The Real Story of NED KELLY
by Thomas Aubrey
THERE are few stories in Australian history as colorful, dramatic and dynamic as that of outlawed Ned Kelly and his gang. Hunted early and driven into the bush by pursuing police, notoriety was foisted on Kelly from his earliest years. He was hounded by Constable Fitzpatrick — "a bad man and a bad policeman." Killing of 3 men in a desperate never- surrender stand, fantastic looting of the banks at Euroa
(where Kelly held 30 men prisoner and stole £2000) and Jeril- derie (where he held the whole town prisoner) added as much to Ned Kelly's prestige as to his notoriety. His coups were per- fectly planned and perfectly executed. But the police were on his heels and they gained valuable information from Aaron Sherritt, Joe Byrne's one-time friend who turned police in- former. NOW READ ON . . .
IN the months after Jerilderie, public opinion turned sharply against Commissioner Standish and the 300 offi- cers and men of the police and artillery corps who crowded into the towns of North-Eastern Victoria. Critics were quick to point out that the brave constables took good care to remain in the TOWNS leaving the outlaws almost com- plete freedom of the BUSH, their natural home.
Ned Kelly had killed 3 men, robbed 2 banks and defied the police of two States. Queensland black-trackers and renegade informers offered the only real threat to his further success.
Public confidence in the ability of their police had never been lower. Many believed that the gang had already made their escape to another colony while their pursuers wandered about Victoria re- ceiving, but never earning, double pay and considerable "danger" money. Comfortably camp- ed in the hills near the Kelly farm at Eleven Mile Creek the gang discussed police efforts at their capture and made plans for a future that was to prove both brief and bloody. An anonymous corre- spondent, writing to the "Age" newspaper in Mel- bourne, spoke for the ma- jority of Australians: "I suggest that we pardon the romantic Mr. Kelly and constitute him head of the police force."
An article in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser was even more scathing: "Captain Standish is confident of capturing the outlaws before they die of old age . . . his troopers are all picked men, spe- cially selected on account of their thorough know- ledge of the wilds and in- tricacies of Little Lons- dale-st., Romeo Lane and similar classic brothel localities." Young and imaginative, Dan and Steve suggested a move to New Zealand so that they might resume a normal life and evade the threat of discovery by the Queensland black-trackers, for whom they had a sup- erstitious dread. Joe Byrne professed himself willing enough to leave Victoria, but only "after I've squared ac- counts with —— Sherritt." Ned was adamant that to leave his home would be to confess defeat and to betray what he considered a righteous cause. His mother and her friends were still in jail; though grimly aware that he must inevitably pay with his life for the mur- ders at Stringybark Creek, Ned was determined that he should continue his fight against unjust au- thority to the bitter end.
"What is a man's lot cannot be blotted out," he remarked to a friend one day. By this credo he was to live and die. * * * ON May 14, 1850 , Dan Kelly was seen talking earnestly to his cousin Tom Floyd near Greta. Next day Supt. Nicholson, who had tem- porarily replaced Supt. Hare, broken in health by a year's unsuccessful at- tempts to sight the Kellys, received a coded message from D. Kennedy, one of his more reliable spies. Kennedy, a Govt. stock inspector, moved freely in Kelly country and was trusted by many of the Kelly sympathisers, though never actually in the confidence of the gang itself. His message was an im- portant one: ". . . Missing portions of cultivators are being work- ed as jackets and fit splendidly. Tested pre- vious to using, they can withstand a bullet at 10 yards. A breakout may be anticipated as feed is get ting very scarce. Five are now bad . . . other animals are, I fear, diseased." Thus did Nicholson first
hear of the famous Kelly armor. Thus was he warn- ed also that the Kellys running short of ready money, were preparing for another desperate adven- ture. Tom Lloyd had thrown in his lot with the out- laws. The others Kennedy feared "diseased" were sympathisers who had of- fered to help Ned "finish for keeps" all police and troops in North-Eastern Victoria.
