By the end of the weekend of June 26th to June 28th, 1880, the weekend of Ned Kellys last stand at Glenrowan, six people had been killed: Aaron Sherritt had been murdered by gang member Joe Byrne who was himself later shot and killed by police; gang members Dan Kelly and Steve Hart had committed suicide trapped inside the Ann Jones Inn, and tragically Martin Cherry and Johnny Jones, innocent hostages imprisoned in the Inn by Ned Kelly were caught in the crossfire and also killed by Police bullets.
The issues that relate to these two innocent deaths are what I want to consider in this post.
I haven’t yet had a chance to read the newly released book “Ned Kelly : Iron Outlaw” by a long-time Kelly apologist, Brad Webb but I predict that in it, he will repeat his frequently previously expressed opinion that the Police were to blame for these two deaths, and they prove the Police were a corrupt and undisciplined mob of killers who were so inflamed by ‘blood lust’ they couldn’t have cared less who they killed in their determination to destroy the Kelly Gang. His views are quite typical of the people who think Ned Kelly was a hero. In their eyes, responsibility for the loss of innocent life lies fairly and squarely with the Police. Here’s another example from the Facebook Page of another prominent Kelly apologist:
“Bob, they don’t use the word MURDER, when the cops, with premeditation and deliberate acts, knowing the Glenrowan Inn was full of defenceless men, women and children, opened fire mercilessly, with intent to kill everyone inside.”
Firstly, we can dismiss the idea that the Police ‘opened fire mercilessly with intent to kill everyone inside’. This preposterous suggestion, a deliberate vilification of the Police is not supported by any statement or evidence from the time, and is completely contradicted by the fact that only 3 of about 60 people in the Inn died as a result of Police gunfire, and one of those three was a gang member. Given that the prisoners were trapped together in a confined space, and barely protected by the thin timber walls of the Inn, it wouldn’t have been difficult to kill or wound most of them, if that had been the intention. In fact, when the shooting started, to try to help protect the hostages it was a Policeman, Constable Hugh Bracken, also a prisoner in the Inn who told all the other hostages to “lie down, as flat as you possibly can on the floor, it is the only chance you’ve got”. Outside the Inn police were told to fire high to avoid the hostages lying on the floor and Hare is reported to have told his troopers “Do not fire unless they fire first”. One cant help wondering why it is that Kelly sympathisers make such ridiculous statements as the one above that the Police wanted ‘to kill everyone inside’, and why, when they do, no-one among their ranks ever challenges them. When ordinary people read this kind of absurd exaggeration they realise Kelly sympathisers are not credible.
It would be wrong though to pretend that the Police were all perfectly behaved at Glenrowan. Steele, who arrived after the shooting started and according to Justin Corfield without realising the people inside the Inn weren’t all Gang members or sympathisers fired carelessly at genuine hostages wanting to escape, and later, after bringing down Ned Kelly he had to be restrained from executing him on the spot. The Black trackers also were reported to have been shooting indiscriminantly, and had to be warned. The truth though is that the great majority of Police conducted themselves appropriately, and it was Police themselves who pulled the errant ones into line.
Secondly, we can also dismiss the suggestion that the deaths of two innocent hostages were ‘murder’, because we know they weren’t deliberate killings preceded by ‘malice aforethought’ which is how a murder is defined. The Police advanced on the Inn in the dark, calling on the gang to surrender “in the name of the Queen” but the Gang, protected by their armour responded with shouts of “Come on you bastards; the bloody police can’t do us any harm” and started shooting. The police replied in kind shooting at the flashes coming from the veranda of the Inn. The deaths of Johnny Jones and Martin Cherry were clearly unintended, but who was ultimately to blame? Is it entirely the fault of the Police if they accidentally kill someone in a hostage crisis?
Obviously, Kelly sympathisers say yes, the Police were at fault because if they hadn’t fired the bullets, the hostages wouldn’t have been killed. That of course is the entire point of having human shields – to discourage return fire. On the other hand if the Kelly Gang hadn’t taken people hostage in the first place, they would never have been in harms way.
