Understanding Ned Kelly

The undisputed facts seem very clear: Ned Kelly was a notorious criminal, a multiple police killer, and yet there are people who think he was a hero. How is that possible? How can some people believe Ned Kelly was a hero and others that he was a villain?
Well, one thing that makes it easier for someone to believe that Ned Kelly could be a hero despite what everyone else says, is that Ned Kelly wouldn’t be the only personality who arouses strong and sincere but opposing viewpoints. Politicians are the obvious example: to Republicans Donald Trump is making America great again, to others he’s an appalling buffoon. Soldiers are another example –  hated by one side while the other side is determined to decorate them as heroes. A spy is a brave patriot to one General, a treasonous scum to another. Both descriptions seem to be valid – it just depends on where you’re coming from. One mans hero CAN be another mans villain, right?
So  if someone can be patriot and traitor at the same time, depending on where you’re coming from, then couldn’t Ned Kelly be a hero and a villain at the same time, depending on where you’re coming from? Or has one side simply got it wrong? 
Aidan Phelan and Matthew Holmes, and the Historian on the Lawless documentary series refuse to say. They think asking if Ned Kelly was a hero or a villain is asking the wrong question. Like the Beechworth tour guide, and like Peter Fitzsimons the journalist they  believe Ned Kelly was somewhere in the middle, somewhere between ‘villainous hero and heroic villain’ Phelan thinks that there’s nothing to be gained by trying to decide if Ned Kelly was a villain or a hero because all that happens is that “the debate about Ned Kelly ceases to be about Ned Kelly at all and simply becomes a contest about the moral superiority and respective intelligence of the opponents.
Phelans thesis is that people whose moral values lead them to condemn a person who would chase a wounded policeman through the bush and kill him, or plot to wreck a train and kill any survivors are people with hang ups about moral values.
“Ned Kelly becomes the scapegoat upon which society heaps its hang-ups about moral values.”
I don’t know if he realises it but that’s a very ‘post-modern’ approach, an approach that shies away from value judgements and the idea of objective truth, and favours a moral relativism in its analysis of history. People who are critical of Ned Kelly’s murders and plans to murder are using him as a scapegoat, according to Phelan, making themselves feel better, and morally superior, by loading on to Ned Kelly their own ‘hang-ups’.To Phelan, there are no real villains, just complex individuals who we shouldn’t judge, because we are all in the same boat:
“its very easy to forget that Ned Kelly was a living, breathing human being. He had loves, hates, family, friends, skills and talents just like all of us. He loved horses, he was an excellent tradesman and his favourite book was Lorna Doone. Do these qualities negate the fact that he killed people and held people hostage? Certainly not, but they help to remind us that Ned Kelly was not some cartoon character or a black hat wearing outlaw in a cowboy movie.” 
Matthew Holmes and Aidan Phelan seem to want to argue that there is no such thing as a truly bad man, just men who are misunderstood, and this is how they want us to view Ned Kelly, not as a hero or as a villain, but as someone not unlike ourselves. This I think was the sort of Ned Kelly Holmes and Phelan wanted  to portray in his movie, a sympathetic portrayal that refused to make a judgement about him. But I cant help wondering how many Kelly sympathisers would be happy about Martin Bryant  and Charles Manson getting the same treatment that Ned Kelly gets from these post-modernists? They certainly wouldn’t tolerate it if Holmes and Phelan applied that approach to Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick : imagine the outcry from Kelly sympathisers if Phelan and Holmes tried to argue that Fitzpatrick “was a living, breathing human being. He had loves, hates, family, friends, skills and talents just like all of us.”
But if someone like Ned Kelly shouldn’t be labelled  a villain,  because that would just be making a scapegoat of him, and a reflection of our own hangups,  then this must mean they don’t think there are truly good men either, and that all of us are roughly the same clustered about a mean for moral rectitude. 
The reality I think is that this ‘post-modern’ approach breaks down at the margins, at the extremes, like many theories of human behaviour do. We are indeed mostly much the same, clustered about the mean with just a different collection of loves and hates, skills and talents, strengths and weaknesses – but some of us are clearly very different.  Martin Bryant is one such person – hugely different from most of us –  a mentally deranged, damaged and deeply disturbed individual with obsessions and thoughts and behaviours that place him close to the extreme end of the spectrum of human behaviour that ranges from Saint to Sinner, from Hero to Villain. Yes, we are all the product of a unique mix of influences from within and without, capable of exhibiting greater or lesser quantities of good and bad behaviour but in a rare few the mix produces behaviour that is almost all bad and very little of the good. Such people used to be called evil. Now we know some of them have personality disorders and character traits that identify them as deviants, psychopaths, narcissists and sociopaths. Some of them have brain damage. Some of them are suffering the affects of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, limited intelligence.  
So when it comes to Ned Kelly, where should we put him? The post modernists think their approach avoids value judgements and they decry attempts to ‘put him’ anywhere – and yet they have put him in the middle. Phelan unfortunately mischaracterises the debate by making it about the extremes, writing that people who say Kelly was a villain believe “he is a murderous psychopath, a pathological liar and the figurehead for some kind of quasi-cult. To these people he represents everything that is wrong with human kind and should be used as a kind of bogey man to make people walk the straight-and-narrow. He is irredeemable to those that see him as nothing more than a glorified thug. This is a typical ‘straw man’ argument, in which the argument about Ned Kelly being a villain is converted into something that’s easy to demolish, a mere cartoon character, yet demolishing a straw man achieves nothing.
The point I want to emphasise is that calling someone a villain, or a hero does not require or imply in any way a denial of the persons humanity, or a denial of the complexities of human development and character, or a denial that there may be some good in even the worst of men, and some evil in the best. But calling someone a villain, or a hero is a statement of what you believe to be the truth about a person after weighing up all the evidence, all the good and all the bad, all the influences and the circumstances of the life being examined, like a Star rating for a movie or an ATAR rating that is an attempt to sum up a persons ability with a single number. I’m old fashioned enough to still believe such scoring systems have a use, but not so blind as to be unable to see that a person is a whole lot more than just a number or a label, and sometimes that number or a label can be thoroughly misleading.

