The rotten truth about the Kelly Clan

Everything widow Ellen Kelly and her family owned  was destroyed
in 1868 by Neds uncle James

One of the most popular Kelly ‘quotes’ is “Such is life” – which are supposed to be but are not Ned Kellys last words. Nobody is really sure if he ever said ‘such is life’ but experts agree they weren’t his last words.
Another favourite Ned Kelly quote is this one:
“If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill-treat, my life will not have been thrown away. People who live in large towns have no idea of the tyrannical conduct of police far removed from court. They have no idea of the harsh over bearing manner in which they execute their duties, of how they neglect their duties and abuse their powers”
Hard to believe but Ned Kelly didn’t say these words either! They appeared in a pretend “Interview” written by Ned Kellys solicitor David Gaunson and published in the Age in August 1880. As soon as the interview was published it was spotted as fake, the language supposed to be the words of Ned Kelly being obviously very different from his usual vocab, and the mood much more reasonable than his usual tone of extreme hate and anger. It was really a kind of PR job by Gaunson, cleverly trying to manipulate public opinion and gain some much-needed sympathy for his murderous client. So even though the trick was seen through at the time you would have to say Gaunson succeeded because from that day till now, that quote for many people sums up the whole basis of the outbreak and justifies for many the outrages that Kelly had committed. Ian Jones wrote that they may not be Neds exact words but never-the-less he reckoned this ‘Interview’ was a ‘genuine expression of his views’. And I think he is right: Ned Kelly blamed the police for the outbreak. However, sayingit was all the  fault of the police doesn’t make it so – all crims blame the police for their misfortune, and gaols are full of innocent people, if you believe what the inmates all claim. Ned Kelly was just another criminal and liar who blamed the police.
This week I am just going to point out a few more of the legion of facts that don’t fit with the Kelly apologists story.  This week I am focussing on the idea that the selectors were the innocent decent honest folk you saw in Ian Jones TV miniseries, and portrayed in all the children’s books about the Kelly story, that this great clan, the Kellys Lloyds and Quinns were poor but decent upstanding law abiding selectors. They weren’t. They were feral violent drunks who fought one another, took each other to court, associated with criminals and by their behaviour drew police attention to themselves.
So what follows is the report from the local newspaper, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser of the court case involving Ned Kellys uncle James. This man, James Kelly was Red Kellys brother. The report shows he was a vengeful drunk, said to be ‘seldom sober’ who didn’t take kindly to having his sexual advances on widow Ellen Kelly rejected.  They assaulted him by smashing a bottle of gin over his head. As you will read, in response he very nearly incinerated 13 children : “If it were not for the water they would never have got the children out alive.”

Its also interesting to read Ellen Kelly saying she and her sisters ( whose husbands were both in Gaol at this time for cattle stealing) “sometimes went and drank at O’Brien’s house.”  This illustrates the sad drinking culture of these people – you might have thought after seeing what happened to her husband Red, so recently dead at a mere 46 years old from alcoholism she might have sworn off the drink….
Also, make note of Judge Redmond Barrys sentencing remarks. Kelly apologists always screw up when discussing James’ sentence of death, claiming it shows how the Judge had it in for the Kellys. It shows nothing of the sort, as the Judge himself points out in these remarks. ‘Death’ was a mandatory sentence – he had no choice in the matter, and well knew that on appeal it would be commuted to a lengthy gaol term. Which is what happened.
Reports like this are never discussed by the Kelly fanciers on their Facebook pages, or even in their books except perhaps in passing. Reports like this destroy the idea that the Clan was a fun family of upright but poor irish farmers who were harassed by police. What this shows with nauseating clarity is the clans drinking culture, their criminal lifestyles, their loose morals and their fondness for violence. There was no police harassment here. Its all just a great big pathetic and sad mess.

What this also shows is there’s no need to blame police persecution or squatter oppression for the Kellys poverty. It was all due to their alcohol fuelled lifestyle : it destroyed Red and his farms collapsed as a result, and not much more than a year after Reds death it resulted in Uncle James burning down the house and destroying everything the Kellys owned except the shirts on their back.

