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Sunday, January 27, 2013

(part 1) A Review of Ian MacFarlane's The Kelly Gang Unmasked [Brian Stevenson]

Ian MacFarlane, through the good offices of the Oxford University Press, has produced an important book, the first overt anti-Kelly monograph to appear for decades. Meticulously documented, the case against Ned Kelly and his cohorts is outlined in these pages, an antidote to the countless publications since 1929 that showed sympathy towards the outlaw. 
The creation of such a book was guaranteed to make the author unpopular, and it has. He has been slammed on several Kelly websites, with few voices raised in his defence. This book has been attacked in some quarters by people who boast – not that anyone should really care - that they have not read it and never will. Yet the same people admire Ned Kelly because he allegedly wanted a fair go for all! Such is the quality of the ‘debate’ and the tolerance of anti-Kelly viewpoints that prevails on some sites. Such is life, indeed.
Firstly, a note on methodology. After obtaining a copy of this book, I read it through quickly to get the broad picture. Then, I read it through very carefully a second time, making notes and checking reference sources as I went. My thoughts might not be of value to everyone, but I have done the author the courtesy of reading the volume. To those who feel compelled to comment, either with praise or condemnation, with authority on a book without reading it, I will quote the words of a famous judge and say: 'I will even give you credit for the skill that you assume.'

The author has been castigated for the book’s dependence on police and conservative newspaper sources. But the same level of vituperation is not levelled against pro-Kelly authors such as Ian Jones and Keith McMenomy, whose endnotes bristle with footnoting to the very same sources. It is insulting for lay people whose publishing efforts are meagre or non-existent to accuse MacFarlane of not knowing the limitations of archival sources when he has been working with those very same sources for over twenty years. It is similarly unfair to excoriate one writer for using police and newspaper sources and leave other writers who have done the same thing unscathed.

Here is some news for some people: not every police department document created in Victoria between 1869 and 1881 was concocted or doctored to discredit the Kellys. Have a look at the 1881 Royal Commission transcripts, readily available in a few places online, and you will see a government document largely consisting of the verbatim words of police, but aimed in half a dozen different and disparate directions at discrediting members of the police department. A key source, yes, but not a pro-police one, surely. 
Here is some more news: yes, the establishment newspapers (there were no other kind in 1878) were anti-Kelly. The Bulletin, not a newspaper but a somewhat anti-establishment weekly started in January 1880. While Kelly was alive they loathed him too. But it was not all one sided. As Ian Jones notes, the press were critical of the police as well. Some of the more liberal newspapers, while they never condoned the murder of police, were even capable of giving the Kellys a limited 'go' on occasion (see pages 152-154, 156-7 of A short life, 2003 edition.) After Euroa, the Age and, yes, even the ultra-conservative Argus, ‘reported, accurately enough, the glowing opinions [of the Euroa citizenry] of the Gang – especially of Ned, with high praise for his charm, good looks and horsemanship.’ (Jones, The friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly p 87.) And of course, in the weeks after Glenrowan the press applied the blowtorch to the police for their reckless endangerment of civilians during the siege. 

Further, the reportage of individuals such as Allen, McWhirter and Melvin at Glenrowan have left us with as detailed and interesting a description of any event in Australian history. We are forever in their debt. Would we really be without their work? Sure, police sources and newspapers tended to be weighted against the Kellys, but proficient researchers and historians realise this and take the subtleties (and the not-so-subtleties!) of the sources into account. They get on with the job and make judicious use of them without worrying about the sneers of those who appear incapable of similar discernment, let alone writing coherent and balanced sentences based on their research.

 This apart, MacFarlane, like other authors, makes much use of the words of Ned Kelly himself, both in his celebrated letters and his public utterances. Or, as the author puts it on page 231 ‘his blathering long-winded letters and occasional speeches that were filtered by his listeners and newspaper sub-editors.’
Now to the book! 
The Kelly Gang unmasked promises more than it delivers. While the publisher claims that within its pages, ‘the mythology created by pro-Kelly writers is critically explored, unravelled, and often found wanting’, and the author ‘spells out the case against Ned and his gang’, the end result, while impressive in some areas, is not a total success. I did learn some things from the book, however, and was reminded of the historian David McCullough’s recent comment that if you call yourself an expert on anything, sooner or later you will run into trouble. I also add that the book has left me, after nearly fifty years looking that this story, wanting to know still more. And is that not what all books are supposed to do? 

