Book Review : Ned – Knight in Aussie Armour

Peter Newman said he would be buying Eugenie Navarre’s book and would post a review, so here it is:

First of all Dee, you are going to hate this book. It is pro-Kelly for sure, with much of the ‘factual’ content being attributed to discussions with Kelly researchers like Gary Dean. The author says she is seeking to set the record straight by breaking a 136 year long silence to reveal the TRUTH. To this end, Ned is presented as an activist and reformer, whose dream of freedom from oppression and a ‘fair go’ saw him take up arms, with many sympathisers armed and ready to support the Glenrowan uprising. You get the idea!

The book is full of factual errors, which will be immediately obvious to those who know the Kelly story, but which will mislead those who don’t. The author also often jumps to conclusions about things. For instance, she said the authorities prevented publication of a pro-Kelly book until 50 years after Ned’s death, whereas perhaps the explanation for this was simply that it took someone (presumably she means Kenneally) that long to write it. Similarly,just because the bodies of Dan and Steve were never formally identified is not proof that they didn’t die in the fire.

There is also new information in the book that I have never heard before, but which is not referenced. For instance, it is news to me that Joe was the grandson of an Irish political activist who was transported as a convict. Where is the evidence for this? And is it true that he carried a bible at Glenrowan, as I don’t recall ever hearing that before.

There is also a tendency to justify Ned’s actions. For instance, Ned’s horse thieving venture is justified as a reaction to the police stealing horses including from Ned himself. And that having been outlawed for a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit, he needed guns and ammunition to protect his bush hideout at SBC and was therefore forced into a situation which resulted in the massacre of the police. Oh yes, she also adds here that the police were carrying body straps.

The reason for many of the inaccuracies and wrong assumptions may be due to Eugenie being over- reliant on the views of a relatively small number of Kelly researchers who happen to have a pro-Kelly position. But then again, this is a book that attempts to present the “untold generational stories that have been passed down through Kelly sympathiser families”, which means it is always going to be pro- Kelly. These stories and anecdotes are from many families who supported the Kelly Gang, including the Mc Guffie and Moore families in the Buffalo River Valley, the Woodyard family of Gentle Annie, the Barter family of Cheshunt, the Gambold family, the Limson family, and the Shanley family of Boggy Creek Road (Moyhu). Eugenie says there were hundreds of other families who were also supporters, but doesn’t include a list of who these families were.

Keep in mind that after Glenrowan, there was good reason for the forebears of these families to have kept quiet about what they knew and about any assistance they may have given the Gang. The stories had to be handed down orally, and there is undoubtedly a tendency for error to have crept in. However as I said in that post I put up about Edna Cargill, oral history is important and you have to be careful not to be to dismissive of it.

The stories that Eugenie has documented include:

  • A suggestion (from Paul Gambold) that the reason for the Euroa bank raid was to provide struggling farmers between Moyhu and Glenrowan with funds to meet bank payments which were due by Xmas 1878, with those farmers likely to have lost their farms if those payments had not been met.
  • That Glenrowan was a highly organised, but well concealed activist cause, with strong indications of a grand plan for a separate state or republic of NE Victoria.
  • Recollections of the Nolan family about how Michael Nolan had accompanied Maggie Skillion (Ned’s sister) and Tom Lloyd (her cousin and later husband) to Melbourne to purchase
    ammunition two weeks before the Glenrowan siege.
  • A quite common belief that Dan and Steve escaped Glenrowan, with the descendants of numerous sympathiser families believing this to be the case, including the Holihans, Walkers;
    Delanys, Dwyers, Pendergasts, Mack, Shultz, Kaufmanns, the Ryans, Tootells, and Nolan family.
  • A detailed account which was told to Gary Dean by sympathiser descendent Irene Klingsporn (nee Reardon) of how Dan and Steve were escorted away from Glenrowan by John and Michael Reardon and their brother-in-law John Byrne.  That they were taken to Greta and then towards the hut at Bullock Creek, then on to the Kelly mine before heading to Goulburn where both supposedly had relatives. 
  • Reference to Ned Kelly talking with sympathisers on Mount Morgan just prior to his last stand.
  • That Ned Kelly was a member of the Greta branch of the Whiteboys, an Irish agrarian organisation which had its roots in Irish suppression (this is another Gary Dean revelation). The author says she was told there were 120 members of the Buckland branch of the Whiteboys armed and ready to help out if called upon at Glenrowan.
  • Suggestions that perhaps Father Gibney (who ran into the burning hotel) had sympathy for the cause.
  • Numerous recollections regarding the making of armour at various places, which to my reading suggests there were more than four suits. In fact, there is specific reference to a fifth set of armour that belonged to Alexander Gunn (Ned’s brother-in-law), and to this set of armour having been seen and handled by Darren Sutton (the guy who believes he has found the offcuts of Joe’s armour).
  • Threats being made by police to several Glenrowan hostages to keep quiet about the police conduct during the siege.
What do I think of all this? Well I have always been open to alternate viewpoints, although have lately probably swung more to the Morrisey and MacFarlane viewpoints. But obviously for the gang to have stayed at large for as long as they did, they had to have had extensive support networks. And if Glenrowan was meant to have been the start of an insurrection then there was good reason for the people involved and others who had assisted the Kellys to lay low and keep quiet. Keep in mind that many selectors were semi-illiterate and that would also account for the lack of documented evidence. Oral history is therefore important and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

