The other day the seemingly endless torrent of Kelly-related trivia that streams past on the Best Bloody Man FB page was interrupted momentarily by a link to a curious article about the Jerilderie Letter: “Outlaw Ned Kelly left behind a manifesto for the Ages” by left wing journalist Daniel Lopez. If it was hoped an interesting discussion would follow, a no-doubt disappointing one ‘Like’ and a single comment of two words – “He did” – was all it attracted. A bit further on an image of a large Ned Kelly Bottle Top attracted many more likes and comments (12 and 5 at last count) – a perfect demonstration of how little interest there is among Kelly devotees these days in anything other than the superficial and the light-weight. (No law against being interested in light-weight trivia but even though there’s so much more to the story than that, these people seem to be too afraid of what they will discover to ever want to go there)
Coincidentally, I had quite recently watched a 2018 Video posted on the Museum of Australia’s website that also claimed the Jerilderie letter was some kind of political manifesto. ANU Historian Bruce Scates, pointing at the JL in front of him, says breathlessly and with dramatic emphasis that Ned Kelly “planned another daring attack that would trigger a full-scale insurrection. In the Jerilderie letter here, he calls it his colonial stratagem. That train full of police and guns racing to Glenrowan would derail at a sharp curve in the line. The gang clad in armour would attack the survivors. Fireworks, fired by sympathetic Chinese would rally an army of Kelly sympathisers waiting in the bush and united, this poor rural community would declare a republic of NE Victoria”
To advance his argument about Kelly being a social justice warrior, Lopez uses the same extracts from the JL as Scates, and for that matter, the same ones as Ian Jones and every other author who advances an argument that Kelly and the JL were about a higher cause.
They all cite the same few quotes, the most popular one being: “It will pay Government to give those people suffering innocence, justice and liberty. If not I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem which will open the eyes of not only the Victorian Police and inhabitants but the whole British army…”. The other favourites include the order to police to sell up and give £10 out of every £100 to the widows and orphans and to then leave the colony, and this: “There never was such a thing as justice in the English laws. But any amount of injustice to be had”. There’s also the one about police making men mad by bad treatment, the final command that “my orders must be obeyed” and a few other minor quotes with very oblique if any genuine logical connections to anything like a political manifesto. The remarkable thing is that all the possible references to something that might resemble political statements and a manifesto amount to fewer than a couple of hundred words out of seven and a half thousand words in the entire document. The only way anyone has ever been able to attempt to sustain that claim about a manifesto, as Scates and Lopez and Jones have all done, is by cherry-picking out that same handful of quotes from widely separate places in the letter, even though they are unrelated to each other, and stringing them together to make something appear out of nothing. The king-pin that is used to pull all these arguments together, and without which it would be almost impossible to make a claim about the JL being any kind of manifesto, is just two words: “colonial stratagem”. Exactly what Kelly had in mind as his ‘colonial stratagem’ was not spelled out by him anywhere: certainly, the words ‘Republic of North East Victoria’ are not found anywhere in the JL, and just the word ‘Republic’ isn’t found in the JL either, so ‘colonial stratagem’ has become the convenient ambiguity upon which anyone who wants to make an assertion about a republic or a revolution or an insurrection or whatever else they claim Kelly was all about can hang their theory on.
In fact, the notion that the Jerilderie Letter is some kind of political manifesto is fanciful. Anyone reading the JL with an open mind would never ever draw such a conclusion, because to do so one has to completely ignore the huge bulk of the letter, the readily apparent intent and tone of the letter, which consists mostly of entirely unmoderated expressions of Kellys anger and hatred of police and anyone who might assist them, and his self-serving versions of the various episodes in his life about which he felt aggrieved. This reality is made abundantly clear when the JL is compared with what everyone agrees was a first version of it, a letter written two months earlier and sent to MP Donald Cameron.
Take no offence if I take the opportunity of writing a few lines to you, wherein I wish to state a few remarks concerning the case of Trooper Fitzpatrick against Mrs Kelly, W Skillion and W Williamson and to state the facts of the case to you. It seems to me impossible to get any justice without I make a statement to someone that will take notice of it…”
Nothing could be clearer: Kelly is attempting to draw to the attention of the authorities his grievances about the various injustices which he thinks have befallen himself and his family. He hopes that by writing them all down in letter form, someone will take notice of them. It’s a long rambling self-serving tirade, littered with lies and misinformation covering everything from Whitty and Burns to the calf testicles, Lonigan’s interaction with him in Benalla, the Fitzpatrick incident and the SBC murders but he is clearly talking about his own and his families concerns and not the wider political system. “If my people (meaning his mother, Skillion and Williamson ) do not get justice, and those innocents released from prison, and the police wear their uniforms I shall be forced to seek revenge”
Two months later, the much longer JL covered the exact same ground and a few more incidents but in more detail, with more anger and anti-police sentiment, and new blood-curdling threats to anyone who might assist the police. Again its rambling and disjointed and self-serving, it is also more witty and colourful, but whereas the Cameron ended this way “With no offence (remember your railroads) and a sweet goodbye from Edward Kelly” the JL ends with the ominous “I am a widows son, outlawed, and my orders must be obeyed”. Clearly, Kellys anger and frustration at being ignored is starting to build, and the following year it erupted in that murderous showdown at Glenrowan where he hoped to kill dozens of police.