I will be looking at several aspects of this book in blog posts over the next few weeks, and the first one I want to cover is MacFarlane’s treatment of four key police identities who were involved with the Kelly pursuit, to all of their professional detriment. They are well known to most people who will be interested in reading this blog: Inspector Alexander Brooke Smith, Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, Constable Thomas McIntyre and Constable Michael Ward. MacFarlane has tried to rehabilitate the reputations of all four, with varying degrees of success.
He states that the story that Brooke Smith confronted the Kelly girls with a threat to blow Ned ‘into pieces as small as the paper that is in our guns’ into paper is ‘easily disproved’ because the police of the time were then armed with Webleys that do not use paper cartridges. It disproves nothing of the sort: even if the threat was anachronistic it could still easily have been uttered. MacFarlane dispenses with the subject of Brooke Smith rather expeditiously in a couple of lines on page 157, leaving out any discussion of his well-documented procrastination, indecision and reticence-bordering-on-cowardice during the Kelly pursuit. You can read about them on pages 135 to 139 of A short life, 2003 edition. 
MacFarlane is not at all convincing when trying to get Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick off the hook. The usual litany of official attestations to Fitzpatrick’s generally poor qualities is recited here, with the suggestion that his experience at Eleven Mile Creek might have been a factor: ‘….who can say whether or not Fitzpatrick was traumatised by the attempt to murder him and whether later events flowed from such trauma? Any person shot at three times and surrounded by men with firearms would have found the experience unforgettable.’ Well, yes, but it is a pity that the shameful treatment of the very young Ned Kelly at the hands of the brutal Constable Edward Hall, well documented in police records, did not attract a similar level of compassion from the author. More than likely Ned felt that his experience was ‘unforgettable’ too, and it was certainly not one to endear members of the Victorian police force to him. Inconsistently, MacFarlane, while showing compassion of a sort to the execrable Fitzpatrick, does not even mention Hall’s physical attack on Ned, which resulted in severe physical trauma and subsequent incarceration, and was pretty close to attempted murder.  

                                                                                                                                                                                    MacFarlane seeks to bolster the case for Fitzpatrick by citing a 'hitherto unpublished document' from police archives which 'seems to support' the trooper's story. Fitzpatrick applied on 24 May 1878 for a new police jumper to replace the one damaged in the affray of 15 April and being held as evidence. MacFarlane reproduces his plaintive letter to the officer in charge at Beechworth. In his local paper, the Melton Weekly on 5 November 2012 he referred to the document as 'new evidence' but it is nothing of the sort. Ian Jones reproduced it in full in the 2003 edition of A short life (page 103, 2003 edition) and it is disappointing to see that this basic source was not consulted a little more carefully.
When Fitzpatrick was discharged from the force, he was, surprisingly, the subject of a petition from a hundred prominent citizens from the Lancefield district, where he was stationed and was said to be ‘zealous, diligent, obliging and universally liked.’ MacFarlane correctly records this inexplicable incident, which remains the only bright spot in a pretty sorry police career. Further evidence will have to emerge – from God knows where – and be utilized to convince me that Fitzpatrick’s conduct as a policeman could even be deemed satisfactory.
I have never had anything but pity and regard for Constable Thomas McIntyre, who despite a terrible and traumatic experience held himself together for long enough to endure innumerable questionings and to remain in the police force until his friends were avenged. But before I read this book, I was less than enamoured with the way in which his story, particularly with regard to the death of Lonigan apparently changed. MacFarlane uses examples to show the cautious way in which he gave his numerous accounts of the Stringybark tragedy, showing, again with examples, that in almost all respects they were much more consistent than inconsistent.

The major ‘inconsistency’ and the most controversial occurred when McIntyre told Sadleir that Lonigan had been behind a log preparing to fire at Ned when the trooper received his mortal wound. This was despite his previous and first account of 27 October 1878 that Lonigan never succeeded in getting his gun out. He adhered to this version every other time that he told it for the record, except for the time he told the story to Sadleir.

