This post is part two of my essay on the Kelly book I would write if I had the time. What I would like to do is take all the best and latest insights and the research findings of the many authors who have already written books and essays and articles on the story over many years and draw them all together into one evidence and fact based comprehensive, authoritative and definitive work. This would then become the standard text on the Kelly Outbreak. It wouldn’t perpetuate the tired old sympathiser trick of pretending there were two sides to the debate and pose the question ‘Ned Kelly- hero or villain?’ No, this book would give the unequivocal and final answer to that question: Ned Kelly was a villain, and my book will convincingly explain exactly why.
In Part One I outlined that I would begin to explain exactly why, by describing in detail the background of Ned Kellys parents, John ‘Red’ Kelly and Ellen Quinn, and the environment of lawlessness and poverty that he was raised in. I will point out that in spite of this background Ned Kellys father was a positive influence, and that while he remained alive his family had very little if anything to do with the Law, they were not hounded or harassed by police, they were respected in the community, the children went to school and if it hadn’t been for Reds alcoholism and resulting early death, there may have never been a Kelly Outbreak. These observations don’t exist in any of the books currently on offer.
But sadly, Red Kelly did die, the Kelly children’s education ceased, and Ned Kellys mother moved the family into the orbit of the violent drunks and criminals that were her brothers and her in-laws. The many recorded details of the really awful criminal behaviour of the wider family will be recounted in detail to further provide the context of lawlessness and what Doug Morrissey calls the ‘shanty culture’ that Ned Kelly was being raised in, information which debunks the old claim about police harassment and persecution being the cause of his criminality. What this evidence demonstrates is that police interest in the Kellys and the Quinn’s and the Lloyds were entirely appropriate responses to Kelly clan lawlessness. These facts disprove Ned Kellys later claim that all he was doing was standing up to police harassment and persecution – this claim of his was nothing more than the whining complaint criminals have always made, that they’re being picked on! Again, these are relevant and important details that you will not find in many of the books currently on offer.
I mentioned in Part 1 that in 1871 Ned Kelly was sentenced to three years in prison for ‘feloniously receiving a horse’. This was the case lots of people think proves he was persecuted because when the horse was stolen, Kelly was in prison for an earlier offence so clearly couldn’t have been the thief, and yet his sentence for his involvement in the saga was double what the actual thief, Isaiah aka “Wild” Wright received. In fact, what most of the other narratives neglect to point out is that Wright wasn’t convicted of theft either, but of ‘illegally using’ the horse, which is not as serious a crime as ‘feloniously receiving’ and thats why the two sentences were different. Another fact that disproves the claim that this episode is an example of Kelly being persecuted is that he was released six months early for good behaviour! How easy would it have been for a corrupt system to keep him inside and off the streets for another six months? – but no, contrary to what the Kelly promotors and sympathisers would have you believe, they stuck to the rules and let him go early.
The Kelly claim is they were harassed and persecuted even though they were innocent. Its claimed that even when living inside the law they were harassed by police. But look at what happened to Ned Kelly after he was released from Gaol : for the next three years, its claimed he went ‘straight’, he stayed within the law and engaged in legitimate work. The record of the number and variety of jobs he did over that time is quite extensive and not much of it can be accurately verified, but what’s interesting about those three years, when Ned Kelly was apparently ‘going straight’ is that there’s no record of the police having anything to do with him or his family at Greta. This again is the opposite of what would be expected if the Kelly claim about harassment was true, but the evidence proves its not true – when going straight police had nothing to do with Ned Kelly or his family.
