Ned Kelly Fails to go Straight

Ned Kelly was released from Pentridge Prison in February 1874, having received six months remission off his three year sentence for receiving, yet another fact which contradicts the Kelly claim that the Authorities were out to get them at every opportunity.  If they had been, wouldn’t they have come up with an excuse to keep him there the full three years? Another fact which might suggest imprisonment had actually been good for Ned Kelly is the claim by Kelly sympathisers that for the next three years Ned Kelly “went straight”.  I cant imagine that for one second the Kelly sympathisers would concede the possibility that Neds Imprisonment might have been instrumental in his rehabilitation, but how else are they going to explain this apparent near miraculous transformation?
On his return Ned found his mother had a new baby fathered by George King, a man Ned Kelly described as “the greatest horse stealer” – along with himself of course; his brother Jim was in prison for stock theft and Dan was later charged with theft of a saddle.  Ned also discovered his oldest sister Annie had died after childbirth, and the baby had also died, outcomes which Ned blamed on Earnest Flood, a Policeman who had an affair with 18 year old Annie while her own husband was in prison for – you guessed it – stock theft! It seems odd that a young man with an extensive criminal record of his own would live in such an environment of criminality and yet remain on the right side of the Law,  but  if the Kelly mythology is to be believed, Ned Kelly “went straight” for the next three years, working at a sawmill and at various other jobs such as fencing, ploughing and shearing.  Eventually though, by his own admission in the Jerilderie letter of 1879, Ned returned to the criminal way of life.
McMenomy says about Neds return to a life of crime:
“The reason Kelly left a lucrative and responsible position remains one of the biggest mysteries of his career. After nearly three years of apparently honest work Ned Kelly returned to the life that led him to  Gaol six years earlier”
As we shall see, McMenomy was right to describe those years as “apparently” honest, but I woudnt have thought that there was much that was mysterious about the allure of easy money when trying to understand why a young man might prefer crime to the daily grind of working the land. Ned claimed in the Jerilderie Letter that his change of career  came about because he had been accused of various stock thefts that he had not committed:
“I began to think they wanted me to give them something to talk about. Therefore I started wholesale and retail cattle and horse stealing”
Blaming others for his decision at the age of 22 to engage in stock theft is at the level of the school kids excuse “The dog ate my homework”. Not only was this excuse pathetic it was almost certainly a lie, and not the kind of behavior one might expect from a future “Icon” and Role Model.
In fact, as Doug Morrissey details in his recent book “Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life”, there is good reason to believe that Ned returned to Stock Theft well before 1877 because in early 1876 Ned and his cousin Tom were formally charged with stealing a mare and foal from farmer Henry Lydeker.  He saw the cousins acting “suspiciously” around his horses the evening before they disappeared. Lydeker isn’t mentioned in either Max Browns or John Molonys biographies of Ned, Peter Fitzsimons mentions the incident simply as a charge of horse stealing which was dismissed “thanks to the testimony of several witnesses” and the usually thorough Ian Jones mentions the case but calls it all “a simple misunderstanding”.  He writes that Ned and Tom thought the horses belonged to Jack and Jimmy Quinn, and simply returned them to their rightful owners. However, the most superficial scrutiny shows that Jones explanation couldn’t be correct because the horses were never seen again.  They had either been sold, or perhaps killed, but with their disappearance the search for evidence was prolonged and it took the Police six months to execute the warrants. By then Lydeker had been given a horse and a calf in compensation by Toms family, and despite being the person who originally laid the charges against Ned, when it finally got to Court Lydeker refused to co-operate with the Police. The witnesses mentioned by Fitzsimons were “Quinn clan associates” and so not unexpectedly the case collapsed.
So while it may be true that for three years Ned Kelly was not convicted of any further criminal acts, its not true to say therefore that he was not engaged in criminal acts and was “going straight”. In fact the idea that he went straight for three years is simply another mistelling of the Kelly story, part of the Mythology of Ned – its not true;  he didn’t go straight for three years.  This furfy is believed in no small part by modern sympathizers because of the airbrushing and photo-shopping of the truth by almost all Kelly writers, as I have demonstrated above, and as recently as 2013 by Peter Fitzsimons.  But this case demonstrates not only the lies that Ned Kelly told, and the willful mistelling of the story by modern writers, it also once again shows the Judiciary functioning in accordance with the Law and fair play, conduct that is completely at odds with Kellys claims then, and sympathizers claims now that the Law was out to get them at any cost.