According to Sadleir’s 1913 account, he interviewed McIntyre on 28 October 1878, two days after the shootings. (Jones, however, implies that this meeting took place on 29 October on page 386 of A short life, 2003 edition.) But MacFarlane provides documentation for the movements of both men on 28 October showing that a meeting between the pair on this date was extremely unlikely. He further suggests that Sadleir made a grievous error in his reminiscences and used Ned’s account of Lonigan’s death instead of McIntyre’s. 

While the idea at first seems outrageous, the alternative is to accept that McIntyre told one version on 27 October, and then, for no apparent reason, gave Sadleir a second version on 28 (or maybe 29) October that placed Ned Kelly in a somewhat more favourable light. He then adhered to the first version every other time he told it. There seems no good reason for McIntyre to have given Sadleir, his superior officer, a version different from the one he gave to everyone else. Much more likely, it is entirely possible that Sadleir, thirty-five years after the event, simply used the account of the wrong man. I believe this is far more likely than Ian Jones's suggestion that Sadleir included this version of Lonigan's death in his 1913 reminiscences as a sop to his conscience and was relieved when no one noticed.
To my great surprise, Detective Ward, long regarded as one of the most odious and oleaginous characters in the Kelly saga, emerges from this book as the possible victim of some unfounded local scuttlebutt. To Kelly enthusiasts, Ward is well known as a serial seducer and impregnator of young country girls. We will never know for sure, and these oral traditions are pervasive, but the hard evidence is extremely weak. MacFarlane traces the stories to the original source – the testimony of that least trustworthy of police informers, James Wallace, who Standish described as a ‘treacherous pedagogue.’ Wallace gave evidence regarding Ward’s moral turpitude at the 1881 Royal Commission, stating that Ward had several illegitimate children. The statement was recycled by early Kelly supporter, J J Kenneally, in his book on the Gang, first published in 1929 and reprinted numerous times. Ward was questioning Wallace at the time Wallace made this declaration which Kenneally quoted. But Kenneally left out Ward’s subsequent questioning. Wallace, after repeated interrogation and challenges from Ward said that he was unable to give the name of one person who could substantiate the rumours. Whatever Ward was guilty of, the source of the rumours was unable or unwilling to provide substantiation, even though – or, perhaps, because he was – under oath. It is also interesting, albeit in the category of circumstantial evidence that the twice-married Ward never had any legitimate children. It is entirely possible that the rumours that he fathered illegitimate ones were, as MacFarlane terms them, ‘wicked lies.’ 

As I said at the onset of this review, this is an important book for Kelly Gang followers no matter what their take on the episode is. I will be examining MacFarlane's thoughts on the rumoured 'republic' in a further post on this blog.

Part 2 of this 3 part review has now been added at

Note: As a reminder, this review was written by my co-blogger Brian Stevenson. It  merely says "posted by Sharon Hollingsworth" because I loaded it for him as he has been having technical trouble on the site. Just wanted to head off any possible confusion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Alert: Monty Wedd "Ned Kelly" newspaper comics to be published soon!

In October 2010 in only the second posting on this site I did a blog entitled "An Embarrassment of Riches" found at in which I said this:

At the top of my wish list/(book) bucket list  is what has not been published in book form - Number 770 in WTSAN - Monty Wedd's "Ned Kelly" comic hundred and forty six episodes of about sugar plums! Hopefully one day someone will finally gather and publish these comics for the enjoyment and edification of all of us. As an aside, I was recently very surprised to learn that the "Ned Kelly" comic series did NOT run in Victoria at all! Imagine that!

 Well, I just received a comment on that posting saying that the Monty Wedd "Ned Kelly" comic is going to soon be published! Thanks to the anonymous commenter who sent the info in. Now we watch and wait! Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Article Alert: Ned Kelly Legend to be Finally Sealed

from google alerts..

The Courier Mail
of January  20, 2013 has an article entitled Ned Kelly Legend to be Finally Sealed.

It begins with:

The remains of bushranger Ned Kelly will be encased in concrete to ensure the bones are not stolen.

Family members may stand guard at the secret Kelly plot until the grave is sealed after a private ceremony this morning.

Scores of his extended family are expected to attend the service at the country cemetery in northeastern Victoria.

