Sunday 19 November 2017

Anatomy of a Kelly Myth

Not all of the myths that make up the Kelly legend are untruths that everyone has heard of, like the one about Fitzpatrick being the cause of the Outbreak, or the one about Ned Kelly’s  Republic of North East Victoria, or the one that reckons holding Hostages at the Glenrowan Inn while waiting for two dozen Police to be killed at a planned train wreck nearby constitutes a ‘heroic last stand’. These Big Lies, and a few others, such as the one that says Ned Kelly was picked on and persecuted by Police make up the bulk of the Kelly Mythology, and they are so well known that even people who are not familiar enough with the story to be able to name the policemen killed at SBC would have heard of them, and often believe them to be true.

There are however innumerable other smaller lies that are part of the Kelly mythology that only people who have a more detailed knowledge of the Kelly story would have ever heard about. This includes such things as Ned Kelly’s claim to have been hundreds of miles away at the time of the Fitzpatrick incident, that he robbed the rich to give to the poor, that Fitzpatrick raped Kate Kelly or that being kept hostage by the Kelly gang wasn’t a terrifying nightmare for genuine hostages. Another one of these lies is the claim made by Kelly sympathisers that the police are to be blamed for the loss of innocent life during the siege at Glenrowan.

It would be mad to deny that innocent people were killed at Glenrowan by Police bullets. Two of the hostages, Martin Cherry and Johnny Jones died from bullet wounds on the day of the siege. It was also claimed that George Metcalf was hit in the eye by a police bullet and died several months later of complications that were linked to the eye injury sustained during the siege. However, when something similar happened at the Lindt CafĂ© siege in Sydney in 2014, and an innocent hostage was killed when the police brought that siege to an end, the coroner took great pains to direct all of the blame for the loss of life at the criminal gunman. Equally,  the moral responsibility for every outcome of the Glenrowan hostage taking again must lie with the person who was the mastermind and principle actor in it, Ned Kelly.

In regard to George Metcalfs death, Metcalf himself said the eye injury had been caused by a ricochet from a police bullet, or splinters of wood or brick that the bullet sent flying into his eye as he sought shelter near a fireplace at the Inn. However, in the latest of his series of devastating critques of Kelly myths, Monash historian Dr Stuart Dawson  shows that it wasn’t a police bullet but Ned Kelly who was directly responsible for Metcalf’s injury and its complications. I first read this claim on the first page of Ian MacFarlane’s book The Kelly Gang Unmasked, and later in the book MacFarlane describes how Metcalf invented the story to get help he would otherwise have been unable to afford. The injury, it was revealed after investigation, had been caused by a revolver that Ned Kelly accidentally discharged while fiddling with it earlier on in the day, before the siege had begun.

Dawsons article supplies all the detailed documentary proof that debunks the Kelly myth that it was a police bullet that injured Metcalf.  As I have written already, in my view Ned Kelly is responsible for Metcalfs eye injury no matter whose bullet caused it. However the actual historical truth about what happened to Metcalf needs to be recorded accurately, and the truth is that it was Ned Kelly who directly and carelessly caused this poor mans horrific injury.

However I think perhaps more importantly than just the historical truths, using the Metcalf story as an example, Dawson exposes the way in which  Kelly myths are created. This myth, like all of them was created and sustained by pro-Kelly writers who preferred to perpetuate stories that support their preconceived notions about Ned Kelly than follow the evidence to its proper conclusion.

According to Dawson, Metcalf is not mentioned in any Kelly history until his name appeared in  not the first or second but the the third edition of Max Browns “Australian Son” in 1980. To attribute Metcalfs injury to a police bullet, Brown must have ignored, or not known about the police reports of investigations into Metcalfs claim, and comments of Inspector Sadleir recorded in the report of the Royal Commission that showed his story was made up. In his 1980 book “Ned Kelly” Molony simply repeated  Browns claim, but in ‘A Short Life’ published in 1995 Ian Jones revealed he was familiar with those reports and with the Royal Commission because he quoted from them. However,  Dawson reveals that the way Ian Jones quoted, misquoted and misrepresented those reports is  nothing short of an outrage, and absolutely disgraceful. Jones quotes half of a sentence from a Police report that appears to support Metcalfs story but ignores the rest of the same sentence where the Detective dismisses Metcalfs story and states his injury occurred before the siege began. Dawson provides lots of detail, and traces Jones claims forwards into Justin Corfields ‘Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia’, and from those two sources it has spread like a virus throughout the entire Kelly world, unchallenged until MacFarlane in 2012 and now comprehensively by Dawson.

