Sunday 28 August 2016

A New View of Red

The part of the house still standing at Beveridge that Red Kelly built in 1859
In this Post I am going to retell and re-interpret the story of Ned Kellys father John Kelly. My source is mostly Ian Jones, who I think is unrivalled when it comes to the research and discovery of the pure facts of Kelly history. Its his interpretations that I have difficulties with, though in relation to John, as Jones interprets it, he is very much a victim and theres an unwritten hint of injustice, of persecution and Police harassment that adds a flavor of Kelly myth to Johns story. The ‘Kelly Myth’ is of course what was presented in 1967 by Ian Jones  as “A New View of Ned Kelly”, the notion that the Kelly Outbreak arose out of Police harassment and persecution of the Kellys, whose reaction against it was supposed to have grown into a  revolution led by Ned who wanted to  establish a Republic  in north east Victoria. I have a ‘new view of Red Kelly’ to present, and will start with just the story:

Part One : The Life of John ‘Red’ Kelly

John Kelly was Ned Kellys father and as everyone knows, he was nicknamed ‘Red’ because he had red hair. Everyone also knows that ‘Red’ came from Ireland to Australia as a 21 year old convict, his crime having been the theft of two pigs, valued at £6.

The way this fact is usually presented, such as by Peter Fitzsimons in his recent book, and on Pro Kelly websites and in the Pro-Kelly literature generally, one is left with the impression this theft was the act of a poor Irishman who stole in desperation from a wealthy landowner.  Max Brown says that at the time of the theft Red was working  ‘as a Ranger on Lord Ormondes Killarney Estate’ - and that’s about as much as you usually hear of this incident. But its more complicated than that.

For a start, the person robbed of two pigs, James Cooney was a peasant landholder, the same as the Kellys were. Losing two pigs could well have been a devastating blow to these battlers. “Reds crime was stock theft, pure and simple, mean and ordinary” (Ian Jones : A Short Life)

But more shocking than having stolen from fellow peasants, Red had also been an  informer against them. Even though he was described by the local Police as “a notorious character”, to further supplement his income he became a Police informer. A few weeks before stealing the pigs, Red had joined two others in the theft of several cows, but Reds involvement was as a secret informer and it was a Police sting. It went wrong and one of the thieves , Patrick Regan was shot and later died. When Red was convicted of stealing the pigs, the local newspaper  identified him as a Police informer. “Already branded an informer, Red now had to live with the guilt of the betrayed mans death”. (Ian Jones A Short Life) Jones suggests that the Pig Stealing incident may have been a “set up to justify his disappearance from the District”

Apparently Red never talked about his criminal history, something which Ian Jones described as ‘odd’ because he says ‘Catholic Irish saw no shame in being exiled for breaking the laws of their British rulers’. But his silence makes sense in the context of his theft from fellow peasants, and his attempts to profit from informing on them. He had a guilty secret. Sufficient to drive a man to drink.

Red was sentenced and transported to Tasmania, arriving in January 1842, where he served his sentence with a more or less clean record, being reported to be ‘quiet and good’.  He was given his “Ticket of Leave” in 1845, which meant he was free to live and work wherever he wanted to in the Colony (or in other words he was released on Parole. Until re-reading about Red for this Post I hadn’t realized that a convict could get such generous Parole – half his sentence. Also, I had thought the Ticket of Leave was issued at the end of the sentence.) During that time on Parole Reds only brush with the Law was an ominous portent for his future : a fine of 5 shillings  for being drunk and disorderly in 1847.  In January 1848  his time was up, he received his  Certificate of Freedom and he headed for Melbourne with his recently acquired experience and  skill as a bush carpenter.

A couple of years later, in early 1850, Red was working outside Melbourne as a fencer and splitter, and presented himself at the home of an acquaintance he had met in a Donnybrook pub a few months before, James Quinn an ambitious Wallan farmer, fellow Irishman and family man. Red had been trying to find a partner  for a scheme to set up an illegal whisky still, but ‘in the hard sober light of this new day’ the scheme had lost its appeal to James. ‘He was probably suspicious of Reds curious evasiveness about his convict background, or his readiness to pursue get-rich-quick schemes and most all perhaps of his weakness for grog’

So, as fate would have it, Red, now 30, lost a potential business partner but instead found a partner in love, James’ 18 year old daughter Ellen, who within a few months was pregnant. Six months later Ellen and Red were married in Melbourne, and in February 1851 their child, a daughter named Mary Jane was born. Sadly, she died as an infant.

