Think again about what Ned Kelly said in court

The Kelly Trial—The Scene in Court
In the Central Criminal Court on Friday October 29th 1880 Ned Kelly was found guilty of the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan. Immediately after the Jury Foreman had made the announcement, the Clerk of the Court asked Ned Kelly if he had anything to say ( was there ever a moment when Ned Kelly DIDN’T have something to say?)
“Well, it is rather too late for me to speak now. I thought of speaking this morning and all day, but there was little use, and there is little use blaming any one now. Nobody knew about my case except myself, and I wish I had insisted on being allowed to examine the witnesses myself. If I had examined them, I am confident I would have thrown a different light on the case. It is not that I fear death; I fear it as little as to drink a cup of tea. On the evidence that has been given, no juryman could have given any other verdict. That is my opinion. But as I say, if I had examined the witnesses I would have shown matters in a different light, because no man understands the case as I do myself. I do not blame anybody   neither Mr. Bindon nor Mr. Gaunson; but Mr. Bindon knew nothing about my case. I lay blame on myself that I did not get up yesterday and examine the witnesses, but I
thought that if I did so it would look like bravado and flashness, and people might have said that I thought myself cleverer than Counsel. So I let it go as it was”
Redmond Barry then placed the traditional square of black cloth onto his wig and addressed Ned in the dock:

Barry : “Edward Kelly the verdict pronounced by the Jury must have been one that you fully expected

Kelly: “Yes, under the circumstances”
Barry: “No circumstances that I can conceive could have altered the result of your trial”
Kelly: “Perhaps not from what you can now conceive, but if you had heard me examine the witnesses it would have been different”.
The conversation didn’t end there, and Ned Kelly went on to declare that his mind was “as easy as the mind of any man in this world”. He also claimed to be “the last man in the world that would take a man’s life. Two years ago, even if my own life was at stake, and I am confident if I thought a man would shoot me, I would give him a chance of keeping his life, and would part rather with my own.
Now, in the Kelly legends, these encounters are claimed to be demonstrations of Ned Kellys indomitable spirit, his refusal to be intimidated by authority, evidence of his courage and readiness to stand up for the truth right to the very end. But there is more to it than that – these encounters are little more than egotistical self promotion and bombast and they expose the deep flaws in Ned Kellys personality. 
For one thing, I am unable to imagine how any normal human being in his position would be able to declare his mind to be ‘as easy as the mind of any man in the world’. To know that his criminal activity has resulted in the incarceration of his mother and the suicide of his brother, the death of his friends Sherritt, Byrne and Hart, and two innocent people  at Glenrowan, to have completely failed to achieve whatever it was he was attempting to achieve at Glenrowan, to have been found guilty of the murder of Thomas Lonigan and be responsible for the deaths of Scanlan and Kennedy, and to now be weeks away from his own execution, and to have a mind that’s ‘easy’?  I am afraid I don’t see it as normal, or admirable or in any way re-assuring to have him declare his mind to be as ‘easy’ as anyone’s after that horrendous catalogue of violence and disaster, not just for himself but for his family. That remark I am afraid betrays his complete failure to be able to respond as a normal human being, to have  normal human feelings and emotional responses to events that to ordinary, normal people are highly emotional and stressful. Either that or else he was just lying. 

As for claiming to be the last man in the world to take a mans life – who is he kidding? He killed Lonigan within a few seconds of ordering him to bail up, and without the slightest hesitation, and then lied about what happened ever after. He made a similar claim in the Jerilderie letter : “I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain, I would  manure the eleven mile with their bloated carcases – and yet, remember, there is not one drop of murderous blood in my veins” What these statements tell us, I think is that Ned Kelly was so convinced of his own virtue that he was unable to imagine that anything he did , even killing a man, could be regarded as anything but meting out righteous justice. In his own eyes, he could do no wrong. This of course is indicative of a seriously  disordered personality. Its more than a lack of humility, more than towering arrogance – its delusional.  
It is also chilling to observe that when given an opportunity to speak at the end of this appalling saga, the only thing he wants to talk about is himself. No mention of the mother he is supposed to have been devoted to, no mention of his brother Dan, now dead, or the rest of his family, no mention of anything high minded like a Republic, or the rights of the poor , no personal regrets, no remorse, no shame, no apology, no acknowledgement of any kind of sorrow or disappointment even, not even one word – just endless completely delusional nonsense about how if the Defence had been up to him, he would have been able to do what Bindon and  Gaunson couldn’t do, and persuade the Jury he was innocent. This is not the robust self-confidence of a man who knows he has truth on his side, or what Ian Jones supposed Republican visionary would have said, but an entirely self-centered and misplaced grandiosity that has him boasting to the Court, seemingly completely in denial that he has screwed everything up completely. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.
Ive been wondering what would have happened if he was indeed given the opportunity to conduct his case. He seemed to have forgotten in Court that he had already made his case in the Jerilderie letter, writing a self-serving account that claimed the policemen were to blame for their own deaths because they didn’t do as he told them to. His account of Lonigans death claimed Lonigan got behind logs and raised his head above them to take aim at Kelly, who shot him in self-defence. This was a lie that would have been exposed in Court, and Ned Kelly’s self-defence argument wrecked the moment he was asked to explain how it was that Lonigan had a bullet wound in his left leg that passed from the outside to the inside. Quite apart from that leg being protected behind logs when Kelly claims he shot at Lonigan, the trajectory of the bullet was the opposite of what it would have been if somehow the bullet had got through the logs. If Kelly had presented a description in court of what happened at SBC that differed from his Jerilderie letter account – again, he would have discredited himself and lost. The forensic facts show that when Lonigan was killed he was out in the open, totally exposed, and before he had time to even turn, let alone run and get behind logs.