I think the first point to be made is that the Kelly Gang were the criminals here, not the Police. The gang had been on the run for nearly two years and had already murdered three policemen at Stringybark Creek, they had robbed two Banks of an enormous amount of money, and they had murdered Aaron Sherritt. They had turned up at Glenrowan heavily armed, equipped with armour and dynamite, they had dismantled a section of railway line and were intent on committing a criminal incident of major proportions, beginning with a lethal train wreck. At gunpoint they imprisoned a large group of innocent people, children and babies included, to be used as human shields, and as some sort of bargaining chip in a negotiation whose purpose even now is only guessed at. This was to be a criminal act of unprecedented slaughter, and it was the duty of the Police to prevent it, to end the two year “Outbreak” and bring this murderous Gang to justice. And that’s exactly what they did.
Since that time, 1880, there have been innumerable hostage crises around the world, and they all create the same dilemma for authorities: should the lives of innocent hostages be protected at all costs, or should the hostage-takers be stopped by whatever means necessary and the possibility of ‘collateral damage’ accepted ? The argument against giving in to criminal demands is that it encourages other criminal gangs to use the same tactic and potentially creates many more such dilemmas, leading ultimately to greater harm, greater loss of innocent life. On the other hand, the loss of even one innocent life is an almost unthinkable tragedy which could be avoided by simply giving in.
In 1880 the world was nowhere near as familiar with hostage crises as it is today, so there was little experience or knowledge if any, of the best way to approach such dangerous scenarios. In modern times capitulation to the demands of the hostage takers is unusual, and Governments mostly adopt a hardline approach but at the same time attempt to negotiate a solution that saves lives. Often enough though, specially trained squads with sophisticated equipment end the crisis with some sort of assault which doesn’t always end well for the hostages. At the 1972 Olympics, at Entebbe, Uganda in 1976, in Peru 1996, in Moscow 2002 and at the Lindt Café in Sydney, December 2014, as well as many other sieges, innocent lives were lost, but surely no-one in their right minds would think these people were ‘murdered’ by their rescuers, or that the intention of the authorities was anything other than to save the lives of all the hostages if they could?
There have been inquiries after many of these events, and the actions of the authorities frequently questioned and criticised. Indeed, this is what happened after the siege at Glenrowan with the 1881 “Royal Commission of enquiry into the circumstances of the Kelly outbreak”. Superintendent Hare who led the initial charge at Glenrowan was not criticised in any way in relation to what happened at Glenrowan – in fact, his Pension was increased by £100 per annum owing to the injury he received there. However, Superintendent Sadleir’s behaviour at Glenrowan was criticised : the Report said somewhat curiously “that his conduct of operations against the outlaws at Glenrowan was not judicious or calculated to raise the police force in the estimation of the public”. I call their comment curious because Sadleir was in Melbourne for the entire duration of the siege and only arrived at Glenrowan after Ned had been captured, and the Inn burned to the ground. Sargent Steele, who was supposed to have shot at hostages attempting to escape the Inn, and who was prevented from illegally killing Ned Kelly immediately after he had been captured, was also criticised in the Commissions report – but not about his behaviour at Glenrowan. The Commission was critical of his failure to follow up on sitings of the Gang in November 1878 which may have led to their early capture. Bracken, Curnow and ‘members of the press’ were all commended for their behaviour at Glenrowan. Martin Cherrys death was mentioned, as was Johnny Jones injury, and reckless firing by the Blacktrackers after hostages waved a white flag was decried, but in the final report, there was no mention or apportioning of blame for the deaths of two innocent people.
Likewise, there was an inquiry by the NSW Coroner after the Lindt Café siege in Sydney 3 years ago in which an innocent hostage, Katrina Dawson was killed by Police when they stormed it, freed the remaining hostages and killed the gunman, Man Haron Monis. The coroner specifically addressed the issue of Katrinas death :
“Nevertheless, because the inquest seeks to identify how such incidents might most effectively be responded to in general terms, it is inevitable the focus will fall on any suboptimal performances. Plaudits should and will be offered where deserved but mistakes can’t be papered over if performance is to be improved and public safety increased.
That said, I cannot stress too heavily that the deaths and injuries that occurred as a result of the siege were not the fault of police. All of the blame for those rests on Man Monis. He created the intensely dangerous situation, he maliciously executed Tori Johnson, he barricaded himself in a corner of the café, and his actions forced police to enter the café in circumstances where the risk of hostages being wounded or killed was very high. Monis deserves to be the sole focus of our denunciation and condemnation.”
