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


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Article Alert: Mystery Solved: Kelly Gang Links to Brunswick Found

From Google Alerts:

This is a follow up article to one I posted about yesterday at called Kelly Gang Photo at Hart of Brunswick Mystery.

This latest one is from the Moreland Leader of May 31, 2011.

Mystery Solved: Kelly Gang Links to Brunswick Found

From the article:

The Brunswick connection to Kelly gang member Steve Hart has been traced back to his younger sister Rachel.

Rachel Lloyd (nee Hart) owned a house on the Brunswick/Moonee Ponds border from about 1930-1948 and was a resident there during the time of Brunswick’s Centennial celebrations in 1939.

To read more:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Under the Big Top [Sharon Hollingsworth]

In the 2003 "Ned Kelly" film starring Heath Ledger a circus was bailed up and the troupe members were in the Glenrowan Inn during the shootout with police. I think everyone who has seen it remembers that awful moment when the monkey was shot and Joe Byrne's plaintive pronouncement about the "poor little bugger." The film was based on Robert Drewe's novel "Our Sunshine" and in the novel Jane Jones says to Ned "What a sweet touch, stealing a circus!" While this was a plot device to make the story more colourful, the "stealing a circus" bit could have become a reality if Ned Kelly had decided to do just that at Glenrowan as a travelling circus was said to have passed by. In the Royal Commission report, James Reardon was quoted as saying that the gang "..were going to bail up a circus that day."

There was this bit from "Ned and the Others" by Dagmar Balcarek and Gary Dean:

"About mid-afternoon, the four members of the Kelly Gang and the hostages alike watched, as Brenton & Taylor's Circus Group travelled along the main road behind the Inn. The suggestion to bail them up to entertain the hostages was declined by Ned,  who preferred not to interfere with them, as there would be too many hostages to look after."

Searching online (but having no way to research in books on the subject of the history of Australian circuses) I could not find any reference to a Brenton & Taylor Circus Group. There were no references at all to the name Brenton as regards Australian circuses, but there were references to Taylor. In the early 1870s there was Bird and Taylor's Circus. In 1873 Bird was no longer in the picture as a new partnership was formed resulting in Burton & Taylor's Grand United Circus Company. They lasted until the late 1870s. Then Henry Burton broke away and started Burton's Great Australia Circus which toured until early 1880 when Burton became insolvent. He sold the circus to others who kept the name for a while for promotional purposes. Around the time of the siege in late June 1880 most of the major circus companies were booked elsewhere or en route to and from places far from Victoria per the contemporary newspapers (but this could have been a smaller one with little advertisement). So it is anyone's guess which circus troupe it actually was that Ned decided not to bail up. Hopefully if anyone finds information in a book they will share with us to solve this mystery (also if there really was a Brenton in circus circles).

I saw this in the Argus of September 9, 1939 regarding Fitzgerald's Circus and the Kelly Gang:

"....An amusing story is told of Fitzgeralds' early days, a story that should appeal to us in these days of "appeasement." One day in 1880 Fitzgeralds' Circus, then only a small road show, mistakenly wandered from one of the main roads in the north-east of Victoria. The two Fitzgerald boys, leaving the circus waggons standing by the roadside, walked through the bush in search of a farmhouse to ask directions. Suddenly, in the thickest of the bush, they were confronted by four desperate looking men with guns. The four desperadoes were none other than our old friends Ned, Dan, Steve, and Joe - the Kelly Gang!

Now this was a very delicate situation, indeed, for the Fitzgerald boys. Eventually, after a lot of explanation, the Kellys were satisfied that the two circus performers were not police, and the situation brightened. Dan Fitzgerald, in fact, always after that described Ned Kelly as a "real nice fellow." But apparently he must have had some secret doubts, for he also said, "Just to keep Ned Kelly, 'sweet' I gave him as we were leaving a free pass to see our show should he ever cross our path again." Ned Kelly on a free pass! Could there ever be a more comical situation In
bushranging or circus history? But that, my reader, is what we moderns call "appeasement."