Another Kelly myth crumbles.
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19 Replies to “Ned Kelly Fails to go Straight”

  1. Not that it matters a lot but Ned, of course, was released to freedom at Williamstown in February 1874, and NOT Pentridge as asserted by Ian Jones et al.

  2. Eddie Lawson says: Reply

    The 'Going Straight' story was another Ian Jones concoction. His endnotes for it are sparce. Dee, you and others, hail IJ as a Kelly Guru. I think most of the biggest Kelly mistakes were propagated by him. The biggest being the special leather straps story for which there is, as usual, no proof whatsoever. Jones was a gifted writer, but his own endnotes often exposed him as a literary shonk.

    (Legal addendum) Of course I could be completely wrong..

  3. Its pretty obvious that the modern Kelly myth is largely Ian Jones doing, particularly via his 1980 TV series "The Last Outlaw” , produced before Pay TV and the Internet. It ignores all the unpleasant truths about the extended Kelly family but contains all the Ian Jones creations such as the body straps myth and the Kelly Republic myth – theres a scene showing the minutes of a Republican meeting being entered into the notebooks, and presents a nauseating saccharine and sanitised image of Ned and the family that bares no resemblance to the known facts. But John Jarratt is a gorgeous hunk as Ned, and no doubt is the image many Kelly fanatics today still imagine is what the real Ned was like.

  4. Other writers before Ian Jones also say that Ned had gone back to Pentridge from Williamstown and was released from there. There must be some proof for them to say that, but everything is not always available to find online. It does stand to reason that he would be processed out through the central prison (Pentridge) where he had been processed in instead of just being turned loose from Williamstown, doesn't it?

  5. Jon Chambers says: Reply

    I have a copy of the report by D. Stewart, Officer in Charge, Penal Establishment Williamstown, dated Monday 2 February 1874, which states "Discharged to freedom 10926 Edward Kelly". 10926 eas Ned's prison number. His period as a convict at Williamstown was marred by sickness and several infractions of the rules. In one instance he was seen quarreling with prisoner Kanute G 9561 Nyberg and D Stewart "reprimanded both prisoners, but Kelly was most to blame". For at least one of his days off sick, Ned was given castor oil, a 'cure', amongst other things, for constipation. I don't think this entitles us to think he was 'Full of it'…

  6. The castor oil incident isn't in the Ian Jones book, which presents Ned as a sort of superman.

  7. Thanks, Jon. I just ran across that discharged info by Stewart in MacFarlane's book a few minutes ago. So, what did these other authors base the being released from Pentridge on? Jones even said that Ned was returned to Pentridge around Christmas 1873 and put in C Division. Sounds pretty specific. All food for thought. Re the castor oil, I can't imagine there being much fresh fruit and veg (roughage) in the prison diet, so a bit of help getting things going might have been in order. It can happen to the best of us. The way I look at it is there is more room on the outside than the inside!

  8. Jon Chambers says: Reply

    Several people on webpages claim the food at Pentridge was worse than at other penal establishments, on what basis I don't know. Good food can be spoiled by a bad cook. According to OIC Stewart's reports during Ned's time at Williamstown showed the convicts got mutton or beef, potatoes and produce from their own 'garden'. One of their number was employed as cook and did not have to go out with labouring gangs. Perhaps he also attended to the garden? The comments about Ned in Stewart's reports are only glimpses but show someone 'different' to what Kelly authors have imagined.