Confirmation that the JL wasn’t a manifesto but a mad list of personal grievances are the reported words of Kelly himself when he tried to get it printed. When Kelly couldn’t find Gill the printer at Jerilderie and handed the letter over to the accountant Edward Living, he didn’t say this is my manifesto, these are my policies and demands, this is my grand plan for the future of NE Victoria – what he was reported to have said was ‘All I want him for is to print this letter – the history of my life’
The idea that the JL was something other than what Kelly himself said it was, that it was some sort of manifesto, was a 1967 invention of Ian Jones who was looking for support for his “New View” of Ned Kelly. He extracted a word or two from here, a phrase or a sentence or two from there, loaded these fragments of the JL with meaning they never had, and hey presto: ‘proof’ of his ‘new view’ in the Jerilderie Letter.
This ‘new view’ was itself another example of Jones advancing what he felt was a ‘better’ explanation than the one Ned Kelly gave, in this instance for what was planned at Glenrowan. Kelly said it was about revenge, about killing police, robbing banks and setting his mother free but Jones couldn’t stomach such an obviously mad justification, so he invented his own one, his ‘new view’ which was that it was all about establishing the Republic of NE Victoria.
But that was over fifty years ago. Since then two central assertions that supported Jones argument for the republic have collapsed: a claim to have seen a Declaration document in London has been withdrawn and Thomas Patrick Lloyd has admitted to making up stories about seeing notebooks containing minutes of Republican meeting. More recently Dawson’s scholarship has exposed Jones claims of the republic of NE Victoria to be pure myth.(Theres a permanent link to Dawsons vital publication top right of this page)
All that remains, now that the Republic idea has sunk, is for everyone to admit that the Jerilderie Letter was not a foundational document for a republic or a political manifesto. That claim is yet another of the Kelly myths advanced by Jones and his uncritical followers, a claim which along with many others of recent invention that are headed for the dustbin of history.The truth about the JL is plainly obvious to any fair-minded person reading it : its a jumbled crazy violent colourful frightening and at times witty and funny letter, its what Ned Kelly said it was all along: “the history of my life”.
PS Heres a link to a well written piece about the Jerilderie Letter from The Conversation, 2014
31 Replies to “The Jerilderie Letter was not a Manifesto. It was a letter.”
A bit late to the party but have been rereading a bit of Kelly history lately as my daughter expressed some interest. Never could get my hear around the republican theory, not so much for the reasons stated in Stuart Dawson’s paper but on a more basic level, I couldn’t buy into it for a few reasons:
1. None of the gang had any more than a rudimentary (6th class at best – maybe Joe Byrne a bit more?) education and it seemed to me unlikely that they could grasp the notion of those bigger ideas.
2. And even if they had grasped the notion – they were on the run and their immediate concerns for staying alive (just getting tucker, shelter, guns and ammunition and staying ahead of the aboriginal trackers) and out of the hands of the law were more pressing than worrying about overthrowing the government……
3. I could never get my head around the idea that Ned went through the police lines a couple of times at Glenrowan and spoke to Tom Lloyd and “other sympathisers” and told them all to go away. He was in the fight of his life so if there was an “army” out there armed to the teeth, surely he would have called them in to help….? It was just a heap of garbage supposition in my opinion, and its nice to see someone trying to put the record straight.
4. The idea of a republic was very much occupying the thoughts of Australians in the 1970’s to 2000 and it always seemed to me that this was just a trendy idea to latch the Kellys onto that sentiment. Call me a cynic…..
However I was always a believer in the Kelly version of the Fitzpatrick incident, mainly because that was the story that my grandmother ( a Glenrowan farmer from about 1920 to 1950 then Glenrowan resident until her death in the 1980’s) told me. She never said in so many words but there was a strong intimation that Kate Kelly had been raped by Fitzpatrick. So it was really interesting to read Stuart Dawson’s account of the incident. The evidence he presents is very convincing. There is now very little doubt in my mind that Dawson’s account is substantially correct.
