Questions and Answers (June 2020)

Q1 Anita Condon – I love reading your writing, research and posts. What made you start on this journey?

A Thank you Anita, I appreciate your support and I’m glad that the question you posed allows me explain how An Outlaw’s Journal came about. For a number of years, I had toyed with the idea of writing Joe’s life in the guise of a journal, as he himself had done, but the confidence it required always seemed to escape me and as a result the array of scribbled note pages would be hastily crumpled back into the drawer. I also suffered from a lot of self doubt and I really didn’t believe I had the knowledge, or as absurd as it sounds, the right to tell Joe’s story. This in itself caused a lot of internal conflict, as I would read endless comments online about Joe that I believed were unfair and unfounded but because I didn’t have a voice within that community, I would let it pass and, obviously if the clock was past five, have a whiskey. Despite this supposed voicelessness, I continued writing and researching and dreaming of the day when I could pluck up the courage to defend Joe and share my work with others. At the time, just as it is now, my main aim was to present the Joe that I had always known, which often seemed to be quite at odds with the Joe that was presented by others. I would read of him being dangerous, paranoid, drug addled and selfish and I could never understand how these supposed facets of his character could stand at the fore, when the Joe I was seeing was so much more. In fact, and probably saddest of all, it wasn’t until I took my first solo trip to Beechworth, where I listened in silent rage while the guide said quite confidently that there were only two sides to Joe’s personality, his drug addiction and his paranoia, that I decided I would raise my voice.

I’m a very reserved person and shining a light on the man he was, a man who was more than just ‘Ned Kelly’s lieutenant’, has made me step out of my comfort zone on a few occasions, but it has been necessary and in having the courage to do this has enabled Joe to be heard and his story considered. I never would have believed that two years after my first visit to Kelly Country I would be leaving booklets around Beechworth, El Dorado, Glenrowan, Benalla or Greta and that through my own research I would be adding to the whiskey stained biography of Joe’s life. Of course, being able to tell his story in this way would never have been possible without my readers, to whom I am internally grateful and never so grateful as when I receive messages saying their once harsh opinion of Joe has softened or, that due to the work I present, they have a better understanding of the young man beneath the Crimean shirt and crochet scarf.

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Q2 Chris Munn – Aaron and Joe were such good lifelong friends and as is the case with close friends, they would have known each other on an incredibly deep level. I often wonder, how Joe could have reached the point whereby he was convinced that Aaron, who he knew so well could possibly have turned against him and the gang. Were his heart and mind in conflict with each other?

A I am pleased that you raised this question Chris, as it is a complex issue and I am glad that I can give my view on it here. For me, I do believe there was a great deal of internal conflict felt by Joe and the damage it caused is never really reflected on. Firstly, we know from Joe himself said that ‘the Lloyds and Quinns’ wanted Aaron killed from before June 1879 and we know that there certainly would have been other sympathisers who felt that Aaron was betraying the gang. We also know that Joe fought against this cloud of suspicion and continued to stand by his best friend for months, even while men were going behind his back to voice their displeasure at Aaron’s continued ties with them. This constant need to prove Aaron’s loyalty would have placed considerable strain on his mental and physical state, as we know from his weight dropping to sixty kilograms in late 1879 and an increased reliance on opium, or if he couldn’t acquire that, possibly laudanum. Of course, the burden of an outlawed life would have considerably added to the loss of weight and further dependence on opium to quell the dark reality that plagued him, but as with all things, it is the culmination of external and internal influences that shape a person’s response. While on the subject of opium, it is worth noting, for those who consider the notion that Joe was affected by opium on the 26th of June, that nowhere does his behaviour reflect this. In fact, at Glenrowan it was he and Dan who showed the most concern and forethought throughout those final hours of their lives, both for themselves and the people in the inn. Joe was very much in control of himself, trauma, anger and fear aside, and nowhere during the fight at Stringybark Creek or the robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie were his actions reflective of an individual whose behaviour is controlled by opium.