By this time Red and Ellen were living in a  small hut that James allowed Red to build on his rented property at Wallan, and for a while he worked for James Quinn. However, always on the lookout for an opportunity to get ahead, in 1853 Red joined the rush to find gold at Bendigo, and though he didn’t strike it rich he returned before the end of the year with enough funds to buy his own small farm of 41 acres at Beveridge, a few miles closer to Melbourne where Ellens sister and her husband also lived. By this time Ellen had given birth to Anne

The following year, 1854 was the year of the Eureka Rebellion but ‘Red avoided trouble and those trying to overthrow it. As always he was averse to quarreling and ever prone to act the part of peacemaker whenever he saw others engaged in any altercation calculated to lead to violence’ Instead, he was working his farm, and he bought more land, a half-acre in the township and built a house on it for rent. Ellen was again pregnant, and at years end gave birth to Ned.

In 1855, Reds prospects began to falter, along with those of the town as traffic took better roads around Beveridge than the one which ran through it. Red took out a £200 mortgage on his farm but then in 1857 sold it – his £615 investment had shrunk to £252.  He also sold half of his town block and built a shack on the remaining ¼ acre that became the Kelly home for a couple of years, and while there Ellen gave birth to Margaret .  However Red may have been down but he was not out, and he bought yet more land – another town block in 1858 and in 1859  a smaller farm lot of 21 acres for £70, where yet again he built another house, and its still standing in Beveridge today.

By the end of 1863, there were three more children in the Kelly household : James, Dan and Catherine, and the eldest three had started attending the newly opened school in Beveridge. Ned was later described as “A tall and active lad and excelled all others at school games” However, for reasons that can only be speculated upon, in January 1864 Red sold his farm and the house for £80, and moved the family 50 miles north to the more prosperous town of Avenel where for £14 a year he rented a property of 40 acres. Ian Jones suggests the move was prompted by Reds concerns about Police attention, citing the fact that in 1862 Ellen and Ned had appeared in Court as witnesses  for the defense in the case of Reds brother James who was charged with cattle stealing. One presumes Red hadn’t appeared on his brothers behalf because, as a former Convict he wanted to stay out of the Police limelight, and maybe also because he guessed correctly what the verdict would be : Guilty.

But Jones also suggests other reasons: “Perhaps she (Ellen) hoped that a fresh start might help her husband break the destructive cycle of worry and whisky that was blighting their lives here” He quotes Ellen as having said ‘he was a bit fond of whisky and at times took a drop too much’

At Avenel “The family had a struggle to make ends meet but every old resident spoke well of them” According to Peter Fitzsimons Reds struggle to make a living from the farm was supplemented by selling ‘sly grog’. Despite their declining fortunes, the three eldest children continued their education at Avenel School, paying fourpence each per week.

1865 was the year Ned rescued Dick Shelton from Hughes Creek, but it was also the year that the families continuing decline into poverty became so desperate that  in May, Red  helped himself to one of his neighbours calves, butchering it and trying to cover his tracks by removing the brand from its hide. He was arrested for cattle stealing, a charge which was later dropped, but he was found guilty of the lesser charge of “having illegally in his possession, one cow hide”. The punishment was 6 months hard labour because the alternative, a fine of  £25 was beyond their reach. Red was locked up, but received a ‘generous remission of more than two months’ and was released in October.  In December he was in court again, this time for being drunk and disorderly, and was fined 5 shillings.

1865 was Reds last; this is how Ian Jones put it ; “As the year rotted away, Ned helplessly watched his father destroy himself” A couple of days after Xmas, ravaged by alcoholism, Red died, leaving behind a penniless widow and seven children. He was only 45. It was a tragic loss.

Part Two : The Mythology of Red Kelly.

In the minds of Kelly sympathisers generally, the Kelly family were relentlessly persecuted by the Police. In ‘The Inner History of the Kelly Gang’ JJ Kenneally sets the tone  with this “ John Kelly was continually hounded by the Police, who without the authority of a search warrant frequently searched his home without success”  Justin Corfields entry on Red says “ At Avenel  John Kelly was forced to rent  land from Elizabeth Mutton. However it was not long before he was in trouble with the law again’. “Again” conveys the impression  that Red was a serial offender. In regard to Reds death, Kenneally has this to say “Such was the treatment to which John Kelly was subjected  in the Kilmore Jail that notwithstanding his good health and perfect physique when sentenced, he died shortly after his release. Broken in health he now sold his farm to conduct a Hotel at Avenel;. Shortly after his arrival at Avenel, John Kelly died”. Almost every statement in those two sentences is factually completely untrue.Pure myth.

