Nabbing Ned : The Armour was Joe Byrnes idea not Ned Kellys!

I have to say it’s so refreshing to have in ‘Nabbing Ned’ author David Dufty a new voice, some new ideas and some new challenges for Kelly enthusiasts to think and talk about. In reality, for a while now we have been going over the same ground, and it’s getting a bit boring, so its great to be looking at it from these new police perspectives.

I expected this book to be rubbished by the Kelly sympathiser mob, but I was really surprised at how intensely they hated it from even before any of them had a chance to read it. Mark Perry always used to decry criticisms of books, and recommend respect for the effort the writer has expended in getting  ideas into print….but so far he hasn’t dared challenge the lynch mob out for David Dufty. I just wonder, if they think books like David Duftys  shouldn’t be read if they have errors in them,  how they are going to be able to recommend Grantlee Kiezas book if someone finds mistakes in it too ( and of course they will, because no book on any topic had ever been perfect ) I predict they will explain them away.


I’ve been wanting to write a review of the whole book but interesting nuggets keep making their way to the surface and demanding attention. The discussion about Wallace, Joe Byrne and the  authorship of the Jerilderie letter took off last week and now an argument is developing about Duftys bombshell suggestion that when it was all turning to shit at Glenrowan it was Ned Kelly, and not Joe Byrne who uttered that well known bitter complaint about the armour:


‘Well, it’s your fault; I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief’


These words were part of a conversation overheard during the siege at Glenrowan in June 1880 by Constable Phillip, and recorded by him in a signed Declaration, dated 16th September 1881. At the Royal Commission Hare read it into the record.


Here is a reproduction of that record (shown above), found on page 674 of the Royal Commission report. Importantly, notice the punctuation, and in particular that the quotation marks are exactly as they appear in the transcript.  To make it easier to follow I have started each quote on a new line, but in the RC they are run together but the punctuation and quotation marks are exactly as shown below. The conversation proceeds as they all do, with comments alternating back and forth between the two speakers, the first being Ned Kelly and the second, Joe Byrne:


‘Is that you, Joe?’

‘Yes. Is that you, Ned? Come here.’

‘Come here be d——–d. What are you doing there; come with me and load my rifle. I am cooked.’

‘So am I. I think my leg is broke.’

‘Leg be d——–d; you got the use of your arms. Come on; load for me. I’ll pink the buggars.’

‘Don’t be so excited; the boys will hear us, and it will dishearten them. I am afraid it’s a case with us this time.’

‘Well, it’s your fault; I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.’

‘Don’t you believe it; old Hare is cooked, and we will soon finish the rest.’



If you follow it through, the person complaining about the armour is Ned Kelly. The only way it could be claimed that Joe Byrne was the person who complained about the armour in that conversation is if the to-and-fro of that conversation was interrupted and “Well its your fault…” attributed to Ned Kelly out of sequence – but there’s nothing in the way this conversation is recorded that gives any reason to think that’s what happened


So how did we end up with the wrong attribution?

Sad to say, but it looks like it’s another of Ian Jones creations. I couldn’t find a reference to Joe or Ned complaining about the armour in Australian Son or in  Molonys Ned Kelly, so its first appearance may have been in ‘A Short Life’. What Jones did was alter the punctuation around two consecutive sentences that the transcripts indicate were both spoken by Joe, so that the second sentence became the words of Ned Kelly. This is how they appear in the Commission’s report : ‘Don’t be so excited; the boys will hear us, and it will dishearten them. I am afraid it’s a case with us this time.’  – thats two sentences enclosed by one set of speech marks.

What Ian Jones did was to add a second set of speech marks of his own to the transcript so that the second of the two sentences uttered by Joe Byrne could instead be attributed to Ned Kelly. In the book he then inserted some speculative commentary to separate out the second sentence and strengthen the idea it had been uttered by Ned Kelly:


Here’s how Jones presented it:

‘Don’t be so excited; the boys will hear us, and it will dishearten them’.

Joes words sobered Ned and for a moment he seemed defeated by the collapse of his plan, by his wounds...

‘I am afraid it’s a case with us this time.’

‘Well, it’s your fault; I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.’


Ian Jones appears to have believed he could tell from the transcript what was going through Ned Kellys mind when he inserted the comment that ‘Joes words sobered Ned and for a moment he seemed defeated by the collapse of his plan, by his wounds…’ and yet there is absolutely nothing, anywhere that indicates that this comment of Jones is anything other than guesswork.