It follows a long-awaited funeral for the criminal, who was hanged 132 years ago.

Glenrowan and Wangaratta were abuzz with tourists and locals keen to confirm where the Kelly clan will bury him, believed to be beside his mother, Ellen, in an unmarked grave at Greta.

Some suggested the family was prepared to take extreme measures to stop any threat of his bones being exhumed by grave robbers.

"They know pouring concrete in could be the only way to ensure his body remains untouched," one source said.

"But even then I guess there is no guarantee. There are still a lot of Kelly fanatics out there."

To read more:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Article Alert: Hundreds Farewell Ned

from google alerts...

Hundreds farewell bushranger Ned Kelly at mass before burial

    by: Pia Akerman in Wangaratta
    From: The Australian
    January 18, 2013 1:04PM

HUNDREDS of Ned Kelly's descendants and fans paid their respects to the notorious bushranger today as his remains returned to Victoria's northeastern country for a requiem mass.

The service at St Patrick's church in Wangaratta this afternoon heard hymns and prayers for "one of the most famous, some would say infamous" Australians, whose bones were only discovered in the ruins of Pentridge Prison in 2008, 128 years after his execution.

Monsignor John White told the congregation he felt humbled and privileged to say the mass for Kelly.

"Of all Australians, Ned is without doubt one of the most famous, some would say infamous, and therein lies the great divide in society," he said. "That divide still is simmering today."

The 500-strong crowd varied from tattooed men in jeans and Ned Kelly t-shirts to elderly Wangaratta ladies coming along for their regular Friday mass, as well as members of the Kelly family who gave the Bible readings.

Even before the service began, a revolutionary spirit filled the church as the organist played "Do you hear the people sing" from Les Miserables.

Connections to the outlaw are not hard to find in Kelly country.

Brandon Gardner who attended the service said his great-grandfather had been good friends with Kelly, allowing him to hide out in a hut on his Millawa property.

"We're all Kelly sympathisers," Mr Gardner said. "This is really big to me."

It is understood the family will bury Kelly privately this weekend at Greta cemetery, where his mother Ellen also lies in an unmarked grave.

Kelly was hanged in 1880 for the murder of Thomas Lonergan, one of three policemen he killed after ambushing their camp at Stringybark Creek.

Kelly was later apprehended following a shootout with police at Glenrowan, near Wangaratta.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Article Alert: Ned Returns Home to Join His Mother

from google alerts..

Such is life: 130 years on, Ned returns home to join his mother in Kelly country

    From: The Australian
    January 16, 2013 12:00AM

More than 130 years after Ned Kelly was hanged, the bushranger will be buried in the rock-hard country he roamed as an outlaw in the 19th century.

A memorial service for the villain who personified colonial anti-authoritarianism has been scheduled for midday on Friday in regional Victoria.

Monsignor John White, the parish priest at St Patrick's Church in Wangaratta in northeast Victoria, confirmed yesterday that mass would be said for Kelly and that the service would not be confined to relatives. The family has kept details of the proceedings quiet, however, amid strong speculation the bushranger will be buried at a secret location on Sunday in the heart of Kelly country.

Sources familiar with family talks told The Australian last year that the clan had favoured the bushranger being buried at the tiny cemetery of Greta, near Glenrowan, about 185km northeast of Melbourne. However, there had been divisions in the family about the final resting place, with the argument that it should be more private.

There is deep resentment in the family about the way the bushranger and his relatives have been portrayed over the decades as a murderous, promiscuous clan that lacked a moral compass.

The Greta cemetery holds the remains of several members of the Kelly family and is in the vicinity of the gang's last stand at Glenrowan in 1880, where Kelly was captured.

From his veranda, Michael Wescombe has a clear view of the Greta cemetery and the Kelly fans who come hoping to pay their respects at the grave of Kelly's mother. The tourists are easily identified by the way they wander through the rows of graves, searching for one that is actually unmarked. "At the moment, all those people are disappointed, because they don't know what they're looking for," he said. "There is enormous interest. I believe there should at least be a map at the front gate so people know where to go."

