THE STORY OF THE KELLYS A Black Page of Crime. By W. H. Fitchett, B.A., L.L.D. [ In "Life." ]
In the brief but unlovely gallery of Australian crime, the Kelly Gang, no doubt, stands pre-eminent. No other group of criminals have stamped them- selves so deeply on the general imagina- tion. Ned Kelly's name is almost better known — by the crowd, at least — than of anyone else in Australian history. It is not easy, at first, to see how the four ruffians who formed "the Kelly gang" have left such an impres- sionable signature on Australian re- collection. There was nothing especially picturesque in their personal appear- ance. THE PUZZLE OF THEIR FAME. Ned Kelly is described, in his early years, as "a flash, ill-looking young blackguard." Dan Kelly was a pure larrikin, with the appearance and dialect, as well as the morals, of his class. The pair do not owe their evil fame to any eminent degree of courage they ever exhibited, or even to the scale and number of their crimes. Ned Kelly began his criminal career with Power, and Power, says Superinten- dent Hare, "had a very poor- opinion of Kelly's courage." On one occasion, when stealing horses, a shot was fired at them with a long distance rifle, and "Kelly," Power says, "turned deadly white and wished to surrender." He had the greatest difficulty in getting him off the ground, "he was in such a fright." In the fight at Glenrowan, again, Superintendent Hare says, "Notwithstanding all Kelly's boasted pluck, he was the only one who in any way showed the white feather. When the constables closed in on him and grasped him, he begged for mercy, and asked them to spare his life." It is remembered, however, that at the time referred to, Ned Kelly was a boy only twelve years of age, and may be forgiven for turning deadly white when, actually in the commission of a crime, a bullet from some unknown gun, struck up the dust at his feet. Hare, again, is only giving at second hand the story of what took place at Glenrowan. Sergeant Steele grasped him in his strong hands. Steele's own story, which will be told in its proper place, hardly bears out Hare's state- ment. The career of the Kelly gang, again, was not measured by the almanac so long as the popular imagination makes it. It ranged from October 25, 1878, when they shot the police at Mansfield, to the fight at Glenrowan. on June 28, 1880 — a little over a year and a half. It would be easy to name other gangs of bushrangers who suc- cessfully defied the police for a much longer period. The Kellys certainly clothed them- selves with sudden and evil immor- tality by the murder of Sergeant Ken- nedy and his party; but even this black deed, in scale and completeness, as well as in the mystery which shrouds all its details, does not compare with the similar murder of a party of police by the Clarke's, in 1867. During the twenty months which followed the murder of the police at Mansfield, the Kelly's committed only two crimes — the robbery of the bank at Euroa, and the plunder of Jerilderie; they per- ished in the attempt to commit a third great crime of a singularly cruel type. It may be added that Ned Kelly himself, for evil diligence in crime, as well as for the faculty of leadership, is not to be compared to Gardiner. He did not possess the individual daring of, say Power or Thunderbolt. And yet the four scoundrels who formed the Kelly gang will be remembered in certain districts, at least — with an unashamed admiration when all other crimes are forgotten. THE PLAN OF THEIR CRIMES. What is the secret of their fame? The use of shot-proof armour in their last raid was, no doubt, an original and picturesque detail, due, perhaps, to literature of the pre- "Dick Deadwood" order; but the use of this armour was, in fact, a singularly stupid blunder. It cost the gang the only quality on which their continued existence de- pended — the power of swift movement. In the fight at Glenrowan the clumsy masses of iron they carried almost reduced them to helplessness. A member of the gang, clad in his absurd coat and helmet of hammered plough- shares, was obliged to hold his rifle out at arm's length to get a clear sight of his target. As a result, steady aim was impossible. "had they been without armour," says Superintendent Hare, "when we first attacked them at the hotel, and could have taken proper aim at us, not one of us could have escaped being shot." There is one quality, however, which differentiates the performances of the Kelly gang from those of the rest of
their evil type. Some one member of the party — it was Byrne, and certainly not Ned Kelly himself — had a strategic brain of really admirable quality. If the story of the robbery of the Euroa bank, of the raid on Jerilderie, and of the attempted destruction of the police train at Glenrowan, be analysed it will be found that each represented an amazingly clever plan, thought out in advance in minutest detail, and carried into effect with a coolness nothing less than wonderful. The strategic clever- ness exercised in these crimes, if employed on either side in the guerilla stages of the South African war — or on an adequate scale in any war — might well have produced historic conse- quences. The Kellys came of a criminal stock, and went through the ordinary stages of criminal education. Their father, known locally as "Red Kelly," was transported to Tasmania, in 1841, for an attempt to shoot his landlord. He obtained a ticket of leave, came to Victoria, intermarried into a family named Quinn, and settled with them in what was afterwards known as "the Kelly country." The geography of the district and the habits of their class combined to turn the younger genera- tion to criminal pursuits. Cattle "lifting" was their early and familiar occupation. It meant hiding cattle or horses, and only producing them for a reward. The "boy-lifters," as the Kellys were called, were the terror of the carriers and drovers who had to pass through that district. Horse "lifting" was for the Kellys, while yet boys, the natural preliminary to horse stealing. Ned Kelly boasted in later years, that he alone stole over 280 horses. Both the Kellys served several short sentences for horse stealing be- fore they were out of their teens. THE "BRAINS" OF THE GANG. Steve Hart, the third member of the gang, was the spiritual and physical double of Dan Kelly — a bush larrikin, with the keen senses, the untamed appetites, and the non-existent morals of his class. Of the two Kellys and Steve Hart it might be said with truth that nobody could surpass them in the art of stealing horses or of riding them. In many respects, Joe Byrne, the fourth member of the party, was physically the finest, and morally the least objectionable, member of the gang, and he carried the brains of the entire party. Tall, straight, good- looking, fairly well educated, and certainly clever, he might have had an honorable and successful career but for the fascination of adventure that led him into partnership with the Kellys. Byrne was, in a sense, the apologist, or even the poet, of the gang. He wrote accounts of their doings — both in prose and verse — and tried to get his efforts published. The traditions of the district, say that, before any of their robberies, Byrne carefully wrote out the plan in detail, a fact which goes to show, as we have suggested, that he was the strategist of the gang. In our next issue will be told how the tragedy began. The murder of the police in the Strathbogie ranges, and the uprising of the country.