Ned Kellys  belief that it would be easy to bail up armed police at SBC and rob them was delusional. His belief that if he wore armour he could take on and defeat an entire trainload of police was delusional. His belief that he could have changed the Jurys decision was delusional. His speeches in Court disprove the claims that are made for him, that his campaign at Glenrowan was about a noble political cause, a Republic of North East Victoria, because the only thing he wanted to talk and brag about was himself. 

Redmond Barry was spot on when he went on to say:
“The facts are so numerous, and so convincing, not only as regards the original offence with which you are charged, but with respect to a long series of transactions covering a period of 18 months, that no rational person would hesitate to arrive at any other conclusion but that the verdict of the jury is irresistible, and that it is right.” 
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34 Replies to “Think again about what Ned Kelly said in court”

  1. Joe Trott says: Reply

    Oh Gawd!

    When he [Christopher John Lewis] attempted to take the Queen’s life he already had a long criminal record, with convictions for armed robbery, animal torture and arson. He reportedly idolised notorious criminals, including Australian bandit Ned Kelly and U.S. serial killer Charles Manson.

    — Public support for Ned should now be placed on a national Watch List. That Ned Hate Site should be on the list too.

  2. Ashliegh Broad says: Reply

    Ned the uneducated redneck police murderer was arguing with the founder of the State Library of Victoria and Melbourne University, Chief Justice and a man worth a zillion Neds.

    The dumb twerp thought he was equal to Sir Redmond.

    He wasn't.

    I'm half expecting another anonymous descendant to turn up here explaining Ned was a misunderstood genius.

  3. Harry Oswald says: Reply

    Ned went on to make further threats as he was being led away. And then he wrote three letters to the Governor of Victoria from the condemned cell.

    A very slow learner, Ned was still trying to weasel his way out of his impending execution.

    On the scaffold he went to water.

  4. But, But, Ned was a misunderstood genius.


  5. Rubbish Harry. On the scaffold, Ned was quite composed and calm. How would you be standing there though? Waiting for the eyes to be covered and the lever pulled?

  6. Ashleigh. Hello. Obviously he wasn't Barrys equal. But Ned sure did seem to rattle Barry. It was not the norm for Barry to address prisoner at such length but it seems that Ned goaded him into it and old Redmond succumbed.

  7. Ned was clever enough in his own way. Would certainly leave you all for dead when it came to Bushcraft I would suggest. And horsemanship. And quite possibly even physically. Why does it have to be so black and white? Why cant you just admit that Ned was no fool and quite clever, considering his lack of formal education. I am not excusing the murders but bloody give the guy a bit of credit. He outwitted and embarrased a bloody large police force for a long time AND in an age of advanced technology, the railway and the telegraph.

  8. You raise an interesting point Mark, something I have thought about too but not till now written about, and that is the claim that the gang outwitted and embarrassed the police for a long time. I should probably write a post about this idea, but it seems to be based on an assumption that it should have been easy to catch Ned Kelly and the Gang, that because they were not captured within a few weeks the police must have been incompetent.

