Glenrowan : Part One : Ned Kellys Little Big Horn.

General Custers disastrous Last Stand at Little Big Horn: 
 almost exactly four years before Ned Kellys equally disastrous Last Stand at Glenrowan
Its often said by Ned Kelly supporters that if Ned Kelly had been a soldier,  being so brave and commanding a person, and so able at planning and co-ordinating such things as attacking Police in the Bush and pulling off Bank Robberies, he would have made a great General.
However as so often happens with Kelly mythology, this claim  disintegrates completely when its examined closely, and nowhere more comprehensively does it break down than in relation to Kellys most famous act, the confrontation with the Police at Glenrowan.  Here, after months of planning and preparation, including the manufacture of  the iconic bullet-proof armour, Ned Kelly envisioned a bloody  and decisive triumph over the Police. Precisely what he planned to do after that is unclear , but in any event whatever it was, it depended entirely on the successful realization  of  his planned outrage at Glenrowan.
The result however was immediate, complete and utter disaster for Ned Kelly. His grand plan failed in every possible way, except perhaps for the killing of Aaron Sherrit – yes, in that he succeeded because as ever he was brilliant at killing innocent people, but in no other way could Glenrowan be called anything other than failure and humiliation : his brother was dead, the other two Gang members were dead, he was captured and within a few months hanged, no additional Police had been killed and his mother remained in Prison.
Some try to rescue from this  debacle a heroic Ned Kelly battling against impossible odds, making a brave Last Stand like General Custer, fighting to the very end against a dark  corrupt and overwhelming force prepared to stop at nothing to bring him down. But this calamity was entirely of Neds making, exposing his strategy and his tactics and planning as badly thought out, weak and blundering and his leadership as inflexible, blinkered and unimaginative.  He trapped himself and his brother and Steve and Joe right there in Ann Jones Inn and when it was obvious, very early on that the Grand Plan was falling apart he lacked the wit and the imagination to do anything other than blunder on with it rather than think his way out, to create a new exit strategy, to change his objective.  I don’t think it was heroic – it was stupidity. Ian Jones called it madness.  In fact, Glenrowan, on June 28th1880 was Ned Kellys Little Big Horn, the place where General Custers faulty strategy and tactics left him and all his men, and his brother, all dead as well, almost exactly four years earlier, June 25th 1876, in Montana.
I looked up the date of Custers last stand because I am not very familiar with the story but I have yet to hear Custer nominated as a great General. Given that Ned Kellys grandest plan, after months and months of planning came to a similarly disastrous and rapid end, I am forced to conclude that people who think Kelly would have been a great General know absolutely nothing about Glenrowan. 
So what went wrong? Well, firstly, the train came a lot later than Kelly had planned for. This meant that he had to keep hostages for much longer than was intended and it gave some of them greater opportunity to escape, or as in the case of hostages like Thomas Curnow, to trick Kelly into letting him go.  Curnow was of course the great hero of the day who stopped the train and saved everyone on board.   

But how can Kelly be blamed for the train not coming on time? It was beyond his control was it not?  Well there are two parts to the answer: the first is that a good General wouldn’t have made his plan so dependant on things he couldn’t control. Secondly, sympathizers love to claim that the delay actually resulted from police cowardice at Sherritts hut, saying that if they hadn’t been so cowardly they would have emerged immediately after Aarons murder and alerted authorities down the line the same evening. Again, a really great Generals Plan wouldn’t have been dependant on Police acting in such a particular way and time frame, but more importantly it was the actions of Joe and Dan, after killing Aaron that actively discouraged the Police from coming out and created the delay. These two assasins hung about for several hours shooting at the doorway, yelling at the Police inside and even attempted to set the house on fire and smoke them out. To say the Police were cowards for not emerging straight away into the dark night, essentially blind– to be shot at the door as Aaron was – is absurd. The Police were protecting themselves from a Gang of known Police killers who had just brutally killed another innocent man. Only an idiot would have put his head out the door. If the Generals killers had done as they were told, killed Aaron and then headed to Glenrowan maybe the train would have arrived a lot earlier, but the delay resulted from the time-wasting intimidation by Dan and Joe – already the Plan was unraveling.
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41 Replies to “Glenrowan : Part One : Ned Kellys Little Big Horn.”

