The Kelly Book I would write (Part Three)

In the first two parts of this series about the story I would tell if I was ever to write the definitive work on the Kelly Outbreak, I wrote an outline of what happened up to around 1877 when Ned Kelly was 22. I described how when his father was alive Ned Kelly and his family were not on the police radar, even though many of the members of the wider family were. Members of the Quinns and Lloyd families, and Reds own younger brother James were receiving entirely appropriate police attention in relation to a long list of charges of serious crimes, mostly involving violence and thieving, some of the charges ending in a failure to convict and others resulting in fines and prison sentences of several years with hard labour.


In contrast, Ned Kellys father “Red” seems to have been determined to keep his family on the straight and narrow, distancing himself from the in-laws and his brother by moving from Beveridge to Avenel while he himself was fighting a losing battle with the bottle. He got the kids to school, Ned was a good student, and the family was remembered as decent folk when they were in Avenel, Ellen said to be always ready to assist people in trouble or needing help.


Sadly, Reds declining health translated into poverty for the family and out of desperation he took a stray calf that belonged to a neighbour, a theft he paid for with a short spell in prison.


After his passing just over a year later, Mrs Kelly moved her family into the environment of lawlessness that her husband had been trying to keep them out of, and inevitably she now also became an object of police attention for minor offences, as did her son Edward. His first serious encounter with police resulted from a Chinese hawker claiming to have been robbed by him. His next arrest was in regard to his so-called ‘apprenticeship’ to the armed highway robber, prison escapee and wanted criminal, Harry Power. It’s said that his mother supported this association, an allegation which if true, reveals his mother to have been derelict in her duty towards her son at a time when he was most in need of firm positive guidance away from a life of crime that he was slipping into. But no, so disordered was her moral compass she approved his apprenticeship into a life of violent crime.


Ned Kelly was charged but was very fortunate to escape convictions in relation to both of those incidents, but that’s where his luck in the Courts ran out. Next followed a conviction and a sentence of three months in prison for indecency and assault, and then for ‘feloniously receiving’ he got three years inside. However, he was released early and began what have been called ‘the quiet years’ when Ned Kelly is supposed to have attempted to live an honest life and have legitimate employment. These ‘quiet years’ were characterised by a complete absence of any interaction between police and Ellen Kelly and her family, a fact that disproves the modern sympathiser claim that Ned Kellys subsequent lawlessness was a response to harassment. There wasn’t any.


Part Two finished with a brief description of how ‘the quiet years’ ended when Ned Kelly chucked in regular work to begin a full-time career as a stock thief at the age of 22, in 1877. He openly admitted to doing this, saying in the Jerilderie letter that because people were falsely accusing him of being a stock thief he may as well become one : In Kellys own words “ I heard again I was blamed for stealing a mob of calves from Whitty and Farrell which I knew nothing about. I began to think they wanted me to give them something to talk about. Therefore I started wholesale and retail cattle dealing” What does that admission tell you about the young mans reasoning and character – deciding to become a criminal because people were accusing him of being one : pathetic and immature isn’t it? And note well: he explicitly fails to say this decision was anything to do with police harassment and persecution of his family, even though thats what his defenders claim to this day.


So, along with Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne and various others who all adopted aliases, Ned Kelly – under the fake name Jack Thompson – developed a cunning system for what he himself euphemistically called “wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing”, a sophisticated and well organised scheme for stealing horses on either side of the border, tricking unsuspecting casual acquaintances into providing legitimate signatures on fake documents and then selling the stolen goods on the opposite side of the Murray.


Meanwhile, brother Jim changed his name to James Wilson, moved to NSW and also started stealing horses. However, he was nowhere near as clever as his brother Ned, and was soon caught and sent to Gaol for three years, starting mid 1877.

Ned Kellys scheme was successful – for a while – but an ambitious theft of a large mob of horses in a raid that became known as the Whitty larceny, proved to be his undoing. This heist came to the attention of police, and though, according to the evidence the gang cruelly slaughtered several of the stolen horses to conceal their crime, police methodically and steadily over several months pieced it all together and in early 1878 arrest warrants were issued.


