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.