Monday 2 November 2015

Ned Kellys Letters reveal the pathetic truth about him

On November 3rd, 5th and 10th 1880 in the Condemned Cell at Melbourne Gaol, Ned Kelly dictated three more letters, his last. They were addressed  to the Governor  of Victoria and contain Kelly’s final attempts at defending his actions and pleading his case.

In the first, dated November 3rd, he mostly concentrates on the Fitzpatrick affair, and he repeats his claim to have been “a great many miles from the place at the time” something which even Ian Jones accepts is a lie. He also briefly discusses the events at Stringybark Creek.  McIntyre’s testimony undermined Ned’s claim that he killed Lonigan in self defence , so Ned has a go at McIntyres testimony, writing “You will see, if McIntyres statements are compared, the disparity, without me making further mention”.  One of the disparities Ned points out is that in his statement about the original bail up at SBC, McIntyre claimed that the man “on the extreme right (was) armed with two guns” but Ned claims that in Court he said that the man on the extreme right had “only one gun and a revolver” . Ned was clearly clutching at straws if he thought identifying such a trivial semantic discrepancy would make a difference to anything. 

He also blames the death of the other two Policemen on McIntyre, and writes in the letter that McIntyre “told a falsehood” when Kennedy and Scanlan returned to the camp because he told them they were surrounded and should dismount and surrender. According to Ned, because of this “falsehood” Kennedy and Scanlan reacted in such a way that they ended up being shot. What McIntyre should have said, according to Ned, was that he (McIntyre) “was covered by Ned Kelly and three other armed men and not to move or they would be shot as Lonigan had got shot, and have pointed to the fact, then his companions would have understood their position…” 

This is what nowadays we call ‘blaming the victim’, wherein the person who actually did the crime says it was the victims fault, not his. The reality is that nobody knows how Scanlan and Kennedy might have responded to a different form of words, or how events would have unfolded if they had surrendered. My feeling is they would have been shot with the slightest of excuses, but its a moot point.

The next letter, quite a long one, was dictated on November 5th and contains nearly 2000 words. It begins “I now take the liberty of bringing under your notice a statement of the facts of the Glenrowan affair”   Ned Kelly then provides in detail his version of  the entire episode from start to finish. At the end of the letter he states “ I don’t wish to trouble you any further with my case but if it was looked into in a proper manner, if witnesses were examined and which many of the Police force at Glenrowan at the time could prove, what I say is correct”

In fact, if Neds statements in this letter are looked into “in a proper manner” as he asks, they are quickly found to be very far from “correct”. More bluntly stated, this letter is full of very obviously self-serving lies, as he attempts to recast the events at Glenrowan in a wholly different light, a light makes Ned look a whole lot less sinister. 

I think that among Kelly buffs of all persuasions there is general agreement that Kelly planned to cause a catastrophic derailment of the Special Police train by secretly tearing up the tracks just past Glenrowan, and then, with the armour to protect them, the Gang would engage any survivors in a gun battle and hopefully kill them off. However, on the night in question Ned and Steve Hart were unable to rip up the tracks on their own, and were forced to find people who could – at gunpoint of course -  and thus it became necessary to bail them up at the Hotel afterwards to preserve the cloak of secrecy about the fate that was intended for the train. That is the established sequence of events.

However, the narrative supplied by Ned in this letter contradicts the known facts and offers a completely different sequence of events. In the first few lines of Neds “statement of the facts of the Glenrowan affair”, he asserts that his plan was not to wreck the train at all, but to get the Stationmaster simply to stop it at the Station. He writes that because Stanistreet wouldn’t guarantee that he could, Ned was forced to bail up various people and order them to tear up the railway tracks. This is the reverse of the order in which these things actually took place.  Ned deliberately conceals the fact that he at first tried but failed to lift the tracks himself, and that he intended the train to be stopped by a derailment at speed with the inevitable result that it would crash off the line into a gully and kill many of the people on board.