Equally, with Ned Kelly. If we are not going to simply abandon the attempt to understand who Ned Kelly was, we are going to have to put him somewhere. And its very clear to me that he does not belong in the middle – Ned Kelly was not Mr Joe Average.

My assessment of everything about him, his background, his personality, his influences, his behaviour and his writing leads me to the conclusion that in those last few mad and chaotic years of his life he was most definitely a villain. What I see is a decline that started not long after his father died and the family moved to Greta, a slow but accelerating decline into criminality and villainy. I don’t see an icon. I don’t see a role model. I don’t see someone to be admired but a narcissistic and violent criminal, who it would be wrong to portray as just like all of us.
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53 Replies to “Understanding Ned Kelly”

  1. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    I do not know where the claim that Ned Kelly’s favourite book was W.D. Blackmore’s 1869 novel “Lorna Doone” came from, but I slogged through Lorne Doone a while back as a result of this claim, and have some doubts. I know that the paragraph containing the sentence “Heavy men and large of stature, reckless how they bore their guns”, on page 20 in my old edition, has been used to suggest a possible source of inspiration for the gang’s armour. The novel is still available as a Penguin Book, in the series Pearson English Readers Level 4, with a recommended age range of “High School – University/Adult”. I put the whole paragraph about the armed Doone men into the Gunning Fog Index, http://gunning-fog-index.com/fog.cgi, which gives the level of full-time education typically needed to read a text. This gave a rating equivalent to 10.27 years of full time education, i.e. Year 10 and up. The whole book is written in somewhat demanding prose. There is reason to doubt that Ned would be able to read many actual passages in Lorna Doone, or that he would have the reading ability to get through the book with any ease. And why?

    Ned had disrupted schooling due to the family’s moving. A quick look in Ian Jones’ “Short Life” shows that Ned’s education totalled 8 months up to the school inspection in Avenel in 1864, when he passed Third Class reading and writing, but failed arithmetic, grammar and geography. In March 1865 he passed arithmetic, as well as reading and writing. It appears that at some point after late May, when his father was sentenced to 6 months gaol, Ned “took his place in the home and on the farm”. It is not clear if he attended more school or not that year, but certainly “Ned didn’t return to school in 1866” (Ian Jones, “Short Life”, chapter 1). Ned therefore left school with a reading level equivalent of somewhere towards 3 years full time equivalent education. Typical Year 3 English reading comprises books of the likes of “The Winnie the Pooh Collection” by A.A. Milne; “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss; “The Magic Finger” and “Fantastic Mr Fox” by Roald Dahl; and “Dog in the Dungeon” by Lucy Daniels https://schoolreadinglist.co.uk/reading-lists-for-ks2-school-pupils/reading-list-for-year-3-pupils-ks2-age-7-8/

