Friday 2 January 2015

Ned Kelly was just a stock thief

A Happy New Year to one and all, and Welcome to my first Post for 2015. 

Given the way interest in this Blog has been  rising at such a rate, and the way in which other Kelly related sites seem to be in serious decline, I have high hopes for the continuing success of this Blog in 2015. By success, I mean increasing the readership and thereby the public understanding of how comprehensively the Kelly myth makers have misrepresented the truth about the Kelly outbreak, about Ned Kelly and his gang. Success will also be counted by further exposure of the bullying and threatening tactics used by desperate kelly fanatics struggling to prevent publication and discussion of alternatives to their mythology. In the last month, they have posted Comments on this Blog threatening and abusing named individuals who they disagree with, and warning me that "2015 is going to be a massive wake up call" so I expect this sort of sinister anonymous thuggery will continue and probably intensify as the year goes on, as they find themselves further and further threatened by the continuing presence of this Blog. I predict all their efforts will be directed at silencing me and almost no effort will be directed at answering the critical issues that I will be presenting. Their method is not to defend their mythology directly, but to attack anything and anyone threatening it. So we shall all watch what they do with interest.

As for me, I am not taking a backward step, and heres my first Post for 2015: enjoy!


“Selectors Squatters and Stock thieves : A social history of Kelly Country” is the title of the PhD thesis written by Dr Doug Morrissey over 25 years ago. Sadly, the entire thesis seems not to be accessible on the Internet, but fortunately  an article derived from it is freely available on the  web site of the State Library of Victoria. Its an article originally published in the Victorian Historical Journal in 1995 but which has since been digitized, and its titled “Ned Kelly, and Horse and Cattle Stealing”.

I downloaded it some months ago but have only just got round to reading it.

The important point about this work is that it’s from a PhD thesis. This means that it’s a piece of original research that has been undertaken with academic rigour, with attention to detail and to historical accuracy, and has been submitted for serious scrutiny by Morrissey’s examiners who would most likely have been history professors with expertise in Australian history.  If it was rubbish, Morrissey would have been failed and he would not be a Doctor. This doesn’t automatically mean that whatever his conclusions are, they must be correct, but it does mean that his findings and conclusions need to be taken serious note of. Importantly, as with any decent academic research, Morrissey backs up all his assertions with references to his sources, and these are listed in the notes at the end. His sources range from the Jerilderie Letter to the Report of the Royal Commission, and through to modern writers such as McQuilton and McMenomy. However, you wont find a reference to Ian Jones anywhere – why?  - because this work was published in 1987, 8 years before “A Short Life!”

What Morrissey shows is that Ned Kelly was above and before anything else, an “aggressive professional stock thief”.  If there was a book about Ned Kelly that finished two and a half  years before he died, it would only have been about his life as a thief. There would be nothing to suggest that one day he would come to be regarded as Australias Robin Hood, no hint that he would be lauded as a champion of the poor, nothing to suggest he ever thought  about a Republic of north East Victoria or about  “suffering innocents”. The only possible narrative would be about his life as a member of a criminal family and its associates, and his exploits as a notorious stock thief.  Kelly devotees may well want to deny this, and express outrage at such a suggestion, but this claim should not be news to any but the most ignorant Kelly devotee. The unfortunate truth for the Kelly devotee is that Ned Kelly made that precise boast about himself in the Jerilderie Letter , declaring that his stock theft was not a casual and occasional incident but a major undertaking on an industrial scale: 

“Therefore I started wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing”

“ person had anything to do with the stealing and selling of horses but me and George King”


“ the greatest horse stealer with the exception of myself and George King that I know of”

Morrissey documents the long history of stock theft by the Kellys, Quinns and Lloyds, and other local families that they associated with, going back to 1856 when they were linked to “cattle duffing” in the Wallan and Donnybrook areas. He describes how mobs of stolen horses and cattle were driven along well established high country stock routes that passed the Glenmore Run, the Quinn stronghold in the King Valley, and from there were hidden in the dense bush or  driven across the Murray into New South Wales to be sold. Stock “acquired” in NSW was brought back on the return journey. Morrissey points out the networks made up of the many friends and known criminal associates of the Kellys who happened to live near these stock routes and who would have provided safe haven for the horses on back paddocks as well as intelligence about Police activities in the area. He also describes the various methods used to dispose of horses, by altering their branding, by releasing them to be impounded and then bought back cheaply, and by the creation of falsified documentation and Bills of Sale. It seems to be common knowledge that Ned Kelly used the Alias of “ Mr Thompson” in these transactions.

