Like Father, Like Son?

In so many ways the Kelly story is a tragedy from start to finish.

Neds father “Red” ( John Kelly) was transported to Australia in 1841 for stealing two pigs, valued at six pounds. The way this fact is usually presented, such as by Peter Fitzsimons in his recent book, and on Pro Kelly websites and in the Kelly hagiography, one is left with the impression this was a vindictive English cruelty imposed on a poor Irishman who stole in desperation from a wealthy landowner. And that’s about as much as you usually hear of this incident.

But if you read Ian Jones carefully – and Ian Jones is without peer in the Kelly literature in my view – you discover a much less sympathetic story, a story only Ian Jones seems to have the integrity to tell in all its depressing detail, but one which begins to explain the sad premature ending of Red Kellys life at only 45 from alcoholism.

Undoubtedly, Reds family was poor and life was an awful struggle. But the pigs he stole hadn’t belonged to a wealthy landowner but to another struggling peasant up the road. And worse, though Red was described by the local Police as “a notorious character” to further supplement his income he became a paid Police informer, and a few weeks before stealing the pigs, had joined in the theft of several cows in a Police sting that Red was part of. It went wrong and one of the thieves was shot and later died. Jones writes “Already branded an informer, Red now had to live with the guilt of the betrayed mans death”. He even suggests that the Pig Stealing incident was a “set up to justify his disappearance from the District” (page 4 and 5, “Ned Kelly :A Short Life” by Ian Jones ,2003)

As you can already see, the story is not as pristine as the Kelly mythmakers would have you believe.

So Red was “Transported “ to Australia and served 7 years as a convict in Tasmania. They would have been tough years and his existing bitterness against centuries of Irish oppression by English and Anglo-Irish would only have been deepened.

Neverthless after gaining his freedom and moving to Victoria he made a good start at a new life, marrying 18 year old Ellen Quinn – he was 30 by then – and earning enough from various occupations and from Gold digging to buy land. 

Theres not much in the record about Neds arrival into the midst of this late 1854 or early 1855, but as he was growing up his fathers fortunes slowly slipped away as the bottle took a greater hold. He ended up selling his property for a loss. Peter Fitzsimons tells it like this “The family move into a tiny shack on a quarter acre in town with the one advantage for Red that it is much closer to either or both of Beveridges pubs; he is not particular”

Theres a remarkable catalogue of interactions with the Police by numerous members of the extended family for things like assault, cattle stealing, and horse stealing and eventually Red himself is convicted for “having illegally in his possession, one cow hide”. What happened, according to Ian Jones account, was that Red took a wandering calf with the Morgan brand on it, killed the calf and dressed it but kept the hide after cutting out the brand. When Morgan brought the Police, Red told them the calf was unbranded and pigs had dragged its head away but the Police search found calf skull bones in the fire, and the hide with a hole in it where the brand would have been. In court the charge of cattle stealing was dismissed, but he was sent to prison for 6 months as he couldn’t afford the Fine of 25 Pounds. The sentence was harsh but the process seemed to be fair.
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6 Replies to “Like Father, Like Son?”

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    What evidence exists for the statement that Red Kelly 'became a paid Police informer'?

  2. Thanks for the question: I suggest you get a copy of Ian Jones book "Ned Kelly:A Short Life" its all there on pages 4 and 5 and if you look at the Notes to Chapter one theres more about it.

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    But where is the PROOF that he was a PAID informer. Very important that. Red Kelly gave evidence against Regan and in Ireland that was enough to brand him an 'informer', no matter how the evidence was obtained. A PAID informer is a different matter altogether. The RIC had a great penchant for 'stitching up' people as it helped to get past the local population's 'omerta' stance by turning people against each other and creating suspicion. So Kelly wouldn't have been the first or last to have experienced that, and as someone who robbed stock, he would have been in bad odour anyway. But proof of paid informing (as opposed to drawing that conclusion) I haven't seen – in Jones' book or elsewhere. You published the allegation here so you should produce the proof here – not refer it to someone else's work.

    PS. The theft of the pigs was NOT 'up the road' – even by today's standards, let alone the nineteenth century standards. That creates a neat impression of the robbery of a near neighbour when it was nothing of the sort.

  4. Somehow I don't think you've had a careful read of Jones or his Notes and the links he provides in regard to all this. If you had you would have seen, among other things, the map of the district which shows that the place where the pigs were stolen from was about 4 or 5 miles from Reds home – an hours walk away – I don't think its unreasonable to call that "up the road".