  1. Dee, you might want to fix a slight error. You mention Aaron as being at the Glenrowan Inn when you meant to say Joe.

    Since you mentioned General Custer and the Little Big Horn this might be a good place to alert everyone to an upcoming book written by a man who has written extensively about Custer and the old west. Robert M. Utley (who I am very familiar with due to so many mentions of him in True West Magazine) has a book coming out in November of 2015 called "Wanted: The Outlaw Lives of Billy the Kid and Ned Kelly." Since links don't seem to work here everyone can just google for more info.

    Regarding Dan and Joe hanging around outside the Sherritt hut for hours, they bailed up Anton Wick around 6 PM, Aaron was laying dead around 6:15, and they hung around outside until about 9 PM. That was a good long time to harass and cat call and whatnot, but after they left other sympathizers took over and kept up the harassment for several more hours even being heard around 4 AM only to die out around dawn's light, so it was not just Dan and Joe keeping the police from coming out.

  2. Thanks Sharon, you’re brilliant! And the additional information about Sympathisers harassing the Policemen in Aarons hut until daybreak adds further to my point that it wasn’t Police cowardice, as fanatics like to claim, but indiscipline in the Kelly ranks that created the huge delay that so undermined Neds plan from its very beginning. If he was a General he had very poor command of his troops – to continue that military metaphor! Thanks again for your input.

    And by the way, I wonder if readers who Post or who refuse to Post here for various reasons would please indicate with a short Comment if they would be more or less inclined to do so if I moderated ALL comments, ALL the time. Moderation would slow the discussions down as it would be dependant on me always checking them, but if the quality of discussion was better, then maybe the delays would make it worthwhile.

  3. Another delay was in getting word to Beechworth the morning after. Five different people were asked by the police in Sherritt's hut to take word to Detective Ward in Beechworth, They started asking people around 7 AM and once they agreed to go they always returned to say they could not do it (one of them took an hour and a half before coming back). Finally constable Armstrong went and after commandeering a horse on the way he passed the last person they had asked to go. Word did not reach Beechworth until 1 PM and then a further delay was in trying to raise the telegraph office at Benalla. Hare finally got the word around 2:30 PM and it was another 2 hours until he contacted Standish in Melbourne. And on it goes with the delays that Ned Kelly had no control over.

  4. Another thought that I had was that it was not just sympathizers who thought that the police at Aaron's hut acted cowardly. Even the Royal Commission findings were that the four men were guilty of disobeying orders and gross cowardice. Dee, I know that you don't fully trust the members of the RC board to come to the proper conclusion, but, nonetheless, that is what they found. Now, would I want to stick my head or neck out of a door with such danger lurking? No, not at all! They say to never judge a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins (harkening back to the Little Big Horn allusion).

  5. Thanks Sharon I think thats an important point, and it needs to be discussed. The context in which these Policemen were criticised by the RC as cowards, was an era in history when even 35 years later, in WW1, men deserting the front line out of fear were called cowards and many were executed for the crime of Cowardice. Nowadays we regard this as appalling barbarism, and have no respect for the leaders who ordered men “over the top” into a hail of enemy machine gun fire and certain death, and executed anyone who wouldn’t, and yet thats what they did and tens of thousands of young men died needlessly. In those days it was stupidly regarded as ‘cowardice” to disobey such an order but nowadays such an order would be regarded as madness. It would have been madness, as we surely would all agree, for those Policeman to have emerged any sooner than they did : they would have been killed. Other criticism of Police work by the RC may have been justified – that is another debate – but in this regard, we now can safely say the RC was wrong.

    So, the label of “cowardice” applied to those Policemen at Aarons hut is not one that we should accept today, any more than we should accept that the young men executed for desertion and cowardice in WW1 were cowards who deserved execution.

  6. I am not in favour of having ANY comments moderated.

  7. I am not in favour of having ANY comments moderated.

  8. I agree with Mark, as soon as postings are moderated you end up with a lame duck blog.

    Just let that fellow have his fun, it would be easier to delete postings than to moderate.

  9. Better a lame duck blog than a dead duck one! Oh, well, I usually swim against the tide in most things.

  10. The absence of a death penalty for Australian troops concerned British generals in WWI

    You can read about the slovenly, indisciplined Aussies – God bless 'em all – here:

  11. Paul Osborne says: Reply

    I disagree that the cops in Aaron's house showed cowardice.

