Glenrowan:Part 3 : The True Hero

“Without a doubt, Thomas Curnow was the most pivotal figure in the story of what transpired as the Glenrowan Siege”
I read this statement on the website of Culture Victoria in a beautifully illustrated section about the Glenrowan School. It’s a thought that at first surprises, because commentary on Glenrowan is universally dominated by the violent and outrageous actions of Ned Kelly, the images of his armour and the siege at Ann Jones Inn.
But think for a moment about what the story would have been if Ned Kellys plan for Glenrowan had succeeded, and think again about why it didn’t : the answer is that a limping school teacher outsmarted the rampaging Kelly Gang, and a candle and a red scarf proved mightier than a hundred and fifty kilograms of armour, gunpowder, skyrockets, bullets revolvers and rifles.  All that seething hatred, all that plotting and angry scheming, the murder of an old friend and the imprisonment of a town full of human shields came to nothing because one man with a conscience was brave enough to stand up against wrong, and do whatever it took to stop the murder of innocent people in a train crash.  There can be no mistake – what Curnow did required extraordinary bravery, and he later admitted he expected to be killed in the attempt, but even his own wife’s pleas couldn’t dissuade him.
Read what he wrote a mere three weeks after the event, in his Statement to the Police:
“In overcoming Mrs Curnow’s opposition to my going for she was in a state of the utmost terror and dread, and declared that both I and all belonging to me would get shot if I persisted in going, and in securing the safety of my wife, child and sister while being away time passed, and just as I was about to start I heard the train coming in the distance. I immediately caught up the scarf, candle and matches and ran down the line to meet the train. On reaching a straight part of the line where those in the train would be able to see the danger signal for some distance, I lit the candle and held it behind the red scarf. While I was holding up the danger signal I was in great fear of being shot before those in the train would be able to see the red light, and of thus uselessly sacrificing my life.”
This man is the true hero of Glenrowan, and its about time his bravery was given the recognition that it deserves. Compare his bravery, a schoolmaster going alone with only a candle and a scarf, unarmed, with the “bravery” of Ned Kelly, armed to the teeth after weeks of target practice, enclosed in armour, protected by human shields, and a member of a gang….an extraordinary comparison!
A piece of red fabric, more powerful than Ned Kellys armour

The immense irony of Curnows actions was that by preventing Kelly from succeeding at Glenrowan, it became possible to ignore what was planned and instead create the Legend Of Ned Kelly out of what actually happened, as if that was all Glenrowan was about. The truth is that Ned Kelly planned an act of appalling and merciless violence at Glenrowan, and thus he revealed the true state of his mind and motivation : it was the mind of a mass murderer – No doubt about it.

The fact that he didn’t actually commit mass murder is neither here nor there in this context, because he didn’t abandon his plan, but was stopped from carrying it out. What was in his heart is what condemns him.

The truth is that if Kellys plan for Glenrowan had succeeded, and the Train had crashed and its passengers slaughtered by the Kelly Gang as was intended, there would never have been any argument about Ned Kelly being a hero or a villain. It would have been plainly demonstrated, by mass murder that he was a villain and Ned Kelly would be reviled for all history as a crazed mastermind and not a hero or an Icon. Instead, because that atrocity didn’t actually take place, Kelly sympathisers pretend he was a hero. They can only do this by deliberately ignoring what Ned Kellys plan revealed about the true state of his heart and mind. It revealed not idealism,or a vision and hope for the future but anger, hatred revenge and murder.

So what do the Kelly sympathisers websites have to say about Thomas Curnow, the man who made it possible for them to have a mythology? Searching both the Ned Kelly Forum and Iron Outlaw reveals he is mentioned in passing but to my initial surprise I could find absolutely no specific discussion about him, and yet, as the quote at the top of the page recognizes, he was THE most pivotal figure in the drama at Glenrowan. Without Curnow they would not have had a Legend to talk about and yet they have effectively airbrushed Curnow out of the picture entirely. 

When you think about it though, its not that surprising because discussion about Thomas Curnow poses a difficult dilemma for Kelly sympathisers. If they praise him, they are admitting that what he did in stopping Ned Kelly at Glenrowan was a good thing – or, to put it the other way round, that what Ned Kelly planned was an outrage and it was good that he was stopped – but none of them wants to be caught admitting such a thing, supporting the authorities and agreeing that Neds plan was an outrage. On the other hand if they condemn Curnow, they are giving consent to what Ned Kelly planned for Glenrowan, the slaughter of a trainload of Police and other innocent people, an act that today would be rightly regarded as terrorism. People go to jail for a long time, for even planning let alone carrying such things out. How many Kelly sympathisers want to be associated with THAT kind of behavior?
So what the sympathisers do as far as possible is ignore Curnow, and they ignore the reality of what Ned Kelly planned for Glenrowan, a terrorist outrage that was stopped by Thomas Curnow. Its only by such wilful denials of the facts of history that myths like the Kelly Legend linger on.