Adherents to the Jones-Kelly mythology refuse to read MacFarlane’s book – such is their collective refusal to face the truth – and  even the Kelly fancier who moderates a Facebook Page attacking it has never read it -  so I doubt they will read Dawson’s article or respond to it with anything other than their usual personal abuse, juvenile name calling and outright denial. I do anticipate however that some of them might claim that the police must have known Metcalf’s injury was their fault because the police paid for Metcalf’s medical bills and arranged for his treatment. They will construct conspiracy theories about police trying to keep it quiet and protect their reputation. The facts however, which are always fatal when applied to conspiracy theory are that Chief Commissioner Standish himself approved of the treatment though he knew how the injuries had been caused, writing “I consider that under the circumstances of the way he met his injuries, the patient referred to who is utterly without means is a fit case for the charity”

Metcalf grew up in poverty and ended his life destitute. Like many people in his day, poor people included, he was shafted by the Kellys, but he did at least receive ‘charity’ from the Police. 

To read Dr Dawsons latest article go HERE. As usual, its a great and 

scholarly read that destroys yet one more of the seemingly innumerable

falsities that constitute the Kelly legends. Keep up the great work Stuart!

Saturday 11 November 2017

Misguided Homage to a Killer

On November 11th 1880, the convicted murderer Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly was executed for the killing of Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek. He killed two other policemen on the same day, and later orchestrated the murder of Aaron Sheritt, a former friend, as a prelude to what he hoped would be the mass murder of nearly two dozen more police at Glenrowan. Fortunately Kelly’s horrifying plan for mass murder was thwarted and he was captured, tried for Lonigans murder, convicted and hanged. He was then buried within the Prison grounds in an unmarked grave, in accordance with the policy of the time, intended to deny murderers any kind of honour in death and in the hope they would be forgotten for ever. Clearly, that didn’t happen in Ned Kelly’s case.

137 years later, November the 11th is celebrated as Remembrance Day, and wreaths are laid at Cenotaphs to commemorate the heroic men and women of Australia who died in War. If past years are any guide, in what can only be described as a sickening and misguided homage, flowers and cards will also be placed at the Old Melbourne Gaol on the trapdoor where Ned Kelly stood for the last few seconds of his natural life,  with maudlin messages to ‘dear Ned’, the convicted killer. I expect other flowers will appear at the Greta cemetery where his headless remains were reburied in an unmarked grave in 2013. The various Kelly sympathiser Facebook pages will also no doubt participate in this show of emotion,  with expressions of grief and sorrow at their idols fate. Its a quite horrible irony that Kelly is remembered and honoured by a few ill-informed hero-worshippers as if he was a brave soldier who fell in a real war, on the same day when the nation remembers Australia’s genuine heroes, men and women who died for a noble cause. I find it nauseating and offensive when Kelly fanciers try to place these two events alongside one another as if they are in some way equivalent. The Fallen we all agree are heroes whose sacrifice should never be forgotten. Ned Kelly was certainly not one of them. It seems he will never be forgotten but he should be.