I was also very interested to read the transcription of the GW Hall publication “The Kelly Gang or The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges”. I was always under the impression that NK’s version of the fight with Kennedy was the only version, but this publication only a few months after the event and while the Kelly’s were on the run gives a very detailed description of the event. GW Hall clearly had access to substantially correct information very early in the piece and I’m wondering – Can anyone speculate on who the source of the account was? Was it someone who had been bailed up at Euroa or Jerilderie and had heard from Kelly there? or was it someone at Mansfield? And who is the stranger who meets the gang in the ranges?
Another thing that Stuart Dawson may want to follow up is the police allegation about the systematic cattle stealing that preceded the outbreak. It would be interesting to understand how that all operated. Whose stock was targeted, the routes used to move the stock, how the brands were altered and how and where were they sold without attracting too much attention. Stealing the odd cow or horse here and there was probably not difficult but a large organised and systematic operation couldn’t have been an easy undertaking. If I recall correctly Stuart Dawson hints that this was happening when Ned was allegedly going straight as a sawmiller, so I think it would be great if he’s able to sort the facts from the hearsay.
Hi Dan, thanks for the comments. The organised cattle stealing that underpinned the Kelly’s activities is pointed out by Sgt Steele in the Royal Commission minutes Q.8811-3 Steele; see also Q.17691 Quinn; and for a summary of the origins of the Kelly outbreak in horse-stealing, Argus, 10 August 1880, 7.
The root of the outbreak in the Baumgarten horse stealing ring is discussed by McQuilton, “The Kelly Outbreak”, pp. 84-85. Doug Morrissey goes into it in his article, “Ned Kelly and Horse and Cattle Stealing”, Victorian Historical Journal 66 (1995).
The critical feature of the Kelly country was its long-running, pre-outbreak stock theft routes, mapped by Morrissey in his first book “Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life” (ConnorCourt, 2015), xvi-xvii (map), and discussed a lot more in his second book, “Selectors, squatters and stock thieves”.
There is some comment on how the horse brands were altered in the Royal Commission; I think Aaaorn Sherrit may have told one of the police about it, but don’t have time to check now.
When Ned Kelly was allegedly going straight as a sawmiller according to Ian Jones all it means is that he wasn’t under the eye of the police; we don’t know a lot about what he was up to as Jones’ claims are mostly based on what Kelly says in the Jerilderie letter. But Jones lists a range of activities for Ned in his “Short Life” (2008: 98-100) that suggest an erratic and itinerant life notwithstanding Jones’ making much of Ned apparently being an overseer at a sawmill at one point (p. 102). His involvement with the Baumgarten ring may have been a bit later than that, but it would be a job to untangle.
I think David had some analysis of Ned’s claimed “quiet years” on this blog which had him staying out of trouble or (under the radar) for a time.
Aaron Sherritt’s comments on how the horse brands were altered and how the horse were sold on is in Francis Hare, “Last of the Busrangers” , pp. 170-2. You can download it from the web as a free PDF, just google the title with PDF after it, and look for a free scanned copy. I think one of the American university libraries may have put it online, but look and you’ll find. Also, the text itself (rather than a page scanned book) should be in Project Gutenberg; but a scan of the book is better, and you can word-searchi it. Or you can buy a reprint like I did as it’s nice to have a paper copy as well.
From Francis Hare’s book.
He told me how he, Joe Byrne, and Ned Kelly used to steal horses wholesale, and how they used to dispose of them, and the way they changed the brands of the horses so that the most experienced hand would not discover the trick. It was as follows:—Supposing a horse was branded H on the near shoulder, they would turn the H into H B (conjoined) by getting a pair of tweezers, pulling out the hairs to make a B, and then prick the skin with a needle
dipped in iodine. This burns up the skin, and for about a month afterwards it looks like
an old brand; new brands were also put on in this fashion, and they never could be
detected. After branding the horses they had collected, they would make for some
squatter’s station where they were unknown, ask permission to put their horses into his
stock-yard, on the pretence that they had met a stranger who wanted to purchase the
mob of horses, this stranger being one of their own party. Generally speaking, the
squatter or some one belonging to the station would walk down to look at the horses,
and he would hear them making bargains about the price of each animal, so as to lead
the people of the station to believe that it was a genuine sale.
Hi Stuart and Sam,
Thank you for that, especially for the references Stuart. I really only have a casual interest in the story so I only have a few Kelly books, the references you mention are all new to me, but I am wading my way through an online copy of the Royal Commission which I’m finding very interesting albeit a tad heavy going at times…..
Does anyone have any thoughts on Hall’s sources?