Joe had the burden of his mother, Margret, constantly informing him of Aaron’s actions and movements. In conjunction, there was also the work of James Wallace, a school friend of both Joe and Aaron, who had assumed the role of double agent. The pettiness he displayed in informing and lying about Aaron to Margret is astounding and would have worn Joe down considerably. However, even with all this going on around them, Joe and Aaron would still meet late at night, whether at Yee Fang’s store in Sebastopol or under the granite shelf of London Rock. The biggest wedge between the pair, was most certainly Jack Sherritt. It is obvious he was afraid of Joe and unfortunately Joe misread this fear as loyalty, or at least compliance. It is also noted that a well known man in Beechworth, who was employed by the police as a ‘special constable’, possibly Jack, would style himself as ‘Byrne the bushranger’ in an attempt to give credibility to the police presence in Sebastopol. A week before Aaron’s murder he wrote to Superintendent Hare informing him of Joe sleeping in a Sebastopol farmer’s haystack and that Aaron had the police intentionally watching the wrong side of the Byrne house, knowing that Joe’s late night visits couldn’t be detected from that position. But, as we know, it wasn’t Jack who paid the price for disloyalty, it was Aaron. In the end, I believe the weight of constantly trying to prove Aaron’s loyalty in the face of so much hate and suspicion, was enough to sever the remaining trust that Joe clung to. It should also be remembered that a week before his murder, Aaron and Constable Alexander enjoyed an evening pub crawl through the town, initiated by the constable as a way of getting Aaron to drop his guard. On this night, Maggie was working behind the bar and was in the middle of serving a miner. Aaron, in his drunk state, nodded towards the general servant and told the constable, ‘That girl often sees Joe Byrne.’ Maggie served the two and Alexander said nothing to her in Aaron’s presence, but after he had left, the constable returned to question her about seeing Joe. ‘The devil a man could tell you that but Sherritt’, was her reply, ‘And somebody else will soon know, too.’ True to her word, on the 24th of June, Maggie informed Joe of the questions that had been directed at her by the policeman, knowing that Aaron had been the one to tell of their relationship and it isn’t difficult to imagine the anger that Joe would have felt on hearing the news.  Furthermore, he was a very loyal person, he followed without question and had done so nearly all his life, both with Aaron and Ned. This character trait, or rather flaw, had had gotten him 6 months in gaol, plus a further 8 days in remand a year later and declared an outlaw. When Joe uttered over Aaron’s dead body “the bastard will never put me away again”, I think he had finally come to realise just how much this reliance on following others had cost him.

Another point worth noting is that there is ample evidence to suggest that the police were the intended target that evening, not Aaron, and of course, that makes it all the more heartbreaking. Firstly, when bailing up Reardon, Ned told him “I was in Beechworth last night, and I had a great contract with the police; I have shot a lot of them…” Secondly, and most compelling, is what was reported in The Herald at the time of Ned’s hearing in Beechworth. Where it was noted “Kelly expressed it as his confident opinion that Byrne did not shoot [Sherritt]…” Why this evidence has never been granted the consideration it deserves, I do not know, as it carries as much weight as all the accepted statements Ned gave to the press.

When Antonio Wick knocked on the door, and Aaron answered, it was the first time Joe had heard Aaron’s voice for some time and the feelings he harboured of anger and betrayal all boiled over. All the months of accusations and pettiness had left Joe totally exhausted and unable to trust those around him. I’m aware people speak of Joe’s paranoia, and they do so in a way that suggests those feelings were not founded, but they are forgetting one crucial detail; his life was outlawed. And when your only hope of survival comes from trusting those close to you, what happens when you can no longer trust? What happens when you are continually told different stories by different people? The damage this had done and the internal conflict it caused Joe is no plainer than in his actions on the 26th of June 1880.  We know Aaron wasn’t betraying Joe and for such a long time Joe had known too. He had fought against it with everything he had, argued with ‘the Lloyds and Quinns’, slammed doors and kicked walls in response to the agonising torment of suspicion that tightened like a noose around his neck. When Joe levelled the shotgun at Aaron’s cotton shirted stomach, the trigger had already been pulled long before.

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Q3 Hope Duncan-mcGann – I was wondering what was the moment, for you, that brought you close to Aaron (as you are with Joe) whereas in the past you had kept Aaron at arm’s length? In other words, what was the trigger for you to soften towards him and how can others can do that with other historical figures involved in the Kelly Saga?

