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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Better Catch That Train, Mr. Melvin! [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Here is another case of "can you really believe everything you read in the newspapers?"

You will remember that four newspapermen were on the special police train that was stopped at Glenrowan by Thomas Curnow. The train also carried Hare and his troopers, Inspector O'Connor, the black trackers, and O'Connor's wife and sister-in-law as well as a civilian volunteer. Among those four pressmen who were present for the start of the siege were John McWhirter of the Age, George Allen of the Daily Telegraph, Joe Melvin of the Argus, and Thomas Carrington who worked for the Australasian Sketcher (he also had a story about the siege published in the Argus).

A news report in the Sunday Times (Perth) of Oct 15, 1911 had this bit about the then-late Joe Melvin of the Argus as concerns the police special train. It is rather fanciful, to say the least!

"When the gang were surrounded at Glenrowan, the chief of police sent word to the newspapers that a special train would be leaving in the very early morning for Glenrowan with drafts of police and a machine-gun. Reporters were invited to attend. Joe was told off for the "Argus," and he slept at the hotel near the Spencer-street Station, in order not to miss the train. But Melvin overslept himself and missed.

When he did wake he promptly took in the situation. He interviewed Mr. Moore, the stationmaster, and arranged for a special engine and van to catch the police train at Seymour. This was a run of 56 miles, which, at 10s per mile, figured out at £28. The stationmaster knew Melvin very well, and took his I.O.U. for the amount. The pressmen were caught at Seymour, and Joe went on with them to Glenrowan. On the following Friday night when the weekly expenses account had to be sent in Melvin's loomed up pretty tall with a £28 item for a special train. As soon as MacKinnon, the manager, got the little bill he sent for Joe, and said he would be dashed-blashed if he would pay for Joe's carelessness in missing the train. "Surely, Mr. MacKinnon," said Joe In heroic style, "you don't suppose I thought of a paltry £28 when the prestige of the 'Argus' was concerned. If you do, sir, I will pay the money out of my own pocket. Loyalty to the paper has been the spirit you have always instilled into the staff. I hope I shall never go behind that splendid dictum even at the expense of my own pocket. That fairly knocked the stuffing out of
MacKinnon. He initialed the account for payment, and as Melvin was leaving the room he called him back and remarked, "Mr. Melvin, I admire your loyalty, but try and make it a little cheaper next time."

It is odd that this story appeared in the paper as elsewhere it has been proven that he was on the train when it left Melbourne's Spencer-street station. Thomas Carrington in his account of the siege of Glenrowan said this:

"On the platform I met the representatives of the three morning journals..."

Of course, those were Melvin, McWhirter, and Allen, as listed above. He went on to talk about their wait for the train, and at no point did he infer that Melvin left the platform or station to have a nap!

Another fact proving that the above missing-the-train story can't be true is Joe Melvin's article for the Argus of July 29, 1880. In it he tells about being on the special train when it ran through the railway gate at Craigieburn. He was quoted as saying that the sound was like "...a crack like a bullet striking the carriage."

I looked it up, and Craigieburn is only 16 miles (or 26 km) from Melbourne. As it said in the earlier article snippet, Seymour was 56 miles (or 90 km) from Melbourne. The train did stop at Seymour, as Carrington had related about having some coffee there,  but I assume it was not to take on a late pressman passenger! Melvin would have had to have been on the special from the start to be able to describe the gate crashing.

Also note that they did not have a "machine gun" on board. Maybe that is in reference to the cannon that was later ordered and was en route via rail but was turned back at Seymour after getting a telegram saying the siege was over.

Something else that throws a new light on all this is a letter to the editor of the West Australian (Perth) of July 22, 1909. In it someone who presumably knew the late Joe Melvin told of the time that Joe was supposed to report on a speech given by then Victorian Premier James Service. Joe missed the train carrying Service to Beechworth (a distance of 176 miles or 284 km from Melbourne..oddly, also the destination of the police special that was stopped at Glenrowan), so he decided to engage a special train to take him there at a cost of £50. He arrived and got the story and never said anything to Mr. MacKinnon about being out of pocket as he was nobly not seeking any type of reimbursement. MacKinnon found out about it and happily presented a check to Joe!

Ok, there seems to be quite a change in the personality of MacKinnon between the two supposed events, doesn't it? As far as what year the James Service event happened, that would have had to have been at some point within a few months' time in 1880 or between March 1883 and February 1886, as those were the terms Service was the Premier. Was someone confused about one event or the other and got them mixed up in their mind as the destination was the same?

Just goes to show that everything in the papers cannot be taken as gospel truth!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Article Alert Update: Even More About The Fury Over Gun-toting Ned Kelly Statue

There is even more out now about the fury over the gun-toting Ned Kelly statue, or rather, wood sculpture.....

