1856 – 1877

1856, November: Joe is born in the Woolshed Valley to Irish Catholic parents Patrick Byrne (County Carlow) and Margret Byrne (County Clare).


1858, June: Joe’s first brother John is born.

1858, July: After a three-hour attack of convulsions, baby John dies aged just twenty five days old.

1860, April: Joe’s first sister Catherine (Kate) is born.

1860-1861: Patrick and Margret settle at Sebastopol and build a hut beside the curving bend of Reedy Creek. A willow tree is planted to shade the hut, and Margret establishes a quaint garden of rose bushes, blue and white flag irises and a collection of fruit trees.

1862: Joe begins attending the Woolshed Catholic School.

1862, March: Patrick, who would come to be known affectionately by Joe as Patsy, is born.

1863: School inspector Wilson Brown visits the Catholic School and records Joe as a handsome six-year-old, reading a passage from the Irish National Schools Second Book. On this occasion, Joe gains a pass in reading but fails writing and arithmetic, as do all other students in second class.

1864, May: Mary is born.

1864, October: Inspector Brown again visits the Woolshed Catholic School, and passes Joe in, reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar and geography. Joe becomes equal best in his class, tying with Mary Anne Maddern.

1864-1865: After the Sherritt family make the move from Reid’s Creek to Sheepstation Creek, Aaron begins attending school with Joe, which is no longer solely a Catholic School but a non-denominational Common School.

1866: Paddy develops heart disease and suffers his first heart attack.

1866, 13th May: Owing to the trauma of his father’s first heart attack, when the school inspector visits the school and assesses the class, Joe fails everything but reading and comes last in his class.

1866, July: Dennis (Denny) is born.

1869, February: Margaret is born.

1869, September: Joe’s grandfather, Joseph Byrne, who had been transported from County Carlow as a rebel, dies at Tarago on the Monaro aged sixty-nine.  

1870, 7th November: Paddy dies of heart disease in the Ovens Hospital aged just thirty-nine. He is surrounded by Margret (who is six months pregnant), Joe, Kate, Patsy, Mary, Denny and baby Margaret, .

1871, February: Ellen (Elly) is born.

1871: After his father’s death, Joe finds work with Ovens Tannery in Beechworth, where he is employed as cart boy.

1872, 24th April: While working in the Chinese Camp of Sebastopol, Joe witnesses the tying up and beating of Ah Suey at the hands of Ye On and Hung Young.

Ah Suey 1

1872, 10th May: Joe is called to give evidence at the inquest of the death of Ah Suey: ‘Joseph Byrne deposed that on the night in question he was passing the Chinese camp at Sebastopol, and saw the prisoners and others searching a jumper and other clothing; this was after sundown. Ah Suey was tied up to a post, to a hook on it. His hands were tied with a cord in front. There was a chain like that produced round him, his whole feet were on the ground, took no notice of the people who were present. If he had trousers on they were very short. Ah Seong untied deceased, who then went away to another house. Deceased was crying out “pretty” loud, did not hear him say anything. Was there about five minutes, saw deceased between six and seven on Wednesday night. He was then tied up again with the rope and with the chain; the two prisoners were present, but did nothing. Ah Seong untied him. Asked prisoners why they tied him up, and someone, whom he did not know, said that Ah Suey meant to kill himself.’


1872, 16th October: Joe is called to give evidence at the trial of the death of Ah Suey: Joseph Byrne, labourer, Sebastopol, deposed: ‘I know the Chinese Camp at Sebastopol, and was acquainted with a Chinaman named Ah Suey. I last saw him on Wednesday, April 24th, at a store kept by Ye On and Hung Young. He was tied to the veranda post of the store, his tail being fastened above his head to a hook, his arms fastened behind his back, his legs tied together with a chain similar to the one produced. He had his jumper on, but no trousers when I first saw him. A Chinaman came and released in about five minutes. I did not notice if he was ill, nor did I see anyone beat him. He walked away when untied. I saw him again the next day. He was walking towards Beechworth. He did not seem ill. I never saw him afterwards. When tied up, he was crying out loudly. The two storekeepers were present.’

