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


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Magazine Alert: Inside History Magazine featuring Peter FitzSimons & Ned Kelly out now!

The November/December 2013 issue of Inside History Magazine features an article about Ned Kelly and Peter FitzSimons.

The blurb on the website says:

Ned Kelly by Peter FitzSimons: the author discusses the iconic outlaw and his new book.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Peter FitzSimons mentions me on the radio yet AGAIN!

 I am so very taken aback at the high praise that Peter FitzSimons has given me. I do think he is exaggerating a wee bit about me being the world expert (other than Ian Jones, of course), but he does have the facts right that I understand and love the Kelly story!  I want to say that Peter FitzSimons is one of the nicest people I have run across in a long. What a breath of fresh air he is!  His sheer zest for life, his unbridled love of history and his talent with the written word just bowls me over! And it is hard to impress me these days, but he has done so in spades!

Bill Denheld had sent me a WAV file of the previous radio program in which Peter mentioned and I transcribed the pertinent bits which can be found at

But this latest one (which was actually prior to the other one!) was one Bill had recorded on his phone and was not able to make a file of, so he kindly did the following transcription (I hope to find an audio file online at some point):

Peter FitzSimons talks to Michael Pavlich Overnights program ABC AM radio 774

At 3.25 am Wednesday 6 November
about five minutes into the Ned Kelly book discussion

Peter speaking-

" I went to StringyBark Bark Creek with a guy called Bill Denheld who is a guy - he is a lovely man, but there is not enough hours in the day to go to SBC - think about SBC, read about SBC, draws maps of it, he is the SBC man, And so he showed took me to site where the memorial is at SBC.

SBC from here (Melbourne) well I guess the way we went through the back road - about 3 hours - went to Mansfield and headed north from there, and its right out in the absolute sticks and its got a bit of a haunted feel about it because you go there and I suppose I have been studying it so long enough so I could recognise the 'contours' where a, - where Lonigan was (shot). It's hundreds of yards from the monument and I can tell you his evidence to me is absolutely compelling that this is where it all occurred.

But its pretty much like when I went to Mawson's Hut. Mawson's hut is fundamentally unchanged in Antarctica, its in the deep freeze its absolutely the way it was - you know, and similarly when I walked the Kokoda track - it’s the Kokoda track, jungle, its nothing different -when I went to Tobruk you look at Tobruk and stand on Hill 209- "that’s exactly what they saw, and Stringy Bark Creek is totally undeveloped-it is nothing different from where it was - except perhaps the bush road that passes it by - but you get this feeling of heavy weight Australian bush - the kookaburras, the cicadas - the sense of you're lost in the wilds and it was there at SBC that Ah - Ned first ambushed - well yes - so they were at Bullock Creek which is just one hill over, and they hear a shot ring out and they send Dan, who goes out and sees the police are there, What are they going to do? They want their horses, they want their ammunitions, they mostly want their GUNS.

Last night I had a long chat with the great Ian Jones to whom I dedicated the book, the doyen of Kelly writers and he is 82 years old and has been studying Ned Kelly for the last 70 years since he was 10 or 12 years old - he's been studying Ned Kelly and he made the point to me - - in terms of SBC, to really understand the Kelly's there's been a lot discussions in the last while, and there are people that say this - " that Ned Kelly was a psychopath "

Pav, " There was a commemoration recently - a dedication to the officers - of the SBC murders "

PF, And I totally follow the sentiments of the descendants of the men killed at SBC, that I would take that view too - but for me, I respectfully - I put the view that to define Ned Kelly as a psychopath DOES not remotely encapsulate the essence of the man - in both cases (of what happened at) of SBC.

The Royal Commission of the Kellys - The first thing he said was this was not a premeditated murder. And, in both cases - so there was the 'first' ambush- then the second ambush- The first policemen then the second two - when they came back, in both cases the Kellys were in deep cover, they could easily have simply shot dead every police man they found and it would never have  risked themselves. In both cases they broke from cover, they called upon the police to surrender - the police being brave men doing their duties that they were, reached for their guns, and they did their duty but they were killed.

FURTHER along in the discussion at around the 25 minute mark -

Pav, " Hey, I want to ask you about the book, it’s a big publication you have put out about 7-800 pages long. I got the feeling about writing it you actually referenced a lot of people - you did a hell of a lot of research - it almost a book of consensus you went to all the top historians on Ned Kelly - you ran the script by them - you asked them to agree or disagree -

PF,  Well the thing that I found is that Victoria is awash, awash with Kelly experts, so I wrote - What I do with my researchers- I run a team of 4 or 5 researchers - two were full time more or less - Libby Effeney - she was the key one - she is a PHD student at Deakin University - and we worked flat out on it. And the answer was go to the Primary documents - she virtually lived at the State Library of Victoria, Public Records Offices of Victoria and the amount of material there is fabulous - but anyway at the end of it, -I go to the six most foremost experts and say here is a red pen find the most mistakes that you can find - the most mistakes that you can and so the information came back, and with great respect to the experts they frequently disagree with each other very strongly. However, there is ONE person they all reluctantly go  - well, She's the one -

Pav, Is she the American woman? yes, Sharon Hollingsworth?

PF, yes she's the one and she lives in North Carolina, and -- -- --- she's just out -- --  of North Carolina but in the age of the internet, this is fascinating to me and in terms of you being ABC, I sent her details to Australian Story and I said "Look, she is not an Australian - but she is " The world expert on Ned Kelly".

So I hand her- I sent it over the internet of course to Sharon Hollingsworth - She's living in North Carolina - who's never been to Australia- and I give her the manuscript THAT has been vetted by six experts, and they corrected every error - and three days later a answer "came directed in a writing unexpected, - and I think the same was written with a thumb nail dipped in tar" *

and she spotted 25 errors- and because she understands it and she loves it- people get bitten by the Kelly story BECAUSE it is so fascinating but yeh, you mentioned earlier the historian that I -

Pav, Ah, yeh I wanted to bring you to this, you mentioned you had written a book in present tense an you've got an approach to history, - of the other book that I read on Eureka you tried to put it in a context like a living history - you just present from Primary documents - the facts and you write it in such a way that gets you immersed in the story.

PF, Yeh

Pav, You mentioned the historian a German, Leopold Van Ranke who said
" History should be written as it essentially was" So you and I will remember our history classes, I think I remember you in the back of the class snoring - wasn't that you in the back corner ??

PF, Yes, and history classes was so boring, and then he, and then he, and then they, and on and on, and I want to get away well away from that and to tell it in a manner, and it has taken me a long way of doing it. But I came under the spell of an American -Gary Smith who was a sports illustrative writer, and his line to me was- " you must use the devices of Fiction and apply them to Non Fiction so that when you are reading say 'Great expectations there is this little voice that whispers to you -  " There was no Miss Havisham, there was no wedding cake, there was no Pip there was no - - salad  -it did not happen ".  How much stronger is it when you are reading non fiction and you are reading about SBC, you are reading about the siege at Glenrowan and you go - by god this happened, you'd think that at the siege at Glenrowan that Ned Kelly would have his shotgun at your head and say you bastard I'm going to blow your head off - What were they actually doing what were they actually when the train arrived at Glenrowan ? They were dancing, they had been there for two days, they had sixty people as hostage as prisoners which ever way you want to put it, they had been dancing, they had been drinking, they had been smoking , they had been doing hop skip and jump, long jump and doing trick riding and things, like this was nothing like I had imagined the siege at Glenrowan was, and so again one of my favourite scenes was the train comes in - when Thomas Curnow the teacher -- --- --- ---   It is outrageous that Thomas Curnow is not - there should be a Thomas Curnow award for public service or civil duty - 

(Pave) he was a whistle blower ?

 PF Yes,

The rest we all know about, the red scarf over the candle to warn the train etc.

* Both Peter and Pav broke into poetry - a line from the famous Australian poem by Banjo Paterson Clancy of the overflow.

(Once again, thank you to Bill Denheld for this transcription)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Peter FitzSimons mentioned me on the radio! [audio link added!]

On Wednesday November 6, 2013, Peter FitzSimons gave a radio interview on ABC radio in Melbourne wherein he mentioned me and my contribution to his new book "Ned Kelly." I first found out about it at the Ned Kelly forum where someone posted about it and then I got an email from my friend, the writer Paul Williams alerting me to it. Then Bill and Carla Denheld sent me a WAV file of it and I was so very humbled and gratified to hear myself being spoken of in such a glowing manner. I never have considered myself an expert, but if others do, hey, run with it! Make hay while the sun shines! (Haters gonna hate and lovers gonna love! Been the same since the beginning of time, why should human nature change now?) Anyway, I am not sure of the morning show name or the hosts (was Jon Faine show), but it was on ABC 774. I don't yet have a link (see bottom of page for the link just added) to share for everyone to hear it but I did transcribe the pertinent part here after listening to it several times. It is as close as I was able to get it as he spoke so fast and had so many run on sentences (I was not quite sure where to put the punctuation, maybe I should have done like Joe Byrne and just transcribed it with none?) -
Peter FitzSimons said:

" mentioned your American background [spoken to the lady host]...the thing that just stunned me when I was doing first it didn't surprise me that Victoria is awash with Kelly experts amazed me a bit that there is oh  not enmity between them but there is certain divisions between the Kelly people about how it was and exactly the detail of it...
what stunned me ..was that they all grudgingly say there's one person, one person who, actually, well she's the expert, she's the one that actually knows more than any of us.
Who is she? 
A woman called Sharon Hollingsworth.

