The Origins of Modern Kelly Mythology

The moon landings are more recent than the Symposium that gave rise to the book “Ned Kelly Man and Myth” ! That’s how very long ago Ian Jones “New View of Ned Kelly” was first expounded – close to half a century ago – so it would be fair to say those views are not “new” anymore. In fact those “new views” have become the orthodoxy of Kelly legend and have remained at the centre of the Kelly Myth ever since, unchallenged until only very recently.
Its ironic that the Symposium claimed to be an attempt “to remove the layers of myth and legend, lies and innuendoes, half remembered truths and remembered half truths” because what the Book that resulted from it mostly contains are renewed myths, recycled lies and innuendo, and half truths, the very things the Symposium was supposed to be  sweeping away.  Its hard to find anywhere in that book a “myth” that is identified and then rejected. Rather, the myths are assumed as truths, and elaborated and expanded, nowhere more blatantly than in  the exposition of  Ian Jones “new view” . He presented his interpretation so persuasively that it has become the modern Kelly sympathisers “truth”, but in fact, it is almost pure myth. Jones creates his myth by confusing time-lines, by mixing up events which came late and proposing they influenced things that happened earlier, by simply asserting things which are untrue or unprovable, and by ignoring the actual behavior and the writings of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang.
Heres a very simple example of a myth being created to hide the truth: Jones writes “He was justifiably proud of his boxing ability” – casting Ned in a favorable light as an accomplished sportsman. But in the Jerilderie Letter Ned Kelly wrote “I had a pair of arms and a bunch of fives on the end of them that never failed to peg out anything they came in contact with” and in several other places boasted again about his ability to brawl and fight. During the Mc Cormick incident for example when questioned by Constable Hall Ned freely admitted to hitting McCormick because he accused him of stealing a horse, then said “ And I will do the same to you if you challenge me”.
This reality, this glimpse of the actual man rather than the myth, shows him to be a big powerful man who, if he was decent and of good character would not use his “boxing ability” to intimidate and assault people who said and did things he didn’t like.  But thats what Ned Kelly did – he bashed and intimidated people who disagreed with him. This is UNDENIABLE FACT!  And he was very successful at it too. But this was not justifiable pride in a sporting ability, as Jones tries to make out, but loud mouth boasting by an unsportsmanlike bully. So here’s your man and Myth moment: the man was a thug; the myth is a sporting hero: take your pick – the inconvenient truth or a convenient myth?
But what was Ian Jones “new view’? 
Essentially Jones  “new view” was a view which many now think of as a central truth of the Kelly story:  that because of Police persecution, Ned Kelly was engaged in a “personal rebellion” against the authorities and the grievance was about Land. Jones creatively discusses his view of the political instability of the time, of the uncertainty of financial markets, and the effect of seasonal variation and drought to paint a picture of seething volatility and disquiet among the Selectors of the North West.  This disquiet, according to Jones, was finding a voice in Ned Kelly whose personal rebellion merged with the selectors one.
Ultimately, according to the “new view” Glenrowan was Ned Kellys attempt to resolve this mess and declare some part of the North East a Republic.  Without such a lofty justification, Glenrowan was “madness” according to Ian Jones, ruthless and brutal, yes, “but it wasn’t a criminal act”. It was an act of war!
Again what we see here is pure Mythmaking.  Take the notion that the Kellys were persecuted, that, as Kelly said the Police drove him to madness, that all this came about because of Police mistreatment and harassment. Ian Jones develops this argument around the well known  instruction from Nicolson: “Without oppressing the people or worrying them in any way you should endeavor whenever they commit any paltry crime to bring them to Justice and send them to Pentridge. Even on a paltry sentence”
But this directive was issued in 1877, by which time Ned Kelly, his mother and two brothers  and many other members of their extended family and associates had been in trouble with the law, had been before the courts and served time in Prison.  It was the time when Ned Kelly admitted that he was himself engaged in “wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing” , meaning criminal stock theft.  To quote this statement of Nicolson as if it was issued when the Kellys were innocent law abiding country folk, and as evidence of Police persecution is entirely wrong. Such a directive was in fact a perfectly legitimate Police response to the threats to law and order that the Greta mob and the Kellys  known behaviours represented. It came well AFTER   Ned Kelly had turned to crime and can’t in any legitimate way be implicated in the causation of his criminal career.