The Kelly fanciers who follow Ned Kellys lead and  blame everything on the police and the squatters are kidding themselves.
O&M 21st April 1868
James Kelly was charged with setting fire to a dwelling house at Greta, near Wangaratta. Mr F. Brown defended the prisoner.
Catherine Lloyd said she was the wife of William Lloyd. She lived at Greta ; knew prisoner. Their house was a wooden house, formerly an hotel. The plan produced was correct ; recollected 27th April. There were on that night in the house her sister, Mrs Kelly, and
thirteen children. The latter were in bed at the time of the fire. Saw prisoner that night ; he came to the house about 6 o’clock in the evening. He went away about 8, but again returned in a quarter of an hour with a bottle of gin, and went to her sister’s room. He
was talking to her and asking her to take a glass ; she refused to take any. Ordered him out ; he did not say much. Shoved him out ; he said nothing. Her sister told witness that night something that prisoner said. They, all but the children, stayed up in consequence of that. They went out to look for prisoner about 12 o’clock, and found him lying asleep close by in the bush. They went back and remained up, as they were afraid of prisoner. Just after going to bed, between 1 and 2 o’clock, heard something like the crack of a paling pulled off a window ; went there and saw some person ; it was the prisoner. The window was on fire, and prisoner only a few yards from it ; could see him plainly by the light of the fire. Went back to save the children ; got a bucket of water but could not put out the fire. Succeeded in keeping the fire down among wheat in the room till they got all the children out. The whole place was burned down in an hour. Had lived there for years. Gave information to police about prisoner.
By Mr Brown : Lived there seven years. Mrs Kelly had seven children. Witness’s husband was not living with her ; he was in jail. Knew prisoner two years, but he was not in the habit often of coming there. Did not see prisoner after the fire till with the police. Prisoner had no quarrel with any of them as far as she knew. She had been stopping at a public-house. but not with anyone. Her sister was in her own room, and Mrs Kelly with witness at the time of the fire. Called up Mr O’ Brien, a neighbour, to help to save the children. If it were not for the water they would never have got the children out alive. Told O’Brien who set fire to the house. When Harrington brought prisoner next day, witness said ” that is the man”.
Jane Lloyd, sister of last witness : Lived with her in the house burned down. Knew prisoner about two years. On the 27th January last he came to their house. About a week before that prisoner said he had three minds to burn the place. That was because they had shut him out before. This witness’ evidence was otherwise corroborative of last witness’ testimony.
By Mr Brown : Prisoner had been drinking. He was seldom sober. Ellen Kelly, sister of last two witnesses, and sister-in-law of prisoner, gave similar evidence to last witness.
By Mr Brown : Knew prisoner ten years ; he had done witness acts of kindness. He had sometimes stopped a few days. The day of the fire prisoner had given her boy a pair of trousers. The sisters sometimes went and drank at O’Brien’s house.
Laurence O’Brien, a publican at Greta : He lived near where the house was burned down. Saw prisoner the night of the fire, he took a bottle of gin in the direction of Mrs Lloyd’s. Prisoner was tipsy and seemed excited when he came back. He said he had a quarrel with the women at Mrs Lloyd’s, and that one of them struck him with the bottle of gin, breaking it on him, and then turned him out. Advised him to go up the creek. He said he would not go till he had revenge for them striking him with the bottle. Gave him some gin, on condition he would not go back to the Lloyds. Did not see any more of him. About half-past one heard the scream of women and children, and saw the fire. Went down as quick as he could, but the whole place was quickly burned down.
By Mr Brown : There sometimes was a noise in the Lloyd’s house. Richard O’Meara described himself as a musician.
His Honor asked him what instrument he played.
Witness : The violin, your Honor.
His Honor : Then perhaps you will allow me to write you down a fiddler.
Witness : Saw prisoner on the night of the fire. Saw prisoner chased by Mrs Kelly with a stick. Heard prisoner say he had a row with the Lloyds, and would have revenge. Prisoner was not sober, and he was not drunk. Detective Harrington had received information about the fire on the 28th of January : arrested prisoner in a shoemaker’s house, Greta, before witness spoke, prisoner said, “I suppose you have come after me ; this is a most unfortunate affair.” Mrs Lloyd immediately said, ” That is the man that burnt the house.” On the road to Wangaratta, prisoner said. ” Can you keep a secret ?” Asked him ” why.” Well, he said. I’ll say nothing till I see what they’ll do, and if they put me in for it, I’ll not go in alone. Searched him, found a quantity of loose matches in one of his pockets, and a box of wax matches in another. Prisoner appeared to have been drinking, but was quite sober.The place was completely burned down ,and the children all lying out in the bush.
Brown then addressed the jury for the defence, and His Honor very shortly. The jury, after about quarter of an hour’s consultation, found the prisoner Guilty.
James Kelly, for arson, was then brought up for sentence. His Honor addressed prisoner in a very impressive manner, pointing out the enormity of the crime which, had it not been for the vigilance of the women they and their thirteen helpless children would have been hurried into eternity by a most dreadful death. The law, His Honor said, had not in such cases been made to correspond with that of England, where arson was no longer a capital offence, the colonial Legislature thinking he supposed, and no doubt wisely, that the heaviest penalty, might still be directed against a crime which, in a climate like this and with buildings of such combustible materials, might be attended with such appalling consequences. Had a single human life been sacrificed the prisoner would have been sentenced to death without hope of mercy, and even as it was the enormity of the crime compelled His Honor to mark it by recording a sentence of death against the prisoner, which would brand the prisoner for life as a felon. It would remain for the Executive, afterwards to deal with him,. Sentence of death was then recorded.”
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19 Replies to “The rotten truth about the Kelly Clan”

