NED KELLY: SELECTORS SQUATTERS AND STOCK THIEVES By Doug Morrissey

Having received my copy of Doug Morrissey’s latest work later than some of the other readers of this Blog, I understand now, having read it, why none of them volunteered to write a review of it for me. “Selector Squatters and Stock thieves” is not an easy book to read. It’s not so much an exciting tale of bushranging, the police chase, personalities and persecution, like most other Kelly books – Morrissey’s earlier one included – but instead is a very much drier and detailed examination of the entire social and economic environment of the time, the actual times and the actual place and the actual context in which the outbreak sits. 
There was a discussion about this context as far back as the landmark Kelly symposium in Wangaratta in 1967, where Ian Jones set out a view which has remained mostly unchallenged inside the Kelly mythology till now, that the difficult and divisive social and economic conditions at the time, and particularly selector poverty and the land wars between selectors and squatters were the seed bed for the Outbreak. From the floor at the symposium Jones view WAS challenged – by Weston Bate, an actual historian – but Jones brushed Bates objections aside saying “We are in happy disagreement”.  McQuilton developed Jones idea further with his 1979 book The Kelly Outbreak in which he advanced the idea that Ned Kelly was a ‘social bandit’ – an almost accidental popular leader who emerges out of the sort of poverty and widespread social and political unrest Jones postulated was afflicting the north East during that era. 
In 1987 Doug Morrissey completed his doctoral thesis “Selectors squatters and Stock Thieves : A Social history of Kelly Country” at Latrobe University. It remains unpublished but ‘extensively revised and brought up to date with new research’ it forms the basis for this new book. In this book, Morrissey challenges the orthodox ‘Kelly legend’ view and offers a much wider overview of the district and its political, economic and social history than the very narrow and focussed perspective usually seen in the Kelly literature. According to the Kelly legend the north east was divided along strict ethnic, class and religious lines: Irish settlers were patriots and opposed the British, Catholics and protestants shunned one another, the poor selectors were at war with the wealthy squatters over land rights, police were the mercenary enforcers of squatter rights, and Ned Kelly emerged from a typical poor Irish selector background to become the people’s hero. This portrait, according to Morrissey is supported by a highly selective narrative which ignores the historical realities that he documents extensively in this book. Catholic Ellen Kelly, for example, married a protestant and so did her daughters Maggie and Annie – and Annie later had an affair with a policeman. The reality was vastly more complex than the Kelly legend and its proponents would have us believe. The  Kelly scenario of widespread selector failure, poverty and disquiet, the sense of being under siege and oppression by police and squatter, the idea of the north east being a seething politically volatile hothouse ripe for revolution that was rescued by Ned Kelly –  Morrissey shows that’s all a fantasy. Yes, there were disputes, there was drought, there was crop failure and individual failures – but in the main the place was going forward, people were making their way ahead by hard work and community support of its varied constituents. The Kelly outbreak was pure criminality that emerged out of a fringe of larrikins and shanty dwellers who repelled the majority of the population of the north east.
The book of over 350 pages is divided into three parts: Social order and authority, Land settlement, and Crime and Policing. With respect to the prevailing social order Morrissey makes it very clear that the Lloyd/Quinn/Kelly clan were not in the least bit representative of the typical inhabitants of the north east:  “Notions of respectability and decent public behaviour were taken seriously by the majority of the regions inhabitants”. They would not have approved of what Morrissey terms the ‘shanty culture’ of the Kelly clan, a life that revolved around the ‘shanty’, a communal meeting place that was the focus for a life centred around drinking, riotous living and larrikinism, and was associated with criminality of varying kinds – petty crime, sly grog selling, prostitution, stock theft. 
Instead the majority of selectors were extremely hard working and stoic in the face of the physical challenges, including drought that faced them all out on the isolated borders of settlement. The typical selector was a hardworking, upstanding church-going member of local communities who respected the rule of law and traditional values. Even the ones who identified as Irish, and supported home rule for the Irish back home upheld the rule of British law in the colony. Selectors were noble folk in the main, breaking in the land and for many attempting  a profession they had no prior experience of: according to Morisseys figures 37% of selectors in the districts that he studied described themselves as labourers and another 21% were such things as school teachers, miners and carpenters.  Morrissey’s discussion of land acquisition under the constantly evolving legislation shows how selectors took advantage of the opportunities, and how frequently they were successful – he challenges a claim that only 37% of selectors in the north east were successful, with his own figures derived from an analysis of 265 selections made between 1868 and 1880 showing that ten years later 78% were still on their selections and 72% eventually acquired the titles to their land. All things considered, these are noteworthy outcomes.
In the third section of the book Morrissey reviews the criminal history of the clan, and discusses the complex relationships between police, the criminals and their informers. The full story of the Kelly ‘villains’ Hall and Flood is detailed, and was news to me, but Morrisseys view of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, is a view which he elaborated in his first book, and is wrong. I think he is close to the truth in portraying Fitzpatrick in some way as a ‘mate’ of Ned, but he fell into the trap of accepting Corfields entirely erroneous claim that Fitzpatrick died of cirrhosis of the liver. This trap has the effect of making the earlier and otherwise entirely unsupported claims about Fitzpatrick being a drunk easier to accept, and this then leads on to an acceptance of other equally unsubstantiated claims about Fitzpatrick, such as that he was a womaniser. Consequently Morrissey’s view of Fitzpatrick as a ‘scheming policeman’ is not one supported by the evidence.
That however is not my sole or even my main criticism of this otherwise very detailed comprehensive and informative book. My main criticism is that once again Morrissey has dispensed with even the slightest attempt at a bibliography or referencing, instead alerting us by italicising the words taken from elsewhere, but not providing even the slightest hint about where from. Morrissey simply expects us to take his word as gospel. He hasn’t provided us with the opportunity to explore further or to check up on what he claims is the case. This failure borders on contempt for his readers, and is a huge pity. Surely Morrissey knows that this book contains material that will be highly contentious in certain quarters, and the Kelly myth-makers will be desperate to discredit it. Unfortunately, by not providing any references he has given them the excuse they want, an excuse to reject everything he says in the book that they don’t like as just his opinion – and that will be almost all of it! 
This is in fact a really good book. It’s another step forward in the deconstruction of the mythology about life in the North East in the 1870’s, and further erodes what little remains of the case for Ned Kelly being the people’s hero from the north east. He was in fact a clever, violent and vengeful criminal whose support was non-existent once the money ran out, as is evidenced by the families inability to obtain the excellent services of barrister Mr Hickman Molesworth to defend him in Melbourne. 
 
