BREAKING NEWS : Ellen Kelly caused the Outbreak, not Fitzpatrick

Even though there are many details of the Kelly Outbreak that Kelly supporters disagree on, one thing they are all in complete agreement about, is that the entire calamity was caused by Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick. They blame Fitzpatrick for every unfortunate and tragic consequence of his visit to the Kelly home on April 15th 1878, and seem to be convinced that if it hadn’t been for him, the lives of the Kellys and their associates in the north-east would have been tranquil and happy and free. It is no exaggeration to say that universally, Kelly followers and supporters hate the man with such an intense fury that they are blind to any other interpretation or fact or opinion that doesn’t accord with their unshakeable conviction that he was a philandering drunken liar who ruined everything for the Kelly clan, for ever.


But times have changed!


Beginning with Ian MacFarlane’s ground breaking publication in 2012 ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked’ and followed up by Stuart Dawson’s 2015 publication ‘Redeeming Fitzpatrick’, and dare I say it continuing through a series of Posts about Fitzpatrick on this Blog last year, we are now at a very different place. We are now at the place where we can confidently identify the mythology and the lies that have been woven around Fitzpatrick’s role in the ‘incident’ and push back against the Kelly mythology that blames and vilifies him. We are now at the place where we can say that without question, Fitzpatrick was not a drunken liar, he was not a philandering cad and he was not the cause of the Kelly outbreak. Read the above mentioned sources if you want to see the evidence, and balance it against the unsubstantiated allegations, lies and conspiracy theories of the Kelly promotors.


So, if it wasn’t Fitzpatrick then who or what was the immediate cause of the Outbreak, that explosion of criminality in 1878 that resulted in the Kelly Gang being outlawed and the police  looking not for a horse thief but a gang of murderers? The answer will shock you, but if you ignore the baseless mythology and instead follow the logic and look at the historical facts you will have to agree with me – it was Mrs Ellen Kelly!

The reason that the idea that Mrs Kelly was the cause of the outbreak will shock you is that Kelly mythology regards Ellen Kelly as almost a saint. She suffered through the miseries of the infant death of her first born, of the adult deaths of her husband, of two of her adult sons and a grown daughter, and of grandchildren, she endured the shame of being mother to a killer, and in spite of it all survived lifelong poverty into a dignified ripe old age.  What did Ellen Kelly ever do wrong, other than stick up for her family?

Well, by all accounts Mrs Kelly was a hot blooded short tempered fiery woman. Once she was arrested for ‘furious riding in a public place’ but avoided conviction on a technicality. In fact Mrs Kelly was very far from being a conventional selector wife. She conceived out of wedlock to three separate people, ran an illegal grog shop out of her house which was also rumoured to be a place where sexual services could also be obtained,  she encouraged eight year old Ned Kelly to lie to the Court to try to keep an uncle out of Gaol and encouraged the 14 year old Ned Kelly to become the apprentice to a wanted criminal, the bushranger Harry Power. And on the 15th April 1878 when Fitzpatrick visited to arrest Dan on a horse stealing charge it was Mrs Kelly who told him that because Fitzpatrick didn’t have the warrant for his arrest in his possession, Dan didn’t have to go to the station.  So incensed was she, so infuriated was she that Fitzpatrick would dare to come to her home to arrest her son without a warrant that she attacked him with a shovel, smashing him once violently over the head and buckling  his helmet, and then lining him up for a second. Brickey Williamson told how he grabbed the shovel off her, and believed he had saved Fitzpatrick’s life by doing so. At that point, according to Fitzpatrick whose left arm was raised to ward off the second blow, Ned Kelly burst in and shot at him, hitting him in the wrist. Eventually order was restored and Fitzpatrick went back to Benalla and the Kelly boys headed for the bush.