1873, 4th April: While walking along the Woolshed road, Joe meets Ah Nam and the two of them proceed towards the Woodshed. On their way, they overtake Robert Woods, Elizabeth Salisbury, Ellen Salisbury and their brother who are stopped by the side of the road after having a piece of iron come off their wagon. Words are passed between Woods and Ah Nam and an altercation erupts, which sees Ah Nam being cut across the head with the iron.

1873, 8th April: Joe is called to give evidence at the trial of Robert Woods for the assault of Ah Nam: ‘Joseph Byrne deposed that on Friday evening he met complainant, Ah Nam, and with him proceeded towards the Woolshed. On their way they overtook defendant and the previous witness; some words passed between them, when the Chinaman took off his slipper and struck defendant about the head. He struck him several times, and defendant hit him back with the piece of iron he had in his hand. The Chinaman procured a sapling and defendant ran away. In answer to defendant, Byrne said that he did not hear the Chinaman say that he would kill him. Defendant said to him to take the Chinaman away, as he did not want to strike him.’


1873: After meeting Ellen along the Woolshed road, and possibly shielding her and her sister from the violent eruption between Ah Nam and Robert Woods, the two meet again at the trial. These encounters lead to Joe and Ellen becoming close, and throughout his outlawry Ellen provides Joe with provisions and support.


1873, 13th September: With Margret Byrne and Antonio Wick growing closer, Joe takes Wick’s horse from his paddock and keeps the animal for four days. On the morning that Antonio notices the horse’s disappearance, William Wick, his son, witnesses Joe riding the black gelding towards El Dorado and cheekily calls ‘cooee’ as he passes the boy.


1873, 22nd September: Joe is arrested and appears before the Beechworth court on a charge of ‘Illegally Using’, where he is defended by solicitor Mr William Zincke. After evidence from both Antonio and William, and descriptions of the horse returning sore backed and covered in steaming sweat, Joe is fined 20s, with 1s 6d plus costs.

IMG-93751873: Appreciating books and good conversation as much as he does, Joe becomes a regular visitor to James Ingram’s bookshop and newsagency, spending his time chatting with the Scotsman in the back room of his shop, with the bookseller finding him to be ‘a nice, well behaved lad.’

1873-1874: Joe begins spending time with a girl, who many years later would come to describe him as “a nice, quiet boy, not flash.” (Whether this girl was in fact Ellen Salisbury is not known, as no name was given.) He brings her two Curlew chicks he has found in the bush and stays the night. Unfortunately, the mother Curlew has also followed him, and during the night the babies commence to squeal for their mother, so Joe decides to let them go. Days later, he returns to her with a young lamb, the animal wrapped up in his overcoat. During this time, there are many occasions when Joe calls unexpectedly during the night, and the girl and her mother make a bed up for him, while Joe chats to her father about the horse he is riding.


1874: On his visits up to Beechworth, Joe regularly visits the Burke Museum and Public Library, where he wanders through the arched rooms of dusty taxidermy and array of worldly artifacts, paying particular attention to the newly acquired Chinese items from the recent carnival.


1874: Joe and Aaron Sherritt begin work on Aaron’s newly acquired selection, situated between Byrne’s Gully and the Sherritt farm at Sheepstation Creek. The pair mark the boundary of the farm with a combination of post and rail, and wire fencing, and build a rough slab hut where Joe will come to spend the majority of his time.


1875: While walking or riding through the stretch of bush along Stony Creek, Joe finds John Phelan’s lost saddle (unbeknownst to him) and takes it back to Sheepstation Creek with him.


1875, 8th December: On a ride up to the Beechworth Pound with Aaron, Phelan notices that the saddle Joe has on his horse is in fact his own, and has Joe arrested for theft that afternoon.

