Exactly when did Ned Kelly do something heroic?

This post is about the people who claim Ned Kelly was a hero.

What I would like to know from them is what exactly was it that he did that makes him a hero in their eyes. I don’t want to know what they BELIEVE about Ned Kelly, but what they KNOW about him that gave rise to their belief. So, I don’t want to be told they BELIEVE he was a devoted son, or that they think of him as Australias Robin Hood, or that they BELIEVE he and his family were so terribly persecuted and oppressed by the Police that in the end he had to ‘take a stand’, or that they BELIEVE he was going to establish a republic of North East Victoria. No, I want them to explain what they KNOW, what are the FACTS, what is the actual historical EVIDENCE that is the foundation for their BELIEFS about Ned Kelly. What facts can they point to that support the belief he was a devoted son? What facts can they point to that support the belief he was Australias Robin Hood, what facts can they point to that support their belief that the Kellys were persecuted or that Ned Kelly had a Republic in mind at Gleenrowan?
I can think of just two things that we KNOW about Ned Kelly that are on the positive side of the Ledger, facts that could possibly be said to support his ‘hero’ status, but I have to say, to be a real hero these two examples are nowhere near enough.
The first is his rescue of Richard Shelton from Hughes Creek in Avenel. This did actually happen, though as readers of this blog will know there are some lingering doubts about exactly how heroic this deed was. The stories of this rescue mostly describe a raging torrent, but the year of the rescue was one of severe drought, and though one of the Kelly sympathisers claimed he had read many reports of rain and floods that year, 1865, when asked to provide even ONE reference to them he went silent. This is quite typical behaviour for Kelly fanatics – they make claims about Kelly history but never back them up.  But lets give the 10 year old Ned Kelly the benefit of the doubt and accept that he rescued Richard Shelton from a raging torrent. Is that enough to make him an Australian hero and Legend? Of course it isn’t – no-where near enough. If it was enough, then my own father would be a national hero and Legend, as would a school friend of mine because they both, at separate times saved ME from drowning, once when I fell into the harbour off a fishing boat, aged about 6, and later, aged 8 when a strong river current pulled me out into deeper water and I couldn’t swim properly. So, no, rescuing Dick Shelton doesn’t make Ned Kelly a national hero.
The only other positive thing that we KNOW Ned Kelly did was to build his mother a house. But even that wasn’t entirely heroic as he had been living the glamourous life of a ‘rambling gambler’ and criminal stock thief for a couple of years all around Victoria, all the while ignoring the poverty and squalor that his mother and sisters were living in. But let’s give him credit for at least eventually realising her desperate plight and taking time out to lend a hand. But again, that’s nowhere near enough to justify giving Ned Kelly hero status.
So what else do we truly KNOW about Ned Kelly that could justify the status of icon and hero?
The answer, is very little.
Some may nominate the Jerilderie and Euroa bank robberies. Kelly sympathisers see these acts as heroic because in their eyes, Ned Kelly was defying authority and thumbing his nose at his persecutors, the Judiciary, and the Victoria Police. They think it was heroic because in some versions of the story he was trying to get the money together to fund an appeal against his mother’s conviction and gaoling for the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. The huge problem with THAT narrative is that though the Gang stole a HUGE amount of money – many hundreds of thousands of dollars in todays terms –  much more than would have been needed to fund an appeal, Ned Kelly DIDN’T use the money to fund an appeal or even give it to ‘the poor’. Instead he used it to buy protection for himself. He distributed it amongst friends and supporters who he relied on for assistance and protection in his bid to remain free, and soon these people were seen paying off bills buying fancy clothes and new saddles. The robberies were about purchasing the means to continue to resist arrest and evade capture. The claim he was trying to help his mother was just talk, and it was NEVER backed up by any action.
As for the claim the Kelly’s were victims of Police persecution and oppression and harassment, and this justified his robberies and defiant stand at Glenrowan – where are the facts, where is the evidence that justifies that belief? Surely everyone knows by now that the Royal Commission made an exhaustive investigation into the causes of the Outbreak and declared there was no evidence for such a claim.
In any case not many would agree that an armed gang of four murderers needed to be especially heroic or daring to overwhelm a couple of Police in two tiny rural villages. Neither would many regard threatening old men and women as particularly brave – but that’s what Kelly did. And very few Australians believe robbing banks at gunpoint and taking hostages is an activity that should result in hero status, no matter how cleverly or cheekily executed. And a couple of horse-riding stunts would hardly be amusing to people who had just been held hostage and had their lives threatened by a raving psychopath.  
As for the planned atrocity at Glenrowan, sympathisers claim heroic status for this failed attempt at a police massacre by claiming it was intended to be the founding of a Republic of North East Victoria, or if that’s not enough it was a further attempt to rob banks for money to defend his mother.  We already know the latter excuse holds no water, and the massive problem for the former is that there is not one shred of evidence anywhere that Ned Kelly ever contemplated such a thing as a Republic of North East Victoria. Ned Kelly was renown, and remains famous for his mouth, but in all the hours of lecturing that he delivered to hostages and in all the thousands of words that he wrote in letters, he never once mentioned a republic. Not once. Ever. Instead he vented page after page and speech after speech against police, paranoid delusions about being persecuted, and hateful violent rhetoric about revenge. The idea of a Republic are words put into Ned Kellys mouth by fools who cant see what an appalling liar and violent killer he was, fools who want to cling to a delusional belief that supports their own hatred of Police that Ned Kelly was someone to be admired because he taught the police a lesson.
So what was heroic about the robberies and about Glenrowan if they weren’t done to help Ned Kellys mother, and they weren’t done because the Kelly’s were unjustly persecuted? Whats left is raw criminal intent.
On the negative side of the Hero Ledger, these are the known historical facts : He was gaoled for assault, he was gaoled for indecent behaviour, he was gaoled for ‘feloniously receiving’, he beat Wild Wright to a pulp, he was the mastermind of a criminal stock thieving syndicate ( he said so himself!) he participated in the assault on Fitzpatrick and lied about it, he murdered three policemen, he imprisoned and made hostage farm workers and other citizens including women and children at Euroa and Jerilderie, he robbed two banks of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, he collected a formidable arsenal of guns, ammunition and gunpowder, and planned to murder dozens of police at Glenrowan. He sanctioned the murder of Aaron Sheritt. He created the mess that ended with the death of his own brother, two other friends and two innocent hostages. He also told far too many lies to list here. He was found guilty of murder and hanged.
The Kelly sympathisers, as usual will not attempt to answer any of this. That’s because they don’t have any answers. So, for everyone else: “Ned Kelly – hero or villain?” Its an absolute no brainer! 
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31 Replies to “Exactly when did Ned Kelly do something heroic?”