Meanwhile there were many other circus references as concerns the Kelly Gang. In "The Fatal Friendship," Ian Jones tells of someone's reaction to Aaron Sherritt's colourful flashy wardrobe "Who the h*ll is this -some advance agent for the circus?" Jones also tells of the "Grand United Circus Company" performing in Beechworth in December of 1875 and of how most assuredly that Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt attended. That one this must have been Burton & Taylor's.

There was information online of Ashton's Circus performing in Glenrowan. It was said that the gang travelled many miles to be in attendance.

In 1881 when the Royal Commission Board went to Greta the Benalla Standard reported that Mrs. Kelly said to them "I didn't know who you all could be; I thought it was a circus parade. "

In 1906 for the filming of "The Story of the Kelly Gang" a circus provided the horses and stunt riders.

And of course, in later years Ned's nephew Ned Lloyd, half-brother Jack King, and Wild Wright all were involved with circuses. MIchael Ball reminded me of this bit from "A Short Life" regarding Jack King's father, George (who was married to Ellen Kelly):

"He had a shadowy background. There were suggestions that he had fought in the Civil War as a sixteen-year-old and that he had been a trick horseman with a circus.

Maybe the apple does not fall too far from the tree?

Speaking of Jack Kelly, I have read in a book where someone with Wirth's Circus alleges that he travelled around the country (circa 1909/1910) with "Jim Kelly" who told him all about his famous brothers Dan and Ned. This would perhaps have been Jack (King) Kelly instead I think given the particulars and circumstances.  I will further lay out those facts and see what can be debunked in a future blog posting. Stay tuned!

Note: The blog posting mentioned above is now available at

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Article Alert: Kelly Gang Photo at "Hart" of Brunswick Mystery

From Google Alerts:

The Moreland Leader of May 30, 2011 has an article entitled:

Kelly Gang Photo at Hart of Brunswick Mystery

It begins with:

Intrigue surrounds a historic photo that connects Kelly gang outlaw Steve Hart to Brunswick.

What is Steve Hart’s connection to Brunswick? If you know tell us below.

The photo, believed to have been taken around 1878, was part of a council exhibition celebrating Brunswick’s Centenary in August, 1939.

The exhibition only featured photos of people, objects and landmarks associated with the suburb.

Its inclusion has baffled historian Tony O’Brien, who has been working to preserve the collection for Moreland council....

To read more go to:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Douglas Morrissey thesis - chapter 3 - The Truth About Stock Impoundings in the Kelly Country in the 1870s [Brian Stevenson]

Note that this is the second in an ongoing series of chapter reviews of Doug Morrissey's 1987 thesis "Selectors, Squatters and Stock Thieves: A Social History of Kelly Country." The first part can be found at

Everyone reading this will be familiar with Ned Kelly's views on stock impoundings, as outlined in the Jerilderie Letter.

'If a poor man happened to leave his horse or a bit of a poddy calf outside his paddock they would be impounded. I have known over sixty head of horses impounded in one day by Whitty and Byrne all belonging to poor farmers. They would have to leave their ploughing or harvest or other employment to go to Oxley. When they would get there [they would] perhaps not have money enough to release them and have to give a bill of sale or borrow money.'

Pretty hard times for the selectors, yes. But how accurate is the picture? Fortunately, it is possible for us to compare this depressing picture with the picture derived by Douglas Morrissey. Morrissey did his research the hard way, and combed through old newspapers, shire records, government gazette and the like and distilled the information from these usually dry sources into his thesis on social conditions in the Kelly Country during the Kelly period. Ned's impassioned (and, it will be shown, somewhat misleading prose) is available on countless places on the web, but Morrissey's work is largely unpublished. It provides a contrasting picture indeed.

For a start, the picture that Ned paints of mass impoundings to the tune of 60 a day is misleading, to say the least. It was on very rare occasions that the impoundings in the Oxley Shire exceeded 20 or 30 animals. Morrissey states: 'The regional norm was much lower and generally remained constant at around five or ten animals.' But single animal impoundings were by far the most common occurrence, although in October 1877 Mark Whitty, scion of the man who Ned accosted at the races, had 35 trespassing cows impounded. Morrissey concedes that this particular episode did result in some economic hardship, as most of these animals were not redeemed after a week, but the days of mass impoundings were pretty much over by the late 1870s.

