Book Review : “I was at the Kelly Gang Roundup”by Judith Douthie. Publisher NCS 2007

The title of this very interesting little book, published in 2007, is taken from the banner headline of an article of the same name published in the Border Morning Mail (now known as the Border mail, published in Albury-Wodonga) on August 18th 1944. The article was based on an Interview with 82-year-old David Mortimer and records his memories of how when he was 18, he came to be one of the 62 people imprisoned by the Kelly gang in the Glenrowan Inn.

 

Judith Douthie is the great grand-daughter of David Mortimer. She wrote that her family weren’t entirely happy with the article, so she made it her mission to find out who all the other prisoners were, and this book is the result of her research. 

“Other than just names, I have tried to tell who they were, why they were at the hotel and what happened to them after the event. Through statements, trial evidence, newspaper articles and with the help of some of the relatives and descendants of those who were there I have tried to piece together their lives. Some are no more than a couple of sentences while others have wonderful stories to tell.”


The very interesting and worthy result of her endeavours is not really a book that can be read through from cover to cover –  its more like a small encyclopaedia about the people caught up in the siege that can be used as a reference, and dipped into. 

Under the heading ‘Hostages’, there are 32 short chapters, each one being about a named person that Douthie identified as a prisoner, and another six names of some of the many people who were at the Siege but were not prisoners are listed under the heading ‘Others’.  Some of the Chapters are about whole families, rather than individual people so a total of 36 adult prisoners are identified and discussed in greater or lesser detail, depending on what source material was available. By necessity, given the large number of people identified, the entries are mostly bare biographical details that relate when people were born, married and died, how they came to be at the Inn and in a few examples, their testimonies recorded at the time or later on in private letters, or  given to newspapers, police or official Enquiries are included. We are told for example that Michael Reardon, the 17-year-old boy accidentally shot by Steele, became a mailman, selected land and built a home at Glenrowan, married and had 4 children, moved to Bendigo in 1917 and died there, aged 79 on May 2nd 1942. Elsewhere we learn that his sister Bridget, the baby alleged to have had a near miss when a bullet went through her shawl, grew up, got married, had four children and died in Benalla at the age of 86.

 

Its actually really interesting to find out what happened to all these people, not all of whom lived to ripe old age. Other families lost members to war, infectious disease and suicide.

 

William Sandercock for example, was a 27-year-old selector. Douthie identified him along with six others as probably one of the quarrymen taken into custody from that row of tents seen near the station.  When Joe Byrne was killed he fell on top of Sandercock, and later he received £50 for his horse, which had been shot during the siege. Sadly his bad luck continued because the following year he got pneumonia and died! And what about Alexander Reynolds? He was eight years old and walking to church when the Gang detained him, and then later two people who went looking for him were also detained. Thomas Cameron was 16 when taken prisoner. Later he became a successful business man and Mayor of Wellington, NSW, where he donated money for a fountain in Bell Park which is still there. 

Douthie identified seven quarrymen, and half a dozen ‘sympathisers’. She also includes the stories of Jesse Dowsett, the railway guard from Benalla, Matthew Gibney the priest and three other people who were at the siege but were not prisoners. There’s also story of the otherwise unheard of Edward Weston, whose obituary claimed he was a sympathiser at the siege. It also claimed he beat Ned Kelly in a wrestling match and played Cricket for Australia against England….There is also a much more reliable and fascinating account of the life and deep involvement at the siege of Charles Champion Rawlins, a civilian rumoured to be, but never actually identified as a police spy.  He travelled extensively between England, Australia and New Zealand where he was an MP for a short time. His wife gave birth to a son on the weekend of the siege and he was named Glenrowan! Rawlins joined the Police train at Benalla and was with Hare when he was shot at the very beginning of the siege. He provided a detailed description of the siege to the Argus and to the Royal Commission. Douthie describes him as ‘a true adventurer’, as he certainly lead a colourful and varied life. I know nothing about him but now want to know more.

