This post is about the people who claim Ned Kelly was a hero.
What I would like to know from them is what exactly was it that he did that makes him a hero in their eyes. I don’t want to know what they BELIEVE about Ned Kelly, but what they KNOW about him that gave rise to their belief. So, I don’t want to be told they BELIEVE he was a devoted son, or that they think of him as Australias Robin Hood, or that they BELIEVE he and his family were so terribly persecuted and oppressed by the Police that in the end he had to ‘take a stand’, or that they BELIEVE he was going to establish a republic of North East Victoria. No, I want them to explain what they KNOW, what are the FACTS, what is the actual historical EVIDENCE that is the foundation for their BELIEFS about Ned Kelly. What facts can they point to that support the belief he was a devoted son? What facts can they point to that support the belief he was Australias Robin Hood, what facts can they point to that support their belief that the Kellys were persecuted or that Ned Kelly had a Republic in mind at Gleenrowan?
I can think of just two things that we KNOW about Ned Kelly that are on the positive side of the Ledger, facts that could possibly be said to support his ‘hero’ status, but I have to say, to be a real hero these two examples are nowhere near enough.
The first is his rescue of Richard Shelton from Hughes Creek in Avenel. This did actually happen, though as readers of this blog will know there are some lingering doubts about exactly how heroic this deed was. The stories of this rescue mostly describe a raging torrent, but the year of the rescue was one of severe drought, and though one of the Kelly sympathisers claimed he had read many reports of rain and floods that year, 1865, when asked to provide even ONE reference to them he went silent. This is quite typical behaviour for Kelly fanatics – they make claims about Kelly history but never back them up. But lets give the 10 year old Ned Kelly the benefit of the doubt and accept that he rescued Richard Shelton from a raging torrent. Is that enough to make him an Australian hero and Legend? Of course it isn’t – no-where near enough. If it was enough, then my own father would be a national hero and Legend, as would a school friend of mine because they both, at separate times saved ME from drowning, once when I fell into the harbour off a fishing boat, aged about 6, and later, aged 8 when a strong river current pulled me out into deeper water and I couldn’t swim properly. So, no, rescuing Dick Shelton doesn’t make Ned Kelly a national hero.
The only other positive thing that we KNOW Ned Kelly did was to build his mother a house. But even that wasn’t entirely heroic as he had been living the glamourous life of a ‘rambling gambler’ and criminal stock thief for a couple of years all around Victoria, all the while ignoring the poverty and squalor that his mother and sisters were living in. But let’s give him credit for at least eventually realising her desperate plight and taking time out to lend a hand. But again, that’s nowhere near enough to justify giving Ned Kelly hero status.
So what else do we truly KNOW about Ned Kelly that could justify the status of icon and hero?
The answer, is very little.
Some may nominate the Jerilderie and Euroa bank robberies. Kelly sympathisers see these acts as heroic because in their eyes, Ned Kelly was defying authority and thumbing his nose at his persecutors, the Judiciary, and the Victoria Police. They think it was heroic because in some versions of the story he was trying to get the money together to fund an appeal against his mother’s conviction and gaoling for the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. The huge problem with THAT narrative is that though the Gang stole a HUGE amount of money – many hundreds of thousands of dollars in todays terms – much more than would have been needed to fund an appeal, Ned Kelly DIDN’T use the money to fund an appeal or even give it to ‘the poor’. Instead he used it to buy protection for himself. He distributed it amongst friends and supporters who he relied on for assistance and protection in his bid to remain free, and soon these people were seen paying off bills buying fancy clothes and new saddles. The robberies were about purchasing the means to continue to resist arrest and evade capture. The claim he was trying to help his mother was just talk, and it was NEVER backed up by any action.
As for the claim the Kelly’s were victims of Police persecution and oppression and harassment, and this justified his robberies and defiant stand at Glenrowan – where are the facts, where is the evidence that justifies that belief? Surely everyone knows by now that the Royal Commission made an exhaustive investigation into the causes of the Outbreak and declared there was no evidence for such a claim.
In any case not many would agree that an armed gang of four murderers needed to be especially heroic or daring to overwhelm a couple of Police in two tiny rural villages. Neither would many regard threatening old men and women as particularly brave – but that’s what Kelly did. And very few Australians believe robbing banks at gunpoint and taking hostages is an activity that should result in hero status, no matter how cleverly or cheekily executed. And a couple of horse-riding stunts would hardly be amusing to people who had just been held hostage and had their lives threatened by a raving psychopath.
As for the planned atrocity at Glenrowan, sympathisers claim heroic status for this failed attempt at a police massacre by claiming it was intended to be the founding of a Republic of North East Victoria, or if that’s not enough it was a further attempt to rob banks for money to defend his mother. We already know the latter excuse holds no water, and the massive problem for the former is that there is not one shred of evidence anywhere that Ned Kelly ever contemplated such a thing as a Republic of North East Victoria. Ned Kelly was renown, and remains famous for his mouth, but in all the hours of lecturing that he delivered to hostages and in all the thousands of words that he wrote in letters, he never once mentioned a republic. Not once. Ever. Instead he vented page after page and speech after speech against police, paranoid delusions about being persecuted, and hateful violent rhetoric about revenge. The idea of a Republic are words put into Ned Kellys mouth by fools who cant see what an appalling liar and violent killer he was, fools who want to cling to a delusional belief that supports their own hatred of Police that Ned Kelly was someone to be admired because he taught the police a lesson.
So what was heroic about the robberies and about Glenrowan if they weren’t done to help Ned Kellys mother, and they weren’t done because the Kelly’s were unjustly persecuted? Whats left is raw criminal intent.
On the negative side of the Hero Ledger, these are the known historical facts : He was gaoled for assault, he was gaoled for indecent behaviour, he was gaoled for ‘feloniously receiving’, he beat Wild Wright to a pulp, he was the mastermind of a criminal stock thieving syndicate ( he said so himself!) he participated in the assault on Fitzpatrick and lied about it, he murdered three policemen, he imprisoned and made hostage farm workers and other citizens including women and children at Euroa and Jerilderie, he robbed two banks of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, he collected a formidable arsenal of guns, ammunition and gunpowder, and planned to murder dozens of police at Glenrowan. He sanctioned the murder of Aaron Sheritt. He created the mess that ended with the death of his own brother, two other friends and two innocent hostages. He also told far too many lies to list here. He was found guilty of murder and hanged.
The Kelly sympathisers, as usual will not attempt to answer any of this. That’s because they don’t have any answers. So, for everyone else: “Ned Kelly – hero or villain?” Its an absolute no brainer!
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