A First of all, thank you for this question Hope, I always relish the opportunity to explain my newfound love and respect for Aaron, mostly because I hope that it may encourage others to get to know him as I have, as there is so much more to him than people realise. For me, the ‘trigger’ that set about this change in feeling was getting to know him, and I know it’s odd seeing he’s been dead for 140 years, but that’s what it was. When you study these people, you have choices, just as you do when getting to know living people, you either accept what has always been said about them, or you disregard these preconceptions and falsehoods and learn who they were and are with a clean slate. After all, didn’t Ned say it best when he declared, “After the worst has been said against a man, he may, if he is heard, tell a story in his own rough way.” This is just as true for Joe, as it is Aaron, both these young men deserve to be known and understood for who they were. The ‘dangerous and violent’ label assigned to Joe and the ‘traitor’ badge ever sewn on Aaron’s cotton shirt, doesn’t define who these men were, and while I’m mentioning the word traitor, or ‘treater’, as Joe phonetically wrote it, Aaron would have had to have been the most incompetent traitor in history if that is what he actively set out to do. Finally, in order to truly understand what made these people who they were, you must do your own research and analyse and question that research. You can re-read facts all day, but that won’t bring you closer to understanding these men and women. History is about people, living and breathing people, who had loves, hates, desires and fears. Their lives go far beyond what can ever be presented as evidence in prison records, history books or newspaper articles and in An Outlaw’s Journal that is what I strive to show. Through my own research, I have been able to uncover lesser known details of Aaron’s life, which all have aided in the stitching together of his short life. For example, the laughing eyed larrikin’s use of a Chinese associates name so that he may be granted a new slaughtering licence, after constable Michael Ward had found reason to revoke it. Aaron’s unpaid stay at the Albion in January 1878, his remarks to John Phelan in May 1880 about wanting to ‘make it hot’ for the pound keeper due to his incrimination of Joe and a great many of Aaron’s misdemeanours I have found through countless hours scouring Trove. Of course, if only looked at on the surface, this information, while interesting, doesn’t hold weight as to who Aaron was, unless you are able and willing to see it through his hazel eyes or question what is presented on a deeper level. After all, to quote Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, ‘Research is to see what everyone has seen, and to think what nobody else has.’

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Q4 Greg Absler – How much input did Joe have into the Jerilderie letter?

A Thank you for this question Greg, I’m pleased it allows me to go into depth in regards to which parts of the letter’s text is likely influenced by Joe, while he was certainly conveying Ned’s words to paper, he was also adding his own flare, we know, “he was, for a bushman, rather clever with his pen.” Firstly, in order to appropriately surmise how much input Joe had in its creation, it is imperative to look at such things as his other letters and ballads, his scholarly ability, and the reason for both his mother’s and grandfather’s journey to Australia.

When reading the letters Joe wrote, such as the Jerilderie letter and Sherritt letter, his want to phonetically spell the words he had trouble with particularly stands out. Some examples of this can be seen in his spelling of traitor as ‘treater’, Toongabbie as ‘toweringabbie’, goanna as ‘guano’ and Kitty’s as ‘Citties’, although the last one is probably more an example of excess alcohol affecting his comprehension, a fact which can also be seen in the letter’s handwriting.

With these examples in mind, it is easy to picture him sitting down writing, pausing to sound out the words he’s trying to spell with his colonial twang. This phonetic twang can be highlighted as equally denoting the Irish influence as much as the early version of the Australian accent. Furthermore, reading Joe’s letters in this way, and being open to the way he attempted to spell words, gives an insight into his accent, which may not have been that far removed from the accent Steve Bisley used in The Last Outlaw, however much I wish to protest it.