(Visited 96 times)

9 Replies to “NED KELLY: SELECTORS SQUATTERS AND STOCK THIEVES By Doug Morrissey”

  1. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Ex-Constable Fitzpatrick was never in prison! (Part 1 of a 3 part post)

    Doug Morrissey in his new book, “Ned Kelly: Selectors, Squatters and Stock Thieves” (p. 273), says that “there were two men named Alexander Fitzpatrick. … The prison photo looks nothing like our Fitzpatrick.” That’s what I thought when I first saw the prison photo and compared it with Constable Fitzpatrick’s carte-de-visite. But I was pushed to allow the possibility that they might be photos of the same man by a number of people making comparisons between details in Fitzpatrick’s police Record of Service, and the prison record of the man gaoled in 1894 for passing valueless cheques.

    There are four common elements between Constable Alexander Wilson Fitzpatrick’s police Record of Service and the record for the prisoner named Alexander Fitzpatrick. These are the first name and surname (there is no middle name in the prisoner record), grey eyes, born in Victoria, and of Presbyterian religion. Both men could read and write.

    However, there are significant differences that make the equation of these two records at minimum problematic. These are year of birth, height, marital status, hair colour, and identifying physical marks. I have put them in table form below, but it will be out of alignment here:

    Source Age Height Marital Status Hair Particular Marks
    Police Record of Service B. 18 Feb 1856 5’9½“ Married, 10 July 1878 Light Bullet scar on left wrist
    Prison Record B . 1858 5’9” Single Brown Scar on left side of head

    Comparison of the details shows that Prisoner Fitzpatrick was two years younger than Constable Fitzpatrick record, was half an inch shorter at age 36, had different hair shading, is recorded as single under martial status, and had different scarring. There is no question that the bullet scar on Fitzpatrick’s wrist from the Kelly incident in April 1878 remained visible. When reporter Brian Cookson interviewed him in 1911, Fitzpatrick said that the bullet fired at the Kelly house had struck his left wrist and ‘entered just on the edge of the knucklebone, where the mark still shows, as you [Cookson] can see’ (Cookson, p. 93).