There’s no need to ask why people would do these things and want to remember this man : its because they are in denial. They don’t want to accept the fact that he was a murderer, but instead indulge a fantasy, and ignoring reality think of him as a misunderstood hero who fought injustice, made a stand against corrupt police and judiciary who persecuted him and his family, who killed only in self-defence and eventually lost his life in a brave battle for a higher cause. They claim he would have made a great General, and liken him to Peter Lalor, the visionary leader of the Eureka rebellion. They ignore Ned Kelly’s life of crime, his self-proclaimed career as the leader of a criminal stock thieving syndicate, his highway robbery with Harry Power, the bank robberies and hostage taking, his convictions for assault, indecency, and ‘feloniously receiving’, his abandonment of his mother and siblings in ‘poverty and squalor’ to pursue the life of a ‘rambling gambler’, his lies about the Fitzpatrick incident and the Stringybark creek killings, his bloodthirsty plan for a massacre at Glenrowan…they ignore all of this as well as the findings of the Police Royal Commission which investigated the entire saga, and instead embrace the view which Ned Kelly had of himself, and promoted in his Jerilderie letter, that he was a hero, a wronged innocent man, and that it was corrupt police who were to blame for everything.  There is almost no historical basis for any of this, other than the words of the killer himself, and the small number of people who believed him. 

However there’s one historical claim that is often alluded to at this time by Kelly supporters which is indeed true, and which, on first inspection seems to support the sympathisers view of Kelly. Ian Jones wrote about it in the Introduction to his biography  ‘Ned Kelly :  a short life’ : “In country and cities, folk of Neds time acknowledged the potency of his rebellious appeal by signing, in their tens of thousands, a petition for repeal of his death sentence. Of course this spectacular display of support confirmed the darkest fears of respectable society.”

On Facebook pages and elsewhere on the Internet its not unusual to read Kelly sympathisers mentioning this Petition saying it was a petition for Ned Kellys pardon, for the repeal of his death sentence as Jones wrote, or for his release or for a retrial. Following Ian Jones lead they see the petition as a proof that the ordinary person was on Ned Kellys side, but the authorities and the people in power were not.

However, as ever in the Kelly world the truth about this Petition is nowhere near as simple as the Kelly sympathisers would have you believe. Though the document is headed ‘Petition for Reprieve’ the text of the Petition merely asks that “the Life of the CONDEMNED man, EDWARD KELLY may be spared.” There is no mention of repeal or reprieve or of a pardon or a retrial. The Petitioners simply didn’t believe Ned Kelly should be hanged.

The wider story of this petition is that it was motivated not so much by an interest in the details of Ned Kellys case but in the use of capital punishment. David Gaunson who was Ned Kelly’s solicitor was a leading light in the campaign to abolish capital punishment. David and his brother William were prominent members of the ‘Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment’. They believed that capital punishment was morally wrong, that nobody should hang, no matter what crime they had committed.  It was in this capacity that he established the Petition and arranged meetings throughout Melbourne and further afield, in an effort to have Ned Kelly's sentence changed. The campaign against capital punishment continued for another 105 years, ending in 1985 when capital punishment was finally outlawed for good in Australia.

The last person to be hanged in Australia was Ronald Ryan, in 1967.  There are interesting parallels between his case and Ned Kellys that show how in both cases support for a reprieve of the death sentence shouldn’t be seen to be support for the condemned man or belief in his innocence. As in Ned Kelly’s case, after Ryan had been sentenced to hang for killing a prison officer, enormous protests occurred around the country and thousands signed a petition for his reprieve. Like Neds petition, Ryans was also ignored by the authorities, and just as thousands gathered outside the OMG to protest on the morning of  Neds execution, so too did thousands gather outside Pentridge when Ryan was executed. At both, no doubt some of the people there believed the condemned man was innocent, but its clear the greatest bulk of the protest was about the cruelty of capital punishment, not the guilt or innocence of the condemned person.  

This campaign against capital punishment continues elsewhere in the world to this day, and in the USA at every execution Petitioners still request the life of the condemned man be spared. Just as they did outside the Old Melbourne Gaol when Ned was executed, and outside Pentridge when Ryan was hanged so today they still gather outside the prisons where felons are executed in the United States, not so much because they believe in the innocence of the condemned man but because they are opposed to Capital punishment.

