For more information on Sharon Hollingsworth and Brian Stevenson please see the sidebar for the About Your Humble Bloggers link.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Geoffrey Blainey and the Kelly Gang [Brian Stevenson]

 I would not have expected Australia's best known conservative historian to be on side with the boys, so it was no surprise to read his thoughts on them in his history of Victoria, Our side of the country, first published in 1984.

While he concedes that 'the strange career of the Kelly gang reveals some of the pitfalls faced by the smaller selectors', he doesn't seem to have much sympathy for them.

After describing Ellen Kelly's 88 acre holding as 'a narrow fertile flat created by one of those meandering creeks which ceased to flow in the summer, and the remainder was timbered land which sloped towards the ranges in the south.'

Blainey continues:

'Many farmers, remembering Ireland or the little market gardens close to Melbourne, thought that they could make a living on less than one hundred acres. Scores of speeches at the top of Bourke Street stressed that hope. But most people who took up a small selection on the plains did so because they could not afford to buy more land. Starting with too little capital they were likely to be pleading for an overdraft after only one lean season. We do not know whether Mrs Kelly, like thousands of farmers of the 1870s, tried to borrow from a bank. Certainly the family of a former convict, possessing at least one wild son and and easygoing way of life, did not have a high credit rating.'

So far, so good. Though the point has recently been disputed, conventional wisdom is that the various Selection Acts simply left far too many farmers on blocks that they had no hope of making a profit from. We saw this much later, after World War I, when returned (and rurally inexperienced) soldiers were settled, once again, on hopelessly small blocks. The soldier settlement scheme failed in all states.

Blainey again:

'A small farm had some hope of flourishing it it stood beside a busy road, especially to the goldfields. It could sell hay for the passing horse teams, eggs and butter to the travellers, and sell them at far above Melbourne prices. For a couple of years the Kellys had a prime position well away from the nearest town and facing the road to the Beechworth goldfield. Mrs Kelly was thus able to invite in the passing traffic for a nobbler of sly grog: a more profitable commodity than eggs.'

So there we have it, a logical contention that the Kellys were geographically placed to do a lot better financially by honest means than what they did. Still, with a large family and no dad to bring home the bacon, many people would not blame Ellen for turning to illicit means to supplement her meagre income.

Blainey again:

'A crucial even in the frail fortunes of the Kellys must have been the decline of the road traffic after the railway from Melbourne passed through their district in 1873. At least the Kellys could fall back on wheat, but after successive crops the yield must have fallen, the soil being deficient in phosphate. as far as can be ascertained, the Kellys also had to harvest the wheat with the slow, laborious sweep of the scythe at the very time when the real profit lay in harvesting on the large scale. The Kellys lacked the acreage and the equipment for that scale of wheat-growing which was becoming normal on the plains by the mid-1870s. They were indirectly the victims of the new technology - the railway and the harvesting machinery. A family more determined and hard-working than the Kellys would have done better, but even they might have ultimately surrendered.'

I don't think I recall ever hearing that the Kellys farmed wheat, but the thought of it is almost pathetic - harvesting by hand, and on a tiny block - even though one hundred acres must have seemed plenty big enough when you have to scythe it!

Blainey then goes on to give a potted version of the story that we know so well. He refers to SBC as the Kellys's 'first cold-blooded venture', something that would beget arguments on many other forums, though not from me. Using a quote from Jesse Dowsett, the heroic railway guard that helped capture Ned at Glenrowan, who said to himself while firing at the armoured outlaw: 'This must be the Devil himself', Blainey relates, dispassionately, 'The Devil himself was captured. Taken by train to Melbourne, he was finally convicted of murder, and hanged on the morning of 11 November 1880.' His feelings towards Ned are unsubtle and only too evident.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ned Kelly's link with .... Judy Garland?? [Brian Stevenson]

It was the last song Ned Kelly would ever hear as a free man, and the last song Johnny (or Jack) Jones would ever sing. And its performance provided Ned Kelly with the only discernible link to Judy Garland!