1875, 9th December: Joe appears before the court on a charge of ‘Stealing a Saddle’ and is again defended by Mr. Zincke. After evidence from John Phelan, Constable McHugh, who had been the arresting officer, deposes that ‘on the previous day he went to defendant in Beechworth and told him to come down to Conolly’s yard to see about a saddle. He had told him he was accused of stealing it. He said he had found it in the bush at Stony Creek. He afterwards, at Conolly’s, claimed the saddle as his property.’ After the Constable has given his evidence, Mr. Zincke asks for an adjournment ‘as he had just heard of some important evidence in favor of the defendant.’ The case is adjourned for a week.


1875, 16th December: Joe again appears before the Beechworth court on the adjourned charge of ‘Stealing a Saddle’. Mr. Zincke opens the proceedings by stating that Joe “had found the saddle in the bush, where he could prove it had been lost, and very ignorantly and improperly retained it, instead of endeavoring to find the owner.” He then brought forward a young boy who had been riding Phelan’s horse when the horse threw him. After some deliberation, Joe is discharged, but warned by Police Magistrate Robert Pitcairn “of the danger he ran in picking up unconsidered trifles and unlawfully turning them to his own use.”

1875-1876: Joe and Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Sherritt begin spending time together and become sweethearts, with the two of them riding through the Woolshed alongside each other and perhaps spending weekends alone in Aaron’s hut, which by this time, Joe is living in.

1876, February: Joe and Aaron take one of the Sherritt calves into Beechworth to be slaughtered by James Warner, a butcher regularly used by the family. They wait in Beechworth until the calf is killed, and take the roan hide back with them to Sheepstation Creek for the purpose of making whips.

1876, 19th May: Joe unexpectedly returns home to Sebastopol, after weeks, or perhaps months, spent with Aaron and Bessie at Sheepstation Creek. After a cold welcome by Margret, Joe promises to help her around the selection and shows his intentions by the staying the night.


1876, 20th May (Morning): Aaron visits the Byrne house and informs Joe of the white heifer he has spotted grazing at the El Dorado Common School. No doubt seeing it as an opportunity to help his mother, Joe agrees to ride to El Dorado with Aaron. They lead the beast out of the school paddock and herd her back to Sebastopol and into Ned Kennedy’s stockyards, where Joe and Aaron had recently branded two young fillies. Once they have the heifer yarded, Joe rides down Byrne’s Gully and knocks on the door of Archibald and Jane Batchelor, neighbours of Margret, and asks to borrow two knives and a steel. “I’ve got a calf down a hole on Limburners Flat”, he tells Jane and she reluctantly gives him the items. With the knives and steel, Joe heads back up to the stockyards and Aaron cuts the cow’s throat which results in a loud bellow carrying across the gully and into the ears of Andrew ‘Sandy’ Doig. Unbeknownst to the pair, the Scotsman has travelled up to the stockyards and is watching as Aaron removes the brands from the hide. He walks closer to the yard and asks if Aaron calls himself a butcher, Aaron mutters a reply and slices out the tongue, holding it aloft as a warning to Doig. The frightened man retreats back down the gully as Joe begins sharpening the second knife.

1876, 20th May (Evening): With the carcass now skinned and quartered, Joe and Aaron make their way down the gully to the Byrne house, where Margret has already been informed that the pair are delivering freshly slaughtered beef. On their arrival, Joe places the head of the cow in a shallow zinc trough and hangs the ‘dirty white’ hide over the post and rail fence. After spending time convincing Margret that the beef they have brought is from one of Aaron’s beasts, the pair stay the night at the Byrne house.

1876, 21st May (Morning): Rising early, Joe and Aaron ride up to Sheepstation Creek with the other half of the carcass and the hide. On seeing the beef and unexplained hole in the hide (where Aaron had cut out the brand), John slices the hide into strips and instructs Aaron to tie them around the beams of the roof.

1876, 21st May (Evening): With the weight of Doig surprising them and the suspicion of both Margret and John, the burdened pair ride on to Aaron’s selection.