 

According to Douthie, the oral family history of all descendants – and she is one – was that the experience was so terrifying, once the shooting started, that no matter how they may have regarded the Kelly Gang at the beginning of the siege, they were all sympathisers at the end of it!  Even the Curnows?  Even Alphonse Piazzi who Kelly tried to shoot?  Oral history, especially when its being provided by sympathisers, always needs to be treated carefully, but for the most part the book is free of Kelly mythology. Douthies claim about sympathisers waiting on Mt Morgan, and to Kelly having a ‘large following’ are about all we hear of the mythology, but she also offers her own opinions at various places, such as some oblique criticism of police, with no similar judgements made of the Kelly gangs horrendous plan for mass murder. It interested me that one of the Sympathisers was brother-in-law of David Lindsay, the owner of the public house where Fitzpatrick stopped on his way to Greta that fateful night. Douthie says he had ‘a couple’ of drinks there but thats double what was reported at the time. 

 

 

The finding that most disturbed me, after reading this fascinating study, was to realise that by my count, 27 of the prisoners were children. There were babies and toddlers trapped there by the Gang, eight year old Alexander Reynolds and thirteen year old Johnny Jones who was about to die a lingering horrible death after being shot by police shooting at the Gang. People blame the police for these deaths, but they arrived at Glenrowan not knowing anything about what they would be confronting. Ned Kelly, on the other hand kept children locked up in the Inn knowing full well that they were about to find themselves trapped in the centre of a violent confrontation, the outcomes of which he must have known he couldn’t possibly control. He stood in armour in the darkness in front of them all, opened fire on the police when called to surrender and dared them to shoot back. Douthie  doesn’t draw attention to this fact about the large number of vulnerable innocent children imprisoned by the Gang :  one only realises it by leafing through the book and adding them all up – but who till now has fully appreciated how very many innocent children were involved in this horror show?

 

In the Introduction, Judith Douthie says  I believe that the 62 prisoners are made up of 40 odd civilian men and 18 to 20 Kelly sympathisers. Most of those names still remain unknown. I believe James Reardon counted only those at Mrs Jones Hotel earlier in the evening and that the women and children with Mrs Stanistreet were not included.”

 

Actually, as best as I can calculate, she identified 36 adult prisoners, 8 of whom were sympathisers and  27 children, making a total of 63, only one more than the count provided to the Royal Commission by James Reardon. Douthie doesnt make clear why she believes there were   ‘40 odd civilian men and 18 to 20 Kelly sympathisers’ , or why she thinks women and children were not included in the count, but I can’t help thinking that after those many years of careful research, meticulous enough to discover the obituary of the unmentioned wonderkid Weston, she actually DID identify virtually everyone who was at the Round up, and Reardons count DID include women and children. Did modesty prevent her from admitting even to herself that she had actually done what she had set out to do, and identified everyone? Was the feeling she had fallen short based on having believed a myth about what she would find, and failing to realise at the end of it all that she had just debunked it?

 

Thats a question that I think remains to be answered.

 

 

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12 Replies to “Book Review : “I was at the Kelly Gang Roundup”by Judith Douthie. Publisher NCS 2007”

  1. Noeleen Lloyd says: Reply

    Hello David

    I have no doubt that Judith has identified those that were there and in the ensuing years she and I have talked about it ‘ad nauseum’. She did all the work prior to Trove and is an incredible researcher.

    We have talked about oral history intensely and we talked about it every day she worked on this book. Including the debunked greyhound story. We talk about it still.

    This book is her legacy.

    As an aside, her father Wallace Mortimer, still living, is a published author, as was her uncle Owen Mortimer.

    She and I remain fast friends and I am pleased to say I own the first book from the first box we opened together.

    We have been criticised for being friend on ‘opposite sides’ – as her great Uncle is Thomas Curnow.

    I don’t care and I am proud to call her my friend.

    Noeleen

  2. Thanks Noeleen. I did read your kind words in the Foreword to the book, and really there is no reason why people from ‘opposite sides’ shouldn’t be friends. I know exactly the kind of person who would criticise you for being friends…they predominate on pro-Kelly FB pages and as you know I am a favourite target of their absurd hyperbolic hateful criticism.