  9. Even Ian Jones talks about the food at Pentridge being "hominy and brown bread for breakfast, meat and potatoes for dinner, bread and water for supper." Hopefully, as reported, Williamstown gave a more varied diet. Where can one find Stewart's Williamstown reports and writings? Are they online or must be accessed some other way?

  10. Jon Chambers says: Reply

    I read on the net a complaint that series is now closed because of deterioration, and not available for research. That's pretty dumb. The smart thing would be to photograph them.

    This is 'new' stuff I don't particulaly want to share until I can get it published. Among other things, the exact landmark where Ned worked is mentioned and can still be visited today. However, I could make a copy of my phootocopies.(about 10 foolscap pages) and get them to you. I know someone who would know your mail address, so don't post it here!

  11. West Australian, 23 March 1945 says: Reply

    Ned wasn't popular in 1945:

    "You are a lot of Ned Kelly rats and pigs," Mr J. F. Barnes, MLA, independent member for Bundaberg, was suspended in the Legislative Assembly yesterday for 14 days. Mr Barnes had risen to speak when a motion by the Acting-Premier (Mr Hanlon} seeking Commonwealth assistance on housing was put to the House. Mr Hanlon forestalled Mr Barnes by moving that "the question be now put," and then moved that the House adjourn until April 17. Mr Barnes shouted: "You are a lot of Ned Kelly rats. The whole lot of you! You heard what I said. You are sabotaging my motions, and you are not giving me any time to speak on them."

  12. Jon, that is crazy how important research materials are not being properly preserved. Re the Williamstown stuff, that is very generous and kind of you, but I can wait until you publish your findings. If you do send you have my solemn vow to not share with anyone or use any of it. There are quite a few interesting things that I am having to "sit on." Just would hate if someone else found the info another way and I would be a suspect! Yikes! Very uncool!
    What form are you hoping to publish? Online or on the web?

    To West Australian, that is an interesting exchange. That is quite at odds with how Ned Kelly said something to the effect that he would have been a fine sort dingo to have walked out on his mates. I think that no matter what the year from the time of the outbreak until the end of time that "haters gonna hate" when it comes to Ned Kelly.

  13. Jon Chambers says: Reply

    They would argue the diary is being properly preserved by not letting researchers get at it. As said before, that is dumb. Thanks for the extension on my offer. But lets see how things turn out. I note your promise not to share, but look forward to your comments in due course.

  14. The way to have something truly preserved is for there to be more than one copy of its contents. What if something happened (God forbid) to the facility it was being stored at? Look at the libraries in London during the Blitz or the Great Library at Alexandria. What about the purloined letters/documents and other things that have been lost? Having copies dispersed all around, having it online, having it in people's heads, that is how you save information, not locking it up and forbidding anyone to have a look. That is what is so great about Brian McDonald's Australian History Promotions. He reprints rare and hard to find colonial Australian publications and I love the way he does the introductions and the annotations that enhances the learning experience. It is truly a labor of love!

  15. Back in August 2013 on the Ned Kelly Forum, Brian Stevenson mentioned a magazine article by Ian Jones from 1962 apparently called “The Years that Ned Kelly Went Straight” . He felt the article was probably the material that ultimately made up chapter 5 in "A Short Life” called A Quiet Man. Brian McDonald offered to send a copy of it to another NKF Member who subsequently thanked him for doing so. I wonder if either of those two Brians would care to comment on that article, whether or not it did indeed become Chapter 5 and if there were any other comments on The Quiet years they want to make?

  16. While waiting for Brian S to re-access the article, I will chime in with the fact that I was sent a photocopy of it many years ago by Dave White and even then I learned nothing new from it, but still was nice to have for my collection.

