Why Ned Kelly hated the Police

On Facebook I have been accused by Bob of failing to mention the truth about why Ned Kelly hated the Police. Bob lists three examples of incidents that he regards as reasons for Neds hatred of police : his arrest when Hall tried to shoot Ned, the fracas when he refused to be handcuffed and was subdued by Lonigan using the ‘squirrel grip’ – a handful of nuts – and the death of his sister Annie giving birth to the child fathered by Constable Flood. Bob, like many Kelly sympathisers  believes these and other incidents justified Neds hatred of Police, that it was the Polices fault that Ned Kelly hated them.

Contrary to Bobs claim, I have not ‘hidden away’ from the bad behavior of Police, and in the post “Hall arrests Ned Kelly”– which everyone should re-read to refresh their memories of exactly what happened – I wrote of Halls behavior that ‘it was appalling – not only had he tried to kill Ned and used excessive force once the tables had been turned, Hall later lied in Court about seeing documents that hadn’t been issued when he said he had seen them’ .  I also wrote about the incident involving the squirrel grip in a post in August 2014 ‘Reflections around the crown Jewels’ and I recommend that Post also be read again to refresh everyones memory of the entire incident.

I admit however that I haven’t ever discussed the relationship between Annie and Flood, though a really indepth analysis would probably not be something Kelly symapthisers would want to read, because undoubtedly it will expose the ambiguous relationship that existed between the Kellys and the Police. Kelly sympathisers like to think of this relationship as a cartoon style ‘goodies vs baddies’, Kellys on one side, Police on the other, but as Morrissey and others have shown, it was much more fluid than this, there were friendships across this imaginary divide that resulted in such things as the young Ned running to the Police station for protection from an uncle, the Kellys using the Courts to pursue personal disputes, uncles co-operating with the Police to dob in Harry Power and collect  massive financial reward, the friendship between Ned and Fitzpatrick, and of course a sexual liaison between Flood and Neds sister. But  its quite ridiculous to blame Flood for Annies tragic death in giving birth to the child that resulted from the relationship. The relationship was consensual, as far as we know, and Annie would have been well aware of the possibility of pregnancy resulting from it. Its not usual anywhere, except perhaps in the Kelly world to blame the man for the  tragic death of his partner in childbirth, but death in childbirth was not such an uncommon feature of life in the bush in the 19th century. No doubt it was a tragedy and a terrible loss, but to blame Flood for it is ridiculous.

Never-the-less Bob may well be right that the three incidents he lists, and others, were reasons Ned Kelly might have given for his hatred of the Police. But having reasons for hating the Police doesn’t have to mean the hate is justified or  that the Police deserved to be hated. So was it justified, and did the Police deserve to be hated?

Certainly, if Ned hated Flood for what happened to his sister, his hatred was irrational and unjustified. And exactly how reasonable or rational was Neds hatred of Police for responding in kind to the violence of Neds resistance to being arrested or to being handcuffed? If he had gone quietly and still been bashed and beaten, then hating them might be reasonable but thats not what happened – Ned Kelly created a massive violent brawl and no doubt inflicted some pretty painful injuries on several of the Police trying to  subdue him.  I doubt very few of us would have much sympathy for a fellow who abused and attacked Police trying to do their duty, and who in the melee he started, came off second best. We might be tempted to say “ you asked for it mate, be a man and suck it up” But thats not what Ned Kelly ever did – right to the end he refused to accept responsibility for the consequences of his own actions, and was forever looking for someone else to blame for how things turned out. The reality of Neds hatred for the police, when you examine its possible causes closely is that it was out of all proportion to the actual events that may have given rise to it, it was extreme, irrational and unreasonable. Nothing the Police ever did to the Kellys justified in any possible way his murder of three innocent Police at SBC, or his plan to kill many more at Glenrowan – his reactions were way beyond reasonable, proportional or justifiable. Thats why Ian Jones said Neds plan for Glenrowan was madness – completely out of touch with any kind of reality, reason or logic, based on absurd overreactions to incidents largely originating in the behaviour, not of the Police but of the Kellys themselves. And you see this madness when you read the crazed hysterical outburst known as the Jerilderie Letter.

I agree with Bob that Neds motivation was hate rather than some higher noble political ambition about the poor and the rights of selectors, as Ian Jones would prefer.  Rather, for Ned it was an intensely personal thing, and hatred is an intensely distorting and blinding emotion, a prism that Ned looked though and could only see a need for horrendous ‘suicide bomber style’ revenge.