  1. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    This is what I make of Ned Kelly's defence case, based on his 3 November Condemned Cell letter: He did not intend to murder Fitzpatrick, or Fitzpatrick would be dead. Therefore the charge of attempted murder is false, and was falsely sworn by Fitzpatrick. It follows that his brother, mother, Skillion, and Williamson, are innocent of aiding and abetting an attempted murder. He and his companions committed no offences between then and the Stringybark Creek affray, but were quietly gold prospecting and distilling whisky to raise money for a new trial for his mother. He was told the police search parties intended to shoot him and his brother for the reward money, not to arrest him. He therefore acted in self-defence by trying to take their arms, and shot those who they did not obey his orders to surrender. They oughta let "those suffering innocence" out of the slammer. Does that cover it?

  2. Horrie and Alf says: Reply

    Dee, get used to the sounds of silence.

    Even Brad Webb recently just republished the same old false legend. We've seen no pro-Kelly books in a very long while that attempt to answer the claims in MacFarlane, Morrissey, Scott and other recent books and journals that demolished the Legend. So have You and Stuart.

    The Kelly worshipers Can't Handle the Truth!

    They just get their tattoos (like the dummy in the forthcoming Foxtel production}, and blindly believe in mistaken 'evidence' that been disproved completely. They don't want to read the books that demolish their beliefs, and cling to the old Kelly falsehoods. Even the diehard pro-Kelly authors have vanished. They know the jig is up.

    But we still have the fool with the FB hatepage against one of the modern books, who relies on Kelly fridge magnets for his grasp of this complex subject.

    As Ned would probably say "I think I'm well and truly buggared".

  3. Ned must have thought you're allowed to attempt to murder a policeman, and its only a crime if you're successful! The fact Fitzpatrick wasn't killed is interesting though. I think what happened was they acted impulsively and in anger then thought better of it. Fitzpatrick agreed not to report the fracas as a way of saving his skin – otherwise they might have.

    The story about trying to raise money to buy a defence for his mother is a lie – Ned either earned or stole massive amounts of money and if that had been his intention, then why didn't he ever do it? The fact is that he had more than enough money but he spent it on friends and supporters, and on himself.