Where does she live? 
North Carolina. Never set foot out of North Carolina in her life.
 Fantastic woman.
So I give her a manuscript with 2,000 footnotes that's been vetted by six experts and my researchers and we go through every sentence, can we do it? can we prove it? whats the document? and you hit every sentence with a hammer does it sound hollow is there any chance that this detail  is not correct? Anyway so after the six Kelly experts had vetted it, there's particular experts in each field there is a legal expert, there is Bill Denheld, who is the expert on Stringybark Creek,  there is not enough hours in the day for Bill to think about Stringybark Creek...and then when I finally give the whole manuscript to a woman in North Carolina though I am confident that there is not a mistake it it , three days later it comes back here are the 25 errors and I check them and she's right and I was able to correct them in time.
It is a function of the modern age that someone living in North Carolina could possibly be more expert on Ned Kelly than anybody who ever lived apart from Ian Jones....."

Here is a link to the audio of the program - 

Also see  for yet another transcription of an interview Peter FitzSimons did in which I was mentioned.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Article Alert: Peter FitzSimons - Good Man, Bad Man: Why Ned Kelly Still Splits Public Opinion

In the November 4, 2013 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald Peter FitzSimons (author of the newly released NED KELLY) has an article entitled "Good Man, Bad Man: Why Ned Kelly Still Splits Public Opinion."

It begins with:

There it was again just the other day. An impassioned man on the television was arguing that far from being a hero, Ned Kelly was nothing but a murderer who devastated lives and acted out of pure evil criminality.

The man in question was Leo Kennedy, the great-grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy - one of the two policemen shot by Ned Kelly at Stringy Bark Creek. As someone who has just released a biography of the famed iron outlaw, I was more than usually interested in the discussion, and not surprised by it.

In the course of researching his life I found myself in Glenrowan in early May. I visited the dining room of the local pub, where there is a replica of Ned's armour. I had just finished trying on the extraordinarily heavy helmet - his whole suit weighed a staggering 44 kilograms - when a couple of kids came in, a seven-year-old lad and his five-year-old sister.

''Do you know who this is?'' I asked. ''Ned Kelly!'' they replied in happy unison.

''Was he a good man or a bad man?'' ''Bad man!'' cried the little boy, even as, at exactly the same time, his sister shouted with equal conviction ''Good man!''

It is much the same answer that two halves of the Australian population have given for the past 135 years, with just as much certainty - and sometimes fury.....

To read more:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Article Alert: Ned Kelly Gang Victims all but Forgotten in Adoration of the Bushranger, say Families, Cops

At the site there is an article from October 24, 2013 entitled "Ned Kelly Gang Victims all but Forgotten in Adoration of the Bushranger, Say Families, Cops."
It begins with:

There was an emotive ceremony at Mansfield cemetery today to rededicate the newly restored graves of the three police officers murdered by Ned Kelly and his gang.
It comes amid continued debate over how Kelly should be remembered, with the state's top cop Ken Lay joining families to blast the "cultural adoration" of the bushranger.
Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan were gunned down by Kelly and his band of outlaws at Stringybark Creek, near Mansfield, in 1878.
Kelly was executed in 1880 after being found guilty of murdering Constable Lonigan.
As Kelly had already been sentenced to death, the authorities decided not to bother trying him for the murders of Sgt Kennedy and Constable Scanlan - a fact which still angers the Kennedy and Scanlan families.
Sgt Kennedy's great grandson, lawyer and chartered accountant Leo Kennedy, used his speech at today's ceremony to express that anger.
He also blasted the rewriting of history to glorify Kelly...

To read more:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Article Alert: Ned Kelly Inspires Singer/Songwriter

The Cowra Guardian has an article entitled "Ned Kelly Inspires Singer/Songwriter."

It begins with:

 Two years of research has come together for John Dreverman, releasing his solo CD titled 'The Ballad of Ned Kelly.'

He's spent years researching the life and times of Ned Kelly and now Cowra singer and songwriter, John Dreverman has released a solo CD recording the life of the infamous bushranger.

After the executive producer for the 2003 blockbuster, 'Ned Kelly', featuring Heath Ledger spent time at Mr Dreverman's health retreat, the opportunity to write a song for the film's soundtrack arose. With the movie in pre-production, Mr Dreverman penned 'The Ballad of Ned Kelly', and while the film took a different turn with its musical genre, the inspiration for the CD, titled 'The Ballad of Ned Kelly' had taken place.

After two years and many hours of research, Mr Dreverman's CD, featuring seven songs is now complete.

"I think I read every single Ned Kelly book there is," Mr Dreverman said.

To read more:

Article Alert: New Money Could Bring Another Ned to Our Screens

The Sydney Morning Herald of October 10, 2013 has an article entitled "New Money Could Bring Another Ned to Our Screens." (I can imagine that all the Ned fans will be complaining that it is based on a work of fiction that does not always mirror the actual facts, but, consider the fact that I was first attracted to the Kelly story by Carey's novel....and look at me now!)

It begins with:

He's been played by, among others, Mick Jagger, Heath Ledger and Carlton football legend Bob Chitty: now a new Ned Kelly could be coming soon to our cinemas.
Screen Australia has announced $643,125 of funding to support the development of 18 feature film projects. One of the films it is supporting is an adaptation of Peter Carey's Booker-prizewinning novel True History Of The Kelly Gang, which is being written by playwright and screenwriter Joe Penhall (The Road). No actor has yet been named for the lead but Justin Kurzel, whose debut feature was the harrowing Snowtown, is attached to direct.

Later in the article it says:

There is no guarantee that the projects receiving preliminary funding will all make it to the screen, but this particular line-up presents an especially intriguing and varied slate of possibilities.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

News Alert: Eyewitness Letter to Ned Kelly's Capture Donated to State Library after 133 Years

 The news blog at the State Library of Victoria has a post entitled "Eyewitness Letter to Ned Kelly's Capture Donated to State Library after 133 Years."

It begins with:

After 133 years, a letter containing an eyewitness account of the dramatic capture of Ned Kelly during the 1880 siege at Glenrowan has been donated to the State Library of Victoria by the descendants of its author – Scotsman, Donald Gray Sutherland.
The letter addressed to Sutherland’s family on 8 July 1880 proclaims ‘… the Kelly’s are annihilated. The gang is completely destroyed…’. It continues describing Kelly’s famous armour and the gunshot wounds that finally brought him down....

To read more and to be linked to the actual letter and the transcript:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Event Alert: Peter FitzSimons's 'Ned Kelly' Book Tour

This November author Peter FitzSimons will be giving talks and signing copies of his new book "Ned Kelly" in several different locations around Australia.

 See the link below for more information.

