At the centre of the modern Kelly Gang story is the belief that Ned Kelly, the champion of the poor and oppressed, planned to solve the problems besetting the selectors of North East Victoria and rid the place of corrupt Police and oppressive Government control by declaring the region a Republic.
However, as is noted on the Iron Outlaw web site “Their grand plan to derail a special police train, seize the hostages and declare a Republic of North East Victoria came to a fiery end at Glenrowan”
In fact, as I shall show, this idea that the gang had a plan to declare the North East a Republic is a modern invention rather than a scheme that was ever in the minds of the Kelly Gang. It is a myth that has evolved out of a distaste for the Gangs repugnant intent for Glenrowan, an attempt to ascribe to that “stratagem” motives more in keeping with the image now preferred of Ned Kelly, that he was a visionary and an Icon, that Glenrowan was some sort of echo of Eureka, that Kelly was an idealist in the mold of Lalor.
For a century it was accepted that the Kelly Gangs plan had some combination of wreck a train, massacre police and anyone else who got in the way, take hostages, rob more banks, negotiate freedom for Gang, negotiate release from prison of Ellen Kelly. However, over the subsequent century, as Ned Kellys iconic status continued to grow, Glenrowan remained as a glaring blemish, and new explanations were sought to explain its “madness” as Ian Jones called it. What Ned Kelly himself said about Glenrowan wasn’t enough, it was ignored. Somehow the notion of a Republic was conjured up to re-cast Glenrowan as some sort of popular Republican uprising, and now Ian Jones could write “The Glenrowan campaign is inexplicable without the central carefully obscured fact of the republic”. Problem solved: Neds image tidied up.
Ian Jones – and Kelly Republicans generally – claim it took a Century to uncover this truth because it was treasonous, the penalty was death and so the whole plot was “carefully concealed”. In fact, according to Jones it was so well concealed that “One Police agent broke the inner circle of sympathizers and heard about the armor being made though he failed to learn of the republic” . What we have here is Jones failing to find evidence of the republican Plot even from spies who infiltrated the “inner circle” but instead of accepting that as counting against the possibility that there was ever a Republican plot, he turns it upside down and says he has found proof of how incredibly secret it all was. This is approaching conspiracy theory madness. The simplest explanation of why it was that the spy didn’t hear about a Republic, is that no-one was talking about it – a Republican plot was NOT on their agenda; if it had been, it would have been front and center of everything they were doing and talking about.Sooner or later, something would have come to light. Secrets are impossible to keep for very long among a group said to number hundreds.As for keeping it secret because it was punishable by death : the Gang were already Outlaws and under sentence of death, so it could hardly have been made worse – in fact, Publicity may have rallied more people to their cause and made their job a lot easier – so I reject that nonsense about secrecy and treason.
In fact there is nothing apart from conjecture to support the modern contention that the Kelly Gang had higher political ambitions and were planning to declare a Republic.
Here’s the first huge problem for the “Republicans”: Ned Kelly himself NEVER EVER said anything about a Republic, not a single word anywhere. Not one! And it was not as if Ned Kelly never had anything to say : he lectured everyone and anyone who would listen, – or he could force to listen – at length and about all manner of topics, and he wrote numerous letters not just before but after his capture, when the game was up , he was interviewed at length by Lawyers and Police – but he never breathed a single word about a Republic. And neither did anyone else, either sympathizer or informer, at the time or at any time following the destruction of the Kelly gang, ever. Not one word! This silence is more than deafening – its thunderous! And it lasted for 100 years.
Heres the next problem for the Republicans: none of the early books written about the Kelly Gang contained even a hint of a Republic. Its not in Kenneallys 1929 book, its not in Max Browns 1948 book, and its not in Frank Clunes 1954 book. These last two authors had access to the long lost Jerilderie Letter and neither of them discerned the slightest aroma of Republic within it. These authors knew about Rockets and about Sympathisers but never saw these as evidence that a republican movement was developing. Instead they reported Kellys motivation, at its noblest, to be about getting his mother out of prison and the Gang off the hook. At its worst it was about revenge and a desire to kill Police and Black Trackers. But these ideas are not guesses at Kellys motivation : they are based on what Kelly actually said.
“Ned claimed there was an alternative plan: ..to capture the leaders of the Police and take them into the bush and allow the superintendent to write to the head of department and inform them that if they send any more Police after me or try to rescue him I would shoot him and that I intended to keep them prisoners until the release of my mother, Skillion and Williamson”
In another statement of the plan Kelly reportedly said
“I was determined to capture Superintendent O’Hare , O’Connor and the blacks for the purpose of exchange of prisoners” (Ian Jones: A Short Life)
No doubt someone will correct me on this – I haven’t yet read every Kelly book – but I think the author who introduced the reader to the Republic idea, one entire century after the Kelly Gang had been vanquished, was Molony in 1980. Ian Jones leapt on the bandwagon and had lots more to say about it in his book in 1995, and every writer since then has further entrenched the idea to the point nowadays where it is an unquestioned central tenet of the Kelly Canon. But where did Molony get this idea? This is the next big problem for the republicans.