    Now I know youre a fan of McQuiltons book, so you will be familiar with his descriptions of how the regions isolation and the geography, the terrain itself created, or at least contributed in an important way to the possibility of the outbreak taking place. He also went to great lengths to discuss the nature of the police force which was young, poorly trained and much more used to working in a city and township environment. Their quarry however were, as you say expert horsemen and very familiar with the territory. This probably explains their reluctance to go elsewhere – such as another state or overseas to escape. They knew the country of the Northeast and felt safest there – and of course they cultivated a network of supporters and spies to assist. Thus, the local conditions out on the distant reaches of the new society not only made Kellys wholesale and retail stock thieving possible – and successful – it also made escape and evasion from capture much easier.

    So I would argue it was NEVER going to be easy to track them down. It could also be argued that the police so constrained the gang that even though they were not captured, they only managed two bank robberies in all that time, they had to be constantly alert and on the move to stay ahead of the police, they became paranoid and anxious and distrustful and in the end the police campaign flushed them out and they were caught.

    Yes, the police could have done better, they made mistakes and there were rivalries and conflicts within the force, but this was not run-of-the-mill criminality but something unique, elusive dangerous and unpredictable. The Kelly myth lampoons the efforts of the police – but in the end they got their man!

  9. I think it was only the arrival of the Native trackers and the blacklist that really scared Ned. If not for these events, they could have lasted a lot longer. AND i would argue that Kelly allowed the Gang to be caught. They stayed at Glenrowan far longer than they should have and I suggest it was for companionship. Maybe being in the bush that long does something to the mind. In Neds view, he "wanted to see it out".

    Remember too though that not all the Police were "city folk". Gascoigne was native born and equal to the Gang in his familiarity with the ranges of the North East. As were quite a few others. Even the ones not hardened to bush work were nowhere near as incompetent than the likes of Brooke Smith who had the Gang so close after SBC a nd could have got them if his balls had been bigger.

  10. Thanks Mark I wish more people would THINK about the Outbreak and not just parrot the same old stuff!

    But I still think it was always going to be hard to bring them in – and after the disaster at SBC that would make anyone hesitate before rushing in.

    The idea that Ned Kelly allowed the gang to get caught – my first thought was no way! – but others have said he just wanted it all to end, so you might be right even if it was a barely conscious decision by Ned Kelly, more like his decision was to let it play out to whatever conclusion was in store for them. He seemed to be unable to adapt when what unfolded was not what he had been imagining was going to happen for all those months on the run and while making the armour. I think the same thing happened at SBC – it went pear shaped but he couldn't think his way out of it.

  11. Harry Oswald says: Reply

    Haven't you read the blogs about what happened on the scaffold, Mark. No speech. He went white and started mumbling something…

  12. Josh Verdana says: Reply

    I disagree with Mark about Ned's bushcraft skills. These were concocted and embellished by Ian Jones. I think instead they were of a rather basic kind. My reading of less accepted books and articles is that the gang followed well established horse-stealing tracks in the bush. They may well have been skilled drovers. After Stringybark Creek they headed for Bungowanah, a place they knew was uninhabited, there to cross the Murray into NSW – but it was flooded and not crossable.

    The gang survived two years in the bush, but not on bush tucker and fossicking. Provisions were constantly delivered by Kelly family members and sympathisers. They were plentifully pampered with bread, fish and meat and liquor.

    Where is the bushcraft living in shelters, houses, and being supplied with food and grog?

    Ned may have been a great horseman but we do not really know. There were exhibitions of hoon riding at the bank robberies. Witnesses would have been unable to judge the quality of the horsemanshp.

  13. Anonymous says: Reply

    The same goes for his claimed stonemason skills. In Beechworth gaol the hard labourers broke chunks of bluestone rock into road gravel. The same in Pentridge. Pentridge employed skilled stonemasons from outside for building construction. Prisoners provided some gaol labour, carting and carrying, not stonemasonry. There is no way Ned learned stonemasonary in gaol and went bridge building, house building, etc. This is more Kelly myth.

  14. Yeah, read it. So what? He didn't break down on the gallows and remained resolute. Every Kelly scholar worth their salt knows that Such is Life were not the final words…Do you really think looking pale equates to losing it? I think not.

  15. I'm with you on this one Mark. I am not sure how the average condemned person behaves when he steps onto the trapdoor and has the noose put around his neck but by all accounts Ned Kelly was pretty staunch. Certainly the bravado which inspired him to argue the toss with Redmond Barry had deserted him.

