The Day Ned Kelly Wrote to the Herald

‘We have received from an anonymous correspondent who is evidently a sympathiser with, and a near associate of the Kellys and their companions, a long but rambling statement of the case as it is put by the outlaws. The document, which contains sixteen pages, came by post simply addressed to “The editor of the Herald newspaper, Melbourne.” It is evidently written by an illiterate person, the orthography being defective, the calligraphy in some portions almost undecipherable, and the composition rambling and sometimes unintelligible. Sufficient can be gathered, however, to show that there is a very bitter feeling of animosity among the sympathisers of the outlaws against the police, and reasons are stated why they should exist. An inquiry is anxiously demanded, and as the statements made are of a serious character, and the demand for an inquiry apparently a justifiable one, we give some particulars from the citation of our anonymous correspondent, who, for aught we know, may be one of the gang.

He commences by drawing attention to the Monk inquiry, and as might be expected, fully endorses the decision of Mr Panton, asserting positively that Monk’s statements that he was shot at were false. In this matter the anonymous writer thinks the authorities acted with wisdom, as the statements were such as to demand inquiry. He then proceeds to argue that a similar inquiry into the whole circumstances that led up to the police murders is necessary, and that it would save the Government money if they appointed Mr Panton to make, not only that inquiry but to also investigate the conduct of the police in the North-Eastern district, not only before, but since the outrage, in support of this, it is alleged, as has before been stated, that the whole cause of the tragedy and the subsequent events was the conviction of Mrs Kelly, Skillian and Williamson, on the unsupported testimony of Constable Fitzpatrick, which it is affirmed, was false. Justice is claimed for these three persons, and it is boldly stated that had it been accorded in the first instance, there “would have been no necessity for persons like Monk to go in search of the bodies of police who were sent out to shoot men who, on false evidence, were banished to the wilds, and their mother, brother-in-law, and friends, on the word of one man alone, convicted of a serious crime.” The writer goes on to say that on the jury that tried Mrs Kelly, Skillian and Williamson, was a discharged sergeant of police, “which is contrary to law.” To quote again from our correspondent. “The Kellys were then outlawed. and a price of £200 offered for their apprehension, for firing three shots at Fitzpatrick, as he said, at a yard and a half distance; and yet he was hit only once, the bullet entering the middle of the back of his wrist, but not even injuring a sinew of touching the bone, but passing simply along the skin. Kelly’s arm and a revolver would go a long way towards a yard and a half, and Fitzpatrick must have had good eyesight to see bullets and revolvers all round him. In fact, his statement was simply ridiculous. From the 13th April, 1878, to the 23rd October in the same year, the Kellys were not seen or heard of. During that time, they were not interfering with or harming anyone, but were digging on Bullock Flat, quietly trying to make a living, when the police came to shoot them down like dogs, as they stated they would do before they would ask them to stand. Three different parties of police, numbering in all some 12 or 15, supplied with the best firearms, were sent out to take the Kellys in dead or alive. Kennedy’s party camped within a mile of the Kellys, and the latter had nothing for it but to coolly wait and be shot like dogs, or bail the police up and take their firearms from them. And when they called on the police to surrender, one obeyed, and was not injured, but the rest fought and were shot. If the Queen of England was in the place of the Kellys, she could have done no less than they did. Let anyone consider the circumstances of the persecution of the Kellys. Their mother and friends convicted, and themselves banished and pursued by blacktrackers, police, and even English bloodhound’s, on the evidence of Fitzpatrick; and for what cause? In the first place, if the Kellys intended to murder Fitzpatrick, they could easily have done so, as, according to his statement, there were enough of them to eat him without salt; and yet there was no mark on him but a small cut on the back of his wrist, which any man could see was never done by a bullet fired from a revolver. Fitzpatrick would not stand long before Mr Panton.”

Our anonymous correspondent then goes on to give his version of the characters of the Kellys. He says: — “The Kellys are termed thieves and cold-blooded murderers, but those that term them this would be guilty of far worse crimes than they are. No case of horse stealing was ever proved against any of the Kelly’s. Ned got six months for striking a man named McCormack, and three years for receiving a stolen horse. This was on the evidence of Constables ——-and———-. The swearing abilities of the first are well known, as he has been twice tried for perjury, and the latter has himself since been sentenced to three years for horse stealing. Dan Kelly was sentenced to three months for smashing a door with his fist. These are the only convictions on the roll against the Kelly’s. I guess there was not much cold-bloodness about the shooting of the police. It was the police who went out to murder for the reward. If other men were treated as the Kellys have been, they would not spare nothing in human shape, as both the public and the Government have done their best against them, and laws have been made to suit the police.”