These words could equally be applied to what happened at Glenrowan, which was a situation that had many features in common with the Lindt Café siege. There were also some significant differences, such as that Monis had never before killed anyone whereas the Kelly Gang had murdered four times, and whereas Monis threated to and finally did murder one of the hostages, the Kelly Gang used their hostages as human shields and didn’t threaten to kill any of them themselves. However the Gang certainly imprisoned their hostages against their will and very deliberately placed them in harms way, fired on the Police and dared them to shoot back. There cannot be any doubt, given the findings of the 1881 Royal Commission, the historical responses to the many hostage crises that have occurred since then, and the unequivocal findings of the NSW Coroner who investigated the Lindt Café siege, that if he had conducted a similar inquiry into the deaths of Johnny Jones and Martin Cherry at Glenrowan that he would have said, as he did of Monis:
“I cannot stress too heavily that the deaths and injuries that occurred as a result of the siege were not the fault of police. All of the blame for those rests on Ned Kelly. He created the intensely dangerous situation, he maliciously executed Aaron Sherritt, he barricaded himself in a corner of the Inn, and his actions forced police to respond in circumstances where the risk of hostages being wounded or killed was very high. Ned Kelly deserves to be the sole focus of our denunciation and condemnation.”
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25 Replies to “The deaths of innocent people at Glenrowan”
Another masterful blog Dee. Well done.
I'm hoping you are just about to announce the publication of your forthcoming book exposing the pro-Kelly fools and their wacky literature and blogging efforts.
They are a national embarrassment. Australia deserves much better.
Against my better judgement, I have ordered the discounted Brad Webb book.
There will be the usual rants about corrupt Victoria police, the Republic, blah, blah, blah!
Brad is a BS artist and I'm looking forward to seeing his promised "rarely seen images". Most of the Kelly images have been done to death. I'm betting these are more of the same.
Brad's work eventually will be judged as badly as the weird Peter Fitzsimmons tome frequently debunked on this blog.
And let's hope there are no actionable criticisms in Brad's small contribution to his hero Ned.
Brad also reiterates the NE Kelly Republic furphy despite the abundance of evidence against it.
He needs to find out for himself that Kelly Gang book buyers are mighty rare these days.
Perhaps the fake 1400 likers of the FB hate page against another book will buy your book.
You know they don't exist. They are the silent majority… Hahaha!
I have asked various Kelly sympathisers what was Ned's reason for forcing a large number of civilians into Jones Inn. As could be expected, not one has answered this seminal question. I suspect that it is simply because there is no other logical reason than to use them as human shields. If he had intended using them as bargaining chips to obtain some sort of advantage, we haven't heard of it yet. I have also pointed out that it was the gang members who fired first on the advancing police party, full-well knowing that they had innocent people in the hotel behind them But yet again, there has been no response as to some sort of justification. As you point out, the innocent casualties were the result of the actions of the Kelly gang. If they had simply taken the hotel and used it as a siege point, there would have been no civilians killed. Once again a clear indication of Ned's cowardice.
There is no way around it. Ned was an exceptionally brave man. It is absurd to call him a coward. There was never any intention of using the Inn as a place to defend. Events unwound as a response to circumstance. The police also had no plan and a division of command. They could have surrounded the inn but went in for a frontal charge .The people were held captive in order that no-one give the alarm. The original plan was to ambush the police when their train crashed. The police were so inept that the special train was delayed by many hours and thus threw the Kelly plan out of kilter.
Ned never sought refuge in the hotel but went to face the police in the open.
James you say the Police were inept at Glenrowan. Well, I would say the Kelly Gang was even more inept, for the following reasons: ONE :the reason the train was delayed was because Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne so terrified the police in Aarons hut they wouldnt come out until they were certain the way was clear. TWO; The Kelly gangs plan was to rip up the rails in secret but they didnt check beforehand that they knew what to do to rip up tracks , and so they didnt bring with them the tools required to do it – so they failed at the very beginning and so did their plan to do everything in secret THREE As you say they were drunk. FOUR The armour was worse than useless – they could barely move in it, their vision was severely restricted, they couldn’t aim let alone fire a rifle while wearing it, and as was eventually realised, their legs were unprotected : a fatal design flaw. FIVE : They let Curnow go SIX When the train didnt crash they would have known they were doomed and had a short time to get the hell out of there, but they stupidly decided to remain and try and kill a few police before their own inevitable demise….and people say Ned Kelly would have been a great General….he launched a dangerous poorly thought out plan that resulted in him being captured, the rest of his Gang killed, and not ONE policeman dead, which was what the plan was all about. So Glenrowan was a completely disastrous failure for Ned Kelly : how inept would you call that?
