DID FITZPATRICK CAUSE THE KELLY OUTBREAK ?
(By SIR SOLOMON.)
The generally accepted theory as to the cause of the Kelly gang outbreak is that Constable Fitzpatrick, by das- tardly conduct towards Kate Kelly, the
sixteen year old sister of the outlaws, was primarily responsible for the noto- rious brothers taking to the bush. If we carefully analyse the whole history of this celebrated family we will find no warrant for the assertion; on the contrary, we will see that the story of Fitzpatrick having acted indecently to- wards the girl is a clumsy concoction, and a hypercritical effort by the Kellys, and their friends, to evoke sym- pathy and to justify the subsequent murderous career of the desperadoes. It is generally conceded that the outlaws were children of environment reared in an atmosphere of crime. The father (Red Kelly) was transported to Tasmania for attempted murder. He subsequently married Ellen Quinn, one of whose brothers was a dangerous cri- minal, he having come under the notice of the police on sixteen occasions. Among other offences for which he stood his trial were four separate charges of grievous bodily harm. One of his victims was a man over whose head he bent an inch auger. Another was a constable whom he attacked with a bullock yoke. It will thus be seen that there are good grounds for assum- ing that the Kellys' vicious natures were hereditary. After the death of Kelly, senior, immediately after his re- lease from gaol for cattle stealing, his widow became proprietress of a shanty at Greta (Vic.). This house was the rendezvous of most of the undesirables of that and the surrounding districts. Among the frequenters of the place was Power, the bushranger, who gave the older boy (Ned) his first lessons in highway robbery. When Power and Ned Kelly, on March 16th, 1870, stuck up and robbed Mr M'Bean, Fitzpatrick was a boy in knockerbockers at school. Two months later Ned stood his trial for sticking-up, with Power, Mr Mur- ray, of Lauriston. These two offences were committed seven years prior to Ned Kelly ever seeing Fitzpatrick, and eight years before the supposed assault on Kate Kelly. After Power's arrest, in 1870, he related how he and Ned Kelly had gone to Seymour to rob the bank at that town, but Ned's courage failed him at the crucial moment, and the project was abandoned. These two worthies also stuck-up Mount Bat- tery Station before Fitzpatrick had left school. Before Fitzpatrick joined the police force, Superintendent Nicol- son furnished the following report, which is a clear indication of his opinions of the Kelly family: "I visited the notori- ous Mrs Kelly's, on the road from hence to Benalla. 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 divided into five rooms, partitioned off with blankets and rags. There were two girls about 14 years of age and some younger children, said to be her daughters. All appeared to be living in poverty and squalor. She said her sons were away at work, but did not indicate where. However, their com- munications with each other are known to the police. Until the gang referred to is rooted out of the district, one of the most experienced and successful mounted constables will be required to take charge of Greta. Second-class Sergt. Steele, of Wangaratta, keeps the above offenders under as good sur- veillance as the distance and means at his command will permit." He then issued an order which forbade all the police from entering the house single handed. It must not be assumed that as Dan Kelly's name has not hitherto been mentioned, that during this period he was a paragon of virtue, as he led a wild and reckless life, and from the age of sixteen was a noted and danger- ous criminal. Fitzpatrick, having reached the age of'2o, joined the Victorian police in 1876, and after going through the ne- cessary probationary course at the police depot at Richmond, he was sent the following year to perform duty at Benalla, the centre of the Kelly coun- try. He was anything but an ideal constable, and his officiousness fre- quently caused him a lot of trouble. During the greater part of 1877 Ned Kelly was hiding from justice, and early in 1878 Senior-constable Strahan, of Greta, was informed where Kelly was hiding, and was ordered to make the arrest. It was deemed inadvis- able to leave Greta without police pro- tection during Strahan's absence, so Fitzpatrick was ordered to that place for relief duty. He was instructed to proceed there on April 15th of that year and report without delay, but in- stead of so doing he went and spent a great part of the day at the hotel at Winton. After consuming a fair amount of intoxicants he proceeded on his mission, but had not