In the closing stages of the surreal party held at Ann Jones's Glenrowan Inn, Ned Kelly, weary but perhaps feeling a little relieved in the mistaken belief that the long foreseen armed confrontation was not going to take place, felt like some music, so he asked his 'guests' to sing.

As Ann Jones herself later recalled, one young man sang two songs.

Then Ned looked at Ann and said: 'Are you not going to sing?'

Ann was honest, and said that she could not, but Ned 'said 'Try', and I said I had a little boy who could sing a little but he was delicate, and I called the boy and he sang The Wild Colonial Boy and Colleen das cruitha na mo.'

Ian Jones (no relation to Ann) much later described the song as 'sweet' and 'curiously poignant.' We don't know how well young Jack performed the song, but it mattered little - within hours, the inside of his mother's hotel was hell on earth, and Jack himself would be dead. He died in the Wangaratta Hospital of wounds received in the siege, and, sadly, never got to regale his young schoolmates, or, later on, his workmates in the pub, with the story of how he sang songs for Ned Kelly.

The Wild Colonial Boy is, of course, well known, but what of the other song. Well, it literally translates to The Pretty Maid Milking the Cow, and versions and theories about the song's meaning abound.

On the face of it, the story is pretty simple. A young (presumably) man (presumably) sees an unbelievably beautiful young woman with 'cheeks redder than the rowan trees', a mouth 'sweeter than blackberries' and a 'complexion brighter than new milk.' Unsurprisingly, he falls in love with her and would not swap her company for the High Lordship of Ireland (whatever that is) or a hundred ships, palaces, castles or gold. He won't be happy until he is with her again, and if he is not, his life will be 'Without peace, without merit, without direction' and he will have no rest until he sees her by his side again.

Clearly, she is some chick.

There are many versions of the song, many variations in the wording and the song has multiple meanings. Sometimes the girl is seen as Ireland itself. There is another school of thought that the young man is a priest, who is distracted by her beauty when he is on the way to attend a dying man. But most see it as just a song about a lovely young milkmaid.

There is some discussion of the song's origins and history on the folk and blues website, and innumerable versions, both in the Gaelic that Ned heard, and in English, abound on Youtube. I like the version by Clannad the best, but there are other good ones as well, both instrumental and vocal.

And as for Judy Garland - well, she sang the song in the movie, Little Nelllie Kelly. Although she was quite young at the time, she played the character of both mother and daughter in the movie. It's also the only movie on which Judy died on screen (as the mother, but she came back as the daughter.) In the movie, she sings 'The Pretty Maid Milking the Cow.'

The first two-thirds of it are pretty conventional, and would probably be vaguely commensurate with what Ned heard, had Judy sung it in Gaelic. But for the last part of the song, the tempo lifts, and a big band of the swing era joins in, and Judy alters the lyrics somewhat, including the observation that the impact of the sight of the beautiful girl would not be quite the same had she been milking a goat. Well, yes.

Judy visited Australia on at least one occasion, so she may have heard of Ned, though most likely not of his connection to the song she had performed. We can only wonder what Ned would have thought of Judy's version!

(Note: this blog post is indebted to Val Noone's article 'Dymphna Lonergan rescues Jack Jones' Glenrowan song', Tain August-September 2005. This article features a transcription of the song in Gaelic, as well as the English version.)


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Jim Kelly Imposter? [Sharon Hollingsworth]

This caught my eye from the Cairns Post of October 23, 1950.

It was under a column called "Australoddities" compiled and written by Bill Beatty.

 Living quietly in Victoria is 94-year-old Jim Kelly, who claims to be
the only surviving brother of the notorious bushranger, Ned. In 1933,
when in Western Australia, he narrowly escaped death while engaged in
clearing stumps. A fuse of dynamite misfired, and Jim Kelly owed his
 life to a big gum tree that stood between him and the explosion. Letters
still arrive at the Glenrowan, Victoria post office addressed to Ned Kelly,
but they are forwarded on to relatives.