    In addition to the above differences, Constable Fitzpatrick married his wife Anna (nee Savage) in 1878, had three children with her, born 1878, 1889, and 1904, and stayed married for the rest of his life (Corfield, “Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia”, p. 166). The prison record shows that Prisoner Fitzpatrick was sentenced on 16 June 1894, received into Melbourne Gaol on 16 July, and released from prison on 1 June 1895. The imprisonment falls between the births of ex-constable Fitzpatrick’s second and third children, yet there is nothing anywhere to suggest any disruption in his married life. Significantly, we hear no mention of ex-Constable Fitzpatrick having been gaoled by those who hated him most, viz., Mrs Kelly and Jim Kelly, interviewed by Cookson in 1910. Similarly, Tom Lloyd Jr. was the principal informant for J.J. Kenneally’s “Inner history of the Kelly gang”, compiled in the late 1920s. Both Kenneally and Lloyd clearly loathed Fitzpatrick, but again there is no mention of his being gaoled.

  2. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Fitzpatrick never did gaol time! Part 2 of a 3 part post

    Further, the prison record gives Prisoner Fitzpatrick’s occupation as ‘farmer’. This correlates with a Gazette Notification in the Bairnsdale Advertiser in January 1891 that an Alexander Fitzpatrick was approved for a lease under the Land Act, (20 January 1891, p. 3, Gazette Notifications, ‘Applications for Leases, under Section No. 2, Land Act 1890, Approved. … Alexander Fitzpatrick, 228a, Murrungower.’). Again, there is no connection with ex-Constable Fitzpatrick, who became a travelling salesman, not a farmer. This is concrete evidence of the existence of a second man named Alexander Fitzpatrick in 1891. Three years later, a note in the Newcastle Herald from 25 June 1894, p.5 reported that ‘Alexander Fitzpatrick, calling himself a farmer, was arrested yesterday for passing valueless cheques’. The date is retrospective, but he is identified as a farmer, as with his later prison record.

    On 20 June 1894 an article appeared in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, p. 6. It gave an account of the court appearance of the man who “answered to the name of Alexander Fitzpatrick”, and provided a short summary of the April 1878 incident at the Kelly’s house including that Fitzpatrick “is the mounted constable who was shot by Ned Kelly”, and said that “He was remanded for the production of further evidence”. It seems that variants of the story, which had incorrectly identified the arrested Alexander Fitzpatrick as ex- Constable Fitzpatrick, were repeated with various words in a range of regional newspapers. Thus the Camperdown Chronicle 26 June 1894, p. 2, reported, “A CRIMINAL WITH A HISTORY. A man named Alexander Fitzpatrick was brought before the Fitzroy court this morning on a charge of obtaining money by false pretences, and remanded for the production of further evidence. Fitzpatrick was the constable who went to arrest Ned Kelly before he took to the bush and was shot in the wrist.”

    The incorrect identification added colour to the story, and, as Fitzpatrick told Cookson (p. 94), there were a number of such stories: “A man was arrested for drunkenness or some other minor offence at Korong Vale, in the Bendigo district, and he said he was ex-Constable Fitzpatrick. A Bendigo newspaper printed a paragraph, reflecting on my character, and I issued a writ for £1,000 damages. My legal advisers, however, said that I would have to show that I suffered some loss in consequence … before I could succeed, and reluctantly I had to abandon the action. Every now and again, for years afterwards, I had to stand up and defend myself against unjust accusations”. So we also have the reason why Fitzpatrick had to forget about suing for libel.

    The Age added further to the idea that farmer Fitzpatrick was the same man as ex-Constable Fitzpatrick when it reported on 10 July 1894, p. 7, “ALLEGED FALSE PRETENCES. At the City Court yesterday, an ex-constable named Alexander Fitzpatrick, who will be remembered in connection with the origin of the Kelly gang outbreak, appeared to answer two charges of obtaining money by false pretences from Hannah Ryan ….The accused was committed for trial on both charges.” The identification of the two men as one was now complete. Upon his conviction, a string of newspapers published a note from a wire news service in the vein of the Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), 17 July 1894, p. 4, “Intercolonial News. [By Telegraph.] Victoria. Melbourne. Tuesday Afternoon. Alexander Fitzpatrick, who figured conspicuously in the Kelly gang outrages, was sent to gaol to-day for 12 months for obtaining money on false pretences from Bourke-street publicans.”