In Joe’s ballads, his use of description is always strong and emotive. In one such ballad he recounts, ‘out in the ranges of Strathbogie, we do fiercely roam, the caves we seek, our hiding place, are a wild and barren home.’ While in another ‘by Australian alpine mountains, near Greta sunny clime, there stands a widow vine clad cot, mid fern trees grow sublime.’ Another known quirk of Joe’s writing was his use of animals as a way of depicting movement and action. For example, he describes Constable McIntyre as a ‘sneaking bandicoot’, who ‘crept into a wombat hole.’ In another, he compares the Gangs pursuers to animals, declaring, ‘I’ll shoot them down like prowling dingo, hawk or carrion crow, or any other miscreant that seeks my overthrow.’ This is seen within the Jerilderie letter, where Constable Hall is described as ‘helpless as a big guano (goanna) after leaving a dead horse or bullock’, who ‘roared like a big calf attacked by dogs.’ Following on from Joe’s ballads, given his scholarly ability, it is not surprising to see snippets of poetry weaved throughout Joe’s letters, with the Jerilderie letter being of no exception. Within the Cameron letter, we see Joe end with his own unique touch; ‘Tis double pay and country girls.’ In the Jerilderie letter Joe weaves the ballad ‘Moreton Bay’ into his and Ned’s account of Irish convicts who were ‘doomed to Port Macquarie, toweringabbie (Toongabbie), Norfolk Island and Emu Plains.’

Joe was also a fan of drawing and distributing caricatures, which were used to criticise and make fun of the police, most significantly Detective Michael Ward. This exaggeration of their forms is also seen within the Jerilderie letter and it is my belief that this was mostly down to the wit of Joe, as we already know he made fun of the police in this way with pencil and paper. Within the writing, the police are depicted as ‘big ugly, fat-necked, wombat headed, big bellied, magpie legged, narrow hipped’, and, ‘splay-footed’. Another example of this is the brilliant picture presented of Superintendent Brooke Smith, who is painted by Ned and Joe as an ‘article that reminds (them) of a poodle dog half clipped in the lion fashion.’ Who ‘has a head like a turnip a stiff neck as big as his shoulders narrow hipped and pointed towards the feet like a vine stake.’ When reading the above depiction, it does not require much imagination to see it in the guise of a rough caricature and given Joe’s intellect and the keen way in which he observed life around him, it is very probable that this input was his own. While many individuals like to view the Jerilderie letter as strictly Ned’s voice and the input unwaveringly his, I don’t believe this to be the case. Of course, early within the letter, when Ned is presenting the facts of his life, the input is mainly his, but as I have so far described, we do see Joe adding his flourishing touches to Ned’s, at times, overbearing speech.

Another hallmark of Joe’s writing was his want to underline for emphasis, which may also be a hallmark of my want to overthink, but I feel it is worth mentioning in terms of arguing Joe’s input. In the Sherritt letter, we see him underline the phrase ‘enforced outlaw’, which led me to wonder whether he had done the same in his threatening letter to Ward? When he declared to the Detective that the Irishman best prepare for his latter end, did he boldly underline the threat? I believe he would have. Obviously, the letter is in Joe’s hand, that is not disputed, but the act of underlying the words you wish to be empathised goes deeper than whether or not the pen is locked in your fingers. For instance, this could have been added by Joe afterwards, while he was rereading the finished letter, or simply during the writing of it. A point that must also be remembered is that Joe was copying from a draft, which would have allowed for this deliberation. Examples of this are seen throughout the letter, including the rather thought-provoking statement dealing with the supposed superiority of Superintendent Brooke Smith. ‘Do they think he is a superior animal to the men that has to guard him if so, why not send the men that gets big pay and reckoned superior to common police after me.’ And also, within the letter’s final declaration, ‘I do not wish to give this order full force without giving timely warning. But I am a widow’s son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.

