Friday, 12 September 2014

The Jerilderie Letter Part IV


"Kelly and Sergeant Kennedy" Sydney Nolan 1945
Ned Kellys next 1000 words are devoted to his views about what happened at his mothers house when Sergeant Fitzpatrick came calling to arrest Dan.This incident is known as the Fitzpatrick incident and is viewed by Kelly apologists as the trigger to all the violence and mayhem that followed. They ignore the fact that it was stock theft that gave rise to the arrest warrant. In any event, Ned claims he was 400 miles away when this incident occurred, which would put him at Broken Hill or Adelaide or somewhere north of Sydney – so no modern writer believes it - and that the arrest warrant was only issued for Dan because they couldn’t catch Ned. 
However as everyone knows, there are many versions but essentially Mrs Kelly took exception to this attempt to arrest Dan, and by her interventions provoked a response from Fitzpatrick which involved a gun which may or may not have been fired , the Constable subsequently reported he had been attacked and ultimately warrants were issued for the arrest of Ned Kelly and others for attempted murder. Mrs Kelly was arrested the next day and incarcerated along with her breast-feeding baby. 
Much of the discussion in this segment of the Jerilderie letter is character assassination of Sergeant Fitzpatrick, and further denigration of Police, such stuff as
“never knew Fitzpatrick to be one night sober and that he sold his sister to a chinaman”
and  
“they thought it impossible for a Policeman to swear a lie but I can assure them it is by that means and hiring cads they get promoted”
However, significantly, three times in this discussion Kelly returns to one of his major themes, that of the Police treatment of his family.
“And the Police got great credit and praise in the papers for arresting the mother of 12 children one an infant on her breast….

“they used to rush into the house upset all the milk dishes break tins of eggs empty the flour out of the bags on to the ground and even the meat out of the cask and destroy all the provisions and shove the girls in front of them into the rooms like dogs so as if anyone was there they would shoot the girls first

“the greatest ruffians and murderers no matter how deprived would not be guilty of such a cowardly action, and this sort of cruelty and disgraceful and cowardly conduct to my brothers and sisters who had no protection coupled with the conviction of my mother and those men certainly made my blood boil as I dont think there is a man born could have the patience to suffer it as long as I did or ever allow his blood to get cold while such insults as these were unavenged”
The tone of the narrative is increasingly angry and its clear that the source of the anger is Neds fury at what has been happening to his family.
“But if I hear any more of it I will not exactly show them what cold blooded murder is but wholesale and retail slaughter something different to shooting three troopers in self defence and robbing a bank. I would have been rather hot-blooded to throw down my rifle and let them shoot me and my innocent brother, they were not satisfied with frightening my sisters night and day and destroying their provisions and lagging my mother and infant and those innocent men but should follow me and my brother into the wilds”

And so, in this agitated and angry state of mind that Kelly has now worked himself into, he launches into his recollections of what happened at Stringybark Creek and the killing of three Policemen sent to capture him, an account which makes up a full quarter of the letter. 

By the time Kelly dictated the Letter he had had months to think about and work on his explanations descriptions and justifications of what happened, and had read many Newspaper reports derived from McIntyres accounts of what happened.  By then he was an outlaw with a price on his head and nothing to lose, so nobody should be surprised that his telling of this ghastly debacle in the Ranges puts it in as favourable a light as he can manage. His main theme of course is that he killed in self defence, that if his real intent was to kill those police he could have easily ambushed and shot them in cold blood. Kelly claimed to have heard that the Police planned to kill him then plant a gun on his dead body, and that they had brought such a quantity of arms and ammunition with them that could only have meant they were planning to kill him, that he only fired at the Police when they didn’t do exactly what he told them and that it was either kill or be killed :
“this cannot be called wilful murder for I was compelled to shoot them, or lie down and let them shoot me it would not be wilful murder if they packed our remains in, shattered into a mass of animated gore to Mansfield, they would have got great praise and credit as well as promotion but I am reconed a horrid brute because I had not been cowardly enough to lie down for them under such trying circumstances and insults to my people certainly their wives and children are to be pitied but they must remember those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police as it is an old saying It takes a rogue to catch a rogue and a man that knows nothing about roguery would never enter the force an take an oath to arrest brother sister father or mother if required and to have a case and conviction if possible”
Notice even here he returns to his two pet themes, the mistreatment of family, and his hatred of the irredeemably corrupt Police – these are the twin engines that drive Neds fury and all his actions.
In keeping with what we have earlier noticed about Kellys behavior, he blames everyone else for what happened, saying that
“….I could not help shooting there or else let them shoot me which they would have done had their bullets been directed as they intended them”
McIntyre escapes on a horse so Kelly turns this into an act of charity on his behalf :
“I allowed him to go as I did not like to shoot him after he surrendered or I would have shot him as he was between me and Kennedy therefore I could not shoot Kennedy without shooting him first.”
I find that very hard to believe. I also find it hard to  believe his claims that he misidentified the Police, that he thought Lonigan was in fact “Strachan the man who said he would not ask me to stand he would shoot me first like a dog.” Such a misidentification conveniently provides Kelly with the excuse that he killed a man who had already publically threated to kill Ned Kelly. In fact, Lonigan was a man Kelly knew , and had publically vowed to kill. The idea that he didn’t recognize him is far fetched – he had been observing the troopers for some time before bailing them up – more likely he knew exactly who it was and was more than prepared to kill him, and the other troopers if he had the slightest excuse - claiming that he thought Lonigan was Strahan was a ruse designed to mitigate the killing, an idea that probably occurred to Kelly long after the event itself.
His description of the killing of Lonigan is altered in another way, again no doubt to make it seem less horrible because though Kelly reports only firing once at him there were at least four bullet wounds in the corpse that underwent post mortem examination. In relation to the death of Kennedy there was no use in denying he had been killed at point blank range by a shotgun blast to the chest so Kelly turns that murder into an act of charity as well,
“he could not live or I would have let him go”
Kelly doesn’t mention taking the gold watch and money off Kennedys corpse, or the rings and other possessions that were taken off the others, or of ransacking and burning the entire encampment to  get rid of evidence, but then, those details wouldnt fit the story that the Police are corrupt thieves and came to kill them, and all Ned Kelly did was defend himself.
In the end, Kelly was only convicted of murdering Lonigan but one wonders how he would have argued chasing Kennedy as he fled into the bush was an act of self defence. His retelling of the Stringybark Creek killings  in the Jerilderie Letter is an unreliable and incomplete version created months after the event and obviously designed to advance his excuse for an outrage that was entirely of his making, but as usual he wants to believe that it was all someone elses fault.

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