Hi Anonymous, if you don’t have my free transcribed PDF of Hall’s book with correct original pagination you can download it here, https://ironicon.com.au/gw-hall-the-kelly-gang-1879.htm
GW Hall was owner and editor of the Mansfield Guardian (and later on, of the Benalla Standard). As he published his book only a few weeks after the Jerilderie raid one can be fairly confident that his info is reasonably good, but who knows who his sources were. The point it that it would be readily assailed if it was deficient in points of fact, but there doen’t seem to have been much fuss about its general presentation of events. Maybe one could research that in the Mansfield Guardian itself, letters to the editor or something. Or in other north-east papers of the day. I think the book seems to live up to his claim of trying to present the story impartailly, which doesn’t mean necessarily correctly, just that he aimed to provide both sides of the narrative he tells. Put it this way, he’s more balanced than Jones IMHO…
Dan regarding G W Hall : Ian Jones regarded him as sympathetic to the Kellys, maybe even a sympathiser. Who knows if that was just a journalistic front or not?
Hi David, I wonder if ANU historian Bruce Scates that you quoted above as believing in a Kelly republican insurrection in 2018 has caught up with my Republic Myth book and published a retraction or revision of that insurrection theory nonsense? It is damned hard to get academics to fess up to making serious mistakes, publicly retract them, and go forward with a revised narrative that incorporates critique of their previous position.
Hi Stuart I havent seen anything from Dr Scates on this topic other than that video, but Ive just written to the Museum of Australia and asked them to remove it from their site. I am hoping they will pass my letter on to Dr Scates for comment. As yet I havent received a reply but will keep everyone informed about what happens.
Apologies for being Anonymous I just forgot to put my name in….
I read that article “Ned Kelly and Horse and Cattle Stealing”, Victorian Historical Journal 66 (1995) which I found very interesting. Its a shame it didn’t attempt to put the stock duffing in context with the sawmilling, but I understand that wasn’t the point of the article. Moving horses and cattle through bush like that, and probably at night, takes a lot of skill and would require quite a team. Even more so if you are trying not to be noticed. I was interested to note that one of the stock routes went past Dandongadale and up past Abbeyard places that my great grandfather, grandmother and father were very familiar with. There are no family stories of the Kellys (or any other duffers for that matter) going past but I don’t think that’s unusual, they probably kept their heads down.
Doug Morrissey doesn’t give much prominence to George King (Mrs Kelly’s second husband) but I understood he was quite an active cattle duffer? I’m really intrigued by the fact that he just seems to disappear from history. Stuart do you know if anyone has tracked him down?
And thank you for your comments on GW Hall. Its interesting that he later sat on the Royal Commission, because with his detailed, and seemingly very accurate, inside information its surprising he wasn’t called as a witness. Maybe if he had been he would have had to reveal his sources.
Regarding the republic, it was interesting to read Curnow’s evidence to the Royal Commission. At Q 17617 and 17618 he was quite clear that the only objective he heard about (and it was second hand) was that it was the Kelly’s intention was to wreck the train and rob the Benalla banks. Nothing about overthrowing the government. At Q 17626 and 17627 he could not say there were other armed persons about, only that he heard galloping horses. At 17609 he says it was the spies he dreaded while he held the scarf and candle. Its fair to ask that if the army of the republic were waiting to help the gang why didn’t they shoot Curnow at that point? The answer is that there was no army.
I think youre experiencing something similar to what I did when I began looking closely at the Kelly story – its a fascinating story but what is possibly even more interesting is to discover how much of the popular story is myth and how irrational illogical and lacking an evidence base so much of it is.
Regarding George King – it was Ian MacFarlane who pointed out that just about everything we know about King is what Ned Kelly says about him in the Jerilderie letter, and it was all written after King had disappeared. MacFarlane therefore suspects King was framed by Ned Kelly. If King wasnt murdered by Kelly, maybe he took off because once he discovered what a lawless bunch of violent criminal drunks they all were he shot through?
And a good question about Curnow! For that matter, if there really was an ‘army’ – I think Jones guessed up to perhaps 300 – they should have been easily able to overwhelm the police. But Stuarts brilliant paper shows how the rumours about an army were blown out of all proportion, and from memory again, he reckoned there was one man on a horse with a gun, and he wasnt even a sympathiser. The galloping horses that various people reported hearing were the riderless police horses set free from the train.
That whole republican thing is such a joke! What a pity Stuarts work didnt happen till after Jones had left the room.It would have been wonderful to hear or read what Jones would have said or done in response.
Hi Dan, sorry, I can’t help with King. There was speculation somewhere that Kelly killed him and dropped him down a mine shaft but I can’t remember where I saw that.
If Kelly had had any political points to make they would have figured in his first (Cameron) letter, but there is nothing. And they would have figured in his third letter which was partially published in the Herald on 4 July 1879, but there is nothing. And they would have been noted in his many reported statements to tons of people both while on the run and to journalists after his capture, but again there is nothing. Both the letters shadow the Jerilderie letter in content, and there is nothing outside of revenge on it either.
The colonial stratagem in JL p. 18 is his recurring idea to derail a train if his mother and the other two were not set free, a moronic threat in the circumstances. It’s a pity the dumbos who want yo make the colonial stratagem into a revolutionary statement can’t read a paragraph in context.
