|Ned Kelly aged 16 : Harry Power, Ah Fook and McCormick incidents already behind him
Like everyone interested in the Kelly story, I am looking forward to seeing the photo that is being prepared for public display at the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth. The Vault have been talking up this photo for several months now, beginning in April with an invitation to Facebook readers to guess what it was they had just been offered for exclusive display at the Vault, something they were claiming was the most important Kelly find in the last 50 years. People whose interest was aroused, including me made various suggestions but in the end the Vault didn’t reveal anything; instead they removed that entire thread from their Facebook page and left everyone in suspenseful ignorance. Next they released a short tantalizing Video suggesting they had acquired a previously unseen image of Ned Kelly. Eventually after more teasing and frustrating provocation they gradually let it be known that yes indeed the mystery object was a previously unseen photo of two people, one of whom they believe to be Ned Kelly. This long marketing campaign has successfully raised the profile of the Vault, generating several newspaper and radio articles that are now describing this photo as the Kelly find of the century, and created a level of excitement about the photo that’s approaching hysteria among the Vaults Facebook followers. There’s no consideration given amongst all this hype and hoopla that the photo, if of Ned Kelly, is a picture of a psychopath and police multiple murderer – instead the overwhelming mood is of celebration of a hero, and the image of the Vault on Facebook is being subtly transformed into less of a museum about the ‘hero-or-villain’ and more of a shrine to the memory of a hero. Its unbalanced and nauseating, and I would suggest offensive to the families and descendants of Ned Kellys victims. I cant imagine Victoria Police or Leo Kennedy sharing in the excitement.
If this image is indeed of Ned Kelly, as the Vault is hoping to prove, then it will be only the sixth known photo of him. The other ones are the two taken in 1880 at Neds request in Melbourne Gaol the day before he was hanged, the “Boxing Ned” photo taken in 1874, and two mugshots, one from 1874 when he was at Pentridge and the earliest photo of him, taken at Beechworth gaol in 1871, shown at the top of this post.
|Surely the most famous photo of Ned Kelly
|The other 1880 prison photo
|Ned in 1874, Pentridge Mugshot
|Boxing Ned, August 1874
There are other photos that are said to be of Ned Kelly, one of which sold at Auction earlier this year for $16000. This one has Steve Hart and Dan Kelly in it as well but theres great skepticism in the Kelly community about its authenticity:
|Sold for $16,000 in 2016 as Steve, Ned and Dan but who believes it apart from the buyer?
Theres also the photo of three men on horseback, a commercially produced Postcard labeled as the Kelly Gang, but again there is doubt about its authenticity. In any case, the detail is so poor, the riders could be any three men:
Lastly there is the infamous “Gentleman Ned” photo, sold at Auction in 2002 for $19,000 with the backing of no less a Kelly expert than Ian Jones himself with the support of Keith McMenomy. The photo apparently was passed down from Tom Lloyd, who had kept it in his wallet with photos of Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. Jones was reported at the time to have said that he was unimpressed by people “…jumping up and down saying it is not Ned Kelly“. He was convinced saying, “Everything checks…even in amazing detail like the belt he is wearing.” Eventually Christies gave the buyer his money back because it was proven not to be Ned Kelly at all. This ought to be a cautionary tale for the Ned Kelly Vault and the photo it is so vigorously promoting, but so far theres little sign of that on the Facebook page at least.
– the buyer at Christies in 2002 got a refund of $19,000
According to the detail so far released, the Vaults photo has been in the possession of ‘the Kelly family’ for generations and they say it once belonged to Neds mother. The Vault aren’t saying exactly which ‘Kelly family’ it was who had possession of this photo, but they have refused permission for the image to be made widely available, and according to Matt Shore steps are going to be taken to make it impossible for the public to take pictures of it themselves when it finally goes on public display. These restrictions are hard to understand except perhaps in the context of the commercial value of the photo, which if proven to be genuine could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would be interesting to know what value was placed on it for insurance purposes.
The photo is said to be an image of Ned Kelly and another person taken in 1874 when Ned was supposed to have been ‘going straight’ working in the bush. He had only recently been released from Beechworth gaol where he had served time for feloniously receiving a horse, a fact pointed out in the ABC interview about the photo by Mr John Suta, the ‘kelly tragic’ who owns the Sydney Nolan painting of Ned that’s already on display in the Vault. Unsurprisingly for a Kelly ‘tragic’ Suta repeated the usual Kelly lies about Ned being unfairly persecuted by the Police and being given twice the sentence for receiving the horse than the horse thief himself got. Mr Suta, like most of the Kelly sycophants, needs to update his knowledge of Kelly history by reading Morrisseys recent book “Ned Kelly A Lawless Life” because in that book Morrissey points out that Ned knew the horse was not stolen but ‘borrowed’ and that he tried to sell it:
“Wright had borrowed the Postmasters horse on previous occasions and returned it, knocked up and the worse for wear. The Postmaster, knowing Wrights character did not report it, but after several weeks without a horse he did report the latest “borrowing” to the Police”
“The crucial distinction to be made here is between Borrowing without permission – “Illegally Using” – and “receiving” which legally implied theft. It’s the difference in modern terms between joy riding for fun and car stealing for profit”
A few months after his release from Gaol, the “Boxing Ned’ photo was taken as Kelly engaged in a famous fist-fight with Wild Wright, apparently settling scores related to the stolen horse. Going by the state of his facial hair, the Vault are guessing their photo was taken a few months before this.
I hope when they eventually reveal the image at the Vault – or perhaps we should be referring to it as the Kelly Shrine now – there will be more than just veneration of the image, and homage to Ned Kelly. It would be a perfect opportunity to make an interesting display of the history of pictures of Ned Kelly and the Gang, to recount their chequered history, the methods used to verify the provenance and the identity of photographic records, and the salutary lessons that can be learned.
It will of course be the second object on display at the vault which they have claimed to be the greatest Kelly discovery in 50 years, the other being a piece of iron plate about which they deceptively state “...beyond doubt this piece of unremarkable metal is in fact an offcut from Joe Byrnes breastplate” In fact scientific tests have proven that it is NOT an offcut from Joe Byrnes armour but just a rusty old piece of scrap metal. I warned the Vault months ago that by continuing to make these claims about disproven ‘kellyana’ their credibility as a museum will be undermined, (read my post on this here ) but it has remained in the exhibition, and as far as I am aware the claims about it remain the same. Now, with this latest Kelly photo about to go on display, the chickens are going to come home to roost – the first object they claimed to be the greatest Kelly find in 50 years is a fake, so why would anyone believe the second one isn’t a fake too? If they’re going to stake their claim that the Photo is Ned on the results of scientific assessments, why have they rejected the scientific asessments on the rusty iron? They need to commit to believing the Science whatever it does to their fond hopes, because if they just pick out the opinions that suit their narrative their credibility as a Museum is shredded and they will be recognised as the shrine they are trying not to be.
But lets not forget that if the photo is accepted as genuine, it’s not a photo of Australias greatest hero, a person anyone should look up to or want to emulate, but of a young criminal psychopath, a notorious liar who became a multiple police murderer and the mastermind of a terror plot as brutal and as merciless as any that we read about in the daily press. The photo, if its Ned, is a photo of a villain. Try not to get overexcited about it people!
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