(Thanks to for this information.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Judge Barry (No, Not That One!) On Ned Kelly in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Brian Stevenson)
Herewith is the original version of Judge Jack Barry's Australian dictionary of biography entry on Ned Kelly.
Judge Barry, no kin to Redmond Barry, was a judge of the Victorian Supreme Court from 1947 until 1969. His father, a house painter, was from Beechworth and the judge was born in Albury, on the fringes of Kelly Country, in 1903. Tellings and retellings of the Kelly story were a feature of his earliest years. An opponent of capital punishment from his early days as a lawyer, he developed a reputation as one of Victoria's leading criminal defence lawyers. Widely read, and with a passion for clarity and accuracy, he remained a man of the Left throughout his career. Despite this, according to Peter Ryan, author, columnist, former director of Melbourne University Press and a friend of Barry's,  'his reverence for the truth trumped mere politics every time.'
Ryan, who reviewed Ian MacFarlane's The Kelly Gang unmasked in the Quadrant of March 2013, once asked him about the integrity of Ned's trial and sentence. Barry considered the matter and, as Ryan relates:
'In due course he handed me his detailed opinion on the Kelly trial. It concluded that all the rules and procedures in force at the period had been fully observed, and that no other result could have been expected.'
Despite this conclusion, there is evidence in Barry's original ADB entry of his attempt to identify and understand characteristics of the social environment that created Ned Kelly. The final version of Barry's entry is readily available online at the dictionary's website, but it bears obvious signs of very heavy editorial emendation. The original article, for example only mentions the Jerilderie Letter and the armour in passing, and does not mention the Cameron letter at all.  
Barry submitted the first draft to the ADB in February 1967. Although he was allocated 1250 words for the entry, he went way over the length requested. As a contributor to the ADB myself since 1986 I can testify to the difficulty of adhering to the word limits, though as a member since 2009 of the ADB's Queensland working party that selects biographical subjects and allocates wordage I have some sympathy for the editors also. I should add that I have been reasonably satisfied by the condensations and amendments made to my own work, though I recall the late Edgar Penzig saying to me of one of his entries 'That's not what I wrote, cobber.' (Edgar wrote the entries for Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall and John Gilbert.)
Barry died in 1969 so was not around to witness the 1974 publication of his entry. Mark Finnane, in the National Library of Australia news for June 2007 described the entry as 'thorough in preparation and dispassionate in tone' and as a 'social-psychological analysis that acknowledged the possibility of maternal influences on Kelly's disposition, while stressing also the social contexts of the gang's exploits.' The concluding paragraphs, which in Finnane's words 'pungently addressed the polarity of the Kelly legend' were edited out, including these words which 'contextualized the Kelly outbreak as a phenomenon that was grounded in a particular colonial history':
 '... memories still fresh of the convict system, and in particular of transportation from Ireland, Irish hatred of the English, resentment and distrust of officialdom, the unjust land laws, the socialists' dislike of the English master-class, the bleak prospects of small selectors and the hardships of bush life, the privations of the discontented urban poor; and the infuriating pretensions of the upper elements of a class-ridden society.'
Barry's original article, however, was not lost to history, just rendered a little hard to find. It was reproduced in the Age on 28 July 1970, on page 5 of the Features Section. I do not think it is available online, so I transcribed it, paragraph headings included. See what you think! Oh, and do not be too put out by Henry Gyles Turner's unflattering description of Ned: before he retired to become a historian, Turner was a banker!
Here is the original entry!
Mother's boy as folk hero

Sir John Barry

Age 28 July 1970 p 5 of Features Section

EDWARD KELLY (1855-1880), bushranger and executed felon.

Ned Kelly was the dominant character in the activities of the Kelly gang, consisting of himself, his younger brother Dan (1861-1880), Joe Byrne (1857-1880) and Steve Hart (1860-1880).
Ned Kelly was the eldest son of John (Red) Kelly (b. Tipperary, Ireland, 1820) who was sentenced in 1841 to seven years transportation for stealing two pigs. In 1848 he went to Port Phillip and on November 18. 1850, he married Ellen Quinn, aged 18.
Edward was born at Beveridge, Victoria, in June, 1855, and attended school at Avenel until the death of his father on December 27, 1866. Left in poor circumstances, the widow and her children moved to a hut at Eleven Mile Creek, about halfway between Greta and Glenrowan, in north-eastern Victoria.
In 1869 Edward Kelly was arrested on a charge of assaulting a Chinese. He was held for 10 days on remand, but the charge was dismissed. In the next year he was arrested and held in custody for seven weeks on a charge that he was an accomplice of a bushranger, Henry Power, but again the charge was dismissed.
In 1870, Kelly, then 15, was convicted of summary offences and imprisoned for six months. Soon after release he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for receiving a mare and knowing it to have been stolen.
Horse thefts
Discharged from prison in 1874, Kelly worked for two years at timber-getting but, in 1876, joined his stepfather George King (who had married Ellen Kelly in 1874) in stealing horses for sale across the Murray River.
The Kelly family regarded themselves as victims of police persecution, but it is highly probable that, as they grew up, the boys were privy to the organized thefts of horses and cattle for which the district was notorious.
The incident that precipitated the crimes of the Kelly gang occurred in 1878. Dan Kelly, then 16, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment in 1877 for damaging property and, after he was released in 1878, a warrant was issued for his arrest for horse-stealing.
On April 15, 1878, a police trooper named Fitzpatrick went to Mrs Kelly's place, allegedly to arrest Dan Kelly. Fitzpatrick, a worthless and thoroughly unreliable fellow, claimed Ned Kelly had shot him.
Dan went into hiding, and Mrs Kelly and her son-in-law, William Skillion, and a neighbor, William Williamson, were arrested and charged with aiding and abetting the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick.
In October, 1878, Mrs Kelly, Skillion and Williamson were tried at Beechworth and convicted. Mr Justice Redmond Barry sentenced her to imprisonment for three years and the two male accused to imprisonment for six years. 
Rewards of 100 pounds were offered for the apprehension of Ned and Dan Kelly, who went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges, about 20 miles from Mansfield. They were joined by Joe Byrne, 21, from Beechworth, and Steve Hart, 18, a daring horseman from Wangaratta.
In October, 1878, a police patrol consisting of Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre set out to capture Ned and Dan Kelly and, on October 25, camped at Stringybark Creek. They were seen by Ned.
On October 26 Kennedy and Scanlon went out on patrol, leaving Lonigan and McIntyre at the camp. The Kelly brothers, accompanied by Hart and Byrne, surprised the camp and, when Lonigan drew his revolver, Ned shot him dead. McIntyre surrendered.
When Kennedy and Scanlon returned they did not surrender when called on and, in an exchange of shots, Ned killed Scanlon and mortally wounded Kennedy. Ned later shot Kennedy in the heart. He claimed he did so as an act of mercy. McIntyre escaped and took the news of the killings to Mansfield.
Crude methods
On November 15, 1878, the Government of Victoria issued a proclamation of outlawry and offered rewards of 500 pounds each for the outlaws, alive or dead. Police were mobilized, but their methods of pursuit and of obtaining information were crude and inept.
On December 9, 1879, the Kelly gang took possession of a sheep station at Faithfull's Creek, about four miles out of Euroa, locking up 22 persons in a storeroom. While Byrne kept guard over the captives the other three went to Euroa where they held up the National Bank, taking 2000 pounds in notes and gold.
This crime resulted in a doubling of the reward, but less than two months later, on Saturday, February 8, 1879, the gang struck again, this time at the Bank of New South Wales, Jerilderie. They rounded up 60 persons and held them in the Royal Hotel, next door to the bank.
Ned gave a written statement of over 8000 words to a bank teller as his explanation and justification of his conduct. The reward for the outlaws was increased to 2000 pounds a head.
Special train
Aaron Sherritt, a friend of Joe Byrne's, became an agent for the police, and, on Saturday, June 27, 1880, Sherritt was shot dead by Byrne (who was accompanied by Dan Kelly) in his own doorway near Beechworth, while the four constables assigned to guard Sherritt hid in a bedroom. Byrne and Dan Kelly then joined Ned and Steve Hart at Glenrowan. There they took possession of a hotel conducted by Mrs Ann Jones, where they detained about 60 people.
The outlaws foresaw that a special train would be sent from Melbourne on the Sunday night, and would arrive at Glenrowan in the early hours of Monday, June 29 and, with the intention of wrecking it, they compelled two railway workers to tear up a portion of the railway lines. The scheme came to nothing because the schoolmaster, Thomas Curnow, whom Ned Kelly had allowed to go home from the hotel with his wife and child and sister, gave warning to the train crew.
The outlaws were equipped with armour made from plough mouldboards.
Under Superintendent Hare, the police surrounded the hotel and shooting began. Hare was shot in the arm and Ned was wounded in the foot, hand and arm. Dan Kelly, Byrne and Hart took refuge in the hotel and Ned went into the bush. Police firing continued and Byrne was shot in the thigh as he stood at the hotel bar and bled to death.
About 5 am Ned, clad in armour, came out of the bush, looking huge and grotesque in the early morning mist. He was brought down by bullet wounds in the legs.
Most of the persons held captive in the hotel had succeeded in getting out of the building, and the last of them emerged about 10 am. An old man named Cherry was in a detached kitchen, fatally wounded by a police bullet; a boy, John Jones, son of the hotel-keeper, was similarly shot in the abdomen and died later in hospital. 
With Ned captured, a policeman set the building on fire.
Father Matthew Gibney went into the burning building to administer the last rites and, on emerging, reported three bodies were inside. One, Byrne's, was brought out by police. The other two were those of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, who had apparently committed suicide by poison and were found to have been burned beyond recognition.
On October 28 and 29, 1880, at Melbourne, Kelly was tried for the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek. He was found guilty and Mr Justice Barry sentenced him to death.
Despite strong agitation for a reprieve, Kelly was hanged at the Melbourne gaol on November 11, 1880, at the age of 25. He met his end without fear. His last words were, 'Ah well, I suppose it has come to this', and (according to another version) 'Such is life.'
Henry Gyles Turner regarded Ned Kelly as 'a shabby skulker' but he observed, 'It was a humiliating reflection ... that the whole machinery of Government, the apparent zeal of a well-disciplined and costly police service, the stimulus of enormous rewards and an expenditure of fully 100 000 pounds were, for two whole years, insufficient to check the predatory career of these four reckless dare-devil boys.'
Undoubtedly, the gang were murderers and robbers and as such should have excited public detestation. Yet it did not turn out that way, and the hold the Kelly legend has had upon Australian imagination is too clearly established to be disregarded.
However mistaken, the popular estimate of Kelly's killings of the police at Stringybark Creek accords with the statement, 'I could not help shooting them, or else let them shoot me, which they would have done if their bullets had been directed as they intended', while the elements of farce surrounding the bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie distract attention from the gravity of the crimes.
In the judgment of a responsible writer 'Ned Kelly is the best known Australian, our only folk hero ... Popular instinct has found in Kelly a man of manliness much to be esteemed - to reiterate: courage, resolution, independence, sympathy with the underdog.' (Clive Turnbull, Ned Kelly, being his own story of his life and crimes, Melbourne, 1942, introduction.)
Still fresh
The Kelly legend brought into being the phrase, 'as game as Ned Kelly', used to describe the ultimate in bravery. It has inspired imaginative tales, (in which, commonly, the facts are highly coloured or distorted to favour Kelly) and folk-ballads. And it has taken new life in Sidney Nolan's first and second series of Kelly gang paintings.
Before his capture and in the years soon after Kelly's death, there were many factors in the Australian social organization that fostered the legend - memories still fresh of the convict system and, in particular, of transportation from Ireland; Irish hatred of the English, resentment, and distrust of officialdom; the unjust land laws; the socialists' dislike of the English master class; the bleak prospects of small selectors and the hardships of bush life; the privations of the discontented urban poor; and the infuriating pretensions of the upper elements of a class-ridden society.
Its vigorous survival was ensured, too, by tale and son and recitation around the camp-fire and in bush shanties. But even in an affluent society with radio and television as its entertainment, the legend persists and is still vital.
Seemingly, it has a compelling quality that appeals to something deeply rooted in the character of the average Australian.
As is common in Irish families, Kelly was strongly attached to his mother.  There is no factual basis for the story that he was involved in a romantic relationship with a young woman.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Article Alert: Ned Kelly Bailed Up with iPhones