Hi David and Stuart,
Thanks for the replies re King. I wasn’t aware that the JL was the source of most information on Mr King. This from The Australian Dictionary of Biography by Jacqueline Zara Wilson which cites “married at Benalla with Primitive Methodist forms”, implying that someone has seen marriage records. Or is this another invention by Ian Jones or a disciple?
“As she struggled to raise her children on inferior farmland, she became notorious for her sometimes-violent temper, resulting in several court appearances. After moving her family into the far north-east of Victoria to stay near relations, she leased a selection of 88 acres (35.6 ha) there and sold ‘sly grog’ to make ends meet. The bushranger Harry Power became a family friend, introducing 14-year-old Ned to the life of a bandit. In 1869 Ellen took a lover, Bill Frost, and became pregnant, he promising marriage. The baby—her ninth—was born in March 1870, but Frost did not keep his word. Trouble with the law increased, with several of Ellen’s siblings and offspring suffering periods of imprisonment.
Late in 1872, with Ned in prison, she met George King, a 23-year-old Californian horse-thief, and once more fell pregnant. On 19 February 1874 they married at Benalla with Primitive Methodist forms. She had three children by King. Alice, the last, was born in April 1878, six months after King abruptly deserted them, and only days before Constable Fitzpatrick arrived at the Kelly home to arrest Ellen’s son Dan for horse-theft. Set upon by Ellen (wielding a spade) and probably Ned, Fitzpatrick brought charges of attempted murder; she was sentenced to three years in prison.”
No doubt someone will eventually do the DNA thing on Ancestry or the like and the father(s) of the later children will be identified.
Re the galloping horses. To be fair, Curnow’s evidence says the horses were heard galloping to the right, that is, towards Greta. Which means he must have been facing towards the rail line (approximately south) when he says “to the right”. My understanding is that the police horses were galloping toward the Wangaratta end of the paddock which would be to the left?
Nonetheless, it would be very surprising if there weren’t people galloping back and forwards between Greta and Glenrowan as the drama unfolded. Its not as if anyone could send a video of the action on their mobile phone….
So Jones guesses at an army of up to 300. Isn’t it amazing that not one of those 300 let it slip in later life that they were a member of Ned Kelly’s army….. Of course there is the minor matter of a command structure, communications, orders, logistics, arms and ammunition. Apparently all that just disappeared into the ether and there’s no trace of it now. Amazing.
And apparently this army trained and worked for free. Maybe the gunsmiths donated all the guns and ammunition. Or maybe they got paid with Ned Kelly Republic Promissory Notes (NKRPN) redeemable in gold when the republic was declared and maybe none survive because they all got burned by owners fearing retribution from the authorities?
regarding the DNA thing, did you know that modern-day Kelly family descendants have been divided by one of their media-savvy members into ‘true’ descendants and the rest on the basis of thier relationship to George King?? If youre a descendant of Red and Ellen youre the real thing – and permitted to attend the Church Service and Ceremony when Ned Kellys headless remains were reburied a few years back – but if you’re a descendant of Ellen and George? Sorry, you are not welcome! They say the divisions within political parties are more bitter than those between them, and its the same in the Kelly story, and within the ranks of Kelly devotees.Theres incredible negativity and hostility between various factions and personalities.
I must tell you I am enjoying your contributions very much, and thanks for joining in. Like you, I think the whole of Australia is soon going to have to go through this reconciliation process, reconciliation of the Kelly story as promoted by Ian Jones et al. and all his acolytes, with the historical truth about it. Jones is going to end up in the naughty corner – he was popular and charming, persuasive and clever but has led the entire country down the garden path of fantasy. I wonder if perhaps he knew thats what he was doing and secretly was laughing at how gullible and stupid most people are? He probably did all right out of it – his books were very popular!
What fascinates me is that the Kelly devotees refuse to engage with me or others like me, other than to abuse and troll us. It tells me even they know their story cant be defended. Their houses and man caves full of Kelly memorabilia are increasingly becoming an embarrassment I would guess.
Regarding Bill Frost – maybe he did a runner for the same reasons I suggested George did – he discovered that Ellens bedroom allure was outweighed by the sordid criminality and bogan lifestyle of the extended family and he wanted no part of it ?
Thank you for your kind remarks.
No, I had no idea there was a rift in the Kelly descendants. As I mentioned earlier I’m really just a casual onlooker so I don’t really have any great knowledge. All I’ve done is heard some fairly vague family stories mostly from my grandmother, and read a few books, most of which would have been fairly heavily influenced by the Ian Jones school of thought.
