Bank Robbery by Human Shield : Not so Brave Ned Kelly

I do apologise most sincereley to the Kelly Fanatics whose day was ruined
by my mis-identification of this building in a previous photo – now deleted – as the Bank. 

One of the lessons Harry Power is supposed to have taught Ned Kelly when he was his “apprentice” was that to survive as a bushranger and outlaw-on-the-run you needed to cultivate and maintain a network of  support within the communities that you moved between. Supporters were often family, and extended family and friends, obviously like-minded people who lived on the fringes of society and had little time for the Law but never-the-less maintainaed an outwardly respectable and legitimate lifestyle but for their own reasons raised no objections to the unlawful activities of the outlaw they would assist from time to time. I imagine they regarded the outlaws victims in some way deserving of their lot, and had no sympathy for them or the Police in their efforts to maintain law and order.  And of course they were pleased to benefit from the outlaws crimes, as he was obliged to pay for their silence and support in cash and kind. It was a mutually beneficial dependency of doubtful ethical quality.

I mention this because in thinking about the next two acts in the criminal history of Ned Kelly, the robbery of the banks at Euroa and Jerilderie, I realized there is a contradiction in the narrative usually spun by the Mythmakers which I hadn’t noticed before. They claim that as outlaws with no legal means of support, Outlawry forced the Kelly Gang to adopt illegal means just to survive.  The contradiction is that Mythmakers also claim Ned Kelly was a master bushman and was skilled in the art of bushcraft which if true would have meant he ought not have needed to rob banks to survive.
I forget where but I have read suggestions that in fact the Gang wasn’t as good at survival in the Bush as the mythmakers would have us believe, and they depended rather heavily on food and supplies being brought out to them by sympathisers.  In truth I imagine the Gang probably could have survived on its wits indefinitely out there, and therefore the reason for the Bank Robberies was not so much to provide for themselves directly  but to obtain cash to keep the Supporters on side. There is most definitely NO evidence that the robberies were “Robin Hood style” undertakings aimed at redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, a myth I exposed in a Post on this topic  last year. Ned Kelly liked to talk about helping the poor but he didn’t ever actually do it himself – he actually robbed and stole and abused them when the opportunity arose. His orders about giving to the poor were hypocritical posturing, talk that he himself never backed up with action. The stolen money only ever turned up in the pockets of family and of supporters.
But what of the robberies themselves?  Most people hearing of Euroa or Jerilderie or Glenrowan imagine that holding an entire town hostage was an original, brave and imaginative innovation from the mind of Ned Kelly, and  some then go on to propose that Ned Kelly would have  been a fine General and a leader of men. In fact most of Ned Kellys exploits were not original ideas of his, but things he had picked up from others. He wasn’t so much an innovator as a quick learner and copy-cat, having adopted the survival lessons taught to him by others, notably Harry Power.  His role model for Bank Robbery was Ben Hall, the Bushranger from New South Wales who seemed to have far better reason for hating the Police than Ned Kelly ever did. He became known as a Gentleman Bushranger, though I expect that much of what was believed about him even then was sentimental mythmaking rather than historical truth. Never-the-less he had a reputation for fairness and became known as “Brave” Ben Hall. This reputation and notoriety was obviously something Ned Kelly admired from a young age.
Perhaps Ben Halls most extraordinary  and most admired exploit was to take an entire town  hostage – the small NSW town of Canowindra. He imprisoned everyone there and passersby, in the Pub for 3 days and created a party atmosphere with food drink and entertainment.  However, no bank was robbed, no shots were fired and it is said that people were given “expenses” money at the conclusion. The local Policeman was not harmed but was made a figure of fun, this humiliation apparently being Halls purpose for the entire event.
