Anatomy of a Kelly Myth

Not all of the myths that make up the Kelly legend are untruths that everyone has heard of, like the one about Fitzpatrick being the cause of the Outbreak, or the one about Ned Kelly’s  Republic of North East Victoria, or the one that reckons holding Hostages at the Glenrowan Inn while waiting for two dozen Police to be killed at a planned train wreck nearby constitutes a ‘heroic last stand’. These Big Lies, and a few others, such as the one that says Ned Kelly was picked on and persecuted by Police make up the bulk of the Kelly Mythology, and they are so well known that even people who are not familiar enough with the story to be able to name the policemen killed at SBC would have heard of them, and often believe them to be true.
There are however innumerable other smaller lies that are part of the Kelly mythology that only people who have a more detailed knowledge of the Kelly story would have ever heard about. This includes such things as Ned Kelly’s claim to have been hundreds of miles away at the time of the Fitzpatrick incident, that he robbed the rich to give to the poor, that Fitzpatrick raped Kate Kelly or that being kept hostage by the Kelly gang wasn’t a terrifying nightmare for genuine hostages. Another one of these lies is the claim made by Kelly sympathisers that the police are to be blamed for the loss of innocent life during the siege at Glenrowan.
It would be mad to deny that innocent people were killed at Glenrowan by Police bullets. Two of the hostages, Martin Cherry and Johnny Jones died from bullet wounds on the day of the siege. It was also claimed that George Metcalf was hit in the eye by a police bullet and died several months later of complications that were linked to the eye injury sustained during the siege. However, when something similar happened at the Lindt Café siege in Sydney in 2014, and an innocent hostage was killed when the police brought that siege to an end, the coroner took great pains to direct all of the blame for the loss of life at the criminal gunman. Equally,  the moral responsibility for every outcome of the Glenrowan hostage taking again must lie with the person who was the mastermind and principle actor in it, Ned Kelly.
In regard to George Metcalfs death, Metcalf himself said the eye injury had been caused by a ricochet from a police bullet, or splinters of wood or brick that the bullet sent flying into his eye as he sought shelter near a fireplace at the Inn. However, in the latest of his series of devastating critques of Kelly myths, Monash historian Dr Stuart Dawson  shows that it wasn’t a police bullet but Ned Kelly who was directly responsible for Metcalf’s injury and its complications. I first read this claim on the first page of Ian MacFarlane’s book The Kelly Gang Unmasked, and later in the book MacFarlane describes how Metcalf invented the story to get help he would otherwise have been unable to afford. The injury, it was revealed after investigation, had been caused by a revolver that Ned Kelly accidentally discharged while fiddling with it earlier on in the day, before the siege had begun.
Dawsons article supplies all the detailed documentary proof that debunks the Kelly myth that it was a police bullet that injured Metcalf.  As I have written already, in my view Ned Kelly is responsible for Metcalfs eye injury no matter whose bullet caused it. However the actual historical truth about what happened to Metcalf needs to be recorded accurately, and the truth is that it was Ned Kelly who directly and carelessly caused this poor mans horrific injury.
However I think perhaps more importantly than just the historical truths, using the Metcalf story as an example, Dawson exposes the way in which  Kelly myths are created. This myth, like all of them was created and sustained by pro-Kelly writers who preferred to perpetuate stories that support their preconceived notions about Ned Kelly than follow the evidence to its proper conclusion.
According to Dawson, Metcalf is not mentioned in any Kelly history until his name appeared in  not the first or second but the the third edition of Max Browns “Australian Son” in 1980. To attribute Metcalfs injury to a police bullet, Brown must have ignored, or not known about the police reports of investigations into Metcalfs claim, and comments of Inspector Sadleir recorded in the report of the Royal Commission that showed his story was made up. In his 1980 book “Ned Kelly” Molony simply repeated  Browns claim, but in ‘A Short Life’ published in 1995 Ian Jones revealed he was familiar with those reports and with the Royal Commission because he quoted from them. However,  Dawson reveals that the way Ian Jones quoted, misquoted and misrepresented those reports is  nothing short of an outrage, and absolutely disgraceful. Jones quotes half of a sentence from a Police report that appears to support Metcalfs story but ignores the rest of the same sentence where the Detective dismisses Metcalfs story and states his injury occurred before the siege began. Dawson provides lots of detail, and traces Jones claims forwards into Justin Corfields ‘Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia’, and from those two sources it has spread like a virus throughout the entire Kelly world, unchallenged until MacFarlane in 2012 and now comprehensively by Dawson.
Adherents to the Jones-Kelly mythology refuse to read MacFarlane’s book – such is their collective refusal to face the truth – and  even the Kelly fancier who moderates a Facebook Page attacking it has never read it –  so I doubt they will read Dawson’s article or respond to it with anything other than their usual personal abuse, juvenile name calling and outright denial. I do anticipate however that some of them might claim that the police must have known Metcalf’s injury was their fault because the police paid for Metcalf’s medical bills and arranged for his treatment. They will construct conspiracy theories about police trying to keep it quiet and protect their reputation. The facts however, which are always fatal when applied to conspiracy theory are that Chief Commissioner Standish himself approved of the treatment though he knew how the injuries had been caused, writing “I consider that under the circumstances of the way he met his injuries, the patient referred to who is utterly without means is a fit case for the charity”
Metcalf grew up in poverty and ended his life destitute. Like many people in his day, poor people included, he was shafted by the Kellys, but he did at least receive ‘charity’ from the Police. 

