Navy induced him to impose upon his companions the discipline of a man-o’-war.
It was even said that he administered to all who joined him an oath of obedience taken on a prayer-book — but this is most likely a misunderstanding of what one of their captives saw when, before sending to the Lieutenant-Governor a letter signed by eleven of the bushrangers, Howe swore them to abide by its terms.

In the following year he was signing himself in his letters to Davey, ‘Lieutenant-Governor of the Woods,’ and in 1817, ‘Governor of the Ranges,’ and he communicated with both Davey and Sorell quite as an equal.
A sworn statement referring to the letter sent to Colonel Davey is of interest. Made by John Tooke, it tells how he fell in with a party of bushrangers on November 27.

“I observed a thick man writing, as I suppose to the Lieutenant-Governor — Geary was the man who administered the oath on a prayer book, calling each man for the purpose regularly; they did not inform me the contents of the letter,” runs the statement.

“Michael Howe and Geary directed me to state when I came to town the whole I had seen and to inform Mr. Humphrey and Mr. Wade to take care of themselves, as they were resolved to take their lives, and to prevent them from keeping stock or grain, unless there was something done for them.”

In the following February, the Commandant at Launceston sent out a party of the 46th Regiment under Ensign Mahon, and after a hunt through the bush of two or three weeks they came across Chapman, Parker, and Elliott, members of Howe’s gang, at York Plains. Mahon called on them to surrender, but the bushrangers fired and made off.
The soldiers returned’the fire, and Chapman was fatally wounded, whilst Parker was slightly wounded and managed to escape into the dense scrub. Ensign Mahon shot Elliott dead.
The heads were taken from the corpses and sent into Launceston, and the bodies buried on the spot. Parker was caught later on, and dealt with in the usual fashion.

Mr. Wells chronicles what was probably Howes’ basest action — one that puts him outside the pale of the commonest decency.

“In the early part of March it appears that some jealousy of Howe began to manifest itself in the old Gang — they conceived, from the circumstances of his being absent at intervals without their knowledge or assigning any reason, that he meditated betraying the rest. Howe was aware of their suspicions, and, feeling no longer secure among them, suddenly eloped, taking with him the native girl before mentioned.
“In April, 1817, Lt.-Governor Sorell arrived, and assumed the government of the settlement oh Van Diemen’s Land; and about this period Howe and the native girl were pursued in the neighborhood of Jericho by a small party of, the 46th Regiment.


It was a bad day’s work for Howe when he treated the black gin so villainously, for she turned against him with hatred as natural as it was bitter, and became of the greatest use to those who were on his trail In following up the hunted man’s tracks.


wanton callousness
Source: “BUSHRANGERS—NOTED AND NOTORIOUS” Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954) 18 November 1934: 22.