In The Border Mail of August 12, 2013 there is an article and slide show from the Beechworth Ned Kelly weekend called "Ned Kelly Bailed Up with iPhones" in which it tells about everyone both in costume and out using their iPhones to "capture" Ned Kelly.

Article Alert: Flamin' Heck it was just so real

In The Border Mail of August 12, 2013 there is an article and slide show (the photos are very impressive) called "Flamin' Heck, It was Just So Real" about the siege reenactment and the burning of the Inn. They said that about 200 visitors were there for the show.

From the article:

Shouts came from the crowd each time the bushrangers appeared during the re-enactment, proving that even 133 years after his demise Kelly still has supporters.

“It worked exceptionally well,” organiser Ian Sinclair said.

“The fire brigade was there just in case, but they had nothing to do except enjoy the show.”

To read more and see photos:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Upcoming Book Alert: Peter FitzSimon's 'Ned Kelly' to be published November 2013

  Peter FitzSimons has written a new (non-fiction) book - Ned Kelly - The Story of Australia's Most Notorious Legend - that is going to be published in November (2013).

Stay tuned here for any further news and reviews!

Excerpt from the publisher's (William Heinemann Australia) website:

Peter FitzSimons, bestselling chronicler of many of the great defining moments and people of this nation's history, is the perfect person to tell this most iconic of all Australian stories. From Kelly's early days in Beveridge, Victoria, in the mid-1800s, to the Felons' Apprehension Act, which made it possible for anyone to shoot the Kelly gang, to Ned's appearance in his now-famous armour, prompting the shocked and bewildered police to exclaim ‘He is the devil!' and ‘He is the bunyip!', FitzSimons brings the history of Ned Kelly and his gang exuberantly to life, weighing in on all of the myths, legends and controversies generated by this compelling and divisive Irish-Australian rebel. 

See more at:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Article Alert: Ned Kelly bank hold-up helps fill the coffers at Beechworth

The Age newspaper of August 11, 2013 has an article about the Beechworth Ned Kelly Weekend entitled "Ned Kelly bank hold-up helps fill the coffers at Beechworth."

It begins with:

A hold-up was held in a bank in Beechworth on Saturday, and the manager and staff knew all about it.
But they weren't aiding and abetting a group of criminals. By entertaining tourists as part of Ned Kelly weekend - including the pretend police firing off a few blanks from antique guns at the pretend criminals in the main street - they were filling the coffers of the north-east Victorian town.
Gareth Kay, manager of the Bendigo Bank, whose staff dressed in 1870s period costume, agreed it was unusual for a bank to participate and reckoned more mainstream banks would not agree to it.
''It's about participating in our community so if there's a festival we get involved in it.''
Among events held for Ned Kelly Weekend was a re-enactment of the 1880 committal trial of Kelly in the town's courthouse after the siege of Glenrowan, 60 kilometres away; and the burning down of Annie Jones' pub during the siege. The latter didn't actually happen in Beechworth, but this is the heart of Kelly country, organisers say. And the re-enactment didn't actually involve burning down a pub; due to Occupational Health and Safety, gas flames were ignited next to a timber replica of a grog shop on Saturday night in the town's police paddock. But you got the drift....

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Article Alert: Death Mask Unlikely to be that of Ned Kelly

from google alerts..

The Fraser Coast Chronicle of  April 8, 2013 has an article entitled "Death Mask Unlikely to be that of Ned Kelly: Trust."
It begins with:

 The National Trust of Victoria is sceptical about the authenticity of the Fraser Coast Ned Kelly mask.

The Chronicle reported on Friday of Torquay woman Valerie McKie's belief she had one of several Kelly death masks.

Victorian National Trust learning and interpretations manager Martin Green said he had his doubts on the mask after the Chronicle sent a photograph to be compared with the original.

"I leave it to you to be the judge because I do not think it can be determined but feel it is unlikely," he said.

"Initially I felt the similarity was not there at all and the mask was of a female but as you can see they do share some proportions.

"It looks to me like the mask you sent lacks all detail like hair and eyelashes and may be a copy of a copy of a copy."

To read more:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Article Alert: Death Mask Mystery...Could it be Ned Kelly's?

The Bundaberg NewsMail of April 5, 2013 has an article entitled "Death Mask Mystery...Could it be Ned Kelly's?"

It begins with:

 A ghoulish memento of Australia's most infamous outlawed bushranger could be on the Fraser Coast.

Torquay woman Valerie McKie believes she has a rare death mask of Ned Kelly, one of only a handful in existence.

She was given the mask by her late partner Stan Jones, father of the 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones, before he died in the 1970s.

Stan told her it belonged to a prominent bushranger and was worth a lot of money.

"I think it might have been the big one," she said.

"It's someone important and it's a bushranger from Victoria.

"I wasn't told it was Ned Kelly but Stan said it belonged to someone very famous."

To read more:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Event Alert: Presumed Ned: the Discovery of the Lost Pentridge Burials (April 15, 2013)

Presumed Ned: the Discovery of the Lost Pentridge Burials

Museum Victoria and Heritage Victoria cordially invite you to the 
2013 Heritage Address
6pm on Monday 15 April
Museum Theatre, Melbourne Museum
The address will be chaired by Andrew May and presented by Jeremy Smith on
“Presumed Ned: the Discovery of the Lost Pentridge Burials”

Please note that places are limited and we ask you to R.S.V.P. via email to by 11 April
Need more details? Contact Kerry on 9208 3622

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ruminations on MacFarlane and the dark side of the Kelly world [Brian Stevenson]

It has been good to read the reviews and other commentaries on my own three part review of Ian MacFarlane's The Kelly Gang unmasked. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, as the first anti-Kelly book for many a long year, it is an important book, more so because of the meticulous documentation throughout. I thank all for their comments, even if the line that I took on the book did not always meet with approval. 

Although part one of my review was partly favourable and part two was very favourable, I may have left the impression from part three, which contained some criticisms and suggestions, that I did not think that the book was a worthwhile one. Part three consisted of a laundry list of errors and misconceptions which I found in the book, together with what I felt was helpful information towards rectifying them for any future edition. Some of the errors were trivial - Redmond Barry's death date was a day out, for example - and some were serious, like the omission of Constable Hall's unwarrantedly brutal treatment of Ned.

None were particularly hard to fix - a line here, a word here, a new paragraph there - and none interfered that much with, let alone negated Mr MacFarlane's central themes, the perennially overrated heroic qualities and underrated criminal qualities of Ned Kelly. Alterations and emendations would not, as one forum participant claimed, have turned it from an anti- to pro- Kelly book. While my praise for it as it stands will never be unalloyed, it is a more than worthwhile and very thought-provoking antidote to the hero worship of Jones, and the generally favourable viewpoints of other respected authorities - McMenomy, McQuilton, Molony, Corfield and others. I do hope that a second edition, where some attention is paid to my comments, will be seriously considered.
Some see an inconsistency in my calling the book important and praising its meticulous documentation and then being critical of some aspects. Not at all. I found a great deal in the book to like, though of course I could not agree with every line on every page. Things are never that simple or clearcut. I covered neither Stringybark Creek nor Ned Kelly's trial in my three blog posts, but Mr MacFarlane handled both of these very well and provided some new insights. I am hoping to do separate blog posts on both of these issues in the future when I have fulfilled writing commitments with the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Biographical Dictionary of Australian Senators which I have left unattended to for far too long.

