Two farmers , a builder, a carpenter a contractor and a blacksmith : six of the two hundred citizens of Lancefield who signed up in support of Constable Fitzpatrick and against the blackening of his name and reputation by police hierarchy determined to blame him for the Outbreak.
In the last few posts I’ve been discussing what we actually know about Constable Alex Fitzpatrick. We know that up to the time of the infamous ‘incident’ he had an unblemished record of service in the Victoria Police. We know that contrary to popular opinion, there is not one shred of evidence that he had a drinking problem or was an alcoholic. We also know, having seen Fitzpatrick’s death certificate that Justin Corfield’s Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia got it completely wrong, claiming he had alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver when he died. The death certificate recorded that he died from Liver sarcoma that was disseminated and had begun invading his stomach. Sarcoma of the liver is a completely different an unrelated disease to cirrhosis. Anyone who knows anything about the way malignancies spread in the abdomen will know that this dissemination is almost always accompanied by an accumulation of fluid called ascites, which was also recorded on the death certificate.
I’ve also written about the complaints that were made about Fitzpatrick’s conduct in 1879 and 1880 that led up to his dismissal from the police in late April 1880. As far as I have been able to discover, only two charges were proven against him – one for laughing in a hospital after ‘lights out’, and the other for missing the train in Sydney and arriving late for work. He was eventually dismissed from the force by Police Superintendent FC Standish on the advice of Senior Constable Mayes, who admitted to the Royal Commission that from the moment he began working with Fitzpatrick he was looking for an excuse to get rid of him.
This week I want to continue the discussion about Fitzpatrick’s dismissal and show that he was absolutely right to complain to the Royal Commission that he was harshly treated.
After the “incident” at the Kelly house in April 1878, Fitzpatrick was transferred to Beechworth and soon after, was sent to Richmond, in Melbourne, apparently for his own safety. However, because he knew what the Kellys looked like he was then sent to Sydney to keep watch on the docks in case the gang tried to escape by sea. This turned out to be a good move because he discovered that Jim Wilson, a violent convicted horse thief sentenced to five years in Darlinghurst Gaol, in Sydney, was none other than Ned Kellys brother Jim Kelly.
Last week I wrote that the charge of ‘neglect of duty’ that he pled guilty to, related to him ‘missing the train’. I thought this meant that he arrived late because he had not caught the train that brought him to work, but I’ve re-read those documents and realise I misinterpreted them. “Missing the train” referred to the fact that he was supposed to have been at the Station when the Southern Train arrived to he could scrutinise the passengers as they got off, and look for any members of the Kelly Gang who might have arrived on it. He arrived at 7.15 on the morning of April 30th1879, quarter of an hour late, missing the train that arrived at 7am and wrote, in explanation, that his own watch was at the Jewellers getting repaired and he was using a watch lent by the watchmaker which ran late. In the PROV file there’s a report from a detective who was sent to the Jeweller to check out Fitzpatrick’s story – and it did. Unsurprisingly the Jeweller said of the watch that he lent Fitzpatrick, that it was “considered a fair time keeper”.
There was also a complicated story that arose out of a complaint by a hair dresser in Sydney about Fitzpatrick and a woman he knew called Edith Graham (elsewhere named as Edith Jones), an employee of Kazimany(?) Thomas Pogonowski, a hair dresser. Pogonowski maintained that on the very same day that Fitzpatrick had ‘missed the train’, April 30th1879, Fitzpatrick engaged him in conversation in his shop to distract him, while Edith stole jewellery , ‘wearing apparel’ and money to the value of seventy pounds (£70). However when Senior Constable Edward Reatingye(?) interviewed Pogonowski he was told the value of the stolen goods was £50. Edith later claimed that the jewellery had been given to her by Pogonowski “under the pretence of marrying” – which sounds suspiciously like a payment or an inducement for ‘services rendered’ by the servant girl to her employer. The report of the incident tendered by Fitzpatrick says that Inspector Rush told Pogonowski that ‘it was not the second or third time he had been troubled with him and the woman he keeps”. Fitzpatrick directed police to the place where Edith lived, he recovered the supposedly stolen items and in the end no charges were laid against anyone. However, as a result of this incident the police hierarchy decided to recall Fitzpatrick to Victoria. Reports were sent from Sydney to Standish in Benalla, and after reading them he wrote, on May 12th1879 :
“I concur with the inspector general’s opinion that it is no use in keeping Constable Fitzpatrick in Sydney any longer. He not only neglects his duty for which he was especially told off but he has evidently mixed himself up in a matter calculated to raise grave suspicions of his honesty. He is I fear a worthless and useless young man”
On May 25thStandish forwarded the reports he had received about Fitzpatrick to Superintendent C H Nicolson, along with a Memo which included an unwarranted mischaracterisation of everything that happened :
“It will be seen that Constable Fitzpatrick’s conduct has been most unsatisfactory while on special duty in Sydney. He was on several occasions absent from duty at the Railway station where his services were urgently required and the attached file shows that he is in the habit of associating with persons from whom he should stand aloof. In short I fear he will never be a good constable.”