Just to put it in context my antecedents are in NE Victoria (born in Wangaratta) but I have lived most of my life elsewhere so the story has really only been peripheral in my life. But my grandmother who lived most of her life at Glenrowan from about 1920, and my mother, who was born there in 1929 were obviously immersed in it whether they wanted to be or not. My grandmother was very pro Kelly, but its not entirely clear to me who her sources were. She was a neighbor of the McConigals and quoted “old Jack”. She also knew Mrs Kelly (but at best this could have only been for 2 or 3 years and whether Mrs Kelly would have been compus mentus at that late stage of her life is debatable, I imagine), and she knew Jim Kelly reasonably well from what my mum said. I’ve no doubt she knew others reasonably well but I’ve no idea who they would have been. As I lived a long way from my grandmother I only have very fleeting recollections of her recollections but I understand she was a source for some of Ian Jones stuff.
On the other hand my mum rarely mentioned the Kelly’s. About all I can recall is that she said Jim Kelly was a nice old man. I guess either she wasn’t interested, or it was a taboo subject, or it was just so much a part of her environment that it wasn’t worth remarking on.
So my daughter was reading the recent book on Kate Kelly and wanted to know what I knew so I told her “not much” but be careful because there is a lot of bull written about the Kelly’s. I didn’t realise quite how much…..
Its good to see so much original source documentation is now available on the net. Forty years ago there is no way I would have written to, say, the SLV for a copy of the Royal Commission, to verify a quote in a book. Now its accessible after a few minutes searching.
An absolute classic misquote is the caption to a photo of Fitzpatrick in McMenomy pp 72 where he is quoted as admitting to not doing his duty and being unable to be trusted out of sight. I accepted that at face value but now thanks to Stuart and the Internet I understand that it was SC Mayes leveling that charge at Fitzpatrick and that far from admitting it Fitzpatrick was denying it.
Interesting comment about the man cave decoration. I don’t see a lot of that, and have never really been offended by it. I imagine that most people that do that probably have only the vaguest notion of what the Kelly’s did. The vast majority probably only know about the Glenrowan siege and the hanging and wouldn’t even know about SB Creek, Euroa and Jerilderie. They could probably name Dan Kelly but Steve Hart and Joe Byrne wouldn’t even register with many. However I guess you are probably referring to die hards who do know the story and are pro Kelly.
For me the past few weeks have been fascinating. I hope I’ve been able to approach it with an open mind and let the facts (in so far as we are able to know them) tell the story. When I started reading recently I expected to get pretty much the same old same old with maybe a few recent tit bits around the edges, so its been a nice surprise to get a very different and more factual account than what I had been brought up on. I am sure there is more to come.
Interesting to read that your grandmother, arriving in Glenrowan around 1920, was very pro-Kelly. My grandmother arrived in Greta in the 1890s. Many good people around there were sympathetic to the Kellys, the McMonigles strong among them. Most of the folk around there – along the Fifteen Mile – were descended from the Famine Irish refugees who’d settled in numbers around Greta/Glenrowan in the 1860s and ‘70s and who were on the receiving end of the worst of the crude racial and sectarian abuses dished out to them in Victoria. Your grandmother’s sources (and mine), I reckon, would have been her Irish Catholic neighbours – with family memories of English abuse. And the odds are your grandmother was Irish Catholic??
Kelly was a “hero” to them, not because he was a criminal (which they all knew he was – and were unsettled by the fact), but because he represented a widely held hatred of all that the English Establishment had done to Ireland – overtones of which they were dismayed to still see evidence of in Victoria. They knew where Kelly and his family had come from. They had had to set aside all that buried antipathy in order to get by in this English colony. Sympathising with Kelly was a push-back by Irish Catholics against the English Establishment in Victoria
And sectarianism was still pretty strong in 1920s. That antipathy was still there. Mannix parading his VC winners on the St Patricks Day March in 1920 is a good example of another push-back by the Irish Catholics in Victoria against Anglo-Australian opposition.
Our grandmothers were a part of that tradition of opposition to English injustice, I reckon, Dan. The tradition needed a folk hero – and one was created.
Hi Perc, that’s interesting but not necessarily widespread. Here’s what Bridget Kennedy, widow of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, murdered by the Kelly brothers and their gang at Stringybark Creek said:
“Many a family came out from Ireland, ours included. Plenty of families did it tough. But that did not mean they turned to stealing and robbing from their neighbours. Only a few families were bad or went bad, but none so bad as the Kellys.” From an interview with descendant Leo Kennedy, cited in Grantlee Kieza, ‘Mrs. Kelly’, p. 335.
Nice to get your comments, you are obviously much more acquainted with the facts than I am.
Whats really interesting is that my grandmother was in fact English/American Protestant and came from a relatively well to do family. She was 3rd generation in the colony and went to a private school in Melbourne. I imagine her parents probably thought she married beneath her station but having said that that I believe they were not opposed to the marriage.