gone far when it occurred to him that he had read in the "Police Gazette" that a warrant was out for Dan Kelly and his cousin's (Lloyd) arrest. So that officiousness which marked his whole police career again obtruded itself, and he set off to the Kelly homestead, regardless of instructions not to go there single handed, to make the arrest. On reach- ing the house he found Dan absent, but pretended to old Mrs Kelly that his visit was just a friendly call. As the two were talking he heard some chop- ping in the bush at the rear of the house, and enquired of the old lady who was the cause of it, and on being told it was a man named Williamson, he bade her a friendly "good-bye" and rode off to where he heard the chopping. On seeing Williamson at work, his officiousness again came into play, and he wanted to know if the man had a license to fell timber. William- son replied: "No. I don't require one; this is not Crown land; it is my own private property." As the two continued to argue, Dan Kelly and his brother-in-law (Skillion) were ob- served to ride up to the homestead, and Fitzpatrick immediately returned there and called out to Dan, who, on coming outside, was placed under arrest. Old Mrs Kelly was indignant, and accused the constable of treachery, and said that Fitzpatrick would not take her son away that night. She then sent her daughter Kate to their old hut, a mile distant, to tell Ned to come over and save Dan. It will be seen by this that Constable Strahan's information as to Ned's whereabouts was amiss, as he (Ned) returned with his sister and rescued his brother by shooting Fitz- patrick in the wrist. That night the two Kellys took to the bush, and re- mained out for nearly two years, when the tragedy at Glenrowan ended their career. This is the occasion on which Dame Rumor had it that the constable
was guilty of impropriety towards the outlaws' sister. That such a rumour could gain credence is beyond belief, as the constable was never out of sight of the old lady during the time he was at the house. For the attack on Fitzpatrick Mrs Kelly received a sentence of three years, she having belaboured him with a frying pan. Skillion and William- son, the latter having followed the con- stable to the house, each received six years, as they were present during the attack, and were armed with revolvers. The Kellys and their friends were high- ly indignant with Skillion, whom they wrongly accused of furnishing the police with valuable information, and on his release from prison he had to flee the country; however, he gave no information, and what he was supposed to have done was supplied by William- son, who described the bushrangers' horses, and even their brands. He also gave the names of persons from whom they would obtain food and shelter, and the places they would visit. After the murder of Sergt. Kennedy and Con- stables Scanlon and Lonegan by the Kellys, Fitzpatrick was sent to Sydney to watch all outgoing ships to see the Kellys did not attempt to escape from Australia, but he got into trouble and was sent back to Victoria, where he again got into trouble, and was dismiss- ed the force. As to the Kelly girls—there was never any suspicion as to their moral character, whilst their loyalty to their brothers evoked the admiration of all classes of the community. Kate, the heroine of the Kelly drama, died a tragic death at Forbes (N.S.W.) some 25 years ago. The unfortunate young woman had married, some time previ- ously, a very respectable young man named "Curley" Foster, and their do- mestic relations were of the happiest nature. During the absence from home of her husband, the young woman gave birth to a child. There was no one in the house at the time except the infant children of the couple, and they were too young to go for assistance, or call for help, and the following day the body of the poor demented woman was found in the Lachlan River. A son of this couple enlisted and went to France during the Great War, and won the respect and good will of all his comrades by his clean living and un- daunted courage. The shooting of Fitzpatrick on Sat- urday, April 15th, 1878, precipitated the Kelly outbreak, but was certainly not responsible for it. If further evi- dence of that were necessary it is fur- nished by Pat Quinn (uncle of the out- laws), who, before the Fitzpatrick epi- sode, had pleaded with Ned Kelly to surrender himself to justice, but the latter said: "No; if any man at- tempts to arrest or otherwise interfere with me I will shoot him dead." He also confided in his uncle that he pro- posed sticking-up one of four banks— Seymour, Bright, Avenel, or Euroa. As this was prior to Fitzpatrick joining the