In the last couple of Blog Posts I’ve highlighted two of the many crimes of violence that Kelly clan members carried out against their own women. They both involved drunkenness, and hideous violence that followed rejection of demands for sex. In one case the response to this rejection was to set a fire that destroyed a home and nearly incinerated 13 children, and in the other, a coward’s punch left a young mothers face disfigured for life. It’s no use, if you’re a Kelly apologist, pretending those two events were the only blemishes on an otherwise blissful domesticity for the Kelly women. We know from contemporary research into domestic violence that the attacks that get to the police are just the tip of the iceberg of violence that stalks these women, so there would have been many other episodes of harassment and bullying and abuse, but only the worst came to the attention of the police.
The Kelly sympathiser community hates me for exposing the truths about the Kelly story, for pointing out the facts that demolish their fairy tales about Ned Kelly, for highlighting the absence of evidence for police persecution and harassment, but I ask how can Ned Kelly be understood properly if such dramatic and terrifying life events are left out of the picture?
These undeniably true Kelly crime stories – and there are plenty more to come – go a long way to disproving Ned Kellys claim, believed and parroted by all his supporters ever since, that the cause of all the trouble in their lives was the police. They also disprove the claim that police charges against the Kellys were trumped up and manufactured by the police themselves. These stories expose the miserable underbelly of the Kelly clan, an underbelly of drunkenness, violence and sexual license that Kelly apologists have done their best to conceal as they try to re-fashion an image of the Kellys as poor hard-done-by decent country folk.
To illustrate my point about how these stories are kept secret, look no further than Ian Jones, who is supposed to be the greatest of the Kelly scholars. He ignored many Kelly criminal stories in his first telling of the Kelly story, the 1980 TV miniseries, The Last Outlaw – but you might argue he couldn’t put everything in. The problem though is that what he tended to leave out were the bits that undermined his preferred Kelly myth. However, in his widely-acclaimed and very detailed Kelly biography he continued to leave out or gloss over those same inconvenient truths. He completely ignored the vicious assault on Ned Kellys aunty Margaret, and he wrote only four sentences about James Kellys arson. However, those few sentences deliberately underplayed the sinister nature of the whole event saying only that when James turned up at the house he was ‘drunk and amorous’, making it sound as if he was a bit tipsy and playful. No mention of the gin bottle being smashed over his head, which was a nasty violent act in itself, however justified it may have been.
Jones then followed this up with several paragraphs about the trial and went to some trouble to describe Judge Redmond Barry in rather forbidding terms, adding to the Kelly mythology about the great Judge as a tormenter of the Kellys. But there was no explanation of the important fact that the death sentence was a mandatory sentence, one that the Judge had no ability to alter, but Barry knew, and suggested it in his sentencing remarks, that the routine appeal would automatically result in a reprieve. Jones left that out because it suited his myth-making approach to the story to have Redmond Barry demonised as having a ‘down’ on the Kellys.
However, Jones did instead speculate about what effect hearing the Judge sentence his uncle James to death might have had on young Ned Kelly, but there was no such speculation about what effect living in a culture of drunkenness and violence, and watching your home and everything your family owned being burned to the ground might have had on the young Ned Kelly. The toxic environment of domestic violence and lawlessness that he was immersed in all his childhood would have had a far greater influence on Ned Kellys development than hearing what the Judge had to say, if indeed at thirteen Ned Kelly would have made any sense of it.
Peter Fitzsimons more recent Kelly biography treats the near disaster of arson even more dismissively, with this stupidly thoughtless half-sentence: “….she breaks a bottle of gin over his head for his trouble and he burns the place down for hers, but these things happen in the Kelly world” That is an expression of the outdated attitude that has resulted in women suffering domestic violence for generations, the attitude that this sort of bullying intimidation and direct assault was ‘just a domestic’. And just as Jones did, Fitzsimons uses this episode to bad-mouth the Judge, who is Irish but not a catholic, writing “…so Ned already knows he cant be trusted”. As for Neds Aunty Margaret having her face smashed up by Uncle Jim – not a single word!
Full marks though to Grantlee Kieza who, in his terrific biography of Ellen Kelly has broken with the long tradition of concealing the violent truths about the clan, and graphically describes Uncle Jim Quinns attacks on Margaret, and later that same week on the splitter, John Page. Court reports about these two assaults that were published in the O&M on 25th January 1872 are not included in Kelvyn Gills massive two volume “Definitive Record” – but they contain additional gruesome detail about what happened to Page in the form of Doctor Hutchinsons report:
‘Dr Hutchinson deposed that on the 15th inst. Page was brought to the Wangaratta Hospital. There was a wound on the left leg four inches above the ankle, contused and punctured ; higher up on the same leg a lacerated wound three inches long ; on the right leg a lacerated wound an inch long, below the knee ; on the right thigh two lacerations six inches long ; two severe bruises on the right lower ribs, &c. ; three lacerated; -wounds on the scalp ; the left eye blackened, : &c. Several of the wounds were through the skin. The life of Page was in jeopardy.’
Page had fallen out with Brickey Williamson who was a mate of Jimmy Quinn. The day after Quinn had attacked Margaret, he went with Williamson to Pages house and attacked him too, using the handle of an auger. Page had attempted to defend himself with a pick handle, but clearly came off second best. Quinn went away, but returned to continue the assault and tried to drag Page to a nearby waterhole to drown him.
“Bleeding profusely and terrified, Page grabbed a fence post and hung on with all his remaining strength. Maggie Kelly who happened to be visiting a friend nearby ran out and screamed at her Uncle to let the man go. One of Pages friends grabbed a spade to beat Jimmy back” (Mrs Kelly by Grantlee Kieza, Chapter seven)
Maggie Kelly was just eleven – and now a witness to a vicious bashing, and near murder by her own Uncle! Child psychologists would no doubt have much to speculate on the damaging effect on a young girls mind of being witness to such violence as this, the obvious one being a normalisation and desensitisation to violence, but studies also show exposure to violence greatly increases the likelihood of the child being angry, anxious and depressed.
It seems the innocent victim in this Kelly story was an 11 year old child, Maggie, and
the criminals were not police but her own family. Why on earth do the Kelly
apologists keep insisting that everything that went bad for the Kellys was the fault of
the police? This was the lie told by Ned Kelly – modern apologists only excuse for
believing it might be that Ian Jones didn’t tell them the whole story but now, after
reading this what will their excuse be?
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