And another thing : if the Myth was true, that all his life the innocent Ned Kelly was persecuted by the Police, why did they stop persecuting him in his so called “Quiet years” between 1874 and 1877 when he was supposed to be going straight? If he WAS going straight, and we know there was hardly any Police interest in him during that time, then doesn’t this explode the Myth, that Police persecuted him even when he was innocent?  Don’t the facts instead show that when he was “straight” the Police left him alone, but once he reengaged with the criminal world, he was once again of interest to them?
So what we actually KNOW is that when going straight, Kelly was NOT hounded by the Police, and that Police interest came AFTER the Kellys had criminal records and not before. That is the truth. The opposite idea, that Kelly was a Police-made criminal is the myth. So what are you going to believe? The inconvenient truth, that the Police had a legitimate interest in Kelly because he was a known criminal and criminal associate, or a convenient myth that ignores Kellys own admissions about being a thief, and a bully, and portrays Kelly as a victim?
The actual reality of what Ned Kelly planned for Glenrowan was an apalling violent , personal revengeful criminal act, but  clearly such behavior doesn’t fit with the image of Ned Kelly as some sort of  folk hero and visionary  leader. The Myth about Glenrowan, that it was “an act  of war” and a prelude to a Declaration of the republic of North east Victoria – or some such political event – is a blatant fabrication, an interpretation elaborated by Ian Jones to enable him to avoid the obvious truth, that it was indeed “madness’ and “criminal”.  In proposing this model, reference is always made to Ned Kellys statement in the Jerilderie letter about his being “compelled to show some colonial stratagem “. The precise meaning of this short phrase is not at all clear, but it is the ONLY statement recorded of Ned Kellys anywhere which might possibly be a reference to something like the  Glenrowan  campaign, and so in desperation Jones and all the Kelly republican believers load it up with meaning and significance that is completlely unsustainable. In fact, if this IS a reference to Glenrowan Kelly makes it pretty clear that the motivation for it was revenge for the imprisonment of his mother and others following the “Fitzpatrick incident” :
“It will pay the Government to give those people who are suffering innocence justice and liberty. If not I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem which will open the eyes of not only the Victorian police and inhabitants but also the whole British army and now doubt they will acknowledge their hounds were barking at the wrong stump and that Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than St Patrick was to the snakes and toads in Ireland”
The only way anyone can regard this statement of Ned Kellys as in some way a hint that a political stratagem was afoot to declare the North East a Republic is by completely ignoring the logical meaning of it. Clearly, Ned Kelly is referring here to the Fitzpatrick incident, and his mother and others – those suffering innocence – and threatening violence if they are not given “justice and liberty”. This is most emphatically NOT a political campaign that he is preoccupied with in February 1879, but Jones ignores the inconvenient and obvious meaning, and states, quite inaccurately  “ But the fact is indisputable that by the beginning of 1880 the rebellion was taking shape” . 
The facts are that neither Ned Kelly or any other person involved in the Outbreak EVER said a single word about a rebellion, about a Declaration, about a Republic or an uprising or any sort of Political movement or lobby group – not one word!  And yet throughout this time there was considerable public discussion in the press about the politics of land reform, about Government  policy and about leadership and governance. But within the Kelly sympathizer ranks : no interest  was ever demonstrated. I mentioned in a Post on the Kelly republic last year one of the most absurd arguments put by Ian Jones in support of his thesis, and its worth repeating :
Ian Jones – and Kelly Republicans generally – claim it took a Century to uncover this truth because the idea of a Republic 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 lack of evidence for something is proof that it exists and has been suppressed by powerful enemies!  Utter and complete nonsense! 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.