Finally, when questioning Joe’s input, a point that should be considered, are the flashes of Irish rhetoric and the way in which this connects to Joe on a personal level. An example of this is seen within the dream ‘to reinstate old Erin’s Isle once more from the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke which has kept it in poverty and starvation and caused them to wear the enemy’s coat.’ On the surface, this may not seem significant, but it must be remembered that both his mother, Margret, and his grandfather, Joseph, were sent from Ireland for reasons which are defined within.  Firstly, Margret was brought to Australia from Scariff in County Clare at the age of 16, under the Earl Grey Scheme. She had lost her mother to the slow and agonising effects of starvation and was sent to the Scariff workhouse possibly by her father, to ensure that she had food and shelter. The workhouse had originally been built to house paupers under the Poor Law Union in 1840, but had become a home for the sick and starving of Scariff. The conditions were horrendous, and young Margret would have witnessed unimaginable suffering. While Margret was an incredibly proud woman, it is probable she would have recounted to her children some of the horrors she witnessed and experienced as a result of the famine. Secondly, in regards to ‘the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke’, Joseph Byrne, Joe’s grandfather, was an Irish rebel from County Carlow who had been transported to Australia for life in 1833, after being found guilty in Wexford for ‘Unlawful Oaths’ under the insurrection act of 1822. Joseph was a shepherd, living in the parish of St Mullins with his wife Catherine and their five children, John, James, Patrick, Michael and Mary. He worked hard to create a better life for his family, while English oppression shrouded much of Ireland. To fight this tyrannical rule, young Joseph joined a group of young men, similar to the Whiteboys, a secret society of activists who have been likened to the IRA, and was eventually betrayed and arrested. On 30th of July 1833, he was found guilty and after seven months in prison, was put aboard the James Laing which sailed for New South Wales in February 1834.

I understand this is supposition on my part, but in analysing the letter and questioning which parts were Joe’s input, I have placed great emphasis on applying thinking that is critical and the arguments I have given are evidenced, as I believe this key in assessing something as complex as the question raised.

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Q5 Thomas James – How fluent in Cantonese was Joe?

A Thank you for the question Thomas, even if it is one that cannot be answered with exact clarity, I will do my best to explain Joe’s grasp of Cantonese, particularly within the context of my writing and his association with Chinese members of the Sebastopol and Beechworth community. Firstly, we know that Joe’s knowledge of the Cantonese language was firm enough to allow him to converse with, and be respected by, the Cantonese community. There is evidence to suggest that Joe worked in a Chinese store in Sebastopol, he had known acquaintances within the community, such as Yee Fang, Ah Nam, Ah Suey, Ye On, Hung Young and William Nam Shing, with a number of other men remaining loyal to Joe throughout his outlawry. He visited Chinese stores, he spent time at the house of William Nam Shing, he strolled with miners, was called Ah Joe and smoked opium in their opium dens. Furthermore, Joe had grown up surrounded by the Chinese in Sebastopol and as a result would have spent a great deal of time in their company, with the number of men he befriended and was acquainted with attesting to this. In his memoir, Superintendent Sadleir made mention of a policeman remarking that Joe was ‘half a Chinaman’, clearly seeing it as a derogatory term. For Joe, however, his relationship with the Chinese was an expression of the complexity of his persona. He enjoyed their company, their food, customs and language. The respect this garnered Joe is especially clear in the 18 months he was outlawed. Throughout this time, the Chinese aided him by keeping him informed of the movements made by the police around Sebastopol as well as keeping Joe’s visits into the camp a secret.

In answering the question posed, I view Joe’s acquisition of Cantonese similar to the way I learnt Persian, which is to say by being immersed within their culture and listening and observing. Since we have no way of knowing just how fluent Joe was in Cantonese, in the same way that we do not know how many colds and flus he suffered, it is something that requires an educated guess. In terms of my own understanding of the Persian language, I learnt early on that خداحافظ (khudā ḥāfiẓ) meant ‘goodbye’, کجایی؟ (kojayee?) meant ‘where are you?’ And ببخشید (bebakhshid) meant ‘pardon’ or ‘excuse me’. These are just three examples of Persian that was leant through listening and observing, and it would have been similar for Joe in terms of his early procurement of Cantonese. He would have observed them greeting each other with 你好 (néih hóu), departing with the phrase 再見 (joigin) or 拜拜 (bāaibaai) or saying 食飯! (sihk faahn) when a meal was served. We know that Joe was clever, willing to learn and also a keen observer, so it wouldn’t have been difficult for him to acquire the language of the people he had chosen to surround himself with. The belief I have put forward is also demonstrated within the writing of ‘Ah Suey’ and ‘Ah Nam’, where the way in which Joe communicates with Ah Lim, Ah Wah, Le How and Ah Nam shows that he has gained enough knowledge of Cantonese to understand them and thus make himself understood. An example of this comes from ‘Ah Suey’, where I show Joe conversing with a Chinese butcher named Ah Wah:

‘Joe steps out into the muddy alley, his eyes falling on Ah Wah as he shuffles past the side of his butcher’s shop, a hen flapping wildly under his grasp. The stout Chinaman nods at Joe, his apron stained with a splattering of crimson.