Why were animals impounded? 'Pressure to conserve available resources such as pasture land and access to the region's waterholes' was, of course, the biggest factor. The intention seems to have been, not to harass the selectors but to ensure that the selectors kept their livestock on their own land or on the land designated as commons. The impoundings were to encourage that the district's livestock grazed exclusively on the land of their owners, something that in itself is entirely fair and reasonable.

The impounding rate was very high in the early 1870s, when fences were still being erected, but decreased dramatically as more land was fenced. In 1870 1 137 animals were impounded, but for most of the decade the figure was around the 200 mark, with a peak figure, 253, being reached in 1876. When the Kellys were out, the number of impoundings decreased dramatically, showing the fear and intimidation that they inspired. In 1878, for most of which year, of course, the Kelly Gang did not exist, the figure was 199. It dropped dramatically to less than 90 animals and in 1880 the number was an incredible 26. With the Kellys wiped out, the number rebounded to 106 in 1881.

All things considered, it seems extremely unlikely that an impounding of 60 animals in a day would ever have occurred, Ned's estimate in the Jerilderie letter notwithstanding. Judging by the statistics, it seems most likely that most days passed without a single animal being impounded.

What Ned also overlooked was that some squatters, no doubt liking a quiet life, simply overlooked trespassing livestock. Squatter McBean, famously a victim of Harry Power, told the Benalla Land Board in 1872 that he had decided not to bother with impounding because, as the victim of several arson attempts, he did not want to be 'burnt out.'

Also unmentioned in the Jerilderie Letter were impounding disputes between selectors, with no squatter involvement. There is no way that Ned could be unaware of this. Long before anyone had heard of Ned, his cousins the Lloyds and the Barnett family (later to be Kelly sympathisers as well) had a bitter squabble over access to water. Barnett found some of Jack Lloyd Senior's in his wheat and decided to take them to the pound. Jack Lloyd and his son Tom arrived on horseback and easily rescued their livestock, but Barnett retaliated by taking out a summons against Jack for 'rescuing impounded horses.'

The next day, Barnett noticed that his horse was missing. He tracked the animal to the Lloyd house, and found his horse tied up in O'Brien's stable, which adjoined Lloyd's property. The poor creature had been tied up and cruelly hacked to death with a tomahawk. It wasn't too hard to figure out the culprit. Lloyd, not a nice person, was not very bright either, and was still wearing a shirt and trousers caked with dried blood, which he tried to blame on a cut finger when Constable Ernest Flood (funny how these folks keep turning up) made the arrest. In February 1873 Lloyd was sentenced to a well warranted four years imprisonment with hard labour, for an offence that attracted a maximum of ten years imprisonment. The judge took into consideration Lloyd's mature age, overlooking the fact that he should have known a lot better.

(Special note: if Doug Morrissey reads this, it would be great if he got in touch!)

The next installment of this series has now been added at

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Event Alert: Glenrowan Siege Dinner July 2, 2011?

Event Alert:

Glenrowan Siege Dinner

Date: 2 July 2011

Venue: Glenrowan Hotel, Glenrowan

Contact Details:    

Paddy Milne 0407 311 899

The Glenrowan siege and Ned Kelly's capture will be commemmorated on Saturday 2nd July.   The event includes entertainment and a spit roast at the Glenrowan Recreation Reserve.

A great night's entertainment will be provided by Will Williamson and his son, Hamish, accompanied by various groups including the popular Wangaratta Ukelele Band, Gill Delaney, a piper and a Melbourne opera singer. 
$35  per person with discounts for pensioners and families.

That website is the ONLY place thus far I have found this information as of this moment, so if anyone finds any further information or rings through and gets details (or finds that it has been cancelled for some reason) please let us know! If I find any further info regarding it/confirming it I will post it, also.

Also at the Glenrowan Gazette website I read where they are making plans for another Kelly Country Festival for the the first weekend in October 2011.Wonder if there will be another siege reenactment?

