Jim Kelly: violent thief goes back to Gaol

The Entrance to the Darlinghurst Gaol

At the very heart of the Kelly story is a belief that it was Police persecution that drove Ned Kelly to the extremes that he went to, and that if it wasn’t for Police and Judicial harassment and corruption, the Outbreak would never have happened.  This of course is the tired refrain of every criminal that ever lived, but the Kelly sympathizer mob would have us believe that THIS TIME it really is true! The Kellys were innocent and the Police are to be blamed.

Last year on this Blog I reviewed all of Ned Kelly’s recorded charges and convictions, looking for the evidence for this belief, that they were unjustified, inappropriate, corrupt or in any way suggestive of unfair Police harassment of Ned Kelly –  and I didn’t find it. Now I am doing the same thing to the recorded charges and convictions centered on Ned’s brother Jim. So far what I have found is much the same as what I found last year – inaccurate and biased story telling by the pro-Kelly lobby, actual criminal activity by the Kellys and mostly appropriate and at times even sympathetic responses by the Authorities. In none of the discussions that followed these Posts has anyone challenged my findings.
So far, I have reviewed two of the items on Jims charge sheet, and both demonstrate the system, albeit a pretty harsh one acting quite reasonably towards him : the  entirely appropriate charge of Illegally using a horse was dismissed on account of his age, and 2 years later a sentence of 3 years hard labour for stock theft ended a year early, presumably for good behavior, as the rules permit.
Now we come to the next item on Jim Kellys charge sheet. He was only a few months out of Gaol and now in NSW where it seems he changed his name to Jim Wilson. He and a companion, Tom Manly stole two horses and saddles and sold them while on their way to the Snowy Mountains, according to Ian Jones.
Here is the newspaper report of their arrest at Kiandra : read it and ask yourself as you do so if this report fits with the Kelly myth that Jim was an innocent victim of Police harassment :
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser
(NSW : 1871 – 1912)
Saturday 23rd June 1877
The Kiandra correspondent of the Monaro Mercury, under date
June 1, gives the particulars of the arrest of Wilson and Manly as follows :
These two men made their appearance on Sunday, 27th ultimo, and gave out that they were cattle buyers. It was only on Thursday evening at 9 o clock, that senior-constable Smythe got information that the two men were wanted. He found them at Mr. Chapman’s in a small apartment off the dining room, Messrs. Chap man and Abraham Thomas being in the same room. Smythe stood at the door and told the two strangers that he arrested them on a charge of horse-stealing. Both men immediately arose and remarked, ” Let us go outside.”
Smythe said, ” Not without these on,” producing the handcuffs. Wilson, a young man standing six feet high, and very powerful, rushed at Smythe, dealing him a tremendous blow beneath the eye and knocking him out of the doorway into the next room. Smythe and Wilson then closed. In the meantime, Chapman and Thomas having been called upon to assist seized the other man, and after a long struggle they got him down on the floor. During all this time Smythe and Wilson were fighting most determinedly, the latter having got hold of a Iong brass candlestick, with which the ruffian beat Smythe severely about the head, inflicting no less than seven ugly wounds. Blood was flowing from Smythe in streams, completely blinding him. At last the constable got his revolver to bear, but it missed fire. A second time the revolver was presented, and it went on but missed Wilson.
At this stage of the desperate encounter, Chapman having got Manly down, Thomas went to Smythes assistance, and they succeeded in encircling Wilsons wrists with the handcuffs.  

Wilson “a stalwart and most desperate scoundrel’,would certainly have taken Smythe’s life,had he been able, and he has repeatedly expressed his regret that he did not succeed in so doing. The prisoners hail from Victoria. After the fight was over. Smythe was almost smothered with blood, with which the floor of the room was also covered. The candle stick used by Wilson was broken in two, and there was blood and hair adhering to the pieces. Smythe says he could feel himself getting very weak from loss of blood during the struggle, which necessitated the bringing of his pistol into service. Using his revolver as a bludgeon, Smythe endeavoured to knock Wilson down with it, but the desperado was too strong for him. 

These men were just in readiness to start for the road, and had Smythe been half an hour later, he would have lost them. The telegram authorizing Smythe to arrest the pair, did not arrive till half-past 8 o’clock p.m. Smythe exhibited great pluck when wrestling with his athletic antagonist, and acted nobly in sticking to him until Thomas came to his assistance. Wilson regrets that he could not get his knife into play, as otherwise the ruffian says he would have stabbed Smythe. All concerned in the capture deserve the greatest praise. We think there must be in Victoria some charge of a very serious nature pending against these two men, or else they would not have made such a stand to prevent their arrest. Prisoners were very violent after being locked up, but I think the low temperature of an Alpine night cooled them down before morning.

