Monday 24 April 2017

50th Anniversary Lecture : A New View of Ned Kelly

Ian Jones created a vision centred around Ned Kelly that inspired many, but it was fatally flawed.

Ian Jones landmark Lecture, A New View of Ned Kelly, followed Louis Wallers lecture about Ned Kellys trial, which Jones described as ‘brilliant’, saying ‘perhaps it is appropriate that we should follow an examination of a legal judgement on Ned Kelly with what amounts to a moral one. Ned Kelly was found guilty, legally.

Was he guilty morally?”

To answer his question, Jones then proposes in this lecture ‘to look at some important  aspects of the man which perhaps we have not glimpsed yet’ ; to look at the conditions which led up to Ned Kelly’s personal revolt against injustice; to look at the conditions in the north eastern district and in Victoria as a whole, which created a situation in which rebellion could develop’  and ‘at the way in which Kelly’s personal rebellion became associated with a broader rebellion of the selector class in the North east’

Jones decribes his lecture as “an attempt – a first attempt, I believe – to bring some meaning to this mass of material, to reconcile documentary evidence with these frustrating fragments of verbal tradition which have come down to us”

So, to start with he focussed on the person of Ned Kelly, who he said in 1967 was still largely “a faceless inhuman figure. He is almost anonymous behind the plough-steel helmet”. So, figuratively taking off the armour, this is what Jones finds inside, in his own words :
*Physically Ned Kelly was almost superhuman. This sounds an extravagant statement in every way but the man WAS physically remarkable
*He was an outstanding boxer…. Ned Kelly’s boxing prowess was symptomatic of strength and endurance which he displayed to a spectacular degree in his Last Stand”
*Ned Kelly was a crack horseman.
*Ned Kelly was acknowledged to be one of the finest trick riders that the people of his time had seen
* He was also a crack shot
*He emerges as a surprisingly quiet and gentle man…a restraining figure…a man curbing the hotheads among the sympathisers
*a man who, when it was aroused, had tremendous anger
*He possessed a degree of vanity but not without some reason. He was proud of his boxing ability, he was proud of his personal appearance
*He trusted people…Fitzpatrick to an almost ludicrous degree and of course he trusted Curnow
*utterly devoted to his family
*over many of Ned Kelly’s actions we see this paternalism
*Ned Kelly was Irish…. Two hundred years of bitterness and hatred lay behind him. He was the son of an Irish convict

Moving on from his description of the Ned Kelly Ian Jones saw inside the armour, he spoke about the  ‘the conditions which led up to Ned Kelly’s personal revolt against injustice’. Here he discussed the local persecution of the Kelly family by Police, saying of Kenneallys version that ‘perhaps it went too far’ but ‘the fact remains that the Kelly family were persecuted’ He quotes the famous directive of Superintendent Nicholson, ‘to bring them to justice and send them to Pentridge. Even on a paltry sentence’.  Added to this, was the ‘bitter land war being waged by Whitty and other squatters of the district, and the small selectors’. On a much wider scale, there was ‘an economic depression and political ferment’ which led to the ‘notorious Black Wednesday of January 8th 1878’ which saw the wholesale sacking of civil servants including county court justices and police magistrates. This was a desperate means to eke out the dwindling  finances of Government as expenditure drained the last supply vote…..Police expenditure was hacked back. Men who left the force were not replaced and many country stations were broken up” This was ‘a demoralised community, a period of bad debts and bankruptcy  in all levels of society. People in almost every town could see bank managers and officers being charged with embezzling funds or shire secretaries absconding with public money. There were Bank failures, mass meetings of unemployed’

“Victoria was ready for rebellion” he said.

