Ive decided to do a third Blog post about Steele, but the point of this Post is not so much to add to what is already written about Steele, but to use this saga to illustrate the way in which visitors to these Ned Kelly-related Facebook pages are being misinformed by people purporting to be experts on the Kelly story. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence within the world of amateur Kelly historians who routinely conceal the whole truth about the Kelly story in an effort to keep the unhistorical Kelly mythology alive. I suppose the good news is that despite their efforts, the Kelly myths are slowly dying, and being replaced with the true story.
In this instance it is the Facebook page called ‘An Introduction to Ned Kelly‘ that is promoting a completely false version of Sgt Steeles involvement in the siege at Glenrowan. This page, along with its supporters is doing the very thing I’ve been exposing as one of the dishonest tactics of Kelly authors down the years, of only informing their readers of half the story. The host of that page, Jack Peterson, mocks my recent Blog posts about Steele, then asks his readers to make up their own minds about him but he only gives them half of the story, the half that supports the argument he wants to cling to that Steele went on ‘a murderous rampage’ (So Jack Peterson, just remind us : who did Steele murder on this rampage? Wasn’t it nobody?). He recycles convenient parts of the testimony of various people from the Commission but fails to inform his readers that these very testimonies and claims were later challenged by Steele, that a special Enquiry was set up to examine them, and that the Enquiry dismissed them and reinstated Steele “unhesitatingly and unanimously.” Peterson can’t pretend he doesn’t know all this because he and his supporters all read this Blog. So what is their excuse for ignoring the Enquiry and its findings? For anyone wanting balance, all the facts and an up-to-date understanding of Kelly history, they’re wasting their time at Jacks place. So, if its balance and understanding you want, read on:
At this Enquiry, Steele, Mr and Mrs Reardon and Constable Arthur, Mrs Ann Jones, Jesse Dowsett and others were all questioned again about their evidence. The panel wanted Constable Phillips to also attend but reported that he had left the colony. I provided details of where the reports from this Enquiry could be read, but without quoting extensively from them, pointed out that at the end of the Enquiry the three gentleman appointed to the Enquiry “unhesitatingly and unanimously” acquitted Steele of all the charges. That was the bit Jack Peterson didnt want anyone to know.
In this post I am going to fill in some of the detail of that three man enquiry, detail that makes it clear why the Commission disregarded Arthurs claims and why tellers of the Kelly story should no longer repeat them as anything other than smear directed at Steele by Arthur. I’ve speculated that Arthurs motivation was a desire for revenge because Steele had accused him of cowardice but in truth, none of us knows why Arthur made them. However, the documentary evidence from the time leaves little room for doubt: they were false.
The version of events that the Enquiry eventually accepted, was that Steele saw people trying to escape the Inn, and amongst them was Mrs Reardon but also a young man he thought could have been a gang member so he challenged him. This challenge was not directed at Mrs Reardon but at the young man who didn’t do as he was ordered to, and so Steele fired at him twice. Steele readily admitted this at the Royal Commission, and later, when he discovered who it was he apologised to the boy’s father and had a drink with him. The idea that he called out “I have shot mother Jones in the tits” makes no sense: Steele knew that Mrs Jones had already left the Inn. Later, in further proof that Jack Peterson and the Kelly mob are wrong to claim Steele was on a trigger happy ‘murderous rampage’, Steele called on everyone not to fire at Ned Kelly emerging from the mist because at first Steele thought he was a local aborigine. Peterson left that detail out too.
So what was it that led the Enquiry to prefer Steele’s version of events over Arthurs?
Well firstly, the panel expressed surprised that Arthurs claims were not aired anywhere, not mentioned either by himself or anyone else until Arthur appeared at the 1881 Royal Commission almost a year after they were alleged to have happened. His accusations were sensational and completely contrary to the narrative that was current at the time. Such a complete silence over so many months clearly made the Panel wonder about their accuracy.
The Panel and the Commissioners themselves were also clearly sceptical of Arthurs claim that everyone who said it was Steele who brought Kelly down was wrong! Effectively, Arthur was accusing all of these other witnesses of committing perjury, so he was asked directly at Q11172: “You are prepared to say that all those who have sworn that he was struck by Steele, before he fell, are wrong in their impression?” Even people who were much closer to the action than Arthur was, like Dowsett and SC Kelly got it wrong, according to Arthur. So Jack Peterson, you’re also sure are you that Sgt Kelly and Dowsett were wrong? And so was the journalist who wrote about it for the Age? Everyone was wrong but Arthur? Hmmmm…..