    There was no way for them to know whether or not the whole gang of merciless police murderers were outside, and perhaps sympathisers.. The sounds of Dan and Joe trying to set fire to the building must have been terrifying too.

  12. the real CRAIG MATTHEWS says: Reply

    Hey Dee! Thanks a real lot. I'm still enjoying every new blog because of your sharp, cutting and insightful break-throughs. That pompous ass Ned Kelly and his pathetic story has always needed a cold shower, a prefrontal lobotomy and a dose of commonsense. You are providing tons of that!

  13. Shonk Watcher says: Reply

    Who can forget how the anti-book Nut's FB hatepage's "likes" suddenly went from a handful to over 700 after some help from IO.

    The "likes" are still creeping up gradually, but if you hold your mouse over many of the new "likes", the anti-book Nut's name pops up! That's called statistical fraud.

    So far as I know, author Ian MacFarlane has never replied to criticism of his book, or responded to emails from the anti-book Nut. Creepy stuff.

  14. Go on! Google it, there is nothing by MacFarlane about his book anywhere except one early promotion.. That was not just "creepy stuff".It shows that uneducated bullies can endlessly defame the author and his family just because they didn't like the book. I can't think of another example where an author's family have been hated like this. Did they help write the book for god's sake?

    The 'unmasking' has been a gigantic joke written by a retired truck driver.who has managed to unmask absolutely nothing. His guesswork left me gobsmacked. Identifying commenters was always more important than unmasking the book.

    The hate campaign against the book was way over the top. Three years later it is still continuing. In a way it is a huge compliment to the book that the literary bullies are still frothing and cussing years later. Truth hurts a lot.

    I once didn't care about Ned Kelly and his hateful fanatics. Now I do. Eradicate them one and all!

  15. Wake me up if that guy ever provides Part II.

  16. I would consider posting here if you stopped all the talk about fanatics, the constant rants, the highly partisan nature of your blog and the obsession with particular individuals. I am not trying to have a go at you with this Dee, but since you asked, I am pointing out the main reason why I will not post here again.

  17. In my defence Chendru, I should say that I have lately tried to find and use words other than “Fanatic” to describe Kelly sympathisers, and I found it just once in the last three Posts of mine, used when mentioning their removal of my Forums as a tactic to try to silence me. The “individuals” you say I am obsessed with are prominent Kelly sympathisers who on their Blogs and Facebook sites masquerade as experts and spokespersons for the Kelly world, and who have all attacked me at one time or another, so I see them and their writings as legitimate targets for criticism and correction. As for being partisan, indeed I am taking a position that is at odds with the Kelly supporters one, and I am not trying to provide “balance” but an alternative to what I regard as the whitewashed, photo-shopped and sanitised version of the Kelly outbreak that until very recently was the only one being promoted.

    I thank you for your comment and encourage you to rejoin the discussion.

  18. Mark, just click “Publish” once and wait! Theres often a delay when nothing seems to happen and I think that might be when you click it again and repost your comment!

  19. Actually Jock he failed so completely that he gave up trying to Unmask the Book quite a while ago and now he mostly just attacks me, and my Blog because he thinks I am Ian MacFarlane. This year he has only made 7 posts – two on the letters that he announced were “indeed” written by an accountant ( they weren’t ) the latest about an attempt to make a screen adaptation of Peter Careys novel, and four about me and this Blog.

    I am not trying to eradicate these people but to provide alternatives to their nonsense, and expose their tactics and their bullying so that others interested in Kelly history won’t be taken in by them. They think I am trying to change THEM – I am not! I am trying to expose them : and I am succeeding.

  20. I like instant answers Dee.

  21. Oh its happened again! Well I cant explain it then Mark!

  22. Eddie Bates says: Reply

    I've been having a jolly good cackle over at Ned Kelly Forum where that Nut was holding forth in June about SBC and rural police. The woman who is employed by State Libarary Victoria to provide unbiased opinions about Kelly, but is a member of NKF, thanked the Nut for his work:

    "G’day Airi,

    "You’re most welcome. What is the point of doing this research and keeping it to yourself. I was glad for an opportunity to share it, that’s why I went into so much detail".