Constable Fitzpatricks response to all this uncertainty, according to Jones  was to attempt to enhance his credentials in the eyes of his superiors, and thereby his prospects of keeping his job, by biting off more than he could chew in attempting to take on the notorious Kellys. Instead, ‘those mysterious events of April 15th at the Kelly homestead’ resulted in Mrs Kelly going to jail for three years, and then three weeks later three police died at the hands of Mrs Kelly’s son at ‘the Stringybark Creek gunfight’. According to Jones, Stringybark Creek was ‘not the act of a gang of bushrangers making their first blow against the police. In point of fact Stringybark Creek was an act of personal rebellion by Ned Kelly. A personal blow against police who had come out after him and his brother…’

Jones says there was no immediate support for the Kellys, other than from relatives and close friends. There was fear and suspicion of the Kellys until after ‘they conducted two brilliantly planned and executed bank robberies, probably the two most immaculate exploits in the history of Australian bushranging’. Now, according to Jones , and especially after the holdup at Jerilderie ‘with its magnificent flair and its many wonderful touches’ suddenly people had a new view of these ‘gentleman bushrangers’. Additionally, the arrests and subsequent release without charges having been laid of a few dozen Kelly sympathisers  between January and April 1879 ‘had swung a huge body of people throughout the North east toward support of the gang’…..The injustice of this stupid manoeuvre was aggravated by the fact that the period of imprisonment straddled the harvest time”

Nevertheless Jones records that ‘One way or another the sympathisers harvests were brought in. It was another bad season and about a quarter of the harvest was destroyed by rust anyway”

The final straw for the poor selectors of the North East, according to Jones was the decision to deny land selections to known Kelly sympathisers. ‘This, I believe was the turning point in the support of the Kelly gang’. Now, Ned Kelly’s previously identified ‘paternalism’ resulted in him feeling responsible for what was happening to his fellow Irish selectors, and so he warned in the Jerilderie letter, that if they did  not receive ‘justice and liberty I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem that will open the eyes  not only of the Victoria police but also the whole British Army….Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than St Patrick was to the snakes and toads of Ireland.’

At this point Jones introduces the central revelation of his ‘New View’ saying “I have heard the story from many different people, told usually as a deep and dark piece of information – once or twice referred to as the United States of Australia. Whether this was Ned Kelly’s concept, Joe Byrnes concept; whether it had filtered through from the ideas of American republicanism given to Ned Kelly by his stepfather George King; whether it sprang from some politically minded person among the sympathisers trying to realise in this growing rebellion in the north-east, the great promise of Ned Kelly the figurehead…..we will never know…..But the fact is indisputable that by the beginning of 1880 the rebellion was taking shape”

According to Jones, Ned Kelly then went about raising a ‘selector army’ and making suits of armour from mould boards stolen from nearby farms. Kelly’s plan involved using the murder of former gang associate Aaron Sherritt as bait to lure a special trainload of Police into the district from Melbourne. The train would crash at high speed where the Gang had ripped up the tracks near Glenrowan, the gang in their armour would then act as ‘shock troops’, and ‘mop up’ any survivors from the train wreck, and then in response to the firing of two rockets ‘the sympathisers would ride at the gallop, clutching the guns which had been given them by the gang to follow them in raids on the banks at Benalla, Wangaratta, possibly Beechworth. And then what? The Republic of Victoria? Holding the Governor to ransom? We don’t know”

Jones declared “This was a ruthless and brutal act, but it wasn’t a criminal act. This was an act of war”

Jones then quickly sums up what actually happened at Glenrowan and provides an account, based on eye witness reports which he said are ‘confused and contradictory’ of an ‘extraordinary meeting’ between the seriously wounded Kelly and the Sympathiser army on the shoulder of Mt Glenrowan.  “By some miracle, he had mounted the grey mare Music and met the sympathisers on horseback.” Kelly turned the army back, because the plan had ‘miscarried’ saying to them “This is our fight’ and “I am prepared to die” He then returned to the Inn in ‘his last magnificent possibly futile attempt to rescue the these two young men (Dan and Steve)

‘Ned Kelly had been losing blood for more than five hours in near zero temperatures. He was carrying ninety-seven pounds of armour”. Jones says of this episode: “This seems unbelievable but it is true”

Neds capture, trial and execution are mentioned briefly but Jones devoted the remainder of the lecture to a discussion about the fate of the ‘rebellion’ Oral traditions were that an uprising was still being contemplated but by the end of 1881 ‘the Kelly outbreak was at last over’

Jones concludes by saying that the Kellys were ‘much more than mere criminals’ and we would be justified in saying that “Ned Kelly the man was infinitely greater than his legend, a man of greater nobility and moral courage than anything we have even hinted at in the past” In other words, Jones answer to his own question, “was he guilty morally?” is an emphatic ‘No”.

