Wednesday 9 March 2016

Did John Monash Meet Ned Kelly?

Sir John Monash on the back of our $100 note. Dame Nellie Melba is on the front.
They were both born in Victoria and died in 1931.

The Ned Kelly Forum Facebook Page has recently informed its readers that when he was a schoolboy, WWI hero General John Monash had a chance meeting with Ned Kelly. It happened, according to the NKF report, in the midst of the Gangs raid on the Bank at Jerilderie, a meeting Monash is reported to have described as one of the two proudest moments of his life.

A number of NKF Members responded with thanks at being provided with this interesting information and the NKF Member who calls himself a “Neducator” boasted about his role in getting Peter Fitzsimons to include this anecdote in his 2014 Ned Kelly biography, writing:

“It took quite a bit of convincing to get Peter FitzSimons to include this incident in his Ned Kelly book as Monash's own biographer Roland Perry said this event didn't actually occur (Monash meeting Ned)...Perry was wrong ...and i found the actual interview and gave it to Peter...which he thought was fantastic to include in his book ‪”

The problem with this story is that much of it is wrong! For a start, the Neducator is wrong to claim that Perry said  this event didnt actually occur'. You don’t even have to buy the book to see he’s wrong - just look the book up on Amazon, use the ‘Look inside’ function and scroll down to Chapter Two : "An awe struck John Monash had the courage to approach Ned. According to Monash they chatted for a while. Kelly gave him a shilling to mind his horse”

The ‘Neducators’ second mistake was to believe that the meeting took place during the Gangs raid on the bank at Jerilderie. We know this is false because when the raid took place,  John Monash no longer lived in Jerilderie where his father ran a store, but with his mother in Melbourne where they had both moved to assist in Johns schooling. His father Louis remained a shopkeeper in Jerilderie in NSW and John had visited him for Xmas but then returned to Melbourne, some 350km away for the rest of the summer.  The  Jerilderie robbery occurred only a couple of days before the start of the new term at Johns school, Scotch College in Melbourne,  so he couldn’t possibly have met Ned Kelly at the time of the raid. When Ned was robbing the Bank at Jerilderie, John Monash was in Melbourne.

So what are we to make of the story that Monash apparently told of  having once met Ned ? There are two possibilities : either Monash got his dates confused or else he - or someone else - made the whole thing up!

In regard to the former possibility, it has been suggested that perhaps Monash and Kelly met about a year earlier, when the Kellys were engaged in their more regular criminal work of stock theft.  Perry says that Monash told of his fathers purchase of a horse from Ned Kelly who brought them to his home, and of receiving a shilling from Ned for holding his horse. In the newspaper article referred to by the Neducator quite a different story is told - the meeting happened on the verandah of the Hotel where the Gang was quartered, and Ned gave John Monash 'a short lecture. A Sunday school superintendent couldn’t have given me better advice as to human conduct.’ In another place, Monash is reported to have said  Kelly sold his father  four white ponies.

The reason people wonder if Monash was making the whole thing up was not just these  obvious discrepancies between the various tellings of it : theres also the fact that Monash was a prolific writer of letters and a diary-keeper from a young age - but this event doesn’t appear in any of these writings, an absence made harder to understand by the claims he is purported to have later made that this meeting was one of the two proudest moments of his life. In fact he is not known to have mentioned this anywhere until after the end of the First World War, 40 years later.

A more recent biography of Monash, by Grantlee Kieza,  citing a reference from the Argus of 1942, makes this rather sceptical comment:
'We only have his word for it that he had a long meeting with one of Australias most  colourful and infamous criminals but he will recite the story so many times that it acquires the flavour of truth’

Earlier in the same book he wrote of Monash attending a reception at Buckingham Palace, seated alongside Churchill, media Barons and Rudyard Kipling:

“Monash has his own stories to tell the guests surrounding him. He can spin tales as fascinating as any Kipling ever dreamed up. He has been talking himself up since boyhood...’

and later he wrote 

'Monash has been fashioning his own astonishing story from boyhood when he claimed to have met a big-bearded horse thief named Ned Kelly...’