Ok, this is one of two things...either some very old (and incorrect) material that was recycled past the use by date or Dan Kelly and Steve Hart are not the only folks in the Kelly saga that have had imposters claiming to be them. I recall the times in print that Jim Kelly would challenge and rail against these wannabes, and Greg Young reminded me of how in Kenneally's "The Inner History of the Kelly Gang" that Jim said "I myself have been impersonated by depraved imposters." 

Oddly enough, the Cairns Post had reported on Jim's death back in 1946 and said he was "over 90" at the time! Seeing as how he was born in July of 1859, that would have made him 87 at the time of passing in December of 1946.

Also, when was he ever in Western Australia blowing up stumps?

That is interesting about letters addressed to Ned Kelly still arriving at the Glenrowan post office back then! Wonder what the messages were? Is this like writing to Santa Claus at the North Pole or the letters to Juliet sent to Verona, Italy? (I wonder if the relatives replied to any?)

Friday, January 14, 2011

(Part One) Constable Tom King: Hero of Maryborough's Great Flood of 1893 [Sharon Hollingsworth]

The terrible flooding in Queensland continues this week with Brisbane and Maryborough (and other areas) getting inundated. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all affected right down to the pets, livestock and wildlife.

Previously, the worst flooding Maryborough ever experienced was back in February of 1893 when the river peaked at 40 feet (12.27 meters). One of the heroes of the '93 flood was someone with ties to the Kelly saga, Senior-Constable Tom King. King was just mentioned in a recent blog as being the Senior-Constable who came down to Victoria with Sub-Inspector O'Connor and the black trackers in March of 1879 to aid in the hunt for the Kelly Gang.  He, however, headed back to Queensland in August of that same year, so he was not at the siege of Glenrowan and Ned Kelly's capture. I do wonder if things would have turned out differently at the siege with a man of his ability on scene? At some future point I will perhaps go into King's full life story which is a rich and fascinating one, but for now we will concentrate on his acts of heroism during The Great Flood of 1893.

Reading in the Queensland papers from the era, we find that Senior-Constable King and his crew were the first rescuers in the area to take to the water in a large whale boat. (Note that previously, in 1883, King had requested leave to participate in the Brisbane Regatta as part of a four-man rowing team representing the Maryborough Rowing Club. He also competed in the solo amateur sculling race. Neither the team, nor he individually, took top honours. However, surely he was a strong rower, which would have come in very handy during the 1893 flood.) Many homes in the Maryborough area were already under water when rescue efforts began and many other families had taken refuge in top storeys of houses and barns. Some refused assistance, saying they felt they would be ok where they where, but others took the rescuers up on their offer to get to higher ground. Many rescues of people were due to the bravery and tireless diligence of King and his crew. At another time, and in another context, a colleague described Tom King's courage as being "ludicrous and sublime." It certainly was true during The Great Flood.

Constable King not only saved people but animals, too. He was a man of great compassion.

According to The Morning Bulletin of February 15, 1883:

"Constable King, ascertaining that the remaining farmers were secure, turned his attention and that of his crew towards saving cattle and horses. They had great difficulty in swimming a number of cattle, among which was an obstreperous bull which charged them on two or three occasions. The difficulty was solved by locking this unruly customer up in a yard. The cows were then taken across some considerable distance to dry land, and on return the gate was thrown open and the bull quickly joined his companions. Some eight or nine horses which were isolated and almost submerged by the water were also successfully swum ashore."

Later King and his men helped to deliver food and other provision to stranded citizens.

The grateful citizens wanted to present King with an illuminated address as a token of their appreciation.

A letter was sent to the Commissioner of Police in Brisbane which said:

Sir, We, the undersigned, have the honor to inform you that several citizens of Maryborough desire to present a testimonial to Senior Constable Thomas King, who is stationed here, in recognition of his valuable service during the recent floods in this town, and we beg to request that you will be kind enough to grant him permission to accept it.
Trusting to hear from you as early as possible.