The interesting implication of realising the armour was Joe Byrnes idea is that now we will have to rethink the whole story about where the idea came from, and re-evaluate the power structure within the Gang. This change suggests Joe Byrne may have had a much greater influence on the Outbreak than previously thought, and greater influence over Ned Kelly than previously thought if he was able to induce Kelly to incorporate into his plan for Glenrowan the use of suits of armour against  his own better judgement.

It will be interesting to observe how the Kelly sympathiser world  reacts to this discovery of David Duftys. My guess is that they will almost all refuse to accept it – thanks to Ian Jones the belief that the armour was Kellys idea is deeply embedded in their understanding of the Kelly story. But if this is the only source for their belief that the armour was Ned Kellys idea and Joe Byrne didn’t like it, then it is on extremely weak grounds. If there is other independent testimony that the armour was Ned Kellys idea then they will have to show it, but right now a straightforward reading of the actual documentary evidence indicates that it was Ned Kelly who  said the ‘bloody armour would bring us to grief’.

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26 Replies to “Nabbing Ned : The Armour was Joe Byrnes idea not Ned Kellys!”

  1. Jonesy bones strikes again. It’s amazing how many thousands of people have read his Short Life book and never noticed how often he literally changes what historical sources say when he “quotes” them. That’s because 99.9% of readers just accept him as the Kelly guru (because it says how great he is on the back cover) and do hardly any of their own historical research on the topic at all. They are browsers, not researchers. Jones changed tons of things from what the historical sources actually said by selective quotations and overlaid interpretations. Now we find he’s invented quote marks on a key extract from the RC to change who said what. Un-freaking believable.

    If any of the many chapters of Short Life was put in as a Master’s level essay at uni it would fail outright under even easygoing academic scrutiny. It’s fiction based on selective facts, just a narrative for numptys. I used to praise it for a few years as a necessary starting point for heading off into Kelly investigations simply because of its breadth of coverage, but no more. It’s redundant in so many ways due to huge factual errors, and the narrative is totally up the creek. Now we have in Dufty a coherent, very readable narrative that pushes Jones off the shelf for large parts of the Kelly story covering much of their time on the run, from what some might call a police perspective, but which is more like a helicopter view in which the endlessly detailed doings of the Kelly gang by Kelly enthusiasts, much of which are the products of lively imaginations, are a relatively small part.

    For anyone who hasn’t read it yet, in a stand-alone chapter at the end, “Mystery 1: ‘Who made the armour?’”, Dufty makes a good case for rejecting previous well-worn claims of blacksmiths John Delaney or Charles Cullen as responsible. He raises the intriguing possibility that is was made by Woolshed blacksmith Tom Straughair, an older friend of the Byrne and Sherritt brothers. A mixture of work was need to make the armour; hot chisel cuts on a forge for the helmet eye slits and some rivets, with a bush forge adequate for shaping and fitting. Dufty says this is not inconsistent with the CSIRO metallurgical investigation into its composition. The question of how early a first suit or prototype may have been made does not affect this, as clearly the bulk of the work was done in 1880 following the acquisition of, and then from March 1880 onwards, thefts of plough mouldboards. Based on investigations by Detective Ward in particular after Glenrowan, Dufty’s seems the best documented effort so far to try and identify who made some or perhaps all of the armour. No doubt discussion will continue from this well-argued start.

  2. Sharon Hollingsworth says: Reply

    In the first edition of Max Brown’s Australian Son (1948), pages 201-202 there is this exchange. Only difference is a small difference in punctuation and leaving out “load for me.”
    “Is that you, Joe” he asked.

    “Yes. Is that you, Ned? – Come here!”

    “Come here be d*mned! What are you doing there? Come here and load my rifle. I’m cooked!”

    “So am I. I think my leg is broke.”

    “Leg be d*mned – you’ve got the use of your arms. Come on, I’ll pink the beggars.”

    “I’m afraid it’s a case with us this time.”

    “Don’t be so excited. The boys will hear us and it will dishearten them.”

    “Well, it’s your fault. I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.”

    “Don’t you believe it. Old Hare is cooked and we’ll soon finish the rest.”

    1. HI Sharon, I did have a quick flick through Brown and obviously missed it! So sloppy and lazy. I am presuming it was still there in later editions like my one.

      So Jones wasnt the first to have misrepresented the dialogue: Brown split apart the two sentences spoken by Joe, reversed the order they were in and attributed the second one to Ned so then it becomes Joe who complains about the armour. Jones must have copied Brown on that point ( didn’t check the source material so in the words of the sysmpathiser mob criticising Dufty he too was sloppy and lazy)

      Why do they do this? Is there any other source for the claim the armour was Neds idea?