Kellys had guns, they had armor (4 suits made by Dan Kelly and Tom Lloyd from the steel plates of stolen farm machinery) and a small army of sup- porters. Ned decided to meet the police in open warfare and, if possible, capture their leaders. He also planned to kid- nap the Governor of Vic- toria, the Marquis of Nor- manby, from his country mansion at Mt. Macedon and discuss with him, "man to man," the possi- bility of a pardon for Mrs. Kelly and a general clean-
up of the disreputable colonial police force. Ned was sure that if he could have the opportun- ity of speaking to the Gov- ernor he could convince him of the complete jus- tice of the Kelly cause and actually make him an ac- tive Kelly sympathiser! Mrs. Skillion and Tom Lloyd were sent to Mel- bourne for more ammuni- tion for the gang. Under the terms of the Outlawry Act bullets were extremely hard to come by in Kelly country. Aided by Lloyd, Ned's sister managed to elude the squads of police sent to intercept her and re- turned to Greta with a considerable quantity of rifle and revolver bullets. Rosiers, the Melbourne firm which sold Mrs. Skil- lion the bullets she sought "for a hunting party," in- formed the police of their number and calibre. Police spies reported their safe delivery into the hands of the gang. Kelly country seethed with rumors and under- currents of hate and sus- picion. Both the Kellys and the police knew that an explosion was immin- ent. "My boy and his mates will do something that will not only astonish Australia, but the whole world," boasted Mrs. Byrne. And all Victoria listened. * * * ON Friday, June 25, Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne rode into the valley known as "The Woolshed," where Aaron Sherritt had a small farm. Ned had decided to rob the banks of Benalla, headquarters of most of the police engaged in the Kelly hunt. First he planned to kill or capture the Benalla po- lice in a pitched battle at the small town of Glen- rowan, when they had been lured there by a di- version further along the railway line. Aaron Sherritt was to provide the necessary "di- version." Treacherous, brutal, im- moral and vain, Sherritt was the most dangerous of the many police informers. He was also a reckless and foolish man. Police money had bought him a thoroughbred horse, flash clothes — and a fatal arrogance. Spurned as a traitor by
Joe Byrne's younger sis- ter, he had approached Kate Kelly and had been threatened by an enraged Mrs. Skillion. Finally he had married a 15-y-old girl and settled down on his parents' farm to spy for the police and work for the death of his former friends. Illogically, he reasoned that he was still unsus- pected; impudently, he had spoken of the £8000 blood money which would soon be his. His friend Supt. Hare
DAN and Joe knew that Sherritt had police protection and planned the "execution" very carefully. They had watched the hut the previous night and seen Aaron come to the door, alone, to talk to Anton Weekes, a German who had a small farm nearby.
Now the 2 outlaws cap- tured Weekes, handcuffed him and warned him that he would not be hurt if he did exactly as they told him. Weekes was pushed to the back door of the hut. Joe rapped on the panels and then stood back, with Dan in the darkness. They could hear move- ment inside the building and then Sherritt's voice: "Who is there?" Prompted by Joe, the German replied: "It is me, I have lost my way." Young Mrs. Sherritt opened the door. Aaron stood framed in the door- way and began to joke with Weekes. "You must be drunk, Anton. You know that it's over that way," laughed Sherritt. As he raised his arm to point the direction, Joe Byrne fired at practically point-blank range. The informer staggered back into his home bleed- ing badly from a bullet through the chest. Joe fol- lowed him into the room and fired again. Sherritt died without uttering a word. His wife screamed and ran to cradle his head in her arms while her mother (Mrs. Barry) asked her son-in-law's killer: "Why did you do it, Joe? Why did you do it?" Mrs. Barry knew the Byrne family well and had been a particular friend of Mrs. Byrne, Joe's mother. "I won't hurt you, Ma'am," replied the out- law. "But that —— had it coming to him. He will never put me away again." When Weeks had first knocked at the door Con- stable Duross had been
did not quite share his confidence and had sta- tioned 4 policemen at the Sherritt house for "pro- tection." Constables Duross, Dow- ling, Alexander and Arm- strong were big men, well- armed and experienced "protectors." They remem- bered the fate of Kennedy, Scanlon and Lonigan at Stringybark, but gave it no thought as they sat yarning with Aaron, his wife and her mother, Mrs. Barry, on the evening of Saturday, June 6.
talking with Sherritt and his wife in the kitchen. At the first suspicion of dan- ger he hastened back to join the 3 other police- men in the bedroom. The four men stayed huddled together in the darkness, quaking with fear, while their host — the man they were guard- ing — was shot. Joe told Mrs. Barry to open the front door of the hut. She did so and saw Dan Kelly standing a few feet from it with a rifle ready for instant use. The Sherritt home was a typical 2-room slab hut of the period. Dan could see through the bedroom and kitchen to Joe at the back. "All right police," he shouted. "You've been looking for the Kellys. 'Well, here we are'." Joe ordered the fright- ened women to leave the house. When they had done so the outlaws be- gan shooting into the walls of the bedroom. The police threw them- selves to the floor. Con- stables Duross and Dowl- ing crawled under the bed. Joe walked into the kit- chen and stood as if to move into the other room. NEXT WEEK THE KELLYS "TAKE OVER" GLENROWAN Ned's fatal error of judgment . . . The death of Joe Byrne.
