The Kelly story we should be telling in 2021 and beyond. Part ONE

Until recently it was common to have the Kelly story presented as a dilemma that couldn’t be resolved.  Wherever you looked, whenever the Kelly story was mentioned, the question would almost always be asked “Ned Kelly: hero or villain?” If you wanted to believe he was a hero, you could make a case for it that was as convincing as the case for the view that he wasn’t. In recent times though, and especially in the last ten years, the arguments that supported the claim that Kelly was a hero have collapsed, most of the mysteries have been solved and the argument that he was a hero has been lost.  Its over! Just as it is now no longer sensible or reasonable for an educated person to ask if the world is flat, the time has now arrived where it is no longer sensible or reasonable for an educated person to ask “Ned Kelly: hero or villain?” That’s because all the pillars that once supported the idea that Kelly was a hero have collapsed under the weight of new research, by new insights and wider access to the historical data base. What’s left is the inescapable truth: he was a villain. The idea that he was a villain makes perfect sense of course : think seriously for a minute about what kind of man would plan to murder two dozen police by wrecking a train? “Villain” is almost too mild a term to describe someone who could plan such a thing. The only other plausible explanation for such a horrendous scheme would be that the man was off his rocker. You would certainly need some pretty substantial arguments backed up by some very robust facts to make the opposite case.


So, what were those arguments and why have they collapsed? There are four  central ones :


PILLAR ONE: Police persecution and harassment of the Kellys was the ultimate cause of the Outbreak.

 It is impossible for supporters to deny Kelly was a major local crime figure, a stock thief, a bank robber and a triple police murderer, so they claim – as did Ned Kelly himself – that his life of crime was justified as a reaction to unwarranted and unjust harassment and persecution of a poor innocent Irish selector family and this forced him to take up arms. Given the enormity of Kelly’s crimes, you would have to expect this harassment and persecution to have been equally enormous. 


In fact, when you look for evidence what you find is almost nothing to support that claim, but an overwhelming body of evidence that contradicts it in not one but many places. The record shows for example that as far back as when Ned Kelly was still a child his extended family was developing a serious habit of attracting police attention to themselves by their own unquestionably criminal behaviour. The list of crimes committed by various members of Kellys extended family is long: it includes domestic violence and rape, arson, drunkenness, animal cruelty, violent assaults and of course stock theft. You won’t find them listed in any of the usual Kelly story books or being discussed in any of the Kelly Sympathiser Facebook pages, for obvious reasons but you can read about some of these awful crimes right  here and here. These were not trumped up charges invented by corrupt police but very serious real crimes with real victims as you will see. It’s all there in the records of the day.


Ned Kelly himself when asked to cite an example of police persecution was only able to describe the incident where he had his testicles squeezed when he violently resisted re-arrest after attempting to escape police custody. The other horror Ned Kelly complained of in the Jerilderie letter was of having their eggs milk and flour tipped onto the floor! This reveals how unbalanced Kelly was : how on earth would having your balls squeezed  or milk spilled justify killing three policemen and then planning to kill two dozen more?

One of the multitude of proofs Kelly interactions with police were nothing to do with persecution or corruption of innocent selector farmers is demonstrated yet again by what happened to Jim Kelly when he changed his name to James Wilson and moved to New South Wales. Here, in NSW one would imagine if Victoria police interest in the Kellys was based on their name and identity rather than their behaviour, he would have lived a quiet law-abiding life right? In fact he very soon found himself violently resisting arrest for horse theft and ended up convicted and sentenced to four years in Sydneys  Darlinghurst Gaol under a false name. After the Outbreak was over, Jim once again was caught stealing horses, and was put away for another five years in 1881. Who discusses that on Kelly sympathiser pages? Read more HERE.

Also in 1881,  Royal Commission specifically addressed this issue and made a clear finding that there was no evidence of the persecution the Kellys complained of. Undeniably though, instances of police misbehaviour certainly occurred – bashing Kelly over the head for resisting arrest for example  (Read about it HERE) – but nothing the police ever did was of a scale to in any way justify the killings that Kelly committed and planned.


So, the pillar of police persecution against an innocent Irish selector family fails – no evidence of persecution, and the Kellys were far from innocent selectors minding their own business and being randomly harassed by police. It was just the tired old usual excuse used by criminals everywhere when caught out, that they’re being picked on. Not true.



PILLAR TWO: The massacre planned for Glenrowan was an act of war, an attempt to establish a Republic of NE Victoria.