“The first thing I waited for was the last passenger train to pass at nine o’clock. I then bailed up a lot of men in tents around the stationmaster’s house as I suspected there were detectives amongst them. I then bailed up Mrs Jones’ Hotel, then Mr Stanistreet the stationmaster, and asked him if he could stop a special train with police and black trackers on. He said he could stop a passenger train, but would not guarantee to stop a special train with police and blacktrackers exactly where I wanted it. So then I bailed up the platelayers and overseer and ordered them to pull up the line a quarter of a mile past the station, so as the train could not go any further. My intention was to have the stationmaster to flash the danger light on the platform so as the stop the train, and he was to tell the police to leave their firearms and horses in the train and walk out with their hands over their heads, and their lives would be spared.”

Another outright lie that he attempts to pass off as a “statement of fact” is this remarkable claim:

“Then I let a man go to stop the train about a mile below the railway station and opposite the police barracks and to tell them that they were in the barracks. He had a double-barrel fowling piece and cartridges to fire as a signal for me if the police got out and surrounded the barracks….”

Here of course he is referring to Thomas Curnow, the brave man who stopped the train and saved many lives after he tricked Ned into letting him go free from the Ann Jones Inn. Here Ned tries to cover his embarrassment by claiming that rather than being tricked by Curnow, it was Neds idea all along to have someone go back and stop the train, and it was he who sent Curnow to do it. This is simply nonsense. These statements are either deliberate lies, or else they are coming from a man who is seriously out of touch with reality.

Kelly writes in this letter that his original plan had been to capture senior Police and hold them hostage until his mother was released from Prison. But then he writes that he decided instead to take possession of the train and head back up the line to rob banks. You will never believe the reason he gives for deciding to abandon his plan to attempt to free his mother and rob banks instead:

“The reason I differed from the first plan is I wanted the man that stopped the train to have the reward, as I heard it was to be done away with in three days.”

The idea that Ned would have changed the entire plan from hostage taking to bank robbing to help Thomas Curnow in preference to helping his own mother is simply preposterous. Does ANYONE believe this?  If Ned Kelly did then we would have to seriously reconsider the notion that Ned was fanatically devoted to his mother.  The kindest interpretation of this sort of bizarre nonsense is to say that it reflects the desperation of a condemned man with less than a week to live, making a last frantic attempt to spin a tale that might excuse him and thereby almost miraculously save him from the inevitable gallows.

Ian Jones mentions the November 5th letter in A Short Life, and briefly discusses Neds  revised plan to assist Curnow to get the reward money. However he avoids drawing anyones attention to the claim by Ned that to help Curnow, Ned  abandoned his plan to help his mother, a quite sensational revelation, that puts Ned in a very poor light. Jones writes “It all seems an aberration of the moment”

But is it an aberration? Thinking about it, rather than an “aberration” I believe these lies and self serving attempts to rewrite history are actually not much different to the style of Neds  outpourings in the Jerilderie Letter, wherein he also attempts to rewrite history and to blame everyone else for his troubles. In the Jerilderie Letter Ned Kelly blames Whitty for his decision to become a stock thief, blames McCormick for the punch he received from Ned’s fist, tells lies about his whereabouts at the time of the Fitzpatrick incident, blames Fitzpatrick for his mothers imprisonment, blames a spiked drink on his misbehavior when drunk, claims he killed the Policemen in self defence…

All that seems to have happened is that the desperate and extreme confines of Death Row have resulted in letters which contain the most desperate and extreme examples of the way Ned habitually approached reality and explained himself. As in the Jerliderie letter, here he is once again using lies and self serving re-interpretations of events to cast himself in a better light and try to absolve himself of responsibility for what took place. The major difference of course is that he no longer has the freedom, or the weaponry to threaten violence and mayhem to anyone who doesn’t do as he demands. Instead he has to try to convince them that they have the story all wrong, and like a child he somehow seems to imagine that adults might be persuaded by his quite preposterous and easily demonstrable lies. Why else would he have told them?

There are a couple of other things about this letter that also seem to have escaped commentary.  The first is that in style and  content it is at odds with the “I-don’t-pretend-to-have-lived-a-blameless-life” letter and adds significant weight to the argument that Gaunson was indeed the main author of it. 