    I think the phrase "those suffering innocence" is a typo – it should be " those suffering innocents" meaning the people like his mother her were innocent and in prison. "suffering innocence" is hard to make sense of, except that both spellings sound the same if you're taking dictation from Ned.

  4. When it comes to the debate around Kelly, Melbourne artist and historian Maree Coote knows which side she's on. She calls him a “freedom fighter," and she’s found an inexhaustible source of inspiration in his life. http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2014-02-06/australian-hero-or-notorious-criminal-who-is-the-real-ned-kelly/1260504

  5. Brian Tate says: Reply

    Very good point Horrie (and Alf). We have heard much criticism from the mythologists about recent publications which have used good research to pick apart much of the Kelly fairy tale. But as far as I'm aware, nobody has stepped up from the pro Kelly camp to produce their own research which debunks these publication. All the likes of Fitzy and Bobby can do is lash out and insult the individual authors while not producing a skerrick of evidence to contradict their work. Empty vessels all of them.

  6. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee, "give those people who are suffering innocence, justice and liberty” is on page 19 of the Jerilderie Letter, which is my cross-reference, not a quote from the Condemned Cell letter. Morrissey drew attention to the JL manuscript's misspelling in the commentary on it in his "Lawless Life". Obviously "innocents" is meant and it was just their crappy spelling. It parallels his comment in the “Euroa letter”, p. 15, “those innocent released from prison”.

  7. Brian Tate says: Reply

    As was to be expected, she sings from the Kelly mythology song sheet. Interesting that she says "The history and research inspires my artwork…" when it's obviously clear from what she says, that she has done neither. She also describes Ned as a 'revolutionary', 'a ruler of some kind in our history' and says that his 'family was picked on by the local police and probably had no alternative than to behave the way he did.' She also believes that Ned was right in breaking the law. With these sorts of quotes it is pretty obvious that she doesn't have a clue.

  8. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Brian, it is interesting that in his search for oral traditions about the Kelly outbreak, from the early 1960s Jones interviewed many descendants of families from the Kelly country. Their stories ranged far and wide, and typically need to be treated with caution. Historians William Joy and Tom Prior visited Euroa around 1960 and wrote, “In a few hours, we had a dozen graphic, eye-witness accounts of the great [bank] raid relayed by descendants of people who just happened to brush by Ned in the street (‘As close to him as I am to you now’) or who were prisoners in Younghusband’s storeroom. Apparently Euroa was crowded with grandfathers doing their banking that December afternoon in 1878, and Mrs. Fitzgerald's kitchen was packed with grandmothers helping with the cooking”. Ganga, I hope you aren't taking the "ruler in our history" bit seriously – Ned barely managed to rule his gang, calling Steve Hart a "thing" when Hart was disputing giving someone's watch back. If he hadn't been knocking off other selector's plough horses, he would have had a lot less police attention.

  9. Anonymous says: Reply

    What a shame there is an academic trend away from first hand oral accounts and recorded sentiments from descendants (demonstrated by Brian and Stuart). Very symptomatic I guess of our self publishing era that now has to rely on newspapers, manuscripts and trove info to attempt to tell an authentic version of events.

  10. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Anonymous, I have no idea what current academic trends are, and never pay any attention to them. But as so much of the republic claims depend on “oral tradition”, one would expect to find abundant folk evidence of republican talk within that tradition. Yet folk historian Graham Seal, who studied the Kelly tradition for over twenty years, found nothing to support any of the late twentieth-century claims for a republican Kelly. That's because outside of a few descendants who want to claim a link with (in)famous events, there isn't any. Even Ian Jones found little to go on in respect of the alleged republic. It mostly comes only from Tom Patrick Lloyd, son of Ned and Dan's cousin Tom Lloyd. For such a key moment as Ned's alleged meeting and dismissal of the sympathiser army at Glenrowan, although Jones claimed in his "New view of Ned Kelly" (Man & Myth) that in addition to oral traditions there is “documentary evidence” for this meeting, none has ever been cited. He admitted in the same chapter that the oral accounts of the alleged meeting place were “confusing and conflicting”, and accounts of the meeting were “confused and contradictory”. So there are good reasons to doubt oral tradition when it conflicts with other documented reports about Kelly's movements, e.g. Reardon's evidence to the Reward Board, that collectively rule out Kelly getting out and back to a meeting with sympathisers. People interested in the Kelly story are entitled to wonder whether Jones' hypothesis of a sympathiser army and its assembly and dismissal at Glenrowan is true. John McQuilton observed that it will remain controversial and is 100% dependent on oral history. It is therefore reasonable to examine all the things said about that suggestion, as there is good reason from Reardon’s and other reports to suspect some creative writing has taken place, that is perhaps not supportable and possibly completely wrong. What is being discussed here is a few questions about that, not a blanket rejection of the idea at this point. The Joy and Prior experience is a good caution about taking what people say for granted and treating it as historical fact. Maybe some of it is true, maybe some of it isn’t. Don’t you think it’s worth a second look?