To conclude, Eugenie’s book is obviously pro-Kelly and is full of errors and assumptions. But I think she has made a worthwhile contribution and would recommend it to anyone interested in this period of Victoria’s history. 
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12 Replies to “Book Review : Ned – Knight in Aussie Armour”

  1. In Ian Jones's "The Fatal Friendship" he details about Joe Byrne's grandfather being "an Irish rebel transported to Australia for life." Also, Corfield touches on this, presumably with the aforementioned as source.
    Joe didn't have a Bible with him at Glenrowan, instead it was a Catholic prayer book according to Jones who sourced it from the newspapers of the day.

  2. Inquisitive says: Reply

    Thanks for the review Peter, it sounds like an interesting book. It is interesting some people think Dan and Steve escaped and went back to Bullock Creek and then to the Kelly mine. I haven't heard of the Kelly mine before. Can you tell me where that is and what is there now.

  3. Regarding the alleged suggestions that Father (later Bishop) Gibney had sympathy for the cause, just what were those suggestions? Were they backed up with anything concrete other than him being a fellow Irishman?

    Gibney was quoted in Sir John Kirwan's autobiography as saying of the Kellys – "They were a wild, reckless, lawless lot, and the wonder is they had so many sympathisers even amongst those who ought to have known better."

    He went on to say a few more choice things, but the gist was that he disapproved heartily.

    I feel, or would like to think, that Gibney was more than likely only concerned with the saving of their souls, not with their political leanings.

  4. Interesting book review Peter, now I will have to get a copy.

    Inquisitive, we all are.
    Peter and I have been to the area as described by a person in the know, but as Peter says there is little knowledge in Kelly literature of gold mine the Kellys stayed in, dug or worked. So, it may just be one of those Fairy Tales that gets lots of attention but never any conclusion.

    Sometime during 2003, Matt Shore first alerted me of this Kelly mine. It was discussed on KC2000 forum – he went there and even had a video. Perhaps Matt can join us on our next trip of exploration there, so we can prove or dispel this rumour that was supposed even to have the body of a dead policeman buried in the mine shaft associated with the Kellys. Now that would be a story!

  5. Peter Newman says: Reply

    The supposed mine is not the cave at Wild Dog Rocks near Mt Strathbogie that James Winter told the authorities about. My understanding is that the mine (if it really exists) is near a timber tramline track constructed by loggers at a later time on the eastern flanks of Mt Samaria (and therefore much closer to Stringybark Creek). I have tried to find it including with Bill Denheld, but the area is quite rugged with a lot of dense tree cover. We managed to narrow down the search area, but have now put the search on hold in the hope that someone in the know might tell us some more. I have my doubts about whether it really exists, particularly given I have never seen any reference to a mine in early Kelly literature. Maybe Gary Dean or one of Eugenie's sources can tell us more.

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    Dee, let me start off by saying that if you do decide to add this post I’m sorry as I’m going off topic! And I don’t know where I would be allowed to say this otherwise… But ….WHAT in the world has the NKC done today?… this post on the Facebook page has to be the most immature, pathetic attempt at a show of support I have ever seen!

    I quote:
    ‘hands up who supports the Ned Kelly Centre!”

    Now look I don’t know about anyone else but this was the point I started having flash backs from primary school!

    SORRY before I go on due to the attitude of some people that will no doubt read this can I just put in a slight self-defence before I even finish (ya know, cause that’s what most people that don’t usually comment on other sites think they need to do out of fear of big scary men rocking up at their door, WELL at least that’s the impression “they” give people isn’t!) it is not my intention to put down anyone by making this comment so if that’s how’s it's taken, that’s how you read text and that’s for you to deal with NOT ME! Work yourself into a state if you feel that your blood pressure can handle it, I shall sleep like a baby tonight despite all comments – but that’s not why I’m here.

    I have one question for whoever it was that made that post: what school is this and which year group or school house are you representing? This maybe harsh but you know what, I’m sure as hell not sorry! Are they trying to be taken seriously or are they trying to look pathetic?
    Then just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, THERE THEY WERE! Green hands! Are you kidding me!!! If you truly have 101 family members to support you, then I say to you all! In a way your guaranteed to understand… Come out, come out where ever you are! Stop hiding behind your Facebook pages, and your media statements and show yourselves! Stop using the general public every time it suits you! Cause that’s what you’re doing… YOUR USING PEOPLE! With absolutely no proof! You blur their names WHY? It shows nothing! Not support! For all we know you have scribbled down on a few hands and thrown them in your garden! You have proved nothing! It is a childish attempt at only god knows what, and the only thing I can guess is that you feel a little defeated, it’s not really going off like fireworks is it? But I bet you thought it would didn’t you? Because people care, yeah they care…about the story, about The Kelly Gang about history, not really about you, just who your related to.