Only a blind fool would argue this incident was caused by the Police, who in this case were from NSW. Whatever Jim may have become in later life, theres little doubt that at 18 he was a violent criminal, and if we are to believe this account  he very nearly became the first Kelly to murder a Policeman. 

According to Ian Jones , Jim was sentenced to Four years hard labour,  served at the Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney.  He would have been due for release in 1881, by which time the outbreak would have been over. However, even though the hunt for the gang was in full swing in 1880, Jim was once again given an early release, and set free in January 1880. Now 21 and at last showing some signs of having learned his lessons, perhaps in part because of the hangings that took place at Darlinghurst, Jim urged the Gang to disband and disburse to other states, but Ned wouldn’t agree : ‘Ned was committed to the rebellion’ said Tom Lloyd Jr to Ian Jones in 1979.

It seems Jim played no part in the Gangs activities, though he apparently turned up at Glenrowan behind Police lines, and was prominent afterwards  in the struggle to gain a reprieve for Ned. 

We have already touched on Jims life after the Outbreak, but it included yet another conviction for horse stealing, in 1881. This time the sentence was 5 years hard labour on the roads, but it was the last time he was ever convicted of anything and as Mark Perry rightly says he eventually got his shit together. But is there any evidence in the criminal career of the younger Jim Kelly of unfair Police harassment and corruption that drove him to it?

I don’t see it. In fact what I see is a kid growing up in an environment of lawlessness and criminality, surrounded by dreadful role models , inevitably being drawn into a life of crime but as Mark also said, fortuitously being in prison when the worst excesses of the Outbreak were occurring. Jim had a lucky escape after some early foolish mistakes and made good in later life, even though he remained a prisoner to the mesmeric effects of his big brothers delusions of grandeur. 

Looking again at that Photo of the well-dressed Jim and horse in later life, I wondered if the dapper old Bachelor was just a misunderstood horse-lover? There were other speculations that suggested themselves to me about Jims character – he may have had  some secrets that made his life rather tragic in more ways than one.

(Visited 100 times)

15 Replies to “Jim Kelly: violent thief goes back to Gaol”

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    A very detailed newspaper report of the incident there Dee. And once again it shows what rural police often had to deal with back in those days. When you look at what has been written about the bushranging period (c.1840 – 1880) the poor coppers seem to have had a pretty bad press. The inferences generally are that they were corrupt, incompetent, lazy, brutal etc. etc. These images may well have had something to do with anti establishment feelings during this country's earlier days. And you have to realise that back then, police training was almost non existent, or rudimentary at best. More often than not, training focussed on drill and horsemanship. I suspect there was scant attention given to practical policing, interpretation of the law, marksmanship and unarmed combat. In the early days, most police recruits were from the urban areas, many direct from England and Ireland. They were despatched to country areas and often left to fend for themselves. And as in the case of the arrest of Wilson and Manly, no communications to enable immediate back-up.

    And yet, like Constable Fitzpatrick and Constable Samuel Nelson at Collector NSW, these men carried out their duties probably knowing full-well what they were going to confront. Of course similar situations exist for country coppers today. But unlike their colleagues of the mid to late 1800s, they are much better trained, equipped and can generally rely on reasonably prompt assistance.

    For many years I have thought that someone should write about the Pottingers, Fitzpatricks, Nelsons, Brennans etc. of early policing in Australia. It would not only make for fascinating reading but might also serve to bring some balance to the story of bushranging in Australia.
    But getting back to this incident involving Jim Kelly aka Wilson, he seems to have gotten off very lightly. Four years hard labour for what amounts to a clear case of attempted murder. Did they have plea bargaining back then?

    P.S. I should add that I am a retired copper and as such, am completely biased.

  2. Speaking of Fitzpatrick, according to Molony, he was sent over to Darlinghurst Gaol (in an official capacity) while he was stationed in Sydney in 1879 to formally identify "Wilson" as being James Kelly after rumours of the prisoner being the latter had reached those in charge. Fitzpatrick had been given an old photograph of Jim at age 13 to use (Jim was 19 at this time) and was able to confirm he was one and the same.

  3. The newspaper report certainly shows the ferocious violence the Kelly's could unleash. It's interesting that whilst Ned and Jim were strong athletic young men their mother and siblings were living in abject poverty on a run down selection. It doesn't appear as if they spent too much time or effort helping their family during this time.