    Here is a sample passage from Lorne Doone (p. 408 of my copy), discussing beer: “Now I only set down that to show how perverse those foreign people are. They will drink their wretched heartless stuff, such as they call claret, or wine of Medoc, or Bordeaux, or what not, with no more meaning than sour rennet, stirred with the pulp from the cider press, and strained through the cap of our Betty. This is very well for them; and as good as they deserve, no doubt, and meant perhaps by the will of God, for those unhappy natives. But to bring it over to England and set it against our home-brewed ale (not to speak of wines from Portugal) and sell it at ten times the price, as a cure for British bile, and a great enlightenment; this I say is the vilest feature of the age we live in.” This passage has a Fog Index equivalent of 10.54 years full time education. Not exactly Winnie the Pooh. I would be very interested if anyone can shed some more light on where this claim of Lorna Doone being Ned's favourite book came from. I'd like to think his reading and writing were better than just 3 years of primary schooling suggest, as people do self-educate, but I think it may be a stretch to claim Lorna Doone as a favourite novel, because of its vocabulary and language structure. Happy to be shown wrong, though.

  2. Horrie and Alf says: Reply

    The Lorna Doone reference was of course another Ian Jones concoction, Stuart. As you already well know, Ian's references and notes are shambolic. Sorry Mark!

  3. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Horrie and Alf, would you please be able to tell me where exactly he says that – in what book and where, if possible – as I don't recall noticing it, and I would like to see where the claim actually originated and on what basis. If it was Ian Jones, he must have seen it or heard it somewhere, and that will be the source I am after. There must be a source reference somewhere. Of course, he may have made a mistake, like he did when wrongly describing what is obviously a Japanese Samurai suit in the Beechworth Museum as "Chinese" armour, in the first edition of "Short Life". Every schoolboy knows a Samurai suit when he sees one. That's a real howler. But again, I would like to know how the Lorna Doone claim arose, and from what original source.

  4. Stuart, per an article at bailup, Marian Matta said the first reference to Lorna Doone being Ned's favorite book was in Charles Taylor's novel "The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly." Looking further, it seems that Taylor had actually met Jim Kelly briefly and remember where Jim denounced this novel in a letter in Kenneally? If I recall correctly, you and I had discussed Taylor and his book in email at one point and if I am not confused there was some reference to a newspaper article where Taylor either interviewed Jim or alluded to his trip to see him. Seems we both searched for said referenced article at the time and came up empty handed. Is it possible that Jim told him that this was Ned's favorite book? Or did he just take literary license because it sounded good, especially with the part about armoured outlaws? Or, could there have been an earlier reference that Taylor picked up on?

  5. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Sharon, we are going down the rabbit hole again. Thanks for the Bailup reference: Marian Matta there says, “Taylor had visited Kelly Country to do a little research and had even spoken to Jim Kelly who had shown him the old house on the Eleven Mile Creek and told him a story or two about Ned. Taylor was the first person to mention that Lorna Doone was a favourite book of Ned's”, in his novel, “The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly”, http://www.bailup.com/MattaofOpinionKellyFiction.htm

    In Jones' "Short Life" 1995: 85, he says Lorne Doone "would be remembered as Ned's favourite book", then says "perhaps, the Doone Valley … prompted memories of the remarkable Quinns, firelit in their prime, brief masters of the valley below The Rock". The endnote on p. 358 says he got the info that Loorna Doone was Ned's favourite book from "Charlie and Paddy Griffiths, quoting Grace Kelly, interview 1963". I see he has asserted it elsewhere as a simple fact, http://www.readersvoice.com/interviews/2003/01/ian-jones-interview-continued/

    So we could say we have two second-hand sources of oral confirmation, one from Jim the brother and one from Grace the sister, both via others (Taylor and the Griffiths). Sounds solid at first glance. And yet… We would need to know what was said in the 1963 interview. Was it a confirmation question, e.g. "Taylor's book said that LD was Ned's favourite novel, is that right?" Could have been, who knows… why not, nothing wrong with that… Or, yes, definitely. Or Taylor said so, so that would be right.

    We would also need to know what Taylor discussed with Jim. Jim was not impressed with the result, and in his favourable review of JJ Kenneally’s “Inner History of the Kelly Gang” (printed at the back), he described Taylor’s “The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly” as “another example of mercenary journalism” and Taylor as someone who protected himself from libel “by calling his concoction a ‘novel’”. I am not inclined to give any credence to Taylor’s claim about Lorna Doone based on what he said Jim told him about Ned, because of what Jim said about Taylor, which is that his book was a concoction.