His impressive intellectual, research and writing efforts apart, Mr MacFarlane is to be congratulated having the guts to produce what he must have known would be an unpopular volume. It was, of course, to be expected that he would attract some criticism, although it is likely that he did not foresee the lowness of the attacks that would be made on him on a particular forum (hint: forum jar)  thread that my flesh recoils from linking to this post. I use the term 'lowness' because it perfectly describes both the quality of the comments, and the mean-spirited nature of the people who made them. And, be it said, some of Mr MacFarlane's supporters in this particularly dark corner of the Kelly world aren't any better.
While the thread is ostensibly about the tragic events at Stringybark Creek, the three slain policemen, and indeed Ned, haven't got much of a look-in here. There is, however, plenty of ill-natured abuse and invective from both sides where, with very few exceptions, no pretence of politeness and reasonable debate is followed.
The quality of contributions in this place is not high either. If the only thing wrong with this wretched excuse for a discussion was the low quality of debate, it might be good for a guffaw on a wet Tuesday afternoon if you were really bored, or perhaps an argument for increased spending on adult literacy programs. But the nastiness of the posts here has long transcended their amusing aspects.
Surely, in terms of rational debate where one side can learn from another, the Kelly world can do better than this. It is hard to determine which side is worse. Needless to say no one is learning anything from this nonsense, except that when it comes to Internet discussions about Ned Kelly, pro or con, there is no upper limit to the rudeness and meanness of some participants, and no lower limit to their manners.
Somewhere in all this mess, by-the-by, is a repeated challenge to Mr MacFarlane to post a link on the book's Facebook site to my blog post that mentioned the errors in his book. I do not think any the less of his work by his non-posting, and it is his prerogative to post whatever he wants on his own Facebook page. If he doesn't want to link this part of my review, I don't mind. I don’t care. I don't think that anyone else should either.
Facebook links, whatever the effect may be on sales, will not affect the intrinsic worth of this book. Although it's a pretty lonely volume, it will last as an alternative viewpoint to the conventional 'wisdom' which has been recycled so many times. Like all worthwhile works of history it took years of organisation, self-discipline, hard work and intellect to produce something that most of these commentators could never put together for themselves. Putting together a whole book is no easy task and not for the faint-hearted at the best of times. The book is a reflection of intense research, original thinking, a willingness to look yet again at things that had been taken for granted and a questioning of the often sinister motives behind the short and stormy life of our most controversial Australian.
All these are present in this book, but the production and the publishing of The Kelly gang unmasked needed something else rather special, It needed something so lacking in so many of Mr MacFarlane's largely anonymous, ill-mannered and ignoble ill-wishers (and some of his supporters): courage. And whether you agree with him or not, in producing this book, this gentleman has shown it in spades.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Article Alert: Truth of Dan Kelly's Fate Stays a Mystery

from google alerts..

In the February 22, 2013 edition of The Queensland Times there is an article entitled "Truth of Dan Kelly's Fate Stays a Mystery" in which Brian Stevenson is extensively quoted. Brian had contacted the writer, Joel Gould, with the information after seeing an earlier article Gould had written where James Ryan was yet again touted as being Dan Kelly.

The article begins with:

It is a debate that has been in play for 80 years.
When an Ipswich vagrant going by the name of James Ryan walked into the offices of The Truth newspaper in 1933 and said he was bushranger Dan Kelly it unleashed an enduring controversy.
Ryan is buried in the Ipswich General Cemetery and his links to Kelly are honoured at the site.
Before Ryan's claims, Dan Kelly was thought to have died in the Glenrowan hotel fire of 1880.
In 2005 Cairns author and historian Brian Stevenson debated Cr Paul Tully about the issue in Ipswich. Mr Stevenson does not believe Ryan was Kelly, while Cr Tully is open to the possibility that he was.....

To read more:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

(Part 3) A Review of Ian MacFarlane's 'The Kelly Gang Unmasked' [Brian Stevenson]

 This is part three of a three part review by Brian Stevenson of Ian MacFarlane's 'The Kelly Gang Unmasked.' Part one can be read at

Part two can be read at

To all those who have read and commented on my previous posts on this book, I thank you all. To closely study an alternative viewpoint on Ned Kelly has been an interesting and mentally stimulating exercise. While there are parts of it that provide many new insights and ideas, it should not be assumed that I am automatically in accord with everything in Mr MacFarlane’s book.

True, both he and I have mentally consigned the Republic of North-eastern Victoria to the Extremely Unlikely Basket, and I took the liberty of agreeing with and enlarging upon his thoughts in the last post. But it should be recalled that in the blog post before that I was not totally in praise of the volume. I noted that the book promised more than it delivered, I was extremely critical of MacFarlane’s brief mention of Brooke Smith and very, very skeptical of his attempts to get Alexander Fitzpatrick off the hook. On the other hand, I was pretty much in accord with his favourable treatment of McIntyre and conceded that Ward might not have been as repugnant a character as previously supposed.

With this post, I have decided to look at the areas in this work where I felt that there were misconceptions, omissions and errors. I stress that this does not constitute a condemnation of the book in toto, but rather an examination of where it could have been lot better. I cover a lot of different issues, and it’s convenient to put them all in the one post. I hope that Mr MacFarlane does read this at some stage, takes the comments on board, and considers them if and when a new edition is published. We all know that Ned sells books. Jones’s work has gone through three editions, Molony’s two and Kenneally’s through nine (I think), so this work may be reincarnated at some stage. If so, it is to be hoped that some of the rectification work needed is carried out.

We will never know for the full story of the betrayal of Harry Power, but MacFarlane seems positive that it was Ned who was the betrayer. The case that MacFarlane makes (pages 36-37) for Ned being one of the betrayers has some weight, but it’s not, as he seems to think, conclusive. In an account published long after Kelly and the other likely betrayer, Jack Lloyd were dead, Charles Nicolson, one of Power’s captors recalled looking out ‘for a hollow tree stump which had been described to me as ‘Power’s Watchbox’ by young Ned Kelly.’  It’s a persuasive detail. (MacFarlane cites The star, a Lyttelton, New Zealand paper dated 18 April 1903, but I tracked the reference down to the Illustrated Australian news (Melbourne) of 1 March 1892. ) Ian Jones (A short life page 49) noted the mention of the tree stump and said that it was clear that Ned might have been tricked into revealing more than he intended, but the tree stump reference sounds a little too specific to be categorized as vague information. The ‘black snake’ letter and the dropping of charges against the young Ned aren’t grounds for exoneration either. MacFarlane, however, takes no notice of Jones’s additional telling point: the reward does not seem to have reached the Kelly family. I believe that this brings in a strong element of doubt in Ned’s favour, but MacFarlane does not mention it. We will never know the truth of this one, and there are good points that could be made either way, but one thing is for sure: Power believed that it was Kelly who betrayed him.

Ned’s horse-stealing stepfather George King is a shadowy figure at the best of times. Ian Jones called him a ‘horse-stealing maestro.’ MacFarlane notes the surprising circumstance that King appears to have never been wanted by the police in Victoria, there were never any outstanding arrest warrants for him and he is not noted anywhere in official records, despite Ian Jones’s claim that his influence on Ned ‘cannot be measured or exaggerated.’ Indeed, the only mention of George King’s criminality comes from Ned himself, in the Cameron and Jerilderie letters. It would appear that King’s influence on Ned still cannot be measured, but more than likely it has been exaggerated. Having convincingly made this point, MacFarlane tries to reinforce it, but misses the mark pretty badly by saying that Bricky Williamson’s statements in gaol (made to get a reduction in his six year sentence for aiding the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick) that ‘Billy King’ was at the Eleven Mile on that fateful day ‘is further evidence that Ellen’s husband George King was not involved in any criminal activities during his marriage (p 64.)’ I’m still puzzling that one out.

MacFarlane suggests that King’s alleged depredations were unconcealed in the letters because ‘if King was already dead there was no voice to contradict Ned’s explicit claims.’ He mentions the contention that King could have been murdered, citing page 111 of Dagmar Balcarek and Gary Dean’s work, Ned and the others. To quote this work on George King’s disappearance: ‘Hopefully there will be a fresh evidence [sic] found one day, not only where he had lived, but also where and when he died – or where, when and by whom … he was … murdered …?’ It’s hardly a strong asseveration, and MacFarlane neglects to mention that on the very same page Balcarek and Dean write of Ian Jones’s belief that Ellen Kelly and George King’s marriage was a happy one, and that there was some evidence of the absent George sending his family money from New South Wales. Curiously, MacFarlane does not mention the claim contained in Balcarek and Dean  (Ellen Kelly, p 175)  that poor old George was shot dead at Whorouly while following the traditional Kelly sympathiser vocation of stealing a mouldboard from a plough. (I'm indebted to Bob McGarrigle for bringing this up on the Ned Kelly Forum.)