  4. Mike you’ve put your finger right on one of the favourite Kelly myths , that Ned was a devoted son. When Nicholson visited the house in 1877 he reported it as a filthy slum with the women there living in real poverty, yet at that time Ned was reported to be dressed smartly like a squatter with custom made riding boots, living it up all round the state operating his very lucrative ‘wholesale and retail’ stock thieving racket. And as you point out, Jim got out of prison and didnt hang round to help his mum and sisters out but headed over the border…later he made up for it, looking after Ellen in her old age but certainly at the time of the outbreak theres precious little evidence to support this romantic nonsense about Ned being the devoted mummies boy. He was actually behaving like most people of that age do, and was preoccupied with his own interests and ‘flashiness’ chasing women, hanging out in the Pub…

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    Hey Dee, could you do a blog on Ned Kelly or the others having an Irish accent and if so would it have been what we know today? or did they have a "new" Australian accent? This subject is hot usually in other groups, I noticed you haven't done it yet…just an idea 🙂

  6. Yes Ive noticed the occasional discussion of what the Kellys might have sounded like, usually if I remember rightly in criticism of the attempts made in movies. Heath Ledger and John Jarratt made him sound like an irishman, and Peter Carey has him using irish terminology and phrases but I am not convinced. Accents evolve continuously so they wouldn’t have sounded like people do in Victoria today, instead they would have their own distinct way of talking and an accent influenced by what they heard coming from the mouths of their Irish and British parents, school teachers, priests and others.

  7. Hi Sharon, how Wilson was identified as Jim Kelly was exactly what I wanted to know, thanks for that.

    The point I want to make though, is it's alright for Dee to make all these postings about how bad these Irish immigrants were, and I admit Jim, 'in today's terms' he comes out rather badly. BUT, lets not forget these people were the 'Green' defeated by the Orange, or, Catholics V Protestants, the very cause for 300 years of strife. Perhaps nothing has changed even today compared with what's going on with displaced peoples from Iraq, Syria Afghanistan etc. They are seeking a better life, just as the Irish had hoped for. We in Australia helped create this.

    I'm probably wasting my time here, with Dee preaching, 'Oh' you see they were all crook those Irish underclass immigrants'! But life in those days was not all that easy, and its no wonder many ended up in goal!

    Today, with rising unemployment, and with a 'Government' and ruling class bodies cranking down on Social Security recipient down and outs, and no fault of their own, 'supposedly' cheating because the ruling class governments don't have answers to employ these people. Yet these same ruling Pollies are happy to encourage business's to employ robots as 'Innovation to make a profit' in favour to replace human labour as part of free market enterprise ?? – And so, with a few moguls reaping all their greedy profits, all the while, the advertised 'social' media is telling us to buy more and more stuff while people more and more are un employed and a huge number are sleeping on the street. The underclass's will revolt again !

    Weren't the Kellys also trying grow a cash crop to making a whisky hooch they could sell to get moneys together to buy out the required bond of some 3000 $pounds to get their mother out of gaol? – I believed was an impossible task, but you will say 'avoiding the alcohol tax' was illegal too, so what hope was there if you were born unto the underclass's?

    Dee, would it not be more appropriate if you were to look for reasons why people decide to steal in order to survive? – rather than denigrate a whole class of early Irish farmers who happened to be less capable to advance, unless you were a wealthy enough a land grabber taking all the best land (tens of thousands of acres as a rule), leaving the s- -t land for the rest to squabble over.

  8. Jim Kelly was reported to speak with a broad Australian accent in the 1930,s and 40's. Bearing in mind accents are formed in the first years of life it is inconceivable that Jim's would have changed from the 1880's onwards. As Jim was only a few years younger than Ned and had the same upbringing and influences I would suggest that Ned had a similar broad Australian accent, albeit tinged with Irish sayings and syntax.

  9. Wow, Bill ! Some pretty heavy accusations there! But you make a fair point – which is that social conditions influence the way people behave, and if you’re on the bottom of the heap for no fault of your own, you may feel pretty angry about it and you may end up doing something radical to try and change things. And thats pretty much what people say about the Kellys, that they, or more particularly Ned did what he did because of the way the system was stacked against him and his family.