The second much more important  point to consider is that these are the last words of a man purported to have been planning to establish some kind of a Republic of North East Victoria,  a man apparently motivated by some sort of ethical position about the rights of the poor, about Justice and about the immorality of Police behaviour, a man whose grand political vision has been brought to an ignominious and violent end. But where, in all these letters is even a SINGLE word about this vision, this dream that he risked everything to realise? Where does the defeated but defiant visionary state his case for the Republic, invoke noble sentiment about freedom and justice and a higher cause, make the expected rallying call to arms or at least to the cause, urging the Sympathisers not to abandon the noble cause but to continue the fight for justice? The answer of course is he doesn’t, and the reason he doesn’t is that such thoughts and sentiments were never in his head. He was not a visionary. He was not planning a revolution. These last letters, wherein Ned Kelly had nothing to lose by giving voice to his deepest convictions and greatest visions, contain not a single whisper about anything to do with a Republic or anything like it, and in truth, prove the completely fanciful nature of Ian Jones proposition that there was ever such a dream. There is nothing in these letters about his family, about the poor, about anything noble or grand, no concern is expressed for the deaths of hostages or Police, or even of his own brother and the other Gang members - instead these letters are about self justification, and are full of lies and childish attempts to rewrite history in a naive hope that they might be believed, that Glenrowan wasn’t about murder but about Bank robbery, that Curnows bravery was Neds idea, that the Police got it all wrong. To curry favour he even pretends that he was planning to throw his own mother under the bus in preference to Curnow. A true visionary and leader wouldn’t have wanted his last words to be so utterly self centred and backward looking. A true visionary and leader might at least have simply told the truth.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get around to reading these letters, because they reveal so much more about who the man Ned Kelly REALLY was. Being his own words, they provide a direct view into his thoughts and motivations and reveal much more than do any oral  historical traditions, police records, Newspaper accounts and other peoples biographies and opinions of him. I also wish that the horde of Kelly buffs who have lauded Ned so comprehensively over the years, right up to the latest effort by Peter Fitzsimons, had not engaged in a kind of cover-up of the implications of the content of this letter in particular. Mostly they ignore all the difficult stuff and all they quote from it is the last sentence :  “I should have made a statement of my whole career but my time is so short on earth that I have to make the best of it and prepare myself for the other world”  What a shame that the time he did spend making statements was wasted by his inability to tell the truth.

The meaning of these letters is not that Death Row transformed Ned into something that he wasn’t, that the writing in these letters is an “aberration”. I think its exposed him for what he always was, and its not a good look. Its actually quite sad and pathetic. I once asked the question “Did Ned Kelly ever grow up?” The answer, given what he wrote in the last week of his life, is “No, he didnt."


  1. That is a towering expose, Dee.

    Ned may have thought his three letters to the Governor of Victoria would remain secret. But they are there for all to see today.

    They make him look like a creep.

  2. The allowance of the burial of Ned in consecrated ground by a recent Victorian government was reprehensible. The original verdict did not allow executed criminals to be buried in consecrated ground. That was part of their punishment.

    Modern legislators are fools, and are busily wrecking the country.

  3. Hi Dee, speaking of Kelly's last moments, there is a quote on many web pages that says “Kelly's gaol warden wrote in his diary that when Kelly was prompted to say his last words, the prisoner opened his mouth and mumbled something that he could not hear.” I have asked several Kelly enthusiasts about the source of this comment on Kelly's last mumble, and no-one seems to know. I am hoping you or a reader might have a source for this quote. Cheers, Stuart.

  4. Sounds like the expected speech on the scaffold. This is where the pro-Kelly authors stepped up with the "Such is Life" and other odd quotes". There were reporters present as witnesses to the execution and they would have reported Ned's words if there were any or were audible. Ned's last words if known would be fascinating today.

  5. As always an interesting post Dee.

    I will comment later on your second Para - Ned said
    "“You will see, if McIntyres statements are compared, the disparity, without me making further mention”.