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    In Frank Clune’s The Kelly Hunters (1954) he had the convo as –
    “Come out!” he yelled to Byrne. “Where are you, Joe?” “I’m here,” Byrne answered. He was sitting on the floor in the bar feeling his wounded leg. His boot was full of blood. “Come here!” urged Ned. “Be d*mned,” answered Byrne. “I’m cooked. I think my leg is broken.”Leg be d*mned.You got the use of your arms.Come with me and load my rifle.Come on, load for me. I’ll pin the b—–s.” Byrne crawled to the back door.”Don’t get so excited,” he said quietly. “The boys will hear and get disheartened. It’s a case with us this time, Ned!” “Don’t you believe it!”  “It’s your fault,” grumbled Byrne. “I always said this bloody armour  would bring us to grief.” “Old Hare is cooked,” said Ned, “and we’ll soon finish the rest.”

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth says: Reply

      This anonymouse with the Clune bits was me. Forgot to put in name.

  4. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    Amazing discovery. For what it’s worth I recently came across this from WH Fitchett’s 1913 book, “The New World of the South” from 1913:

    “There is one quality, however, which differentiates the performances of the Kelly gang from those of the rest of their evil type. Some one member of the party – it was probably Byrne, certainly not Ned Kelly himself – had a strategic brain of a really admirable quality. If the story of the robbery pf the Euroa bank, of the raid on Jerilderie, and of the attempted destruction of the police train at Glenrowan, be analysed, it will be found that each represented an amazingly clever plan, thought out in advance in minutest detail, and carried into effect with a coolness nothing less than wonderful. The strategic cleverness exercised in these crimes, if employed on either side in the guerilla stages of the South African War – or on an adequate scale in any war – might well produced historic consequences.” p. 160-161.

    Suggests to me the idea of Byrne as the Gang’s strategist and ‘mastermind’ was the popular view in the first few decades after the Outbreak. The armour being Joe’s idea fits.

    1. Thats a great quote Thomas. It really is starting to look like Joe was a much more central figure in the outbreak than most have been thinking till now. I wonder if a case could be developed that Ned was a hot-headed criminal that Byrne was able to manipulate and manoeuvre into doing what Byrne wanted and maybe even promote the idea that it was Ned, when in reality it was mostly Joe?

      Something to consider – which would mean the entire narrative is alit to get turned upside down!

      1. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

        In reassessing Byrne’s role as the Gang’s ‘brains’, these other thoughts come to mind:

        1. In murdering Aaron, did, as Aiden Phelan suggests, Joe and Dan actually depart from agreed plan to only murder the police guarding?

        James Reardon gave evidence at the RC that when he was taken prisoner Ned said to him, “I was in Beechworth last night, and I had a great contract with the police – I have shot a lot of them, and I expect a train from Benalla with a lot of police and black fellows, and I am going to kill all the -“.

        Phelan writes, “There is room to speculate what the intention was at Sherritt’s hut. Ned Kelly would later claim he had not ordered Sherritt’s murder; that it must have been a decision made by the others. This seems to marry up with Ned’s claim at the time he was trying to break the train line that many police had been shot in Beechworth and he was expecting a train full of police and trackers in response. It was known that Aaron Sherritt had police staying in his hut with him. Later, Ned would suggest that the police must have tortured Aaron to make him complicit. It stands to reason that if Ned was intent on taking out a train load of police that he would also be inclined to take out a party of police that he suspected were stationed with his friend against his will.”

        2. Its accepted that Joe’s armour is the best made, with scalloped eye slits, metal side trips, and probably bolts which allows the lappet / apron plate to be taken on and off.

        The metal testing also suggests Joe’s suit was most likely made on a bush forge and not a blacksmith’s forge. If the armour was Joe’s idea, maybe Joe’s suit was in fact the prototype?

        3. Joe being the brains also fits with his plan to recruit the Sherritt brothers to rob the bank at Beechworth without Ned’s knowledge because he was frustrated with Ned’s own plans.

        1. Hi Thomas, it may depend on when Ned said the murder of Sherritt wasn’t his idea – was it after his capture when the others were dead? In which case why not blame them rather than add to his own charge sheet?
          Alternatively, it is clear that Ned was a compulsive and constant liar and story-teller – maybe that was just another one?

          1. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

            Sure, that may well be the case. But the comments to Reardon are obviously before Ned’s capture and they refer to shooting police not ‘traitors’.