    Your argument is not with me but Ian Jones. Its clear I am discussing Ian Jones view – but having read it and his sources, as far as its possible to do so without doing what Ian Jones did which was to visit Ireland and talk to many people in the area and inspect many local documents, then I am satisfied with the level of proof he has given for his views of what happened. So, there is indeed PROOF – what you are demanding is a level of proof thats different from the one provided, and if you are going to be consistent, and demand proof at such a high level, you're quickly going to find yourself arguing with almost every historian on the planet about almost every historical contention ever made – and to be consistent would have to doubt every single claim of the Kelly myth-makers as well. But for some people, no proof is ever sufficient if it relates to a cherished belief. What would prevent you from describing a signed receipt for Informing as a police frame up? What would prevent you from claiming a document signed by Red confessing to be a paid police informer as a fake?

    What Ian Jones did was bring all the available evidence together in an attempt to understand why Red Kelly made so little of the fact that he was Transported, something he says an Irishman was usually proud of, as a sign of his willingness to stand against domination by the English. Whats your explanation? Perhaps you should tell us what YOU think happened and provide your PROOF.

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    A paid police informer is in anyone's definition one who informed for a period of time for the police: being on their books, in other words, and receiving regular payments. There isn't any evidence for that in Kelly's case. So that term is inaccurate. I am indeed 'demanding is a level of proof that's different from the one provided' ie. something that actually PROVES statements made as though they were fact. Your quoting of Jones ad then saying it's his problem is merely a masquerade for the cherry-picking of 'facts' that suit your original stance – the antithesis of standard of proof, actually.
    Anything I might THINK happened is speculation but it would have been difficult to pass off animal thieving as blows against the Empire, I would have thought….so a shut mouth might have been the wise option.

    I have no intention of backing up what you refer to as "myth-makers" : I'm making the point that your standard of proof is as poor as theirs. The village of Dualla (the nearest to Ballysheehan) is about eight miles from Moyglass and the Cooney residence is a further two miles from there. Of course, he wouldn't have passed through Dualla but ironically turned off at the junction now known as Quinlan's Cross (you will appreciate the irony of that). Bit of a difference between 4-5 miles and 9-10 miles now: I wouldn't call that "up the road". In fact, I wouldn't call 4-5 miles "up the road"; the impression given by that phrase is of a near neighbour…less than a mile or so away. But up to ten miles?? Unless Ned was a sort of pre-Famine Usain Bolt he wouldn't have done that in an hour – or anything like it.

  6. My intent, in describing Reds theft of two pigs as being "from another struggling peasant up the road" was to make it clear that rather than an act of defiance against foreign colonial powers, or their representatives, it was a domestic local act of theft that demonstrated Red Kellys disinterest in the plight of his fellow countrymen, against whom he also became an informer. No body argues that he wasn't desperately poor, and for that reason stole the pigs. Jones suggests that poverty would also have provided motive to accept payment for informing, and while there appears to be no proof of specific payments, according to Jones sources, there is proof, in the form of Court Records, that he did indeed "Inform" . You seem to be redefining an informer as only being a person who informed "for a period of time" and was "on their books" and received "regular payments" – which would rule out the occasional, casual, paid "in kind" or cash supplier of useful intel to Police, which may have been what Red was, but perhaps you are right – despite being willing to steal from poor people, his principles were such that he would inform on them but not take money for it.

    As for how far exactly "up the road" is, your definition is one of many possible, but I am happy to accept it, and therefore admit that by your definition I was wrong. Red stole pigs, not from a struggling peasant "up the road" but from one 8 or 9 miles away.

    Your point about uncritically accepting and passing on someone else's assertions is fair enough : but its accepted practice to assume that when someone claims something in print they have evidence to support it. The alternative is that everyone has to independently verify every claim made in a work of non-fiction for themselves, which is clearly absurd. What we rely on is the integrity of the author, and this is greatly enhanced by supply of sources references and notes, as Jones does extensively, and which I have looked through carefully. Therefore, it is not cherry picking or a masquerade to defer to his scholarship as my reason for accepting what he asserts as being accurate. Notwithstanding what I regard as Jones occasional lapses, I believe his scholarship is of a very high standard and its why i still prefer his biography over all the others. If you don't have a copy already, you ought to get one, and you will also get to understand why your proposed option of a "shut mouth" doesn't work.

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