Glenrowan : a debacle best forgotten about

This weekend marks the 139th year since the demise of the Kelly Gang at what has become known as ‘the siege’ at Glenrowan in 1880. Kelly supporters have for decades portrayed this event as something worth commemorating, and make all kinds of grand claims about the symbolic meaning of the siege, that it was an example of mateship, of bravery under fire,and  of being prepared to die for something you believe in. There’s also the clam it was an attempt to trigger a rebellion and to establish an independent republic of North East Victoria, a plan that was supported by a small ‘sympathiser army’, that when all hope was lost Ned Kelly bravely outsmarted the police to visit the Army and urge them to return home. This all is supposed to mean that Kelly would have been a great General if ever he had control of a real army!

According to the legend Ned  Kelly then attempted to return to rescue his brother and Steve Hart, still trapped in the Inn.  And of course there’s Ned Kellys ‘last stand’ depicted in a  thousand posters t-shirts and tatoos showing Ned Kelly in armour, advancing on his own towards the encircling police lines in a doomed attempt to take down as many police as he could before he was finally brought down.

Often, in recent years this grim anniversary has been marked by some sort of event, usually a dinner somewhere in Kelly country, but the one planned and advertised for 2019 has just been cancelled. Only a handful of people had booked to go, but the organiser said it was cancelled because of illness. On various Facebook pages sad regretful and  solemn posts are being made to remind everyone of the significance of the date and of the tragic loss of young life, others are toasting gang members, visiting graves, laying flowers and paying their respects “to the men women and children on both sides”.


The suggestion that there are people we should pay respects to “on both sides” is actually offensive nonsense. On one side there was a gang of triple police murderers with a plan for even greater mass murder, and on the other their victims. What kind of  ‘respect’ does murdering a close friend demand? What kind of respect does a plan that involves hostage taking,  wrecking a train, murdering survivors and robbing banks demand?  What kind of respect should be offered to the gang who murdered three police at Stringybark Creek?  I just hope nobody will be suggesting that at any commemoration of the Lindt Cafe siege or the Port Arthur massacre we should pay our respects  to ‘people on  both sides’.


The cancellation of the Siege Dinner because of “illness” – which might have been made worse by the fact that almost nobody wanted to go – is a sign of the times, and something I’ve been pointing out for a long time : interest in Kelly myths and lies is shrinking rapidly to the point where almost nobody supports it any more. That’s why crowd funding of pro-Kelly  movies failed twice, why the Beechworth Weekend  has  disappeared without trace, why the Chiltern Kelly seminar flopped, why the NK Center got no money from local government and no money from the public in their latest Go Fund Me campaign, why no pro-Kelly books are being written any more and why Kelly related FB pages are either shutting themselves down, being shut down by Facebook because they’re  not much more than  message boards for abuse and vilification or are just recycling the old tired disproven fairy stories of Ned.

What  has changed in the seven years since the publication of Ian MacFarlanes book ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked is that the myths have been steadily stripped away.Its no longer possible to pretend that Glenrowan was some sort of political engagement – the myth of the Republic has been consigned to the rubbish bin of history legends.Its no longer possible to pretend that Ned Kelly was the  poor persecuted victim of police oppression : we know he was a criminal psychopath, and in any case the Royal Commission found no evidence to support the complaint of persecution.Its no longer possible to claim there was a magnificent ‘last stand’ between Ned Kelly and the police – it was an exchange that lasted less than 15 minutes! It’s no longer possible to pretend that the instigators of a hostage crisis are not responsible for any deaths of innocent people that might result- just read the Coroners report into the deaths of innocent people at the Lindt Cafe hostage taking and siege. The hostage taker is blamed entirely even though one victim was killed by a police bullet.


And as as for the magnificence of Ned Kellys  plan for Glenrowan : it was so poorly planned that it went wrong even before it began, with the decision to use armour! It went wrong as soon as Joe Byrne murdered Aaron Sherrit – instead of quickly departing so word could be sent to Melbourne that the Gang has emerged from hiding, the idiots and their supporters hung about for hours ensuring the police remained in Aaron’s house and enormous delays resulted It went wrong when Kelly tried to rip up the  railway lines – he didn’t have the right tools. It went wrong when he woke up the men in the tent- they didn’t have the tools or the know-how either. It went wrong once they started collecting hostages because then Curnow learned what was planned, and Curnow, the true hero of Glenrowan stopped the police train and saved countless lives.

There cant be any argument about the siege other than that it was a massive disaster for Ned Kelly  and his gang. The provision of free drinks at someone else’s expense -Ann Jones’ – and a few games of hop,step and jump and some dancing can’t conceal the reality of how great a debacle  this entire scene turned into. It failed to achieve even one of its objectives, other than the cowardly murder of Aaron  Sherrit at point blank range, but worse, it resulted in the loss of innocent lives, the death of Ned Kellys own younger brother and two other gang members, and the great ‘general’ himself brought down and soon to face the hangman’s noose for the murder of Lonigan at Stringybark Creek.Ned Kelly, the leader of the gang was responsible for six deaths that day – three gang members, two hostages and Aaron! What an appalling legacy!