Something I hadn’t realized, and which shocked me when I read it, was that Ned Kelly was quite willing to do deals and work with Squatters – his supposed enemies. Much worse, however was his willingness to steal from selectors, the poor people of the districts whose cause these days he is said to have championed. In fact, what Morrissey shows is that Kelly stole from anyone he could, but this was typical of the way these criminal gangs and alliances operated, stealing from the rich and the poor whenever the opportunity arose, and even from each other. Morrissey names several selectors who suffered because horses were stolen from them by the Kellys; no doubt they weren’t the only ones:

Morrissey writes:
  “Even after he became an outlaw Ned Kelly continued to steal livestock belonging to the districts poor selectors. In 1879 the Kelly Gang stole a horse belonging to William Cass a Glenrowan selector in poor economic circumstances. The Lands Department saw Cass and family as “ rather unfortunate selectors” and said of William that he “is the only son who has been able to keep a roof over his poor old fathers head” The Kelly Gangs theft of one of the poor mans few horses only added to his considerable difficulties”

Later he writes
 “ Occasionally the thieves would return to the scene of the crime “to laugh at the poor people for making such a fuss about their bloody old horse” In some cases Steele said “ the ruffians have taken the only pair of draught horses a farmer has”

These depressing revelations demonstrate that Ned Kellys claims in the Jerilderie Letter  and elsewhere to be against the squatters and on the side of the poor to be lies and hypocritical posturing, and further expose the nonsense of modern Kelly devotees claims that Ned Kelly was Australia’s  Robin Hood: Ned Kelly didn’t rob from the rich and give to the poor – he robbed from the rich AND the poor, kept what he wanted for himself and his family, and paid off anyone who assisted him. This of course is precisely what one would expect of a Psychopath- contempt rather than empathy or pity for the struggles of the poor selector.

Clearly, stock theft was something about which Ned Kelly himself was very proud, and it was a central and dominant feature of his  adult life and of the social networks that he was part of until he disappeared into the Bush after the “Fitzpatrick Incident". Curiously though - but understandably - this important and overriding feature of the life of Ned Kelly rates hardly a mention in the Kelly literature: Nobody wants to go there, perhaps because they don’t like to dwell on the disappointing truth that their icon was actually a stock thief.  I would suggest more importantly they don’t want to go there because its there that the origins of the Kelly outbreak are found, and that’s not where the Kelly devotees want them to be. They want the outbreak to have sprung from police corruption and the oppression  and victimization of  the innocent poor,  the abuse of power by authority hand in glove with rich landowners, from police lies and drunkenness, from anything at all as long as it directs our attention away from Ned Kellys longstanding and extensive ties to criminal networks and self confessed immersion in “wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing”, his thefts from rich and poor, squatter and selector alike. Ned Kelly, and his sympathisers then and now want to pretend that the “outbreak” is a story of innocence  being denied justice and liberty, when in fact, as Morrisseys careful scrutiny of the historical record shows, it arose from a particular stock thieving operation that went wrong.

The operation that went wrong was known as “ The Whitty Larceny”.  In the Jerilderie Letter Ned Kelly openly admitted that it was he who had stolen 11 horses, from Mr Whitty and several other Squatters in the Moyhu district in August 1877.  They were worth  £170 (more than $30,000 in todays money according to Ian Jones in 1995!) so this was not mere petty theft! Additional horses stolen later, not from squatters but from selectors around Greta were added to the mob , part of which was subsequently sold  across the Murray river, and the remainder kept out of sight  on a selection owned by the Baumgarten brothers, who wrote out a cheque for  £18  to “Mr J Thompson”. To cut a long story short, what went wrong was that as the Police accumulation of evidence proceeded and pressure was applied to various minor characters in the crime, some of them cracked, and became police informers. Warrants were issued for the arrest of  Ned Kelly and Dan Kelly,  and it was in relation to these warrants that Constable Fitzpatrick found himself going to the Kelly household to arrest them. The rest  you might say, is History, because as everyone knows, the Kellys reacted to this attempt with violence and fled into the bush, where six months later 3 policemen were killed and the gang was outlawed. But a little over two years later it was all over – they were all dead.