To read Dr Dawsons latest article go HERE. As usual, its a great and 

scholarly read that destroys yet one more of the seemingly innumerable

falsities that constitute the Kelly legends. Keep up the great work Stuart!
(Visited 69 times)

33 Replies to “Anatomy of a Kelly Myth”

  1. Ian Bequin says: Reply

    Dee, you and Stuart are doing fantastic work debunking the corrupt Kelly duplicities. Only Fitzy and his handful of zombies are left contradicting you (Oh, and the occasional 'Anonymous'saboteur). Fitzy's fourteen thousand likes never say a single word. His hate site is a fraud with maybe 25 genuine posters.

    I did say "maybe"….

    He's preaching to a tiny audience of numbskulls.

  2. Len McLeod says: Reply

    "Lonigan wasn't the only one to take a bullet in the eye from Ned Kelly".

    That's why I love this blog. Oftentimes, you hit the nail on the head causing a shocking revelation!

  3. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee, thanks for the write-up. You have correctly identified what I was forced to tone down by the editors, that the key point of the article is the way some parts of Kelly history have been knowingly twisted and falsified by a bunch of writers to present a whitewashed version of history. (I wasn't allowed to say "whitewashed", it was replaced with "sugar-coated", but the former is most accurate, a complete painting over.) I also wasn't allowed to point out that in the preface to his "Short Life" (2003: x), Jones wrote that “It is instructive that attempts to combat [views critical of Ned] are marred by extreme electivity, exaggeration, blatant omission, factual error and occasional fabrication”, which are exactly the faults that the Metcalf analysis shows Jones has made himself. He has done great work by putting a Kelly story together, but he has got several parts of it, including the Fitzpatrick incident and Metcalf’s shooting, stunningly and disturbingly wrong.

    As with my past couple of articles, there is no argument put up by me at all. They just go back to the source documents, work through everything that has been put up as evidence on a particular issue, and show that some loud and common claims are just hogwash. Then by reviewing all the evidence, not just selective bits, they show that it is very possible to know what happened in particular cases, without the fluff and mythmaking. All the evidence is given, with full referencing, and anyone who doesn’t like the conclusions that follow can work through it all themselves. They then either have to come to terms with the facts of history that it reveals, or go on spouting fictional nonsense.

    I would have thought that people who claim to be interested in history might be interested in getting it right, but then Kelly is not the only historical topic where creative writing abounds.

  4. Is this the juvenile name calling you are talking about in your post Dee?

  5. No, not at all.

    As you probably know Fitzsimons loves dictionary definitions so heres one for the term 'Numbskull ' : 'a stupid or foolish person.' And the definition of 'stupid' is 'having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense'

    So when it comes to describing as 'numbskulls' Fitzsimons and Devlin and the other hangers on who frequent the page he has dedicated to attacking a book he recently admitted he hasn't read, its perfectly apt. However, I don't include Bob in that group. He's an independent thinker who unlike the others is brave enough on occasion to disagree with the bully rather than just suck up to him like you do.