So I don’t really know why she was pro Kelly but I do know she was of an independent mind and I don’t think she was terribly religious so maybe she just related to the underdog?
You may well have known her (or of her). I’m reluctant to put names on a public platform but if I tell you she lived at Athlea that may help you work out who she was and you may even have better knowledge of what she knew and who her sources were than I do.
Ned signed as a witness Dan. Not an invention buddy.
Is this in reference to Ellens marriage to George King? Is that document available? It would be good to see it – not that I doubt this little bit of Kelly history.
The real mystery is what happened to George. There are many rumours suggesting he was done in by Ned Kelly for being abusive towards Ellen but this sounds like a bit of myth-making to me, that creepy myth that appeals to that weird hyper-masculine thing about men protecting their mothers. Very freudian and very creepy, but I prefer my own theory : once he realised what an abominable mob of violent drunks and criminals he was mixed up in, he shot through. Its as plausible a theory as every other one because we have no evidence from anywhere to help us decide.
Is there a copy of the marriage record that’s accessible on line?
Failing that can you point me in the direction of where the original is kept?
He does seem to be a mystery man, do you have any idea where he went?
Many thanks for your help.
Hi Dan, the marriage certificate for Ellen Kelly and George King is reproduced in the photos in the middle of Ian MacFarlane’s book, “The Kelly Gang Unmasked”.
OMG So it is! Thanks Stuart. Ian MacFarlanes book is such a gem. Registry Number 940. Try this Link : it should take you to the site where you can guy a copy of it for $20 https://my.rio.bdm.vic.gov.au/efamily-history/610129661052731c0be8e9ba/record/5c6552034aba80ac31ef6894?q=efamily&givenName=Ellen&familyName=KELLY
Thanks for that Stuart. And thank you David for the link. Much appreciated.
Assuming its genuine it confirms he exists. Be fascinating to know what happened to him, I understand people do disappear from history, but its rare. And this guy was part of a story that generated a lot of attention so surely someone must know?
Hi David, at the end of your article there is a small link to a 2014 article in “The Conversation” called “The case for Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter”. It is full-on barf bucket material. It begins, “Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter was literally his life’s work, his magnum opus.” Well, he did have in Jones’ words, a short life, and as Elliott the Jerilderie school teacher noted back in the day, the Jerilderie letter would barely fill two columns of Jerilderie’s broadsheet newspaper. But Kelly’s life’s work was nicking ordinary people’s horses and cattle, and occasionally those of some better off people. It was not pursuing a literary career like Patrick White for instance.
We continue: “In fact, it was his second attempt at writing an account of his life and times.” Fortunately Byrne was there to help with putting pen to paper, and we learn from our admiring journalist that even the previous so-called first draft Cameron letter “as it unfolds … becomes apocalyptic, foreshadowing the narrative direction that the Jerilderie Letter would take soon afterward”. The Cameron letter just didn’t get the response from the authorities that bozo Ned wanted: his mother, Skillion and Williamson continued to serve their sentences for aiding and abetting the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, and Ned wasn’t able to grasp that people who do bad things and get caught, suffer the consequences as per the law. It appears although I have not been able to nail down a reference that in those days shooting at a police constable was automatically treated as attempted murder regardless of professed intention. Too bad, so sad.
One would hardly call the Cameron letter’s short rant about Fitzpatrick being “the cause of greater slaughter to the rising generation than St. Patrick was to the snakes and frogs in Ireland” apocalyptic. One might – and it is still a stretch – go along with Alex McDermott’s mini-essay title at the start of his published edition of the Jerilderie letter, “The Apocalyptic Chant of Edward Kelly” as maybe apocalyptic in tone, but the Cameron letter? Not remotely. It is merely a peed-off rant by a self-indulgent moron upset that he didn’t get a reply or action from his first latter’s ludicrous demands.
And why would anyone pay for a book copy of the letter when they can get a freely available transcript from the Murrumbidgee Council website that avoids such nonsense altogether? https://www.murrumbidgee.nsw.gov.au/cp_themes/default/page.asp?p=DOC-GGA-31-24-06 In fact the free PDF transcript is much better that any other version as it follows the correct pagination of the Jerilderie letter in the State Library Victoria with no fluff.
Our Conversation author continues: “Kelly’s testament is also so much more than this. It might not be Joycean, but there may well be something proto-modernist about it.” OK big boy, tell us about it. “The Jerilderie Letter looks in three directions at once; time is folded into itself and stretched open.” So does every story with a beginning, middle and end; past present and future. There was a little mouse who had a little house. Something happened. And they all lived happily ever after.