As Morrissey points out, the significance of the Whitty larceny, and the Kelly brothers involvement in it quickly became lost in the more serious events of the Kelly Outbreak. The Legal case he describes as a “landmark” because it “systematically exposed for Public scrutiny the complex network and the shady world of horse and cattle thieves”

What Morrisseys work has shown is that Ned Kelly was first and foremost a horse and cattle thief. His short-lived career as a Bushranger was a reaction to “heat” that was applied to him and his family by Police investigating stock theft, rather than as a political campaign arising from a wider dissatisfaction with the administration of Justice, or anything to do with innocent poor people being bullied by the rich, which of course is the way Kelly apologists like to tell it. 

(Further reflections on this topic to follow in my next Post)


  1. What a pity Peter FitzSimons army of researchers couldn't find Morrissey's thesis -- maybe Ian Jones hated it too. A shocking omission, whatever the reason.

    Brian Stevenson published some introductory thoughts about several chapters of the thesis in 'Eleven Mile Creek' in 2011.

    Morrissey published parts of his thesis in historical journals, 'Ned Kelly's World', 'Ned Kelly's sympathisers' among other subjects.

  2. Thanks Col, my next Post discusses these very things.

  3. I figured this might fit under the stock theft posting.

    I just ran across a fascinating newspaper series from 1933, wherein a Kelly sympathiser, Samuel Jamieson, (then age 77) told about his (alleged) adventures as a young man with the gang. One of the interesting things he said was this -

    "Then, he explained, their only crime was horse stealing, and if they had not been hounded so cruelly by the police, there would not have been one murder. The troopers were looking for trouble when they started to persecute them. Everyone was stealing horses in those days, he stated. If the Kellys had not followed that illegal occupation, their friends would have said right away that they were in league with the police, arid they would have been boycotted and had to leave the district."

    That sure was some peer pressure!

    He also had this bit -

    "It is rather amusing to note that Quinn supplied meat to the police at Mansfield, and often the troopers unwittingly sat down to a meal of stolen steak or mutton."

    I don't agree with the bit in the article about them being uneducated, though.

    Of course, some of the names and such are not correct or misremembered (perhaps in old age his memory was not as it was when he was younger), and this is the first time I have heard that about Wild Wright being shot and wounded by the police at a most popular spot in Benalla. All in all, an this gentleman gives an interesting slant to a few things.

  4. Oh Sharon you are such a tireless and optimistic advocate for Ned! I had to agree with that old timer though, being annoyed about the Police hounding them for stealing horses ! I would have been too - why people cant go about their business without busybody Police interfering all the time is beyond me.

    Regarding the Quinns supplying meat, on a more serious note, I get the impression, and would like to explore this properly some time, that there were many interactions between the Police and the selectors of a commercial non- professional kind, such as the friendship between Fitzpatrick and Ned - which obviously went sour - but no doubt there were others - and “sly grog” selling may have relied on the patronage of the Police. It was all a lot more complex than the Goodies vs Baddies, black and white image beloved of Mythmakers who believe the only way a Policeman could be the father of a Selectors baby is if he was a rapist.

  5. Perhaps some of the police (like Flood) just did not like the competition when it came to horse stealing? :)

    Speaking of Flood, he was the father of Annie Kelly Gunn's (Annie get your gun!) baby and from the way that Morrissey presents it in his thesis, it seems that she was a very willing participant in the ongoing affair.

    You are very right, there is no black and white, but many shades of gray.


1. Moderation is back on. I haven’t got time to be constantly monitoring what comments are made and deleting the mindless rubbish that Kelly sympathisers have been posting lately. Please post polite sensible comments, avoid personal abuse and please use the same name whenever you Post, even if its a made-up name.