Here is what the address looked like:
(image courtesy of Greg Young)

And here is a transcription of it:



We the undersigned on behalf of the numerous residents of the Wide Bay District, beg your acceptance of this memento of our huge appreciation of your valorous conduct and untiring energy during the late flood in Feb 93. Your utter disregard of self, your indomitable perseverance and good generalship, were the means of rescuing many who, but for your intervention, must inevitably have perished. Only those who witnessed that mighty rush of waters have any conception of the peril to which yourself and comrades were exposed. Your duties during this perilous period necessitated unceasing labor, not alone during the day, but at all hours of the night, and we heartily congratulate you on having performed those duties in a manner impossible to one less inured to danger and hardship than yourself. We also thank your comrades for their hearty co-operation in this work of rescue.
Again thanking you for your indefatigable exertions, and wishing you and yours a long period of happiness & prosperity.
Your Sincere Wellwishers

That is really nice, isn't it?

But what is not so nice is the Commissioner's reply:

Senior Constable King can accept any testimonial  from the citizens of Maryborough that is presented to him through the Inspector of the district, but cannot attend any meeting.

That seems rather harsh, doesn't it, not letting Constable King attend a presentation function? (perhaps that was just regulations, but still!!) He deserved a dinner and a parade, or at the very least some applause and pats on the back, though he probably would have said he had just been doing his sworn duty.

Let's consider this blog posting to be a posthumous "For he's a jolly good fellow" chorus for Constable King!

Speaking of jolly good fellows, a while back my close friend Greg Young, who is also the great-great grandson of Thomas King, went in search of the present day location of this illuminated address. He will tell of his journey and his findings in Part Two of Constable Tom King: Hero of Maryborough's Great Flood of 1893 which will be coming soon.

Stay tuned!

Part Two is now available at

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Event Alert: Special February Kelly Haunts Tour to Jerilderie

Kelly researcher and tour guide (and good friend!) Joe Dipisa is hosting a special two day Kelly Haunts Tour on the weekend of February 12/13, 2011 to Jerilderie and other Kelly country locations to commemorate the 132nd anniversary of the Raid on Jerilderie by the Kelly Gang. Towns to be visited include: Beveridge.....Wallan.....Jerilderie.....Benalla.......Glenrowan.....Greta..Euroa and Avenel. For more information and to book see:

Corporal Sambo: Duty Done [Sharon Hollingsworth]

In my last blog post I wrote about the time of Joe Byrne's burial at Benalla Cemetery. In this post I am still focusing on the Benalla Cemetery, but this time the subject is Queensland Native Police (Black Tracker) Corporal Sambo who died in Victoria during the Kelly hunt.

In the Royal Commission Sub-Inspector Stanhope O'Connor gives details of arriving in Victoria with his troopers and the subsequent death of Corporal Sambo:

#1073  You met Captain Standish, you say, in March 1879? - The 6th of March 1879 at seven p.m. I was accompanied by six black troopers, and by one senior-constable, a white man. The names of my men were - Senior-Constable King, Corporal Sambo, Troopers Hero, Johnny, Jimmy, Barney, and Jack. I requested permission from Captain Standish to halt for the day, as one of my troopers named Jack was very ill. This Captain Standish granted at once. On the 8th March 1879, at nine a.m., Captain Standish, I, and my men left Albury for Wodonga, Victoria, where Captain Standish directed my party to remain for further orders. Captain Standish and I proceeded to Benalla, arriving there at two p.m. On Monday the 10th Senior-Constable King and the six troopers arrived at two p.m. from Wodonga at Benalla. On the 11th of March, Captain Standish ordered us out on our first trip, but had me sworn in previously a member of the police force of Victoria.

#1074  And your men? - No; only myself and my senior-constable. The black trackers do not take the oath ever; they are enlisted. We left Benalla at eleven a.m. on the 11th in company with Superintendent Sadleir and five or six Victorian constables....

#1075  I and my party returned to Benalla on the 18th of March at 5.50 p.m., owing to the fact that the party was not sufficiently supplied with necessaries, and that one of my troopers, Corporal Sambo, got very ill.

#1076  What do you call necessaries? - Blanketing and clothing.

#1077  Provisions? - We were not supplied sufficiently with those. I consider necessaries everything.