George King’s disappearance (if this is what it was) is likely to always remain a mystery to us, but there are several other less lurid and more likely possibilities than murder. But MacFarlane only mentions one of these, on page 49 where he notes that Ellen Kelly’s counsel at her 1878 trial stated King had deserted her. MacFarlane appears unaware that Justin Corfield, in his entry on King in The Ned Kelly encyclopaedia  suggested that he could be the George King who died at Kyneton in 1879 aged 31 and was buried on 8 February, the same day the Kellys were in Jerilderie. He is similarly unaware of the oral history, noted by Jones (A short life p 381), that he relocated to Queensland and wished Ellen to accompany him. He suggests that the ‘weirdest thing about the disappearance of King was the silence of the Kelly family’ who never reported him missing. Really? Even if his disappearance was mysterious to the family, many married men tired of their obligations and simply deserted, disappeared and got jobs elsewhere in a society a lot less regulated than today. Or maybe he had left the family, deserter or not, but they knew where he was.

MacFarlane’s dislike of Ned Kelly is palpable throughout. There are times when he carries his dislike into the realms of unreason. Ned gets a bucketing for housing his Glenrowan prisoners in a weatherboard pub instead of using the brick police barracks, forgetting that it was a lot easier to entertain people in a pub, and also that Kelly probably did not expect the building to be fired upon (p 3). When the Kellys were under attack in the hotel, they ignored the screams of the women and children because ‘they were far too absorbed in showing off their new armour (p 23.)’ I would suggest that they were a lot more absorbed in preserving their lives than ‘showing off.’ He casts doubt on one of the true certainties of this story, the high regard Ned had for his mother. MacFarlane says that there is ‘no actual evidence’ for ‘a special relationship between mother Ellen and Ned (p 220), but bafflingly concedes ‘strong efforts were made on behalf of Ellen by her sons regarding the Fitzpatrick case.’  But naïve as the offer was, Ned’s offer to surrender himself and risk facing a capital charge indicates an exceedingly strong filial bond that was indeed something special.

Similarly, MacFarlane glosses over some things in his eagerness to blacken Ned’s image. The role that Ned played in furnishing the childless wife of an unfriendly neighbor with a package containing calves’ testicles is described as ‘a radical departure from acceptable behaviour, even in those rough frontier days’ (p 38). As is well known, Ned handled the disgusting thing, but neither thought up the prank or handed it to the woman. It wasn’t his finest hour, but MacFarlane ignores the fact that Ned was only one of three protagonists, and arguably the least important in this tasteless joke.

Unbelievably, MacFarlane remarks matter-of-factly that Ned was convicted at Beechworth in August 1871 of receiving a stolen horse, receiving three years, but forgets to mention that the arresting policeman, Edward Hall, brutalized Ned in the process and would have killed him had his pistol not misfired three times. Even Standish (whose crystal ball was probably at the repair shop that day) wrote at the time ‘it is a very fortunate occurrence that Senr Const Hall’s revolver did not fire.’ Hall tried to kill an unarmed lad and gave him a pistolwhipping that could have caused death or permanent damage, yet MacFarlane ignores this, as well as the fact that Wild Wright, who stole the horse that Ned unwittingly received, only got eighteen months compared to Ned’s three years. (I say unwittingly, because he rode the animal in broad daylight past the police station.) No one doubts that Ned had issues with the police, but this important incident, which would have given rise to anti-police resentment in almost anyone, is passed over with a rapidity that borders on obscene.

There are, alas, some instances where the necessity to undertake basic research is neglected. MacFarlane looks briefly at the Lydecker matter in which Ned appeared at the Oxley Police Court in August 1876 charged with stealing a horse. This occurred during the period in which Ned ‘went straight.’ The matter was cleared up, with MacFarlane claiming (page 52) that ‘the evidence was inconclusive.’ It wasn’t. Jones covers and extensively documents this episode (A short life, pp 73-75), and though it’s a bit complicated and those pages are slowish reading, it’s also clear that the problem originated out of a misunderstanding. The aggrieved party, Lydecker, withdrew the charges, but MacFarlane ignores this. There is also evidence of MacFarlane’s lack of research in another area, where he claims that the identity of the ‘Diseased Stock’ agent ‘has been the subject of speculation in modern Kelly literature’ (p 196). He doesn’t even try to identify this person by name, apparently unaware that Jones, Corfield and especially Leonard Pryor (who wrote a 26 page article on the ‘Diseased Stock’ in the December 1990 issue of the Victorian historical journal) have pretty much pinned down schoolteacher Daniel Kennedy as the informer.

Rather ingenuously, MacFarlane accuses Ned of having a ‘thick dab of racism’. He bases this on Ned's written complaint to New South Wales Premier Sir Henry Parkes about ‘an inundation of Mongolians [ie Chinese]’ on the labour market which, Ned cheekily informed the future Father of Federation, would lead to an increased incidence of highway robbery. Ned’s alleged boyhood assault on the hapless Chinese traveler Ah Fook was also brought up, along with a listing of Joe Byrne’s assaults on Chinese.  MacFarlane neglects to put this into the proper context. The dislike of Chinese in nineteenth century Victoria was hardly restricted to Ned and was pervasive throughout all levels of migrant European society in all Australian colonies at the time, and for quite some time afterwards. Moreover Ian Jones has shown in A short life (page 158) there is evidence of some support for the Kelly Gang in the Chinese community. Finally, the authenticity of the Parkes letter has been questioned by at least one respected authority, Justin Corfield, in his Ned Kelly encyclopaedia.

MacFarlane goes to excessive lengths to exculpate the police from their sins. He suggests (p 25) that ‘most police fired deliberately high so as not to injure people in the Inn’, citing as evidence for this the presence of bullet holes on the roof and chimney, neglecting the presence of bullet holes elsewhere, including some civilians. He is pretty selective in his estimation of Standish, quoting the opinion of one man, his former chief clerk that Standish was ‘very prompt in action, quick in judgement and remarkably ready with the pen’ (p 156), but ignores the more definitive and collective judgement of the 1881 Royal Commission that Standish’s conduct of police operations was ‘not characterized by good judgment, or by that zeal for the interests of the public service which should have distinguished an officer in his position.’ (Royal Commission, 2nd report, Recommendation 2.)

There are some minor factual errors in the book. As Bob McGarrigle has also pointed out on the Ned Kelly Forum, cousins John Lloyd Jr and Tom Lloyd Jr are represented as brothers, both implicitly on page 31 and explicitly on page 42. (Their sibling fathers each named their son after his uncle.) Judge Barry died on 23 November 1880, not 24 November 1880 as stated on page 136. The New South Wales Felons Apprehension Act  of 1865 was not, as MacFarlane states, aimed at bushranger Frank Gardiner and others, as Gardiner had already been apprehended in Queensland in 1864.  MacFarlane contradicts himself as well when he says that at Stringybark Creek the police ‘ambushers were not even wounded’ (p 77) and much later on (p 224) says Dan Kelly ‘is said to have been grazed slightly’ in the gunfight.

Some of the claims that MacFarlane makes are curious indeed and not backed up at all. I would love to know how he knows (p 87) that Ned only used a third of the required amount of powder in his percussion revolvers!  He also makes the claim (which he does not support) that Ned suspected Steve Hart and Joe Byrne of treachery at times (p 185). Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare opined in his The last of the bushrangers (which is far more an autobiography of Hare than a biography of Ned, the title notwithstanding) that Ned 'would not have trusted [Steve Hart] away from himself, for fear of his surrendering and turning informer against his companions.' We do know that Ned kept Steve close at Euroa and for the first part of Glenrowan. But Hare's odd relationship and perennially misplaced trust in Aaron Sherritt shows that on at least this instance he had trouble reading the character of someone he saw every day, so it's hard to give his ruminatory  hypothesis about Ned and Steve much weight. In any case, even if Ned needed to keep an eye on Steve, this is a lot different from believing that Steve was a possible informer or traitor.