    I have been searching for one of my previous postings made on another forum about Such is Life, maybe NKF or was it on KC2000? But my conclusions were that Ned may never have said those words at all.

    Maikel Annallee from Sydney worked on what Ned said in 2005 -
    " Ned was on the gallows - 11 Nov 1880

    So it’s come to this:
    Such is life!

    But this link below takes you to what Dr Rus Scott and Ian McFarlane think of what Ned said -

    1. Was anyone aware that Dr. Annalee had passed away in January? Brian Stevenson found an obituary notice for Maikel Annalee in the Sydney Morning Herald and forwarded it to me (and approved me sharing the info after first contacting Bill to see if he had heard the news, and to see if he concurred with sharing it here). Since we can't make hyperlinks here, the obit can easily be found by googling his name.

      May he rest in peace.

    2. Thank you Sharon, I did not know about Dr Maikel

      He was a very passionate man with great ideals often mistaken by many.
      He had enormous energy for Ned, and without him we would not have a more accurate date for Ned's birth being likely - Jan 1855 rather than Dec 1854, and that Ned was born on the Arrowsmith square mile block rented by James Quinn at Wallan East. Maikel also consulted with local decsendant families to listen and record their oral history about the Kellys living near Red Barn Lane. The road reserve still exists between the Sqr mile block (now Coomolla) and the land James Quinn purchased on which the old Quinn homestead still stands.

      Maikels greatest efforts as I recall were his attempt to have The Eureka flag wrenched from the Unions and have it proclaimed and recognised as the flag for Australia. He met with one GG Grandaughter of the maker of the Eureka flag - Anastasia Withers -Val D'Angri curator of the Eureka flag now at Ballarat. Val's perfect replica was flown on Mt Fraser over looking the Quinn /Kelly land on Australia day 2005, as a mark of respect for the pioneers of this great country.

      Maikel's biggest disappointment was his rejection by the Kelly community and that the Eureka flag he suggested be re named The Cross of Australia to be flown on Parliament house on occassions, but was rejected because the Eureka flag is still not recognised to this day.

    3. I remember back years ago when Dr Annalee was trying to share some of his views at another Kelly forum (not the NKF, as it was not in existence then) and being treated in a very shabby and rude/crude manner by others. It was totally disgusting and uncalled for and the more I and others implored them to desist the harder they hammered him. The whole "play the ball, not the man" concept just did not compute with some folks. While I may not have agreed with him on many points, he still had the right to be a part of the Kelly community and voice his thoughts (outlandish as they may have been at times). I can say this with certainty, he was a totally unforgettable character.

  6. I must admit to having never heard of this Doctor Maikel, so I thank Bill for providing the link to all that information about him, and about the quest to identify Neds precise birthplace. I am impressed at how much research you’ve done Bill, and for how long you’ve been studying the historical records and the physical sites associated with the Kelly story.

    What I would have been interested to ask Dr Maikel is why, if Ned was an idealist who treasured and sought to uphold the spirit and the ideals of the Eureka rebellion - as Dr Maikel clearly did believe - why did Ned NEVER talk about it,why did Neds supporters EVER talk about it, and why in the last weeks of his life when he wrote so much about other things, did he never WRITE anything about it? Why, if you look at what Ned ACTUALLY did, and what he ACTUALLY said, and what he ACTUALLY wrote is there NOTHING AT ALL about a Republic, about Federation, about Eureka or about Rebellion? The only reported heroes Ned ever mentioned were other bushrangers, Morgan and Hall. And why, if he was an idealist embodying the spirit of Eureka did he brag about violence, use a gun and murder to advance his cause, and have a reputation for being fond of gambling and fancy clothes? My problem is that the evidence to support these fine romantic ideas about Ned Kelly is almost completely lacking, whereas the evidence that he was something all together different is overwhelming.

    What would the good Doctor have said I wonder?

  7. Dee,
    " Why did Ned never talk about it" ( his ideals)

    He probably did talk a lot just like we all talk about our beliefs amongst our friends , family and associates. It was common knowledge Eureka was big news amongst everyday folk, but their talk is never recorded because to do so could mean austrisaisation. Keep ya mouth shut.