  16. Anonymous says: Reply

    Sorry Mark Perry you are dead wrong here. Ned Kelly's official last words were "Such is Life". He may have mumbled something on the trap but its inconsequential. When a prisoner is being prepared for execution, in his cell he is always asked by the Sherriff, who by the way conducts almost all of the procedures and processes leading up to an execution, if he has any last words to say. These last words are recorded in a diary which is kept for each prisoner on sentence of death. The official last words are written in said diary. The governor would be the person to keep the diary, and make hourly observations of the prisoner prior to the execution. Any mumbling, as said by Harry Oswald, is nothing more than that. An utterance or mumbled comment. Ned's official last words were 'Such is Life" and it is important to remember I said "Official". The utterance, describes as "Ah well…… is nothing more than speculation and guesswork, and is certainly NOT his "last words".

  17. what diary are you talking about? No such diary is mentioned by Ian Jones. A gaol hangman's diary was discussed in the Herald ages ago
    It began in 1892, not in Ned's time. The governor would not sit outside the condemned cell keeping an hourly diary of prisoner observations. This all sounds fishy.

  18. Anonymous says: Reply

    Jason you are also dead wrong here. I have read written accounts of prisoners under sentence of death being observed hourly and comments written in a diary or book as far back as 1862. The governor, and or the deputy governor would make hourly observations of the prisoner in his cell prior to execution. This was done to make sure the prisoner was not so agitated that they would attempt to take their life before the execution. In some cases executions were called forward and done hours earlier than the prescribed time for exactly that reason. This is why also there was never more than two days from the time of sentence to the time of execution except in unusual circumstances. Nothing fishy here.

  19. Anonymous says: Reply

    Firstly Josh Verdana and Anon., Ned did learn some of his stonemasonry skills in prison. Prisoners were not only engaged in rock breaking they also shaped stone for various government projects. Ned also did obtain money from gold mining, both at Bullock Creek, which is where they were prior to the police killing at SBC, and in 1875 Ned worked the Prince of Wales Mine not far from Beechworth. Oh and by the way Anon., the Beechworth Gaol is made from granite not bluestone which is pretty obvious when you actually visit the place. And lastly their bushcraft is what helped them to survive in the bush. Great horsemanship, and the ability to navigate into and hide in very isolated places is what kept them on the run for as long as they were. They also built wooden and stone shelters to keep out of the weather.

  20. Anon YOU are dead wrong about Neds last words being SUCH IS LIFE. I have no doubt he said that in the execution process but it was NOT on the gallows. Good to read your contribution though. SUCH is LIFE are indeed good last words. And it has entered pulp culture. Bit they were not Edward Kellys..

  21. If you google the words Ned Kelly's Last Words Stuart Dawson you will find an article he wrote that goes into great depth as he attempts to sort out the puzzle of what Ned's last words actually were.
    Regarding the gaol governor looking in on an hourly basis on condemned men, maybe he did, or would he maybe depend upon the warders who were on duty around the clock watching just outside the condemned cell to keep him informed and advised of anything he needed to know as he had the business of running the entire gaol to attend to? Not sure if Castieau mentions doing this for other prisoners in his diaries. Maybe someone who has read it in full can tell us. We do know that he did visit Ned a few times, even bringing along his son.

  22. November 1880 is missing from Castieaus diaries.

  23. Mark you know the most interesting and obscure things! Have you got a photographic memory? But what a shame those pages are missing from that Diary. Stolen I guess…sad!

  24. Josh Verdana says: Reply

    Rock breaking and shaping rocks is hardly stone masonry other than of the most bland kind. I think Ian Jones may have suggested he was a stone mason at Williamstown but he wasn't.

    I said "the gang followed well established horse-stealing tracks in the bush" and survived in comfort on provisions supplied by family and sympathisers. I don't see any reason to change my view.

  25. Dee, it has long been surmised and agonized over in the Kelly world that the pertinent pages of Castieau's diary had been pilfered. But, in the introduction to "The Difficulties of my Position" Mark Finnane says this –

    "It is tempting to speculate that a diary might exist for the momentous year of 1880 in which Ned Kelly became the most famous inmate of Old Melbourne Gaol. Yet the erratic record of the single foolscap volume that includes entries from 1877-79 suggests Castieau had by that time weaned of the discipline required by his previous practice of daily entries."

    Hmm…it does seem strange that he would record all sorts of mundane things yet leave out any mention of possibly the biggest thing to ever happen at the gaol, doesn't it? Guess we will never know.

  26. Anonymous says: Reply

    Mark Perry, I am sorry but you are wrong here. I stated when and how a prisoner is observed prior to execution and the hourly watch of the prisoner. This is not fiction, it happened, and notes were kept in a book. A prisoner does not say his Official Last Words on the slab, he says them in his cell, in the presence of the governor, sherriff, priest, two guards, and that is all. Last words are not said on the slab. Ned's official last words were Such is Life, and I challenge you Mark Perry to prove otherwise. Any mumbled comment on the slab is unknown and purely speculation.