As I wrote at the beginning, no normal person would plan to murder two dozen police, no matter how serious their grievance was, so, because Ian Jones wouldn’t consider the possibility that Kelly could actually have been crazy, he had to devise a sane explanation for Ned Kellys murderous plans for Glenrowan.  What Jones claimed to have found was a plan to declare the North East a Republic. This interpretation cast what was planned for Glenrowan in a completely different light: it became an act of war rather than what Jones quite correctly said would otherwise have been ‘madness’ and a ‘criminal atrocity of monstrous scale” for the absurd practically trivial purpose of freeing Mrs Kelly from prison a few months early, and robbing a bank. The Republic plan converted the plan for Glenrowan into a high-minded if misdirected and extreme political act that elevated Kelly from mad killer to the status of freedom fighter.


A claim fifty or so years ago to have seen in London, England, an old document prepared by Kelly in anticipation of declaring the North east of Victoria a Republic gave additional hope to Jones theory which was quickly and widely accepted. Several exhaustive searches failed to re-discover this document but it remained a hope of Kelly sympathizers that one day it would re-emerge and the theory would be proved, but it never did.


Jones theory about the republic included his claim that at the time the North east was riven by widespread social political and economic unease and selector farmer distress, making it ripe for rebellion. According to Jones this was the fertile soil from which Kellys ideas of a Republic sprang, and that unrest accounts for what Jones claimed was widespread support for him. Actual historians disagreed with Jones at the time, but Jones wasn’t deterred and widespread selector unrest became an important component of the republic argument.


In fact, Jones was the victim of a hoax perpetrated by his main informant about this Republic plan, Kelly gang descendant Thomas Lloyd who later confessed he deliberately fed Jones a line of false information he said was his family’s oral history. There never was a plan for a Republic but Jones fell for it, believed it without reservation, writing that it was such a well kept secret that nobody, not even Jim Kelly ever discussed or mentioned it anywhere. He elaborated on the basic idea quite extensively, for example postulating the existence of a sympathiser ‘Army’,  and promoted it aggressively and extremely successfully for the rest of his life, never conceding he had been the victim of a hoax. Moreover, the man who made the original claim about having seen a Republic Declaration in London much later withdrew the claim altogether, admitting he had made a mistake.


Subsequently, Doug Morrissey wrote a PhD thesis on the topic of selector unrest in the North East, and more recently published a book that incorporated all his research findings. The historical record was found to agree with the historians who originally disputed Jones assertions: the North East was not in turmoil, selectors were not mostly failing and the Kelly clan wasn’t in the least representative of selector families in the north east. The Kelly clan were part of an outlying fringe on the edges of society whose habits and activities were unsupported by the huge majority of regular citizens.  Morrissey showed that most selectors, even the Irish ones who believed in Home rule for Ireland, supported the Victorian Government, obeyed the law, went regularly to Church and in the main, though often not without a difficult struggle, were successful. They mostly reviled criminals like the Kellys.

Finally, the entire republic Myth was analysed and debunked in meticulous fashion by Stuart Dawson in 2018.  His brilliant expose is linked top right of this page. Its essential reading, and nobody has ever been able to refute it. 

So, with the Republic idea gone, the merciless slaughter Kelly planned for Glenrowan lies exposed as “a criminal atrocity on a monstrous scale”, and Ned Kelly as a monstrous criminal. There is no other possible interpretation, and none has  ever been offered. The entire Kelly sympathiser community is in deep denial of this reality.


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19 Replies to “The Kelly story we should be telling in 2021 and beyond. Part ONE”

  1. Hi David, spot on so far, keen for Part Two. Regarding Kelly’s complaint in the Euroa letter (and again in the Jerilderie letter) that the police “upset milk dishes empty the flour out on the ground break tins of eggs and even throw the meat out of the cask on to the floor” when searching the Kelly house while the Kelly brothers were on the run, these were likely places for concealement of revolvers, bullets, bullet molds and contraband. While some of the searches may have been over-zealously performed, one gets the impression from the police VPRO files that they were not frequent and also, in the circumstances, necessary. I can’t recall any pro-Kelly writer listing the number of raids the police conducted at Eleven Mile? More than once obviously, but more than twice or three times? Maybe not. There’s a challenge for an enterprising Kelly enthusiast – add them up and tell us with evidence! Prove this part of the persecution tale if you can. Or is that popular belief just there because Kelly said so?

    1. Thanks Stuart.

      Regarding the flour and the eggs and milk, I am not sure if the absurdity of the Kelly claim that those police actions justify what the Kellys did has been pointed out before. What rational person would think it would be reasonable to murder police in retaliation for having eggs broken and milk spilt, or for that matter your testicles squeezed when you are continuing to violently resist re-arrest? Yesterday on Facebook I was told that because Mrs Scott thought Ned Kelly was OK that settles the argument – one opinion in favour outweighs an entire population of ordinary men and women who feared and loathed the man!

      Logic, balance, proportionality, and reason are not valued by many in the Kelly world. Or facts!