Ben Hall was ambushed and killed when Ned Kelly was only 10, but his exploits and anti-police sentiment clearly appealed to certain sectors of society, and theres little doubt,  the life and times of other bushrangers and especially of Ben Hall influenced Ned Kellys  own perceptions, his aspirations and ultimately his methods. Ben Hall was a legend in Ned Kellys lifetime : I think  Ned Kelly wanted to be one too – so wether consciously or not he adopted Bens anti-authoritarian and anti-Police stance as his own, manufactured his own set of  grievances and set off on his doomed criminal path to legend.
Taking an entire town hostage was therefore not an original idea of Ned Kellys but a copy-cat crime. He copied Ben Halls idea of using hostages as an audience to speak his grievances to, to capture and humiliate police, to offer food drink and entertainment to the hostages, and not to harm anyone. Kellys notable embellishment was to then rob the Bank. Strangely these unusual Bank robberies are regarded as bold and defiant acts of a fearless larrikin bushranger, the  acts of a future General, but I have an alternative view to offer : the taking of human hostages and the use of human shields in the form of women and children reflects a distinct lack of the bravery and courage required by the more typical Bank Robber. Rather, Ned Kelly preyed first on the weakest links, ordinary citizens, men women and children,  Policemen in the dead of night, and used them as collateral to ensure the outcome of his robbery, and his own survival. There was nothing admirable or particularly brave in any of this.
Much is made of the fact that these robberies were accomplished without a single shot being fired, the implication being that this was not a crime of violence but a kind of charm offensive, in some way a triumph of persuasion and tact rather than something crude and violent that involved shooting and killing people.  In fact these robberies entailed massive use of intimidation and threats of violence, and as modern psychologists tell us, intimidation and threats of violence, being held hostage and having loaded guns pointed at you by  a gang of known murderers are hugely traumatic and psychologically damaging to the victims.  Anyone in Australia who has seen the accounts on TV provided by survivors of the  recent Lindt Café siege in Sydney, where they were held hostage for most of a day by a lone gunman will know what I mean. The women who spoke up were devastated and terribly damaged by it all.  Heres an example of Ned Kellys violence as told by Peter Fitzsimons :
“In a sudden flash of fury Ned grabs Dudley  by the collar puts his revolver to the old mans temple and says he will blow his brains out if he does not keep quiet.
Its hard enough being an outlaw without taking cheek from a thing like you’ Ned adds morosely.
   Similar treatment is needed for another of the party by the name of Tennant, a proud Scot who refuses to co-operate with these ruffians no matter whom they might threaten.
   Oh, really?
    Roughly grabbing him Ned forces him to open his mouth and then jams the muzzle of his revolver between his teeth. How about co-operation now?
These scenarios were not made up by Peter Fitzsimons – they are taken from  recorded statements given at  Ned Kellys trial, and from a newspaper report of 1878. Threatening an old man with a loaded gun to the side of his head, and forcing a loaded gun into someones mouth are the terrifying acts of a seriously violent  bully, a psychopath. These were entirely innocent  citizens trying to conduct their ordinary lives. Horrifying.
No amount of free food or beer, or trick horse riding or hop-scotch would ever mitigate the terror and fear most of the hostages at these round-ups would have experienced, let alone the two mentioned above. Neither would it have lessened  the post-traumatic stress they would have endured in many cases for years afterwards, at a time when such devastating psychological injuries were not recognized, and help was not available for them. When I mentioned this inevitable outcome on ordinary citizens in an earlier Forum of mine – since deleted by Kelly fanatics – I was dismissed with the claim that country folk back then were much tougher than people are now days, but this is simply not true –  in fact that statement betrays the common misconception about mental illness – that its just about how weak a person is. Mental illness may not have been recognized but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist at that time, as Leo Kennedys recent talk proved. At the  Morrissey book launch  earlier this month he gave graphic account of the mental pain, depression and  suffering Bridget Kennedy endured for many years after her husband Michael was murdered by the Kelly Gang. Make no mistake about it – among the hostages at Euroa and Jerilderie and Glenrowan there would have been many traumatized and damaged survivors who suffered for many years to come, perhaps for the rest of their lives.    No shots needed to be fired as the hostages were terrified and brow beaten into abject submission. Ned Kelly and ignorant modern sympathise think the fact no shots were fired is some sort of positive truth about Euroa and Jerilderie – in fact they are a testimony to the effectiveness of the over-the-top violent and believable threats the Gang made to its hostages- and just because nobody was shot doesn’t mean there weren’t many people injured – the sad truth is that Psychological injury cant be seen, and in those days was barely recognized.