    At this point it looks like Ned had about Year 3 reading ability from his brief primary schooling, perhaps a little higher over time. Joe Byrne reached about Year 7 schooling, which is confirmed by putting a slab of the Jerilderie Letter into the Gunning Fog Index. (You have to add punctuation for him, or it makes an impossibly high score of over 30 years full-time education to decipher a passage as an unpunctuated rant!) We know that Ned’s reading and writing level was lower than Joe’s. We know that Joe’s was about Year 7. We know that Lorna Doone typically demands about Year 10 reading ability, and is a long-winded slog (even the one page mentioning the steel armour).

    Objectively both Ned and Joe would struggle with Lorna Doone. When I was teaching English, I found that a comprehension passage about Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” was a very reliable way of determining the range of Year 8 reading abilities at the start of term. Typically only 2 or 3 got full marks, with a quarter to a third of a class struggling even to pass. I would be surprised if Ned passed the Treasure Island test with only Year 3 level formal schooling. Early Year 7’s couldn’t do it; most failed the only time I tried it. It was not an effective measure below Year 8. Lorna Doone is more demanding that Treasure Island, and much longer. Considering all that, I think the Lorna Doone story unlikely, but am happy to discuss further.

  6. Horrie and Alf says: Reply

    "Lorna Doone, Ned's favourite book, Charlie and Paddy Griffiths quoting Grace Kelly, interview 1963".

    [end notes to Chap 5: A Quiet Man: 2010]

    Again, in Peter Carey's Booker Prize winning novel of 2001, it is Ned Kelly's favourite reading (and echoes in his voice):

    But then a book which I enjoyed enormously I could never be totally objective about was Lorna Doone, by R.D. Blackmore.

    RV: Ned Kelly’s favourite book.

    IJ: Exactly. Well done. So that when I read it I was looking at it through Ned’s eyes, but it’s still a wonderful read. It’s a book with a wonderful sense of place. Terrific sense of place and written with a voice which is fascinating. It’s written in the first person. It’s written with a very well-placed voice in terms of Peter Carey’s amazing success with the True History (True History of the Kelly Gang), it’s very interesting.

    RV: Do you think Ned Kelly modelled himself at all on the plot of Lorna Doone?

    IJ: No, I don’t think so. I think he recognised the amazing resonances with his story.
    Having a mother who had a house beside a stream, who took in travellers. He had a sister called Annie. He’d been a helper to a famous highwayman. He was a formidable fighter, a formidable man. Even at that point you’d say “Well, this fella’s had a life like mine. I can understand this fella.”


  7. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Horrie and Alf, many thanks for that trouble – we seem to have all found the same details and posted them separately while waiting for the posts to get uploaded! Synchronicity. But will we be able to reach a conclusion after all this work?

  8. Sorry about the delays Stuart but contrary to the views put about on Facebook about me, I am not a fat balding old man sitting here in my underpants with nothing to do except ruminate abut the Kelly outbreak – I have an actual job and a life !

  9. Anonymous says: Reply

    Perhaps Ned Kelly appreciated the book later in life and nearer to the age the armour was created.
    Your NAPLAN approach doesn’t do it for me – sorry!

  10. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee, I don't have facebook but that was not a criticism of your blog or timeliness at all. It was just a note to Horrie and Alf that we ended up putting the same refs up! And we have Sharon's reference also to the stuff about Taylor. Which is good because it means 3 people have all been looking for the evidence. While it is possibly correct what the most recent Anonymous comment says, that Ned may have read Lorna Doone "later in life and nearer the age the armour was created", that creates two other problems. First, Jones dates the idea of the armour to winter 1879 (“Short Life”, start of the Republic chapter), 4 months after Jerilderie when the gang was seriously on the run. It is hard to reconcile this with fireside literature; and Jones speaks there of Ned possibly rereading or remembering reading Lorna Doone when he thought of armour, which implies Ned read it much earlier. Second, Jones noted but rejected a suggestion that the armour might have been inspired by a picture of a knight in Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe”. But there is a reasonable case for that, and it seems a more plausible source of inspiration that a Samurai suit. Plus it saves toiling through Lorna Doone.