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Jerilderie Letter from 1879 to 1930 [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Recently on a Kelly related forum researcher Kelvyn Gill had done a posting asking if anyone knew which edition of the Melbourne Argus from 1930 had printed Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter. It seems that Ian Jones had mentioned in the Spring 2000 issue of the Latrobe Journal that "a government copy of the letter was made and presented at Ned's trial. Incredibly, his incompetent defence counsel objected to its being tendered as evidence. The copy was filed away and forgotten.
The Melbourne Argus printed this government text of the letter in 1930, and it was again forgotten until 1948, when Max Brown published it as an appendix to his fine Kelly biography, Australian Son."

I emailed Kelvyn Gill and let him know from my research that the Argus was not the newspaper that the Jerilderie Letter appeared in in 1930. It was the (Adelaide) Register News-Pictorial that ran a series called "The Kellys are Out!" written by J.M.S. Davies (an Adelaide writer, thus the Register News-Pictorial getting the exclusive) that ran between September 13 and October 15, 1930. It later ran in the Melbourne Herald in November and December of 1930. Seems that the Herald gets heralded as the one to carry it for the first time in decades, but the Adelaide paper was really the one that should get the kudos. You can search out the series at

Brian McDonald's "What They Said About Ned!" says of the series that it "includes an edited version of the Jerilderie Letter e.g. grammar, spelling, punctuation and the reference to the calf's testicles has been left out."

We can only wonder why Davies did not wish to use that bit. Was he worried about delicacy?

Below is where Kelvyn Gill put showing what was used and what was missing in regards to that section of the letter.

Ned’s Jerilderie letter – black text; changes made in Davies’ story are struck out for omissions and red words are those added or replacing words struck out.

When McCormack's got the horse they came straight out to Goold  Gould and accused him of working the horse it; this was false and Goold Gould was amazed at the idea I could not help laughing to hear Mrs. McCormack
accusing him of using the horse after him being so kind as to send  when he had actually sent his boy to take him from the Ruta Cruta and take bring him back to them. I pleaded Goulds innocence and Mrs. McCormack turned on me and accused me of bringing the horse from Greta to Goold's waggon  Gould’s wagon to pull him out of the bog I did not say much to the woman as my mother was present but that same day me and my uncle was cutting calves  Gould wrapped  up wrote a note and a pair of the calves  testicles and gave them it to me to give them to Mrs. McCormack. I did not see her and gave the parcel to a boy to give to her when she would come instead of home giving it
to her he gave it to her husband consequently McCormack  and because of the note McCormack said he would summons me I told him neither me  I nor Goold Gould used their horse.

It is too bad that Ned Kelly was not able to get his letter published in full back in 1879 as he wished to. However The Age newspaper printed an article on February 18, 1879 that had some of the letter's contents in it.. Kelvyn Gill sent me the text of the article found at the State Library of Victoria. It can also be found online at:

The article begins with:

"After the exciting scene with Mr. Rankin in the Royal Mail Hotel, Kelly took Richards and Living with him to look for Mr. Gill, who had run away. Mr. Gill is the proprietor of the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette, and his office is about thirty yards from the hotel. Kelly said he only wanted Gill to publish a statement of his life, which he had prepared. He then took out of his pocket a large roll of paper, fifty-seven sheets in all, closely written on. He was particularly anxious that it should be published, and Mr. Living, desirous of saving Mrs. Gill any further uneasiness, asked Kelly for the statement, and promised to give it to Gill for publication. Kelly then gave Mr. Living the statement, threatening that if he did not publish it he would have to suffer. Mr. Gill did not return from his hiding place until after Mr. Living had left for Melbourne, taking with him the statement, which he showed Mr. Hanlan at his hotel, near Deniliquin. When he resumed his journey he forgot the papers, and Mr. Hanlan made a copy of the statement, and posted the original to Melbourne; but Mr. Living has not yet received it back. On his return journey, however, Mr. Living obtained Mr. Hanlan's copy, but he has since received a communication from Superintendent Brown, who took it upon himself to instruct Mr. Living not to give the letter to the press or make known its contents until he receives the authority of the Attorney General to do so. Living has, therefore, positively refused to give the copy which he now has in his possession, but on Mr. Hanlan being interviewed, his recollection of the contents of the letter appeared to be very good..."