Much of what Jones delivered in that speech at Wangaratta 50 years ago is familiar to all of us today, but back then, I think it must have been electrifying to hear him draw so many disparate and contradictory elements of the Kelly story into a coherent and magnificent narrative that seemed to make sense of everything. As anyone who has ever heard or seen Jones speak knows very well, he is now and clearly was then a brilliant and accomplished speaker and story teller, and I imagine the audience would have been listening in rapt and amazed silence to his every word. His quiet delivery radiates a beguiling kind of genial professorial modesty and believability that speaks of integrity and a desire for truth.

Jones “New View” became the dominant narrative for much of the next half century, its most radical component being the idea that Ned Kelly was some sort of figurehead for an incipient rebellion in north-east Victoria. In this view, the Glenrowan affair was more to do with a wider political inspiration that merged with Ned Kelly’s personal rebellion. Later, Jones made his view clear that without such a justification Ned Kelly’s plan was ‘madness’.
The other components of the new view were support for Ned Kelly’s declaration that his family was persecuted and treated unfairly by corrupt Police and that he was largely a ‘police made’ criminal, and acceptance of Jones belief that the north-east was in turmoil because of Police behaviour toward Irish-Australian selectors, and the policies of a Government in crisis.

What I found remarkable, reviewing this lecture in detail was how extreme were Jones view of the Kellys. By the time he came to publish his great biography of Ned, “A Short Life’ in  1995 he had toned down much of the rhetoric, but even then it was obvious he regarded the Kellys as ‘much more than mere criminals’ . To Ian Jones Ned Kelly was an almost mythical human being and admirable hero , “a man of greater nobility and moral courage than anything we have even hinted at in the past”.  Kelly, according to Jones was ‘almost superhuman’ a crack shot, a fine rider, an outstanding horseman, a quiet and gentle man, a restraining figure, paternalistic vain and proud but  ‘utterly devoted’ to his family. Theres virtually no suggestion anywhere in this 'new view' of any fault in the man, whose acts we might have thought were criminal but were acts of war, whose robberies were ‘brilliantly planned’… ‘immaculate’ exploits with ‘magnificent flair’ and ‘many wonderful touches’, and whose behaviour at Glenrowan was  ‘magnificent’ a miracle and ‘unbelievable but true’. He barely wastes a sentence on the three murdered Police,  Aaron Sherritt or the horror of mass murder planned for Glenrowan where what the Gang was about to do was, in Ian Jones chilling words “mop up the survivors”. He thus set the tone for the next 50 years in which the police murders, the terrors of being taken hostage by a killer with a gun waving in front of your face, the coldblooded murder of Aaron Sherritt and the planned mass killing at Glenrowan are dismissed as what we now refer to as ‘collateral damage’. In his rush to canonise Ned Kelly, in this lecture  Jones fails to notice the horrors and the brutality of  Kellys deeds, or even of his violent threatening and outrageous boasts in the Jerilderie letter.

In addition to his hyperbolic views about the Kellys and Ned in particular, in this lecture Jones also creates a hyperbolic view of social conditions at the time. He uncritically accepts the view that the Kellys were persecuted, - a view we now realise is completely at odds with the facts -  and paints a picture of a social environment almost at boiling point with the Government at war with itself, people being thrown out of work and widespread ‘economic depression and political ferment’. “Victoria was ready for rebellion’ he declared. 