    P.S. NAPLAN was before my time, and I think it’s a rubbish PR exercise. Better for teachers to know their students’ abilities based on material that works as a good guide to literacy and comprehension, and helps in tailoring teaching to each individual class range and variations than this statewide indicative benchmark crap(just talking about English here). NAPLAN is garbage. This all comes back to the Blackburn Report approach, that “all children will experience success”. The only way that works is by progressively dumbing down the curriculum so that even a total numpty and his/her parents are reassured that he/she is doing OK. And that’s what happened. That’s what you get when you make a school teacher the Premier, as well as totally rooting the state budget back then. So now many kids go from primary to secondary seriously deficient in the 3R’s. Average literacy levels were better in the late 19th century than they are now. The curriculum generally is utter crap now. Australia is way down the list of successfully educated countries, despite all the ever-increasing money thrown at it. And what do they do to fix it? Teach them about Ned Kelly? Why don’t they teach them enough English to read Lorna Doone instead if that’s so good? Ian Jones enjoyed it “enormously” so it comes recommended, http://www.readersvoice.com/interviews/2003/01/ian-jones-interview-continued-page-2/

  11. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    I meant NAPLAN was after my time, not before my time. I don't have a TARDIS. But it would be good to have one, then we could go back and check.

  12. Or possibly it may have been read to him at some unknown time by an erudite character.

  13. Anonynonymous says: Reply

    I bet LAWLESS archaeologist Adam Ford could find Ned's well-thumbed copy of Lorna Doone in a jiffy – if he knew where to look!

    Everyone knows 'Dummy' Wright used to read Lorna Doone to Ned to help Ned get to sleep. Ned used to mutter "I wanna have armour just like those pommie galahs" as he nodded off.

    I heard all about this from the descendants.

  14. Ever consider that maybe Grace read Taylor's book and got it from there? That is a possibility. Guess we will never know, but it sure is nice to have civil conversation with others as we all strive towards an answer.

  15. Anonymous says: Reply

    That does not appear to be very civil anonymous. Seems very sarcastic, decidedly unhelpful.

  16. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Sharon, I hadn't thought of that. Grace was born in 1865 and died in 1940 (Corfield, Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia), which makes her 13 at the start of the Kelly outbreak. Ned was born sometime between late 1874 and June 1855. He was gaoled for 6 months over the McCormack incident and released in March 1871. He was back in gaol for 3 years for horse-stealing from 2 August 1871, released with remission on 2 Feb 1874 (prison record). He wasn't around reading Lorna Doone to Grace as depicted in The Last Outlaw movie while doing time during her formative years. While he was out and about he was busy helping Harry Power, not doing a literacy workshop at the Benalla Mechanics' Institute. Grace would be about 35-36 when Taylor's book appeared, serialised from 1928 then published as a book in 1929. There is nothing in Kenneally's book of exactly the same time and circumstances about Lorna Doone, and Kenneally sought eagerly for any scraps of positive information about Ned. It is highly likely Grace would have read both books – Kenneally’s and Taylors – given their focus on her family. It seems safe to dispense with visions of Ned reading Lorna Doone to his little siblings as a young lad, due to his inability to read it at all at lower primary level when he was young.

    We still have the problem of what the story was that the Griffiths told Ian jones that they recalled in 1963, about having remembered it from Grace who died in 1940. She married E.A. Griffiths in 1889 when she was 24, 9 years after Ned died (Corfield). So there are number of gaps in the timeline as to when Ned could have had Lorna Doone as a favourite book, and at least two more possibilities; first, that Ned had once been given a copy as a prize or gift and not read it. Many such school and church prize books, and gifts by relatives, went untouched by their recipients, and surface in second hand and op-shops with gift-plates at the front in mint condition – as is the case with my own old copy of Lorna Doone, which was a secondary school prize for someone. There was a longstanding custom of giving out “morally improving” literature such as the good Reverend Blackmore’s novel, which was also a best-seller. There is another possibility, that one of the Griffith children picked up the Lorna Doone tale from Taylor’s book, and passed it on to Ian Jones in 1963, 23 years after their mother passed away. This is in addition to your possibility that Grace herself gleaned the story from Taylor’s book and relayed it.