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    Just a little side issue Dee. Did you know that when Ned was in his cell during his committal in Beechworth, and was asked by a reporter if in fact Fitzpatrick had tried to kiss Kate, he replied "No, that never happened!" Just thought you might like to know.

  7. Thanks for that reminder!
    That idea, of Fitzpatrick molesting Kate is one of those many nasty little lies that Kelly fanciers love to repeat in their determination to vilify the police at every opportunity. Vilification of police is absolutely critical to the Kelly myths because without the police being really nasty, what explanation can the Kellys give for what Ned Kelly did?

    But suppose Fitzpatrick DID kiss Kate – and suppose Fitzpatrick really DID make up the whole story – how in Gods name would any of that justify Ned Kelly not just beating up a policeman or even murdering just one – and the obvious one would have been Fitzpatrick – but MURDERING not one but THREE good men, and then Aaron Sherritt as well and then very nearly carrying out his plot to murder anther couple of dozen?

    The astonishing truth is that even if the Kellys WERE persecuted, nothing that ever was done to them deserved the monstrous over-the-top rampage that Kelly embarked on. He was like that person you read about in the news from the USA every now and then who is sacked from a job and returns a few days later with an automatic weapon and kills everyone at his former work place. Completely crazy. A lunatic. In Ned Kellys case, a charming, persuasive psychopath.

  8. Anonymous says: Reply

    You need to be very clear. Ned Kelly did not murder Aaron Sherritt. Joe Byrne did. Ned was nowhere near the Woolshed that night when Aaron was shot.

  9. I have just read Dawsons paper on Metcalf. Good stuff. I know it won't be but this should be required reading for all students of the Kellys. It seems JJ Kenneally has a lot to answer for.

  10. Yes you are correct. Joe Byrne pulled the trigger. But surely you're not suggesting Ned Kelly didn't know what was going to happen to Aaron, that he wasn't an accomplice to the murder?

  11. The thing about Kenneally is that his extremely partisan approach is blindingly obvious to any one reading his 'polemic'. His bias is so obvious that any reasonable person would hesitate to believe a single word in that publication of his.

    Much worse, in my view, is Ian Jones tactics which are much more subtle and heavily clothed in an aura of objectivity and scholarly style. When you learn from Dawson who has taken the time and made the effort to check out what Jones said, that Jones grossly misrepresented the true story, it comes as quite a shattering blow to realise that someone we have all tended to rely on and to trust – in the main – is actually as partisan and unreliable as Kenneally.

    I think its Ian Jones that has a lot to answer for.

  12. Letter from James Ryan- from J. J. Kenneally.

    pages- 202 and 203- undated.
    This sibling of gaoled sympathiser – Joseph Ryan was known to have resided in the Ryan family home at that Benalla address from approx 1919.

    Amazing the views that were written in that letter!
    When, by that time, his sibling and our small connection to the story. Joseph Ryan, had passed -1914, and had lived a family and professional life for many years with offspring noting not a word or mention of such views, or past events ever being spoken about. (except for a tiny amount imparted to an eldest son).

    B. T. and T. Ryan

  13. Ashleigh Broad says: Reply

    Prof Molony's Ned book had Ned speaking the blarney! Even Fitzy recognised this as nonsense.

  14. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi B.T. and T, amazing stuff, that letter! According to Ned Kelly's cousin James Ryan, in order to protect themselves against “cruel and cowardly persecution” the Kellys were “compelled … to offer armed resistance to the police… The Outlawry Act gave my relatives the same right to use the privileges and forms of war as those used by the Government in my relatives’ fight for Justice and Freedom”. Bold words indeed, but even fifty years after the Kelly saga the brother of Joseph Ryan, one of the gang’s closest sympathisers, did not claim any political agenda or republican aims in the Kellys’ “fight for Justice”. He rather claimed that they and others had been maltreated by the system. Justice from the system seems to be what the fight was about, not its overthrow…. Just saying…

  15. Anonymous says: Reply

    No I am not at all suggesting Ned was not complicit to the murder, but he did not actually do it. I get a little weary reading that Ned was responsible for Aaron Sherritts murder. He was not!! And to suggest he was an accomplice to murder, I again say no. he may have had knowledge, but the well known accomplice was Dan Kelly. You might say Ned could be charged with conspiracy to murder but not murder or accomplice to murder.