  2. How did Kelly know that there would be two dozen police on the train and that the train would be sent from Melbourne and not from Benalla where there would not have been anywhere near two dozen police there.
    Is this history being rewritten again?

    1. Sam I am not sure what you mean by history being rewritten again. Are you suggesting Kelly had spies in the Police department in Melbourne or something?

      My guess he didnt have any idea where the train was going to come from or how many police or other people were going to be on it. He guessed rightly that there would be a response and it would most likely arrive by train, and he was going to kill everyone on board no matter who they were or how many. Perhaps knowing the numbers in Benalla he guessed police would want to send many more and so they could only have come from Melbourne.

      1. I too have wondered about Kelly’s certainty about the special. Special trains had been issued three times in 1878. To Beechworth least twice after Stringybark: first Sergeant Steele’s excursion to Rat’s Castle, and then a few days later, Standish and Nicolson to participate in the great sebastopol raid. A special was also sent to Euroa after the bank robbery there. All of those occurred in late 1878. There had been none since (that I know of).
        So, sure, it totally made sense to think that there could be a special police train, that one was quite likely. But it is a bit confusing how he was so absolutely certain there would be one. It turned out he was right. But I don’t understand how he knew.
        Perhaps he knew someone who picked up on barracks gossip. For example, maybe it was known among the constables that Hare was itching to order a special at the next sign of the outlaws. There were a few potential sympathisers in the police ranks so that could be how.

        1. Frank you say you dont understand how he knew, but we dont know that he knew! I think he didnt know but presumed, in view of the previous responses you listed, that another Special would be sent. The huge Rewards on offer indicated there was an intense desire within the police and Government to catch him, so it wasnt a long shot that a train would come. But even so I agree it was a gamble he took, and it paid off but not in quite the way he expected.

  3. In my reading, I have not found too much that explains several matters. e.g. How did Kelly know that a train would be sent? I gather he guessed it would come from Benalla. How did the police know, or believe, that the train line had been interfered with, that prompted them to run an engine ahead of the train carrying the police? There appears to be a lot of unexplained happenings in relation to what Kelly thought or knew, and the same with the police. Were they just educated guesses, or was there more substantial proof that has not yet been discovered? Not trying to rewrite history, just trying to understand what actually occurred and why.

    1. Kelly had threatened multiple times to wreck a train, for example in the Euroa letter, and verbally to people at Faithfull’s Creek station.

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    I am guessing that the statement made by David in his story that it was necessary to think seriously for a minute about what kind of man would plan to murder two dozen police by wrecking a train? is being challenged in the Sam question about the police numbers and the train. Davids statement is made as an absolute one so anybody reading would I postulate come to the obvious conclusion invited by the question that Kelly knew how many police would be on the train, which he clearly did not. The context and structure of the sentence referred to is an example of the rewriteing of history by loose sentence construction leading to inaccurate conclusion by an uninformed reader. thats why editors are needed to ensure as best they can that accuracy of history is recorded.
    I look forward to the book from David and perhaps that also of Stuart as coauthor giving the facts of the kelly era.
    There were also the railway men, a civilian and ladies aboard the train so the real number is not 24 but somewhat higher.

    1. I see what youre getting at but its a trivial point youre trying to make.When I wrote Kelly was planning to murder two dozen police I was not actually implying that Kelly knew exactly how many police would be on the train – all I meant was that he was planning to kill however many people turned up on the train, which could easily have been a couple of dozen. I could have written it that way for greater clarity but I dont think he cared how many, and it didnt trouble him that there might be ordinary working class people on the train who would also be killed. So much for standing up for the working selector class. All he hoped for was there would be lots of Police to kill. What a totally deluded sicko he was.

    2. And FYI, I am not writing a book and don’t plan to. My “Book” is this Blog and it comes up readily in Google searches on Kelly topics so is widely read and costs nobody anything.Its also interactive and keeps up to date with developments, so in some ways better than a book. Never-the-less all the developments in understanding of the story in recent years means sooner or later someone will write the new definitive book I am sure.

  5. I remember some years ago there was news about the IRA setting off a bomb – or maybe just phoning police and warning a bomb had been hidden in a certain place in a village and was about to go off, and so everyone was cleared out and herded away to an area where the bomb actually was, and once everyone was gathered there, the bomb was detonated! An utterly outrageous act of terror.

    Not too unlike the Kelly Gang murdering Aaron, and ripping up the railway tracks so that police rushing to the scene of the crime would be killed on their way. Another utter outrageous terrorist act.

