|Everything widow Ellen Kelly and her family owned was destroyed
in 1868 by Neds uncle James
One of the most popular Kelly ‘quotes’ is “Such is life” – which are supposed to be but are not Ned Kellys last words. Nobody is really sure if he ever said ‘such is life’ but experts agree they weren’t his last words.
Another favourite Ned Kelly quote is this one:
“If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill-treat, my life will not have been thrown away. People who live in large towns have no idea of the tyrannical conduct of police far removed from court. They have no idea of the harsh over bearing manner in which they execute their duties, of how they neglect their duties and abuse their powers”
Hard to believe but Ned Kelly didn’t say these words either! They appeared in a pretend “Interview” written by Ned Kellys solicitor David Gaunson and published in the Age in August 1880. As soon as the interview was published it was spotted as fake, the language supposed to be the words of Ned Kelly being obviously very different from his usual vocab, and the mood much more reasonable than his usual tone of extreme hate and anger. It was really a kind of PR job by Gaunson, cleverly trying to manipulate public opinion and gain some much-needed sympathy for his murderous client. So even though the trick was seen through at the time you would have to say Gaunson succeeded because from that day till now, that quote for many people sums up the whole basis of the outbreak and justifies for many the outrages that Kelly had committed. Ian Jones wrote that they may not be Neds exact words but never-the-less he reckoned this ‘Interview’ was a ‘genuine expression of his views’. And I think he is right: Ned Kelly blamed the police for the outbreak. However, sayingit was all the fault of the police doesn’t make it so – all crims blame the police for their misfortune, and gaols are full of innocent people, if you believe what the inmates all claim. Ned Kelly was just another criminal and liar who blamed the police.
This week I am just going to point out a few more of the legion of facts that don’t fit with the Kelly apologists story. This week I am focussing on the idea that the selectors were the innocent decent honest folk you saw in Ian Jones TV miniseries, and portrayed in all the children’s books about the Kelly story, that this great clan, the Kellys Lloyds and Quinns were poor but decent upstanding law abiding selectors. They weren’t. They were feral violent drunks who fought one another, took each other to court, associated with criminals and by their behaviour drew police attention to themselves.
So what follows is the report from the local newspaper, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser of the court case involving Ned Kellys uncle James. This man, James Kelly was Red Kellys brother. The report shows he was a vengeful drunk, said to be ‘seldom sober’ who didn’t take kindly to having his sexual advances on widow Ellen Kelly rejected. They assaulted him by smashing a bottle of gin over his head. As you will read, in response he very nearly incinerated 13 children : “If it were not for the water they would never have got the children out alive.”
Its also interesting to read Ellen Kelly saying she and her sisters ( whose husbands were both in Gaol at this time for cattle stealing) “sometimes went and drank at O’Brien’s house.” This illustrates the sad drinking culture of these people – you might have thought after seeing what happened to her husband Red, so recently dead at a mere 46 years old from alcoholism she might have sworn off the drink….
Also, make note of Judge Redmond Barrys sentencing remarks. Kelly apologists always screw up when discussing James’ sentence of death, claiming it shows how the Judge had it in for the Kellys. It shows nothing of the sort, as the Judge himself points out in these remarks. ‘Death’ was a mandatory sentence – he had no choice in the matter, and well knew that on appeal it would be commuted to a lengthy gaol term. Which is what happened.
Reports like this are never discussed by the Kelly fanciers on their Facebook pages, or even in their books except perhaps in passing. Reports like this destroy the idea that the Clan was a fun family of upright but poor irish farmers who were harassed by police. What this shows with nauseating clarity is the clans drinking culture, their criminal lifestyles, their loose morals and their fondness for violence. There was no police harassment here. Its all just a great big pathetic and sad mess.
What this also shows is there’s no need to blame police persecution or squatter oppression for the Kellys poverty. It was all due to their alcohol fuelled lifestyle : it destroyed Red and his farms collapsed as a result, and not much more than a year after Reds death it resulted in Uncle James burning down the house and destroying everything the Kellys owned except the shirts on their back.
The Kelly fanciers who follow Ned Kellys lead and blame everything on the police and the squatters are kidding themselves.
James Kelly was charged with setting fire to a dwelling house at Greta, near Wangaratta. Mr F. Brown defended the prisoner.