So here we are at another Man or Myth moment. Are you going to accept the evidence at face value, the inconvenient truth that Ned Kelly was never on about anything other than a personal mission of revenge, or do you prefer the convenient Myth that has nothing to support it, and that flies in the face of the actual evidence, that Ned Kelly was the brave leader of a movement that wanted to right wrongs and set the innocent free?
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16 Replies to “The Origins of Modern Kelly Mythology”

  1. Very well put, Dee. Even Ian Jones's concoction about Ned 'going straight' is proably a fiction. I think Ned had to face Oxley court on a horse charge during the going straight timespan. He got off, but the circumstances aren't detailed in the literature.

    The republic will end up exposing the fakery of the Jones outlook. I enjoyed and appreciated you exposes of Glenrowan and the monstrous mass murder plan foiled there. Kepp it up!

  2. I have continued my long term practice of deleting Comments that are not about Ned Kelly and the Outbreak, or relevant to the Posts. This is not the place for the anonymous personal attacks, pornographic suggestions and threats I have received that followed a recent posting about a sausage sizzle on the Iron Outlaw site, but its rather obvious who is making them and I have copies of them all. What that individual does with the information he is threatening me with is entirely a matter for him, but I most definitely will NOT be responding to his threats in any way at all. However I warn him now, that what he is threatening to do is Blackmail, a criminal act that I WILL respond to.

    Its no wonder all the Kelly related websites apart from this one are dead in the water : they have no answers to the challenges I am making, and will do anything, anything but debate the issues, and now theyre resorting to Blackmail to make me go away.

    Ive got news for them…..

  3. The Kelly sympathisers who are trying to shut me up are making a laughing stock of themselves with their mad accusations about who I am, about my brother, about me being someone who appeared at the Kelly weekend and cooked sausages, and introduced myself to someone, mentioning Nazi criminals and all sorts of nonsense that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with me! I am quite confident their blustering and posturing is so much hot air and none of them will ever do any more than talk big.

    Much as I appreciate the efforts of some of the Commenters who want to support me, once again I have deleted the whole set of comments as I am determined not to let this Blog become anything other than a place to actually discuss kelly mythology and Kelly sympathiser belief and behaviour. If none wants to do that, or is clever enough to take me on why should I care? I’ll just declare myself the winner!

  4. No, Anonymous you’ve got it all wrong. I have never threatened to sue anyone. But you’re confused about Blackmail – allegations made by a Blackmailer don’t have to be true you moron, so the person putting his foot in it is you, by demonstrating yet again your stupidity. Go ahead with your photos and prove that David MacFarlane was at Beechworth – I have no idea if he was or not but I do know that I wasn’t there.

    And can I suggest you go play your Identy-Dee game on your own Blogs and Forums, not mine. This is the place where intelligent people are putting people like you and your stupid kelly mythology in its rightful place – in the trash!

  5. Peter Gray says: Reply

    If nothing else, Ian Jones's defence of Ned is admirable even if based, quite often, on devices he has devised himself. The republic and the body straps are two obvious examples. On the face of it, the Kelly family was impoverished, although the bank robberies led to ostentacious spending by Kelly family members in towns nearby. None of the district's widows got a look in. Maybe the sympathisers profited, but Jones presents no evidence they did. This suggests the Kellys weren't as generous as sometimes suggested.

  6. Dee, you have been endlessly advised to get rid of the tiresome 'Anonymous' who has contributed nothing to this blog except off-topic guesswork and daft thought bubbles.

    The guy is a time-wasting pain whose knwledge of the Kelly story is negligible.

    His silence about his Lonigan solution after 79 days is deafening.

    I don't support censorship either, but this fellow over three years has shown he is a complete goose.

    Eff him off!

  7. In "A Short Life" Ian Jones spoke of how one of Ned's friends was seen buying drinks in a pub with 15 shillings worth of sixpences, of Maggie going on a shopping spree, of Mrs. Byrne finally settling up a very high grocer's bill, of Aaron being able to make a payment on his selection and pay for solicitor's fees, of Gloster who had been in debt, now having plenty of money after the robberies. Also, he spoke of "the spectable of a sick, penniless woman suddenly able to employ men to do fencing, to buy a sidesaddle and bring a daughter back from domestic service in Tasmania" seemingly with contributions from the Kelly Gang. This penniless woman was Mrs. McAuliffe. Surely, others who were not listed also benefited, but he did list those few.

  8. Dave Morley says: Reply

    The police case as presented in 1967's Man or Myth was rather soft and dull, but the research of Macfarlane and Morrissey wasn't available back then…
    It's unlikely Ned will disappear off the national agenda soon. He is after all a National Icon. But books, articles and blogs should now include their findings and not just drag out the disproved folklore as displayed time-after-time on this blog.
    It took Ned's followers years to answer the discovery in the 1980s that Ned had dobbed in Harry Power. The response when it came was rather disingenuous. Either he had deliberably misinformed police, or he had only told as little as he could get away with.
    It will take decades for them to respond to MacFarlane/Morrissey's unanswered claims and discoveries.