  27. It is rare indeed that the words "Wrong"and "Mark Perry"appear in the same sentence together. And I don't think I care for it. (wink..) Can I ask if you have read Stuart Dawsons paper Anon? If not, can I suggest you do so? As I stated earlier, I do not doubt Kelly said SUCH IS LIFE at some point during the process. But you know and I know and I think everyone knows, we were referring to his last words on the scaffold. Before the leaver is pulled. After he had left the condemned cell. And may I ask you details about this "book" or diary that documents Kellys last "öfficial" words as SUCH IS LIFE? I may have missed something in my 37 years of studying Kelly history possibly? Or maybe you have a private document that we are not privy to? I know that a lot of documents that should be there are not and this even dates back to Mr Nunns day when the Kelly collection was kept in several "cheese boxes" and obviously very difficult to keep track of. If you do have evidence of this, please share. Look forward to your feedback. You are also welcome to email me privately. Click on my name and I think my details appear. Cheers. And thank you. Mark. G. Perry. Adelaide.

  28. Harry Nunn asked me to take into PROV papers he thought should be preserved. No missing Kelly documents of course, but mainly papers about how he managed to persuade Sir Rupert Hamer to start the Public Record Office. So far as I know the Kelly Collection is still in those slim green archival boxes, but after they were valued at $10.5M by Michael Ludgrove of Christies they have been under lock and key ever since.

    I don't know what comics Anonymous has been reading, but it was common for speeches from the scaffold, gallows, etc. When the hood was drawn down, as it was at Ned's execution, communications, in this instance, with the official witnesses, reporters and gaol doctor were no longer possible. The British Prime Minister sent out a memorandum to all colonies in 1880 suggesting improvements to execution procedures. No idea if these were implemented in time for Ned

  29. Anonymous says: Reply

    With all due respect Josh Verdana rock shaping is stonemasonry. Ned also worked as a stonemason at Baileys Winery at Taminick. The evidence is still there. So many guesses and so little substance to most of what is said here. As for where they hid in the bush Josh, you will never know. Yes they did survive on food etc left in certain places for them but they certainly were not sleeping in a feather bed each night.

  30. Josh Verdana says: Reply

    You seem to be an extremely knowledgeable anonymous person, Anonymous. With a chisel and sandpaper, I can shape rocks too. Does that make me a stonemason?

    James Wallace was among those who helped with accommodation – maybe not feather beds – but comfortable enough. And he kept them supplied with nosh and grog.

    Hope you can supply details of Ned's employment at Baileys Winery at Taminick…

  31. Anonymous says: Reply

    Ahh why don't you go talk to the owners of Baileys Winery and learn something for yourself. I have seen the proof, have you? Just another Johnny Come Lately Josh Verdana. Little knowledge, little evidence, just repeating century old lies and rhetoric. Ned Kelly also worked as a stonemason building the Mayday Hills lunatic asylum for a time as part of a work gang from the Beechworth Gaol. You don't seem to know too much.

  32. This blog is getting sillier by the day. In November 1870 Ned Kelly was imprisoned for 3 months in Beechworth Gaol for assault and lewd behaviour for assaulting Jeremiah McCormack. In August 1871 Ned Kelly spent 18 months in the Gaol before being transferred to Pentridge. He was never a stonemason before then. He didn't learn stonemason trade in 3 months in 1870. If he was stonemason in 1871 he would not learn much in first 18 months with first 3 months of 3 year sentence in silent system isolation treatment. Then gravel breaking not stonemason training. Taminick Bailey's winery Ned Kelly story is good for gullible tourists. The winery says that around the time Ned Kelly was on the way to becoming infamous in the Glenrowan region, folklore has it that he was assisting the Bailey family to plant their first grapevines as a fencing contractor. All folklore, nothing more. And labourer and fencer, not stonemason. Only one lunatic on this page now.

  33. Anonymous says: Reply

    OMG what a bunch of ill informed Johnny Come Lately types you all are!! Insulting to family of ALL involved in the Kelly era, and simply passing on diatribe and rhetoric you have all read from books which always are slanted by someone's opinion. None of you have spoken to descendants, relatives, or locals on both sides whose ancestors were involved in the events at Greta and SBC. This blog is nothing more than a cesspit of self-deprecating so called experts who get great satisfaction from beating each other on the back and proclaiming how good you all are. I wonder why not one of the real Kelly era experts posts here? Oh no hang on. I think I know.. TTFN

  34. Thanks for the vote of confidence Bob. Thumbs up.

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