But there is another more important, often overlooked source of Neds hatred for Police : his parents. I am not referring to what happened to his parents but to the values they instilled in him, the things they taught him from the youngest age, and the attitudes prejudices and resentments that he absorbed from them and the wider community of Kellys and Quinns that he grew up in.  Ned was taught to hate, to disrespect and have contempt for the British authorities, for Irish who co-operated with them, for squatters and the wealthy. Being taught to hate, when your brain is wired for psychopathy is playing with fire. Sadly though, being taught to hate wasn’t unusual then, and its not unusual now. Its a common and horrible fault of many parents all over the world to this day, where children grow up being taught to respect only their own, to believe utterly in the rightness of thier own cause and to hate and perpetuate hatred war and resentments against the rest, against Jews, Palestinians, Blacks, Muslims, Aborigines, Catholics, Asians, gays, Communists, asylum seekers ….and in Neds case the British and the Police. This is where Ned learned not to take responsibility for his own behavior but to blame his misfortune on the British, on the Police, on the Courts, the squatters, the wealthy…this is where Ned learned such an arrogant regard for his own righteousness that he was later able to write in the Jerilderie letter : “I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain, I would manure the eleven mile with their bloated carcasses and yet remember there is  not one drop of murderous blood in my veins”

As Peter Fitzsimons put it of the young Ned Kelly: “Ned takes hatred of the English with his mothers milk and his fathers every rant”

And the end result of this hatred? –  his brother and three friends dead, three Police dead, three hostages dead and Ned Kelly on death row. These are the poisonous fruits of intergenerational hate, and therein lies the one lesson that Ned Kellys life could teach all of us in these troubled times : here was a fine strong good looking intelligent witty and hard working young man brought down and destroyed by all consuming hate. For Gods sake stop encouraging people, and especially your kids to hate one another. It always ends badly. 

Be like Captain Jack and love everybody.

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18 Replies to “Why Ned Kelly hated the Police”

  1. Dee,
    As usual your posting is interesting and thought provoking.

    I am sure you are the love bird sitting closest the nest, but I'm not sure the other bald head is Capt Jack and weather he loves you too much! Though lets say we all like to love and be happy.

    My other comment would be, – If it was just a simple case of a family of police haters and the consequences of which resulted in numerous deaths, then why was there a Royal Commission called for following the 'Kelly Outbreak' and resulted in a total review of the Victorian Police Force that gave us the respected police force of today?

    Times were very different then and the fact a Royal Commission resulted from it proves it.

    It was not the Kellys that were bad, but the whole system, and that is what Ned set out to change, and he did that at the cost of his and those of other lives. As they say, those deaths were the price for change.

  2. “It was not the Kellys that were bad but the whole system” Bill, I am going to channel John McEnroe here : “You cannot be serious”

    In regard to the Royal Commission, that is a subject that I will have to do a Post or two on, is something I have been putting off for ages, but it is the focus I am sure of another Kelly myth, that somehow everything good in the Police force today came about because of Ned Kelly. Did you know there have been over 60 Police Royal Commissions in Australia?

    One other thing – the link you provided doesn’t work! I hope its not Blogger stuffing things around again!

  3. Ned was brought up to hate the Police. His formative years were flooded with establishment hate from parents to the Quinns, Lloyds and probably many others. what chance was there for a free thinking, autonomous Ned?

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    "…that is what Ned set out to change…" I have seen no clear evidence that Ned set out to change anything, let alone 'the system' Bill. And even if he did have some sort of agenda for social change, sticking up banks, stealing stock and killing coppers doesn't seem to be have been the way to have gone about it.

  5. Here is a link to a really insightful article by Glen O'Brien entitled "Have Pity on an Intelligent Young Man in an Awful Position' – Two Colonial Clergy Responses to Ned Kelly."


    Here is an especially good snippet from it-

    "Life would be simpler if the good guys always wore white hats and the bad guys always wore black hats as in the old Hollywood westerns, but we are more complex creatures than that. I think Bishop Moorhouse understood this and so he prayed for the ‘poor wretches’ who made up the Kelly gang and he exhorted his flock to have pity on them, while at the same time seeing the need for the apprehension of such dangerous criminals. John Cowley Coles was able to admire a certain nobility in Kelly’s character while at the same time holding him to account for the criminality and violence of his actions…."

  6. Right throughout Australia's top end we have communities that despise all ruling class authority for the way they are treated. Case in point, take a look at how they treat young aboriginal boys in the Northern Territory trying to teach them a lesson. It’s the authorities that need the lessons.

    Early convicts and free colonial Irish for the large part were treated no different than our indiginous communities for petty crimes they sometimes are forced to commit in order to survive. Today instead of spending billions on submarines we will never use, we need to build schools and educate our peoples. What a rotten red neck system we still have.