In fact, Mrs Kelly’s understanding of the Law was faulty – her belief that the suspect had to be shown a warrant before he could be arrested and carted off to the Lock-up was wrong, entirely wrong , and Fitzpatrick’s actions were perfectly legal. Given that Dan Kelly had said he was willing to go peacefully with Fitzpatrick, Mrs Kellys intervention seems even more unfortunate and ill-advised, because if she had been better informed she may have let Dan go, there wouldn’t have been a fight, and nobody would have been shot. But sadly for everyone she didn’t actually know what she was talking about, she lost her temper big time, there was a fight, Fitzpatrick was wounded and so the Outbreak began. And why? The Outbreak began because Mrs Kelly didn’t understand the law, and because she lost her temper. Fitzpatrick had done nothing wrong.

Much later, after Mrs Kelly had been sentenced to 3 years gaol for her part in the fracas, she uttered the chilling phrase which became the title of chapter eight in Ian Jones Kelly biography “There would be murder now”. What an irresponsible and foolish remark to make – she was dog whistling to her mob.


So heres my argument: Ellen Kelly was a tough volatile woman who by her own example taught her sons at a young age to lie and to break the Law when it suited, and to disrespect police and the courts. She may have been the one to teach them that their problems were not of their own making but were the fault of the police or the squatters or the drought. Her sons never seemed to have developed a ‘work ethic’. In important respects she was clearly an inadequate mother and she was also ignorant of the Law. The Outbreak happened because at a critical moment Ellen Kellys disrespect and ignorance of the law and her short temper combined to produce the worst decision she ever made – to attack a policeman doing his lawful duty. If she had influence over her delinquent sons, she used it foolishly, for example in encouraging Ned to be Harry Powers apprentice, in advising Dan he didn’t need to go with Fitzpatrick and worst of all in signalling to them before she went to Gaol that ‘there would be murder now’.


Mrs Kelly has escaped critical scrutiny till now, but she has an awful lot to answer for.

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14 Replies to “BREAKING NEWS : Ellen Kelly caused the Outbreak, not Fitzpatrick”

  1. Ned Kelly did not consistently say Fitzpatrick had a thing for Kate, and he denied it more often and strongly than the couple of times he said it. Specifically, he said that if Fitzpatrick or any other policeman went near Kate they wouldn’t survive. Fitzpatrick never molested Kate, or else when Ned burst in, he would have been dead on the spot . Mrs Kelly consistently lied about what happened that day as she was facing a charge of aiding and abetting an attempted murder; but she did eventually admit to striking Fitzpatrick with the coal shovel. That gets supressed in most Kelly books. Do the crime, do the time.

    As to the Kate story, in the Herald, Friday 13 December 1878, p. 3, it seems Ned Kelly told one of his acquaintances just before the Euroa robbery that it was Annie, not Kate, who was seduced by a policeman. That would be Flood, while her husband Gunn was a guest of Her Majesty:

    “Ned Kelly took him [the man at Euroa] aside, and said on recognising him “I’m not so bad as they say, old man.” He then went on to say that he had been driven to bushranging by police, and that he intended writing a letter, which would be printed some day. In this document he declared he would give the reasons which had led him to be an outlaw. Amongst those he declared that his sister had been seduced by the police”, amongst other complaints.

    So maybe it was the Annie-Flood affair that held the family’s resentment, and not anything to do with Kate or Fitzpatrick at all, at least as far as the infatuation stories go. Have Kelly enthusiasts got another thing colossally wrong?

  2. Have they got another thing colossally wrong? I am guessing that was rhetorical question Stuart! It’s laughable how many things the Kelly supporters have got colossallly wrong!

    The idea that it was the married Constable Flood with whom they were particularly angry, is worth thinking about, because his affair with Annie resulted in her dying shortly after giving birth to his baby. As usual though they want to blame police for what went wrong and yet Annie was an adult and also married when she had this affair. Did she not also bear some of the responsibility for the relationship? Affairs were not unheard of in the Kelly family, and Ellen was notoriously fond of hooking up!

  3. As we all know, it was never the Kelly’s fault. It was always someone else, and where possible it would be sheeted home to the local police.

  4. While Mrs Kelly may have triggered the action on 15 April, given that Dan was willing to go with Fitzpatrick after he had eaten something, there is the prior issue that the warrant for Dan, which Fitzpatrick did NOT need to carry as the charge was gazetted, was for horse stealing linked to the Baumgarten horse stealing ring, as John McQuilton pointed out way back in 1979 in his “Kelly Outbreak” book. Likewise, Sgt Steele (on whose statement McQuilton also drew), was very clear to the Royal Commission that horse stealing was the key to the Kelly outbreak. Doug Morrissey wrote a compelling and unchallenged article on this, “Ned Kelly and Horse and Cattle Stealing”, Victorian Historical Journal 66 (1995) 29-48, which can be easily photocopied by anyone who can be bothered going into the State Library or many university libraries. Or people can keep being ostriches and blaming Fitzpatrick. for the Kelly outbreak! If it hadn’t been him trying to execute the warrant, it would have been someone else next week. Blaming Fitzpatrick is the laziest half-brained lack of even basic fact checking in the entire Kelly saga.

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    Oh Dear,
    David you have upset the loonies on another site who dislike your blogs. The retired truck driver who runs it still thinks Ian MacFarlane is a Kiwi. He was too lazy to find the 2012 Weekly Times review of his book that utterly disproves this.

    The McGarrigles there keep spouting gibberish, but you were right David, this is an all but abandoned Ship of Fools website with zilch to offer to the Kelly story!


    Cam West

  6. It amazes me how your “bloggers”
    Know what exactly happened
    In the Kelly home with Fitzpatrick & family

    1. I think it’s because most of them have read an article called “Redeeming Fitzpatrick”, in Eras Journal from back in 2015, which reconstructs, corroborates and vindicates Fitzpatrick’s testimony. To download it, go to the Eras Journal website, and look in past issues for 2015. If you google “Redeeming Fitzpatrick” it will take you to the Eras Journal home page.

    2. Anonymous says: Reply

      We’re just a lot more careful about the facts, and disregard the myths.

      Horrie and Alf

    3. I don’t think anyone has ever said we know EXACTLY what happened. But we DO know that Mrs Kelly was WRONG when she claimed that because he didn’t have the warrant in his possession when he went there, Fitzpatrick had no right to arrest Dan. And we DO know that becasue of her IGNORANCE of the law she attacked the policeman. We also KNOW that even though her family made all sorts of allegations against Fitzpatrick none of them were prepared to repeat them in Court to try to help her avoid a conviction for the assault. We also DO know that Dan and Ned Kelly behaved as if they were GUILTY by disappearing into the bush.

      etc etc etc

      The fact is we actually DO KNOW a hell of a lot about what happened and I wish the pro-Ned Kelly myth makers would stop dragging out this dumb idea that none of us REALLY knows what went on, and therefore, THEIR fabrications that deny the KNOWN facts are just as likleyto be true as any other account.

      Actually NO they are NOT! If they’re based on demonstrable lies and if they ignore unarguable truths – such as that Mrs Kelly was IGNORANT of the Law – then their versions are just fake news.

  7. The discussion here about what happened in the Kelly home is based on police and other records of the time and academic research protocols. Of course, if you or anyone else has evidence to the contrary you are more than entitled to present it here – or go write a book like Ian MacFarlane did, or write a properly researched academic free publication like Stuart Dawson did , with plenty of citations to official records or newspaper references or publications about the Kelly Gang.

    Cam West

  8. Ian Jones followed JJ Kenneally in blaming Fitzpatrick for the Kelly outbreak even though Jones had access to Fitzpatrick’s police Record of Service and Conduct that disproved the old idea that Fitzpatrick had a poor service record and was dismissed for drunkenness and perjury. His record of service shows that he was marked as competent and satisfactory in August 1878 several months after the Fitzpatrick incident., and that his was dismissed for insubordination to his superior at Lancefield, not for drunkenness or perjury. Jones couldn’t accept that, and knowingly misrepresented Fitzpatrick'[s service record to keep his ‘bad Fitzpatrick bias. Either that, or he was massively incompetent there as in other areas, such as inventing Kelly’s return to the Glenrowan Inn in the middle of the night in time to see Byrne’s death, based on couple of mistaken newspaper reports and contradicted by an enormous pile of other direct witness statements and evidence from other papers and records of the day. Jones saw what he wanted to see, and twisted, distorted or ignored everything to the contrary. That’s why he wrote poor history. He gets all the main obvious things right, but leaves out a mountain of stuff that contradict almost everything he wrote about Fitzpatrick and about the Republic myth. He really wrote a 1920s Kenneally style history, adding in a big pile of selective evidence that matched his preconceived narrative and leaving out anything that contradicted it.