    The article goes into a few early episodes in Ned's life and says that "Battered and bitter, the 16 year old Kelly seemed an unlikely subject for reform….There can be no doubt that Father O'Hea was basically responsible for the remarkable transformation which took place during their years in prison. The Ned Kelly who emerged from Pentridge was the Ned Kelly who has been almost forgotten – Kelly the honest man, Kelly the timber worker, Kelly the boxer, Kelly the overseer, Kelly the shearer…"
    Later it talks about how Fitzpatrick talked Ned into getting Dan and his cousins to turn themselves in for the store break in and theft (and alleged attempted rape) sayng that the charges were not serious and would go greatly in their favor if they turned themselves in. After the trial in which they were found guilty and sentenced to three months Ned was horrified. "This was the end of the honest road for Ned Kelly, with his step-father George King, he returned to horse stealing. Ned claimed justification, and provocation which may have existed. The fact remained that he was bitter and disillusioned. His three honest years had gone for nothing.The dog had a bad name, there was no equal justice, the dice were loaded against the Kellys…" Article ends up with Ned putting his chin strap under his nose and a red sash around his waist just before SBC, Jones calls it his "gesture of final rebellion."
    It also unfortunately alludes to the "Gentleman Ned" photo, thankfully that kerfuffle was nearly done by the time I appeared on the scene.

  17. What we know is that for three years Ned Kelly was not convicted of any wrongdoing. This is NOT the same as saying that he went straight for three years – in fact we know from the Lydeker case that he definitely DIDNT, and so the Kelly Myth about the three straight years is simply WRONG. But isn’t it interesting that once again Neds version makes out its the Police who were all bad and the Kellys the innocent victims. Fitzpatrick may not have managed to obtain a discharge without conviction but who is to know what sentences may have been handed down if he hadn’t been involved AT ALL? Things may have been a lot worse, but that scenario doesn’t suit the kelly Mythology which is that Police only ever acted corruptly and unfairly when it came to the Kellys. Who can show that Fitzpatricks intervention didnt benefit the Kellys?

  18. Excuse my tardiness, Dee and Sharon, but I have also had a look at the article mentioned, and the following points might be of interest.

    Firstly, the article is from Walkabout magazine for June 1962, pages 15-18. Walkabout is held in most state and large university libraries.

    A lot of the brief article goes over familiar ground, and it's largely a precis of the information in chapters 5 and 6 of A Short Life. Like all of us, Ian Jones was learning as he goes. The 'Gentleman Ned' photo is alluded to, as Sharon noted. Jones describes the subject (whoever he was) as 'a sober, bearded young man, dressed in a suit, with waistcoat and tie.' Jones refers to the famous boxing match with Wild Wright, 'whose horse-stealing escapade had sent [Ned] to prison', and says that the match was staged 'perhaps to settle the score, perhaps just to see the better man.' For some reason, by the time he wrote A Short Life, Jones was more definite and said of the fight that it 'aimed to even the score.'

    Of the famous boxing photograph, Jones said that it was ''recently discovered by the author at Copeland Antiques, St Kilda.' I don't think I had ever seen that detail before. The famous photograph of three horsemen is featured in the article also, and Jones gives its source as 'the collection of the trooper placed in charge of Greta, after the gang was broken up', presumably the worthy Constable Robert Graham, something I don't recall reading before either.

  19. Thanks Brian, it is a good point that you make about “all of us” learning as we go – its certainly true for me.

    In regard to that Boxing Match, Ned is normally presented as being the aggrieved party, angry at Wild Wright for not having ‘fessed up and helped Ned out of a fix. However I wonder if Wild Wright wasn’t the aggrieved party, because as I am learning, Ned Kelly always created a version of events that laid the blame on anyone but himself. In this instance he claimed Wild had given him the horse and not told him that it was stolen, and according to Morrissey Ned had planned to sell it, which is why he got three years whereas Wild got 18 months for “Using”. Maybe Wild told Ned that if he found the horse it had to be returned to its owner but Ned decided instead to sell it and double cross Wild? That would make Wild pretty “wild” and keen to take Ned on once he came across him again wouldn’t it? Just a thought – I think now that every statement of Neds has to be regarded as suspect, because whenever its possible to check on his claims, too often it turns out to be a lie.

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