This view was immediately challenged from the floor of the conference room by Weston Bate, a professional historian who denied there was widespread chaos and unrest, who said there was certainly NOT a depression in the region, and who claimed ‘in many ways this was the best time for selectors in Victoria. The majority of them were on their feet..” he said. ‘Black Friday’ was NOT the great catastrophe painted by Ian Jones – of a population at the time of around 750,000, less than 400 were sacked. Subsequent research by Doug Morrissey for his PhD thesis confirmed Bate was right, but neither then nor since has Ian Jones backed down “We are in happy disagreement ‘ he concluded at the time.

Despite Jones brave hope, evidence of the republic of north-east Victoria in the form of  a fabled ‘declaration’ has not emerged, the person who claimed to have seen it has changed his story and the informants upon whom Jones relied have confessed they gave mischievous information to him and contradictory accounts to other researchers. The idea that the Kellys were persecuted by the Police, the idea that the north-east was in turmoil and the selectors were about to rebel or else go under, the idea that Glenrowan was devised as some sort of political act rather than a mad criminal one – all these pillars of Jones imaginative Kelly narrative have all been eroded and collapsed under the weight of the scholarship that followed. You can read my post that shows that Jones Republic Mythology has absolutely nothing to support it HERE

The “New View’ is not only no longer 'new' it is now a completely discredited theory that had its roots in the lies Ned Kelly told about his background, was made attractive by some of the physical attributes of the man and the inherent glamour of the bushranger on horseback, and came alive in the romantic tale woven by the spellbinding Mr Jones. He took us all for a quite wonderful romantic and exciting ride back into history, but it turns out the colourful hero, near superman, moral crusader and ‘physically remarkable’ Ned Kelly was a fantasy.  The real Ned Kelly we now know was someone altogether different, albeit still fascinating in his own criminal way but someone very much less attractive than Jones Legend.

I suppose we all should say ‘Thanks Ian, it was great while it lasted.’ 


  1. Well Dee, you are indeed popping the last of my bubbles... I had forgotten just how big an impression these symposium papers, gathered together in "Man and Myth" meant to me. I bought the paperback edition with my pocket money in 1981 and devoured it. It was my first scholary work on Kelly. And yes, i dipped back into Ian Jones' papers time after time across the years. When "Friendship" came out in 1992 and then a "Short Life" in 1995, I was gyrating with anticipation. Old thoughts and habits are hard to break but I am indeed open to conflicting thought processes, as we all should be. It does not diminish my admiration for Ian Jones.

    1. I am amazed that after 36 years you are still so devoted to the story, Mark, but that first Symposium was indeed an exciting moment in the Kelly story. It would have been so exciting to have been there and heard the lectures delivered in 1967, but sadly I don't see there ever being another Symposium. I tried in each Symposium post to fairly state what the Lecturer on each occasion wanted to say, and then have added my opinions about what was said. I was hoping more people would add their opinions of the lectures too, but the Kelly fanciers aren't up to anything as sophisticated as that - they prefer to play their favourite game of Identi-Dee.

    2. There are many turning points. The symposium was one of them. McMenomys work was another. As was 2001 Ned the Exhibition.. As was McFarlanes book. Its been a long, winding, sometimes wearisome road for me and I have drifted at times but I always end up coming back. And what a picture we are building together!! There is enough new material now to last me to the end of my days I reckon.. And EVERYONE is really playing a part. Even those not here on this blog and those who have gone..

  2. So, back in 1967 Ian Jones was wrong about nearly everything. Anyway, as you say, it was great while it lasted!

    1. Actually Peter, I don't think either Dee or I were saying that. Ian Jones got a shit load of things right. And he did it without the world wide Interwebs or the Youtubes...

    2. Agreed Mark. But as Stuart points out, Ian Jones had a habit of dismissing or ignoring evidence which contradicted his theories. And that was also before the ' wide Interwebs or the Youtubes.' Seems to me that is an arrogant way to deal with history.

  3. There's nothing wrong with putting ideas together into a narrative and seeing if it holds water. That seems to be what Jones did in 1967; trying to assemble a "new view" of Kelly back then. That's good, innovative history, and should be applauded. People have to create some kind of narrative to make sense of a pile of old documents around any theme. What happens in the process is that once the theme is selected, it they look for more and more corroboration that the narrative makes sense.

