Lost Australian history: the haunting legacy of Ned kelly

The real Ned Kelly's violent shooting of police in 1878 was one of Australia's most enduring true crime stories - even Rolling Stone's singer Mick Jagger played our most legendary bushranger in a 1970 biopic. Forgotten Australia podcaster Michael Adams has dug in to the historic records to explore the curious aches that Ned Kelly believed killing others offered him.

Ned Kelly's cop killing

Ned Kelly and his gang shooting 3 policemen dead at Stringybark Creek on 26 October 1878 is arguably the most infamous and discussed violent crime in Australian history.

But what’s rarely remarked upon is the deeply weird claim that our bushranging legend made about what murdering one of his victims did to soothe his… testicles.

It’s a strange omission, given how many times Ned’s story has been told and retold. Yet, there are also other oddities in Stringybark Creek and its aftermath that rarely make it into the history books.

In September 1877, before he was infamous as more than anything more than a horse thief, young Ned Kelly got drunk with Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, who’d befriended him. This treacherous copper then took the young larrikin to Benalla lock-up for being disorderly.

On his way to face court, Ned got into a brawl with Fitzpatrick and 3 other police, including Constable Thomas Lonigan, who allegedly ‘blackballed’ Kelly by gripping his testicles and squeezing them violently. Refusing to yield to the police, Kelly surrendered to a Justice of the Peace named McInnes. The story went that in the wake of his blackballing, Ned had supposedly said: ‘Lonigan, I never shot a man yet, but if ever I do, so help me, you will be the first.’

Ned Kelly's crimes captured Australia's imagination in colonial times and today.

For this affray, Kelly received fines of just over £4. But his balls, he’d say, would continue to cause him excruciating pain.

In the middle of April 1878, when Constable Fitzpatrick visited the Kelly homestead to take Ned’s brother Dan into custody on a horse-stealing warrant, he was allegedly hit on the head by their mother, Ellen, and then shot in the wrist by Ned, resulting in a minor wound. After this, Ned and Dan had sent Fitzpatrick on his way, only for the copper to then claim he’d been the victim of attempted murder. The Kelly version was that Ned hadn’t even been there, and later the story was to be that Fitzpatrick had made drunken advances on young Kate Kelly. In this account, the constable had simply been shown the door by Dan and Ellen, before wounding himself to frame them.

In any event, this was the flashpoint that led to Ellen being arrested and jailed for 3 years, and for Ned, Dan and gang members Steve Hart and Joe Byrne to go on the run. Ned was now wanted for attempted murder – which carried a possible death sentence if he was convicted.

Six months later, two parties of plain-clothes police were secretly sent out bush to catch the elusive Kelly gang. One of the posses, comprising Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas Lonigan, Michael Scanlan and Thomas McIntyre, were camped at Stringybark Creek on 26 October 1878.

That morning, Kennedy and Scanlan ventured out from camp while McIntyre and Lonigan remained behind. In the middle of the day, McIntyre baked bread and shot some birds for dinner, while Lonigan engrossed himself in a sensational pamphlet by a journalist known as ‘Vagabond’. This reporter had gone undercover in Pentridge Prison for a month and, during his adventures, had been able to not only interview Harry Power, Ned’s previous bushranging mentor, but also Ned’s possible future executioner, Melbourne’s monstrous hangman Michael Gately.

Around five o’clock that afternoon at Stringybark Creek, Ned Kelly and his gang suddenly rushed the police camp.

In a few desperate moments, Ned shot Lonigan dead and then the outlaws bailed up McIntyre. While the bushrangers and their captive awaited the return of Kennedy and Scanlan, Kelly told his captive that it was Fitzpatrick that was the cause of all of this, and that his mother had been unfairly jailed. Ned asked McIntyre to get his police comrades to surrender when they returned, and in return he’d let them all live.

Kelly then interrogated McIntyre about the weapons the other search party was carrying. When told, he said, ‘Well, that looks very like as if they came out to shoot me.’ McIntyre said they were just obeying orders. Kelly replied: ‘They are not ordered to go about the country shooting people.’

Tragically and horrifically, when Kennedy and Scanlan returned, Ned and his gang shot them dead. McIntyre only survived to tell the tale because he galloped off on a horse and then hid in a wombat hole.  

Among the police equipment and possessions taken by Kelly, McIntyre would say, was his copy of the Vagabond pamphlet – which he’d loaned to poor dead Lonigan. This meant that, during his time a fugitive murderer, Ned would’ve been able to read just how Harry Power still thought him a traitor after all these years – and read about the hangman who now lay in his future, described by Vagabond as frightful animal with a face of pure evil.