Michael Ball pointed out something interesting in this. It says that Living accidentally left the letter at Hanlon's [Hanlon is the correct spelling, not Hanlan] place and that Hanlon had to mail it to Melbourne?!! First time I had heard that. Interesting in the extreme.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bill Skillion's talkative 'brother'? [Brian Stevenson]

Everybody wants a piece of the legend.

How many people have our readers met that have some distant, distant claim to fame related to the Ned Kelly story? And I mean distant. Well, even when many of the participants were still alive, there were folks around who were anxious for a share of reflected glory, no matter how loose the connection. And they were not above exaggerating their role in the proceedings either!

A case in point is one character who stepped forward to 'confess' his connections to the Kelly Gang at the unlikely venue of a Salvation Army meeting in Lithgow in November 1905. The confessor claimed to be James Skillion, brother of William, who many readers will know was married to Maggie Kelly and was sentenced to six years in gaol for his part in the so-called attempted murder of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick.

William seems to be a luckless character all around. Six years in gaol for, at most, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for, at least, a passing resemblance to Joe Byrne, and then to lose your wife to another while you were inside is not the stuff of which tales of lustrous and glittering fortune are made. And we can be sure that no one would have ever heard of poor old Bill, unable, in the words of his celebrated brother- in- law, to discern a revolver from a saucepan handle, had it not been for his family connections, but in turn of the century Lithgow, someone was eager to claim a connection, genuine or not, to him.

No one seems to have recorded (in a widely available source, anyway) whether William Skillion had a brother called James. In any case, this individual claiming to be James Skillion recounted some of his experiences to the Salvation Army meeting, no doubt enthralling his audience with his tales, presumably more than they would be had the meeting been a routine one.

And what good tales they were!

According to the Adelaide Advertiser of 20 November, 'Skillion told the Lithgow audience that in his capacity as telegraph for the gang he assumed various disguises, sometimes carrying a swag, at other times wearing a belltopper, and sometimes dressing in Kate Kelly's clothes.'

A belltopper, folks, is a sort of tall silk hat, remarkably unsubtle attire for someone in the Kelly country who was hoping to remain disguised. Lucky, was it not, that Kate and 'James' were the same dress size?

Skillion talked freely of his other escapades, and showed the audience the marks of a bullet wound in the fleshy part of his leg. Those of you who recall the claims of one of the many fake Dan Kellys around from a few years back will no doubt be relieved to realise that this chap at least did not have his initials carved into his buttocks!

According to James, the Kellys were generous with the proceedings of the money from their robberies. Indeed, he received three thousand pounds for his part in the affairs, and spent it in travelling through America and Great Britain with Kate Kelly and Kate Byrne, Joe's sister. (From what I recall, the Kellys used at least part of the money for needs more pressing than a Northern Hemisphere vacation for their relatives and associates.) James further claimed that the proceeds were shared amongst about 100 sympathisers, which means that his role must have been prominent indeed, given that the total proceeds from one of the two major robberies, Euroa, was only two thousand pounds.

Well, James seems to have only enjoyed his reflected glory for a short time. The sombre taciturnity of the Kelly family, the interviews with Cookson apart, is well known, but for some reason the utterances of James Skillion - if this was his name - were too much for Jack Kelly, also known as Jack King, and half-brother to Ned and Dan, and to Maggie, who had married Bill Skillion. (Maggie had been dead since 1896.)

Jack broke his silence with a letter to the Melbourne Argus, that was published on 24 November. Like his brothers, he was working with horses - but in an honest line of work at Wirth's Circus. He noted in his letter that William Skillion was still alive, and living in Greta, but directed most of his remarks to the subject of James.

Jack was scathing even with the minor details. James Skillion's so-called bullet wound, he claimed, was 'probably the mark left by a boil.' Jack also pointed out that the total spoils known to have resulted from the Euroa robbery were only two thousand pounds, one thousand less than James claimed to have received. Kate Kelly, according to Jack, never travelled outside of New South Wales or Victoria. Jack stated that he knew nothing of Kate Byrne, but that Joe Byrne's sister was Mary - actually, Byrne had four sisters, two of whom were named Catherine and Mary.