This brings us to a critical and mostly misrepresented moment in the story, the so-called “Fitzpatrick incident”, a moment that would be doubly underlined in my book because it has for a long time been claimed to be the cause of the murderous Kelly Outbreak. The popular sympathiser narrative is that the cause of the Outbreak was a policeman named Fitzpatrick who visited the Kelly household at Greta in April 1878. He didn’t go there on a whim: he went there on legitimate police business to arrest Dan Kelly but instead, a violent confrontation occurred and he returned empty-handed to the Station late at night with a bullet wound in his wrist. Warrants were soon issued for attempted murder, but Ned and Dan Kelly had already fled into the bush to hide. However their mother was arrested and several months later sentenced to three years in prison for ‘wounding with intent to prevent lawful apprehension’. A few weeks later Ned and Dan Kelly along with Steve Hart and Joe Byrne murdered three of the four policemen searching for them at Stringybark Creek. I’ll discuss this crime in Part Four. 



The Kelly family and supporters claim all this was Fitzpatrick’s fault, that if he hadn’t visited the Kelly home none of this wold have happened but such an argument is unsustainably illogical.

Fitzpatricks visit was a direct consequence of Ned Kellys very deliberate decision in early 1877 to actively pursue a criminal career as a stock thief , and THAT decision was the ultimate trigger to the entire catastrophe that emerged over the next two and a half years. Kellys own testimony is that it was a choice he freely made himself, but if he had not made it, or if he had made a different one and continued in legitimate employment there would have never been a ‘Whitty larceny’, or a need for arrest warrants to be issued at Chiltern, no policeman would have needed to visit their home, there wouldn’t have been a ‘Fitzpatrick incident’ and no Kelly Outbreak. But once Kelly embarked on that course of action, taking up a life of crime it was entirely predictable that sooner or later police investigations of reports of stock theft would lead them to the Kellys, and if Fitzpatrick hadn’t come knocking, some other policeman would have.

So why would the people who blame Fitzpatrick for everything imagine if a different policeman had turned up the Kellys would not have made every attempt to evade arrest, to then lie about what happened, and to try to destroy the reputation of the arresting officer, which is what happened after Fitzpatrick turned up? Has any sympathiser ever claimed that if a different policeman had come, Mrs Kelly would have let him take Dan away? She objected to Dan being arrested without being shown a warrant – but no policeman turning up to arrest Dan Kelly would have a warrant with him because police were not required then, or today to show a suspect a warrant before arresting them. So nothing would have been any different. 

The historical record regarding this incident has recently been brilliantly and forensically analysed by Dr Stuart Dawson, and the version favoured by Kelly admirers exposed as mostly fabrication. Because its such an important and pivotal moment in the story of the Outbreak it will need at least a chapter to fully explain, but in essence, it wasn’t Fitzpatrick’s behaviour that day that triggered the Outbreak, but the Kellys. Their many and inconsistent versions of what actually happened include demonstrable lies, such as Ned Kellys claim in the Jerilderie letter that he was hundreds of miles away at the time of the incident – a claim later proved in court to be a lie by his signature on a receipt dated that same day for a horse he sold just up the road in Greta to his cousin Joe Ryan for £17.


At this point in my book I would discuss in detail another of the important lies told by the Kellys about the ‘Fitzpatrick incident’ – – the one told several months after Mrs Kelly had gone to prison by Kate Kelly that Fitzpatrick had sexually assaulted her, and this assault was why he had been attacked. Belief that this assault happened is universal among modern day Kelly sympathisers, who often declare on Facebook that this assault on his 14-year-old sister entirely justifies what Ned Kelly subsequently did. ‘If that happened to my sister I would do the same’ they often declare.


Kate Kellys account of what happened is so full of claims that contradicted everyone else’s that much of it simply can’t be true: for example, she said she was at home alone when Fitzpatrick arrived – NOBODY else said that. But the most powerful reason for rejecting her claim about sexual assault is that if it was true, Mrs Kelly would have had a perfect defence against the charges laid against her, by claiming she was defending her daughters honour against a violent sexual assault, but surprisingly at the court, such an assault wasn’t mentioned by anyone. The Kelly myth is that in sending her to gaol with a newborn baby, Police and the Justice system were exhibiting exceptional cruelty and callousness – and yet the Kellys could have prevented all that by reporting the alleged assault on Kate. It would have been a perfectly legitimate and likely successful defence that no sane Lawyer would have ever advised a client to hide, and so risk not only conviction and imprisonment, but escape for the perpetrator.