    " In the last weeks of Ned's life"
    He only wrote about his predicament. Why would he start preaching - his voice was quelled shut, and by all accounts the authorities were very afraid of an even bigger uprising, so Dee, I think perhaps you have answered your own question !

    All the written records about Ned were about how bad he was and the press went along with that just as the press today would do, example David Hicks.

    You ask "what the Doctor would have said"-
    Dr Maikel did contact many descendant families, some in high places and not related to seek their thoughts and opinions about Ned, and I tended to agree with him.

    'Many supported Ned but could not do so publicly because the fact of the police killed at SBC, Ned was abandoned by his own as indefensible. The Catholic news papers will be found to have written much less bad about Ned and more about the Kelly outbreak than the Age and Argus papers because those papers were much more representative of the 'establishment' just as the Herald Sun is today. The popular-ist sentiment creates the biggest wave and Ned lost.

    Also thanks also to Brian Stevenson for finding Maikel's obituary.

    1. Dee,
      Further to my post above I should also mention that the Legal journalist for The Age was Alfred Deakin. He was to cover the Kelly outbreak and give Ned a fair go it was said. ( Alex Castles - Ned Kelly's Last Days.

      Maikel and I found that very interesting given that the Herald owned by Samuel Winter was also foundation member of 'The Victorian Natives Association', later Australian N.A that helped spear head for Federation of the States. And who was a member of ANA and later became our first Prime Minister ? Alfred Deakin.

      In Alex Castles book page 17- in essence - the Victorian government was entering into an election when the Kelly outbreak was taking shape.
      "" The government had staked its reputation on a vigorous crusade to stay in power but Ramsay himself was unable to give much attention to urgent cabinet discussions and had been forced to reschedule political rallies for endorsing candidates. -
      One of their primary tactics, pre-Glenrowan had been to give the public a full and detailed explanation of the constitutional reform that led to the government's recent defeat in the Assembly. For this, they needed maximum coverage in the press but, as the day's events highlighted, their timetable was in considerable jeopardy. Melbourne's only evening newspaper, the Herald, had already withdrawn reports of the political crisis to make way for events at Glenrowan, and the morning papers would surely follow suit. Ramsay knew they couldn't afford to lose even a day of their normally extensive coverage of political affairs. He needed to remove Ned from the public eye as quickly as possible and the best way to achieve this was to retain direct control over him. The solution was a simple one: relocate Ned to Melbourne where his enforced isolation would ensure the newspapers had little to write about.""

      Clearly, Ned did not have a chance with big end of town.

    2. Bill, all Castles is claiming here is that the Government wasn’t happy that the main news was about Ned, rather than about them. There is no suggestion here that they were trying to suppress something Ned was trying to say, and there is no evidence anywhere that Ned WAS trying to say something especially “political” - for one thing when he DID have the opportunity, such as those letters he dictated from August through to November and including the one that Gaunson took to the Age for publication, he didnt have anything political to say.

      By far the most logical and sensible explanation for their being NO record of Ned EVER talking or writing about what we could describe as “Republican” ideals, is because he NEVER DID. To suggest he did but nobody recorded it, that they remembered heaps of other things that he said and did but they all completely forgot about his mentioning the republic - even though according to Dr Annalee and others it was THE defining truth about Ned Kelly - that at the end of his life he decided it was all too late so again didnt mention it, that the Press and the Big End of Town suppressed it all - these flimsy excuses are just not good enough, and are bordering on Conspiracy theory. Where are the facts - as opposed to hopeful speculation?

      Don’t get sucked in by the hopeful speculation of dreamers who wish all Neds lies were true.. If he had developed and became motivated by radical political ideals, his behaviour and rhetoric would have been radically different, but it wasn’t. At the end of his life when he looked back and wrote about it, he came up with the same answers and the same lies. I say again, by far the most logical and sensible explanation for their being NO record of Ned EVER talking or writing about what we could describe as “Republican” ideals, is because he NEVER DID.


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.