Something else about which much nonsense is spoken of in relation to these hostage dramas are the various complements paid to the Gang and to Ned Kelly personally by a tiny minority of the hostages. Particular mention is always made of a few women who were apparently thrilled and stimulated by the presence of this rugged Outlaw in their midst. As we all know and agree Ned Kelly had a way with words, but he also employed the deliberate tactic of ingratiating himself towards women.  This was of course a deliberately manipulative tactic, and typical of the behavior of a psychopath who without empathy or the least actual concern for anyone but himself, played on womens emotions when it suited him. These infatuated women and a few men were hoodwinked by Ned Kellys good looks and apparent charm, not realizing it was an act and a cynical façade designed to create and sustain the “Gentleman Bushranger”  image Ned Kelly was trying to copy off people like Ben Hall whom  he aspired to emulate.
Kellys deference to women only lasted as long as it was necessary : he readily threated violence if they failed to obey his orders to the letter, and of course he didn’t hesitate to use them as hostages and human shields.  At Jerilderie for example Ian Jones records how to obtain the hostage Constable Devines co-operation he threatened Devines wife and children :
 “ As long as they remain quiet, you and the children will be safe”
The charm offensive obviously worked on Mrs Devine because later she is reported to have said Ned Kelly was “the kindest man I ever met.”  What nonsense! How could she have forgotten that Ned had used her life and the  lives of her own children to blackmail her husband into doing exactly what Ned wanted? A pity she hadn’t been able to go to Victoria and talk to Bridget Kennedy about the gold watch Ned stole from her dead husbands body and refused to return it to her as a keepsake of the loved one he had murdered a few months before! How kind would she then have thought he was? She obviously didn’t witness Kelly outside shoving his revolver down someones throat! Her opinion of Ned Kelly , based on a few hours of  interaction with him, is laughable nonsense. I am reminded of modern day women who are infatuated with terrorists – they are motivated by a weird sexual attraction to violent dominant hyper masculine figures most women with insight would run a mile from. Seems they could be found on the frontiers of North eastern Victoria 135 years ago as well!
In summary, its time to reject the Myth makers claim that these events were something akin to a weekend Picnic at a Fun Park with the Kelly Gang doing tricks, because nowdays we recognize they would have inflicted massive psychological injury on many of the victims. People co-operated and put up only token resistance because of the high level of intimidation and threatened violence, which was not confined to Bank Clerks and Policemen but to ordinary citizens and women and children.  Placing a loaded revolver beside an old mans head, or forcing it between someones teeth  testify to the ultra- violent nature of these hostage taking and bank robbing crimes of the Kelly Gang. The fact no shots were fired and nobody was actually shot, confirms two things : the bullying and intimidation of ordinary people by the Gang was at such a high level, shooting was unnecessary, and secondly, that the hostages behaved very sensibly – they were all very aware of what happened at Stringybark Creek when Ned Kellys orders were not instantly obeyed! No doubt if they decided to take matters into their own hands at Euroa or Jerilderie, shots would have been  fired and more innocent lives would have been taken by the Kelly Gang. The fact this didn’t happen is no thanks to Ned Kelly, but of course he is happy to take credit for it.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are actual recorded personal stories of this sort of post traumatic misery, depression, suicide, alcoholism and relationship difficulties by survivors and family of Kellys hostage taking, Bank robbing and general terrorising of Kelly country. I encourage anyone knowing of any to post a Comment. 

