The Declaration of the Republic of North East Victoria : This Document isn’t lost : It Never Existed

“If only the Declaration of the Republic of NE Victoria would surface from the British Museum”  

FB Comment 2019

 

“I believe when captured at Glenrowan Ned Kelly did have in his pocket a declaration for a Republic of North-East Victoria.”  

FB Comment 2019

 

So Stuart…..is your ego willing to accept the possibility there is a mysterious document relating to the republic (be it a declaration, call to arms, whatever) which is missing?”

Blog Comment 2019.

 

Imagine having a discussion with someone who said he has just remembered that at an exhibition in 2012 he saw a signed advertising poster for an Elvis Concert in Melbourne on Australia Day 1992.

“But Elvis died in 1977” you would say.

“Yes but were you there? None of us was there so we can’t be sure exactly what happened and who knows, the rumours that he is still alive right be true. What are going to say if it turns up one day?” says the Elvis fan.

“You mean Elvis Costello?” you ask

“No, I mean Elvis Presley, the King, married to Priscilla, Jailhouse Rock….”

At this point you walk away shaking your head! You know Elvis is dead, there was no concert in Melbourne in 1992 and the idea that there is a poster advertising it is just absurd. The guy is obviously  mistaken.

 

And this, dear readers is an exact parallel of the way Kelly sympathisers regard the  fabled Declaration of the Kelly Republic of North east Victoria.  They are hoping that a document that never had a reason to exist will one day emerge out of nowhere and make all their Kelly dreams come true. But, sadly for them the document isn’t out there and  for Elvis fans who think he’s still out there somewhere too, neither is Elvis.


The existence of an actual document declaring the North East of Victoria a Republic was first written about in the Kelly literature in 1948 by Max Brown in the Foreword to ‘Australian Son’.

 

He wrote that the ‘legend’ of Ned Kelly declared that ‘in the hour of his capture the police took from Kellys pocket a declaration for a Republic of North East Victoria’ but he clearly didn’t believe that the ‘legend’ of there being an actual document, or for that matter a plan to form a republic was part of the true story because he didn’t mention either of those two things ever again. The origin of that legend was probably this remark from ‘The Evening News’ of July 2nd1880 : “it is rumoured that in Ned Kellys possession was found a pocket book containing a number of letters implicating persons of good positions and the name of one member of parliament is mentioned”. If anyone knows of any other contemporary reference to documents and letters and the like taken from Ned Kelly at his capture please make it available – but, as far as I know that is the only contemporary reference, and it was to a ‘rumour’

 

But notice how the ‘rumour’ became a fact in the Kelly Legend, that ‘pocket book’ became ‘pocket’ and how ‘letters’ became a declaration! I recall reading somewhere a while ago that his pocket also contained the first, rather incomplete plans for the Sydney Harbour Bridge – they also are still to be found.

The next mention of the Declaration document was made by Ian Jones in 1992. By then he had taken Max Browns fanciful ‘Legend’ and worked it up into the fully-fledged theory of the Republic that he first presented at the Wangaratta Kelly symposium in 1967. He mentioned a sympathiser army and claimed Ned Kelly met with the army on Mt Glenrowan, and he mentioned sky rockets – two components of the legend that are based on almost nothing and puffed out into something they never were – but he didn’t mention the declaration document. That didn’t come till 1992, by which time Jones’ informant Tom Lloyd had supplied him with a few more juicy ‘details’ about the Republic and a journalist, Leo Radic had suddenly remembered that he had seen a printed copy of the declaration itself, at the British Museum in 1962. In fact, by the time Fatal Friendship was published in 1992 Jones already knew that exhaustive searches back in London for the document Radic described had found no trace of it having ever existed. However such was the strength of his conviction that his theory of the republic was correct, Jones went ahead anyway and announced not only that the Declaration existed but it had been drawn up by Joe Byrne in ‘quaint mock legalistic language’. He repeated these claims again a few years later when his major work A Short Life was published, only admitting in the notes that in fact nobody other than Radic ever saw it. However he declared ‘Radic was a trained and highly reputable reporter with no conceivable motive for imagining or inventing such a document”and called him‘ a highly reputable witness’.

 

A declaration document would have provided Jones with the one thing his entire theory of the republic completely lacked: evidence! No wonder that he clung to his belief in the document so fervently, and so desperately tried to explain away the fact that it couldn’t be found and had only ever been seen by one person.