            Ned also made lots of threats in relation to people betraying him or working for the police (e.g. Making Delaney cry at Glenrowan). Can’t see Ned holding back on brgsgung about shooting Aaron if he was fully aware of the plan.

            Maybe Ned wasn’t lying about this one.

          2. Worth further consideration

          3. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

            Another thought.

            Belle Sherritt seemed to believe (or at least said she did) that Aaron was “in the employ of the police” and make claims for pension support and a share of the reward.

            Dufty also argues Joe and Dan probably thought their shots into the hut likely killed at least some of the police in Aaron’s hut: p. 299.

            Just looking at Ned’s comments pre-capture (and not his post-capture comments about not knowing Aaron has been shot), it possible Ned also considered Aaron one of the police at Beechworth who he said had been shot?

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    Interesting analysis. This may well lead to a re-evaluation in the Kelly Armour scenario. I have found numerous errors in Duftys work though. But as many say, its bound to happen. The core ideas are what is interesting. Wallace/Jeriderie Letter, Byrne/Armour.. I note too that I get a mention in this latest blog. Should I be flattered??

    1. Yes the core ideas are whats important though I dont want the impression created that I think errors are of no significance. However it does depend on the magnitude of the error, and whether or not its about an important aspect of the argument. Some are obvious typos of course.

      Should you be flattered to have been mentioned ? Are you Mark Perry? If so you shouldn’t feel flatterred so much as prodded – I want you to stick up for this book at least as vocally as you did for Jack Petersons book which is riddled with mistakes , but of course as it was “pro” Kelly nobody dared criticise it. Same for the atrocious work by Brad Webb – recycled myths and error ridden from start to finish. And then of course theres Ian Jones books….dont get me started but the Republic Myth is a MASSIVE unhistorical completely false claim thats been promoted to death for fiftty years…but is Jones ever given a Dufty-style doing over by Sympathisers? Of course not – thier distress and upset about errors is performative and hypocritical excuse making top reject a book whose central claims they dont want to even think about.

      1. Would you mind revealing a few of the errors you found in Dufty’s book, please? I have noted some minor errors.

  6. I know we all like to look for historical mistakes in anything written about the Kelly gang, and indeed we should and we must in order to keep setting the record straight as far as we can. But I think there also needs to be some allowance for an author not getting everything right in what is a new and radically different take on the Kelly outbreak. That is not to excuse any historical errors or slips; it is just saying that mistakes litter every book that has been written about Kelly so it’s not surprising that some would have crept in here too. Having said that, I’d like to say how I felt when received Dufty’s book a month or so ago:

    The morning broke beautiful and clear as I tore open the package to reveal my eagerly awaited copy of ‘Nabbing Ned Kelly. At last! This was the first full-length work to examine police responses to the Kelly outbreak since Frank Clune’s 1948 ‘The Kelly Hunters’, which was in large part another Kelly biography rather than a serious investigation of its claimed topic. Dufty is upfront about his approach: any useful historical enquiry must start with the source material, not the commentary. In the case of the Kelly outbreak that is indeed large, but manageable for a dedicated researcher. And he has done a very soilid job of it.

    The Kelly outbreak was the most heavily documented Australian crime story of its time, coinciding with the spread of the telegraph as a means of communicating news across Victoria and interstate (and also by cable to England) in almost real time. The exploits of the Kelly gang on the run received saturation news coverage. A massive collection of police reports and correspondence exists in the Victorian Public Records Office, and there is a host of historical evidence in the voluminous yet fragmented Minutes of Evidence of the 1881 Royal Commission into the Victoria Police Force – and related reports such as the Kelly Reward Board reports – and the files of other departments such as the railways and the Lands Office.

    Dufty began his research by exploring the historical evidence of the day and soon came to realise that much of the commentary he had seen bore little and often no relation to historically documented facts. Much of the commentary was little more that naive adulation of Kelly from an anti-authoritarian perspective. For some of these writers Kelly seems little more than a colonial Che Guevara complete with a merchandising range featuring T-shirts, caps, bumper stickers and so on, built on a simplistic hero narrative that has almost no connection with actual history as recorded and reported in its day.

    Dufty’s evidence-first approach is a welcome change from the bulk of Kelly commentary in starting from a thorough review of the historical evidence unmotivated by preconceptions and prior perspectives or biases. It is a refreshingly open and honest approach to writing history and as such it is full of surprises that make for engaging reading. Many popular fictions are disposed of along the way, most particularly the slurs that Kelly enthusiasts have levelled against Detective Michael Ward who emerges as Kelly’s most skilled and dedicated nemesis. The book is worth buying for this exploration alone, but there is so much more. David has raised several of these issues on this blog, and hopefully some more will come up over the newxt week or two.