The Kelly myth about Red is that he was a poor Irish peasant who was Transported for a petty crime, but we have seen that it was a lot more complicated than that. He stole from fellow peasants and informed against them. If he had remained in County Tipperary, Ireland he may well have been killed as a traitor.

The Kelly Myth is that in Van Diemans land where he was a convict, he endured 7 years of brutal deprivation and misery, but we have seen that for half of that time he was free to live and work wherever he liked.

The Kelly myth is that once Red gained his freedom both he  and his family were monitored and constantly harassed because he was formerly a convict, but in fact there were no interactions between John Kelly, or Ellen and the police from the time Red gained his freedom till the last year of his life. By then, because of  drought, and the failure of his farm because of his declining health that was in turn a result of the ravages of alcoholism he and his family were almost destitute and he was desperate.

The Kelly myth is that the Police were corrupt and treated John Kelly harshly, yet the charge of calf stealing was dropped even though it was plainly obvious the calf had been stolen by him, he was sentenced on a lesser charge and then given a “generous” remission of his sentence.

The Kelly myth is that Police mistreatment led to his premature death, but we have seen that from a young age he was a heavy drinker, he became an alcoholic and it was complications of alcoholism which ultimately  killed him. So what should we say about Red?

The New View of Red

After disentangling the truth about Red Kelly from the strident anti-Police Kelly myths, a number of things are abundantly clear, and these are what I want to present as my ‘new view’ of Red.

The first is that  Red Kelly and his family were NOT hounded and persecuted by Police. In fact they had very little to do with the Police during Reds lifetime, other than Ellen and Neds probably misguided attempt to provide an alibi for her brother, and Reds two arrests, 18 years apart for drunkenness. He was not a serial offender and the Police were NOT constantly searching his house. The same could not be said for Ellens family, the Quinns who were constantly before the courts on a variety of criminal charges, but its apparent that Red did his best to keep well out of their way and out of the way of the Police.

The second thing about Red that has to be said is that he was a hard working ‘battler’ who, once he gained his freedom, never ceased to look for an opportunity to make a better life for himself and his family. If one venture failed he moved on and tried again, if that failed he moved again, and right to the end he never gave up trying to provide for his ever growing family. He used his bush carpentry skills to get work, he went looking for gold, he bought and sold property, he built houses, he was a landlord, he moved from Wallan to Beveridge and when it was failing to Avenel when it was prospering, he farmed and fenced and felled trees, he seemed to use every legitimate resource he had at his disposal to try to get ahead.

It was only at the very end, in desperation after so many failures and when even his health was failing that he yielded to temptation and resorted to crime.

The other truth about Red Kelly, the truth that inserted itself into every corner of his life, was his addiction to alcohol. I sense that John ‘Red’ Kelly was at heart a good man whose entire adult life was blighted by a couple of disastrous choices he made as a younger man in Ireland and forever regretted. I sense that for all of his life after the conviction in Ireland he carried an enormous burden of guilt about what had happened to Patrick Regan, and a deep regretful shame for having been a Police informer. He hid it from everyone for ever after, and this guilty Catholic secret is what drove him to work for a better future , to try to make amends for his sins , to work hard and stay out of trouble, but it was also what drove him to drink. And so, as long as Red was alive, he kept the Kelly family together and made sure they stayed out of trouble. His children were liked at school, and were well behaved, and were getting an education. This was the time when Ned rescued Dick Shelton. Ellen was reported to be known as a great horsewoman and someone who would often ride out to help people in trouble. Red was obviously a man who wasn’t afraid of hard work. He was described as a peacemaker, and at Avenel ‘every old resident spoke well of them’. Its easy to understand why Ned would have believed of his father that ‘a better man never stepped in two shoes’ 

In remarkable contrast to Reds example of keeping out of the way of the Police, of being a peace maker, of working hard and trying to improve the lot of his family and getting his kids educated, Reds brother James, and  Ellen’s siblings and their husbands and associates were accumulating convictions and prison sentences that were identifying themselves to police as a criminal network.  Appendix 3 in McQuiltons book lists 18 charges that were laid against Quinns, Lloyds and James Kelly between 1860 and 1865 – but none against Red or Ellen.