  7. Bruce Watson says: Reply

    The politicians were upset the police had not got rid of the gang early on. The royal commission was a punishment for that. The disgraceful proceedings of this kangaroo court, and the RC's anti-police members were an utter disgrace. They proved that royal commissions can be corrupt and solve nothing. Governments can accept recommendations or not. As you know there were dissenting RC opinions as to who to blame.

    Your later comment (below), Bill, about the disgusting youth detention scandal in the NT I agree with completely. Those criminal detention officers have destroyed Australia's reputation worldwide. What a bunch of violent grubs. A national apocalypse!

    The NT government which presided over all this needs to go – N O W. QUICKLY.

  8. Tom Winterfield says: Reply

    I think the Nt Chief Minister and his government are to blame.

    In a Facebook rant posted on 17 May, NT chief minister Adam Giles announced the proposal [against giving bail to Aboriginal youngsters], saying that he had “had enough” of “rogue youth” and that the government would attempt to push legislation through the following week.

    This showed he approved of the despicable mistreatment of the youngsters.

    In response to Giles’ announcement, the Australian Bar Association said that the proposed laws would “further exacerbate Australia’s disgraceful Indigenous incarceration rates”.

    Numerous reports have detailed the treatment meted out to youth by prison authorities in the NT. In August 2014, prison guards at the former Don Dale youth detention centre used tear gas on a group of young people who were protesting against their systematic abuse at the centre.

    As it stands, Indigenous youth make up 96.9 percent of all young people in detention in the Northern Territory. This is despite the fact that they comprise 44 percent of the population aged between 10 and 17.

    Mal weirdly is dealing with the crooked Giles "government" in his royal commission plans!

  9. Thanks to Sharon for providing a most interesting article by Glen O'Brien.

    I recommend all students of Kelly to read this " Have Pity on an Intelligent Young Man in an Awful Position"

    I thought this paragraph resonated with me-
    Quote " In discussing the question of whether Kelly should be viewed as a violent psychopathic criminal or a hero of the people, more sinned against than sinner, one of my students asked whether a hundred years ago we would be remembering serial killer Ivan Milat as favourably as we remember Kelly today. The answer to the question is ‘no’ for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that Kelly is a figure who has drawn wide popular support. Psychopaths who seem to kill for no reason and with no remorse do not develop a fan base, yet 38,000 people signed a petition for Kelly’s pardon."

    (Glen O’Brien is Senior Lecturer in Church History and Theology in the Sydney College of Divinity and Head of Humanities at Booth College, Sydney.) Thanks to Glen O'Brien.

  10. Yes Sharon thanks for the reference, the bit you quote is a useful insight.

    However Bill, O’Brien was misleading the students by telling them that Kelly was either ‘a violent psychopathic criminal or a hero of the people’ This is the dishonest tactic that the Kelly myth makers have been using for decades, proposing this false dichotomy, that a choice has to be made between saint and sinner. And if he told them that '38,000 people signed a petition for Kellys pardon’ he was misleading them again because thats NOT what the petition was about – it asked that his life be spared – the signatories opposed capital punishment, and were not seeking a pardon or asserting anything about Ned Kellys guilt or innocence.

    So here we have another example of the myths about Ned Kelly being perpetuated by misrepresentation of the facts….

    As for the image of Ned kneeling and praying for his own soul with the Priests who came to try and save it – that is perfectly in keeping with what we know of him – the typical psychopaths pre-occupation with himself and never once any hint of repentance or remorse for the horrendous suffering and misery he created in the lives of so many of the people whose lives he affected. All those letters from prison and not a single expression of remorse, just denial and protestations of innocence .

    And what a coup for a Priest if he could brag about being the one who led the soul of a depraved murderer back to the Church, to Jesus Christ and salvation….

    All this sickly sentimental religious nonsense from 19th and 21st century theologians doesn’t impress me….

  11. In the comments for the Ned Knight in Aussie Armour review I had mentioned Sir John Kirwan's autobiography in which Bishop Gibney had told him things about the Kelly Gang. Peter Newman replied to that saying he had accessed the book and that certain things said in the text were "remarkably prescient." I imagine that he is referring to this section- –

    “Possibly,” I remarked, “Ned Kelly a thousand years hence or less will be the most romantic figure in Australian history. His bravery may help to redeem his crimes in the minds of novelists. Poets are certain to weave strange fancies round his memory. Robin Hood robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Moss-troopers, who included so many heroes of story-tellers, ravaged the grass-grown borders of England and Scotland and stole whatever cattle and horses they could find. Young Australians in the year 3000 A.D. may have the story of Ned Kelly told to them without disapproval and with suppressions and embellishments in their school books."
    “Well,” said the Bishop with a smile, "you may be right. Anything may happen in 3000 A.D., but it will never happen with my consent in the schools under my control."