Chapter 13 of Molonys 1980 book is called ‘Captain of the Northeast’ and its here that he begins to develop the idea of a Republic:
“..and so it happened that on a Sunday in the winter of 1879, at Greta in the northeast a group of men, among them Ned met and talked of a republic….”
“They recorded their deliberations in childrens schoolbooks”
The reference for this is provided in Note 4 to the chapter:
“Mr Thomas Lloyd told me that as a boy he had seen the ‘exercise books’ containing the ‘minutes’ of those meetings.”According to Molony his interest in the Kelly story didn’t start till 1976, so that was presumably when Mr Lloyd told him this.
The curious thing is that over ten years earlier the same Mr. Lloyd, then aged 56 told Ian Jones something quite different: he is reported to have told Mr Jones in 1964 that it was his FATHER who had seen the exercise books “as a boy”. This claim is in itself a problem because if the Exercise books were being filled in 1879, Mr Lloyds father was 22 at the time, by no means “a boy”. This means that if he was truly remembering something he saw “as a boy”, then it wasn’t exercise books about the Republic: They didn’t exist when he was “a boy”. On the other hand, if he did see exercise books in 1879 but thinks he was a boy at the time, then he is confused , because he wasn’t a boy in 1879 and so his recollection of what they were about cannot be relied on. This is another huge problem for the Kelly republicans.
Its interesting to think about what happened to Mr Lloyds memory over the years between his Jones interviews – there were three – and his interview with Molony: in fact what has happened is that a false memory has been created from a story he was told by his father – and this is a well recognized phenomenon that has been demonstrated in experiments. It’s a very nice example of how Myths are created from oral history.
The next big problem for the republicans is their fond belief that somewhere out there is a document, a declaration of the Republic of North East Victoria, possibly taken from Neds pocket when he was arrested, that ended up in London and was seen by a Journalist in 1962. I seem to recall reading that it was only later that he realized its significance. The fact is that more than half a century has passed since that day, and nobody else has seen it, despite extensive searches being made. Develop a conspiracy theory about its disappearance if you wish, but the simplest and most likely explanation for its disappearance is that it never existed. Even a “highly reputable witness” – as Jones calls his informant – can be wrong.
Now, Chris H said that it was “absurd” for me to claim that there is no evidence for the Republic idea. He regards the talk about a republic document, Mr Lloyds recollections and various other things as “evidence” though concedes they may not “add up to an awful lot”. I agree – they add up to almost nothing. An actual Declaration would be evidence, as would the exercise books, but I am not sure that conjecture about them is evidence. Perhaps I should have written ‘no credible evidence” or “no useful evidence”
Kate asks me “What sort of evidence do you expect there to be Dee?” Well, its not incumbent on me to disprove the Republican Idea. As Ive written elsewhere its impossible to prove that a thing doesn’t exist. Its actually incumbent on those who claim that something exists to prove it – so, as Republicans say there was an actual Declaration they have to provide it, they have to find the exercise books or the Documents they say exist. I am not sure how long its reasonable to search for the required evidence before one can call time on the search, and conclude that no such evidence exists, but I certainly don’t believe anymore in Faeries at the bottom of the Garden, the Tooth Fairy, Little Green Men from Mars or the Easter Bunny. I cant prove that any of these creatures don’t exist, but I have waited long enough for the evidence and none has turned up. I am moving on and I think the same should be done in respect of the Republican Plot.
And Kate, you are absolutely right about my statement that “if something is claimed to exist but there is no actual evidence for it, its not rational to believe it” then “that would deny the existence of a number of religions” The thing that needs to be understood about Religions, and the Kelly religion is no different, is that it is NOT based on evidence or reason, but on Faith – this is precisely why religions continue to exist, why people believe in the Kelly religion because they are NOT based on reason and evidence, but as you say, if they were, they would cease to exist. The great central evil of religions is to elevate Faith – which is belief without evidence – to a higher moral plane than reason – because once you have persuaded your devotees that Faith is everything, they are then immune to reason and evidence and can and are often persuaded to believe anything and do anything.
Here it is in Christianity : Thomas is rebuked by Jesus for wanting evidence and told that the people who believe without asking for evidence are Blessed:
“The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
I am on the side of Thomas. Here endeth todays Lesson!
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