Standish goes on to write :
“The following entry will be made in his record that :
“Constable Fitzpatrick while on special duty in Sydney conducted himself in a most unsatisfactory manner; he was lazy, neglectful of his duty and associated with improper characters. In fact his whole conduct drew down the (indecipherable) of the inspector general of police and was calculated to bring discredit to the Victorian police”
But let’s be fair here: Fitzpatrick came to work late once – or possibly twice – and he was mixed up in a dispute between a dodgy employer and his employee, but neither he nor the alleged thief was ever charged let alone found to be guilty of anything. And that was it. On the positive side, the record shows he worked 12 to 14 hour days and he had very usefully identified Jim Kelly in disguise, but he received no credit for that. Standish claimed on the basis of the Edith Graham incident that he was ‘in the HABIT of associating with persons from whom he should stand aloof’ and for that, and perhaps twice being late for work his ‘ENTIRE conduct’ is branded as being ‘calculated to bring discredit to the Victorian police’. Where is the evidence that Fitzpatrick was in the HABIT of associating with the wrong sort of person, or that his ENTIRE conduct was unacceptable? These are gross misrepresentations.
It’s interesting to compare Fitzpatrick’s treatment by Standish with his treatment of another policeman the Kelly supporters love to hate: Constable Edward Hall. Hall was the one who tried to arrest Ned Kelly for horse stealing and when Ned was about to escape, drew his gun and pulled the trigger three times – but it misfired each time. Ned then attacked Hall but once he had been subdued, Hall bashed Ned’s head in with his revolver, and had to get a doctor to come from a nearby town to stitch up the mess he made. Later still, in Court, Hall lied about documentation that hadn’t actually been issued when he claimed to have seen it. So how did Standish respond to this obviously dishonest and violent policeman? He described him as ‘hasty and injudicious’and transferred him out of the district. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand for what, by comparison, were minor incidents was roundly condemned and kicked out. How can that be fair?
So, Fitzpatrick was recalled to Victoria in late April 1879. Not long after getting back to Victoria he sustained a leg injury which must have been quite severe because he was in the Police hospital for almost four months. That was where he broke the rules by laughing out loud after lights out and was fined 5 shillings! In September 1879, now recovered, he was transferred to Lancefield and the supervision of the already hostile SC Mayes. As I recounted last week, at the Royal Commission Mayes admitted his determination from the outset to get Fitzpatrick out of the force, and so he complained about an incident involving Fitzpatrick, saying he had neglected his duty. However as I also detailed in the previous post, when this incident was investigated, according to Fitzpatrick’s unchallenged testimony to the RC, he was “exonerated of all blame”.
Never-the-less in April 1880, without making any attempt to ascertain the particulars that supported the sweeping condemnations of his character supplied from Sydney, and by SC Mayes at Lancefield, and without giving Fitzpatrick an opportunity to defend himself, Standish dismissed Fitzpatrick from the police.
In July 1881 Fitzpatrick told the Royal Commissioners what happened:
“I was instructed by Senior-Constable Mayes to proceed to Melbourne from there. The late Sergeant Porter had my voucher made out to be stationed at Romsey, temporary duty for a few days. That night a telegram was sent to the police depot, stating I was to be discharged from the police force to-morrow. That was Tuesday. I asked Captain Standish to tell me the reason why, and he just explained that he had received this communication from Mayes ; and I understood from Captain Standish that was the sole reason I was discharged from the police force ; and I think, as against that, those 200 petitioners ought to go further than Constable Mayes. It is hard my character should be blackened. I might have erred in small things. There are many constables in the force who have done more serious things than I did, and have remained in the force and got promotion.”
In reference to his dismissal he was asked :“Had you any opportunity of reply ?
ANSWER : I never had the slightest opportunity at all. I applied for a board of enquiry, and the Chief Secretary (Mr. Ramsay) declined, as he had left all power with Captain Standish. Notwithstanding that, there were two petitions got up on my behalf by the residents of Lancefield and Romsey, asking that I might be reinstated.
12894. You think you were harshly treated ?
ANSWER : I did, indeed.