    But am I right to say mine is the only actual review of this book? I couldnt find another one anywhere.

    And I would love to know what you think of my suggestion that Judith DID identify everyone? She expresses a kind of unwarranted scepticism about her findings but as you said she is an ‘incredible researcher’? I think she might need to stand up and take a bow.

  3. Hi all, two questions and a comment:

    As David just asked, did Readon’s captive count include children? I
    f so we have 63 people minus 27 children = 39 adults held captive by the Kelly gang at Glenrowan. If this is right it changes the common presentation of the siege significantly. We would have to have 62 adults and 27 children making 89 humans held captive for that common version to be true; a ridiculous number for the space available for them to all lie down in. I think this could be another Kelly myth busted. Waiting on an answer to that adults/children numbers question.

    Who were the 8 sympathisers? If we cross-reference the names identified as held captive by Judith Douthie against the list of those identified as Ned Kelly’s sympathisers in Doug Morrissey’s article of that title, we find only Patrick Delaney, James Kershaw, and brothers Dennis and Patrick McAuliffe. Four men, not eight. Who are the other 4?

    And a comment: I had in the past accepted Judith’s comment that maybe 18-20 of those held captive were sympathisers at face value. I now doubt that. The epilogue says that every one of the hostages’ families that she spoke with assured her that the person involved was a sympathiser. I suspect as Kelly-related descendancy became popular over time, so did those claims.

    The claim must be moderated by her statement that if a person was not a sympathiser before the siege, they were certainly one afterwards. This mixes horror at being caught up in an captive-taking event with sympathy for the captors. Sympathisers are invariably those who lent direct assistance to the gang, or deliberately refused to pass on any knowlege of their movements to the police thereby helping conceal them. It does not include persons who may not have told the police anything out of fear, as Curnow said to the Royal Commission, no-one spoke of the gang outside their own close circle out of fear.

    James Reardon who was one of the capytives and whose boy was shot by a police bullet said specifically to the RC, “I am certain I am no sympathiser”. So the idea that all those who were captive later became sympathetic to the Kelly gang is clearly not correct, but guilding by descendants, or by badly remembered handing down of oral history, a common occurrence.

    (Readon was also one of those who stated to the detective that he had witnessed Ned Kelly shooting labourer George Metcalf in the face in the afternoon before the siege began. Kelly then kept Metcalf prisoner. What a loathsome toad Kelly was.)

    Outside of that, Judith Douthie’s Round-Up book is an extremely valuable source of information and background to the Glenrowan siege, and for what it’s worth I have recommended it on multiple occasions for that reason, and continue to do so..

  4. Great contribution Stuart, as ever!

    I think Judith busted a myth without realising it – instead of concluding there were all these sympathisers she couldn’t track down, she ought to have said Ive found them all, the claim of many more sympathisers than about 7 Ive found is a myth and the total of sympathisers , quarrymen, passersby and children is as Reardon said, around 62.

    I made a list of the Sympathisers she specifically identified – Patrick Delaney, James Kershaw, the two McAuliffe brothers, Cornelius Moloney, John Hillmorton Reynolds and Andrew Rowan.

    It would be so good to hear from her.

    1. Thanks David, but there are problems with some of these. She say Cornelius Moloney may have been taken hostage by the gang but it is most probable he was at the Inn intentionally with Ned and the gang. The fact that he was a lifelong friend of the Lloyds doesn’t automatically make him an active or passive supporter of the Kelly gang; no Lloyds were in the Inn. All we have is that Moloney was there.

      We have to immediately eliminate John Hillmorton Reynolds as she says that he was not taken hostage by Ned. So just part of the story, it seems, but not a prisoner. A letter in that section notes that he was left at large by the gang; so he may or may not have been a sympathiser, but he is irrelevant to the “prisoners at the Inn” numbers tally.