    To start with I was curious where this would all go and I supported the idea, but now I’m feeling a little patronized. This is child’s play! It’s just immature! (Unless that’s the full extent of the intelligence we are dealing with, and if that’s true, I have no choice but it retract the above statement, I’m not THAT kind of person) 🙂 you have lost my support by thinking that basic school kid activities are the way to go!

    Dee, I don’t always agree with you, in fact it’s very rare that I do, but I will say this, if you can allow this despite the sarcasm, and small jab perhaps, you have got one thing right! You allow people a chance to speak! We don’t have to worry about being blocked, being threatened and/or abused, but also yes being Anonymous (sorry) you actually allow for freedom of speech. So…

    Give me a, T, Give me a, H, give me a, A, give me a…..ok I’m done lol, THANK YOU!

  7. Peter Newman says: Reply

    I checked out that book by Sir John Kerwin that Sharon mentions. I accessed it by this link –

    Father Gibney is mentioned from page 80. The comments on page 85 are remarkably prescient.

  8. Mick Webster says: Reply

    In Internet Explorer 8 it looks as if this blog has been hacked as some paras are now in Russian. In Google, it is OK. IE8 can be compromised by a online scripting malfunction.

  9. Yes – you are completely right! The Ned Kelly Centre promised to be the story of the family by the family – believe me, I can categorically state that the vast majority of Kelly descendants Do Not support this Centre, nor its directors. Those supposed 100 hands are more hangers on than family. my greatest concern is that the public will be duped into thinking that they are donating money, artefacts or supporting a true family venture when this is actually a small group of individuals who have bullied the rest of the family for ownership of the story. Most Kelly descendants wish to maintain a dignified silence despite accusations of sitting on their hands (Dee Caruthers and others) Being self-serving and bullies is not the qualities of the descendants I know.

  10. Further to Anonymous 23 Feb –

    I must say it is better to get this out in the open. This whole Kelly community seems to amount to nothing. If a Ned Kelly Centre was ever to be built, it would have to have all parties sitting down and making a plan.

    In 2003 Penleigh Boyd and I sought to offer an architectural concept to kick things off for a Ned Kelly Centre at Glenrowan. It was always considered fanciful that a building to house the Kelly story from both sides could get up and running. From the offset we said that UNLESS the towns folk, family descendants, Council, the Government politicians from both sides agree, as with the town shop keepers, historians, and the whole community supporting such a plan, nothing will happen. We got as far as the majority of the 300 towns addresses and folk agreeing to our plan but that’s as far as it got.

    Penleigh Boyd, son of Australia's most famous architect Robin Boyd, was no light weight in the world of Architecture. Penleigh has worked on the High Court of Australia in Canberra, and numerous other out-standing buildings. Penleigh and I poured enormous energy into the proposal, only to be met with total silence. So why is it so hard to get a Ned Kelly Centre off the ground? As said, unless the whole majority agree, all politics aside, nothing will happen. The building should be nationally supported, of National significance, not only to tell the Kelly story, but to show the world what we as a nation are all about and capable of.

    Here is our positioning statement –

    " The Spirit:

    Our aim has been to produce a bold, gimmick free, truly Australian building.
    It should be modern, minimal, timeless in style and straightforward.
    It should not be distracting, stylized or a pastiche of the 1880's.

    The use of a simple palette of all Australian materials: glass, iron, new and recycled
    timbers, flagstone paving are envisaged.
    The building should be serene – a place for contemplation – yet stimulating to encourage
    interest. There is a dichotomy in the Kelly legend: hero or villain?
    The building functions like a courthouse: here is all the information – you, the visitor,
    weigh up the evidence. "
    This webpage domain is freely available and hosted to any organisation to use to profile their plans.

    With its four pavilions, it was always envisaged that there would be divisive interpretations of the story within the NK centre. There would be a governing committee made up of all stake holders answerable only to NKC management.
    There was to be enough room for all sides of the story to be told pro or con.
    Is it possible to start again with a blank page and put all animosities aside? Unless this happens, both Penleigh and I do not see anything happening in our lifetime.

    Bill Denheld

  11. It would be beneficial for the sake of truth that when writing a book review the reviewer gets the name of the book correct! It is Ned – Knight in Aussie Armour by Eugenie Navarre. This book was carefully researched with hundreds of comments by respected people connected to the Kelly cause. The author stands behind the information handed down from very credible sources. EN

  12. Thank you for pointing this out. I apologise for this careless mistake of mine and as you will see I have corrected it .

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