“Néih hóu,” Joe greets him with a smile.

Ah Wah grins back at Joe, showing a collection of broken and lost teeth, “Hóunoih móuhgin.”

“Haih,” Joe replies, “I’ve been busy.”

The Chinaman laughs, spittle spraying from his lips.

 “Busy, busy, haih. Ah Lim keep you busy.”’

In conclusion, while there is no way to be exact in the fluency in which Joe spoke Cantonese, there is the ability to make an approximation based on critical thinking and rationality.

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Q6 Marcus Mc Swinchy – I enjoy your writing but curious as to how you decide between fact and fiction.  

A Thank you for your question Mark, I am glad you’re enjoying my writing. For me, telling Joe’s life as accurately and truthfully as I can is of the utmost importance and therefore the research I conduct, and the evidence I use, is paramount. In my work, I like to consider and shine a light on to the parts of Joe’s life that have been skimmed over, such as his relationship with Maggie, his meeting of and subsequent relationship with Ellen Salisbury, his own account of the events he witnessed, the Chinese miners and storekeepers he knew, the books and newspaper articles he read and the person he was. Being able to delve deeper into each fragment of his life requires research and having the ability to separate fact from the fiction. I have found that with Joe, the line between fact and fiction hasn’t been blurred as greatly as it has with Ned, because the number of individuals retelling his life has been far less. In fact, the most trouble I have encountered is understanding why opinions and personal biases have been allowed to stand as fact and have remained, until now, unchallenged. A dislike or love of an individual should never shape the work presented and I always strive for a balance in my telling of Joe’s life. I wish to lay down the facts and give my readers a greater understanding as to why he acted and lived the way he did, without forcing my view, or tinkering with the evidence in the hope that the Joe presented is more favourable. For example, there is an often quoted line that during his outlawry ‘Joe had a girlfriend in every town in Kelly Country’. For me, this statement lessens the connection Joe had with Maggie and twists him into being almost a kind of lothario character and doesn’t take into consideration the fact that Joe was risking his life ‘every Saturday night’ to see her. Obviously, we know Joe was fond of women and we know he flirted with barmaids, who in return called him sugar due to the sweetness he showed. However, flirting and offering a cheeky wink across the bar, is quite different to committing yourself to the love of one woman. Especially when it is a woman who you believe is worth riding into Beechworth for, so that the two of you may be together for a few stolen hours, despite the price on your head and the promise of a noose if you are caught. I realise to some, this may seem a little pedantic, but for me it is imperative that Joe, and the people who were important to him, are given the voice and understanding they are deserving of.

In deciding between fact and fiction, this task is made simpler due to us having Joe’s own version of events to relate back to. These events include, Ah Suey’s torture in 1872, Ah Nam’s fight with Robert Woods in 1873, Ah On’s bamboo attack in 1877, the gangs crossing of the Murray River in 1879 and the sympathisers mistrust of Aaron. Further to these are the countless ballads written in Joe’s hand describing certain events, including one that is yet to be revealed which gives his account of one of the gangs most deciding moments. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that in all my writing I remain true to Joe’s own version of events, as the purpose of An Outlaw’s Journal is obviously to depict the 23 and a half years he had on earth through his own blue eyes. For instance, in my writing of Ah Suey, I used the two witness statement’s Joe gave as a guide to what happened to the Chinese miner at the hands of Ye On and Hung Young. To further shape the narrative and give greater depth, I followed the statements of what was seen by others who were there that night, as well as utilising the knowledge available of Joe working in the Sebastopol Chinese camp, him speaking Cantonese and the acquaintances he had within the camp. The majority of my writing is created in a similar way, with the end result being, I believe, faithful and open in its depiction of truth.