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30 Replies to “Bank Robbery by Human Shield : Not so Brave Ned Kelly”

  1. Dee, you might want to make a slight correction to your photo caption. Bob McGarrigle asked me to tell you that the photo shows the Jerilderie telegraph office. The Bank of NSW that the gang robbed was next door to the Royal Mail Hotel.

  2. Ive never been to Jerilderie so simply took a picture off the Net that claimed to be of the Bank. Good to see Bob is still reading my Blog and keeping me on my toes! Thanks!

  3. That was a 'tour de force' Dee. Thanks.

    I guess the miserable later life of McIntyre and of Ann Jones begin to illustrate the points you are making.

    Doug Morrissey was doing a social history for his PhD but discovered little or nothing about the effects of terror among the records.

    It occurs to me that not all the available records have been investigated. It is entirely possible that individuals claimed compensation for what they had suffered. These records would be in the Private Persons entries for the Chief Secretary's correspondence.

    Come to think of it, there are many unexplored groups of archival records that have never been sussed out.

  4. Enjoying your thoughtful blog a lot!

    You keep on opening up new vistas that the traditional Ned 'history' missed.

  5. As Mark said in a previous comment I am relatively new to the story so I am not and have never claimed in any way to be an expert on the subject. I enjoy thinking about it and presenting my own conclusions for consideration, and I appreciate any contribution aimed at furthering understanding.

  6. Dee, it is very easy to get mislead by photos and info from other sources that might be incorrect. We just like to make sure that no one else is mislead by very gently suggesting corrections and not being vicious or catty about it. 🙂

    In regards to a comment above, back at the now defunct glenrowan1880 site, Dave White had done some research into the compensation claims at the PROV archives.

    Ann Jones made claims to the government for loss of her Inn (and son) and a brewery even made claims for loss of beer casks.

    Others made claims for the loss of their horses at the siege, as well, as of "new effects" that were lost in the Inn fire. The company of Bossen and Piazzi made a compensation claim for both "loss of time" and "loss of horse."

    Not sure if any others besides Mrs Jones made claims for emotional pain and suffering, though.

    We do know that Michael Reardon was given an annual income in compensation for the injury he received and Metcalf's lodging and medical expenses were paid for by the police.

  7. Let's not forget Constable Hugh Bracken who committed suicide near Wallan c1900.

  8. I won't elaborate on your twisted, strained logic, blanket assertions, simplistic reading of evidence, the misrepresentation of views of those you perceive to be opponents and all the invented people in the comments.

    However, I do suggest that you proof-read your writing, or have someone assist you. The ungrammatical sentences, inappropriate capitalisation and American-style spelling of words scream out that your pieces of writing are not to be taken at all seriously.

  9. Thanks but I can do without your advice and your patronising racist snobbery. Go suck up to Brad and the other smart arses on IO and elsewhere.

  10. What does the suicide of Hugh Bracken have to do with anything on this website?

    Its a bit rich of Anonymous to suggest proof-reading! Who can forget his Lonigan "Rapt his lower body around the end of the log" guff?

    It is even richer for him to mention 'all the invented people in the comments' when he uses anonymous comments here all the time.

    How can americanisms, inappropriate capitalisation and ungrammatical sentinces effect the truth or otherwise of comments.

    For heaven's sake Dee, ban this veggie before he drives us all bonkers!

  11. Plenty of sucking up here with your 2 only real regulars 'Dee' in Shazza Sherritt and Dill Benheld.

  12. 'all the invented people in the comments' HA! Well if he only gets one thing right it is definitely that 'Dee'.

  13. This is your sickest thread yet ' Dee '! The bitterness,the jealousy,the hatred is so obvious..and so hilarious.

    You are nothing but a sad twisted shell.

    You are falling apart before us.

    Your so called efforts and truth (yeah right) telling are all for nothing.You are not original.You have never offered anything except for your bizarre and mind blowing hate for Ned Kelly that you even more bizarrely devote so much time to.

    Maybe it is time for a new hobby,like belting butterflies for instance? It would make as much sense doing that as what you are doing here.

  14. Bigger is better says: Reply

    The really frightening thing is that the commenters on IO and NKF are all real people some of whom hate Victoria police, refuse to read new books that expose the mythology of the Kelly legend, and support nutters like the guy with the anti-book FB hatepage.

    On the news today. I heard that the more likes on a hatepage, the bigger the defamation payout.

