This work is one of the oldest of the classics of the Kelly literature, and the first of its 8 editions was published in 1929. Mr Gerald C Stanley, JP, who wrote the Foreword, believed that until then ‘almost all the books written on the Kelly Gang have borne the impress of crass prejudice and gross libels on the Kellys and their relatives’
He goes on to say that the Kellys were ‘grotesquely represented as brutal criminals whose blood lust could be sated only by an almost daily murder; whereas in actuality they differed very little from other young men of their day and their conduct was the very antithesis of bloodthirsty. Subject to continual Police persecution blamed for every petty crime committed in the districe their mother thrown into Gaol for an alleged assault on a police officer subsequently dismissed from the service for misconduct, it is small wonder that these high spirited youths, nursing a fierce resentment of the injustice they had suffered should, mistaken as they may have been, as a last resort, give battle to their persecutors’
According to the books Author, J J Kenneally ‘all previous books and publications were almost exclusively written at the suggestion of that blind national or local prejudice which displayed unspeakable contempt for the sacred virtues “Truth and Justice”
What follows however is a further display of contempt for truth and justice, a Kelly narrative that makes so little attempt to be even handed or balanced that one instinctively distrusts it. But then, Kenneally says that ‘the information necessary for me to write the Inner History of the Kelly Gang was willingly supplied by members of the Kelly family and those relatives who were actively engaged in protecting their kith and kin from being betrayed for ‘blood money’ by their relatives” So what would one expect to read except revisionism, justification, excuses for the Gangs behavior and condemnation and excoriation of the Police? And remember that this ‘information’ was already at least 50 years old by the time it was remembered for Mr Kenneally.
Take Kenneallys account of the life of Red Kelly:
“He was a man whom the Landlords and their henchmen regarded as a menace to the continuation of the injustices so maliciously inflicted on the people of Ireland. Like other patriots he was charged with an agrarian offence. With Jury packing reduced to a fine art the ruling class in Tipperary had no difficulty in securing his conviction and transportation to Van Diemans Land”
Needless to say this is a highly prejudiced and contentious view of why Red found himself transported, some would call it a misrepresentation, but its hardly worth the trouble of refuting it. Read what Ian Jones has written about this in ‘A Short Life’ to get a truer and more dependable account.
Kenneally then goes on to describe Reds life in Australia as being hampered by the continual intrusion of Police who “without the authority of a search warrant frequently searched his home without success’ He has Red marrying Ellen AFTER buying a farm at Beveridge,(WRONG) and AFTER his successful venture to the Goldfields(WRONG). He describes Reds arrest and conviction in regard to stealing and killing a calf as a ‘trumped up affair’ (WRONG) and says Neds deterioration after the sentence was as a result of his treatment in Gaol: ‘notwithstanding his good health and perfect physique when sentenced, he died shortly after his release”( WRONG and WRONG)
Thanks to much better research by modern writers like Max Brown and Ian Jones we know that Kenneallys understanding of Reds life was inaccurate to say the least. As described in my recent Post,Red was NOT hounded by Police after he completed his term as a Convict, he was given what Ian Jones called a ‘generous’ remission of his sentence, and it was Reds alcoholism that caused his families economic collapse and his premature death. At the time of his imprisonment Reds health was already in serious decline.
Kenneally does however provide as an addition to the fourth Edition, a comprehensive refutation of the claim by an ‘imposter’ in Queensland to be Dan Kelly, survivor of the siege at Glenrowan.
A large part of this book consists of argument centered around extracts from the reports of the Royal Commission. Kenneallys arguments are based on so many prejudices about the Police and so many false notions about the Kellys that refuting them one by one would take forever, but in any case its unnecessary. Its unnecessary in the same way as its not necessary to refute the claims we now know to be false in say a Textbook of Geology, or a medical Manual, or a book on powered flight written in 1929 – modern knowledge and scholarship have rendered these texts obsolete, their explanations as flawed, their data bases as limiting. These texts, like JJ Kenneallys work may be quaint and interesting from an historical perspective but can no longer be relied on as sources, except perhaps in documenting the way in which understanding was so limited all those decades ago and how knowledge has advanced since.
In that light, its interesting that Keneally doesn’t mention body straps or a Republic of North east Victoria!
It’s a curious book with a crusading moralistic tone that is more like a Political Pamphlet or an Evangelical Tract than something intended to be a serious work of historical writing. His interest is in spinning a story and in sanitizing the reputation of the Kellys. You can read the entire book for free here.
If anyone still believes that Kenneally was interested in Truth and Justice, consider this remarkable statement from the end of the book (p188):
“Judge Barrys unlawful unjust and maliciously threatened sentence of fiteen years on Ned Kelly at Beechworth in October 1878 already referred to, was responsible for the deaths of ten persons. He was responsible for the shooting of the three Policemen at the Stringybark Creek; he was consequently responsible for the shooting of Aaron Sherritt; he was further responsible for the shooting of Martin Cherry and Mrs Jones little son at Glenrowan; he was responsible for the death of four bushrangers”
Oh yes, according to Jerome, it was all Barrys fault, nothing to do with Ned at all! This is myth in an almost pure form!
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