    His 'research' is terribly derivitive and busily 'borrowed' from the work of real researchers. But he managed to include the body-straps and other furphies to his 'evidence' against police.

    The few remaining NKF members seemed uninterested or oblivious to his labours.

    Me too. What a self-opinionated Dill!

    He claims to be (among other things) a great genealogist. He has endlessly said author Ian MacFarlane is a Kiwi, but has provided not one skerrick of proof over three years. As an armchair researcher who relies on Trove and Google online, he is the pitts.

    Tip: The 2012 Weekly Times interview with MacFarlane told the whole story. You couldn't be bothered getting up off your fat butt to get a copy, you lazy fraud.

  23. Shonk Watcher says: Reply

    I read that interview. Are you sure it was Weekly Times?

    That Nut is a goddamned pest.

    Don't allow any more of his posts. He has still not contibuted ANYTHING here, let alone his Lonigan Part II.

    A laughable idiot.

  24. Thanks for nothing says: Reply

    He's been struggling for years to solve SBC singlehandedly . Utter, painful idiocy. Go and check your Kelly fridge magnets!

  25. How about some discussion on the topic of Glenrowan? That guy wrecked his credibility long ago, so I am just hanging him out to dry with my daily update of the long wait for his "Part Two". The fun part will be when he starts making up excuses about why it hasn’t been produced…but I would like to see more discussion on here about the Post rather than make an idiot the centre of atention.

  26. Another copyright breach of NKF's intellectual property. Dee your giving them ammo to destroy this blog.

  27. Not at all! Expressing a personal opinion about something in the Pubic domain, and quoting from it isn’t a breach of Copyright. Read what I wrote in a Post in January:

    "Lastly, the Key Master clearly doesn’t understand “Copyright”, if he writes nonsense like this “No doubt it will comment on this post on its Blog and if so a complaint will be made as it doesn’t have permission to.”

    He needs to better inform himself and his Members in regard to Copyright, because his example is leading them to post things like this “I don’t recall giving permission to show my statement on Dees website” .

    The reality is this : copyright does not mean you can deny the right of anyone else to comment on, critique or make fun of your material, or from referring to it directly or quoting small parts of it. – permission is not needed for that. What permission needs to be obtained for is use of the entire work, or substantial parts of it, particularly for commercial use . For more information go to"

  28. Smart Alec says: Reply

    The Ned Kelly Forum FB page says NKF is a public forum. End of story.

    The other glaring mistake in the Nut's ponifications is the allegation that sen const Strahan had threatened to shoot Ned Kelly: If the Nut had read the MacFarlane book properly (that he was trying hard to 'unmask') he would have seen this on page 152:

    "Gaunson’s legal theatrics for Ned continued on 9 November [1880] when he led a large deputation to meet with Chief Secretary Graham Berry. As reported in The Argus of 10 November on page 6, Gaunson produced Patrick Quinn (one of Ned’s uncles), who was willing to sign an affidavit then and there. In it Quinn alleged that Senior Constable Strahan in 1878 had threatened to shoot Ned ‘down like a dog’ just two days before Stringybark Creek. These belated ‘new facts’ did not appeal to Berry, who noted the affidait still had not been signed when the meeting ended"

    So there we have it. No formal complaint or action was taken on Strahan's supposed words, but the Kelly buffs still treat it as gospel..

  29. Coco Nut (not related to NKF Nut) says: Reply

    There isn't anything remotely ''intellectual' or interesting on the Ned Kelly Forum – just guesswork, gossip and blethering.

  30. Part II is like Waiting for Godot who never arrived.

    I will retain the Part I image of Lonigan scuttling up the log with his thighs exposed. Unlikely, maybe impossible, but that showed slight ingenuity!

  31. Lee Carrroll says: Reply

    Glenrowan – there is no proof that Glenrowan was a precursor to the modern theory that the gang intended raiding banks afterwards in Benalla as part of a republican revolution..

    By then, the planned mass-killing of police by disrailing their train had failed. The sympathiser army, imagined by Ian Jones, hadn't materialised. It had all turned to mush.

    It was a epic fail where the gang got surrounded in the Jones' Inn, their horses shot, and themselves wounded and killed.

