A KELLY GANG ECHO
Did Insult To Kate Kelly CAUSE GANG TO TAKE TO BUSH? An Old Theory Denied.
Of the many gangs of bushrangers which, from time to time, terrorised Australia, the Kellys, for daring acts, bold initiative, and utter disregard of law and the authorities, stand alone. Probably no subject has provoked more discussion nor created in the
minds of the people, a more errone- ous impression than the cause which led up to the Kelly outbreak. The generally accepted theory is that Con- stable Fitzpatrick, by dastardly con- duct towards Kate Kelly, the sixteen- year-old sister of the outlaws, was the cause of the formation of the gang. Such an assumption is totally un- warranted, and unsupported by a scintilla of evidence. That Fitzpat- rick played an important role in the Kelly drama is undeniable, as is the fact that not one member of the out- laws' family ever accused the young constable of any act of indecency. The attempt to foist on an innocent per- son the responsibility of the outbreak with its subsequent outrages, was a clumsy canard invented by friends of
the bushrangers in an attempt to evoke sympathy, and to a degree jus- tify the formation of the gang. A LIE. Stress is laid on the fact that Fitz- patrick was eventually dismissed the service, and it is this fact which has led many into the belief that he was responsible for the outbreak. Police records prove that his dismissal was in no way due to any act of his to- wards Kat Kelly or any other mem- ber of that family. Fitzpatrick was only twenty years of age when he joined the police force in 1876, and he was not appointed to the Kelly country till the following year (1877), at which time Ned and Dan. Kelly were already hardened criminals. Whilst Fitzpatrick was a boy at school, and eight years prior to the formation of the Kelly gang, Ned Kelly was operating with the no- torious bushranger Power; two of their victims being Mr. McBean, of Mount Battery station, and Mr. John Murray, of Lauriston.
SIX YEARS PRIOR. Six years before Fitzpatrick joined the force Ned Kelly had stood his trial for highway robbery, and in 1871 was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for horse-stealing. Although Dan's record was not so bad as his brother's, he was a noted criminal, and led a reckless life. For years anterior to the Kelly out- break the home of that family was generally recognised as the rendez- vous of most of the notorious crimi- nals of the North-Eastern districts, in- cluding Power, and some near rela- tives of the family. Before Fitz- rick had been appointed to the district Superintendent Nicholson furnished the following report: — "April, 1877 — I visited the home of Mrs. Kelly, on the Benalla-road. She lives on a piece of cleared and partly cultivated land on the roadside, in an old wooden hut, with bark roof. The building was partitioned off into five compartments by the aid of blankets and rags. She said her sons were away at work, but she did not indicate where and that her relatives rarely visited them. However, their communications with each other are known to the police. Until the gang referred to is rooted out of the neighborhood, one of the most experienced and successful mounted constables in the district will be required to take charge of Greta. I do not think present arrangements are sufficient. Sergeant Steale, of Wangaratta, keeps the offenders re- ferred to under as good surveillance as the distance and means at his dis- posal permit." He (Nicholson) then issued instruc- tions that no constable should go to the house alone. It will be seen that up to this point in the Kellys' history the young constable could have had no influence, good or bad, on the con- duct of the desperados. A FOOLISH ACT. On April 15, 1878, Constable Strachan, the officer in charge of the Greta police station, had information
that Ned Kelly, whom the police had been seeking to arrest, was at a cer- tain shearing shed, and he was sent out to endeavor to apprehend him. As lawlessness was rampant at Greta, it was recognised the place could not be left without protection, and Constable Fitzpatrick was ordered there for re- lief duty. He was instructed to pro- ceed direct to Greta, but instead of obeying instructions he rode off to the hotel at Winton, where he spent some considerable time. On resuming his journey the thought entered his head that a couple of days previously he had seen in The Police Gazette that a warrant was in existence for the ar- rest of Dan Keljy for horse stealing, and he decided, contrary to instruc- tion, that there should be at least two
constables present at all times when the police visited the Kelly homestead to effect Dan's arrest. This action was characteristic of him, as on all occasions his officiousness protruded itself to an annoying extent. Finding Dan not at home, he re- mained with Mrs. Kelly and other members of her family, in conversation, for some time. At last he decided to proceed to the police quarters at Greta, but had not gone far when he ob- served two horsemen making towards the house he had just left. The two men proved to be Dan Kelly and his brother-in-law, Skillion. Fitzpatrick returned to the house and formally placed Dan under arrest. The latter, who was just about to partake of a meal, asked to be allowed to have it, and the constable consented, and took a seat near his prisoner. "TO THE BUSH!" Mrs. Kelly was highly indignant at the trend of events, and abused the constable, whom she described as a sneak, and accused him of deceit and treachery, as she had formed the opinion that his initial visit was a friendly call. During an interval in her wordy attack on the constable she
sent her daughter Kate to a hut, some distance away, in which Ned had been for twelve months hiding from justice, and the latter arrived and prevented his brother's arrest by shooting Fitz- patrick in the left wrist. That night Ned and Dan. took to the bush, and remained out till the destruction of the gang, at Glenrowan, some two years later. After the murders of the police by the Kellys, at the Wombat, Fitzgerald subsequently left the district, and was sent to Sydney to watch all out-going boats, as it was though the gang would attempt to escape justice by flight from Australia. It was while there that his conduct did not meet was the approval of Mr. Fosberry, then Commissioner of Police for N.S.W., and which ulti- mately led to his retirement from the force.