From the book, ‘Exploring Religion and Ethics: Religion and Ethics for Senior Secondary Students’, by Peta Goldburg, Patricia Blundell, Trevor Jordan. Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 119.: “Ned Kelly is an example of someone often seen as an anti-hero. He was a bushranger, thief and murderer, but his defiance of the oppressive colonial authorities is admired by some modern Australians.” Yeah, right, “his defiance of the oppressive colonial authorities”. Ned the class war hero. History for retards?
No, the police were oppressing the Kelly’s and pursued them for any trivial real or imagined crime. The police also cooked evidence against them.
Sorry James, you are 6 years too late with that response and it is completely wrong. I reccomend Grantlee Kieza’s “Mrs Kelly” for a detailed recounting of Ned and the other Kelly’s and clan’s history of crime since boyhood. The Royal Commission which was very critical of the police nevertheless found there was nothing to the stories that the police oppressed the Kellys and pursued them without good reason. That is a mispresentation of one of Inspector Nicolson’s quotes taken out of context. There also is nothing anywhere to suggest the police cooked evidence against them.
My mistake, that was ethics for retards based on history for retards. For a useful outline of the idea of an anti-hero see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antihero
It has nothing remotely to do with Kelly, who in school textbooks and children's fiction is most often represented as a hero based on naive and simplistic views of colonial history and the accompanying whitewashing of as much of his criminal involvement as possible. The result is a laughably widespread ignorance of the underbelly of the Kelly gang story which viewed quite the opposite in its day.
I've been slumming again, and visiting the FB hatepage against 'The Kelly Gang Unmasked' book.
I challenge Mick to show exactly where in his book MacFarlane says a special tool was needed to reload a Spencer rifle. He does not. On page 4 of that book, where the Spencer rifle is first mentioned, Macfarlane says that the Kelly Gang lacked the 'required tools' to take up the railway lines at Glenrowan. Mick devoted TWO blogs to his negligent, false claim.
Mick went on to mention that hostage Beecroft saw a demonstration of Ned loading and unloading a Spencer rifle at Euroa. Beecroft was a draper's assistant (a person who sells textile fabrics). Beecroft wouldn't have known a Spencer rifle from a cake of soap.
MacFarlane is probably wishing he had shut this persistent idiot and internet serial pest down five years ago.
The fellow just conjures up evidence and proofs from shallow misunderstandings and his own false claims of expertise as a ballistics expert. He is NOT.
He is a retired truck driver.
Stuart, at least the Cambridge Uni Press cretins didn't do the corrupt Victoria Police thing as well.
Aussie Post says my Brad Webb book is arriving tomorrow just in time to ruin my weekend. It better be filled with images I haven't seen before as Brad promised.
I've got a feeling I'm going to be popping up on this blog like popcorn as I struggle through through it. Groan!
The Troll has recently discovered The Legends Anthology facebook page. How long until he attacks all posters then says its their fault for posting anything he disagrees with. It should be a good bunfight coming up.
Mick never lets the truth get in the road of a good story.
Try not visiting his page and ignoring him, you will sleep better and no one will care
Sure enough the Brad Webb book arrived today and is just a rehash of the pro-kelly legend. It is profusely illustrated but only two pics I haven't seen before. Stringybark Creek chapter is headed 'Stringybark shootout – a rather one-sided event and discussion. There are plenty of literals that start in the foreword (a missing word). On page 153 'partitioned' is used instead of 'petitioned' and so on… There are a LOT of tiresome snippets headed 'Did You Know'?
No MacFarlane or Morrisey in the biblio.
I've done my dough and bought another dud. More fool me!
Ive thought for a long time that taking hostages into the Inn wasn't part of the original plan, which was to quietly rip up the tracks and then hang about waiting for the trainwreck. However because the great General hadn't thought about exactly how to rip up the tracks or what equipment was needed , when he and Steve tried they were unable to. They were then forced to find someone who could, and in so doing their plan was revealed. The only way to maintain the secrecy around what they were planning was to make everyone who know about it a prisoner. The other blunder they made was to have sympathisers hang about Sherrits house all night, so there was huge delay in the word reaching Melbourne that the Gang was about, and as the delay went on and on more and more people had to be confined in the Inn. At that point the great General needed to have a rethink about his options and about the risk he was exposing the hostages to, but if he did, he must have decided to keep them as human shields. I think he was just lurching from one crisis to another and once the original plan had fallen apart he didn't really have any idea what to do. They should have all got on their horses and shot through as soon as they realised the train hadn't crashed.