  15. Is that you ' Dee ' ?

  16. That's a bit sensitive of you, mate.

    My first sentence was a brief critique of your work and the second could actually be taken as helpful advice. By what planetary alignment do you think I am racist? In Australia it has always been the convention to follow British (as opposed to American) spelling and usage. Give it some thought.

  17. There might have been other family or age or health related reasons that contributed to him taking his life. However, I was under the impression that he was very depressed and unhappy with the way that his fellow police had acted towards him post-Glenrowan. Whether or not that was part of the reasoning for his suicide 20 years later is unknown.

  18. Dear "Owen",

    You have mistaken me for another Anonymous. I understand it must be confusing with so many anonymous posts, but Dee has provided it as an option after all. Cheers and beers.

  19. I know I am on the mark when I get this kind of reaction from the fanatics. They only want to read saccharine fairly tales and become hysterical whenever someone points out what Ned Kelly ACTUALLY did. I don’t need a new hobby, I am loving this too much.

  20. A person who has an issue with “blanket assertions” dismisses my writing on the basis that he prefers the Queens English and different grammar! I gave it some thought and I have already provided my response.

  21. Owen, you asked "What does the suicide of Hugh Bracken have to do with anything on this website?"
    Someone had made mention of Bracken and his sad demise in reply to the section of these comments where someone else was talking about people who suffered emotional distress and trauma at the siege of Glenrowan. Hope that helps to clarify things for you.

    I wish that we could have conversations here that evolve and progress without having to stay on one strict topic or having to quantify things. Veering off into other things still related to the Kellys (such as Bracken) could be quite interesting and illuminating.

  22. * Queen's

  23. Nah you are not loving it at all 'Dee' that's why you are trying (and failing) so hard to change people's perceptions of Ned.Your supposed evidence about him and books by Morrisey and others have not offered anything that hasn't been known for years and years.We all know what Ned did and didn't do.You have yet to offer ANYTHING new about him.

    Your tiresome and usual hypocrisy of calling me and others 'fanatics' is where you first went wrong and got offside with people.Assuming people who sympathise with Ned only want to read ' saccharine fairly tales ' about him just shows your arrogance and ignorance.

    Infact I think you should rename your blog here as ' saccharine fairly tales '.

  24. OK got it! 🙂

  25. Please BAN him now, Dee says: Reply

    More timewasting bulldust from the retired old prat who could write everything he knows about Ned Kelly on the back of a postage stamp.

  26. Turn the heater up Dan says: Reply

    The Kelly Gang wasn't the band of hardened bushmen depicted in the pro-Kelly literature.

    They led a splendid, comfortable existence when hiding in the Wombat ranges prior to SBC, and at the Hurdle Creek hut studied by Bill Denheld online and by Ian MacFarlane in his book. MacFarlane mentioned the superior food and grog supplies provided there. He speculated that there were other huts frequented by the gang. Then there were the rugular dinners at the Byrne household highlighted by Ian Jones, and the regular grub and grog apparently supplied by Kate Kelly.

    There's not a lot of bushmanship anywhere in the story that I can find.

    They must hve spent a few nights in the bush surely, but maybe not very many.

  27. Who provided the after-dinner Mints?

  28. While Ned did learn much about bushranging and bushcraft and "survival" from Harry Power, Power himself was, according to Ian Jones, "as bad as ever at finding food. Soon afterwards he took a post boy's cut lunch, and on another occasion, a farmer's wife found that Harry 'had been making free with her bread and butter.'"
    He went on to say that Ned went home after apprenticing under Power "cold, tired, wet, half-starved.." causing Mrs. Kelly to say that Harry was "a brown-paper bushranger who not make tucker either for himself or for his friends." So much for bush survival skills!
    Regarding the provisioning of the gang, let us not forget Maggie Skillion who did a great deal of the cooking and delivery of food. Kate, who did her fair share, seems to always get the lion's share of the credit, though.

  29. When all anyone can be bothered doing is argue about identity it must be time for a new Post. Move along people !

  30. It's not good from any sense this should be stopped bank robberies in the world is increasing day by day due to negligence

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