The reality of course is that having a reputation for spinning tales, or failing to record something in a diary, or mention it to a single soul for 40 years doesn’t prove this meeting between Ned and John Monash didnt occur. These facts don’t make it impossible that such a meeting took place but it must raise a doubt about it, something which even Peter Fitzimons realized, prefacing his remarks about this event with the comment ‘it will be disputed by some’ – obviously he wasn’t altogether convinced by the “Neducators” pitch.

But the issue at stake here  in this Kelly Legend discussion is not actually whether or not John Monash met Ned Kelly - in the end, its an insignificant minor detail in the wider Kelly saga of no real importance. Whats at stake here is the integrity of people and websites and Facebook places claiming to be informing us about history, and in this instance of Kelly history. This conversation on the NKF Facebook page is yet another  illustration of  badly done history telling and is an example of the way in which Kelly mythology is sustained - by badly done history telling, or in other words misinformation. If they did history properly there would be no Kelly mythology. Actually when you think about it, the idea that Monash - an erudite, multilingual, travelled and brilliant military man, scholar, engineer, father and proven leader  with a lifetime of achievement and accolade - would nominate meeting Ned Kelly, a horse thief and nothing more at the time of the alleged meeting as one of the two most proud moments of his life is an absurdity. The only agenda that promotion of this story suits is that of the Kelly myth makers.

Its perfectly possible to imagine the evolution of a story about 'something that happened 40 years ago in my town', to 'well yes I was there’ to ‘and I actually met Ned’ to ‘and I held his horse’ - one embellishment leads to another, and its easy enough to justify it to oneself as a bit of harmless fun.

What was needed here was for the NKF member reading that newspaper article to have applied a little analysis and critical thought to the topic. Doesn’t everyone know that you never believe what you read in the newpapers?  He could have asked himself why was this not published at the time of the supposed interview rather than four years later when the great man was dead? Instead of rushing to print , like a trashy Gossip columnist, the NKF could have done a little reading about the  subject as I have done, and these days with the Internet and TROVE and so many resources available at our fingertips there is no excuse for not doing this. There is even less excuse for someone purporting to be a ‘neducator’ to get it so badly wrong.  But if this work had been done, and the uncertainties and problems with the story explored then a useful and interesting post could have been made about the possible meeting between Ned and Monash that might have provoked others to think about and perhaps even do their own research.

But instead of a useful and informative discussion, we have  misinformation, and visitors to that FB page being misled.  I wrote about a similar tactic at the Kelly Vault in relation to a piece of steel Darren Sutton found and believes is a piece of Joe Byrnes armour. There is actually an interesting story to be told there about its discovery and the controversy in relation to its true identity - and it wont be resolved until Darrens book is published later this year – but in the meantime it would have reflected better on the integrity of the Vault for that controversy to have been acknowledged. Instead they labeled the origin of the metal as ‘beyond doubt’.

People purporting to tell us facts about Australian history need to be a whole lot more careful. The Internet has a deserved reputation as a repository for all kinds of nonsense and misinformation, put out there by all manner of  deluded amateurs who think they’re  experts, and with this latest example, The Ned Kelly Forum Facebook page is enhancing that perception. They need to get their act together when it comes to making claims about Kelly history -  indeed all the Kelly Facebook pages do - because if they don’t before much longer they will have destroyed any hope they may have of  their story ever being regarded as believable.


  1. There are a lot of of question marks about their coverage. I'm still marvelling at the retired truck driver's FB hatepage about the MacFarlane book whose comments were endlessly disproven. His criminal babble is all still there. None of it has been corrected or fixed.