Actually there are many ‘conceivable’ reasons that explain how people do sometimes consciously or unconsciously imagine or invent things, or why our memories play tricks on us – and then there’s the simple and most probable explanation for nobody else having seen or been able to find that Declaration : Radic simply made a mistake. Even highly trained reporters get it wrong sometimes! 

 

Radic himself said that at the time he saw this document in the British Museum he didn’t realise what it was, and it was only much later that he somehow convinced himself that it was a Declaration.  Nowadays we have a much better understanding of the way memory works and the concept of false memory could easily account for the way Radics recollection evolved over the years into a conviction that it was a Declaration. Worse though for believers in the Declaration, much later in life Radic is reported to have changed his mind about what he saw, saying it was pamphlet not a declaration.

Innumerable writers followed Jones lead and talked about the republic and the lost Declaration of the Republic of North East Victoria, and as the quotes at the head of this page attest, Kelly followers continue to cling to the forlorn hope that one day it will surface. But it won’t, and neither will Kellys plans for the Sydney Harbour Bridge ever surface because there is simply no actual evidence that either of these two documents ever existed, and no reason, at least with respect to the former, for it to exist in the first place.

The reality is this: Ian Jones conjured up an ingenious and attractive re-interpretation of the facts of Kelly history, inventing the theory of a Republic of north east Victoria to rescue Ned Kelly from the annals of criminality, and elevate him to folk hero status. It impressed a lot of people and somehow triggered a memory in the mind of Leo Radic that resulted in him managing to convince himself – and Ian Jones and everyone else who desperately wanted it to be true –  that a document he had seen seven years earlier was actually a Declaration. But all these years later its all been exposed as a hopeful fantasy; there was no republic and no phantom army, which means of course that there was never a need for a Declaration document to have existed in the first place.

No wonder they couldnt find it!

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19 Replies to “The Declaration of the Republic of North East Victoria : This Document isn’t lost : It Never Existed”

  1. Hi David, the first and funniest mention of Kelly linked to a mention of a republic is in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, Saturday 1 March 1879, page 5, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/101913255, which pillories the idea of the Kellys “fulminating a decree of outlawry against the Berry Government and proclaiming Henderson Africanus first President of the Victorian Republic”. No mention of Ned leading it, of course!. There are several newspapers over a week or so in July 1880, all printing the same few sentences you quoted from the Evening News, obviously taken from a wire service, and none of them say anything different to letters being taken from him. No declaration or manifesto. And as covered in my book, no sympathiser army to appeal to anyway.

    But you have overlooked the really fascinating story of the Bulletin’s 1900 spoof article sending up the idea of Kelly declaring a republic at Benalla, which was taken as a joke at the time (reprinted a few weeks later in a jokes column), then reappearing a few times until it was picked up and spread throughout Australia in the early 1940s, Bill Beatty’s Believe it or Not book. No wonder Brown, Jones, and others heard these “rumours” with no substance around the country when they both started looking at the idea in the 1940s. Sucked in bad! The details are all set out in my Republic myth book, with full references.

    In the Age on 16 March 2003, some Kelly enthusiasts were quoted as saying, “The republic document has been seen. We’ve got three sightings of it — 1961, ’65 and ’67 — and three people have described the exact same document. It has to be out there somewhere.” Remember that the first of these sightings is Radic, who claimed to have seen a printed copy in London in 1961. The other two mystery witnesses are alleged to have described “the exact same document”. That necessarily means a printed copy, such as Radic described in several fragmentary statements, all given in my book. . Where, we ask? Not in the London Public Records Office, who could find no trace of ever having displayed any such document when rigorous enquiries were made .by Ian Jones and others back in the late 1960s. No-one who talked to Ian Jones, or in the very wide circles he mingled in, ever mentioned any such sighting to him, or to anyone that knew him and would have told him. Nothing was ever said by those Kelly enthusiasts to him about it, such that it could have been mentioned in his 2008 final revised edition of his “Short Life ” book. We just have to call it out. It’s a fairy story. Someone else, or two someone else’s, have added their false memories into the myth constructed by Ian Jones in the core republic chapter of his Short Life book. He built his entire world view of Kelly around the republic myth, and a “declaration” that never existed. Well, easy come, easy go. It’s fiction.

