Glenrowan : Part Two : “this bloody armour”

In Part One I argued that the abject and humiliating failure of Ned Kellys grand plan for Glenrowan proved that he would  never have made a great General in an Army, as Kelly mythmakers like to claim.  In fact Glenrowan was Ned Kellys Little Big Horn, a place where, like General Custers Last Stand at Little Big Horn Ned Kellys last stand resulted in the total destruction of the gang and their deaths at a tragically young age, and all without achieving a single one of their objectives. A total failure of strategy and tactics in the planning, and a fatally rigid and maladaptive response to what actually unfolded on the Battle scene are not the hallmarks of a great General. It would be truer to say they are the hallmarks of overconfidence, perhaps of a delusional fixation on armour as a total solution, of a desire for revenge that clouded all better judgment and a lack of imagination and of an ability to focus on the detail.
Ned Kellys plan went wrong right from the very first Act, the killing of Aaron Sherritt.  Kelly correctly guessed that on hearing of his murder by the Kelly Gang, the Police would rush from Melbourne in a special train, so his plan was to set a trap for them at Glenrowan. What Kelly forgot to do was ensure the news of Aarons murder got back to Police HQ quickly, by having Aarons killers and Kelly sympathisers abandon Aarons hut once he had been shot, leaving the Police in the hut free to get to nearby Beechworth and break the news. Instead the killers remained outside for a couple of hours daring the Police to come out, which sensibly they didnt do. After they departed, sympathisers continued the harassment and only when they left at dawn did the Police finally emerge.  Little did Joe and Dan and the sympathizers realize, but their time-wasting indulgent taunts and  sneering intimidation of the Police in Aarons hut had just doomed the whole of the rest of the plan to failure.
The news didn’t reach Melbourne till that afternoon, some 20 or more hours after Aaron had been killed, and it was another 15 or so before the train finally reached Glenrowan, a full day later than Neds plan had demanded.  During this long wait, to prevent news escaping of what lay in store for the Police train, the gang were forced to take hostage just about everyone in the town. However,  the prolonged delay provided sufficient time for some of the hostages to plan and execute an escape and for  Thomas Curnow to successfully trick Ned into letting him go, not realizing that Curnow had learned of the Gangs plan and was determined to thwart it. Curnow stopped the train before it reached the broken track and saved everyone on board. The Police then surrounded the Inn where the Gang was, and essentially, apart from a lot of shooting it was Game Over!
But failing to ensure the news quickly reached Melbourne wasn’t the only blunder that Ned Kelly made in his Grand Plan. For a start,  while Aaron was being killed,  Ned Kelly and Steve Hart were supposed to be secretly ripping up a section of railway track in the dark at Glenrowan, but having brought with them neither the  skills nor the tools to do the job”  (Peter Fitzsimons words) they found it impossible. Suddenly this crucial element of Neds plan, so poorly thought through, was in jeopardy; their only hope was to abandon the plan to do it secretly and force someone else to do it. So they woke at gunpoint six railway workers they expected would be able to do the work for them : wrong again – they were gravel carriers. Next Ned woke the Stationmaster and his entire family, thinking Stanistreet the Stationmaster would know what to do : wrong yet again! Finally, at gunpoint, Ned forced the Stationmaster  to take them to two platelayers who lived further down the line and at last Kelly had the line ripped up. But now, the secret was out and he had 14 hostages to deal with. And as the day wore on the number kept increasing.The whole thing was descending into chaos.
And then there was the Armour! Famous, iconic and terrifying as it looks, the armour, Ned Kellys singular innovation, and the thing that he is most famous for proved to be useless in the field. Ned wanted to attack but with the armour on all the Gang could do was defend. Ned Kelly ignored Joe Byrnes complaint  that “this bloody armour will bring us to grief” – but Joe was right.
The armour was a failure, not least because for some inexplicable reason its design left the wearers legs exposed. But it was also incredibly heavy and cumbersome, it restricted not just the wearers ability to move but to see and to hear, and the bolts and sharp edges on the inside of the helmet cut into the face and nose every time a bullet hit it and sent it lurching back against the wearers head. So, as Ned staggered about in it confronting the Police cordon alone in the early morning, and already wounded in the arm and leg, not even one of his shots found its mark. Not one! Joe was killed by a bullet that went between the plates, and once it was realized that under his coat Ned Kellys legs were vulnerable, it was only a matter of minutes before he was brought down too. Under his helmet the skull cap he wore to protect his head from the helmet was soaked in blood.

If you believe the stories, there was a gathering of Sympathisers waiting in the dark beyond police lines, many more sympathisers than Police, who could have been quite quickly overwhelmed if the Sympathisers had acted soon enough. Two signal rockets were let off for reasons nobody seems to be sure of, but nothing changed as a result, the sympathiser participation failed to materialise, and yet another component of Neds  grand plan failed before it had even begun…. Ian MacFarlane reasonably proposes that the numbers have been greatly exaggerated, and these shadowy figures may just have been “rubber neckers” ….we will never know.