  7. I have grave doubts as to the legitimacy of this alleged conversation as related by Constable Phillips. Wasn’t he the same officer that made false allegations against Sgt Steele along with Constable Arthur? I find it hard to believe that he could have been close enough to hear a conversation that was inside the hotel.
    You would be hard-pressed to convince me that this conversation ever took place at all.

  8. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    Would Ned and Joe have known Hare was injured at that point?

    1. Hi Thomas, yes, it is part of the same reported conversation, “Old Hare is cooked”; see Jonesy Short Life 2008: 308 for convenience

      1. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

        Hi Stuart, I appreciate that was part of the conversation. I think you’ve misunderstood the question I was seeking to lose. Following Sam’s comment, my question was, would Ned and Joe have actually known Hare was injured when the conversation Constable Phillips reported was apparent taking place? To put it another way, as a police officer Phillips would have likely known Hare was injured. But given the darkness and chaos, would Joe and Ned have been aware of that also? This seems to me to a be a key in assessing whether Sam’s theory holds.

        1. I understood what you were getting at Thomas and have been wondering about it too. I think you make a very interesting point. What we have to try and figure out is if there was any way the Gang could have known Hare was shot in the wrist and seriously injured?

          All this took place in the dark so I would guess they wouldnt have been able to see what happened, so that leaves hearing talk about it between police out on the cordon, or else someone else informing them directly but do we know if anyone went IN to the Inn after the police had arrived? I cant remember reading about that happening anywhere.

          1. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

            According to Stuart’s timeline the first volley was between 3.15 and 3.17am, with Hare returns to the station wounded at 3.18am.

            Then at 3:23 Const. Phillips hears Kelly and Byrne talking at back of Inn, “about 10 mins after first encounter”.

            So I guess the question is how did Joe and Ned learn Hare was wounded in the time between about 3.17am and 3.23am?

            Perhaps they saw him retreating or noticed his absence?

          2. Hi Thomas, it is likely that Kelly knew he had winged Hare: The Age on June 29, 1880, “Superintendent Hare was shot in the wrist at the commencement of the firing, Kelly being within a few yards when he fired at him.”

          3. This comes directly from Supt Hare’s book. The words give us many clues as to what actually happened and describes the available light.
            ” When I was within sixteen yards of the verandah I saw a flash, and heard a report from a rifle, fired from about a yard in front of the verandah, and my left hand dropped beside me. Three flashes came from under the verandah. The man who fired the first shot stepped back under the verandah, and began firing upon us. He called out, “Fire away, you beggars, you can do us no harm.” One of the men beside me said, “That is Ned Kelly’s voice.” The four outlaws continued firing some minutes; I suppose they must have fired thirty or forty shots at us, as they had repeating rifles and revolvers. My men returned the fire very briskly; I fancy we must have fired at least fifty or sixty shots, for there were not only my men, but the trackers also, who were blazing away as hard as they could fire. We could only fire in the direction from which the flashes came, as the figures of the men were invisible in the darkness.”

          4. Thanks Sam, and I think also what the context for the darkness mentioned at the end is that the gang were firing from under the veranda which put them in darkness, therefore they had an advantage in being able to see more of what they were aiming at that could be seen of them.

            As to why they didn’t hit anyone except Hare by accident, their rifles were cut down as all they intended to do was massacre any train survivors at short range, not have a real gunfight. It was hard to aim clearly from the armour eyeslots anyway. No wonder the armour brought them to grief!

    2. The more I reflect on this, the more convinced I am that it almost certainly could not have happened as Phillips claimed.
      The RC found the following. “He (Kelly) had been wounded in the foot during the first brush
      with the police. He left the hotel by the back shortly after, and selected his own horse, which
      he led away into the bush at the rear.”
      If Phillips had been close enough to the gap between the two buildings to hear the alleged conversation between Ned and Joe, how come Phillips didn’t see Ned Kelly leave the hotel, as we all know he did leave?
      He would have been in a perfect position to see him leave. I strongly suspect that most of the police were still towards the front of the hotel, as they would have been moving to surround the hotel carefully and being cautious and not exposing themselves to the gang where they could be fired on.
      No police were in a position to see Kelly leave the hotel as he went out the back door, while the police were still near the front. Where was Phillips in the police group as they approached the hotel? I will look later, but too busy today. Not realistic in my considered view.

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