  2. The modern 'Gallipoli Gazette' goes a step further and has John Monash tending Ned's wounds at Glenrowan!

    "This edition of the Gallipoli Gazette
    looks at two remarkable Australians, the
    engineer soldier, Sir John Monash and
    military medical man, Sir Charles Ryan
    who served both with the Ottoman
    Empire as a young doctor and against
    them at Gallipoli, and in between
    patched up the wounded Ned Kelly
    while in police custody after the shoot
    out at Glenrowan".

    Very sloppy research.

    1. Thanks for that interesting Link Ben Hammond. There is some interesting reading in that Magazine but you have misquoted it. The article about Monash doesn’t mention Ned Kelly, but the article about Dr Ryan does : Sir Charles DID attend Ned after he was captured. He was the person who wrote that when he examined Ned after his capture, Neds skin was as clean as if he had just come out of a turkish bath. Dr Ryans presence is recorded in ‘A Short Life’ and a reference is provided to the Argus, June 30th 1880, which includes Ryans detailed report of his attendance on Ned. Google directed me first to the IO website where theres a transcript.

      The following is an extract from the Magazine article, which is itself a quote from Ryans memoir:

      No one could have gone through all that I had without being impressed with a feeling of the most profound admiration for the patience, courage and heroic patriotism of the Turkish soldier with whom I lived on terms of intimate companionship for nearly two years. In comparison when I treated the notable outlaw Ned Kelly, who had been wounded at Glenrowan by the police, I found him far less tough.

    2. You are probably right Dee although Google made the connection I quoted. Mea Culpa though.

  3. NKF website - a BANKER'S website for bankers rather like IO.

    Time wasters.

  4. Dee, Ned Kelly is not mentioned at all in Dr. Ryan's memoir which was entitled "Under the Red Crescent: Adventures of an English Surgeon with the Turkish Army at Plevna and Erzeroum, 1877-1878" (published in 1897). (I have read it and highly recommend it, by the way.)
    The quotation you give in part from the Gallipoli newsletter linked in the comments section above, while it has quotes that seem to be cut whole cloth from the book in places, also says this - "And now on the eve of this Great War, it is deeply painful for me to think that my countrymen must fight these men whom I once idealised, with whom I fought and suffered.."

    It is clearly either from a news article or interview or private letter just before WW1 because in 1897 there was no "Great War" with Turkey on the near horizon.

    Also, remember what Ryan told the newspapers about Ned Kelly in 1880? He said that "in attending to his wounds, I gave him temporary pain, but he never complained in the least."

    Still, I guess he was not considered to be as tough as those Turkish soldiers were to him. Just wanted to clear that up so that no one would think that Ned was actually mentioned in Dr. Ryan's book.

    I will continue on in another comment after this one is posted with something more about Dr. Ryan as I am trying not to make this too long for one posting.

  5. While on the subject of Dr. Charles Ryan, something that has sort of intrigued me for a long time is how in the end notes to Frank Clune's "The Kelly Hunters" it mentions about Dr. Ryan treating both Ned and Hare in 1880 and then says this -

    "Thirty-seven years later on Anzac Beach, the same Dr.Ryan, Major-General in charge of Australian Army Medical Services, removed a piece of shrapnel from the leg of Private Frank Clune, who did not hesitate to complain with expletives of the utmost vigour when the doctor probed too suddenly."

    Ok, did Clune himself write that notation or was it his ghost writer (Inky Stephensen)? If the ghostwriter or some other person, did Clune tell them this? Has he claimed it elsewhere? Does anyone have a copy of Frank Clune's "Try Anything Once" in which he details about being in the army and doing different jobs early in life? Does it mention Dr. Ryan? Just where did that quote originally come from?