So, on November 11th when you lay your flowers and your cards on the trapdoor at the OMG, don’t feel pity for the fantasy figure of your wishful thinking, an innocent man crushed by a nasty system - he was a remorseless violent killer who deserved to be punished. Instead, express sadness and regret that a young man, a fellow human being, was subjected to a cruel and inhumane punishment and be thankful that at last in Australia we have moved on from such barbarity.

Sunday 5 November 2017

A week from Hell for Kelly fanciers and the CSI Team

Even though the Lawless documentary was a disappointment to many of the people who have more than just a passing interest and knowledge of Ned Kelly and the Kelly outbreak, the greatest disappointments will have been felt by the Kelly fanciers, and by the small bunch of diehards who thought the CSI Team had located the site of the Police camp.  Kelly fanciers didn’t miss the main message of that first episode of the series, that Ned Kelly was a seriously violent criminal, that the police killings at Stringybark Creek weren’t self defence but murder, and Kennedys killing was an execution in cold blood.   I was more than happy with that Big Picture view, and my complaints were about the detail.

However the Kelly fanciers  flooded the History channels Facebook page with expressions of disgust and outrage that the documentary maker had got it all wrong from start to finish, that they started off with pre-conceived notions of Neds guilt and didn’t mention the greater truths of the story, which of course were all the myths that Kelly fanciers hold dear. Their comments exposed their deep ignorance of basic facts of Kelly history, claiming erroneously for example that he was a victim of persecution, that he was standing up for the rights of the oppressed and downtrodden, and for his family, body straps, police corruption, that he was a hero and the police got what they deserved…..all the usual unhistorical unverifiable dreamed up excuses and untruths about Kelly and the Police that weren’t mentioned even in passing in the documentary. One bright spark claimed Ned Kelly was an Irish Immigrant, another that ‘impeccable sources’ show that arresting Dan was NOT the reason Fitzpatrick went to the Kelly home, and another denounced it as so biased that he didn’t watch it!

I took it on myself to answer some of the more outrageous claims, ones that we know are completely false such as that Kate Kelly was raped, that it was Fitzpatrick’s fault because if he hadn’t gone to the Kelly homestead none of the ghastly events that followed would have taken place, that the Kelly’s were persecuted and so on. Someone mentioned Kelly’s skull so I replied with  information about it that I had learned from ‘Ned Kelly Under the Microscope’. Mick Fitzsimons expressed a belief that the documentary DIDN’T claim that Ned Killed  in cold blood:

ME :  They got one thing right - Ned Kelly lied about killing in self-defence. It was cold blooded murder.
FITZSIMONS: Give it a rest, they did not conclude that. October 25 at 10:45am

He must have been watching something else!

All my comments were labelled as lies and trolling by Mick Fitzsimons the Kelly fancier who made the foolish admission during one of these conversations that he hadn’t read the book his Facebook page is devoted to ‘unmasking’ – you would have to be very thick indeed not to be aware that such an admission would totally destroy your credibility…! He also declared he never debated faceless trolls ( meaning me! ) but every time I posted something, he couldn’t help himself and immediately responded with his usual rantings! He asserted in several places that I had never been to Stringy Bark Creek - news to me!

But the Kelly fanciers were not the only ones whose pet theories were dealt substantial body blows by this documentary. The tiny mob of supporters of the CSI teams ‘site’ also took a horrendous and demoralising hit, because  early on in the filming process the excited CSI team showed the Lawless mob their pet rocks, but then the CSI team was dumped and their input disregarded in favour of the celebrity archaeologist Adam Ford and his whizz-bang drone technology. Ford ruthlessly and unquestionably dishonestly created the impression that his whizz-bang technology found the CSI rockpile/ruined fireplace – but they knew exactly where it was right from the start. And then to add insult to injury Ford announced that the true site was somewhere in the opposite direction from where the CSI mob had said it was.

The CSI team has since tried to take comfort in the fact that their site is closer to the Lawless site than Bills ‘Two Huts’ site, but how is it a bonus to be closer than Bill to the wrong place? This is just another example of the completely crazy logic the CSI team resorts to.