    We still have the core problem of Ned’s literacy or lack thereof, which is about 7 years lower than that typically needed for reasonable reading of Lorna Doone. That is a huge gap especially at lower levels. Anyone can test this for themselves by asking a kid in early Grade 4 (i.e. at this time of the year) to read a page from Lorna Doone aloud. And we have a sample of Ned’s own writing at age 15 in the Babington Letter (1870). His vocabulary range and spelling are limited – “try what you can to answer this letter as soon as posabel”. We see the same awkward constructions in his dictated Condemned Cell letters, e.g 5 November 1880, “That will show any person that in place of him being desirous to stop the firing amongst the people held by me as prisoners, he was but too anxious for the firing to continue he setting the example by firing four shots into the unfortunate people whom he was suppose to protect”. There is no evidence of any higher literacy from Ned than that at of the Cameron and Jerilderie letters, which Joe Byrne more likely wrote most of and they too are fairly limited. The more this is discussed, the more I am finding it harder to see that Ned Kelly had any hope of reading Lorna Doone, or that it can be claimed as his favourite book. Over to you guys.

  17. Anonynonymous says: Reply

    So what?

  18. I think the only credible possibility is that it was invented by Taylor for his novel, and from there it became attached to the legend itself. All through Kelly history there are made up things that have become attached to the story – the Kelly Republic is the most outstanding example!

  19. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee, it also seems to be an assumption or implication by Marian Matta in the above reference that Jim Kelly told Taylor about Lorna Doone, but that does not follow from what she actually wrote. What she says there is, “Taylor had visited Kelly Country to do a little research and had even spoken to Jim Kelly who had shown him the old house on the Eleven Mile Creek and told him a story or two about Ned. Taylor was the first person to mention that Lorna Doone was a favourite book of Ned's, in his novel". There is no necessary connection that Taylor's mention of Lorna Doone came from "a story or two" by Jim about Ned. They are two totally unconnected statements, with only a questionable possibility of any connection. What they actually form is a proposition of the form, (1) Taylor talked to Jim. (2) Taylor mentioned Lorne Doone. Therefore Taylor told Jim about Lorne Doone. This is on a par with (1) Socrates is a man. (2) All men are men. Therefore all men are Socrates. There is no necessary logical connection at all. I think that anyone wanting to maintain the Lorne Doone claim has to show that Ned's literacy was up to speed. But given his limited mid-primary schooling and later teenage and young adult writing level, together with the way he expressed himself verbally to people he held up, from their late testimony, there seems no evidence of his ability to read Lorna Doone and plenty of reasons to doubt the story. But I am interested to hear any fact-based reasons why my thoughts there are wrong.

  20. Does the boxing Ned photo mean he won in 20 rounds or he won in 20 minutes?

  21. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Oops, what I mean to type was that Mattia's sentences are a proposition of the form, (1) Taylor talked to Jim. (2) Taylor mentioned Lorne Doone. Therefore JIM told TAYLOR about Lorne Doone. Anyway, the point should be obvious enough even given the typo.

  22. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Cameron, what is the problem exactly? I'm not clear what you're getting at.

  23. According to the website below it was twenty rounds, which got me wondering who owns the photo from which these numbered A4 reproduction prints were made. At 60 bucks a print, that's a pretty up market-cottage industry!


  24. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Thanks Alf, I have seen that photo in Ian Jones' "Short Life", and the writing on the bottom says "Ned Kelly August 8, 1874. Fought Wild Wright 20 and won". The description says the print is from the Iron Outlaw shop. I used to think it meant Ned was 20 years old, if he was born in 1874. I don't know if there's any issue there.

  25. 20 rounds. London Prize Ring rules. In Beechworth. Probably at Edward Rogers Imperial Hotel in High St.

  26. Anonymous says: Reply

    is it legit ? where is the proof other than the text that ned fought wright. Any man or his dog could have written the caption many years after the photo was taken

  27. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Thanks Mark. Kelly House at 56 High Street, Beechworth, claim that the fight between Ned Kelly and Wild Wright took place “at this property on 8 August 1874, which once located the Rogers Imperial Hotel”.

    The Nicholas Hotel at 1A Camp Street claim that “Diagonally behind the hotel when it was known as The Railway (and near to the Imperial Hotel’s garden), was the site of the famous bare knuckle fight between Ned Kelly and Isaiah “Wild Wright” on the 8th August 1874”.That is the corner where High Street joins Camp Street (which is there called Albert Road on Google maps). That is 4 properties along from Kelly Kouse at 56 High Street, so not exactly diagonally behind the Nicholas/Railway Hotel.

    When I went on a Kelly tour a couple of years ago, the guide took us down Church Street and across High Street, then down a path that runs downhill between 44 and 46 High Street, and said that the old Imperial Hotel used to be on what is now vacant land at either 46 or 48 High Street, I can’t recall exactly by looking at the map, and the fight was on the large flat grassed area near the bottom of the path which spreads across the bottom of the vacant land. You can see it on Google Maps satellite view, at the street address. The guide on that tour was a descendant of some relative of the Kellys – I have forgotten now – but he said that a lot of people claim the Imperial Hotel was further up High Street, i.e. where current Kelly House is, but they are wrong, and the Imperial and its back paddock was where he took us to. Just saying.