    But Bill, say a poor irishman steals someones horse – does that mean he is not really a criminal and shouldn’t be dealt with by the Law simply because he’s Irish and his forefathers suffered in Ireland? Does what has gone before always provide him with an excuse for what would be a crime if committed by a German or a Chinese ? How are you going to distinguish between an Irishman who is in some way fighting back against injustice, and one who is simply a thief or a violent criminal? How is anyone going to decide if Ned Kelly was a hero or a villain?, that tired old question the Sympathisers have been daring everyone to try and answer for years.

    Well Bill, thats what I am trying to do in this Blog, to see if Ned was a villain or a hero. What I think I have shown in relation to Ned and now in relation to Jim as well, is that they were NOT persecuted and oppressed at every turn, that the system which admittedly in those days was harsh treated them in much the same way as everyone else, gave them opportunities to make good, gave them the benefit of doubts in Court, remitted their sentences for good behaviour…and what I have also shown is that the charges were not trumped up or fabricated but came out of genuine complaints and actual crimes by the Kellys.

    What is more Bill, I have done this case by case, point by point and over many weeks, but nobody has challenged any of these cases, or my assertions that they don’t support the kelly mythology of their unjust oppression by Authorities. I have not simply repeated anti-Kelly rhetoric about them, as you accuse me of doing, ‘preaching that 'they were all crook those Irish underclass immigrants” but I have deliberately looked as carefully as I can at the actual evidence, at each specific incident, one by one. Where else has this ever been done in the entire history of the Kelly story?

    So let me ask you about the Post above, Jims arrest at Kiandra : was it a criminal act of violence resisting arrest for horse stealing or an act of rebellion against an unjust system that was persecuting Jim because his parents were Irish?

  10. Hey Bill when you go to Woollies to get tomatoes, do you take shitty ones so the people who come later will still be able to find nice ones, or do you look for the best you can get for your money ? I think I know what you would do! I do the same. And so would squatters looking for Land. If the Government said we want you guys to take some risks and invest your money in Land, get out there and break the land in, breed sheep and cattle, develop an economy, provide work for people, pay taxes so we can build railways and roads…..why wouldn’t they give themselves the best chance of succeeding by farming the best land they could find? The Government did recognise that they then took much more land then they could farm, and changed the rules to allow selectors to take up land, but the idea that the Squatters were in some way corrupt and devious because they took the best land they could find makes no sense to me. Its something thats often repeated in the Kelly literature but I wonder how many people have stopped to think about the logic of that idea.

  11. When Jim Kelly was arrested at Kiandra he was arrested as Jim 'Wilson', the name he gave the Police. It was only after his arrest and conviction that it was found he was actually Jim Kelly. As such there was obviously no anti Kelly bias directed towards him by the Police or Courts as they didnt' know he was actually a Kelly.

    I would also contend that the Kelly's spoke with a native born accent, similar to the modern day, and as such when Jim Kelly was arrested at Kiandra the Police would not have been aware of his background other than he was a thief and violent man.

    In the court transcripts I don't see any mention of Jim 'Wilson' Kelly blaming his plight on his downtrodden Irish ancestry. It looks like he got caught out cold as a thief and thug.

  12. A very good point Mike. So are the sympathisers going to contend that even though while in NSW Jim was a common criminal, when back home in NE Victoria he was a law abiding selector persecuted by Police? When you analyse the Kelly myths logically they fall apart.

  13. Peter Newman says: Reply

    The Kellys and many selectors like them were dirt poor and that’s a fact. You have queried in other posts why Ned and his brothers did not stay home to help their mother run the farm, and the answer is that you simply could not make a living on land like the Kelly selection (which is only 35 ha) because of its poor quality and low stocking capacity. Other income sources would be needed. A wine shanty would likely be far more lucrative. “Extra services” would be even more so. Meanwhile the men of the household had little choice but to look further afield to shearing or perhaps a little bit of horse and cattle duffing if you were game. There is an expression “Don’t shit where you eat” that I think sums up why the Kelly men (and many others in their position) would be doing these kinds of ‘jobs’ in a district well-removed from their own. You could get to keep your reputation back home as a law-abiding selector, despite criminality elsewhere. A desperate fight to maintain your freedom would be second nature to avoid arrest, and a false name logical if you were captured.