To the best of my knowledge, Joe's loyalty to Ned was never questioned. For either Joe or Steve it would have been a stupid move on their part, given that their hopes of talking themselves out of anything but confinement for life (if they were really lucky!) would have been pretty forlorn. It is disappointing that MacFarlane did not back it up with a source or even a suggestion of one. If this book ever makes it to a new edition, it’s the first thing for which I’ll be looking.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

(Part 2) A Review of Ian MacFarlane's 'The Kelly Gang Unmasked' [Brian Stevenson]

This is part two of a three part review by Brian Stevenson of Ian MacFarlane's 'The Kelly Gang Unmasked.' Part one can be read at

Although we are a young country in terms of European settlement, tantalizing myths that are unverified (but not unverifiable) abound and there is always much speculation surrounding them. The Mahogany Ship is one, Lasseter’s Reef is another, but the one keen followers of this blog are most concerned with is the suggestion that Ned Kelly had the dream of establishing a Republic of North-eastern Victoria.
Ian MacFarlane has produced the most convincing refutation of all in his work The Kelly Gang unmasked. It won’t set the myth to rest, but he advances several arguments which combined make a strong case against Kelly ever having such an aim, or even an idea. Although his book is imperfect in many other ways, his arguments in this section of the book are compelling. In this blog post, I will be outlining MacFarlane’s arguments here and supplementing them with more than a few thoughts of my own.
I do not know where the story of the proposed Republic originated, although in a lecture on the Republic the late John Phillips says it is mentioned in a 1920s issue of the ‘magazine’, Irish times.  The Irish times is actually a newspaper, but the point is moot because Phillips does not give a date or elaborate on what it says. The lecture, ‘The North-Eastern Republican Movement–Myth or Reality?’ is available online. Phillips, who wrote a book on Ned’s trial, admits the documentary evidence is ‘sparse’ and says that interested parties should draw their own conclusions. Somehow Max Brown, author of the 1948 biography of Ned, Australian son, picked up the story and claimed, without giving his source, that the police had found a declaration of said Republic in Ned’s pocket when he was captured. But even he referred to it, on page x (ie, Roman numeral x) of the 1986 edition of his book, as part of the legend.
MacFarlane is sceptical of all aspects of the proposed republic. Had the ‘declaration’ ever been produced the point would have been settled beyond all possible doubt, but it never has, beyond an alleged sighting in 1962, discussed below. It was not that MacFarlane believes, as one forum participant has suggested, that ‘Ned wouldn’t be smart enough to understand something like that.’ It is just that MacFarlane shows understandable reluctance to believe in a document that was not even mentioned till at least forty years after it was supposedly created, and has never been produced for examination.
Ian Jones is, of course, the most enthusiastic advocate of the republic thesis, first in a seminar paper in 1967 and then in A short life and The friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly. His primary source was Tom Lloyd Junior, who Jones interviewed in 1964. Mr Lloyd claimed that minutes of meetings discussing the republic were recorded in exercise books.  MacFarlane commented (p 208): ‘His boyhood memories were of a superior kind if he understood what a republic and minutes of meetings were.’  But the point is made also that although their continued existence is alluded to up to this day (even in a 2007 private email to the present writer), no one has ever produced the exercise books. Further, as MacFarlane says (p 12) of Jones’s interviews with Lloyd and others: ‘[W]e do not know what has said at the interviews. They have never been published or even quoted to support any of the assertions made.’ Jones himself (The friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt, p 224) admits that the other interviewees on the republic ‘confirmed some details, [and] challenged others’ so even from this highly respected source there is no cohesive and consistent story, let alone documentation of same.
This apart, I’m wondering why anyone felt the need to record these meetings much in the same way as those of the local cricket club. Did the fugitives have a chairman to keep the meetings in order, a secretary to handle correspondence as well? Were motions moved and disallowed, rejected or carried?  I can’t imagine the horse-mad, slow speaking Steve Hart, the quarrelsome ruffian Wild Wright and the quiet Dan Kelly, (who like Hart never lived to be old enough to vote) contributing too much to discussions aimed at creating a new political system.  I’m also remembering that in one of his accounts of Stringybark Creek, McIntyre noted with Victorian delicacy that words like ‘fellow’ and ‘man’ did not seem to be in the vocabulary of his captors, so let us hope that the minutes were not verbatim. In his biography of Ned, John Molony carried it even further by saying that David Gaunson, a member of the Victorian parliament, and later Ned’s counsel attended some meetings. Even Ian Jones, in the discussion after John McQuilton’s paper ‘Ned Kelly: Social Bandit or Rural Criminal?’ at the 1993 Ned Kelly: man and myth symposium said of Gaunson’s possible involvement: ‘I find that hard to accept, frankly.’
Jones sees the presence of armed groups of men at Glenrowan as some kind of verification that an armed rebellion with a republic in mind was in the offing. He grandiosely refers to Ned as ‘the man who brought an unimaginable concept so close to reality’ (A short life, 2003 edition, p 192.) Actually, it missed by miles – like nearly all unimaginable concepts. MacFarlane also notes the reported sightings of the armed men, but says of the vagueness and disparate nature of such reports:‘[I]f there were sympathizers present or nearby, they were not an organized force.’ The oral traditions that Jones heard over eighty years after the events were very vague, even with regard to numerical estimates, which ranged from 30 to 150 though Jones somehow settled on around 50 (The friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly, p 229). We will never know exactly who showed up to Glenrowan with weapons or why, so MacFarlane’s suggestion that some of them were there in the hope of doing something or other that would entitle them to a share of the reward can’t be ruled out. Or perhaps they were, as he also suggests, ‘rubberneckers’ (his word.)
What we do know is that unless you count the aid of James Kershaw and others, who helped Ned to put on his armour, no sympathiser provided assistance once the firing started, seriously calling their commitment to the proposed republic into question. Jones tells us that in the last minutes of Joe Byrne’s life he called to the McAuliffe brothers, also in the Glenrowan Hotel, to help him. One of them replied, but no help came (Jones, A short life p 228.) The two McAuliffes were briefly handcuffed and held after they left the hotel, but even on that impassioned day, the police had no interest in detaining them, although the Chief Commissioner of Police, Frederick Standish had identified one of them as the most dangerous of the sympathisers (MacFarlane, p 14.) If a republic was mooted  clearly it does not seem that the McAuliffes were keen on helping with its establishment. Nor did the police view them as incendiaries or potential revolutionaries.
All this rather begs the question of why, if armed men had assembled for the purpose, not one of them came to Ned’s aid. According to Mr Lloyd Jr, Ned turned away the sympathisers who waited a distance from the hotel. Ian Jones explained his action: ‘a true revolutionary would always be prepared to sacrifice lives, but Ned lacked the ruthlessness to follow such a path, even if it led to victory’ (A short life, p 225.) Jones forgets that if Glenrowan had been a victory for Ned and there had subsequently been an armed rebellion, the lives of sympathisers engaging in confrontation would be at risk too. Further, he benevolently overlooks Ned’s willingness to sacrifice the lives of railway personnel with whom he had no quarrel. Many people would see this as collateral damage in a ‘war’ with the police and use this as an excuse. But an indication of Ned Kelly’s unalloyed viciousness comes from the unlikely source of John Stanistreet, the Glenrowan station master. At 4:30 pm on the Sunday afternoon, when the police train was hours overdue and looked as if it would not come, Stanistreet asked Ned if the rails could be replaced so that the normal Monday morning passenger train would not be wrecked and ordinary civilians and railway personnel would not be killed. Kelly refused (Ian W Shaw, Glenrowan p 95.) Kelly lacked many things, but ruthlessness was not one of them. It is hard to see how allowing a civilian train to be wrecked would win adherents for his republican cause. One of his close friends, Jack McMonigle, had been appalled by the Stringybark Creek murders and had sent word to the Kelly family that he wanted nothing to do with them (A short life p 160.) We can only wonder how the good-hearted rural folk of north-eastern Victoria would have reacted to the wholesale and random slaughter of innocents that Ned Kelly was willing to let take place.
Apart from the lack of documentary evidence, and the inaction of armed sympathisers (if that was what they were) at Glenrowan, MacFarlane also argues that Kelly’s actions, writings and orations showed no interest in a republic.