This idea of police persecution is a central Kelly sympathiser belief that needs close analysis. I’ll detail the facts around an incident that Ned Kelly himself provided when a few months before he was executed he was asked to describe an example of the police persecution that he claimed turned him into a criminal. You might expect he would have a long list of examples where he and his innocent law-abiding family were bullied and abused by police, but the best he could come up with was a complaint about a brawl that he started himself and which resulted in a policeman grabbing him by the testicles and squeezing! This only happened because he had made a run for it and tried to escape police custody when he was being quietly walked across the road in Benalla from the lockup to the Court to face a very minor charge to do with being drunk. As Kelly himself wrote in his Jerilderie letter, Police chased him when he made an impulsive run for it and cornered him in the bootmakers shop – there was no possible escape for him but instead of giving in like any reasonable person would do when trapped with no chance of escape, he attacked police and fought and kicked out violently as they attempted to re-arrest him, which of course the inevitably did. But that was when Lonigan applied the so-called ‘squirrel grip’ to his balls. The young fool brought all this unnecessary suffering on himself, it was nothing to do with persecution but the police attempting to do their sworn duty and get him to court. Were they supposed to have just let him run off?
Kelly claims in the Jerilderie letter that in 1877, because he was sick of being accused of being a stock thief when he wasn’t one, he decided to become one to give his accusers something to complain about. Only an idiot would become a criminal on such a completely absurd and childish basis, but Kelly had a habit of blaming his actions on other people! My book would describe in detail how he went on to develop an extensive and sophisticated scheme for stealing horses in Victoria and NSW and selling them on the opposite side of the border using a fake name and faked documents. Ned Kellys brother Jim tried to do the same thing in southern NSW, calling himself James Wilson, but after violently resisting arrest and very nearly killing the policeman who came to arrest him, he ended up in Darlinghurst prison in Sydney for three years hard labour. “James Wilson” didn’t just lie about his name – he lied claiming to have been born in Ireland and to be 21. This is yet another example of the historical facts undermining the Kelly claim to have been innocent victims of police persecution – Jim Kelly, like his older brother was inclined to extremes of violence and was a liar and a thief. This is also another of those unfavourable stories that’s almost never mentioned in most Kelly biographies, but would get documented in mine.
Mine would also include the larrikin exploits of Neds brother Dan, which if they are not overlooked are usually misreported, the usual mistake being to follow Ian Jones lead and claim that when Dan was convicted of property damage it was on the basis of a fabrication by shopkeeper Goodman who ended up doing three years himself for perjury. Jones got this all wrong. Jones also advanced the idea that when Fitzpatrick persuaded Ned Kelly to bring Dan in to face the charges, Fitzpatrick betrayed Ned because eventually Dan was convicted and given a fine and three months gaol. In fact that sentence is a lenient one for its day, and who knows what Dans sentence would have been if he had evaded arrest and eventually been caught somewhere and likely charged with additional crimes? Its not clear at all, as Jones would want you to believe that Fitzpatricks intervention had a negative effect on the outcome : it may well have been positive.
Unlike Jim, Ned Kelly enjoyed considerable success as a horse thief and boasted about how clever he was and how the money he was raking in supported his lifestyle as a ‘rambling gambler’, roaming far and wide across the colony. He was known to dress in the best clothes and to wear custom made boots. This was when police reported that his mother and her many children were living in ‘poverty and squalor’ on the selection at 11 Mile Creek, Greta West. The myth is that more than anything Ned Kelly cared about his family – but in 1877 those facts and Kellys own boasting about his lifestyle once again say otherwise.
However, in late 1877 he and others eventually built a new home for his mother and siblings, a slab hut with dirt floors and bark roof to replace the dilapidated shack they had moved into almost ten years earlier. Presumably this was funded by Ned Kellys ill-gotten gains. Even so, I would give Ned Kelly credit for this but ask what adult son wouldn’t have done the same thing for his poor widowed mother and family if he was able to? Ned Kelly was a human being after all – and not entirely devoid of normal human affection I am sure. But there are probably many other stories from that time of sons building a cottage for poor parents and working on the family farm to support them all – but unlike Kelly and his sympathisers none of them asked for Sainthood for doing so.
(Part Three of this Two part feature to follow soon)