Arthur further undermined his credibility when questioned by the panel about his written evidence that Steele fired twice at Mrs Reardon. He said, in answer to a question that he couldn’t swear that the second shot was aimed at Mrs Reardon:
“Mr HERON here read Constable Arthur’s written complaint against Sergeant Steele, in which it was distinctly stated that Steele fired two shots at the woman.
Mr HERON – How do you explain the discrepancy between what you wrote and what you now swear?
Arthur – My meaning was that he fired the second shot in the direction of the woman.” Hmmmm……so now Arthur is only claiming that Steele fired one shot at Mrs Reardon…or was it also ‘in the direction of the woman’ like the second one? One shot constitutes a ‘murderous rampage’ does it Jack?
The Enquiry also heard from Superintendent Sadleir who informed them that “An adverse report has been made against Constable Arthur, but witness had always found him a good, steady man. In the district there was a great hatred of Sergeant Steele on the part of the outlaws and their friends. Constable Phillips was a very unreliable man, and was on two occasions recommended for dismissal.” No detail is provided about the ‘adverse report’ concerning Arthur, or of why the ‘very unreliable’ Phillips was recommended for dismissal, but Sadleir’s opinion would have carried weight.He also said that in his opinion “Steele was a steady and reliable man”.
Mrs Reardon attended the Enquiry and admitted she hadn’t seen who it was that was firing at her but was later told it was Steele. She had previously claimed a hole in her babies shawl was proof Steele had fired at her, but when the proprietor of the Glenrowan Inn Ann Jones, who also attended the Enquiry was asked about the damage to the shawl she reported that previously “Mrs. Reardon informed her that a bullet went through her shawl whilst she was lying down on a bed in the house.”
The Panel wrote: “She afterwards showed a bullet hole through the shawl which covered her child, but Sergeant Steele was armed with a double barrelled gun carrying swan shot. Can it be possible that within so short a distance and armed with such a weapon, had he fired at her she and her infant could have escaped unhurt? That the poor woman was justly terrified by the shots whistling past her there can be no doubt, but that she should know, or could possibly have observed, whence the two shots came is quite incredible.” Clearly, they had serious reservations about her interpretation of events.
Mr Reardon also attended the Enquiry. When they asked him how he knew it was Steele who had fired at his wife and son he said he had been told this by Arthur – of all people! There was also a surprising admission by him that some time after the event he had met Steele and invited him to the Pub for a drink. He agreed Steele admitted to him that he was the person who had fired at his son, but wouldn’t agree with Steeles claim that he had apologised for doing so and offered to shake his hand. The panel seemed to think it was a contradiction for Reardon to claim Steele had fired at his wife and son, but then invite him for a drink.
Mr. HERON. – You say you invited Sergeant Steele to have a drink with you. Was that not rather strange behaviour towards a man who you say boasted of having shot your son?
Witness – Well, I thought it was the best thing to do.
Finally, it seems nobody else heard Arthur calling out to Steele not to fire at Mrs Reardon. “Patrick Healey, constable, accompanied Sergeant Steele from Wangaratta to Glenrowan, and was stationed during the fight at a distance of 20 yards from Steele, and seven from Arthur. Never heard Arthur threaten to shoot Steele if he fired again at a woman. Had Arthur made such a threat witness would certainly have heard him.”
Jack Peterson ends his misleading Facebook post about Steele with the following question about Arthur and Phillips: “So did these two officers lie under oath or was Sgt Steele just a blood-thirsty maniac?”
Well Jack, somebody appears to have lied under oath, and if it wasn’t those two – one of whom was reported to be ‘very unreliable’ – then it had to have been Jesse Dowsett, Sgt Kelly, Healey, Mrs Jones and all the others who didn’t support Arthurs version of events. Are you going to call all of them out Jack? Also Jack you’ve not provided any evidence that Steele was what you called a ‘blood thirsty maniac’ whereas I’ve provided evidence that he most definitely wasn’t: he ordered men NOT to fire at Ned Kelly when he thought he was someone else, he only fired at Reardon after warning him, he apologised to Reardons father and had a drink with him after it was all over, and though you call his actions a ‘murderous rampage’ he murdered nobody.
So lets set the record straight shall we Jack : the Enquiry established that the blood thirsty maniac who went on a murderous rampage at Glenrowan wasn’t Sgt Steele. However those words of yours do describe almost perfectly the behaviour of someone else at Glenrowan that weekend in 1880 : Ned Kelly.