From the article:

The work was made from a canadian cedar tree and towers 3m above street level.
House owner Arne Hachmann told the Leader it was meant to be a celebration of Australian culture.
“The tree had died in our front yard and I thought it would be a shame if we didn’t do anything interesting with it,” Mr Hachmann said.
“We wanted to have something Australian like a kookaburra, but the most Australian thing we could come up with was Ned Kelly.”
Mr Hachmann said having Ned Kelly carrying a gun was just part of the legend.
“It’s Ned Kelly and it wouldn’t be right if he wasn’t holding a gun,” he said.
“I see him as keeping guard of our house and he faces outwards so people will look him straight in the eyes when they walk into our house.”

see here for more information and a link to a photo gallery of it:

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Hare Letters: Nicolson versus Standish [Brian Stevenson]

It is great to have the letters of Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare available online! Though there are many gaps, as is usual with history, and many questions are raised – also as usual with history – the letters are both interesting and illuminating, providing as they do an insight into the mind of one of the key participants in the Kelly Outbreak.

There is the scope for quite a few blog posts in these letters, but I thought that I would start with one of the most important themes therein – the animosity between Superintendent Hare’s powerful ally, Police Commissioner Frederick C Standish, and the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Charles Hope Nicolson.  Standish hated Nicolson with a particular passion and criticisms of the ‘cranky Scotie’ abound in these pages.

Hare and Standish went back a long way, and knew each other decades before the Kelly Outbreak. The Under-Sheriff of the colony of Victoria, Frederick Call, who later would have dealings with Ned and Dan Kelly and the wretched hangman Upjohn (see my previous blog post on Upjohn’s life for details at recommended to Standish that Hare be promoted. (Special note: I don’t know what an Under-Sheriff does either.)

Standish wrote to Call on 29 September 1859 saying to him:

Though but slightly acquainted with Mr Hare, I am well aware that there is not a better or more efficient officer of Police in the Colony, and I wish it were in my power to place him in the position which you and others wish to see him in, and wh[ich] I may add, he is imminently [sic] fitted to fill.

Standish expressed regret for not being able to promote Hare, but said that he wished to see the present system of promotion based on seniority of service retained because ‘it is the fairest plan.’

A few years later Standish received a telegram from the New South Wales police stating that Hare could now obtain appointment as Superintendent in the Maitland District, but for reasons unknown, Hare remained in Victoria.

Fast forward to the Kelly Outbreak, and there is an interesting letter from Nicolson to Hare which was written a few days after Nicolson found himself ‘to be withdrawn from the Kelly business.’ Nicolson’s misery and humiliation is palpable and it is hard to not feel sympathy for someone who probably did not wear his heart on his sleeve too often. Nicolson felt ‘indignant and disgusted’ but apologized for thinking at first that Hare had had something to do with the replacement. He continued:

 I need not tell you what misery it has been to me to reside in this district so many months continuously … The absurdity and injustice of discrediting me because I have been up here for ten months will be apparent enough bye and by in calmer weather…I shall never be induced to go into such an affair again.

If Nicolson’s attitude to Hare was stoic, his reaction to Standish was unabashedly hostile. On 4 June 1880 he called on Standish and, as Standish related:

Nicolson called here yesterday and on my holding out my hand in the usual manner shoved both his into his hat and declined to accept it …His manner is mostly very insolent but I attribute it entirely to .. vanity and a suspicion of every body [sic] caused no doubt by mental aberration. I fully expect that he will go quite cranky.

In the same letter, Standish commented:

The late governing powers seem to have made a great hash of their last chance of capturing the gang! But what can one expect from a vainglorious lunatic like your predecessor?

Happily for Standish, Nicolson was packed off for an inspection tour to western Victoria. On 22 June 1880 he wrote to Hare:

The Cranky Scotie is now inspecting the Wimmera and Western Districts & it is a great blessing for me ot have him away from town.

Two days later, though, the absent Nicolson was causing trouble, showing some letters of a confidential nature to the Queensland import Stanhope O’Connor. We don’t know what was in them, but it was obviously enough to raise Standish’s ire:

The ACP [Assistant Commissioner of Police] is a dangerous sneak & I would not trust him further than I could throw a bull by the tail.

A few days later, the bad blood between Standish and Nicolson was a moot point with the destruction of the gang at Glenrowan. 

[Reminder: though it says posted by Sharon Hollingsworth, this was written wholly by Brian Stevenson, he just asked me to put it here for him as he is continuing to have technical difficulties in posting to the blog.]

Article Alert: Fury Over Gun-toting Ned Kelly Statue

from google alerts:

The White Horse Leader has an article called "Your Say: Fury Over Ned Kelly Statue in Surrey Hills."

From the article:

A resident, who did not want to be named, said she found the statute offensive as many children lived in the area.

“The violence caused by guns is a major problem in the world today,” she said.

“It’s not appropriate and it’s the most revolting thing you have ever seen.

“The gun is pointing at someone across the road and to have it in suburbia it’s just bad taste.”

A photo of the statue is also included in the article.

For more see: