Shortly after the police murders at Stringybark Creek, legislation was passed that made the Kelly gang outlaws, meaning they had no legal protections, and could be shot and killed on sight by anyone. Rewards were posted in ever increasing amounts for the supply of information that would lead to their capture, but nobody ever attempted to claim them, being fearful of the retribution that might follow, as the following response to a police offer of £50 for information illustrates:
“I have a mother and father keeping a little farm not far off and if I told anything they would be murdered and burnt”said a worker from Kilfera Station, explaining his silence. (The Age Nov13th 1878)
Even though the wider community was afraid of the gang, the gang was itself forever fearful of betrayal and capture and they would remain on the run, forever on the move between one safe haven and another, successfully evading the police until the confrontation at Glenrowan, twenty months later. In the meantime though, they had to survive, and to do that, they needed money, not just to keep them in supplies but much more importantly to purchase a protective network of supporters and to pay off sympathisers. This was a practice Kelly had learned from Harry Power.
So, barely six weeks after the police murders, on December 10th they robbed the National Bank at Euroa. However, instead of riding in and holding up the Bank and disappearing again, in time-honoured fashion, the day before the robbery the Gang held up and imprisoned the manager and staff of the Faithfulls Creek Station, four miles from Euroa, locking them all up in a small storehouse. Kelly seems to have wanted to establish a sort of bridgehead within striking distance of Euroa, because his first priority was to get his horses fed and watered and have their feet and shoes attended to by stablehand George Stephens – at gunpoint!
Any of several Kelly biographies can be consulted for a detailed description of what took place : Grantlee Kiezas ‘Mrs Kelly” is good but this incident was much more than just a robbery : Kelly wanted to make it an opportunity to begin the dissemination of his preferred new view of himself, that he was an innocent victim of police persecution and a gentleman bushranger in the mode of Ben Hall, one of his heroes. Hall was famous for holding the entire town of Canowindra captive for three days, and using the prisoners as a captive audience to whom he poured out his grievances. Eventually everyone was released unharmed, and the ‘gentleman bushranger’ image was born. Thus, Euroa was in one sense a copy-cat crime, Kelly adopting Halls strategy to reinvent his own public image and provide self-serving alternative versions of the events the wider public was learning about from the press.
Kelly therefore began with George Stephens, providing him with a sanitised version of the police murders at Stringybark creek, a version that Stephens later recounted at Kellys committal hearing in August 1880. Much of what Kelly told Stephens about these deaths we now know for certain were lies, such as the claim that Lonigan got behind logs and was shot in the head by Kelly as he came up from behind them, pistol in hand and about to fire. Another man imprisoned by the gang, draper James Gloster was also on the receiving end of Ned Kellys self-serving lecturing, and gave the committal hearing a few memorable Kelly quotes:
- “The people and the papers call me a murderer but I never murdered anybody in my life”
- “I killed him (Kennedy) in a fair stand up fight. A man killing his enemy is not murder.”
- “The police are my natural enemies”
And something you might not have read before that he mentioned to Gloster was that if his mother did not get justice and was not released soon, he would possibly overturn the train! (Argus August 9th 1880)
In attempting to rehabilitate his public image, as Hall had done, so Kelly also made a great show of being polite and fair-minded, especially when it came to women, something which Kelly supporters to this day mindlessly and admiringly recount. In fact, Kellys demonstrations of deference and courtesy in his interactions with his prisoners demonstrate his lack of understanding of the true nature of hostage taking at gunpoint which is that it is an inherently violent, an overwhelmingly offensive and outrageous personal indignity, and a violation of every human right and freedom. The idea that holding a door open, filling someone’s bath or rocking a crying baby on ones knee undoes the repulsive offence of being held hostage at gunpoint is absurd – but Kelly seemed to think it did, and to this day his supporters think the same thing. In fact, his ‘courtesy’ was mocking and insincere – if it were real he would have just robbed the bank and left them all alone. Instead he had to force them at gunpoint to become props in his narcissistic display of self-aggrandisement.
To make doubly sure his message got across, in the evening he dictated a letter to Joe Byrne that is now known as the Cameron letter. Once again, he claimed to be innocent, complaining falsely that “I was outlawed without any cause” and demonstrating his callous indifference to the lives he had already taken saying “Thank god, my conscience is as clear as the snow in Peru”. With breathtaking hypocrisy, he claimed the moral high ground for himself, vowing terrible vengeance on the authorities if his mother remained in prison: “If the public do not see justice done I will seek revenge for the name and character which has been given to me and my relations, while God gives me strength to pull a trigger.” This from a man whose living, before he murdered police at Stringybark creek, consisted of using an alias and lying to innocent casual acquaintances so they would sign forged documents to ‘legitimise’ the sale of stolen horses. What did he care about ‘justice’?
The veneer of gentleman bushranger was very thin : in the morning a party returning to the station from a hunting expedition in the ranges nearby is accosted by Kelly who holds his loaded revolver to the side of the head of one of them when he is challenged ; “I’ll shoot you dead on the spot if you give me any cheek” says Kelly. Even more frightening is Kellys response to an elderly scotsman by the name of Tennant who also refuses to be cowed. The loaded revolver is forced between his teeth, into the old mans mouth, a sickeningly violent threat that has the desired effect. The hunting party is forced into the crowded storehouse along with 14 or more others who’ve been kept there since the evening before.
In the afternoon, the Gang robbed the bank in Euroa of over £2000 using the time honoured method of sticking up the teller and the bank manager – Robert Scott – with loaded revolvers. Kelly didn’t hesitate to threaten ungentlemanly harm to the Bank managers’ wife and children when he refused to hand over the keys to the safe, and Mrs Scotts son George, terrified and crying, asked if they were all about to be shot. Their maid fainted twice. Once it was all done, the gang took manager Scott and his entire family back to the Station with them: “I am very sorry Mrs Scott but you must all come for my own safety” Kelly explained – in other words they were to be human shields. Mrs Scott drew attention to herself by changing into an extravagant French dress decorated with ribbons and lace for the trip to the Station, and later proclaimed “there was a great deal of personality about Ned Kelly”. She had fallen victim to Ned Kellys cynical charm offensive, ignoring the ugly facts about the widows he had created out of policeman’s wives a few weeks before, saying she didn’t think he was the bloodthirsty villain he had been represented to be. I wrote about this HERE.
The final act of Kellys PR campaign was to hand out loose change he had stolen from the Bank to some of the hostages and entertain them with tricks on horseback before the gang left, threatening the station manager with his life if anyone was released from the lockup before three hours.
Undoubtedly the raid had been daring and dramatic and a success, and because nobody was harmed Kellys reputation was enhanced in some quarters. However it needs to be remembered that at Faithfulls Creek everyone did exactly as they were told, the hostages there being only too well aware of what happened a few short weeks earlier at Stringybark Creek when the gangs orders were disobeyed and Kelly started shooting. Sensibly and to the hostages’ credit, Kellys violent threats and orders were obeyed, his fragile ego was not threatened by anyone armed and nobody was shot.