    His biggest boo-boo was believing rather than investigating Radic’s claim to have seen a printed declaration of a republic in London 1in the early 1960s. He sold that story, retracted by Radic around 2013, to practically every non-fiction Kelly writer from about 1970 onwards. Historians have been fed total bullshit for over 50 years about the Kelly republic myth, and about Fitzpatrick, amongst other topics, by a biased amateur historian. Most of Jones’ myths are perpetuated in Corfield’s Kelly Encyclopaedia, written under Jones’ influence, and widely used as a reference book.

    What this means is that anyone – and I do mean literally anyone – starting to research Kelly history is fed totally factually wrong information about Fitzpatrick and the republic myth from day one, by Jones and Corfield, the most likely sources of reference. That’s why the narrative is hard to shift. Not because it is correct, which it obviously isn’t when re-examined, but because the whole Kelly tory was rewritten by Jones through the thick spectacles of imaginative bias. People look at his books, see the tons of references at the back, maybe look some of them up, and find evidence that supports his narrative. What they never see, unless they do a lot of their own primary source research – and who has time for that – is an enormous mountain of evidence, including many documents and articles that Jones referenced but misrepresented or selectively quoted – that directly contradict his narrative on many points.

    For a detailed example of Jones’ deliberate distortion of source evidence, see my article, “Ned Kelly’s shooting of George Metcalf, labourer”, which unearths the source witness evidence for Metcalf having been shot in the face by Ned Kelly on the afternoon before the siege, the kept prisoner. Metcalf blamed the police to get free medical treatment; and they paid his bills even after it was found out that he was lying about how he was shot. But Jones and others couldn’t admit that; so Jones went out of his way to stretch, bend, query and omit the evidence for Ned Kelly shooting Metcalf and spread it across two chapters of his “Short Life” book. But because it is Jones’ book, and because what he wrote looks plausible, and because the references he selectively used and selectively quoted from, can be looked up, most people never question what he wrote and call him an expert.

    He was a great and persuasive writer who told a good story, as we would expect from someone who crafted several award winning television series and miniseries. But he was not a balanced historian, and he distorted the two most central parts of the Kelly narrative with massively false claims and statements about Fitzpatrick and the totally idiotic Kelly republic claim. C’est tout.

    1. I think that the contribution of Ian Jones to the Kelly Story will one day be regarded as a short lived and rather clever but failed attempt to hijack Kelly history and create an Australian hero out of the true story of a psychopath and criminal.

      The generation who grew up under the spell ofIan Jones will never accept they were hoodwinked, and will continue to their dying days to swear Ned was a terrific chap, but the new generations of readers and enquirers will read the 21st century writings of MacFarlane and Kieza and Morrissey and Dawson and not be fooled.

      Ned is doomed Stuart, we just have to be patient.


  9. Psycho all right. At Euroa, “Mr. Turner, a Scotchman … refused to stop when Edward Kelly ordered him to dismount. Still going towards the cart, Ned Kelly again told him to stand, and presenting a revolver made Mr. Turner open his month. Putting the muzzle of the weapon in, Kelly said, ” Will you stop now?” , Age, 13 December 1878, 3. “Kelly forced him to comply by putting the barrel of his revolver in his mouth…” [Turner] afterwards declared he could feel the cold iron between his jaws”, Argus, 12 December 1878, 5. Such a noble hero to the common man. I don’t have any problems with a history that has Ned Kelly as Australia’s “most notorious legend”, as Peter Fitzsimons put it. But that isn’t what is dished up, as the history has been twisted into wildly unrealistic fiction for half a century.

  10. Hot news about SBC.
    Everyone has had it wrong.
    Will come out soon.
    Love it

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