force, there can be no suggestion that he was in any way instrumental in putting the idea into the outlaw's head. There were a number of coincidences attached to the gang which have never been published, and of which few are aware. Nearly all their big exploits were committed on a Saturday, or about the week-end, and it would be safe to designate that day as their fateful day. Besides the shooting of Fitzpatrick on that day, there is also the murder of Kennedy, Scanlon, and Lonegan. On Saturday, December 7th, 1878, the gang reached Euroa preparatory to the robbing of the bank on the 10th. On Saturday, February 8th, 1879, they bail- ed-up the police at Jerilderie and lock- ed them in the gaol till after they had robbed the bank on the following Mon- day. It was a Saturday on which they were outlawed, and on the last Saturday of their existence (June 26th, 1880), there were a number of remark- able incidents associated with their history, as on that day Mrs Kelly (mother of the outlaws) informed the gaol officials that early that morning she had a dream and vividly saw the destruction of the gang. Later that same day Aaron Sherritt was shot dead by Byrne, and a few hours afterwards Ned Kelly and Steve Hart commenced the tearing up of the railway line at Glenrowan, by which means they hoped to wreck the police train and kill all the occupants. On that same day no- tification was sent to the police parties guarding the houses of Byrne, Hart, and Kellys, that they would be with- drawn that night, as it was evident they (police) were known by the bush- rangers to be watching those places. The most remarkable coincidence of all was that on this same day (Saturday, June 26th, 1880) the gang ceased to be outlaws. On the passing of the Out- lawry Act a clause was inserted making it operative only during the life of the existing Parliament, and as the Gover- nor (Lord Normanby) had dissolved the Legislative Assembly that day, the Act automatically ceased, and, techni- cally, the gang, at the time of their deaths, were not outlaws. Another somewhat remarkable coin- cidence was the part played in the Kelly business by schoolteachers. In a previous article mention was made of how a teacher named Wallace James assisted the outlaws—an inspector of his department went so far as to ac- cuse him of being an actual member of the gang—but, fortunately for society, and the honor of the profession, he was the only one. After the Euroa bank robbery, a teacher named Whitehead covered himself with glory by his plucky actions. On hearing of the crime, he endeavored to organise a volunteer party and encounter the rob- bers, but not a solitary person would join him, so he set off to follow the gang in the hope that he might be able to furnish the police as to the road they took to their mountain haunts. During the raid on the bank at Jeril- derie a teacher named Elliott entered the bank whilst the outlaws were in oc- cupation, and was compelled by Joe Byrne, at the point of the revolver, to assist in filling the bag with the bank's money. After the shooting of Sher- ritt by Byrne and Dan Kelly, the four police who were inside the hut at the time were afraid to emerge from the house even in daylight next day, so they hailed a Chinaman who was pass- ing, and got him to ask a teacher nam- ed Donohue to convey to the police at Beechworth the news of the tragedy. Donohue manifested the same fear as the police, and declined, and, after the lapse of some hours, the constable in charge (Armstrong) saw a teacher nam- ed Considine riding along the road, so he commandeered the horse and went to Beechworth himself. The courageous action of the Glen- rowan teacher (Curnow) in signalling the train with the police and thus averting the catastrophe that would have overtaken them, but for his gal- lantry, is ancient history known to all. Another remarkable coincidence was furnished when Ned Kelly was sen-
tenced to death. On the learned Judge pronouncing the dread penalty, the outlaw said: "Right! I'll meet you, within a month, in the next world." Three weeks later the Judge (Sir Red- mond Barry) was in his grave. This event gave rise to an awfully absurd rumour to the effect that Sir Redmond's death was the result of an extraordinary murder by friends of the outlaws, who, in the dead of night, broke into the Judge's house at Carlton, and placed a live death-adder on his foot, and that the venemous reptile did its deadly work. Prior to his execution, Ned Kelly said that the statements circulated re- garding Fitzpatrick's conduct towards his sister were untrue, and he added: "What sort of a man would I have been had they been true, and I had allowed him live a day."