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    Thanks David for your reply about the 2 dozen but your ducking the issue. If as you say this blog is your “book” then it behoves you to write with the accuracy you and others demand for the true historical facts to be recorded otherwise your writings should be consigned to the same bin as Jones works have been consigned to by you and others.
    History demands accuracy and not “meanings”
    Your analogy with the IRA is ridiculous why not the yanks and there A bombs, they didnt have to do any herding because everyone was there blissfully unaware of the impending bang

    1. Thanks for the reprimand ‘anonymous’. I’ll try to be a lot more precise in what I write in future.

      I am wondering if you are a sympathiser or not – youre not making it clear. But if you are, I think you need to explain why you are so critical of trivially inaccurate statements I might make but seem unconcerned by the vast litany of mistakes lies inaccuracies conspiracy theory and general rubbish that makes up so much of the Kelly story told by Jones and all the other authors and hordes of unthinking apologists on their FB pages?

    2. David’s IRA analogy is good, because it illustrates the overall logic of the Glenrowan plan.
      On the other hand, your A-bomb analogy makes no sense at all.
      This blog does an excellent job of analysing Kelly history. Your sarcasm and vacuous criticisms aren’t warranted.

      1. Thanks Frank! Nobody else is even trying to do what I do on this Blog.

        1. Hi David, that’s because this is the only Kelly blog that for a number of years has consistently focussed on trying to sort out what actually happened in terms of historical facts in a story that’s been filled with romanticised fiction for decades. If anyone clicks back a few years into the old posts there have been many long and complex debates about a whole range of topics with at times over a dozen people contributing and arguing with evidence about the topic of the week or fortnight.

          This blog has been a great place to test out ideas and get feedback and I have been doing that here since somewhere around 2014 or 2015 when I discovered it, as far as I can recall. I pioneered my discussion of Metcalf being shot by Kelly here; had a long online debate with several people about the Glenrowan timeline which greatly improved the resulting published timeline in the Republic Myth book; and put up the evidence that showed that the so-called last stand at Glenrowan lasted just under 10 minutes, not the romanticised nonsense of half an hour spouted in a lot of Kelly books based on one of the four reporter’s erroneous reports. And a whole lot more.

          You pioneered a whole series of posts with arguments and evidence that Ned and his family were not persecuted by the police, which supported the Royal Commission’s 2nd Progress Report conclusion. Ian MacFarlane also made a number of scholarly contributions on several topics, and several others with world class knowledge of Kelly history or detailed knowledge of specific topics like the Kelly and police firearms have contributed incredibly valuably over several years. Stringbark Creek has been another topic of intense and constructive discussion here (although I keep out of that topic myself; I’m just interested in what happened – the police ambush murders – rather than exactly where).

          So this blog has been unique in not being about Ned Kelly the “hero” and the endless stream of manufactured collectibles, but actually getting proper debate happening about a whole bunch of things of historical importance and significance. It’s important to correct historical errors (and giant craters of historical ignorance). For example, tales about the “green sash” as having some Jones-inspired magical significance rather than being a handy wrap-around cummerbund for padding under his armour. OK, so it was from his childhood, a reward for when he pulled a young boy out of a waterhole (not a raging or even flooded creek). Big deal. When you take away the republic myth there was no Jonesian significance at all about a big day “when all his courage was called for” symbnolised by the sash. Funny how a cummerbund that he never missed when it was taken was given significance in a fairy story developed over 70 years later. And funnier that people think he needed a memento of saving a boy to wear while trying to derail and police train and commit a mass slaughter of any and all on board. Logic, not.

          Anyone sceptical about this demolition of the Jones sash fantasy should read the bit about the sash in Meredith and Scott’s “Ned Kelly after a century years of acrimony”, and look at the photo of a woman from the Benalla Historical Society with it draped around her. Its claimed “significance” at Glenrowan is entirely a flight of a historian’s delusional fancy, just as his skyrockets at Glenrowan, exploding with great thumps and scattering like shooting stars was utter rubbish contradicted bythe only source that mentioned them, and everfy other repot from Glenrowan that had no mention of any such event, based on his equally imaginary belief in a sympathiser army, torn apart in my Republic Myth book.

          As for that children’s book about the green sash, that says Ned was pleased as punch when his dad draped it over him, his dad was dead before that event of rescuimg the boy happened. The amount of rubbish written about Kelly is never-ending, and this blog has done a great job of exposing large amounts of it over time.

  7. Anonymous says: Reply

    Nope. Im not a sympathiser but I do care about the correctness of historical fact when it is written and is misleading or simply patently wrong as wrongness will be rightness to some who read it. From my reading of your blog it seems to me that you are very willing to show the wrongness of others material and yet you too have made errors in fact which once writ will remain in the text. I cite one example for which you were subsequently called out for to do with Mansfield having the premises of the photographer Burman.

    1. Not a Sympathiser? Thats good. Just wondering if you can explain your concern about how many police I suggested Ned Kelly was prepared to kill? And also, given thats it such an unimportant issue can you perhaps list a few of the Kelly story inaccuracies that youre trying to correct in a similar manner, and where youre doing this?

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