Can someone please explain what on earth Ned Kelly did at Glenrowan that deserves anyone’s respect? If anyone should be remembered this weekend and the person  most deserving of respect was the disabled school teacher Thomas Curnow. He risked his life to save not just dozens of police and innocent passengers  but innumerable horses from horrible deaths in the train wreck , lingering deaths from delayed complications of injury and entire lives of anyone who might have survived blighted by physical disability and pain.But so far in all the pitiful wailing about Joe and Ned on Facebook there hasn’t been a single mention of Curnow.


Kelly supporters seem to be blind to what’s happened to their myths : they’ve all been blown away, people have learned the truth about the outbreak, have lost interest in the fairy stories of Ned and no longer wish to remember him or his life of crime and chaos.


This weekend is a day of shame for the Kelly story and should be ignored




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8 Replies to “Glenrowan : a debacle best forgotten about”

  1. Hi David, that’s a great summary of all the cock-ups at Glenrowan that some people want to celebrate. You could also add that Ned Kelly shot labourer George Metcalf in the face before the Glenrowan siege had commenced, for which the police were blamed for the next 132 years until Ian MacFarlane pointed out the truth in his “Kelly Gang Unmasked” book. I then examined the whole story in detail in my shortish article, “Ned Kelly’s shooting of George Metcalf, Labourer”, in 2017. I spent over 2 pages demonstrating how Ian Jones had deliberately misquoted and twisted the historical evidence to keep blaming the police. He didn’t just do bad history, he did deliberately distorted history, going out of his way to present a sanitised version of Ned Kelly, as I showed in detail with full references.

    That’s why I’m celebrating Thomas Curnow this weekend. As you said, he saved dozens of lives by stopping the police train before it got to the place where the rails were lifted to send it crashing down a 20 foot drop into a gully. From there, as John McQuilton explained and demonstrated on video, the gang had planned to stand in armour on top of the culvert, shooting frontwards down to kill any survivors, including train crew. They don’t put that in the school-book versions of the Kelly tale.

    My Metcalf article, and the other two – “Redeeming Fitzpatrick” and “Ned Kelly’s last words”, are still free downloads from the Eras Journal website at Monash University. However, the website has just been changed, and one has to click on “Past Issues”, then go into the issues (17, 18 and 19) to find them. This only happened a couple of weeks ago, and the Google links now just take people to the journal website, rather than direct to the articles as they used to.

    This is being looked into by the uni web technicians, to see if the external links for all authors’ articles can be restored. In the meantime, it’s a bit fiddly. I have also been going through a permissions process, and will soon be able to offer the articles for free direct download from any website that wishes to host them. It means I have to make a change to the journal URL in the articles, and fix up the Journal acknowledgement format. But everything else in the articles, the whole text and footnotes, will be identical, and citation will be unaffected. I will let you know when the articles have been fixed after that small adjustment to the acknowledgements. The adjusted versions will have the numeral “1” at the end of the PDF title.

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    Well put, David.

    Horrie and Alf

  3. Found this tonight on an American music website:

    “By the way, did you know he’s also a very good writer? I just finished (for the second time) his history of the Kelly Gang (Ned Kelly). “The Kelly Gang unmasked”. You can get it from Amazon. Guy’s a great writer. He has several Aussie histories available. He was also a fireman. Those guys are pretty important in a place (Melbourne) that catches flame fairly frequently and fairly ferociously . . .”

    Cam West

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    Looks like a lot of people have forgotten about Glenrowan. The only Kelly event listed anywhere in north east Victoria this June was the cancelled Glenrowan siege dinner.


  5. David, you have helped to totally demolish the Kelly Legend. But your task is ongoing.

    How can you convert the huge unthinking (hidden) herd of tattooed slackos who worship this Dud?

    Horrie and Alf

  6. There is a ludicrous image on this official government website suggesting a man on the left is Superintendent Hare.

    Hare was of course wounded in the wrist by the gang and removed to Benalla. So he couldn’t possibly have been the man in the picture after the Inn was burned.

    Loathsome research by numbskulls at NAA!

    Cam West

  7. Hi Cam, you are right, another piece of badly “researched” rubbish by a government funded organisation. They really are a bunch of tools. I alerted two government departments over a year ago to text errors on Kelly web pages, and provided evidence of what they needed to correct, but the errors remain. I recommend contacting them and including their web page URL with the point you have made, and a reference to evidence showing it can’t possible have been Hare, and seeing if they fix it.

    The last lot I contacted was the National Sound and Film Archive, who didn’t even reply. They are just taxpayer funded lard butts with zero customer service or concern for historical accuracy. They need a major staff clean out in my opinion. Overpaid bludgers.

  8. Just spotted on the Glenrowan Facebook page – the Glenrowan movie that didn’t get off the ground is going to be a 6 part mini series god help us. Here is what they say –

    Glenrowan – The Mini-Series Never give up, never surrender! We’re going at with the grim determination of an iron-clad outlaw walking into the gunfire of 50 police….

    Ha ha. When Ned made his Last Stand at dawn there were only about 13 police from the special train there as Hare had gone back wounded to Benalla. There were about half a dozen police from Wangaratta led by Steele that arrived not long before the Last Stand. so maybe 20 police in the bush all spread around the hotel. Half of them couldn’t have fired at Ned as they were on the wrong side of the hotel. There is no way Ned walked into the gunfire of 50 police. What other rubbish is this mini series going to serve up? The script from the Glenrowan movie is already up the creek about its most important moment. Maybe they are writing a comedy?

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