I believe if we want to talk about heroism at Glenrowan, its not Ned Kelly we should be thinking of, but Thomas Curnow. Long may his memory live. He really was a genuine hero.
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25 Replies to “Glenrowan:Part 3 : The True Hero”

  1. Divine influences must have been working against Ned that night. Victoria is rarely windless, and the blokes on the pilot train must have had their eyes peeled. Curnow dobbed in Stanistreet for having a revolver, ingraciating himself with Ned, Even so, it was silly of him to let Curnow go. Too trusting or too dumb. Dunno!

  2. Thanks for the doc with the scarf fragment. Hadn't see that before. It had to be that thin for the candlelight to be seen.

    Several people showed uncommon courage at Glenrowan. But Curnow saved the coppers who, until he told them, did not know the Kelly gang was awaiting them nearby.

  3. Scott McBain says: Reply

    Details. The police pilot train must have gone past the Glenrowan station to allow the following police train to unload there.

    The Gang stayed inside the Glenrowan Inn instead of engaging police at once. It's another weird question mark about Glenrowan.

  4. The pilot train and the police special were coupled together after finding out from Curnow about the presence of the Kellys in Glenrowan and the torn up rails (the rails were torn up a half mile past the station). They pulled up to the station with the horse carriage at the platform for easy unloading.

  5. Regarding there being no wind when Curnow went to stop the train, you are correct. I had put this bit at my blog re that night a while back – "…it was supposedly a clear, cold night with frost which meant there wasn't even a breeze."

    One thing I always wondered about was how Curnow said in his statement that after he came back home after stopping the train that he hid his wet clothes. Did he happen to fall on the damp ground at some point? Did the frost just naturally form on his clothes as he was out so long and start to melt from the heat of his body? Was he sweating bullets (no pun intended) due to the exertion and excitement? I remember Hare talking about camping out in the cold while on the Kelly hunt and that he awoke so covered in frost that his men did not even recognise him.

  6. Ken Brooke says: Reply

    Salting sympathisers among the hostages as informers was probably a wise precaution. But the crowd at Glenrowan would have identified the four sympathisers there. The gang was quite well-known in Euroa and Jerilderie and would not have cared if sympathisers were recognised. Their presence was an additional danger for hostages and townsfolk.At least this part of the planning worked.

  7. John Hollows says: Reply

    Its a pity Judith Douthie in her book didn't mention what documents she found "missing" at PROV about the Glenrowan hostages.

  8. Ive removed a few comments including one from Sharon which was a suggestion that we we just concentrate on discussing the Kelly saga and stop disparaging all of those who might think differently than we do. I agree with her and will continue to remove Comments attacking individuals and in particular named people. HOWEVER, that doesn’t necessarily preclude attacking their ARGUMENTS or ideas or behaviours. And I will certainly be continuing my count of the days we have been waiting for the promised Part Two of the book-haters explanation for Lonigans wounds. I am simply asking him to make good on his claims, but now, nearly six weeks later its starting to look pretty obvious that he cant.

  9. I came across references to Sympathiser persecution of Thomas Curnow but haven’t found the sources for this. I was hoping someone might be able to enlighten us ( which probably means you Sharon as no other Kelly enthusiasts seem willing to contribute! )

  10. Off hand I can't recall the exact sources regarding threats against Curnow, but I do know that he wisely and quickly moved to Ballarat to continue his teaching career with Daniel Kennedy taking his place at Glenrowan. Will see what I can possibly turn up.

  11. I have searched around but have not turned up any specific information about threats to Curnow only general bits like up above on how he sought immediate transfer out of Glenrowan. Maybe someone who has the Douthie book can check in it for what she might have uncovered on the threat aspect.

  12. Can't find my Douthie quickly, but Morrissey says (on pp. 175-6) that Curnow's successor Daniel Kennedy sought removal to any other school in Victoria because he feared revenge for acting as a police spy by sympathisers. He went to a school near Winchelsea..

  13. Thanks for that, I could not find my Morrissey when I went to look earlier. Regarding Daniel Kennedy and Thomas Curnow I wrote a blog post back in 2010 about how Kennedy was mistaken for Curnow in later years. I can't do a direct link but it can be found by googling
    "Former Police Spy is Visited by Wild Wright and Mistaken for Curnow". While I am doing what some call shameless promotion, I may as well double down on it. Be sure to also check out my new blog post called "The Kelly Reward Rejectees Or The Denied Two Dozen."

  14. I've also mislaid my Shaw "Glenrowan". I don't think I deliberately lose books I don't like, but …

  15. Dee, I disagree with this policy to some extent. The FB hate page of the book-hater is exceedingly defamatory. I happen to know that you are not Ian Macfarlane, the author of the excellent book that exposes the Kelly fantasy, nor associated in any way with him or his family. Commenters on the FB hate page make extraordinary claims which are obviously wrong and often criminally defamatory. Surely we should be allowed to respond?.

  16. The retired truckdriver who has attacked the MacFalsne book for three years should be banned from commmenting on this blog. He is a timewaster and complete idiot. He hasn't providedd part II of his Lonigan theory, nor any evidence Ian MacFarlane is a Kiwi as he has claimed for three years. What a faece..

    Fry in your own juices, Mick!

    Those women you emailed still want you in court.

  17. What is stranger is when lost books suddenly reappear where you had looked before and you know that no one else has been in that room and touched anything!