  16. 'A little weary' are we? Of people saying things about Ned Kelly that are wrong? Don't get me started!

    But please do what Mick Fitzsimmons loves to do and look up a dictionary definition- this time of 'accomplice' – then get back to me if you want to admit your 'weariness' is based on a misunderstanding of Ned Kellys status in the murder of Aaron.

  17. Martin Day says: Reply

    Ian Jones says "Ned seems to have opposed the murder. Always ready to trust a man – especially a friend – he could not believe that Aaron had betrayed them voluntarily and he clung to an idea that Aaron had been tortured by the police. In the end, however, he reluctantly accepted Joe's decision to kill his mate", Short Life 2003, p. 195. But back in Man and Myth p. 171 he said, "with a plan forming, the decision was reached to kill Aaron Sherritt. Then we have the bait for the trap, and the plan is quite clear. Sherritt was to be killed at Beechworth. On receipt of the news, a special train would leave Melbourne…" While Joe and Dan killed Sherritt, Ned and Steve would occupy Glenrowan…". Jones changed his mind, from Sherritt being killed as a necessary part of the Glenrowan campaign to Ned opposing it out of some kind of friendship. It's clever how he figured out that nothing was Ned's fault.

  18. Hello Mr Dawson, Thanks for your response and insights on James Ryan's forthright letter.
    He must have been greatly affected by reading Mr Kenneally's book.
    James would have been very young in 1880, and even though we have not delved into his life he and his brother Joseph lived a fair distance from each other from the mid- 1890's (though it was James who re-posted Joseph's obituary in a North East paper- even though Joseph had lived in another region for approx. 20 years)..
    After a few stumbles, Joseph Ryan evolved into an active Community member and the little we know of James he held a responsible job in the North East region for many years.
    Mr Kenneally must of had his reasons for publishing James' letter in his book.
    The language of the letter illustrates just how different the times and conditions were to our current experiences, and James' emotive viewpoints.
    We read Justice from the system as the core of his letter as well.

    B. T. and T. Ryan

  19. Stuart that's a great point you made about the absence of political motivation in the collective memories of the Ryans. If such things were talked about but 'carefully concealed' – which is how Ian Jones accounted for there being no public awareness of anything political motivating the Kelly gang – then one would have to expect that sooner or later somewhere down the line someone would let the cat out of the bag. But Such a thing never happened anywhere. So either Kelly sympathisers are the world champions at keeping secrets and managed to do something that no before or since has ever done……OR …..Ian Jones view is just a Conspiracy theory.

  20. So tell me. Why were the police taking Aaron to the pub and buying him drinks? Why did Aaron tell a cop where he would find Joe on a Saturdsy night? What was the deceitful Aaron doing chasing a woman whilst his pregnant wife was at home? Why did the very stupid cop go straight up to the aforementioned barmaid and confront her about her regular meetings with Joe on a Saturday night? Are the police allowed to take potential informants out and get them pissed to get information they want? I don't think so. Paints a bit of a picture of the prejudice the Kelly Family and others had to endure doesn't it. The cops back then were as crooked as a dogs hind leg. Touche'

  21. Have you forgotten that the Police were trying to track down a gang of four who had murdered three people? And robbed two banks of the modern equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars? These are not petty crimes but at the extreme level of criminality in any society. But you think that in trying to solve these horrendous crimes the police are 'crooked as a dogs hind leg' because they question a barmaid and have few drinks with an informant? You have GOT to be kidding me! If that's all you can dredge up to create an image of " the prejudice the Kellys and others had to endure " then I'm sorry you've failed utterly to make a case. Your argument is a ridiculous joke!
    Go back to the drawing board. And as for what Aaron was doing with women, who cares? That's his private business.