Jack also noted that Skillion had not named the person who made Ned's armour. 'For his reticence on the subject I can easily account by saying that Skillion doesn't know himself. I do know, but I do not think there are three other mean alive today who possess the same knowledge.'

There is a certain weariness about Jack's concluding remarks: 'Of late I, as well as the other remaining members of the Kelly family, have from time to time been annoyed by statements emanating from the lips of notoriety-seekers of the Lithgow-Skillion calibre - people who desire to become notorious, but are not endowed with a sufficient amount of courage to enable them to risk either liberty or life in so doing ... I am not aware that any James Skillion ever played any important part in connection with the gang of which I write. In fact, I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind that the claimant to notoriety never even saw my brothers.'

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Exploits of the Kelly Gang Were Not Always Front Page News [Sharon Hollingsworth]

In our modern world we are used to seeing front page newspaper headlines in bold type (and above the fold) screaming out at us with the latest important or sensational news. But back in the heyday of the Kelly Gang that was not always the case.

Looking at the Trove/NLA newspaper site I see that there are 17 papers that had around 1,700 news articles from 1878 to 1880 that featured the Kelly Gang. The major papers listed were the Argus, Brisbane Courier and Sydney Morning Herald. Back in that era many newspapers did not put any news on their front pages.
The [Melbourne] Argus always put advertisements on their front page (these days we are used to those in the back!) back then.
Even when the Kellys were at their most sensational the articles about them were usually several pages further inside!

Coincidentally, during research for this already conceived and nearly finished article I ran across an article from the Argus dated June 3, 1946 called "Newspaper Styles Have Changed Over The Years - The Trend Has Been From Many Words To Few" by Professor A.R. Chisholm in which this was said:

"Even by the 'eighties [1880s], headlines of the type now familiar to newspaper readers had not been evolved. When Ned Kelly was captured, for example, it did not make front-page news. The account of it was set out in the usual small type on page 5 (the front page was sacred to advertisements and notices), with only a few single-column headlines and a note to say that the news had come "By Electric Telegraph."

Well, that seems to confirm what I independently came up with, doesn't it? Don't they say that great minds think alike?  ;)

From what I can glean the only time the Kellys made the front page of the Argus was when there was a supplement periodically published called "Argus Summary for Europe." Other papers had extra supplements now and then that put news of the Kellys in a digest form but those were few and far between.
I have read that the major Australian papers for the most part did not put news on the front page until the time of the First World War. The [Melbourne] Herald started with news on the front in 1889.
Many of the rural papers had been running front page news articles well before then. But even that was a rarity for the Kellys. At Trove I found front page headlines for the Kellys in The Queanbeyan Age, The Mercury, and NT Times and Gazette only about once or twice each.

Looking elsewhere online I found bits about the Kellys from the [Beechworth] Ovens & Murray Advertiser and even then there were only half a dozen times they made the front page.

I have not seen the papers for Jerilderie, but I can imagine they were on the front page for that as it was ground zero for a major exploit!

I guess seeing covers for periodicals like The Illustrated Australian News and The Australasian Sketcher made me think that the Kellys were always front page news.

Another interesting aspect is that at times the reporting on the
Kellys was overshadowed by other (often lesser) events. For instance,
I have read that when there was a cricket "riot" in Sydney involving
cricket legend David Gregory when he was playing against the touring English team and that it commanded more newspaper space than the Kelly Gang raid on Jerilderie did in the SMH.

Speaking of David Gregory, Michael Ball has told me about some
interesting Kelly Gang tie-ins concerning him. David Gregory was said
to have had the most famous beard in Australia up until the emergence
of Ned Kelly in the public eye. Also, Gregory's mother, Mary Ann, was a
sister to John Thomas Smith the seven-time mayor of
Melbourne who was father to 3 daughters (who would be David's cousins)
who had Kelly Gang ties. Helen Smith married Assistant Commissioner of
Police Charles Hope Nicolson, Louisa Smith married Sub-Inspector
Stanhope O'Connor and Catherine Smith (Webb) was on the police special train
with her sister Louisa during the siege of Glenrowan.