    I think we need to move on totally from the republic theory now. It has been well and truly demolished. there is not a shred of evidence supporting it anywhere, not for any part of the story. No-one has put up any argument against my demolition anywhere that I have seen. It’s all just blind faith and hope that someone will somehow find a declaration document somewhere. The trouble is, that’s all just hearsay built on errant memories of the 1940s believe it or not story, or its later recycling through into the 1950s, or on reading Ian Jones and going ah-ha, that must have been what I saw. (And now I’ll tell everyone, and get my 15 minutes of fame!) Like the ones who swear some old relative of theirs met Dan Kelly after Glenrowan. It’s all on a level with “my grandad saw an alien”. Honest injuns. It was in the paper, so it must be true… All together now, “FAKE NEWS”.

  2. There was never anything in the British Museum either. I emailed them as part of the investigation. Another dud lead. Nice try, but. Maybe the Notting Hill Fish & Chip shop?

    1. Hi Stuart
      I was just writing about the document itself, not the entire theory of the Republic of North East Victoria.

      I agree the whole theory is an absurd concoction that has no basis in reality, and so the idea of a Declaration document existing out there somewhere is even more absurd. However there are still quite a few people who think its possible and take the idea seriously, because Ian Jones was so convincing and so earnest and believable in his promotion of the idea.

      One way of weaning them off their attachment to the idea is to point out that one of their greatest other heroes Max Brown didn’t believe in it, didn’t see any hint of it and nobody writing seriously about the Kelly Outbreak ever mentioned it until after Jones came along. Up until then NO Kelly supporter believed that the Kelly story had anything to do with a Republic.

      The Kelly story for the great majority of its life did not include a republic fantasy. Now we all know thanks to your work that this Republic idea is actually a bit of fake history that was believed only because it had a very persuasive and convincing sales-person in Ian Jones.

      As you say its now time for everyone to move on, and most will I am sure.

      However there are still people who say the earth is flat, and others who cling to the idea of a Republic.

  3. Hi David, OK, sticking to just the declaration document fairy tale, that was what I asked the British Museum about, a republic declaration document or poster of some kind, and drew a blank, just as the London Public Records Office have never heard of any such this when Ian Jones and Barry Jones and someone else pursued the matter back in the late 1960s.

    Max Brown seems to have been Ian Jones’ inspiration for looking for such a thing, from Brown’s words in his introduction to the 1948 first edition of his “Australian Son”. He says on p. 12, in the intro, that the Kelly legend “declares that in the hour of his capture, the police took from Kelly’s pocket a declaration for a Republic of North-Eastern Victoria!”. That is repeated in all his later editions. So Brown definitely believed it.

    I traced where that hearsay came from: originally from the 1900 Bulletin Magazine spoof, then through several editions (and numerous newspaper and radio mentions) of Bill “Believe” Beatty’s book, from 1941 through to 1946, coinciding with both Brown’s post-war travels in search of the Kelly legend, and the start of Ian Jones’ NE travels with the same motivation, the redemption of Ned Kelly. Brown supplemented that with his (unreferenced) knowledge that letters had been found on Kelly at his capture, as reported in one of those July 1880 newspapers. Effectively he unwittingly created the declaration legend from those two sources, the 1880 news item and Beatty’s creative rehash of the 1900 Bulletin spoof, by taking the spoof-originated hearsay seriously. As Brown said at the end of his introduction. “So does the myth become greater than the reality to react upon reality!” Shame about the party pooper reality checks…

  4. Ahem, Stuart. Psst, the London Public was replaced as the National Archives well over 15 years ago. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.

    Horrie and Alf

  5. Hi Horrie and Alf, I’ve obviously muddled the title with the old one used in IJ’s “Short Life” references from when I looked at this a few years ago. The point remains that no-one could find anything. I’m still tipping the Notting Hill Fish and Chip shop. But was that The Fish House of Notting Hill, or Hobson’s Fish and Chips… Or even The Chipping Forecast… Dunno, but they all sound great on Trip Advisor…

  6. Glenrowan Siege Dinner cancelled due to lack of interest. Only 32 clicked interested and only 6 booked. Even their last years friends have dropped them.

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    1. How long can this embarrassing farce drag on?
      It is time some serious and uncomfortable questions were asked of the Ned Kelly Centre.
      Their rap sheet is excruciating to take in:
      First siege dinner – failed
      Second siege dinner – failed.
      First fundraising appeal – failed.
      Second fundraising appeal – failed
      Feasibility analysis (NKA) – failed.
      Public support – failed.
      Collection of artifacts for display – failed.
      Engagement with key stakeholders – failed.