  22. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi B.T. and T, I assume Kenneally published it simply because it strongly endorses his book. It seems the key complaint that James Ryan had against the authorities was the detention in gaol of the sympathisers without evidence. This had been strongly advocated by at least one newspaper of the day, in early December, but infringed on the idea of "habeas corpus", which means that an arrested person must be brought promptly to court to face their accuser, with the evidence produced. This caused a big stink, and even Hare in his book says that it was a bad move that increased sympathy for the gang. It is however not correct that Ned was "convicted before he was tried". He was caught, tried and convicted in that order. James probably meant that he was assumed guilty by the judge before the trial even began. That too is not correct, as the jury of mostly working men could have acquitted him. I like the bit about Standish and the other senior police having the brain development of a seven year old boy! Phrenology made easy! The remanding bit seems to be the most important issue in why James felt outraged by how Joseph was treated by the system, but again, there seems to b no revolutionary aspect to it, just saying that the system should live up to its claims and act justly as it claimed to do; but it had wrongly let itself down. But that is a big difference from jones and others dreaming up a revolutionary selector movement. Even Graham Seal wrote that off as nonsense, that they thought of "setting up a Hibernian utopia in the Wombat Ranges"!

  23. So its ok to get someone pissed to obtain evidence? Would not stand up in any court today and would be deemed inadmissible. Crooked cops caused the Kelly outbreak from the outset. Your move.

  24. So the police forced the alcohol down his throat did they? Yeah right!

    As for who caused the Outbreak, all the actual historical evidence is that Ned Kelly caused it….. by being a self declared major stock thief. If you know evidence to the contrary please provide it so we can all be enlightened.

  25. Hi Mr Dawson,

    We have read of Supt. Hare's analysis of the implications of the gaoling of the Sympathiser's in Beechworth in early 1879. It is noted by us.
    There are some great newspaper reports of the court sittings in relation to the weekly remand extensions.
    It's amazing that James Ryan appeared to demonstrate such loyalty towards his older brother, and in his letter, as you noted, there seems to be an amount of empathy towards his Kelly cousins treatment by the justice system as well.
    We've discussed on this site before about how some of the sympathisers just wanted to buy land and live near some of the people that they knew, and this wasn't necessarily encouraged, and took some an amount of time to achieve this.
    Being on Committees for race clubs, Agricultural, coursing, ploughing etc. (meetings generally held in the hotels), seemed to be a common way that some of the males were involved, and socialized.
    People seemed to be trying to "have a go" and make the most of their opportunities in those pioneering times.
    With larger families, people seemed to always know someone from another town, and this also supported broad networks.
    This aspect would have rung true for many settlers, not just the Ryan's and the Kelly's.(Though the Kelly's network was noted as being very broad).
    -James Ryan wrote boldly, as you mentioned, about his lack of faith with the Government of the time, but a secret republican movement no doubt you and Dee will have some other people to debate on that topic.

    A nice shiny, engraved gold Hibernian cross. Nothing beats one of those in the family! Bro- Joseph got a nice one, but from a tad later than the 1880's!

    B. T. and T. Ryan

  26. Harry Grange says: Reply

    Anonymous (23 November 2017 at 09:40) forgets the police were there to accompany and protect Aaron when he went to watch the Byrne home. This was a CLANDESTINE operation, fool, which never featured pub drink-buying in public or public womanising. They were afraid they would be uncovered.

    As usual Anonymous, you are just making stuff up as you go along. And, as usual, not the slightest proof for your absurd remarks is ever offered. You are indeed a mega time-wasting internet serial pest.

  27. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi B.T. and T, yes, I didn't comment there on the land blacklisting in my last post, but that was a huge factor in creating resentment against the authorities. The blacklist of names as you probably already know is VPRS 4965, Con. 2, Unit 4, Item 177, an interesting read. At the back of the Royal Commission minutes, in Appendix 1, Q.29, Inspector Montfort refers to a report in which he seems to want to keep the blacklist going after the outbreak, although I have not found that report yet, so I don't know what period he is referring to. I'm sure people were socially involved and had more or less broad networks depending on their interests, family and work connections, etc., just as they do in country towns today, or at least used to until the trend for kids to move off to cities in recent years in quite a few towns, hence declining town populations.