And then Red died.

The peacemaker and family man, the battler who stayed out of trouble and battled demons to raise an honest family was only 45, and he left behind a penniless widow and 7 likeable children. Suddenly, with Red gone it became apparent what a great and positive influence his presence had been on them all. Within a year, Reds practice of avoiding anything to do with the Law had been abandoned by Ellen, as she took a sister-in-law to court for assault – and lost. A few months later she took her landlord to Court and lost again, and her son Ned, now 13 came under suspicion in relation to a missing horse in Avenel. Then, in a further but understandable break with her late husbands practice of keeping away from his criminal in-laws, Ellen left Avenel and moved to Greta to be near her sisters, who were by then married to Lloyds, and some of them were already behind bars.  She and her children were moving into the circle of influence of the criminal Quinns and Lloyds, and only now did they start to become noticed by the Police. Ellen took to illegal selling of ‘sly grog’, and  she received visits from undesirables whom Red would never have let in. The first was her brother-in-law James. Fresh out of prison for Cattle stealing, and drunk, his advances rejected by Ellen, he burned down the house Ellen and her sisters  and children were living in and was sentenced to death ( Later commuted to 15 years) Not long after that, Harry Power came knocking on their door, and before long Ned was receiving his introduction to the easy money of the criminal life, the hypnotic power of a loaded gun, contempt for Police and disrespect for the rights of private citizens. Somehow I think if Red had still been there, the reception these two men received at that door would have been very different indeed, and the regrettable consequences of their visits on Kelly history altogether different. Neds influences as he entered puberty wouldn’t have been Harry and the notorious Quinns and Lloyds, and the antics of the Greta mob, but a peacemaker, a good man who in the end couldn’t overcome the demons that followed him from Ireland where, as a young man a couple of bad decisions would ultimately change Australian history forever.

So the New View of Red Kelly is this : he was a good man who made a couple of fatefully rotten decisions as a young man. He accepted responsibility for what he had done and never complained, instead battling all his life to make amends while at the same time trying to drown his guilt in drink. As long as he was alive, the trajectory his family were on was positive, and the Police had no interest in the Kellys. However once he had gone, the influence of the Quinns, the in-laws, overwhelmed the good example he had tried to set, the Kellys  came to the attention of the Police and his sons and Ned in particular became people I am sure Red would never have approved of. 

Saturday 20 August 2016

Unpalatable Truths

In May on the Facebook Page that I have created called Ned Kelly : The True Story I wrote that unpalatable truths about Ned Kelly never get a mention on Kelly Facebook pages like Ned Kelly Center and Ned Kelly Central. The anonymous administrator of Ned Kelly Central  (NKC) challenged me on that, saying that unpalatable truths ARE discussed on his FB page and I was welcome to share them there. 

This is part of the reply I made in response:

I am quite certain if I posted ‘unpalatable truths’ there if I wasn’t just ignored I would receive a mostly hostile reception, I would have to defend myself against negative and sarcastic commentary and  (there would be) no actual constructive debate. I appreciate your willingness to at least allow such debates to be started but I have no confidence that they would achieve anything other than make me an even more reviled person in the Kelly world, and annoy people who don’t really want to hear anything but saccharine about Ned Kelly.  

Since then I have posted brief comments on NKC about my Blog Posts so that people who are interested  can go there to read and participate.  But not wanting to be accused of somehow abusing NKC I didnt make it easy to find the Blog by providing a link - I left it for people to search and find it themselves. However even these minimalist Posts routinely provoked outraged reactions from Kelly thought Police who want to wipe me off the face of the Planet. I was accused of trying to Hijack the Page!

Last week, to advise NKC readers of my latest Blog topic I posted this to NKC :

'The title of the latest post on my Blog is “Bill is right about Stringy Bark Creek” but Ive also called it ‘The idiots Guide to SBC’ . Bills clever work in identifying the Two Huts site should be acknowledged and listed by Heritage Victoria as the true site of the Police Murders in the Wombat Ranges.'

