Ned Kellys first two encounters with the Law ended well for him. The charges relating to his assault and robbery of a Chinaman, and of Highway robbery in company with Harry Power were all dismissed, a result which puts the lie to the modern Kelly myth-makers narrative that the Police and the Judiciary were corrupt and determined to do whatever it took to get the Kellys behind bars.
However, the next time Ned Kelly appeared in Court, less than six months later, he was not so lucky. He was 15 and received a sentence of Three months imprisonment for Violent Assault, and a £10 fine or three months hard labour for Sending an Indecent Letter. There were also sureties totaling £60 to pay.
This is what happened: the owners of a horse accused Ned of having taken it, possibly to help pull a wagon out of the mud. The horse was subsequently returned to the owners, the McCormicks, but there was a verbal altercation between them and Ned who denied taking their horse, a denial he repeated in the Jerilderie Letter. Later that day Ned sent the McCormicks two calves testicles wrapped in a note that, according to Ian Jones suggested Mr McCormick tie these testicles “to his own cock so he might shag her better the next time” This insult was designed to be especially hurtful to the couple as Mrs McCormack was known to be childless. There was absolutely nothing to be gained by doing this – the argument had ended – it was simply provocation from someone looking for a fight.
Naturally, when they were delivered, no doubt as Ned expected, the McCormicks were incensed and returned to angrily confront him. Once again accused of having taken the horse, Ned reacted by punching Mr McCormick in the face :
“my horse…..jumped forward and my fist came into collision with McCormicks nose and cause him to lose his equilibrium and fall prostrate. I tied up my horse to finish the battle but McCormack got up and ran to the Police camp. Constable Hall asked me what the row was about I told him they accused me and Gould of using their horse and I hit him and I would do the same to him if he challenged me” (Jerilderie Letter)
Peter Fitzsimons calls this entire incident “ a grubby adolescent lark” – but it was more than that. It wasn’t just a prank, it was an entirely gratuitous pornographic insult to an infertile woman, and a violent assault on her husband by an ill-mannered youth, a smart arse looking for an excuse to bash someone.
I think its worth pointing out that the victims of his verbal and physical assaults were not squatters or the wealthy or the powerful but simple hawkers, poor people like the Kellys – his own kind. Also worth pointing out, is that according to Keith Mcmenomy, Gould later admitted that Ned had indeed taken the horse. So Ned was a liar.
Well, you might say, he was just a hotheaded youth, and indeed he was. He got caught out telling lies and angrily attacked a man who challenged him. But as an adult 10 years later when he dictated the Jerilderie letter as a mature man has he grown up and developed a more mature view of what happened? The answer is no – in fact in his account in the Jerilderie letter he repeats his lies and there isn’t the slightest hint of remorse, regret, reflection or insight into what happened.
Instead Kellys interest is in excusing himself and blaming others for what happened – it was Goulds idea to send the testicles; Tom Lloyd delivered them not Ned; Mrs McCormick made the horse jump and caused Neds fist collide with Mr McCormicks face; and ten years later he still defiantly repeats his threat to assault the Policeman if he repeated the same accusation. – he still believes that if someone insults you, you should beat him up. This is incredibly immature behavior from a teenager, and not behavior you would expect a 24-year-old adult or someone writing some sort of Manifesto for a higher political ideology to approve of. Neither is a smart arse and bully the kind of character you would uphold as an Icon.
And is there anything about this incident which sounds like Police persecution of an innocent struggling selector? I cant see it.
In keeping with the Kelly fanatics habit of airbrushing out unpalatable truths from the Kelly story, this incident is barely mentioned on the Iron Outlaw version of Ned Kellys life – less than one sentence – and Ian Jones calls it “ a silly squabble”. In fact, when you read what happened and think about Ned Kellys involvement in this “silly squabble” you realize that this episode is important because of the way in which it sheds light on the character of Ned Kelly. It exposes him as a loud mouth and a “smart arse”, a bullying youth who gratuitously involved himself in someone else’s dispute, presumably for the opportunity to show off to his peers, and ended up in gaol at the cost of almost all of his mothers meager savings. This incident also exposes the nonsense that the Kelly Clan looked after its own : in the end Ned and his mother couldn’t afford the last £10 fine, and even though Uncle Jack had just received the reward of £500 for betraying Harry Power, he didnt help them out and Ned served three additional months in Beechworth Gaol.
What a charming story. No wonder Iron Outlaw covered it in only ten words!
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