    Also, Dee, let it be noted that it was Protestant ministers like Coles as stated in the article and Dr. John Singleton who were trying to save Ned's soul and who were praying for and with him but were blocked from doing it any further due to the Catholic chaplain and whatever interfaith rivalry or jealousy was involved. You really have to read what Dr. Singleton had to say about it in his book for the rest of the story. He goes into great detail, right down to having an exasperated Castieau (who was most certainly between a rock and a hard place) saying that "If you were to see him, such a disturbance would be raised as has never yet been seen in this gaol." (I am so glad that Gibney did not play politics!)

    I had this small bit at my blog in a post from a while back-

    "Regarding Dr John Singleton, I looked under google books and found the text of his book "A Narrative of Incidents in the Eventful Life of a Physician." In it he tells of visiting Ned Kelly at the Old Melbourne Gaol after Ned was captured at Glenrowan and how he had seen him and talked to him about salvation, said he would be praying for him and gave him a copy of the New Testament. Ned told him that when he was in Pentridge that he (Singleton) was known as the "prisoner's friend." Singleton wanted to see Ned again and Ned wanted to be seen by him but the Roman Catholic chaplain of the Gaol, Dean Donaghy, would not allow it as Singleton was of the Protestant faith and Ned Kelly was Catholic. Castieau took the Dean's part in it. Seems they tried to play politics with a man's salvation! Singleton still managed to send in gospel tracts to Ned. Singleton said in his book: "Kelly, I understand, sent his love to me on the morning of his execution, and from various things I have known since, he looked to Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation."
    Something else I recall along these lines was when Ned was laying wounded at Glenrowan and Rev Gibney came into to minister to him. Gibney later said "I asked him to say 'Lord Jesus have mercy on me,' and he said it, and added 'it's not to-day I began to say that'."

  12. Excellent post Sharon.
    Like all 'yes but' replies on this Blog, the reason I sympathise with Ned – he was the only one who stood up to the red neck ruling class of his day with the cuts to do something about it. But even now today we are having another Royal Commission into teaching 'kids' a lesson while the biggest crims are those who control our Governments.

  13. Grant Mitchell says: Reply

    The Irish were spoiled when they came here. In Melbourne, their Catholics were able to erect St Francis cathedral right in the CBD in 1839 which still stands today, and where Ned's parents were united. I know of no prejudice against them except, perhaps, when Fenianism reached here…

  14. John Green says: Reply

    I am a very big fan of Bill and Sharon but, aside from that, the apologists are just getting more canny and devious.

    Ned was a cop killer and doesn't deserve our affection or excuse-making.

    Being a psychopath was only a tiny mitigation for his disastrous acts that destroyed the families of the slain police.

    Come off it!

  15. Anonymous says: Reply

    Wow! That's a ridiculous thing to say. If your talking about the Irish that came to Australia in general, what about INA?, the social impact?
    To say they were spoiled because of a church is, I can only assume, a serious lack of research.

  16. Sharon Hollingsworth says: Reply

    My heart (as I am sure Bill's does) goes out to the families of all of the police whose lives were lost at Stringybark Creek and to others around the world who have suffered losses both past and present. I do not condone any killing of people, whether they are police or civilian. Please note that.

    Everyone keeps on saying how Ned was a "cop-killer" like this appellation makes him bigger and badder and more damned than your run of the mill person who took someone else's life.

    Does the taking of a policeman's life mean more than the taking of the lives of the average person? What about the taking of your life? Or one of your loved one's lives? Are they any less? Policemen go to work everyday knowing that their line of work is dangerous in the extreme, and they still chose that profession, and I really hope and pray that they all can make it home safely to their families at night after having an uneventful day. May it ever be so for them all and us…and the congregation said "Amen."

    On that note, I have heard talk of possibly making cop-killing in the US a Hate Crime.

    Isn't ALL murder (versus self-defense, etc) of ALL people basically an act of hate rather than just hate for certain specialized skin color/profession/sexual orientation/religion or creed or any mixture thereof? Do we need certain check marks beside our names before our lives or deaths are deemed worthy to matter? After all is said and done, Jesus died for the sins of everyone – me, you, cops, and, even bushrangers! As the song goes, we are all precious in His sight.

  17. Grant Mitchell says: Reply

    The Irish love feeling downtrodden…

  18. Anonymous says: Reply

    LOL. Pick up a history book before someone else makes the mistake of thinking you are capable of responding to ridiculous statements with facts or research.

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