  28. Kelly House owners know nothing about the Kelly story and are simply making a guess as to the fight location to boost guests staying at their property. The fight was on the flat somewhere between that property and the back of the Hotel Nicholas. No one actually knows the precise site. The tour guide who claims to be some descendant of the Kelly family.. Rubbish!! The inspiration for the armour is Lorna Doone. Maybe? Its a bit like the armour being made where the Armour Motor Inn is situated. Rubbish too, but its good for business.

  29. Ashleigh Broad says: Reply

    The boxing Ned photo obviously wasn't taken at the fight site – but was maybe posed for some time later. If so, why didn't Ned and Wild stage a posed fight pic. Wild had nothing to celebrate, but even so.

    As the Ned boxing photo now stands, there is nothing to link it to the supposed fight with Wild (if that ever took place). All it shows is Ned's poor fashion sense. Only fashionista Nongs would wear their boxing breeks OVER their leotard!

    Yet this is the only photo of Ned outside gaol.

    Another inexplicable Kelly puzzle.

    Mark (above) is probably wrong that the bout was conducted under London Prize Ring rules. Under the London rules, bouts were held in a 24-ft (7.3-m) square “ring” enclosed by ropes. A knockdown ended the round, followed by a 30-second rest and an additional 8 seconds to regain the centre of the ring. Butting, gouging, hitting below the waist, and kicking were banned.

    In many of the Kelly stories, technical details like this have been added to bolster the 'story'. I am certainly not suggesting Mark has done this. He is simply quoting earlier confabulations.

  30. Dave Milne says: Reply

    Neither Ned nor Wild Wright earned a living from boxing, They were local crims, and Ned led a horse theft network. It was a grudge match because Wild Wright got Ned into trouble and jail by passing on a 'borrowed' horse.

  31. I would like to suggest a different interpretation of that incident : rather than Ned being dudded by Wild, I think it may have been the other way round. This is what might have happened : Wilds borrowed horse went 'missing' and subsequently Ned 'found' it. ( Sound familiar? ) Instead of handing it back to Wild ( who may the have returned it to Mansfield where it came from ) , Ned planned to sell it – we know this is true because of the testimony of Murdoch – but before that could happen Ned was arrested and as a result Wild was charged as well, and did time as a result. When Ned was finally released, could it have been Wild who sought out Ned for a fight to settle the score rather than the other way round?

  32. Isiah Wright, many years later, said that Kelly had "given him the hiding of his life" So Marquis of Queensberry rules then?

  33. Dave Milne you are incorrect sir. Wild Wright did earn a living from boxing and travelled Australia with a well known boxing troup after Ned's demise.

  34. Dave Milne says: Reply

    Thanks for courteous correction. But, as you point out, his boxing began after Ned was dead. In 1874 he was a terror at Mansfield, Beechworth and parts in-between.

    And, yes, Dee, your suggestion is attractive. I don't think Wild was as enthralled with Ned as was Aaron Sherritt.

  35. Ashleigh Broad says: Reply

    Marquis of Queensberry rules were published in UK in 1867. A set of basic rules for modern boxing, requiring among the main provisions the use of gloves instead of bare knuckles and the 10-second count for a knockout. But a square ring was required too.

    I think Ned and Wild's match was probably under Aussie Hoon Biffo rules – keep biffing your opponent until he can't get up any more.

    Although, if Ned was dressed as shown in the photo, Wild might have cracked up laughing and got a good hiding.

  36. There is nothing in the police or official records about unrelated women or girls associated, or associating with, the gang.

    Modern Kelly writers have attempted to create female 'interests' but didn't provide proof. Without female friends or acquaintances, there is an obvious problem. Macfarlane (The Kelly Gang Unmasked) concluded the gang was not gay. Morrissey has not as yet discussed this subject.

    I think this area needs deeper consideration.

  37. As stated above, under the London Prize Ring Rules a round did not end until one of the fighters was knocked to the ground. In the Marquess of Queensberry Rules a round could only last 3 minutes with 1 minute between rounds. We can only wonder how long Ned or Wild stayed on their feet per round. Was it longer than 3 minutes? In "A Short Life" Jones surmises that the bout could have lasted "hours." Digging further I see that the Marquess did not write the actual rules, instead they were just named after him. Of course, we remember the Marquis of Queensberry for other things, too, such as being Oscar Wilde's most fervent nemesis. But that is a whole other kettle of fish.