Thinking more about this; they held citizens prisoner at Euroa; and again held people prisoner at Jerilderie; then again at Glenrowan. At Jerilderie they rode up and down the street yelling about the good old days of Morgan and Ben Hall. Each time they “planned” to imitate Ben Hall, holding captives somewhere so they couldn’t get away and raise the police or any other aid. They thought they were bold bushrangers like the Hall gang; narcissists led by a psychopath. But without any actual grievance of the sort that drove Hall to the bush. All their misadventures were their own stupid fault. They were failures who wanted notoriety. Along with it came fear and loathing from the vast majority of Victorians and NSW people. Then their story was whitewashed into a topsy turvey farce, first by Kenneally the Kelly’s close neighbour; then by embittered socialist Brown; then by fictitionistic script writer Jones. All of them serving up unashamedly biased and selectively dishonest intellectual slop. Pity.
The callous Kelly bastard shot Metcalf in the head then rounded him up with the other prisoners. Then a long line of half arsed apologists tried to pretend against clear witness evidence that Metcalf was injured by ricochet from a police bullet fired during the siege. When MacFarlane produced the evidence to show the fault was entirely Kellys, the lame brains abused MacFarlane for pointing it out. The Kelly myth is built on lies so deep its hard to know where to star untangling them. Webb's stupid book also blames the police for Metcalf's death too, on page 134. What a useless fart brain, running an Iron Outlaw website and too stupid to sort out basic fact from fiction.
Well, no it was not ‘the callous Kelly bastard’. The original conclusion was a police ricochet bullet. The later conclusion was that an accidental discharge from Ned’s pistol wounded Metcalf. This does not make Kelly ‘callous’ although it might be argued that he was irresponsible.
I think the callous reference is to the fact that though wounded , Metcalfe was kept a prisoner instead of being allowed to go for medical help.
The Spencer rifle was a powerful weapon. If Ned knew how to load and unload it, why was it never used?
The armor reduced the ability to accurately sue their weapons, and especially hard to use a rifle. The gang had also been drinking heavily and had little sleep which might also explain their failure to hit anything.
However, one of Ned’s wounds was on his wrist or hand which made it difficult to fire a rifle.
I just finished reading Frank Clune’s ‘Ned Kelly’s Last Stand’. Clune is not uncritical of Ned Kelly and his men but he is more sympathetic than anything. My conclusion on the overall rights and wrongs is that Ned and his clan were framed by the police for crimes they did not do and also given ridiculously severe penalties for minor crimes they did.
Constable Fitzgerald created a story demonizing Ned Kelly and his mother in order to hide his night long drinking binge at their home when Ned was not even present, but he claimed Ned had shot him in the wrist. This led to Ned becoming a bushranger and he, rightly, harbored a grudge for the jailing of his mother for three years.
For Ned it was a war against a loathed and oppressive enemy. If he had been more political and organized a revolt involving thousands and many more deaths we would say he was a war hero. However, he tried to avoid deaths and called upon police to surrender which he prefered rather than shooting them. In the case where he did so it was self defence against a hunting party and knowing there was another one nearby.
Ned Kelly was surprisingly articulate and well written for someone of humble origins who had left school at a young age. he was also a great organizer who took over towns and police stations. before people even realized what was happening. The police leadership, by contrast was inept and conflicting.
The quality of police recruitment was very poor in those days and former convicts could enlist
As for the Jones Hotel siege at Glenrowan, the Kelly gang never intended to use it as a place to defend with the people as hostages.
Furthermore, the cops barely gave any thought to arranging a truce to allow innocents to leave. Later when a woman with baby fled she was shot at by Steele who said it was Ned dressed as a woman! Another cop threatened to shoot him if he continued and this was repeated when Ned was a helpless captive.
It is unnecessary to say the police wanted to kill everyone in the hotel but it is true that they did not give this priority. The hotel was peppered with barrage after barrage of bullets even after the bushrangers inside were long dead.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Kellys were wronged and that Ned was an especially brave man, right to the time a noose and sack were put over his head.
James, thanks for going to the trouble of writing this review of Clunes book for us. Can I ask if the claims made in your review are those made by Clune in the book, and if so, are you saying you agree with them?
The problem with a book that was written some 60 years ago is that we know a great deal more about the Outbreak than was understood in Clunes time, and if he were alive today he may well have written quite a different one.