A Plate of Stew

“My men are in rags and must be fed.”

On the 2nd of November 1878, a week after the tragedy at Stringybark Creek, the Kelly Gang, soaking wet and thoroughly exhausted, called at the Victoria Hotel in Everton. According to Mary Vandenberg, she had just closed up for the night and was going to bed when she heard ‘the rattle of a whip on the door’. Taking a lamp from the side table, she unlocked the door and opened it hesitantly. Peering out at the murky darkness, she saw the figures of four young men standing beneath her veranda. Ned stepped forward, a rifle slung across his shoulder and coiled stock whip, and touched the brim of his hat. “My men are in rags,” He began in his usual quiet tone, “And must be fed.” Mary nodded wordlessly and ushered Joe, Dan and Steve inside, the three of them moving past her without a word. Noticing Ned still on the verandah, she looked at him confused. “What of you?” “I’ll keep watch”, He replied. Mary directed the three shivering young men into the dining room, where she offered to take their water laden overcoats and hang them close to the fire. With the dripping clothing drying, Mary hurried to the servant quarters and woke the young Irish maid, telling her to fetch a bucket of potatoes and get them peeled. After initially refusing the request, the frightened young girl complied and tearfully began peeling the potatoes. With the stew finally cooked, Mary gave Joe, Dan and Steve their plates of steaming stew and took one out to Ned. He thanked her for the food and apologised that he could not pay her for the meals. With their coats dry and bellies full, the four young men collected their horses from the hotel’s accommodation paddock, and rode off into the drizzling night.

Illustration by Aidan Phelan.

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