#1078 Food and clothing? - Food and bedding would be better. He was so bad, indeed, that I had to send him back to head-quarters on the 15th.

#1079 What do you call head-quarters? - Benalla. I always called that head-quarters; and on the morning of the 18th we met Constable Bell, who informed me that my trooper was dying. This man died on the evening of the 19th of congestion of the lungs. I do not attribute any blame to the Victorian authorities in this matter. In fact, Captain Standish showed my men every kindness.

Interesting that he mentioned about Trooper Jack being sick upon arrival and not Sambo. In The Maitland Mercury  Hunter River General Advertiser of March 29, 1879  it tells of Corporal Sambo catching a cold while on the steamer to Sydney and that when he arrived in Victoria he was "somewhat better, but it returned in the field, and he had to be sent to the barracks for medical treatment."

The article went on to say that:

"His lungs, were, however, greatly diseased, and the doctors were unable to save his life. Sambo had one regret paramount to all others, the leaving of his mentor, Inspector O'Connor, whose life, we hear, but with what truth we do not know, he saved in Queensland on two occasions. His black companions cried when they heard of his death, but only one of them, said to be a brother of deceased, went to the cemetery with Inspector O'Connor to see him buried..."

I am not sure how long Sambo had served under O'Connor as I don't have access to his Service Record, but the earliest mention (in a book called "Reminiscences of Queenland: 1862-1899") I could find of him being a Corporal under O'Connor was from 1874. Surely the association predated even then. I am wondering about it being said that one of the other trackers was his brother. Had not read that anywhere else before. I wonder which one it was?

In the PROV Archives there is correspondence between Superintendent Sadleir, Asst. Commissioner of Police Nicolson, and Commissioner of Police Standish. Nicolson was all for burying him as a pauper even going as far to say that "I would call attention to the fact that by obtaining a justice's order the cemetery fee of 20 pence cannot be charged." (That is shades of them trying to stiff Dr. Turner out of 4 guineas for attending to Trooper Jimmy who was wounded during the siege, while at the same time no expense was spared for the treatment of Superintendent Hare's wound.)

Standish disagreed with Nicolson and said he "did not see why he should be buried as a destitute person.." He said "The Queensland Native Trooper was doing regular duty as a constable under the Vict. Govt. and his illness..was contracted while he was on active duty in the ranges."

It seems that Nicolson had his way! An unmarked pauper's grave it was. Corporal Sambo, aged 25, was laid to rest on March 21, 1879 at the Benalla Cemetery. His grave was not marked until 1993.
                            [photo courtesy of Michael Ball]

John Molony in his book "[I Am] Ned Kelly" said of Sambo:

One of them, called Sambo, longed for the far places and the familiar places of his people in the north. He fell ill, pined away and died, to be buried in another's tribal grounds, and it was fitting that
he was put to rest as a pauper for he had come owning nothing and his spirit left the northeast as it had come

At some point within the last few years (per the Benalla Cemetery online archives, but I can find no further information elsewhere) Corporal Sambo's remains were exhumed and taken back up North to be buried among his people.

He was home at last!

Monday, January 3, 2011

What Time Was It When Joe Byrne Was Buried? [Sharon Hollingsworth]

A while back Dave White sent me a CD by Darren Coggan called "Hometown." Darren is a tremendous talent and I enjoyed his music immensely, especially the hauntingly beautiful song called "Silence and Me (Joe Byrne)" which was written by Ken McBeath. I highly recommend this CD.

The lyrics start out with:

They closed my eyes on a Sunday,

To those who once showed me fear,

Strung me up on a Tuesday,

For a handsome souvenir,

But I never was so lonesome without good company,

And when they lay me in my grave that night,

There was just silence and me.

Those are some powerful lyrics!

Kelly gang member Joe Byrne was buried in the Benalla cemetery on Tuesday, June 29, 1880. That fact is not in contention, what is in contention, however, is the time of burial. Reading through many sources there are two different times of burial given, at 4 P.M. and at midnight, and there are other vague references in newspapers and books as to him being buried in the evening or at night (obviously the writer of the song used one of those references).