“Is the Jerilderie Letter a bit like poetry?”, we are asked; “ In fact, the careful page-by-page, line-by-line transcription at the State Library of Victoria makes the Jerilderie Letter look very much like 56 stanzas or verses.” Barf. Forget the line by line transcription and look at the actual scanned letter, mate. It’s a letter with normal sentences in poor English. There is no metre, no rhyme, not the slightest attempt at poetical layout anywhere. The Cameron letter actually finished with a little 4 line stanza, but the Jerilderie letter? Nothing. Repeat, no poetry. If learned professors are reduced to finding poetry in online library transcriptions God help us. Stick with the Murrumbidgee Council’s transcript where such ideas are impossible.
“The Jerilderie Letter is ‘poetic’ in some rather obvious ways, too. It is full of striking metaphors and images: ‘it would bog a duck’, or ‘he roared like a big calf attacked by dogs’. I especially like the line ‘barking up the wrong stump’: a reminder of the sheer amount of tree-felling at the time, perhaps.” Perhaps. Or just barking up the wrong stump.
“The Jerilderie Letter’s task is to illuminate, to reveal what is otherwise hidden from view: the brutality of the police, for example, or the fated lives of Irish colonials. This is a task it also shares with Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’, which drew on the revelatory visions of William Blake.” I see: The Jerilderie letter had a mission statement. I feel much better now that the whinging of a career horse thief and youthful armed robber and Asian basher has informed me about the brutality of the police, regardless that historically Kelly was given a fair treatment on multiple occasions by the authorities; and that the Irish colonials had “fated lives”, regardless that thousands of them paid to emigrate here as free settlers. Fortunately it takes more than some shall I say unconventional literary interpretation to put me off Blake.
“You have to listen to these texts precisely because the authors say so”, he says. “‘I am a widow’s son outlawed’, the last line of the Jerilderie Letter tells us, ‘and my orders must be obeyed’”. Sod off Kelly, your rellies are doing time and when you’re caught, you’ll join them. Does fifteen years sound fair enough?
Stuart why are you in SUCH a cranky mood tonight? Can you not concede even ONE good thing about the Jerilderie Letter? In the annals of Australian criminology it stands out as a rare and to some at least a fascinating document that gives extraordinary insight into the man himself. Apart from Chopper read is there any other serious criminal who has dome something anywhere near similar? And yes what it shows is a nasty and horrible human being…
So, much as I dislike Kelly for what he did and what he became, the Letter is quite something, and I am prepared to concede it speaks to something about Ned Kelly that was a little out of the ordinary – it DOES contain flashes of original humour – those famous descriptions of police as fat necked splay footed etc etc, the idea of a duck getting bogged in mud is hilarious it DOES contain wit – who would think to write about police barking up the wrong STUMP for example, – and it does contain true passion and emotion and an unfiltered expression of his view of his place n the world. And yes it also contains whole sentences and paragraphs full of lies and delusional beliefs and hints of megalomania, violence and sadism and callous disregard for human life….Overall the whole thing is shocking and an indictment but such things can still be fascinating ….
Hi David, I am taking a counterpoint to all the people who fall over themselves to say what a masterpiece the Jerilderie letter is. It isn’t. It is a catalogue of lies, distortions, fabrications and egotistical nonsense. A badly written tantrum. Just a rude letter, and not a very good one. Certainly no manifesto, as you observed. Just a lot of deranged nonsense which has been way overblown. The core points and demands are all in the Cameron letter. The Jerilderie letter is a farcically bad follow up. Jones elevated it to undeserved prominence due to his silly republic theory which the Cameron letter doesn’t support.
Here is what Supt Francis Hare said about the Jerilderie letter in his memoir, ‘The Last of the Bushrangers’, pp. 155-6:
“Ned Kelly, not only in the statement that he gave to Mr. Living, in which he said this [the story that Fitzpatrick had acted improperly towards Kate Kelly] was a pure invention, but also after his capture, stated distinctly there was not one word of truth in the accusation made against Fitzpatrick “for,” said Ned Kelly, “if there had been, I would not have been a man had I not shot him on the spot.” But from Ned Kelly’s own narrative it is apparent that these charges were pure inventions, made solely for the purpose of raising
sympathy for these murderers. It was admitted that Fitzpatrick was resisted and assaulted while in the execution of his duty. An account is given in this statement of Ned Kelly’s of the terrible tragedy at Mansfield, but it is obviously a string of falsehoods, and it would be quite improper to have it published, but he admitted that the police were not in any way the aggressors at the Wombat, but were surprised and shot down in cold blood.”
“A string of falsehoods”. My criticism of the Jerliderie letter as drivel is well founded and reflects the sentiments of the day.
“Drivel” perhaps but in some ways quite spectacular drivel I would say Stuart. Among other things Kellys delusional statements and big lies expose his comprehensive lack of self-awareness on a grand scale which I find fascinating. I am also not so determined to dislike the man that I cant admit some of the things he writes are very funny and witty. But as they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
OK, perhaps a kind of gallows humour?