Catherine Lloyd said she was the wife of William Lloyd. She lived at Greta ; knew prisoner. Their house was a wooden house, formerly an hotel. The plan produced was correct ; recollected 27th April. There were on that night in the house her sister, Mrs Kelly, and
thirteen children. The latter were in bed at the time of the fire. Saw prisoner that night ; he came to the house about 6 o’clock in the evening. He went away about 8, but again returned in a quarter of an hour with a bottle of gin, and went to her sister’s room. He
was talking to her and asking her to take a glass ; she refused to take any. Ordered him out ; he did not say much. Shoved him out ; he said nothing. Her sister told witness that night something that prisoner said. They, all but the children, stayed up in consequence of that. They went out to look for prisoner about 12 o’clock, and found him lying asleep close by in the bush. They went back and remained up, as they were afraid of prisoner. Just after going to bed, between 1 and 2 o’clock, heard something like the crack of a paling pulled off a window ; went there and saw some person ; it was the prisoner. The window was on fire, and prisoner only a few yards from it ; could see him plainly by the light of the fire. Went back to save the children ; got a bucket of water but could not put out the fire. Succeeded in keeping the fire down among wheat in the room till they got all the children out. The whole place was burned down in an hour. Had lived there for years. Gave information to police about prisoner.
By Mr Brown : Lived there seven years. Mrs Kelly had seven children. Witness’s husband was not living with her ; he was in jail. Knew prisoner two years, but he was not in the habit often of coming there. Did not see prisoner after the fire till with the police. Prisoner had no quarrel with any of them as far as she knew. She had been stopping at a public-house. but not with anyone. Her sister was in her own room, and Mrs Kelly with witness at the time of the fire. Called up Mr O’ Brien, a neighbour, to help to save the children. If it were not for the water they would never have got the children out alive. Told O’Brien who set fire to the house. When Harrington brought prisoner next day, witness said ” that is the man”.
Jane Lloyd, sister of last witness : Lived with her in the house burned down. Knew prisoner about two years. On the 27th January last he came to their house. About a week before that prisoner said he had three minds to burn the place. That was because they had shut him out before. This witness’ evidence was otherwise corroborative of last witness’ testimony.
By Mr Brown : Prisoner had been drinking. He was seldom sober. Ellen Kelly, sister of last two witnesses, and sister-in-law of prisoner, gave similar evidence to last witness.
By Mr Brown : Knew prisoner ten years ; he had done witness acts of kindness. He had sometimes stopped a few days. The day of the fire prisoner had given her boy a pair of trousers. The sisters sometimes went and drank at O’Brien’s house.
Laurence O’Brien, a publican at Greta : He lived near where the house was burned down. Saw prisoner the night of the fire, he took a bottle of gin in the direction of Mrs Lloyd’s. Prisoner was tipsy and seemed excited when he came back. He said he had a quarrel with the women at Mrs Lloyd’s, and that one of them struck him with the bottle of gin, breaking it on him, and then turned him out. Advised him to go up the creek. He said he would not go till he had revenge for them striking him with the bottle. Gave him some gin, on condition he would not go back to the Lloyds. Did not see any more of him. About half-past one heard the scream of women and children, and saw the fire. Went down as quick as he could, but the whole place was quickly burned down.
By Mr Brown : There sometimes was a noise in the Lloyd’s house. Richard O’Meara described himself as a musician.
His Honor asked him what instrument he played.
Witness : The violin, your Honor.
His Honor : Then perhaps you will allow me to write you down a fiddler.
Witness : Saw prisoner on the night of the fire. Saw prisoner chased by Mrs Kelly with a stick. Heard prisoner say he had a row with the Lloyds, and would have revenge. Prisoner was not sober, and he was not drunk. Detective Harrington had received information about the fire on the 28th of January : arrested prisoner in a shoemaker’s house, Greta, before witness spoke, prisoner said, “I suppose you have come after me ; this is a most unfortunate affair.” Mrs Lloyd immediately said, ” That is the man that burnt the house.” On the road to Wangaratta, prisoner said. ” Can you keep a secret ?” Asked him ” why.” Well, he said. I’ll say nothing till I see what they’ll do, and if they put me in for it, I’ll not go in alone. Searched him, found a quantity of loose matches in one of his pockets, and a box of wax matches in another. Prisoner appeared to have been drinking, but was quite sober.The place was completely burned down ,and the children all lying out in the bush.
Brown then addressed the jury for the defence, and His Honor very shortly. The jury, after about quarter of an hour’s consultation, found the prisoner Guilty.
James Kelly, for arson, was then brought up for sentence. His Honor addressed prisoner in a very impressive manner, pointing out the enormity of the crime which, had it not been for the vigilance of the women they and their thirteen helpless children would have been hurried into eternity by a most dreadful death. The law, His Honor said, had not in such cases been made to correspond with that of England, where arson was no longer a capital offence, the colonial Legislature thinking he supposed, and no doubt wisely, that the heaviest penalty, might still be directed against a crime which, in a climate like this and with buildings of such combustible materials, might be attended with such appalling consequences. Had a single human life been sacrificed the prisoner would have been sentenced to death without hope of mercy, and even as it was the enormity of the crime compelled His Honor to mark it by recording a sentence of death against the prisoner, which would brand the prisoner for life as a felon. It would remain for the Executive, afterwards to deal with him,. Sentence of death was then recorded.”
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