An argument is occasionally advanced by sympathisers that there was a desire to protect Kate from the shame of having been raped: but at the cost of her mother and newborn going to prison for three years’ hard labour and Fitzpatrick getting away with it? That would be preposterous! Remember, according to the myth it was injustice that motivated Kelly to take up arms against the authorities – but this alleged gross injustice against his own sister Kate isn’t mentioned even once in Ned Kellys acclaimed account of the Outbreak, the Jerilderie letter! When asked about injustice and persecution all he could think of to report was the time  Lonigan squeezed his balls! Ned Kelly himself when asked after his capture about an assault on Kate, emphatically denied such an assault ever happened, saying if it had, Victoria wouldn’t have been big enough for the perpetrator to hide in.

This sexual assault allegation is a seriously pernicious and egregious lie that has no place in a history of the Outbreak , except as an illustration of the deplorable depths sympathisers will go to in their attempts to defend the indefensible.


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4 Replies to “The Kelly Book I would write (Part Three)”

  1. The one item that is, to an extent, ignored in the Kelly saga, is his extensive criminal network that he built up to steal stock, and in particular horses. Very little has been exposed as he would operate in the dead of night in taking horses from poor settlers and moving them to a trusted criminal associate settler where they would be kept until perhaps a dozen horses had been stolen before they would then be moved, again overnight, into NSW. Obviously, he stole a lot of horses in NSW during the night and would have had criminal associates hide them on their selections until they could be moved back into Victoria. No doubt, his associates would receive a stipend for keeping the animals.
    Doug Morrissey touched on this, but it appears to be one area where a lot more investigative work needs to be done to expose the extensive network that Kelly built that was the backbone of his criminal enterprise.

  2. I think there are questions about the so-called quiet years when Kelly kept himself away from police attention that need to be asked. Thje lack of police ttention to his family is striking as David points out. Clearly they were not being harrassed during these couple of years. It was somewhere in this period that the intercolonial Baumgarten horse stealing ring was set up, as Sam notes. John McQuilton mentions it in a couple of pages in his Kelly Outbreak book (around p. 84); but althouigh it has been largely ignored, it seems to underpin and explain the whole subsequent Kelly outbreak in the fact of its being broken up by the police closing in on it and finally starting to make arrests.

    It was during this earlier period where stock thefts rose, as Doug Morrissey’s work shows clearly. What is quite possible is that Ned was away stealing horses during much of the “quiet” years while keeping well clear of the Eleven Mile and therefore not attracting teh attention of the police. Not shearing or fencing or building stone houses, but returning to his roots of organised stock theft as modelled in the feloniously receiving charge that had previously sent him to gaol. I think there is something in all this that needs pursuing, if we can say that about Kelly with a straight face…

  3. There was the Lydecker matter, where Ned Kelly was charged but acquitted of some sort of stock theft in 1876 toward the end of the ‘quiet years’. Its not easy to imagine him genuinely going straight for all that time but if there are no facts to contradict that claim then we may as well accept it.

    The really significant thing about that claim though, as far as the Kelly mythology goes, is that it completely wrecks their narrative about the Kellys being innocent and living lawfully but still being harassed and persecuted by police. The Kelly sympathisers own narrative disproves its own claims about persecution, which according to them is the heart of Ned Kellys campaign.

    The true Kelly story is actually just a story about a stock thief who screwed up trying to escape justice.

  4. From what I can see they had no choice about taking the baby along while arresting Mrs Kelly as it was only a couple of days old and probably breast fed. Sad but necessary as she did participate in an assault on Fitzpatrick and in fact hit him with a shovel. Perhaps she shouldn’t have tried to belt Fitzpatrick over the head with the shovel and the resulting arrest wouldn’t have happened.

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