      The Andrew Rowan story may be an embellishment, with a descendant’s tale of Ned Kelly playing cards with Andrew on his farm while he was hiding from the police. The story also has Tom Rowan as an 13 year old boy being the one who was in the Inn, not Andrew. So there is a lot of maybes going on there. The source for this is the 1930s Davies ‘Kellys are out’ series, which names and quotes Tom Rowan as the one held captive; after that it’s guesswork.

      None of those three are in Morrissey’s list of sympathisers, and there is nothing to suggest they were any form of accomplices.

      There were only a handful of sympathisers seeded at Euroa and Jerilderie; and those were planned. It’s hard to see much efficiency of planning in the bungling that went on at Glenrowan; and there are no takes of anyone actually helping the gang except little Jane Jones waving a pistol around.

      1. I was simply reporting the names of people Judith Douthie listed as having been at the Roundup. They werent all ‘prisoners’, as some were sympathisers. We can quibble about a few of the included people but I think the important fact is that Douthie has shown that the number of sympathisers has always been greatly exaggerated, in keeping with the myth that there was an ‘army’ of sympathisers at Glenrowan.

        Judith herself seems to have believed this myth, which is why when she could only account for a handful of sympathisers she proposed there were many more whose names we would never know. In fact her tally, of everyone, sympathisers men women and children was to all intents and purposes the same as the count made on the day by Reardon.

        The realisation that almost half of the hostages were children makes it all even more shocking dont you think? (I think I counted everyone under 17 as a child)

        1. Yes, the number of persons who could be classified as sympathisers seems quite small. I forgot that Kershaw was active as he was involved with helping with the gang getting into armour; but he’s already counted.

          But even three known accomplices would be likely enough to intimidate most people with an armed gang of 4 swaggering around as well. Especially if people weren’t sure who else might alert the gang to any signs of rebellion.

          Constable Bracken did well to sneak out quietly to alert the arriving special train when it pulled up; and Curnow of course who had earlier fooled Kelly into letting him go, from which he was able to warn the train.

  5. Firstly, I know of no comments made by police directed at Ned Kelly in the initial confrontation at Glenrowan, before Ned Kelly opened fire on the police. In Supt. Hares book, Chapter XI the only comment he made was that after Kelly fired at the police, Kelly shouted “Fire away, you beggars, you can do us no harm.” The only comment that police made regarding this was that one of the police officers, (not identified) alongside Hare, said to Hare, “That is Ned Kelly’s voice.”
    The suggestion that he was, “called to surrender,” is almost certainly a myth.
    Although this book is interesting and a valuable contribution to the story, it is clear that Hearsay evidence has been accepted. In courts of law, hearsay is almost totally excluded from acceptable evidence, and for good reason. It is notoriously unreliable, and I have no doubt that much of the Hearsay relied on in this book, would not be true.
    From all my reading, there were very few sympathisers taken prisoner at Glenrowan. I agree with Stuart, there were probably only four serious sympathisers.

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    Another way to do a count of the total number of prisoners would be to take the number of people who were freed during the amnesty, which may have been about 30 (I haven’t checked), then count the number who were released at various times before that such as Curnow, Richards who sneaked out, and some known others who were let go earlier, and see what that all adds up to.

  7. Great review as always.
    It is any wonder why the hostages weren’t directed to leave the hotel after the first Volley via the back door. Its my understanding the back of hotel was clear of police occupation after the first Volley. A perfect opportunity to give the order or at the very least attempt an escape.
    Fear or perhaps one or more of the gang members issued orders not to leave. It is said sympathisers were present, surely one of them could have lead the way.

    A cowardly act by those in control. Thuggery in its truest form

  8. WAYNE MOULTON says: Reply

    Does anybody know where I can my hands on a copy of this book.

    1. Hi Wayne, Judith Douthie’s book was published by Network Creative Services which is run by the same people as the Iron Outlaw website. Try googling NCS for it, then try the IO website shop. Apart from that try searching eBay and secondhand book sites like Abe books.
      A great book to keep if you can get a copy!

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