    The claims made in the quote itself always bugged me, too, so I decided to finally follow up. According to wartime letters found online from Clune to his mother (interesting and harrowing reading, by the way) about the battle and his wounding in both legs in the first week of August of 1915 his wounds were first bandaged by another wounded soldier while on the battlefield and then later at a dressing station and then he was on a hospital ship bound for Egypt, and there was no mention of Dr. Ryan in the letter.
    There was no mention probably because Dr. Ryan had contracted dysentery and had left the war zone in late June of 1915 and went first to Egypt and then on to London. A letter from Ryan and news reports place him as convalescing in London around the same time of Clune's wounding, so he was definitely not on Anzac Beach to probe his wounds.

    The only possible way that they could have crossed paths was when both were in Egypt in October of 1915. The newspapers state that Dr. Ryan left London for Egypt on Oct. 15, 1915 to work in a hospital there. Clune had been transferred from a hospital to the Suez Convalescent Camp on Sept 8 and finally left Egypt headed for home on Oct 31, 2015. Highly unlikely that they met at all, but you never can tell what might have happened in that small window of opportunity.

    Still, even if they crossed paths it was not on Anzac Beach and not 37 years after Glenrowan and the shrapnel was already out of Clune's leg. Clune arrived back in Australia in November of 1915 and received a medical discharge in 1916. After a time Dr. Ryan went back to London to work in a hospital there and never returned to the war front.

  6. I don't have a copy of Try Anything Once, Sharon, and there is not one in the University library in Cairns or Townsville, nor in the local library service, but I will try and get a look at one when I go to Brisbane in July.

    Ryan's comment to the papers in 1880 and the comment mentioned by Dee is interestingly complemented what he told his daughter Maie, who married Richard Casey, later Governor-General of Australia. According to Ryan's entry in Corfield (p 419), she said that 'perhaps because of his experience of the stoic Turk, [he] admitted to some disappointment in the conduct of the bushranger after his capture' (An Australian Story, p 149.)

  7. And with regard to Clune's claim of being assisted by Dr Ryan when he was wounded, good detective work. Clune and Stephensen had something of a symbiotic relationship, and with both long dead, it's unlikely we will ever know who came up with that story. A bit like assigning word by word responsibility for the Jerilderie letter, perhaps.

  8. Ad promised, Brian Stevenson was able to procure a copy of Clune's "Try Anything Once" and scanned in the pertinent pages about Clune and Dr. Ryan. Seems, from my research I was right in saying that they did not meet on Anzac Beach. My research also showed that there was a very small window of opportunity between the time Dr. Ryan arrived back in Egypt to work in hospitals there and before Clune left there for home. I knew that the AIF records and the newspapers would hold the truth. The notes at the back of "The Kelly Hunters" are most definitely wrong about them meeting on Anzac Beach. They did meet, but it was briefly in Egypt as I surmised above, though I had said it was possible but highly unlikely! I stand corrected on doubting that they did meet in that two week window. :) But, Ryan was definitely not on Anzac Beach at the time of Clune's wounding. It was someone else who probed his fresh wound causing him to curse.

    Here is what Brian found in "Try Anything Once"

    p 145 - 'After dark I hobbled along until I came across a field dressing-station, where a doctor extracted a piece of shrapnel from behind my shin-bone. Hell, how it hurt!

    p 147 - After Clune is wounded:

    'One morning Dr Ryan arrived with the medical board to check over all soldiers and find if any had improved since the last inspection several months previously. Rum-

    p 148

    [Rum]ours had reached them that one bunch of wounded soldiers awaiting embarkation to Australia had been seen playing football, and Ryan came along to investigate personally. Tables and chairs were placed in the open in front of the camp, the roll was called and we were lined up for inspection. A gang of orderlies had our medical papers and as each man came before Ryan he was given a searching handling.

    But despite all his knowledge of the Digger, more than a few of them put it over him. The chap who occupied the bed next to me in Luna Park had been blown up by a shell on the Peninsula, and was being returned home with spinal trouble. There was a screen around his bed but squinting through a crack one morning I saw him doing some vigorous physical jerks. When Dr Ryan examined him a few hours later he was doubled almost to the ground and could not walk without the aid of sticks.'


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.