Ian Jones, in his book "The Fatal Friendship," using information from the Weekly Times of July 3, 1880 told of Joe's body being placed in a rough coffin that was smuggled out the back of the police station. A 'well-armed constable' accompanied the undertaker through the dark streets to the cemetery where they interred him by lantern light. Afterwards the two 'saluted each other and went home.'

I have not been able to locate the Weekly Times article to see exactly what was said, but Jones never once mentioned midnight.

This bit from the Melbourne Herald further clouds things by saying that the burial was the day after the inquiry!
Perhaps this is some of the same (or exact?) wording of the Weekly Times article with the allusion to a well-armed constable and the salutation?

"After the Magisterial inquiry had been held on Byrne's body yesterday, the friends of the deceased were extremely anxious to get possession of it. They came to the station and the courthouse, and begged hard to be allowed to bury it at Greta. They were put off from time to time, and after dark the body was sneaked out by the back way from the police camp, and, with only an undertaker's man and a well-armed constable, was taken to the Benalla cemetery, and privately buried in a snug corner there. The constable and undertaker marched back again, saluted each other and went home."

Other articles even erroneously say that the body was given to the sympathisers for burial!

Joseph Ashmead in his unpublished manuscript says that "Byrne was wrapped in a blanket and buried by the police in the Benalla Cemetery at midnight."

In an early Kelly book (circa 1880) called "The Kelly Gang: Being Full and True Account" published by Frearson and Brother states that "Byrne was buried quietly at night in the Benalla Cemetery."

Superintendent Sadleir had testified before the Royal Commission that "The body of Byrne was buried at 4 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon in the Benalla cemetery.." (In the notes to The Fatal Friendship, Jones says "In the face of other evidence, Sadleir states that Joe's body was buried at 4 p.m.")

In Thomas McIntyre's unpublished manuscript there was this:

An inquiry was held upon the body of Byrne at 9 a.m. on the 29th. The inquiry was held in the courthouse, I was examined and identified the body as being one of the men who had shot the police on the 26th Oct. '78.
The verdict was 'The outlaw Joseph Byrne whose body was before the court and in possession of the police was by them whilst in the execution of their duty.'
Byrne was privately buried in Benalla Cemetery by the police the same day at 4 p.m.

Jones stated in The Fatal Friendship "That evening Captain Standish and squatter Robert McBean, both justices of the peace, sat in the empty Benalla courthouse to hear four witnesses."

So was the inquest in the morning or in the evening?

How could there be these differing times reported? If there was an evening inquiry then the 4 p.m. burial would be out. Were Sadleir and McIntyre around when the body was taken out? The old police station in Benalla was in Bridge Street West and the Benalla Cemetery is approximately 4 km (that would be around 2 and a half miles) away from the heart of the city. Even if smuggled out the back at night (especially near midnight) would there be many people still out and about on a bleak winter's evening? At 4 p.m. surely many would be out on their business and someone somewhere would have noticed a cart going towards the cemetery with a constable for escort, wouldn't they? Especially if some of they sympathisers had been petitioning all day long to get the body and were hanging around in the vicinity. But then, again, as the one report says the sympathisers had been told that the official inquest was slated for the following day (June 30th), but Standish seemed to have pulled a fast one and had a hurried inquiry on the 29th (evening or day?). All very confusing! It seems to have been orchestrated to be just that.

Another interesting dimension was this bit on the geomantica website where I had found the info given in a previous posting about Mr. Levy locating Joe Byrne's grave using dowsing:

...the site of Joe Byrne and
Martin Cherry's midnight burial was outside of consecrated ground and
it had been immediately ploughed up all around to disguise the

That is the first I had read about them ploughing up around it (which was a good idea and the same ruse was said to have been used for Dan and Steve's burial spot). Was Martin Cherry laid to rest earlier in the day or at the same time?  Will we ever know?

All we know for sure is that Joe Byrne's body was strung up for photographs to be taken sometime during the day of June 29th and he was in the ground before the sun rose the next morning.

Then, there was just silence and him.