Fortunately for the dozens on the train, and the horses, Ned Kellys plan for Glenrowan failed completely, but not before two more innocent lives had been taken. John Jones and Martin Cherry, two of the Kelly Gangs 63 human shields at the Ann Jones Inn were killed by Police crossfire in the dark of the night. Modern day Kelly Sympathisers, forever looking for reasons to attack the Police, claim the Police are to blame for these deaths and relentlessly excoriate the Police for them. However I reject this view completely –  the fault and the responsibility for these two deaths lies fairly and squarely on Ned Kellys shoulders because he was the one who masterminded the entire debacle.  It was Ned Kelly who imprisoned these innocent people at Gunpoint in a flimsy building that offered them almost no protection- while he himself was encased in armour. It was Ned Kelly who chose  NOT to surrender and let them all go at the very beginning when challenged, but instead commenced a furious gun battle with Police. It was Ned Kelly who commenced a furious gun battle with Police even though by then his Grand Plan was almost completely undone – there was no train crash, no Police slaughter, no Sympathiser support, only the prospect of either capture or death.  At that point Kelly KNEW Johnny Jones and Martin Cherry and all the others were in the Inn behind him, he KNEW the risk that he was taking with their lives, that innocent people could be killed – but that didnt concern him. The concern he huffed and puffed about in the Jerilderie Letter for the “suffering innocents” is here revealed as hypocrisy – his quest was for revenge at any cost. All he wanted to do, realising that he was going to go down was take as many of the bastards with him and to hell with the collateral damage. To hell with John Jones and Martin Cherry. 

In contrast, the Police at that moment, in the dead of night did NOT know exactly who was in the Inn, whether there were many or a few people there, if they were sympathisers or hostages and if they were protected or not. I am not attempting to say the Police were exemplary in every way at Glenrowan – they were not –  but to claim the Police were responsible for the deaths of two innocent hostages at Glenrowan is quite wrong. Did Ned Kelly think that by imprisoning innocent men women and children as human shields, the Gang was going to be able to stand there in armour, shoot at the Police and not receive fire in return? This was yet another Kelly miscalculation that had tragic consequences, this time for young Johnny Jones and Martin Cherry.

Glenrowan was a massive criminal debacle from start to finish. And it was all of Ned Kellys making. 
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14 Replies to “Glenrowan : Part Two : “this bloody armour””

  1. Don't forget to mention that Ned Kelly told everyone that they could leave and go home since he figured that the police train was not coming because it was so late, but the Inn's landlady,. Mrs. Jones, allegedly told everyone that they must stay and listen to Ned give a lecture! In the midst of said lecture the train whistle was heard and the siege was about to begin. One can only wonder what would have happened if the townsfolk had been allowed to go when Ned said they could. Would some have gone straight home or would some have milled about the yard or the Inn chatting away like people do. Would the police or the Kellys have dared fired with civilians standing all around or would there have been more casualties? Also, don't forget that during the siege the "prisoners" in the Inn were again told by Dan Kelly that they were free to go but that they would probably be shot by the police if they attempted it. Remember how a white flag of truce that one of the prisoners put out the door promptly was fired upon? Not forgetting the firing on of the ones who actually tried to reach safety. Seems that the police made them prisoners in the Inn after a certain point. Still, I suppose it would be said in reply to all this that no one would have been in harm's way if not for Ned

  2. Again, thanks for your input Sharon, as usual its right on the money. I think these details remind everyone of something about the Kelly story which is part of its fascination for everyone : the entire saga is really an awful tragedy from start to finish, but at so many places we can all see a moment where we all think “If only instead this had happened or that hadn’t happened, or a different decision had been made at that crucial moment…it would have all turned out differently, and perhaps happily for everyone instead of the sad way it did” And this applies equally to all sides of the story.

  3. Remember that time when someone had stolen Ned Kelly's horse? Ned looked around at the lingerers on the verandah and said, "I'm going back to the bar. If that horse isn't back at that rail when I come out, what happened at Jerilderie is going to happen right here . . . right now!" Ned came out of the bar ten minutes later. Sure enough, the horse had been returned. No-one said anything. Ned mounted his horse and was about to ride off when up ran the local idiot. "Mr Kelly! Mr Kelly!" He cried out. "What happened at Jerilderie?" "I had to bloody well walk home," replied Ned.

  4. John Hardy says: Reply

    Carrying on Sharon's thoughts, Ned hadn't needed to be home when Fitzpatrick called; or at Stringybark Creek; or at the bank robberies; or at Glenrowan. All were choices he made. All were bad choices.

    Ned reminds me of that comic-book Nut with the anti-book FB hatepage who, with appalling pompous arrogance calls himself "Ned Kelly" and uses the stolen State Library photo of Ned with coiffed hair the day before he was executed.

    Dee, don't hold your breath waiting for Part II. He is always short on facts because he can't 'get' the Ned legend.

  5. Missing Persons Unit says: Reply

    Talking about crackpots, whatever happened to Pooflower who has vanished completely?

    (I think she was just another of the many fake personas used by the Nut).