Isolated on a country intersection, the cemetery has been tidied and nine council bins have mysteriously arrived, fuelling speculation that Kelly's remains will soon arrive. "Bury him with his mum," Mr Wescombe said. "As soon as there is a new grave here, people will know. I don't think they can keep it a secret. You drive around here, everyone is making a living out of Ned."

While Ellen Kelly's grave has no headstone or other marker, locals believe it lies in the back left corner of the cemetery, which is the Roman Catholic section. The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine confirmed yesterday that Ned Kelly's remains were still held at its facility in Melbourne. It is believed that a funeral director will soon pick up Kelly's skeleton - minus the skull - to be shifted for the last time.

The whereabouts of Kelly's skull are unknown. Wangaratta and Glenrowan are alive with speculation about when and where the bushranger will be finally lowered into the ground.

Wangaratta funeral directors believe a Melbourne firm has been hired to transport Kelly's remains.

The family's spokesman, Anthony Griffiths, did not respond to calls from The Australian yesterday.

Gary Dean, the owner of Cobb and Co in Glenrowan, said the family "won't tell you a thing". "There's been no sense of digging at the Greta cemetery," he said. "I don't know why the hold up."

Acting Victorian Police Association secretary Bruce McKenzie said the Kelly family was entitled to bury the police killer with dignity but warned against the grave becoming a tourist attraction. "He murdered our members a long time ago," he said.

Kelly's remains were identified in 2011 after a 20-month investigation of 24 skeletons, which were exhumed from Melbourne's notorious Pentridge Prison.

Victorian property developer Leigh Chiavaroli was forced to surrender Kelly's skeleton, which the developer planned to use as part of a museum exhibit.

But the Victorian government overruled the developer's plans, drawing on the precedent set after the return in 2008 of the remains of the last man to be hanged in Melbourne, Ronald Ryan.

Kelly was hanged in 1880 after being found guilty of killing three policemen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Article Alert: Australian Science Magazine featuring the Baxter Skull on cover

Greg Young alerted me to this.

In the January/February 2013 issue of Australian Science magazine Ned Kelly's skull is the cover story. The cover says "How Forensic Testing Solved the Mystery of Ned Kelly's Remains." The article inside the magazine entitled "Final Resting Place of an Outlaw" is one that originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Archaeology magazine. Even if someone already has that magazine it would be good to add this to your collection!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Article Alert: Elder Reveals Her Ned Kelly and Don Bradman Links in Book

from google alerts.

The Fraser Coast Chronicle of January 5, 2013 has an article entitled "Elder Reveals Her Ned Kelly and Don Bradman Links in Book."

It begins with:

 The granddaughter of the Aboriginal tracker who helped capture bushranger Ned Kelly at Glenrowan, has finally revealed her life story.

Aunty Joyce Smith, the Butchulla people's oldest living elder, has spent the past three months working with local journalist Toni McRae on her book, Butchulla Marun (Butchulla Woman), which will be finished tomorrow.

Some of the anecdotes of Aunty Joyce's family link the Butchulla story with iconic Australian figures.

"My grandfather Gary Owen, a stockman from K'gari, Fraser Island, was hired by Hervey Bay's police sergeant Tommy King to go down to Victoria in pursuit of Ned Kelly," she said.

"But grandfather, who was my mother Maidie Owen's dad, never got the money they promised him. Sadly, when he was older the government shunted him off to Barambah mission, which is now known as Cherbourg, and he died there of a broken heart.

To read more (though that is all there is on the Kelly connection) see:

Magazine Alert: Ned Kelly in Jan/Feb 2013 INSIDE HISTORY

The January/February 2013 issue of Inside History has Ned Kelly as the cover story.

From the Inside History site:

From Australia’s most iconic bushranger through to First Fleet convicts and 1930s murder mysteries, Issue 14 of Inside History takes a walk through the dark alleyways and shady backstreets of our nation’s past.

Of the many outlaws and legends you’ll encounter in Issue 14, Ned Kelly — our cover boy — is one of the most famous, divisive and intriguing. In an exclusive interview, we hear from a descendant of Ned’s alleged secret love, who puts forward his case and reveals his spine-tingling discoveries about the Kelly gang.

To see the cover and to find out how/where to get this issue:

Thanks to google alerts and Achockablog for the heads up.