NKC decided to elevate this brief notice of mine from its near invisible place on the sidebar to a main posting at the top of the Page, and they posted this heading :


What followed was exactly what I had predicted would happen in May if such an ‘unpalatable truth’  became a topic for discussion on NKC : "a mostly hostile reception, I would have to defend myself against negative and sarcastic commentary and  (there would be) no actual constructive debate....( I would become) an even more reviled person in the Kelly world, and annoy people who don’t really want to hear anything but saccharine about Ned Kelly."  

Not one person attempted to discuss the ‘theory’ of the location of the murder site; (saying “its wrong” is not a discussion! ) Instead I was relentlessly vilified and attacked, three different people called me  a liar, the old phurphy of my identity was dragged out by several people, I was called a divisive troll, a racist, biased, ridiculous, a bully, I was  accused of belittling people, and of abuse, I was said to ‘know nothing'. "Is there anyone Dee hasn't insulted, abused, belittled or told lies about?” wrote the notorious ignorant bully who has repeatedly and proudly claimed to be the person who sabotaged my earlier sites and who, when he realised he couldnt work it out failed to supply his promised Part Two about Lonigans murder.

Quite a few people announced they never read my Blog and then supplied their opinion of it and me - all negative.

Yet, despite all this abusive provocation, I think the most controversial response I made was this :
"Isn’t it time Kelly enthusiasts stopped ruining their credibility with unsupportable claims and became a whole lot more rigorous when it comes to making claims about the historical truths of the Kelly story?

It was an absolute debacle of a ‘debate' that the NKC administrator tried to control by initially deleting a few threads of abuse and hysterical attacks directed at me and issuing a stern warning. However the abuse continued and later when he deleted someones vile accusations against me while guessing I must be a Cop, that person spat the dummy and threatened to take his bat and ball and go home and never return. At that point the NKC administrator deleted the entire thread, which of course delighted the Kelly fanatics because once again they had succeeded in censoring discussion on something they don’t want people to think about.

As soon as the thread was deleted, there was a flood of Likes” as the line-up of usual suspects ticked off their approval at the successful sabotage of a valid topic and the bullying of the administrator. I commended him for at least trying.

The irony of course is that they may think they won a battle, but they are losing the war. What they do in behaving in this way is play perfectly into my ongoing tactic aimed at exposure of kelly fanatics as mostly ignorant bullies and thugs. Here was a perfect opportunity for them to answer the claims Bill makes about the Two Huts site, to put up their reasoned case, their evidence and their justification for saying he is wrong but instead they went for my throat. In the same way, on this Blog any of them who wants to can present their case for the site they prefer, and say why it makes more sense than Bills but nobody does. But no, instead of trying to advance their cause or defend their beliefs they stay away and excuse themselves with stupid hypocritical statements about not wanting to have anything to do with someone who is anonymous. The fact that the NKC admin is anonymous has never worried them : its MY identity they’re obsessed with, and is why later, on a different thread one of them made a darkly threatening comment about a few people wanting to have ‘an up close chat’ with me : the implication of that disgraceful threat was clear, and I believe it : there are people who given a chance would assault me for daring to challenge their kelly mythology. That wasn’t the first time such threats have been made.

The other irony is that they think that I write this Blog for them to read, that I am trying to change their minds and convert them to kelly scepticism, and that when they boast to each other that they don’t read my Blog I am disappointed - not at all! Ive learned long ago they are not interested in historical truth about Kelly history, or in rational discussion about it, or in a fair debate about the controversies, as this weeks Dee hate-fest on NKC has shown once again. I write this Blog for the two hundred or so visitors who check it every day from all over Australia in their pursuit of knowledge about the Kelly story. I write this Blog to inform the curious about Kelly mythology and about historical truths and, as I say at the top of the Blog, to expose the vicious campaign waged by modern kelly fanatics against anyone who dares to oppose them. Visitors will read and I am certain be persuaded of the truth about the Two Huts site, and of the way Lonigan died, and of the numerous other lies and myths that are spun about Ned Kelly and debunked at The Death of the Legend Blog, and they will go away better informed. They will also go away with an appreciation, and I would expect an abhorrence of the character and tactics of Kelly fanatics, which have once again been put on magnificent display on NKC. They don’t seem to realise what a huge favour NKC did them when the whole thread was removed! 

They seem to have forgotten the advice given them by one of their own earlier in the year :"Your intentions as a contributor or shall we say going in to bat for Ned will be in vain. Continue to do so will prove more disastrous than what we are currently experiencing."