  38. Hmm. There is a can of worms there. And Joe Kerr has opened them. I do not think the Kelly Gang engaged in homosexual activity. There is nothing to substantiate it, Sherritts alleged threat not withstanding. The bush was not a home. It was a base. Byrne in particular had his eyes on the females..

  39. Anonymous says: Reply

    Joe Kerr, there is a plethora of evidence regarding different aspects of the Kelly outbreak. And as this blog prides itself on being able to provide evidence to back any claims made here, i think that it is odd that unsubstantiated comments, which are impossible to prove one way or the other, would even be entertained here .

  40. Does that include claims that Ned Kelly wanted to start a republic, that are often asserted as fact? Does that include claims that Ned Kelly was a foreman at a sawmill? Sure is entertaining.

  41. The sexuality of the Gang members IS actually an interesting topic to think about, because the almost complete absence of any mentions of it contrasts so dramatically with the affairs and seductions and marriages of just about everyone else in the story – Ellen is the obvious one, a woman who never seemed short of lovers, she who started off with an elopement and marriage in advanced state of pregnancy at 18, but there are also the early marriages of her daughter Annie and her affair with Flood, Fitzpatricks illegitimate child and relationship with Kate, the uncle whose rejection led him to burn down the house, the prostitute Jane Graham….and Jim was unmarried. There seemed to be plenty of evidence of women being attracted to Ned, but not much to suggest he took much notice of them.

    In those days being gay would have been something nobody talked about. Nowadays, its talked about but thankfully the stigma has all but disappeared . Speculation isn't going to get us anywhere though.

  42. Anon, articles discussing the supposed homosexuality of the gang from decades ago can be easily googled. There were several. You can then decide for yourself if they had any merit. Author Macfarlane thought not, but I am second guessing him and suggesting closer scrutiny now.

    There were lots of guys in the Kelly Legend and few femmes!

    I hope you don't mind.

  43. Sidney J. Baker started it back in the 70's…

  44. Tom Kahun says: Reply

    Back then, Dee, gay behaviour was a capital offence – although very few were actually hanged. Admissions were rare, and so therefore were convictions. Being caught in the act was a big problem.

  45. Anonymous says: Reply

    Ned had a daughter. She died just 3 days after her birth.

  46. Tom Kahun says: Reply

    Modern state pollies fell over themselves rushing to repudiate those old laws. They were enactments by their predecessors according to principles and conventions of the time. Aussie pollies love cravenly apologising for anything and everything. I wish they wouldn't.

    A plague on all their houses.

  47. Neds daughter? So who was the mother?

    And that reminds me : Ned was the first person to swim to Tasmania and back. He was awarded a certificate which I saw in the Williamstown Museum a few years back. It was signed by Redmond Barry.

  48. So Dee instead of a sensible answer, your lack of knowledge once again directs you to a smartarse answer. Who was the Mother you ask? Guessing game. Get it right, and I will tell you. Not giving you this one on a plate like everyone else does.

  49. So you wanted a sensible answer to an absurd suggestion? And now you want to play a guessing game?

    Sorry but anyone can make up stuff about Ned Kelly, and this is the favoured activity of a little cluster of modern day Kelly apologists and conspiracy theorists who pretend they are the keepers of all this secret Kelly knowledge – armour, bush forges, documents, wives and children, Glenrowan survivors. etc etc

    What you will do now I am sure is find excuses to never provide the evidence.

    But just in case you think its Mary Hearn, she is a fictional character from a novel.

  50. Madela. That was her.

  51. Ron Patrick says: Reply

    Dee, you must be really hurting the Kelly apologists. Another 'Anonymous' sowing misleading waffle about a Ned daughter. They keep coming every few months hoping to tie us up sorting out their nonsense.

    Ignoring them in future might be best policy. Redirect them to the Hate Site.

  52. Ashleigh Broad says: Reply


    More guesswork.

    This time by Eugenie Navarre who thinks Ned's girlfriend might have been "Madela", might have been been living in a Deniliquin hotel (with a mashed-up name).

    Eugenie's book is not in the best-seller lists nor very though-provoking. Oral history has more holes than the Titantic.

    I think we are in for another lengthy wait for nothing.

    Another attack on this blog by nameless time-wasters.

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