1876, 22nd May (Morning): Alerted by Sandy Doig, Mounted-Constable Ward and Constable Mullane leave Beechworth and head to the Byrne selection in Sebastopol, where they find the head and half the carcass of the cow. After questioning Margret as to what she knows of the beef, Ward and Mullane ride up to Sheepstation Creek, where they find the strips of hide and remainder of the carcass. On being told of where they can find Joe and Aaron, the policemen travel up to Aaron’s hut, and knock heavily on the slab door, demanding that those inside open up. The pair are questioned briefly in Aaron’s hut, before they are taken back to the Sherritt farm. Once there, the hide is placed on the table and they are further questioned by Mullane and Ward. After the Mounted-Constable picks up on Joe’s nervous hesitation, he begins directing his questions at the nineteen-year-old.

“Were you with Sherritt on Saturday?”


“What time did you go to Barambogie for the beast?”

“After dinner, about two o’clock.”

“What time did you go to Mrs. Batchelor’s for the knife and steel?”

Joe doesn’t answer, he knows that Barambogie is roughly eight miles away, the trip there and back would have taken him and Aaron more than three hours, making it impossible for him to have called at Mrs. Batchelor’s at four thirty in the afternoon. The pair are promptly arrested and taken back to Beechworth.


1876, 22nd May (Evening): Joe and Aaron appear in court before Magistrate Pitcairn, with John and Margret watching on. Both young men are charged with ‘Having in his possession part of the carcass of a certain heifer stolen from Richard Maddern herdsman of the Eldorado Common for the lawful possession of which he cannot satisfactorily account on the 23 inst. at Sheepstation Creek’. Pitcairn offers the pair bail of fifty pounds each, but neither family is able to procure the funds. As a result Joe and Aaron are remanded for a week in Beechworth Gaol while they await trial.

1876, 30th May: Joe and Aaron appear in court on two charges, with the first being, Having had in their possession the carcass of a certain cow on the 20th inst., at Sebastopol, for the lawful possession of which they could not give a satisfactory account and the second, “Unlawfully cutting out the brand from the hide of a certain cow on the 20th inst.” For these charges, Joe is defended by William Zincke and Aaron is defended by Frederick Brown. After evidence from Sandy Doig, Jane Batchelor and Ned Kennedy, Margret is called to the stand and tells the court ‘that the defendant Byrne was her son, but had not resided with her for some time. Could not say how he was employed, excepting that he was now helping to fence Sherritt’s paddock. Her son slept at her place on Friday night, the 19th. He and Sherritt went to her place on Saturday a little after dark. It might be the first time she saw them that day. They had a horse with them, but she did not see a horse. They brought home the head of a beast and the heart. They afterwards brought the whole of the rest of a carcassand half was left with witness, a hind quarter and a fore quarter… My son, the defendant, told me it was Sherritt’s beast, in Sherritt’s presence, and he did not deny it..’ After listening to Margret’s evidence, which has been delivered with such coldness, firmly leveled at Joe, Magistrate Pitcairn is compelled to ask, ‘Is your son good to you?’ After a lengthy silence, she responds ‘Could not say whether he was kind to me. He did not come to my place regularly lately.’ At the conclusion of John Sherritt’s evidence, the Magistrate in summoning up the evidence states that ‘He did not think there was sufficient evidence to sustain the destruction of brands, as no brands had been proved to have been in existence, but he would certainly convict both prisoners on the other charge, and as this was not their first appearance before the court, he would give each of them the heaviest punishment the law allowed, namely, six months’ imprisonment with hard labor in Beechworth Gaol.’


1876, 30th May (Evening):  Upon his arrival  into  Beechworth Gaol as a sentenced prisoner,  Joe strips off his town clothes and stands naked to be measured and examined.  The recordist notes Joe as being 5ft9 1/2, with blue eyes, light brown hair and a scar on his left shin. His nose, mouth and chin are noted as medium.


1876, June/July: Remembering the two fillies that are trapped in the secret yard in Byrne’s Gully and disappointed by the tobacco rations, Joe tears a couple of pages out from the book he is reading, ‘Wilson’s Tales of the Border and of Scotland’, and writes a letter to Jack:

For Johnny Sherritt Esquire,

Sheepstation Creek, Reid’s Creek P.O.