    When this is done well, they realise that there must be problems with the narrative if they come across evidence that doesn't fit it, then they revise or even abandon parts of the narrative, and replace it with an updated version of whatever bits need to be updated, or even thrown out and replaced completely.

    When it is done badly, as it always is when someone is trying to push a barrow or pet theory, ideological or otherwise, they ignore, reject or dispute historical evidence that is objectively just as valid as they other evidence they had found, and stick to their theory like glue. Jones came up with some innovative theories about many aspects of the Kelly story. The family was persecuted, Fitzpatrick was to blame, he lusted after Kate, SBC was a fair fight, there was a republican movement led by NK, etc. All interesting speculations, but at various times over the last 50 years, shown to be wrong. Not just wrong on the evidence, but capable of being used for a new narrative that does successfully explain those events while taking into account all the evidence, not just the bits that fitted the previous Jonesian theory.

    At the end of the day, Jones was not a scholar but a hobbyist. He formed an interesting view, then dug in and defended it against all critics, as thought he'd found some faultless long-hidden true explanation that had to be the truth forever. By "scholar" I mean anyone willing to read more stuff and change their mind, not an academic waffle head. Jones said in interviews many times that he was not academic, and there is nothing wrong with that. A lot of good history is written by people who are not academic historians. Where Jones failed is refusing to take criticism on board and revise his views; refusing to take into account fresh historical evidence as it came to light, e.g. previously unboxed PROV files; and by selectively dismissing historical evidence that didn't fit his views. And that's why his work, no matter how interesting, is such a mixed bag of onions.

    Large parts of it are built on fantasy, such as his selective interpretation of the Fitzpatrick incident, which is based on a presumption that NK's version of the story must be largely correct. When it was shown that NK and his family and friends changed it as often as the wind, and that Fitzpatrick's version once reassembled straight from the man's testimony, can be largely corroborated, the centrepiece of his "Short Life" book, that was essentially taken straight from Kenneally, falls apart. Now that Dee has demolished the "police persecution theory" earlier on this blog, what is left is a thief's history. There is more to it than that, of course, but the basis for much of jones' belief is not sustainable.

    1. Ian Jones certainly contributed much to the Kelly story and should be applauded for that. However, he was a story teller not a historian and therein lies the problem. His professional writing career revolved around creating believable fiction (Matlock Police, Homicide, The Sullivans etc.) and that must have helped to create a mindset of storytelling which crept into 'A Short Life'. Seems he fell into the trap that many non-fiction writers do - following a theme of choice and crafting evidence to fit while disregarding contradictions.

    2. I think the problem is more serious than that. As in the Metcalf documents that I posted several comments about last year, Jones knowingly invested considerable energy in misrepresenting historical evidence to present a point of view that was at odds with it. He dismissed two lots of sworn testimony and related evidence that showed Metcalf eventually died of injuries caused by a revolver that Ned Kelly was fiddling with prior to the Glenrowan siege, in favour of the false story Metcalf gave, that he had been injured by a ricochet from a police bullet during the siege, so he could get free medical treatment.

      So the story-telling skill and selective evidence is one part of it, but the worse part is the deliberate falsification of history to push a barrow or belief. That means every one of his claims needs to be thought about. Nothing can be accepted on face value. Not building a stone house at Winton from skills learned in gaol; not having three 'straight' crime-free years; not having worked at Saunders and Rule or the other mill; not having been a foreman in any case; and so on. All claims are in doubt unless they rest on evidence; but when looked for, it is sometimes not there; or, as in the Metcalf case, Jones' claimed 'evidence' is simply not what he says it is and it doesn't support his story, or worse, as in Metcalf, directly contradicts it. Most people don't have the time or interest to check up on such claims and question them. I myself am losing interest as so much rubbish has been published over the years and accepted as true. But I will at least do a write-up on the republic theory at some point, if nothing else. For anyone interested, Dee outlined many of the claims made for a Kelly republic on a post linked in the above "New View" topic. There are quite a few more claims that have been made in favour of it, however, and so there is a fair bit more to document before the theory can be sent to Mr Wastebin. But not so many that it is not quite manageable in another six months or so.