    Found the Shaw book at the bottom of a pile, he said this re Curnow:

    "Thomas Curnow's life was in mortal danger for every moment he remained in Kelly country. His schoolhouse was immediately closed and he was quickly transferred to Melbourne and then to Ballarat, where he took a pay cut to teach at a new school. His wife, Jean, always lived in fear that the Kelly supporters would get their vengeance. Curnow's descendent Judith Douthie said Thomas was occasionally threatened after the siege. Once, as he walked through a park in Ballarat, a man shouted from behind, 'We'll get you, Curnow!' Thomas pretended not to hear and walked on…"

    Then Shaw talked about the Cookson interview in later years with Curnow living under an assumed name in Gippsland, and went on to say "The reference to Gippsland might have been a smokescreen to hide the fact that Thomas was really living in Ballarat.." (while we know that Daniel Kennedy having been a teacher in Glenrowan figured in to it also)

    Then he talks about the reward money and how Curnow "pointed out that his family had suffered financially from the forced move." Then he talked about how Curnow's headstone had the inscription of "Ginge Curnow in the hope that his grave would not be desecrated."

  18. Yes of course you should be allowed to respond to stuff on the FB Hate Page that attacks The Kelly Gang Unmasked, its author and me. But why respond to it on my Blog and possibly give the man an opportunity to close me down as he has with my other Forums? Respond on his FB Page as I have done, start your own FB Page or Blog to express your views and see what happens. Somehow I imagine he has already done his best to get Google to close me down here and been unsuccessful, but even so, losing my other Forums to his lies and malicious complaints is not something I want to happen again. It was a disappointing loss of lots of interesting Posts and discussions that many people had made in an effort to contribute.

    Even though by his offensive antics and lies the entire Kelly sympathiser world is dragged into disrepute, not a single individual in the Kelly sympathiser world has the gumption to call this buffoon into line. Its quite extraordinary that they are happy to allow this person to be their mouthpiece, but then as they say “Fools seldom differ” I challenged “Bob” on this point and he has refused to answer, a rather telling silence I would say! Are they afraid of being kicked out of NKF I wonder?

  19. How can anyone respect Kelly sympathisers if they treated Curnow like that? This sort of behaviour, quite apart from the entire outrage of Glenrowan, is one of the truths about the Outbreak that convinces me more than anything that there was never anything more than base instincts at work here, these behaviours are inconsistent with an idea that there was some sort of incipient republican movement afoot. People with high-minded visions of a better fairer more democratic society don’t believe it can be achieved by murder and mayhem, by threatening true heroes like Curnow.

  20. I take all those points. But I don't want to correspond in Facebook for a range of reasons.

  21. Dee, in reply to you and Sharon above, you wrote-

    " these behaviours are inconsistent with an idea that there was some sort of incipient republican movement afoot."

    While you rightly point out elsewhere in your blogs that there is little evidence to support a 'Republican movement', the authorities were well aware that there was. Otherwise why did they arrest some 26 family men around the Oxley Plains south of Wangaratta alone!
    The authorities did this to quickly kill it off quickly by arresting all those who had shown sympathy, their friends and associates. I agree, that to me this is proof of 'incipient republican movement afoot'.

    Remember the Kelly outbreak was more political than what history our books want us to believe, and as with earlier uprisings in English history, the people involved were vilified by each other. Curnow move was just one example, as was James Wallace the Hurdle Creek school headmaster forced out from his career. Its all about politics every time. I am sure had you been there on the side of the local farmers and had your hopes and aspirations destroyed you would have taken sides too. However I am for a republic, lets hope Peter FitzSimons can make it happen this time.

  22. The sympathisers were arrested because they might aid the outlawed police killers and not because police or politicians feared a republican movement. The idea of a republic set up by murderous redneck kids is so absurd as to be LOL stuff!

    Also, Dee, not all republican movements have been inspired by democracy or benefitting mankind.

  23. Supposition says: Reply

    The whole republican 'thing' was dreamed up by Ian Jones for book sales. No evidence whatever.

    Ned probably didn't know what a republic was.

  24. Ned and the boys sure would have hated today's Australia

  25. Had a hard time trying to find a suitable spot to put this. I don't like getting fussed at for diverting the conversation in some of the threads, but the flow of information should always take precedence. 🙂
    I found out about a new Kelly book today while googling something Kelly related. It was released in July 2016 and is called "Pioneer Teachers of the Kelly Country: Head Teachers and their Schools in North-East Victoria during the 1870s and 1880s" and is written by L.J. Pryor and G.W. Pryor.
    The synopsis at the link below mentions Curnow and Wallace.

    The name Pryor rang a bell with me and I see that the (now late) Leonard John Pryor was the author of the 1986 publication called "Thomas Curnow (1855-1922)." In Brian McDonald's "What they said about Ned" it says that the 1986 book was 68 pages and that only 25 copies were ever published.

    Perhaps this new work will contain text from this previous volume so that all can finally benefit from Mr. Pryor's research. I did not see this book mentioned at any of the other Kelly sites yet, so no one has given a review. Perhaps someone can get one and let us know the go.

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