* Joe Byrne
"Come back, you —— fool, warned Dan, always careful and a keen fight- ing brain. "You're a sitting shot." Joe laughed, fired a few shots into the inky dark- ness and strolled back out into the yard. The police had been a few feet from him, guns in hand, buttoo frightened to risk Kelly vengeance by even a single bullet. Dan walked round the building to speak to Joe. He looked at the body of Sherritt, petted the dead man's dog and smiled at the mother and daughter: "Good evening, ladies. And how many men did you say were in there ?" Mrs. Barry had recover- ed her courage, and an- swered quickly: "Only two. They're not police, but prospectors looking for a job." The outlaws knew dif- ferently, but Dan refused to be ruffled. "Mrs, Sherritt, you go inside and ask these pros- pectors to come out . . . with their hands up," he suggested. The girl went in but the police refused to budge. For 20 months they had been haunted by the spec- tre of the 3 cold bodies at Stringybark and had no great desire to earn their pay — or glory — the hard way. The outlaws could hear whisperings and the click- ing of fire-arms. Mrs. Sherritt came out and explained: "The men are frightened you'll shoot them like you did poor Aaron." "Poor Aaron," Joe snort- ed. "The b—— has been blowing all over Victoria how he was going to shoot me. Well, I killed him and I'm glad of it." With Dan, he poured a fusilade of shots into the building.
The policemen crouched closer to the floor. Not one of them was hit by a single bullet. Dan was angry now. "Go in again," he told Mrs. Sherritt, "and tell them that if they don't come out well burn them
and the building." The frightened girl went into the bedroom and was promptly seized by Alexander and pulled to the floor. Joe was busy outside piling brush and dry wood against the walls of the hut. As the minutes passed and it became apparent that her daughter was now a hostage, Mrs. Barry became distraught. "If she gets shot or burned you can kill me with her," she told the outlaws. The girl screamed: "The police have got me and will not let me go." Joe abandoned the idea of firing the house but re- loaded his rifle. "Let her go, you b ——, or I'll riddle the —— house," he roar- ed. Turning to Joe, he voiced his disgust: "Fancy holding a poor —— woman."' The police were un- moved and pushed the unfortunate Mrs. Sherritt against the wall. "If you shoot at all you'll hit the girl," shout- ed one of the gallant "de- fenders." Dan cursed and turned to Mrs. Barry: "You'd better go in and try and bring her out," he said. "Don't be worried. I won't shoot you or your daugh- ter." To lend weight to his words he unlocked Anton Weeke's handcuffs and gave him a half playful slap on the rump. "On your way, German. You tried to lag me once for stealing a horse, but I won't shoot you." The frightened German, who had been a silent spectator of the shooting and killing, scurried off into the bush. Mrs. Barry ran into the house to help her daugh- ter. "Mrs. Barry," said Arm- strong, "I was near shoot- ing you." They pulled her to the floor to be used as an ad- ditional shield against further bullets. "If you don't keep quiet, I'll have to shoot you," said Dowling. Mrs. Barry was later to describe the cowardice of the 4 policemen before the 1881 Royal Commission: "Byrne was standing at the door and no doubt the police could have fired at him right enough. I know that we cannot do without the police but they should speak the truth (the con- stables had given their superiors a colorful ac- count of how they battled bravely against over- whelming odds. My opin- ion is that some of them are not particular what they say . . . Duross and Dowling were under the bed and when they pulled me down Dowling said that he might have to shoot me. He also said,
"the outlaws will not set fire to the place while there are women in it." By 1881 Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne were dead, but the women's words pro- vided an eloquent re- quiem. Mrs. Sherritt testified: "Joe Byrne shot Aaron right in front of me but
To Be Continued
knew that neither he nor Dan would hurt my mother or myself. I was more frightened of the police, who seemed very strange, than I was of them . .. . They (the police) could have shot Dan very easily, but I think that they were wor- ried about Ned. though I told them that he (Ned) was not there." Anton Weekes complet- ed the indictment of police "chivalry" that was to have the 4 constables dis- missed from the force: "Byrne kept calling for the men to come out of the house. With Dan, he said, "If you do not come out soon I will set fire to the house." But he never even began to do it while
I was there." Australians were to re- member Weekes' words and contrast the mercy of the Kellys with the fury of the police who risked incinerating half a hun- dred women and children in the inferno of Glen- rowan. Seeing that the police would, under no circum- tances, accept their offer to "come out and collect that reward money," Joe and Dan mounted their horses and rode off to meet Ned and Steve at Glenrowan. The police lay silent in the hut with the 2 women until dawn. Finally they crept out, over the body of the traitor Sherritt and off to give the news of the latest Kelly outrage. At 1 o'clock Arm- strong reported to Senior Constable Mullane at Beech- worth. Word was flashed to Benalla and the police hast- ened to charter a special train for what was to prove the fin- al Kelly adventure.
* Aaron Sherritt
All direct quotations used in this story are taken from authoritative sources. Reports of the Royal Commission convened in Victoria in 1881 to inquire into police behavior before and during the Kelly outbreak are a reliable guide to the case against Kelly. His own 8300 word Jerilderie letter and subsequent statements to his cap- tors and executioners give Ned's own views as to The Real Story of Ned Kelly.