Sunday 28 January 2018

The Larrikin Years : Book Review

This little publication of barely 140 pages is an absolute gem of a book.

As an introduction to the Kelly story I can’t think of a better one to recommend, but I can certainly think of worse ones. This book, released 27 years ago is streets ahead of the rubbish that was produced just last year by Brad Webb ( Ned Kelly: Iron Outlaw) and by Jack Peterson ( An Introduction..) For anyone trying to decide which book to get to start their collection, this is the one to go for, and not just because you can get it on ebay for a lot less than the other two. The other two are Kelly propaganda, biased and distorted accounts of the Kelly story that promote fake news about Ned Kelly, his family and the police. This book, by contrast is remarkably even handed, but comprehensive and I think a balanced person reading it will come away not just with a good understanding of the basic story, but also an appreciation of the complexity of it.

No doubt some will say ‘if Dee thinks its balanced it must favour the police and knock the Kellys’.  But this is what Brad Webb has to say about “The Larrikin Years” on his web page of Kelly book reviews :
“This book is quite an enjoyable read. After all, it states just as much on the back cover “His new book challenges conventional thinking about the Kelly Outbreak”. Buy it, read it!”

And  read this from Graham Jones Introduction :
“it was part of the original concept to weave the story of the creation of the gang around the court cases in which the Kellys and their clan were involved. This structure was abandoned when it began to appear that the family and the Sympathisers must have spent the best years of their lives circulating between the North Easts various court houses.”

“The court list is ominously long for a family of good intentions and sober habits. It must invite speculation about ‘the Kellys’ as hardworking selectors. But it must also cast doubts on the impartiality of the Police”.

As Jones says, the record of Kelly criminality is ominously long, but there is also a record of police misbehaviour: Jones doesn’t ignore any of it

Like many Kelly books of recent years do,  Graham Jones begins this book with a kind of apology for adding further to “the already sagging shelves of Kellyana”. He declares it was his intent to put the outbreak into ‘cultural and historical’ perspective, and to ‘place the outbreak within the wider uprising of youth against society which occurred in Victoria in the 1870’s’.

Jones thesis is that the Kelly story is primarily ‘the story of the rise and fall of a gang of youthful larrikins, who achieved notoriety throughout Australia in the latter part of the 1870’s as the Kelly Gang’. His view is somewhat akin to the view of McQuilton (The Kelly Outbreak) published 3 years earlier, that Kelly was a ‘social bandit’, which is to say, a product of the environment and the  social circumstances of the time, who became a symbol to societies victims. McQuiltons view was in turn, in sharp contrast to the  earlier published works of Molony (Ned Kelly 1980) and Brown ( Australian Son 1948) who lionised Ned Kelly and his exploits as a romantic rebel. Ian Jones  ( 'A short Life' 1995 and no relation ) turned back from Graham Jones view of the larrikin towards Browns and Molonys view, that he was a hero, indeed a politically motivated revolutionary.

The beauty of this book however, in my view is that Graham Jones makes very little direct attempt to persuade the reader of his particular perspective. There is a limited discussion of what was understood at the time by ‘larrikinism’ and its origins and effects, and of some of the communitys attitudes and responses to it, but essentially what Jones does here is let the story speak for itself. However, unfortunately Jones provides almost nothing in terms of references and bibliography, my main disappointment.

This remarkable little book thus consists mostly of a surprisingly thorough account of the entire Kelly story, beginning with the arrival in 1848 of Red Kelly in Port Phillip Bay, through the Ah Fook incident, Harry Power and all the usual landmarks to Ned Kelly’s trial and execution, ending with a brief mention of the Royal commission and the aftermath of the outbreak. There is plenty of factual detail but not so much pejorative commentary, either about the Kelly’s or the Police. There’s even a nice map of Kelly country.