      In almost four years since NKC announced their plans there’s nothing to show. Nothing. And they are still asking for public money. Ned must be shaking his head!!!

  7. Some rough calculations about the NKC Go Fund Me campaign : $50 in 25 days equals two dollars a day…….so to raise the target amount of $150,000 that’s only 150,000/2 = 75,000 days to go.

    75000/365 = 205 years!

    It’s a good guide to how much support there actually is for anything related to the Kelly myths!😳😳

    1. That’s not necessarily true David. There is a lot to this particular project. It’s deep seeded. This is not about myths.
      NKC has not been able to harness any goodwill or energy whatsoecer for this project. Why? Where are those who could help NKC and why isn’t anybody speaking out in NKC’s defence and trying to get the project up and running?
      Where are NKC’s artifacts? Why have perfectly reasonable (and respectfully written) comments and questions relating to money raised, objects, etc been deleted by NKC from their FB page? How much money was raised at their sausage sizzle? What will the $150,000 be used for in their latest appeal? Where did the money for the photo come from? There’s certainly no detail at all in anything NKC tries to do.
      There first appeal raised $1100 out of a requested $10,000,000. Let us not forget NKC considered the Beechworth Gaol a ‘perfect fit’ for them. Now NKC are saying ‘you can’t move history’. NKC appears to stumble from one disaster to another. Ned knew the value of a strong and committed network of sympathisers. Clearly that hasn’t rubbed off on NKC. At least they have a boomerang.

      1. You forgot to mention the failure of their Website which was perpetually “Under Construction” but has now disappeared!

        The Go Fund Me campaign should be axed to save them all further embarrassment. The NKC is demonstrating that it has NO support – just like all the other Kelly projects and Facebook places/websites.

    2. Maybe NKC should reach out to Israel Folau for some fundraising tips?

  8. It sounds like they are just looking busy with these failed events while they try and get government funding. They are planning another one next year for 140th anniversary of the little swine being hung. He never had any descendants, it is all make believe. My great great almost relative killed three policemen. Sickening.

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    1. Even more sickening is when you turn up at a police commemoration event wearing a locket containing a photograph of their killer. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. How utterly disrespectful.

  9. It says they cancelled the Glenrowan dinner because illness had hit a number of members of the team. They were probably sick that only 6 people booked.

    1. If NKC had any supporters in Glenrowan and local area there would be people who would step forward and help manage the event and help out those who have suddenly been struck down with what sounds like an awful mystery illness. Where are the helpers and supporters? Where are all the green hands from a couple of years ago? The cynical amongst us may see this as another smokescreen from NKC and an attempt to extend their demise for another year or so.
      Another recent point of interest was the NKC’s retraction of information published in The Oz. Anybody else pick up on the points they were at pains to correct? Why would a reputable publication like The Oz publish info that was incorrect? Why would NKC feel the need to correct the article? Where did The Oz get their information from? And was a juicy tourism carrot (in the form of a headstone) dangled?

  10. Hi David and various Anonymice, could we all please get back to the republic myth question for a minute!! Does anyone know of any publications during the last 12 months that have repeated the Kelly republic myth? In particular, does anyone know if it has popped up again in any children’s books used in schools? Does anyone know if any reputable historians continue to believe in it? Has it been mentioned in any university courses that anyone knows of, including film and literature subjects? It is quite possible that a lot of people don’t know about my book demolishing the republic myth. My book has been endorsed by some of Australia’s leading historians, and it is important that others learn of its existence to put an end to the large amount of nonsensical rubbish written about the Kelly republic fantasy for over 50 years. Otherwise a false and blatantly ridiculous fairy tale is still being foisted on school and university students as part of Australian history, which it never was.

    1. Don’t worry Stuart. We haven’t forgotten you.

      1. Thanks, Anonymous, it’s not every day I pull such a great investigation out of my hat (!). And it was great fun doing it, hunting out all the evidence for and against and seeing where it led. I have been having a break from Kelly studies for a while now, but there is one question I am still interested in – did McIntyre lie about what happened at Stringybark Creek during Ned Kelly’s trial? I was re-reading John Phillip’s book, The Trial of Ned Kelly, and he seems fairly certain that McIntyre gave deliberately different versions of Lonigan’s death at different times (chapter 6). But did he? Or did he just give partial rather than different accounts at different times to different people? Is there a “master version” that covers all the things he said about it at different times? It is interesting to think about.

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