  3. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Fitzpatrick never did gaol time! Part 3 of a 3 part post

    The false cheques were drawn on the Colonial Bank, Orbost (Snowy River Mail and Tambo and Croajingolong Gazette, 7 July, 1894, p. 3); farmer Fitzpatrick’s 1891 land lease was at Murrungower (Murrungowar), some 40 km north-east of Orbost. The paper described him as “a former resident of this district” and also held him to be the ex-Constable. Yet ex-Constable Fitzpatrick did not take up a farm somewhere east of Orbost. Corfield writes that “After leaving the police, Fitzpatrick moved to 68 Liddiard St, Hawthorn, his occupation being listed as ‘traveller’” (p. 165). This review of the evidence shows that the imprisoned farmer Fitzpatrick was not ex-Constable Fitzpatrick: they were two different men. This should have been be clear enough from the first, from comparison of the descriptive details in Alexander Fitzpatrick’s prison record with Constable Fitzpatrick’s’ Record of Service.

    It looks like I too was misled by the push to identify these two men as one and the same by privileging mistaken news reports over government records. Bu no more: I am undeceived, and can now confirm they are different men. Ex-Constable Fitzpatrick never did gaol time. The mistake, as they say, was made by a reporter; apparently beginning in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser.

  4. Oh My GOD!

    This is a sensational piece of sleuthing Stuart, absolutely incredible and completely convincing. You've got much further than Morrissey did in proving there were indeed TWO Fitzpatricks. We have all been misled.

    I think this should be a Post to the Blog, so with your permission I will put it up at the end of the week with your chart and maybe a map – I had no idea where Orbost was.

  5. Horrie and Alf says: Reply

    Well done, Stuart!

    Even Blind Freddie could tell the prison Fitzpatrick wasn't the ex-Constable!

    Another Kelly falsehood bites the dust!

  6. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee, you can do the above as a whole post if you like, but I can't see much point as it is already here! It was Morrissey's definite assertion that there were two Alexander Fitzpatricks that got me motivated to re-examine the whole thing, and he was right. I know it's frustrating that he doesn't provide referencing, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't know what he is talking about, or that he hasn't based his book content on thorough research. As I pointed out yesterday, his views about Fitzpatrick being a womanising larrikin are drawn directly from Molony's 1980 book, which counted as reputable scholarly research (until various serious errors were exposed relatively recently). And the massive value of Morrissey's new book is not the two pages that mention Fitzpatrick, but the 300 pages that totally demolish the longstanding nonsense about a war between squatters and selectors, that he shows was over nearly a decade before the Kelly outbreak, and the nonsense about any Irish separatism in NE Victoria when in fact the Irish mostly regarded themselves as British, as did the Welsh, Scots, etc. He blows several major longstanding Kelly myths totally out of the water, that were long overdue for review.

  7. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Horrie and Alf, it seems that bind Freddy worked at the Ovens and Murray Advertiser back in June 1894. But importantly, that means that all the newspaper "evidence" about Fitzpatrick being an alcoholic falling for "the flowing bowl" that was published in 1894 is totally wrong, as it applies to farmer Fitzpatrick, not ex-Constable Fitzpatrick, who was busy working as a salesman. I will write to the Old Melbourne Gaol and let them know about the error they are perpetuating by identifying the ex-Constable incorrectly as the gaoled failed farmer. This also shows how easy it is to fall for myths, as the chain of newspapers who were quick to link the fraudulent cheque passer wit the wrong man shows.

  8. Ian MacFarlane says: Reply

    Those very few of us who have copies of the original Morrissey doctoral thesis, have his citations and annotations anyway. Many modern historians are disgusted by how imitators shamelessly steal their research, and lift their hard-earned archival quotes. It's a pity Morrissey quoted Corfield's mistake about Fitzpatrick's alcoholism, but his original research among the PROV records was exacting and peerless. Nobody else delved so far into the original records.

  9. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Ian, yes, Morrissey's thesis source notes are very detailed and exacting. I don't know where the story about Fitzpatrick dying of cirrhosis originated but it must predate Corfield, as his Encyclopaedia is a compilation from many sources and yet he doesn't cite the death certificate. The story of Fitzpatrick as an alcoholic goes back to the Kelly slurs in 1878 as we know, and was accepted by practically every writer about Kelly ever since, without a second thought (or any thought at all). As someone said on Dee's blog last week, it would be nice to know where the cirrhosis story originated. My suspicion is that someone saw the death certificate states liver complications, but had no idea what sarcoma was, and let their anti-Fitzpatrick bias interpret it as cirrhosis. Whoever that first misinterpreter was, they sure found a large and uncritical audience of enthusiasts to repeat it.

Leave a Reply