In conjunction with my faithfulness to Joe, I also remain true to the world in which he lived. For example, while writing ‘Ah Nam’, I researched the state of the Woolshed Road, hoping to be able to describe it as accurately as I could and thankfully, a few days before Joe had walked along it with Ah Nam, a resident of the Woolshed had written to the editor of the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, complaining of the poor state of the road, which had been made worse by the unrelenting autumn rain. Every piece of writing that I have uploaded onto WordPress has been researched and written with the desire of it being as accurate as it possibly can be. This want of accuracy includes such specifics as the weather, the residents, the storekeepers, the businesses and the buildings. I also try my best to enter Joe’s headspace when I write, with an emphasis on how particular events made him think and feel. My intention is always to capture realism and it is imperative to me that Joe is allowed to be heard and understood.

Obviously, a vast degree of the evidence we have in regards to Joe comes from the perspective of others and has been slightly biased towards the individual who has given it and this is a factor I always keep in mind. Jack Sherritt is a key example of someone who gave evidence that was biased either towards himself or his audience. During the Royal Commission, he gave a statement in regards to Joe and Aaron visiting Yee Fang’s store, where he goes on to declare the Chinese storekeeper could speak English fluently and that he could understand every word he said. This in itself isn’t overly significant, but when he goes on to ‘quote’ Yee Fang, it is understood why he has made sure to tell of the storekeeper’s firm grasp of the English language. He says that Yee Fang told him that Joe was a “really bad man before he shot policeman. Him shoot policeman and kill him Chinaman.” Jack then goes on to say that the Chinese knew Joe because “he used to pelt and hammer them with stones.” Despite the fact that it was Aaron who had thrown the stone, and only in self-defence at the relentless lashes of Ah On’s bamboo. It is known that Joe visited Yee Fang’s store both before and after he was outlawed as it was one of the places in Sebastopol where he purchased his alcohol, tobacco and opium, so it is unlikely the storekeeper would have harboured as much dislike for Joe as was reported by Jack. To further highlight Jack’s willingness to incriminate, we know that he stole a gold watch and sidesaddle which belonged to Belle Sherritt and planted them at the Byrne house which later saw Margret and Paddy arrested for the theft.

Personally, I steer clear of using research which has been tarnished by the author’s own opinions when it comes to the work they present, as the truth can never be appropriately projected in this way. An example of this is seen in the way Ian Jones links Joe’s supposed violent and tearaway character traits to his slight upper lip deformity, stating that his behaviour was due to this ingrained sensitivity. He also makes the dubious connection that Joe protested to having his portrait taken because of his insecurity about his lip, however, this argument doesn’t take into consideration the Hare portrait of Joe, taken a year or two later. Furthermore, while I’m mentioning this portrait of Joe sporting a chinstrap beard, which incidentally is also the same style of beard he had in early 1879, the portrait, while heavily retouched, had been accepted as Joe for over one hundred years, until Ian, without evidence to back up his claim, asserted that it couldn’t in fact be Joe and instead was Paddy, despite the elongated facial structure being identical to Joe rather than Paddy. A further example of opinion overriding presented evidence is seen in the remarks uttered by Ned at Beechworth in August 1880.  A journalist who interviewed Ned stated that, “When questioned as to the murder of Aaron Sherritt at Sebastopol by the gang, Kelly expressed it as his confident opinion that Byrne did not shoot him.” There are similar sentiments recorded in the Weekly Times, the Herald and the Ovens and Murray Advertiser but the opinion that Ned couldn’t have possibly said it has been the judgement most repeated and it does beg the question as to why the need for this selectiveness? Why are Ned’s other statements believed, but not this? Unfortunately, these are just some of the cases where an opinion has been used as fact and unless there is appropriate argument for why that opinion should be maintained or evidence to support it, all it does is cloud reality.


I would personally like to thank all those who posed questions. I have really enjoyed being given the chance to delve deeper into specific topics and aspects relating to Joe’s life that are not normally explored or pondered.

2 thoughts on “Questions and Answers (June 2020)

    1. Thank you Patrick, I’m glad you’re enjoying my work. I regularly post about Aaron on my Facebook page (An Outlaw’s Journal), but I’ll also be adding a lot more here as well. 🙂

      Like

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