Ned Kelly was released from Pentridge Prison in February 1874, having received six months remission off his three year sentence for receiving, yet another fact which contradicts the Kelly claim that the Authorities were out to get them at every opportunity. If they had been, wouldn’t they have come up with an excuse to keep him there the full three years? Another fact which might suggest imprisonment had actually been good for Ned Kelly is the claim by Kelly sympathisers that for the next three years Ned Kelly “went straight”. I cant imagine that for one second the Kelly sympathisers would concede the possibility that Neds Imprisonment might have been instrumental in his rehabilitation, but how else are they going to explain this apparent near miraculous transformation?
On his return Ned found his mother had a new baby fathered by George King, a man Ned Kelly described as “the greatest horse stealer” – along with himself of course; his brother Jim was in prison for stock theft and Dan was later charged with theft of a saddle. Ned also discovered his oldest sister Annie had died after childbirth, and the baby had also died, outcomes which Ned blamed on Earnest Flood, a Policeman who had an affair with 18 year old Annie while her own husband was in prison for – you guessed it – stock theft! It seems odd that a young man with an extensive criminal record of his own would live in such an environment of criminality and yet remain on the right side of the Law, but if the Kelly mythology is to be believed, Ned Kelly “went straight” for the next three years, working at a sawmill and at various other jobs such as fencing, ploughing and shearing. Eventually though, by his own admission in the Jerilderie letter of 1879, Ned returned to the criminal way of life.
McMenomy says about Neds return to a life of crime:
“The reason Kelly left a lucrative and responsible position remains one of the biggest mysteries of his career. After nearly three years of apparently honest work Ned Kelly returned to the life that led him to Gaol six years earlier”
As we shall see, McMenomy was right to describe those years as “apparently” honest, but I woudnt have thought that there was much that was mysterious about the allure of easy money when trying to understand why a young man might prefer crime to the daily grind of working the land. Ned claimed in the Jerilderie Letter that his change of career came about because he had been accused of various stock thefts that he had not committed:
“I began to think they wanted me to give them something to talk about. Therefore I started wholesale and retail cattle and horse stealing”
Blaming others for his decision at the age of 22 to engage in stock theft is at the level of the school kids excuse “The dog ate my homework”. Not only was this excuse pathetic it was almost certainly a lie, and not the kind of behavior one might expect from a future “Icon” and Role Model.
In fact, as Doug Morrissey details in his recent book “Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life”, there is good reason to believe that Ned returned to Stock Theft well before 1877 because in early 1876 Ned and his cousin Tom were formally charged with stealing a mare and foal from farmer Henry Lydeker. He saw the cousins acting “suspiciously” around his horses the evening before they disappeared. Lydeker isn’t mentioned in either Max Browns or John Molonys biographies of Ned, Peter Fitzsimons mentions the incident simply as a charge of horse stealing which was dismissed “thanks to the testimony of several witnesses” and the usually thorough Ian Jones mentions the case but calls it all “a simple misunderstanding”. He writes that Ned and Tom thought the horses belonged to Jack and Jimmy Quinn, and simply returned them to their rightful owners. However, the most superficial scrutiny shows that Jones explanation couldn’t be correct because the horses were never seen again. They had either been sold, or perhaps killed, but with their disappearance the search for evidence was prolonged and it took the Police six months to execute the warrants. By then Lydeker had been given a horse and a calf in compensation by Toms family, and despite being the person who originally laid the charges against Ned, when it finally got to Court Lydeker refused to co-operate with the Police. The witnesses mentioned by Fitzsimons were “Quinn clan associates” and so not unexpectedly the case collapsed.
So while it may be true that for three years Ned Kelly was not convicted of any further criminal acts, its not true to say therefore that he was not engaged in criminal acts and was “going straight”. In fact the idea that he went straight for three years is simply another mistelling of the Kelly story, part of the Mythology of Ned – its not true; he didn’t go straight for three years. This furfy is believed in no small part by modern sympathizers because of the airbrushing and photo-shopping of the truth by almost all Kelly writers, as I have demonstrated above, and as recently as 2013 by Peter Fitzsimons. But this case demonstrates not only the lies that Ned Kelly told, and the willful mistelling of the story by modern writers, it also once again shows the Judiciary functioning in accordance with the Law and fair play, conduct that is completely at odds with Kellys claims then, and sympathizers claims now that the Law was out to get them at any cost.
Another Kelly myth crumbles.
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