Something I hadn’t read before - but others have apparently - was that when Ellen Kelly’s brother-in-law was convicted of arson – he burned down the house in which Ellen, her two sisters and all their children lived -  the sentence of death pronounced on him was a mandatory sentence. Jones makes little comment about this fact, but notes that Judge Redmond Barry, who had no choice other than to pronounce it, commented that it was excessive. He knew from precedents already set that there was no danger of the sentence being carried out, and left it to the executive to show ‘appropriate mercy’. The modern pro-Kelly commentariat ignore these facts entirely, preferring to cite that death sentence as evidence in support of their vilification of the great Judge Redmond Barry as some sort of vindictive and merciless ‘hanging judge’ who was out to get the Kellys. Again, as ever in the Kelly debates, the full facts show a very different truth to the one promoted by the likes of Peterson and Web, and repeated by the ill-informed internet Kelly propagandists who for ever conceal all the inconvenient truths.  

The Larrikin Years finishes with something that no Kelly defender should ever read : its a 25 page appendix, a list of the cases covering the period from the arrival of Ellen Kelly in the north-east in 1867 to Neds preliminary trial at Beechworth in 1880. It is a long, comprehensive and dispassionate catalogue that has no accompanying commentary, no attempt to moralise or patronise or excuse or excoriate any party, but simply presents facts as they were recorded at the time. It is an absolutely devastating read. I found myself shaking my head in astonishment as I turned page after page documenting the interactions between the Kelly clan and the Courts. Facts alone can sometimes make the most powerful arguments.

This is the ideal Introduction to Ned Kelly and its still available on e-bay and Abe books. A Kelly ‘must read’ 

5 Stars.

Saturday 20 January 2018

The George King Mystery

This is the man identified by his descendants 
as Ellen Kellys second husband George King.
This is part of the prison record 
of a NSW Horse Stealer named George King.
Is it the same man as in the top picture?
George King the NSW Horse stealer

George King was Ellen Kelly’s second husband. They were married on February 19th, 1874, in Benalla. Its commonly said that he came from California, was a horse thief and that he deserted Ellen Kelly in about 1877 after fathering three of her children. But when you drill deeper into the detail about who exactly George King was, where he came from and where he ended up, his marriage to Ellen Kelly is about the only thing we know for sure about him.

In 2002 a photo said to be of George King was listed for auction by Christies in Melbourne. The Catalogue reported that Ian Jones had proposed that it might be George King in 1995, and “After comparison with several portraits of Kings children, family members accepted the identification” Given the absolute certainty with which Ian Jones wrongly declared a different photo from that same catalogue to be Ned Kelly, and the recent brouhaha over the ID of the Kelly Vaults latest addition, a photo also said to be of Ned Kelly, one has to treat these photo identifications with some caution. But lets say it really is George King. What else do we know?

In the Jerilderie letter Ned Kelly described George King as a ‘horse stealer’, and indeed there was a horse thief of that name. He served time at Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney for horse stealing and according to his prison record was a native of NSW born in 1847. He was released on January 3rd, 1874. The prison record also includes a very clear portrait of the man, and according to many, the resemblances between these two photos are so striking they’re convinced it’s the same person. It may well be. I’ve copied the prison record and the photos for you to compare and make your own assessment.

As is usual in the Kelly story, there are problems with accepting that these two people are one and the same person, that Ellen Kelly married the NSW horse stealer. The first one is minor – but it means that George, aged 25, travelled to the isolation of rural Victoria, met and married 41 year old Ellen Kelly in a mere six weeks after his release in the bustling city of Sydney. Whirlwind romance, for sure, and not impossible but does it really hang together? Maybe.

The second more challenging problem for Kelly supporters is that it means the child said to be the first of the three of Ellen’s listed as George King’s could not have been – Ellen King was born on November 3rd 1873. The entire pregnancy began and ended while George was in Darlinghurst Gaol.

Given Ellen Kelly’s history of a pre-marital first pregnancy and of an affair with Bill Frost, an affair with another person, unknown, is not entirely out of the question.