  11. Oral history is just hot air. Everyone knows that!

  12. Carol Brennan says: Reply

    Australian book reviewers need a hefty kick up the butt. They should have picked up The Ned Republic myth long ago – instead of publishing lavish, blind faith, praise for Ian Jones's books. He and his reviewers misled us all.

  13. So which oral accounts of interactions with Ned Kelly are you going to believe? The ones that say he was a great bloke or the ones that say he was a violent criminal? Oral accounts are proven to be highly unreliable though they may have a kernel of truth in there somewhere but how do you identify it? Going to more objective sources, silly old things like manuscripts, signed documents, legal opinion, news reports…and all the rest of that evidence known as facts.

  14. Brian Tate says: Reply

    I am a former member of what was then called the Oral History Society of Australia and in the 1980s, I carried out a number of interviews with First World War diggers. While some of what they told me was accurate, they also told me things which were obviously incorrect and contradicted by public records and publications. I don't believe that this was done through malice but rather memory lapse and in some cases because the story had been told so many times it had become convoluted and simply wrong. But the teller was convinced of the story's accuracy. And these were first hand accounts. While oral history is a valuable tool, my experience suggests that it needs to be taken with a grain of salt and compared to accurate sources before being accepted as fact.

  15. Hi Anonymous,

    Reminders about the value of oral accounts and verbal sentiments is still an important point to bring up.
    Thank goodness some of Australia's earliest inhabitants have passed on some of their varied oral and/or pictorial stories, traditions and other onto their descendants (and we're not comparing the Keely story to a dreamtime story).
    Many of these past indigenous stories and oral accounts have been lost.
    Leading to the Kelly stories (being less than 140 years old), in Australian History, and some involved participants oral accounts have prevailed over others- for various reasons.
    Thank goodness for the researchers.

    The recorded newsprints and documents are a fabulous resource- with newspapers, in particular, providing a great variety of viewpoints, and editorial opinions.

    P.S. Sorry Dee,

    But way back at Raymond Barry post, we did have a small, constructive, positive and relevant post to contribute, and not given the opportunity to post.
    We feel the need to pass this aspect on to visitors of this blog.

    B. T. and T. Ryan.

  16. Horrie and Alf says: Reply

    Years ago, I lived with Aborigines on a reserve near Katherine, NT, who told me that in WWII they had been bombed by the Germans. I respect them and their traditions, but this was obviously a mistake although I never told them so. Years later I asked an Aboriginal Elder why names of tribal clans from Victoria's past kept changing. "Our's is a living culture" he explained with a grin.

    I think our friends the Ryans meant the REDMOND Barry post.

  17. Anonymous says: Reply

    So no interest in the story of a policeman who disappeared during the Kelly outbreak then? Ellen Kelly knew of it, and Jim knew too. Don't tell me you are ignoring this piece of the Kelly story? I thought you wanted every bit of dirt you could find. Hmmm

  18. Yes Horrie and Alf,

    Redmond Barry was the intent.

    We have come across varied viewpoints, and intensity on detail related to culture/aspects about Country.

    Suppose that's a whole other blog!

    B.T. and T. Ryan

  19. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    I forgot to say the Joy and Prior quote is from their book "The Bushrangers", 1963: 93. If you uncritically accept oral traditions about the Kellys then you must allow the validity of the tradition passionately held by some descendants and told to Eugenie Navarre ("Ned – Knight in Aussie Armour") that Dan and Steve escaped from the Glenrowan Inn; you must accept the one passionately believed by some other descendants that Jim Kelly was in school and not gaol during the outbreak (as told to Ian Jones; in Les Carlyon, "The Last Outlaw" book, p. 10), and all sorts of other factually wrong tales. What you find is that mum and dad, or grandpa or grandma who told mum and dad, or great grandma and grandpa who told their kids who told your mum and dad, any old rubbish about those days, and the kids at whatever level believe it, embellish it, get it wrong, etc.. The stories grow over time, longer than Pinocchio's nose and are more passionately defended in proportion to the level of wishful thinking. I once hitch-hiked around Spain with a woman who was a descendant of Mary Magdalene. Good trip, lots of beers and sightseeing, but can you really believe what the pure Anglo "descendant" claimed about that bit of her history?