    For one thing, they will have to do years of archival research to prove or disprove their research.

  9. Peter Gray says: Reply

    Salutations Sharon! I suppose the money could have come from various other sources but that's wriggling. If police suspicions of Gloster were correct, it could have been his share.

  10. Anonymous says: Reply

    Hi Sharon – If there were 77 families related to the Kellys in the general area (Osbourne, I think) , then theoretically 2,000 pounds from a bank robbery gives them 26 pounds each, perhaps the equivalent 3 months wages apiece but hardly a king's ransom. I'm just speculating that maybe the largesse wasn't even that large. Potentially a fair bit of it (after splashing out on the family and immediate friends and relatives) was trickled out paying or reimbursing sympathisers for buying them supplies while on the run. There are many suggestions that they weren't such brilliant bushmen as Jones claims, and without the food drops they wouldn't have fared so well for so long. Also the cost of powder for shooting up the trees around the log hut, which also had a food stockpile. Poor sick penniless Mrs McAuliffe could have had her sons do her fencing instead of gallivanting around with the Kelly gang, including in Mrs Jones' hotel at Glenrowan; and I can just see Ian empathising with a sick woman who suddenly recovered to hop on a sidesaddle. Must have really cheered her up!

    Still, Ian's critics should still feel quite indebted to him for laying such extensive groundwork, even if some of it is wildly wrong – such as his attack on Fitzpatrick over the Fitzpatrick incident, erroneously labelled a 'mystery' in his Short Life chapter 7. There is not much wrong with Fitzpatrick's testimony when reconstructed in full, as I will demonstrate at length in an article coming out later this year.)

    Some of the sympathisers were doubtless sympathetic and saw the Kellys as wronged, if only because of Ned and his family's claims. Others were sympathisers in the sense of 'aiding and abetting', which is not such a clear claim to innocence and victimisation. It's interesting how many of them dressed up in prison gear for their portrait photographs…
    Cheers, Stuart Dawson

  11. Craig West says: Reply

    I'm liking the NEW "anonymous" (Stuart Dawson) a lot more than the tiresome internet serial pest "Anonymous", the one with the anti-book FB Hatepage.He has his own hatepage and doesn't need to replicate his hatred here…

  12. It was said that many of the bank notes that were being spent so freely smelled of earth because the gang had buried the loot for a while before distributing it. I imagine that the distribution of said funds was based on merit and/or favor with some getting much more than others. Someone paying for something with a large amount of sixpences (like the guy paying his bar bill) might have drawn attention and been assumed to have been part of the robbery money. That would be as odd for someone in the US to pay a bill using all nickels. Even Mrs. Fitzgerald, the housekeeper from Younghusband's, was assumed to have been in the gang's employ after she was found to have a large amount of sixpences in her possession (and she lost her job due to said assumption). Offhand, I can't recall how much of the loot was in coins but there would have had to have been a fair bit.

  13. John Cropley says: Reply

    Harry Nunn's history of the NAB bank contains info not available elsewhere about the gang's Euroa bank robbery (from the NAB archives). Unfortunately, the author doesn't expand on the bank manager's wife's nutty praise of Ned as a potential general.

  14. I think you might be referring to Geoffrey Blainey's "Gold and Paper. A History of the National Bank of Australia." Brian McDonald in "What They Said About Ned!" suggests using the original 1958 edition for research over the reprinted 1982 one, as he says that "although the 1982 edition contains additional material, the section on Kelly has been abridged."

    Harry Nunn wrote a book called " Bushrangers: A Pictorial History" published in 1980. Did he also write on on the bank?

    Hope that helps anyone who might want to follow up for further information.

  15. John Cropley says: Reply


    Select documents of the nineteenth century : a two volume series
    Author: H W Nunn; National Australia Bank.
    Publisher: Melbourne : National Australia Bank, 1988.

    There was a recent post which I can't find now about a Glenrowan book. I believe the correct citation is:

    The children's world of Mr Kelly : [stories of Glenrowan West, Greta and the Eleven Mile] / [by Edna Griffiths Cargill].

    1975, English, Book, Illustrated edition:

  16. My apologies to you. 🙂 I had not heard of that book by Mr Nunn, just the other one I cited which is widely quoted in the Kelly world. It must be fairly obscure. I wonder how much difference there is in information between the two?

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