Having thus lauded the outlaws, the writer comes to his great grievance — the conduct of the police in the North-Eastern District. He writes: —”The policeman business has been a good one during the last fourteen months that Kellys has been outlawed. Any scapegrace can get a pound a-day now. I know a great many of the special constables, not one of whom could earn their tucker before, but now can sport silk coats, and calls themselves mounted -constables. Two, in particular, I could mention. One is well-known in the Beechworth and Greta districts, and his character needs no comment. But he is a good man for Ned Kelly, as he can draw the police wherever he chooses, and clears the road for a man that knows how to work him better than all the police-detectives put together. When a drove of police are getting tired of watching about the Beechworth hills this man will steal a horse from some of the neighbours, ride him down to Greta or Sandy Creek, or some other place; there style himself Byrne, the bushranger; ride through a railway gate and threaten to shoot the gate keeper, so that the police will make a rush in that direction after the Kellys. When they start on his tracks, he cuts the horse’s throat and doubles back, while the police keep in hot pursuit, especially when they find the dead horse, and hear the testimony of the people the supposed Byrne threatened to shoot. The special constable on his way back steals a couple of horses, takes them with him to near Byrne’s house, and when the police return, tells them that Byrne has been visiting his home and has left strange horses. In fact, this man tries the mettle of the blacktrackers, and even the blood hounds, and gets great credit from the inspectors for his supposed cleverness in getting information of the Kellys. Some of the police officers are as bad as this man himself, as they are aware that it was he who fired at several persons in the Beechworth district, and also that he rode a grey horse belonging to a Chinaman at the Woolshed. If an inquiry should he held there are plenty of members of the police force who could give important evidence, and could show the public the true character of the special constables and others supposed to be hunting for the Kelly’s. In fact, if things are not altered there will be plenty bushrangers besides the Kellys. As it is the whole force ought to be outlawed instead of the Kelly’s. If the police are allowed to threaten to shoot respectable men, women, and even children, break down fences, turn stolen horses into peoples’ paddocks, and a lot of drunken police, dressed like bushrangers, to surround quiet homes, threatening to shoot the inmates and ransacking the house; yelling, roaring and galloping through the crops, shouting at the trees, who can tell if they are the police or the Kellys? It is the place of the public to insist that the police should wear their uniforms, or at least something to distinguish them from bushrangers or civilians. As it is, no man dare fire at anyone surrounding his house, for fear of shooting a policeman, as the police are in the habit of bailing people up and behaving in a most ruffianly manner. A certain inspector of police a fortnight before Fitzpatrick alleged he was shot at, told an editor that he knew the Kellys were armed, and that there would be shooting between the police and the Kellys before a fortnight. If he thought that, it is very strange to me that he should send a drunken trooper to arrest them without a warrant. I believe I write the opinion of thousands, when I say an inquiry should be held, and all the particulars brought to light. Unless this is done the Kellys will certainly revenge the insult offered to themselves and their mother. At present they are painted as black as print can paint them, but they harmed no man, woman, or child. Their actions are more like those of four sisters of charity, than four outlaws. If they had robbed, and plundered, and ravished and murdered the public and every man and woman they met, it would have been a very different thing, but in the way they have acted, after being treated as they have been, they deserve to be called men instead of outlaws. Their robberies are confined to banks, the police, and the Government. If this sort of thing goes on, the Chief Secretary will soon have to go home for a new loan.”

Of course, the above extracts are not given ” verbatim et literatim,” but they have only been altered sufficiently to render them intelligible. With the writer’s opinions as to the angelic nature of the Kelly’s we have nothing to do, but the public is concerned to know whether his allegations against the police are true or false. Sooner or later a most searching inquiry will have to be made, and it is to be hoped that when the proper time comes, those who can give evidence will come boldly forward.’


The Herald, July 4th, 1879.

Article sourced from Trove.

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