  20. Anonymous says: Reply

    Dee, Dawson, Horrie, Alf and Tate. The famous five. I am surprised you haven't yet covered the missing policeman in detail and blamed his disappearance on Ned too. Missing cop??? Do your research!!!!

  21. Brian Tate says: Reply

    Stuart, what you say is a good example of how awry oral history can go. Someone tells someone, add Chinese whispers and before you know it, the tales become fact. And this is exactly how many of the myths surrounding the Kelly story gain oxygen. Fortunately, access to original sources, as you well know, are now providing researchers and writers with the means to debunk the mythology. But I'm glad you have mentioned police attention. By his own admission, Ned was into large scale stock theft, which, at that time, made him what we would describe today as part of an organised crime group. Why would the police not pay particular attention to his nefarious activities? Mythologists scream about 'police persecution' which of course the Kelly RC found didn't exist. The police were simply doing their job; gathering evidence for prosecution. That's how it works.

  22. Francois Ozins says: Reply

    Maree Coote. Hmmn!

  23. Ken Field says: Reply

    The former Queen of the Road, with the FB hatepage, has ditched all his photos during a rant about copyright. Even his photo as Ned has almost dissappeared.

    You are right, you are a major infringer of copyright.

    It is overdue that you face up to court for a big, fat lesson.

  24. I have never claimed to know everything abut the Kelly outbreak, so please do enlighten me at least about this 'missing policeman'.

  25. Peter Newman says: Reply

    It’s probably the policeman in the so-called Kelly “mine-cave” that some have talked about in the past but refuse to identify the location of. I recall Matt Shore had discovered this "mine-cave". I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but unless those who know more about it are prepared to let the rest of us know then we don’t have much choice but to continue to ignore this piece of the Kelly story. I’m unaware of any evidence that Ellen Kelly and Jim Kelly knew anything about this missing policeman.

  26. Brian Tate says: Reply

    Okay Anonymous you've thrown it out there so please enlighten us.

  27. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Anonymous, I'm not sure why you've lumped me in here, but I couldn't care less about some "missing policeman" story. You're part of the Secret Seven, I suppose?

  28. Brian Tate says: Reply

    I think we all know who it is Stuart.

  29. I tried to reply last night re the missing cop. But have malfunctioning Google.

    It is all on p. 157 of The Kelly Gang Unmasked book. Const Thomas Meehan went missing delivering a police despatch, but turned up next day. He had been followed by armed horsemen and wisely decided to lay low.

    Next question, Anonymous?

  30. Anonymous says: Reply

    It wasn't Thomas Meehan.

  31. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Brian, I have no idea who it might be, but it sounds like someone who can't see this topic is about analysing the Kelly hero myth and wants to go off on a mystery quiz about missing policeman. Small things amuse…
    And who is presumably some variety of Kelly enthusiast, but has nothing to suggest as to what might count towards Kelly being a hero. I have to disagree with Dee, that selectors and family members building their own slab huts is heroic, it was just what people did. That just leaves saving Richard Shelton on this page at this point. Lemme see now… He put on a bullet-proof suit of armour and walked bravely into police fire, not trying to commit suicide-by-cop, as the armour rules that out; but wanting to paste as many traps as possible… No, that was just what he said to Carrington from the Australasian. How about, by walking into the police lines shooting, he was "the father of our national courage", said Robbitt Jon Clow. He stuck it up them. He was a larrikin imp. He would have made a great general, anyone can see that. Robbitt Clow could: In his "The Cause of Kelly" 1919: 66, he has his "General Kelly" say at Glenrowan, "The last three years marks the end of the Kelly era. During it I have ruled Victoria and Victoria governs the English… I am the pivot between Convict Days and the brighter age to be." (Damn that ignoble traitor Curnow, wanting the reward and breaking his word of surrender to the mighty outlaw Ned, also page 66.) Great stuff, surely, the stuff that legends are made of. Stuff and nonsense even. And not a word of Kelly republican leanings in Clow either, despite his impassioned defence of Kelly from being persecuted by the police (page 92). But Kelly heroically stood up to the nasty troopers, ho ho (ho).

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