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    Not relevant to Jim and the fire, but at the time, Harry Power was arguably the most wanted man in Victoria. Mrs. Kelly openly allowed Ned to assist Power. What kind of a mother would allow a 15 year old boy to enter such a dangerous and criminal activity?
    As for police harassment, When Ned and Power were caught, Nicholson saw some admirable qualities in young Ned. Nicholson new of the clan's criminal activities and it's influence on a young boy. He went out of his way to get Ned a job in N.S.W. far away from the clans activities. But Ellen refused Ned to go. So the Police weren't all to blame.

  2. Well made points about the true causes of the Kelly outbreak – their own behaviour, and their own poor choices.

    The more I read the more I am convinced that Neds father John, aka Red Kelly, as long as he was alive did his best to shield his family from the influences of the feral extended family, but once he went the flood gates opened. Certainly if Red had been there that night his brother Jim wouldn't have been trying to hit on Ellen, and when Harry Power appeared Red would have probably told him to piss off. The Quinns, including Ellen were a ghastly mob for sure.

    Your point about Nicolson ( no 'h' by the way) is also valid, Maybe he could see without a father Ned was drifting…

  3. Anonymous your comment on 22 April 2018 at 14:49

    'He {nicholson}went out of his way to get Ned a job in N.S.W'
    Where is the proof that Nicholson did such a thing? Another point. WHY would Ellen allow Ned to pursue a life of crime with Power and then refuse Ned to pursue a legit Job in nsw. Jim Kelly had no drama's saddling his horse and trotting away to NSW. The facts have been muddied from where I'm standing

  4. WHY? A legitimate job in NSW wouldn't pay anywhere near as well as robbing travellers with Harry Power. Thats always been the lure of criminality – easy money.

    Youre right the facts have been totally scrambled by the Kelly myth makers. Deliberately.

    But the facts are being brought to light at long last by he new Kelly scholars like Morrissey, Kieza, MacFarlane, Dawson and right here as well!

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    Now now Dee hold on. Your reply does not answer my question. You have muddied the water once again. The prince of clowns {Power} at best of times wasn't able to rub 2 coins together. The kellys knew this. Therefore shall we say the lure of 'easy money' cannot be accepted as fact. Strike it off the record.

    Anonymous 22 April 2018 at 14:49
    Patiently awaiting your reply please

  6. So you think Power robbed people for fun and thats why Ned Kelly went along as his 'apprentice' – not for easy money, just for a laugh? If so those two are even sicker than I thought – robbing and threatening to kill people, no doubt terrifying many of them out of their minds, just for a laugh?