So, the choice is to either accept that Mrs Kelly had an affair with some unknown person and the NSW horse stealer accepted the child as his, or else reject the horse stealer as the George King that Ellen Kelly married.

If someone was interested, this dilemma could most likely be resolved by DNA comparisons between descendants of Ellen King, such as Leigh Olver, and any descendants of the other two children Ellen Kelly had with George King. It would soon become apparent if they all had genetic material in common that wasn’t from Ellen Kelly. If they did, that would rule out the horse stealer.

Friday 12 January 2018

Fact Checking the Kelly Story

On the Facebook pages where the Kelly story is currently being promoted and discussed, people who post in support of Ned Kelly as an Australian icon and a hero almost always betray their ignorance of the detail of the story by including in their comments statements which are factually wrong. I am not talking about opinions that differ from mine, or claims as facts things that cant be proven either way, but statements that are simply, unarguably false.

One of the most frequently repeated such errors is the one Ellen Kelly herself is reported to have made when Constable Fitzpatrick came to arrest her son Dan. She is reported to have said that because Fitzpatrick didn’t have the Arrest Warrant with him, he had no right to arrest Dan and Dan was under no obligation to go with him. As a result of this false belief of hers she attacked Fitzpatrick with a shovel, a melee ensued during which Fitzpatrick was shot, and, as we know the Outbreak was born.  

There seems to be a belief that a policeman has to show the actual warrant to the person before being able to arrest him, but this is simply NOT true. It wasn’t true in 1878 and its not true now - its never been true, and even a moments reflection would reveal why it couldn’t possibly be true. It would mean, for example that if a policeman saw someone committing a crime he would be unable to do anything until a Warrant was created. It would mean that if he saw a known criminal on the loose and didn’t have the correct piece of paper in his pocket, the criminal couldn’t be apprehended. It would mean there could be no such thing as a ‘citizens arrest’. It would mean that Police would have to carry about with them the warrants relating to all known local suspects, in case they ran into any of them on his rounds. It would substantially inhibit the ability of Police to maintain Law and order.

I learned something the other day that might explain why this false belief is so common. It relates to a different kind of Warrant, a warrant that the Police do indeed have to show before they can act : it’s a Search Warrant, and is quite different from an Arrest Warrant. To legally invade your home to conduct a SEARCH, Police either have to have your permission, or else apply for and be given permission by an independent authority to do so. There are some particular situations where even that warrant is not needed, such as if they wish to arrest someone they believe to be hiding inside, or if they think evidence may be destroyed if they delay entry, but in general, if the Police come to your house with a SEARCH warrant they have to show it to you. If they can’t show it to you, and prove they have permission to search your house, then you have a right to refuse them entry.

But if there is a warrant for ARREST, they have a right to enter a home to make that arrest and are under no obligation to display the actual document. It can be shown to the suspect back at the station.

So why do so many Kelly sympathisers believe this falsehood? Simply put, it’s from ignorance of what the Law really is, in relation to warrants and arrest. It also happens because when such erroneous claims are made on FB pages and elsewhere, nobody in the Kelly world bothers to supply the correcting facts.

But it also arises from ordinary people who mostly don’t have a few shelves of books on Kelly history, accepting the word of people who promote themselves as authorities on the subject in the press and in print, and who should know better. Jack Peterson is the most recent example – this  sloppy poorly informed author repeats this simple falsehood both in his dreadful book and on his FB page.

Anyone repeating this nonsense about Fitzpatrick needing to have a warrant with him should be corrected. I don’t expect Jack Peterson or many Kelly sympathisers to ever change their views about Ned Kelly and the Police but at least they could stop spreading falsehoods about what happened. When they continue to repeat disproven claims about Ned Kelly they demonstrate their commitment is not to historical truth and reality, but to a fable that disguises a liar, thief, hostage taker and police killer.