    It is very easy for people who have had a good upbringing and a bit of privilege in their life to lose touch with how tough it can be for others just to survive. There are many people living in desperation in the cities and regional areas of this country. I live in Melbourne where there are fringe suburbs in which people are living desperate lives. These areas (which are sometimes interspersed among industry) are remote from facilities and services. Car registration is a luxury, so many drive unregistered out of necessity because there is no public transport or other way of getting around. Car ownership is also expensive, so you can imagine what is done to get around this. Without the luxury of a buffer in the bank (and perhaps with a maxed out credit card), what are they to do when the money runs out and they need to feed their families? Would it be hard to justify lifting a TV set or whatever from a house in a nicer suburb to pawn at the cash converters. I’m not saying it is right, but I can see how it could be easy to justify in certain circumstances. Particularly when you have politicians like ours who want to reduce taxes for those who are already well-off, whilst simultaneously making further welfare cuts. It would be easy to see yourself as an outcast in a society like this, and to become (dare I say it) an outlaw. There are parallels here with how things were for the Kellys and other (and yes, I agree it was not all) selectors of their time.

  14. Interesting thoughts, Peter, but the outlook for the Kellys on their selection might not have been that depressing, particularly if the three strapping Kelly sons had chosen to do some real work to help their family.

    The best analysis we have on the economics related to selectors comes from Doug Morrissey's thesis, which I partially reviewed for the Eleven Mile Creek blog many moons ago. I'll quote from the thesis, and from the blog page of 8 November 2010.

    'Dr Morrissey has done this the hard way. Rather than rely on oral history that is less than reliable, oversentimental or both, he set himself a task that, on the face of it, would not have seemed appealing to any but the most dogged of researchers. In Morrissey's words: 'Traditional explanations for the Kelly Outbreak rest heavily on rural poverty and selection failure.' He decided to test the hypotheses related to selector poverty and the inaccessibility and infertility of land in the Kelly country, factors that writers from Ned Kelly down to John McQuilton have seen as a key factor in the Outbreak. Calmly and clinically, and using Lands Department records that whose apparent dryness is only exceeded by their impartiality, he demolishes myth after myth relating to the background of the troubled and violent Edward Kelly.

    In Morrissey's words, he decided 'to examine the economic fortunes of 265 selectors during their first decade or so on the land, roughly 1868 to 1880. All the selectors chosen lived in the adjoining land parishes of Greta, Glenrowan, Laceby, Lurg and Moyhu.' Surprisingly, at least for those who base their thoughts on such matters on Ned's claims in the Jerilderie and Cameron letters, the overwhelming majority of these selectors ultimately prevailed. 72 percent of selectors gained the freehold to their selections. In Greta, the figure was 79 percent. Those who got behind in their payments were treated with leniency and patience by the Lands Department, which extended the time in which they could pay, sometimes by years.

    Incidentally, Ned Kelly himself seemed ambivalent towards the financial difficulties experienced by his mother, who frequently fell behind in her rent payments. Despite his earnings from stock theft – 'horses and cattle innumerable' – and his boast that he never worked for less than two pounds ten a week after his release from Pentridge, and his windfall 'earnings' at Euroa and Jerilderie, little of Ned's spare cash seems to have found its way to his beloved mother. In 1881 the Crown Bailiff inspected her selection and valued the improvements to her land at one hundred pounds, not much to show after a decade or so in which the Kelly family, including three strong sons and, for a while, an able bodied stepfather spent 'occasionally cropping a few acres and milking a few head of cattle', but became much more notorious for other activities. Mrs Kelly's selection was declared forfeited to the Crown on two occasions, in 1870 and 1880. Both times, the Lands Department allowed her to retain possession of the land, despite a strong recommendation from the police in 1880 that the forfeiture should be upheld.

    Farming a selection had little appeal to Ned. In January 1875, a year after being released from Pentridge, he applied to take up 100 acres of land adjoining his mother's selection. He allowed the application to lapse for reasons that we will never know for sure, but we can at least infer that he believed that there were easier ways to earn money than farming. Even in an area, where, as Morrissey demonstrates, 'there is no evidence that poverty or [economic] failure was more prevalent than anywhere else.''

  15. […] One of the multitude of proofs Kelly interactions with police were nothing to do with persecution or corruption of innocent selector farmers is demonstrated yet again by what happened to Jim Kelly when he changed his name to James Wilson and moved to New South Wales. Here, in NSW one would imagine if Victoria police interest in the Kellys was based on their name and identity rather than their behaviour, he would have lived a quiet law-abiding life right? In fact he very soon found himself violently resisting arrest for horse theft and ended up convicted and sentenced to four years in Sydneys  Darlinghurst Gaol under a false name. After the Outbreak was over, Jim once again was caught stealing horses, and was put away for another five years in 1881. Who discusses that on Kelly sympathiser pages? Read more HERE. […]

Leave a Reply