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


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.’