  6. I may well be wrong, but I think Ned said the armour had no leg protection because they would be firing from windows. But if this was the case, the gang's appearance on the veranda to confront police belied this. As well, Ned chose to wander around outside the Glenrowan Inn when he was shot in the legs, brouught down and captured. So the shortness of the armour was a major, disastrous mistake.

  7. Dee, I think you are the first to talk of human shields in relation to the hostages at Euroa, Jerilderie and Glenrowan. In the Kelly literature, this is always downplayed as happenstance and as a sub-plot to the posturing and antics of the gang.

    As you say, when used as human shields, victims who were shot – whatever the circumstances – were victims of Kelly negligence. So far, there is little evidence that those hostages suffered trauma later. maybe more research will discover some.

  8. Even in their choices of hostage-taking places, the Gang headed for centres wellknown to them and not towns where residents were less familiar with them.

    Jarilderie was where stolen horses had often been unloaded. Glenrowan was where the Greta mob caroused.

    Not very adventurous were they?

  9. Thanks Johno and Con. I had been wondering if they wanted to rob banks , why didnt they do it in the time honoured way of simply pulling a bandana up to hide their faces, riding up to the Bank, “sticking them up” and then in a few minutes galloping off into the sunset??
    Why the need to take so many hostages, to bully and berate and terrify many of them? I concluded that they wanted to eliminate all risk to themselves as far as possible, by capturing police, scoping out the town and holding hostages as collateral should something get out of hand. I suspect part of the motivation was also a desire to impress everyone with their daring, and also to humiliate the authorities with a display designed to show the Gang could do whatever it pleased wherever and whenever it wanted to. There was also Ned Kellys desire to sell his story, but even that didnt require the charade that took place at Jerilderie. Sympathisers could have handed the letter in at a dozen different places.

    Their next exploit after Jerilderie showed the Gang had come to believe its own PR and arrogantly believed they could act with impunity, but Glenrowan was carelessly planned and a shambles in the execution.

  10. Dee is not the first to ever bring up about the "human shields" at Glenrowan (I checked the first page of results from google and some as far back as 2009/2010 were using the term) but she is the one who is most emphatic and who has used the term in several postings.

    When I think of human shields I think of people using them to hide behind to protect themselves from getting shot or bombed. But with the gang when they took hostages it seems to me that it was to make sure that no one went for help or contacted traps or let the cat out of the proverbial bag. (Ned letting Curnow go home was a major mistake and was his undoing) At the siege the gang initially went out on the verandah to engage the police, they did not have the prisoner's literally in front of them like we see modern day bank robbers do with hostages when facing cops. Remember the original (and heinous) plan was to wreck the train and then go out and mop up the survivors and the prisoners in the Inn would not have been in any danger if that had occurred. So, saying that Ned Kelly intended to use them as human shields is not quite with that line of thinking. The fact that they were in the Inn after the failed wreck and that police fired upon the place might make them human shields, as Johnno says they were victims of Kelly negligence, but it was clearly not Ned's original intention.

  11. I first remember the term “Human Shields” in relation to protestors who went to Baghdad, deliberately putting themselves in harms way to try to discourage imminent US attacks and the start of the second Gulf War ( and lets not open THAT massive can of worms!) I agree that Ned Kellys original plan at Glenrowan probably didnt involve hostage taking, but it was definitely part of the plan at Euroa and Jerilderie and calling them human shields fits with the idea that retaliatory attacks may be discouraged by having innocent people in harms way. I think using a modern term like "human shields” makes it easier to appreciate the mad reality of what was happening there. But did Ann Jones REALLY call everyone back to the Inn or is that just another Kelly myth designed to get Ned off the hook?

  12. Iron Outlaw recently dismissed a readers inquiry about John Monash holding Neds horse at Jerilderie, calling it “ just another old wives tale” even though Monash himself was adamant that he did. No-one else on that site has disputed the claim that it was an old wives tale but I have read that it probably DID happen, not at the time of the Bank Robbery but when Ned Kelly was there selling stolen horses. John Monash’s memory was not perfect, because its clear he was away at boarding school at the time of the Bank Holdup. an interesting illustration of how memories become modified and intermingled with other things over time.

  13. I remember reading in one of my many cat books how the ancient Persians put live cats on their shields so that the Egyptian soldiers would not dare attack them. Folks have been shielding themselves (or others) from harm in one form or other for eons I suppose.

    Regarding Mrs. Jones and the lecture, It is a case of "he said, she said." Mrs Jones was adamant that she did not tell the prisoners in the Inn to wait for Ned to give the lecture even though several of the other prisoners swore she did. All of this is in the Jones Inquiry Board papers and can be chased up at leisure by those who would like to read it.

  14. Anonymous says: Reply

    Seems to me that one of the important aspects of the Glenrowan siege has been constantly glossed over by Kelly supporters and that is the plan to derail the special police train. Had this been successful Kelly had apparently intended to kill any survivors. What the supporters either seem to have forgotten, or have chosen to deliberately ignore, is that the train not only carried police but other 'innocent' civilian passengers and crew. These included a number of journalists and at least, as I recall, 1 doctor. Why is there silence attached to this potential massacre of the innocents by the Kelly sycophants? The vision of this calamity would not have painted Ned in a very heroic light.

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