    The generalship by Ned was woeful. He was outfoxed by Const Bracken, hoodwinked by Tom Curnow.and, eventually, the hostages just walked out of the Inn.

    Ned was captured, tried, convicted and executed.

    What a huge cock-up!

    Ned wasn't even a corporal's breakfast.

  32. In regards to the proposed Benalla bank robbery being a modern theory, here are a couple of quotes from the Argus of July 2 & 3, 1880 courtesy of TROVE. Of course, even if they had planned a robbery, it may not have had anything to do with the alleged Republic.

    "From what has transpired, it appears.that the Kelly gang fully intended to make a raid on one of the banks in Benalla had their plan succeeded in upsetting the railway train. When Ned Kelly was asked whether he intended to rob the Colonial Bank at Benalla, he said, '' Oh no ; Brock, the manager, is a decent sort of cove ; we wouldn't harm him. We should have stuck-up the other bank though." The other bank that narrowly escaped a visit from the Kelly gang is the Bank of New South Wales."

    "Ned Kelly stated that it was the intention of the gang, after destroying the black trackers and the police, to proceed to Benalla, and blow up the police camp and a bank. This was put down at first as mere " blow," but a discovery has been made which shows that the outlaws were in real earnest. During Thursday, Mr. Stanistreet, the stationmaster at Glenrowan, found an oilcan containing 45lb. of blasting powder, concealed behind a log in the vicinity of M'Donnells Hotel. The can was taken possession of by Senior-constable Kelly this morning, but still lies at Glen- rowan until the magazine-waggon is sent to bring it down. Previous to this a quantity of fuse was found in swags carried by the pack-horses left by the gang at M'Donnell's Hotel. "

  33. Lee Carrroll says: Reply

    Thanks Sharon. I suppose the suppositions of newspaper reporters should be considered even if they soon became 'facts' in the story although only suppositions.

    I have always interpreted the blasting powder and fuses as intended to blow up the rails at Glenrowan. They weren't needed because Ned 'persuaded' a rail gang to remove the rails. You say the powder and fuses were intended for bank robberies at Benalla even though the modus operandi of the gang was to take hostages and not to blast them.

    So far as I know, the gang said nothing about their intentions after Glenrowan except to hunt down the New Zealand criminal and turncoat Sullivan.

  34. MacFarlane in his kelly Gang Unmasked book made the point that the hostage-taking at Euroa, Jerilderie and Glenrowan were all extended, botched failures and not the msterpieces of planning as purveyed in the Kelly literature. There was far too much chattering, showing off on horses, sports, dancing, drinking, singing. These episodes became caricatures of what bank robberies, and whatever Glenrowan was about, were supposed to be,

    Great folklore though.

  35. We're loving The Ashes and reminiscing with a few sherbets about how we clobbered that Nut day-after-day for years on Forumjar.

    It was a massive waste of our time in the end, and we would have been a lot smarter to avoid anything to do with him.

  36. Real Aussie (sporting) heros Smith and Rogers. Ned and the Nut = duds and bludgers.

  37. We were entitled to our discussion page about The Kelly Gang Unmasked book before that nut muscled in and started a years-long vendetta and hate campaign against the book, its author, his family, grandchildren and supporters.

    He was the craziest madman I've ever met.

    Luckily the cricket seems to be going for us this time.

  38. No, I didn't say that the powder and fuses were for the robbery, I was just quoting the Argus and what the reporters said or assumed and ran with. Even Ian Jones said they were going to blow up the railway line. Then, as now, in a rush to get the news out first, many reporters get it somewhat wrong.

  39. The great General says: Reply

    The deep divisions inside the Kelly gang became apparent at Glenrowan. After being captured, Ned refused to send a message to Dan and Steve to surrender. Kelly "expressed himself to the effect that his best and most trustworthy comrade was no more, and the other two (Hart and Dan) were cowards; and therefore he would leave them to their fate". And "he also said, they were too cowardly to shoot themselves".

    No wonder that Glenrowan, whatever the plan, was such a farce.

  40. Central Army Records Office says: Reply

    Custer can't be nominated as a great General. He was a colonel commanding a cavalry regiment.

    Psst. The total pageviews have disappeared!

  41. Custer was a general during the American Civil War and people probably always thought of him as such. He also had finished last in his class at West Point military academy.

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