So from no doubt at one time being excited about the possibility they were going to be quoted and have their site recognised, in the end the CSI team didn’t get a mention, and it seems once they had pointed out the location of the fireplace to the Lawless people they were effectively told to piss off. Such is the ethical quality of documentary makers and commercial television producers.

And now I am going to add to the CSI teams horrible week with some revelations about the claim in their recently Updated Report that there is a “strong circumstantial case” that a bullet found at SBC “is in fact from the Spencer Carbine carried by Constable Scanlan and discharged by him towards Ned”
They quote from a 2008 newspaper article in which Terry Scott, a gold fossicker claimed that in 2001 he found a bullet at SBC which was later shown to be the kind of bullet fired by the Spencer rifle used by Scanlan at SBC in 1878. In 2010 Scott showed Bill Denheld where he found this bullet, calculated by the CSI team to be some 260 yards south of where they think the police camp was. They argue this bullet adds support to their claim about where the Police were camped because they claim Scanlan got one shot away, and it may well have gone south past the camp site to the place where Scott found it all those years later. Its plausible, though I wondered how it could travel all that way through the bush and not hit anything, and end up in the mud in pristine condition. I had some small doubts about it in the back of my mind.

Now read what Bill Denheld posted to this Blog a week or so ago :

“Last year around the time I was in contact with Genepool about the pending documentary, I spoke to Terry Scott the Spencer bullet finder by phone and was quite taken aback when he told me he had NOT actually found the bullet where he said and showed me. He said he was mistaken because it was his brother in-law that had found it, but further UP the creek. I said that changes everything does it not? Yes he said, sorry.”

I know the CSI people read this Blog, so they must have felt sick to learn that Scott had now retracted his earlier claim about exactly who it was that found the bullet, and exactly where it was found. Further UP the creek places it somewhere south of Bills site I would guess, meaning if their argument that its location SOUTH of their site lent support to their claims, this new revelation instead added weight to Bills.

But worse really to their entire argument is the fact that their information came from someone who is now at best confused about where the bullet was actually found. After reading Bills comment I found myself wondering if we would ever know the full story about that Bullet. 

And then I received a Facebook Message from someone who seemed to know a bit about guns and on reading about that bullet, tracked down its owner, Terry Scott. The following is a minimally redacted version of the message, published here with permission of its author who prefers to remain anonymous :

“I was interested in buying it if its provenance could be confirmed.  I managed to speak to the bloke who claims to have found the bullet at SBC and here is a summary of my conversation with him 5 June 2017
Finally managed to phone Terry Scott and speak to him about SBC and the bullet he located there. Must say that it was one of the strangest conversations I have ever had and I’m not sure what to make of him!  He rambled on about SBC and a number of other areas of the Kelly story. I found him to be well off the mark on much of what he said and he seems to have run foul of many people with an interest in the Kelly story, including the Vic Police Museum whom he said had thrown him out!

He claimed to have found the Spencer projectile about 25 years ago and his description of where he had found it seems to be basically consistent to the area he showed Bill. The only puzzle I had with his story is that he said that the site of the find was something like 100 metres from the road; I had thought it would have been closer.

I asked him if he was interested in selling the bullet but he said he wasn’t.  He claimed that Peter Fitzsimons had offered him $200 for it and that another bloke $400,000!  Yes, thats right, $400,000. Who in their right mind would not sell at that price?

While the bullet may well be from a Spencer, I am very suspicious of its background.”

I think its pretty clear that if the CSI team have to rely on such dubious claims to bolster the argument for their site, they’re clutching at straws. Terry Scotts original story was that he made the find in 2001, but he is now saying it was made as far back as 1992, and at a different place altogether and not actually by himself but by his brother-in-law! These newer revelations about that Bullet, and the attitude of the documentary makers to the CSI team and their site are major setbacks to the already crumbling CSI teams case. The person currently acting as their self-appointed public voice is contributing even further to its downfall by his amateurish stunts and dumb attacks on the two huts site.

By contrast the case for Bills site was not affected at all by the Lawless documentary’s claims, and it remains as robust as ever.