Near Beechworth.

Jack I wish you would fetch a pound of tobacco to me you can send it in easy give it to the chap that is working in the garden a tall thin chap…I don’t ask you to do all this for nothing. if you secure them two foals and have them and the blue filly for me when i get out I will make you a present of the best (indecipherable) I have got…You must be careful of these few pieces of paper it is very hard to get them for this is wrote on the sly and posted out of the gaol.

We must now conclude by sending kind love to all.

We remain your most affectionate brother.

Aaron Sherritt and Joseph Byrne (Well known).


1876, November: After six hard months of rock breaking, washing in dirty cold bath water, and constant isolation, Joe and Aaron are released from the granite walls of the gaol.

1877, 13th January: Seeking respite from the hot summer sun, Joe and Aaron decide to take a swim in the dam between Margret’s house and several Chinese miners huts. Unfortunately, this is also the dam that many Chinese use to water their vegetable gardens. Ah On, a miner who lives next door to the Byrnes, comes down to the dam to collect some water and notices the pair bathing, and heated words, either in English or Cantonese, are exchanged, and Ah On may have threatened to take Aaron and Joe’s clothes. In response to this threat, the boys quickly dress and while doing so, Ah On returns to the dam with two other Chinamen who live with him; all of them armed with bamboos. In retaliation, Aaron snatches up a branch and hurls it at Ah On, knocking him to the ground. Ah On is operated on the next evening, with his injury considered ‘dangerous’ and ‘permanent’.


1877, 6th February: Joe is arrested at Sheepstation Creek and cautioned by Detective Ward, who asks him if he has anything to say.

“I have nothing to say; I did not do it or see it done.”

“Were you at Sebastopol on the 13th of January?”

“I don’t know if it was the 13th, but I was there the day the Chinaman got hurt.”

“It is strange if you were there you know nothing of the assault.”

“It occurred in this way, we were bathing in the dam and the Chinaman ran after us; Aaron ran one way and I the other, and I saw nothing at all of it.”

1877, 13th February: Joe and appear before Magistrate Pitcairn on the charge of ‘Grievous  Assault’.  Joe is again defended by Mr Zincke and Aaron by Mr Brown. After  evidence of the incident is given by the three Chinese, Doctor Fox gives his opinion that the stone produced in court is what caused Ah On’s injuries, which the three men themselves claim was used to injure Ah On. (Constable Mullane had found a rugged piece of rock stained with blood , outside the hut.) This opinion is strongly debated by the defence, and Margret Byrne, Anne Sherritt, Willie Sherritt and Mary Byrne are called to give evidence. With all of them describing the Chinese chasing Joe and Aaron and beating them bamboos, before Aaron retaliated by throwing a piece of branch. At the conclusion of the witness statements, Pitcairn commits Joe and Aaron to stand trial on the 28th, allowing each of them bail of 50 pounds, which they are both are able to pay.

1877, 28th February: Joe and Aaron answer to their bail and are locked in the holding cell, along with 15 year-old Dan Kelly and seven other men. The pair sit in the sweltering granite cell for most of the day and are finally brought to the courthouse late in the afternoon, when it is decided that their hearing will resume at ten o’clock the following morning.


1877, 1st MarchJoe and Aaron again answer to their bail and appear in the dock. After the evidence from both sides is heard, the jury retire at 10 minutes past 12 and return into court at 20 minutes past 2, finding ‘Joseph Byrne, not guilty’ and ‘Aaron Sherritt guilty of a common assault charge, committed in self-defence’. Joe is discharged, but not before the judge tells him that he must ask for ‘at least a reasonable verdict’ in the case of Aaron. The jury then retires and returns with a not guilty verdict for Aaron.

1877: Dressed in his town tweeds and polished blucher boots, Joe ventures into Beechworth and has his portrait taken at James Bray’s Photographic Studio in Camp Street.

Bray Joe

(Late 1877, Joe as Billy King, yet to be completed.)


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