The petitions that Fitzpatrick mentions are a pair of remarkable documents that, to their shame, the Kelly story tellers have almost universally, and deliberately ignored. Ian Jones doesn’t mention them in the supposedly greatest Kelly biography ever written. Peter Fitzsimons doesn’t mention them either and neither do sundry other lesser Kelly story tellers like Paul Terry and Ian Shaw, all of whom condemn Fitzpatrick in the usual way, as a drunk and a liar without restraint. However, Ian MacFarlane discussed them in his landmark work from 2012, and so does Grantlee Kieza in his excellent 2017 biography of Ned Kellys mother.
The reason the Kelly myth-makers like Jones and Fitzsimons have ignored these two petitions, and why nobody anywhere else wants to talk about them is because they represent an almost complete rebuttal of the Kelly myth about Fitzpatrick, that he was a disreputable drunk and an incompetent and useless policeman. What they show, in an extraordinary display of support for Fitzpatrick is that the ordinary people of Lancefield held him in high regard. On one side you have a few senior police who appear to have made use of a series of minor infringements to smear the reputation and rid the force of a policeman they disliked, perhaps for personal petty reasons, – and on the other side, two HUNDRED respectful citizens of Lancefield who regarded Fitzpatrick as a perfectly good policeman.
Here is part of what they said”
“We, the undersigned inhabitants of the Lancefield district of Victoria, venture to address you on the subject of the removal and discharge of Mounted Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick who was stationed for nine months in this district. We deprecate the slightest idea of any desire to interfere in the slightest manner with the discipline of the force nor do we desire to question the administration, but on hearing that Mounted Constable Fitzpatrick was discharged on a report from a superior officer that he did not do his duty, could not be trusted out of sight and associated with low persons we felt constrained to give our free testimony to the fact that during the time Mounted Constable Fitzpatrick was in the district he was as far as we could see, and we came in contact with him every day, zealous, diligent obliging and universally liked.”
Later they wrote“He made several clever captures and appeared to us as one of the most efficient and obliging men in the force”
Unfortunately, as Fitzpatrick told the Royal Commission, the Chief Secretary had left decisions about Appeals and Enquiries in the hands of F C Standish, the Police Commissioner. Nowadays we would not allow a person with such a marked conflict of interest to adjudicate on Fitzpatrick’s request for a board of Inquiry, but things were different in 1880. Standish exercised his power to deny the request for an enquiry that would have resulted in indepndant scrutiny of his decision to sack Fitzpatrick. Why would he want that? He might have been embarrassed at being found wanting ! – which was of course what the Royal Commission DID indeed find the following year. His conduct of the police operations was, according to the 1881 royal commission on the police, ‘not characterized either by good judgment, or by that zeal for the interests of the public service which should have distinguished an officer in his position’. His response to the Lancefield petition was equally dismissive of the possibility that two hundred citizens of Lancefield may have seen something in Fitzpatrick that he had missed. His reply, on May 10th1880 was as equally self-serving : “In reply I beg to state that the ex-constables conduct during the time that he was a member of the force was generally bad and discreditable to the force. I cannot hold any hope of his ever being reinstated to the position of constable on the Victoria police”
The irony of this remark is that it shows how blind Standish was to the evidence right in front of him that completely contradicted his belief that Fitzpatrick was “generally bad and discreditable to the force” – the petitioners are attesting to the fact that he was GOOD and in their eyes he was a CREDIT to the force! Standish and the others didnt want to know – thy just wanted him out!
Remarkably, a year later the citizens of Lancefield were still concerned about the treatment handed out to Fitzpatrick by the police hierarchy and a second petition was presented, this time to H M Chomley who had replaced Standish. Chomley also declined to offer Fitzpatrick an opportunity to argue his case, and instead relied on the unsupported opinions recorded on his file, but added “I have always heard him described as a liar and a larrikin”. In fact it was the Kellys who promoted the view that Fitzpatrick was a liar – it isn’t recorded anywhere in his Police file that he was a liar, or ever charged let alone found guilty of perjury. So not only did Chomley deny Fitzpatrick the opportunity to defend his reputation, he trashed it further by adding his own unsubstantiated claim that he was a liar.
There would seem to be more to Fitzpatricks story than is made clear from the surviving documentation, and I suspect it was something about Fitzpatrick’s personality and style that got under the noses of police hierarchy. He seemed to be able to relate to ordinary working-class folk but not to the rigid disciplinarians of the police hierarchy. There’s no evidence that he was an alcoholic, but if there was, I think I could understand why he might have become one because whichever way you look at – and unfortunately for the Kelly story very few people have even tried to look at it, so blinded are they by their unfounded hate for the man – Fitzpatrick was treated disgracefully by all sides. The redemption of Fitzpatrick started by Stuart Dawson, continues.
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