    I'm not really debating the republic issue at the moment as I think from what I've read that it's a lot of hot air with almost nothing to support it. I have read all the evidence conveniently collected by John McQuilton in his "Kelly Outbreak" book, pages 166-168, and have read all the primary source documents in his references for those pages. His evidence is certainly interesting, but not compelling, as there seem to be other explanations for all of it that don’t involve a republic movement.

    There is however one reference that I have not been able to find, in his note 54 on page 228, to a letter or memo from “Steele to the office at Beechworth” 10 August 1880 in the Kelly Papers at VPRO. I have gone through the Police Branch papers in VPRS 4965 online without success. There might be something in there, but I haven’t managed to find the document yet, and with that very vague reference it might be in another part of the Kelly papers. Anyone who can give me a VPRS reference will get hearty thanks! BTW, are you happy to say what year the Hibernian Cross is from?

  28. Anonymous says: Reply

    Hi Stuart Dawson,

    Our reason for including the agricultural,horse race and social gatherings etc. is because this is what we found our ancestor was involved in- some of which was of high interest and involvement of the times- sinister or secretive aspects- not noted.
    We have not found a reference to a land blacklist of citizens after 1880 either, but we have newspaper references after this date that feature comments about "Kelly sympathisers" not being able gain access to land.
    VPRS 937 P0000 Unit 367- 1881 has some interesting notes about some Kelly Sympathisers in 1881. But, on reading some of this, not sure if an observer was trying to stir some trouble.
    Joseph Ryan became involved in a Hibernian group as he, his partner and some friends, were quite involved in the Catholic School/church of his/their children and community. Even though processions wearing regalia, lead by a local brass band was reported (i.e. on the way to starting a St. Patrick's Day sport's day)- there was no sinister element detected here. It was the R.C. lead in the church that asked for a Hibernian group to be initiated in the local parish – to support the faith in the Community, and to support Catholics who may come into hard times etc. This was after the late 1890's.
    Festive Season cheer

    B. T and T. Ryan

  29. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi B.T. and T, yes, the social involvement in races, ploughing contests, shows, etc., was definitely an important part of local regional life. I too have seen a couple of references to sympathisers not being able to get land after the outbreak ended, but I haven't got to that yet. Thank you very much for the reference to the VPRS 937 file – unfortunately it is not available online, so will have to wait for a time when I can get in to the archives centre, but it sounds very worth a look. I have seen elsewhere that Hibernian Societies were often more of a religiously based friendship group than anything overtly political back in the nineteenth century. I had downloaded an article on it but I can't find it just now. Happy Christmas likewise, Stuart

  30. Ashleigh Broad says: Reply

    Dee, you are becoming better than Nolan with your Ned images.

    Who is Fitzy going to complain to about them?

  31. Sydney Nolan says: Reply

    That is a terrible hack of my prestigious painting, "First Class Marksman". I think my Sundays were well spent. What do you mean turning my Ned into a one-armed bandit? It's Metcalf's fault he got shot. If he wasn't there it wouldn't have happened.

  32. Your perspective is well though and engaging. Although you lack hard evidence to some of your statements. Make sure to thoroughly consider the context of the time, the conflict between the Irish settlers and the English Lanlords (squatters) and the English run government. Acknowledging this would have given a stronger response perhaps making a statement that Ned Kelly was "too extreme" and "jeopardised the safety of the people he claimed to fight for."

  33. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Anonymous, it took me a while to figure out if this was a response to this page or to the ongoing new discussion about the Glenrowan timeline. Either way, my forthcoming Republic article looks at all this stuff, but I'm not going to put more bits of it on Dee's blog as it should be out in another few weeks, depending on publication vagaries. The difficulty in this comment is that if I was to say that NK "jeopardised the safety of the people he claimed to fight for", that would be to assume that he claimed to fight for anyone other than his mum, Bricky and Bill. As will be shown, the argument is that he never did. Like the muffin man, it was all about himself. At least, that's what will be argued, along with the customary buckets of supporting source evidence. (As opposed to the noticeable lack of it from "Kelly republic" adherents.)

Leave a Reply