    3. I don't think it was as clear cut as that Spudee. U speak as if you are an authority on Ian Jones the man. What are your thoughts on Ians extensive work on the Lighthorse? Or his "Joshua: The man they called Jesus"? You mention his TV work so lets widen the net. Keen to hear your thoughts on Joshua and his other work. If you haven't read it, I am happy to lend it to you. Leigh Sales is a journalist. And a bloody good one. She wrote an excellent work on David Hicks. Ian Jones is a journalist and more. He has written and trailblazed beautifully on Ned, aspects of the Lighthorse and Jesus. I understand the criticism but lets just bathe it in a bit of respect. A mere story teller indeed.. Frank Clune was a bloody story teller....

    4. I am well aware of his work on the light horse and he rang me about a Beersheba vet I knew many moons ago. As for his work on Kelly, as I said he did some good work there but not so much on many aspects. We will have to agree to disagree.

  4. Mark, it doesn't really matter how good or bad or how well researched or not Ian's other books are. Our interest is in the Kelly story and what Stuart says about Ian's misrepresentation of historical evidence and his unwillingness to correct his story in light of new evidence is true. People have been led astray and Ian has been too fierce over the years in calling out anyone who has dared to contradict his version of events. The "true story" as it now appears to be (accepting that there is still room for further revision) is still very interesting nonetheless.

    1. My thoughts entirety Peter.

  5. Maeve O'Donnell25 April 2017 at 22:14

    Channel 99 is again re-broadcasting the abominable Heath Ledger "Ned Kelly" movie tonight, the 3rd time in a month. Either Chanel Nine is trying to brainwash the Australian population - or they have run out of movies

  6. I kind of understand Mark's stalwart defense of Ian Jones, but Stuart and Spudee and Dee and many others have showed his Ned Kelly works are flawed. He might be an authority of the Light Horse, but this blog is about Ned Kelly. Dee and others have acknowledged his contribution (although flawed).

    I say to Ian Jones "With infinite respect, you were badly wrong in many of your main findings about Ned Kelly. Is there any way these basic mistakes can be fixed"?

    Is that respectful enough, Mark?

    1. All good Jim. I understand others point of view here. I guess I am just having trouble biting the hand that fed me for so many years..

  7. Mark - "U speak as if you are an authority on Ian Jones the man".

    Have you ever met him or discussed the mistakes he has made?

    1. Hi Horrie. I appreciate your feedback. I have indeed spoken with and met Ian Jones on occasion over the years. He has been very generous with his resources and feedback. Over dinner one night, I have put several points to him that clash with his narrative. He is certainly willing to discuss these things...

  8. Hey Mark, that's interesting, perhaps you should have asked him why he has never acknowledged he got it wrong about the site at SBC. I tried for years to take him there but he was never too interested because perhaps his books would be out dated! Even when Peter Fitzsimons he had dinner with Ian that night, pre the PF book launch date, he would have raised this important issue with him. Peter was gracious enough to acknowledge in his book the Jones site was wrong. Perhaps Ian Jones is now prepared to support the CSI@SBC site only to stick it up me?

  9. Mark, thank you for your polite, considered comments here. Of course, separately, I agree with Bill that Kelly diehards will perhaps always reject his meticulous, first-hand research at SBC. No-one has done more research there than him, nor do other badly-researched alternatives stack up.

    I still find it abominable that Jones hated the Macfarlane book and advised Peter Fitzsimons to ignore it. As for Jones's Ned Republic, it is demolished on pp 10-11 of the Macfarlane book. Peter Fitzsimons should have read this. His book, and Ian Jones's silly advice have condemned them both. There is nowhere back from such abject unschorlarly conduct.

  10. Where can an online transcript of this lecture be accessed?

  11. Where can I access an online transcript of this lecture?

    1. Go to Bill Denhelds Iron Icon website and scroll down...all the 1993 symposium papers are there.


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.