    So its either a kind of deeply sick humour, or the lure of easy money. I'm sticking with the lure of easy money.

  7. Excuse me where did I suggest it was for fun? Please read in-between the lines.
    Dee what was easy about the lifestyle of a bush ranger? In all fairness, perhaps the lure of having flexible hours enticed many. One thing is for certain; it wasn’t easy money
    Perhaps Kelly was fooled by Powers, false hopes and promises. Kelly was soon to find out for himself just how hard the bush ranging lifestyle was to be, more so when he was shot at by Rowwe from Mansfield.
    Both Kelly and Power were scum and scoundrels taking advantage of any scam they could cook up. Fool stop.
    Easy money me think not.

  8. Anonymous says: Reply

    Ian Jones, a Ned Kelly A short life. page 56.

  9. Can you post the quote itself? Not everyone has that book, and mine is on Kindle so I dont know where page 56 is!

  10. Re Nicolson finding work. In addition to Ian Jones. page 56 last page of CHAPTER 3
    Max Brown Australian Son Page 33.'
    "The police here (Kyneton) were so favourably impressed with his appearance and manners , that they offered him a job on a cattle station, if he was acquitted.
    Justin Corfield, Ned Kelly Encyclopedia page 365.
    (Nicolson) formed a favourable impression of the lad, even attempting to find work outside Victoria.

  11. Josh Verdana says: Reply

    Those are authors often found found wanting when it comes to the crunch!

    My reading of that period is different. Standish and Nicholson saw Ned in custody as a curiousity and not redeemable. Don't ask me for refs Dee, I just remember reading a vastly different story in other more recent exposes of the legend.

  12. Ned Kelly a short life. Pg55.
    A 15 yo Ned writes to Sergeant Babington, wishing him and Nicolson, good health. Ned then goes on to say he is troubled and needs help. The letter is a far cry, from his latter abusive ones. Pg. 56 Ian Jones then mentions Nicolson's help and Ellen's refusal.
    Ian Jones is highly pro Kelly. And respected by both pro and anti Kelly sides. He does thorough research and shows some neutrality. No one has mentioned Joe Byrne wearing Scanlon's ring. So I will give Ian Jones credit.

  13. Ashleigh Broad says: Reply

    The Babington file shows that Ned dobbed in Power and revealed his whereabouts. Nicholson said so. Ned was rewarded in court. But I rather doubt the coppers were going so far as to get him a job as well. That's a bit far-fetched. He was by then a bushranger and beyond help. Its all in that book the FB Hate Site nuts hate.

  14. Horrie and Alf says: Reply

    Ned had just scammed Sgt Babington for the cost of his journey home, which he promised to repay but never did. How on earth does this fit in with the anonymous, glorified claims above?

    Ned devotees can't stand the idea Ned was a dobber and have fought for a decade to disprove it. They've failed miserably. Ned shafted his mentor good and proper!

  15. Power's first thought when captured was that Ned had done him in, and said so. After all, Ned had lived at Power's lair above Glenmore and knew exactly where it was. A Lloyd knew roughly where it was and led police there, He got the reward. Ned's reward was to get let off from his outstanding bushranging charges.

    There's no evidence at all that Kyneton police or Nicholson thought highly of Ned.

  16. Ned was only 15 bloody years old for Gods sake!!!!! Give the kid a break. He was probably scared, confused and a shit load more besides. He was a kid trying to find a way in a very tough, confusing world.

  17. Come off it Mark for Gods sake!!!!! Give US a break! Your "scared, confused" kid was already a stock thief and fully-fledged bushranger*. He kept on making foolish, criminal choices throughout his miserable, rotten life.

    * Ned was not tried for bushranging for the reasons mentioned above. The evidence however shows he aided and abetted Power in several highway robberies.

  18. Hmmm. Good to see you think you are the brains trust of this operation Roy. Good healthy ego. He was FIFTEEN years old. With his surrounds, can you not see his chances of making the right call were not great? Of course he would have been scared, confused. His letter to Babbington paints a sad picture.

  19. 'Everyone looks at me as black snake' (or words to that effect)…

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