Kelly expended a great deal of energy in writing to parliamentarian Donald Cameron after Cameron asked a question in Parliament about the ‘scandalous’ conduct of the police pursuit. Although it was, as Ian Jones noted ‘a routine attempt to embarrass the government’ Kelly was naïve and probably egotistical enough to see Cameron as a likely sympathetic channel for his views, and perhaps even a possible ally. As we all know, Cameron could not distance himself from Kelly and his manifesto quickly enough. Kelly simply did not grasp that Parliament, then as now, is the venue for those opposed to the government to call its competence into question on any issue whatsoever, and that a great many parliamentary questions are asked for no reason other than this. This fundamental point was lost on Ned. As MacFarlane puts it: ‘None of Ned’s letters– including the one he sent to Cameron – indicate that he had the faintest grasp of political shenanigans (p 211.)
Nor did, in MacFarlane’s view, Ned’s writings indicate anything in the way of a republican sentiment. The Cameron and Jerilderie letters ‘were floods of words– of invective, hatred, excuses and threats. But there was no mention of a republican outcome … there is no mention in any of his letters of a platform of reforms and initiatives to better the lives of the inhabitants of Victoria’s north-east (pp 208-209.’
Years before MacFarlane wrote his book, Ian Jones stated explicitly (A short lifep 200-201) that Ned and Joe Byrne ‘drew up a Declaration of the Republic of Victoria’ describing it as a ‘manifesto foreshadowed in the Jerilderie Letter and probably incorporating some of its wild rhetoric.’ But Jones continues that, although some copies ‘were printed in the form of handbills’ none can be traced. A printed one may or may not have been displayed in the Public Record Office in London in 1962 but defied all efforts to find it seven years later, and a handwritten copy is hidden away with ‘some letters from a girl and a handkerchief.’ Hard historical evidence this is not and it seems that Jones has never seen the Declaration.
As he could not quote directly from the ‘Declaration’ Jones (p 201) quoted some of Ned’s purported republican sentiments from the Jerilderie letter. But there is little republicanism, or any political ideology (except a sort of rustic, blunt and in places brutal totalitarianism) in these extracts. Anybody assisting the police ‘in any way whatever’ is to be ‘declared unfit to be allowed human burial.’ People who have joined the Stock Protection Society (formed by those who had the temerity to organise against the depredations of stock thieves such as Kelly) are to be compelled to give all their money to the poor. Anyone who has reason to fear Ned is to leave Victoria or ‘abide by the consequences, which shall be worse than the rust in the wheat in Victoria or the druth of a dry season to the grasshoppers in New South Wales.’ Best of all, the well known final touch ‘I am a widow’s son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.
One is left to wonder how much of this Ned expected to be taken seriously. I suspect he would be highly amused that all these years later people with ten times his education are in awe of his writings, even though the republican sentiments are less in line with those of Thomas Jefferson and more in line with those of the Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea.
MacFarlane also picks up the point that no republican themes or sentiments emerged in the speeches Ned made that have been recorded. ‘He was an indiscreet and chatty speaker, yet he never once mentioned a republic as being among his plans (p 210).’ In his last speech at Glenrowan before the arrival of the police train, quoted copiously in the Argus of 30 June 1880, Ned ranged far and wide with his captive audience but said nothing about his ambitions for a republic. He talked about how Aaron Sherritt had been shot as a traitor and he wanted Ward, the trackers, O’Connor and Hare killed after which, in his words: ‘I would feel easy and contented.’ He added menacingly: ‘And if I ever hear of any of you giving the police any information about us I will shoot you down like dogs.’
As MacFarlane notes (pages 15 to 17) the last part of Ned Kelly’s last oration was a curious one and did not touch on the subject of a republic. Prompted by the sight of a platelayer named Denis Sullivan, Kelly went into a strange and obsessive tirade about his hatred for Joseph Sullivan, a New Zealand murderer who had cheated the gallows by informing on his companions some years before. The munificent Ned offered eight thousand pounds for information on where Sullivan could be found, and a similar amount for the whereabouts of Quinlan, who had shot bushranger Dan Morgan at Peechelba Station over fifteen years before. He then went on with a rambling tale about how the Gang took over Jerilderie almost on impulse after pursuing trails leading to Sullivan in Rutherglen, Uralla and then Wagga before coming to Jerilderie. Ned concluded his anti-Sullivan tirade by saying ‘I’d follow him to England if I thought he was there, because –‘: but whatever reason or reason he was going to advance was lost to posterity forever when the train arrived.
If the fracas at Glenrowan was meant as a preliminary to an armed rebellion aimed at forming a republic, its leader did not mention this in the last speech that he made as a free man. Rather, his words dripped with hatred and venom at his enemies, as well as Joseph Sullivan, who, deplorable creature as he was, had never done Ned any harm. Strange choices of topic indeed.
Naturally, nothing came out about the republic at Kelly’s trial. Ned spent his last days dictating letters to the Governor. His letter of 5 November said that he hoped to ‘take possession of the train Horses and every thing [sic]’ and rob the banks along the train line. He also claimed that he wanted Curnow to claim the reward as he(Ned) had heard it was to be done away with in three days ‘so you can see from the above it was not my intention of upsetting the Train for the Purpose of killing the Police.’ Ian Jones, ever charitable, sees this letter as‘an aberration of the moment’ (A short life pp 280-281.) Kelly’s last letter on 10 November is just as out of touch with the real world, saying once more that if a civilian claimed the reward in the circumstances the police ‘would not interfere with me until such times as there was another Reward issued and if they did not give the Reward to the man that Claimed it no person would inform on me again.’ Jones, stretching a long bow yet again, suggested that Kelly ‘may have concocted it to divert attention from the true strategy and intention of the Glenrowan campaign and so protect those loyal followers who, knowingly or not, had prepared to join the Gang in Murder and High Treason (A short life p 284.) But it seems far more likely to have been aimed at convincing the authorities that his plan was to capture the train, not wreck it. It is hard to see this in turn as anything but an attempt at improving his non-existent chances of at least having his sentence commuted.
So there we have it, an examination of the reasons why some believe that an armed conflict at Glenrowan, which went so hideously wrong for the provokers, was meant to be the first act in a series of events that, it was hoped, to culminate in the establishment of an Australian republic. But I’ll ask those who sincerely believe to ask themselves a couple of questions.
If there were written materials on the establishment of a republic why have they never been published, produced, quoted from or otherwise shown to exist anywhere except in the sparsely outlined reminiscences of several old-timers which don’t even tally with each other? If the armed men at Glenrowan were there in preparation for the rebellion, why did they not intervene? At almost any stage of the battle, thirty men could have made a big difference to the final outcome, and there were allegedly any number up to 150 there. Yet they were not even organized enough to watch for the arrival of the train, let alone to stop teacher Thomas Curnow from warning it.
If Ned Kelly was interested in the establishment of a republic, why is there no mention of it in either of his letters or any of his speeches, including the final ‘lecture’ at Glenrowan at a time when the Ned of Ian Jones’s creation would surely have felt that the actualization of his dream was imminent? In his last days, with his letters to the Governor of Victoria, his ‘interview’ with his legal representative David Gaunson in the Age of 9 August 1880, and even his argument with Judge Barry as the sentence of death was pronounced, Ned tried tirelessly to give himself and his life some sort of credibility, some sort of legitimacy and probably even some sort of respectability.  He seemed hopeful of an enduring place in our history, and said ‘If my life teaches the public that men are made mad by bad treatment … my life will not be entirely thrown away.’ Yet he never once mentioned or even hinted at his supposed plans for a republic which could have provided at least some mitigation for his actions. Even the greatest of Kelly biographers, and the greatest proponent of the republic theory Ian Jones concedes that Ned’s ‘clearest reference to his vision for the north-east’ came with his remark to Constable Bracken: ‘They are all damned fools to bother their heads about Parliament for this is our country (A short life p 219.)’ Hardly an unambiguous indication of republican ambition, methinks, and an echo of his remark to Scott, the bank manager at Euroa: ‘Oh, the country belongs to us. We can go where we like (A short life p 153.)’
One further question that no one seems to have asked: why there no mention of republican plans in the first major pro-Kelly Gang work by James Jerome Kenneally, The complete and inner history of the Kelly Gang and their pursuers? In the course of his research Kenneally, a journalist, Labor party activist and union organizer gained the confidence of many in the north-east of Victoria, notably Tom Lloyd Senior. The book was first published in 1929, two years after Tom Lloyd’s death. Ian Jones correctly describes the work as ‘combining deft use of Royal Commission evidence with oral tradition, much of it drawn from Tom Lloyd.’ The book is fervently pro-Kelly, but there is no mention of any republican plan, surely something that Kenneally, given his political leanings, would have utilized to the maximum to legitimize the actions of his hero. On republican matters, this book is silent. The book went through seven or so editions and stayed in print for fifty years. Kenneally died in 1949, three years after the last major participant in the drama,  Jim Kelly and long after anyone could possibly have gotten into trouble for seditious actions nearly seventy years before. But still, no republic.
MacFarlane does, however, have a suggestion as to why the republican theory has gained such credence in recent decades. Unlikely as it may seem, his line of thought parallels that of Ian Jones, but only for a short distance. According to MacFarlane (p 210) ‘the madness of Glenrowan needs all the recent dressing-up and republican inventions to explain it away.’ Jones phrases it much more temperately and provides a rationale: ‘The Glenrowan campaign is inexplicable without the central, carefully obscured fact of the republic (p 202.)’ With the moves towards a republic (stalled, however, in recent years) Australians searched in the 1970s and 1980s for iconic symbols of the past which could be first seen, and then adopted and adapted as proponents of republicanism. The Eureka Stockade (together with its flag) was one: Ned was another. Ned Kelly had charisma to burn, and some qualities of leadership, but he failed spectacularly in his efforts against the conservative and ‘natural’ order of things. His travails during his life made him ideally suited for the role as a republican symbol. But a careful examination of his travails and his anti-establishment efforts does not yield anything remotely resembling proof that he wished to establish a republic. As Kelly famously said: ‘Such is life.’