While Ned Kelly has long been part of Melbourne and Victoria’s tourist industry, he and his gang were money spinners less than 2 weeks after the Stringybark Creek massacre. In early November 1878, anyone wanting to get a look at the these criminal celebrities only had to step into Melbourne’s waxworks, with proprietor Max Kreitmeyer advertising:

Life-like Tableau of
The Fatal Encounter Between
Constables LONIGAN and McINTYRE
With the Bushranger, KELLYS and their Gang.

The waxworks mask of Ned Kelly lured people to part with their money in the 1880s.

More money was made from the first full-length book about Ned and his mates, George Wilson Hall’s The Kelly Gang or the Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges, appeared just a month later.

Then the box office registers rang with the comedy-musical Chasing The Kellys, which premiered on April Fool’s Day 1879 at Melbourne’s Theatre Royal. In this colourful production, Ned and the gang were all up there on stage, bailing up the bumbling police and making them sing a silly song. The public thought it hilarious. So did The Herald, which said there was ‘the whole thing is a joke, and full of fun’. Ned and Dan’s sister Kate even attended a performance without the Melbourne police knowing – which made the law look even sillier.

Eventually, of course, the lawmen won out the following April and the Kelly manhunt ended not in laughter but in bloody tears at the siege of Glenrowan.  Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were dead – but the Ned survived his wounds and was to stand trial for murder.

Though Ned would not testify in court, he did put his case publicly before his trial via lengthy ‘interviews’ with his legal counsel David Gaunson that were published in The Age. In these official statements, he tried to justify the Stringybark Creek massacre as an act of self defence – and cast himself as the victim of a relentless police force. Ned said all he wanted was the chance to put his side of the story:

If I get a full and fair trial, I don’t care how it goes; but I know this – the
public will see that I was hunted and hounded on from step to step; they
will see that I am not the monster I have been made out. What I have done
has been under strong provocation.

In his next interview with Gaunson, Kelly made the following oft-quoted statement:

If my life teaches the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may not exasperate to madness men they persecute and illtreat, my life will not be entirely thrown away.

Ned had claimed to McIntyre that he’d shot policeman Lonigan in self-defence – and also because that in the heat of the moment at Stringybark Creek he’d mistaken him for an even more-hated copper from the other search party.

So, if it had been self-defence and/or a case of mistaken identity, how had shooting Lonigan dead made Ned feel?  The answer: much better, thanks.
For this we have Ned’s own words from that second interview in The Age:

It may seem strange, but it is as true as I am here that from that time up to the time of Lonigan’s death I suffered excruciating pain and inconvenience from his treatment; but from the day of his death until now I have been free from that pain and the ill-effects I before experienced.

Murdering Lonigan had cured Ned’s aching testicles.

Ned went to the gallows on 11 November 1880, though his hangman wasn’t Michael Gately, but that monstrous man’s successor, newbie noose-wrangler Elijah Upjohn.

Such is life – which Ned actually didn’t say on the gallows.

El Alamein battle

Australian troops played a pivotal role during World War II in Egypt's El Alamein to halt the German and Italian advance towards the Nile and then to decisively defeat and force them to retreat. October 23, 1942, was the second of 3 major battles that took place.

The speech that led to Australian federation

On 24 October 1889, at Tenterfield School of Arts, veteran NSW political leader Henry Parkes told the crowd:

‘The great question which we have to consider is, whether the time has not now arisen for the creation on this Australian continent of an Australian government and an Australian parliament … Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace.’

The ‘Tenterfield Speech’ is regarded as the first direct appeal to the public for a Federation of Australia’s colonies – which would come about on 1 January 1901.

While the places and artefacts associated with celebrated outlaw Ned Kelly contribute to a thriving tourist industry, The Tenterfield School of Arts, which housed a museum honouring Henry Parkes as the father of Australian Federation, closed in August this year due to lack of funds.

Nice one, Australia.

Australia votes no – twice!

In 1916, following disaster after disaster on the Western Front, and a precipitous drop in voluntary military enlistments, Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes wanted the Australian federal government to have the power to conscript men for overseas military service so he could guarantee a steady supply of soldiers for the Great War.

For months, Billy – aka ‘The Little Digger’ – campaigned for this cause. But it was so divisive he’d need the official support of the people via a vote.

While this is almost always referred to in historic accounts as the 1916 Conscription Referendum, the question posed didn’t actually propose a change to the constitution and it wasn’t legally binding. So it was actually a plebiscite – more along the lines of the 2017 marriage equality question. Approval would be symbolic – but it was what the Little Digger needed to force the issue.

Labor’s right wing were in favour, as were their conservative opposition, along with big business, the mainstream newspapers and many Protestant religious leaders. But the Labor left, the communists, the unions, the working class and some Catholic clergy were staunchly opposed. There were massive pro-and-anti public rallies in major cities and larger towns. As historian Joan Beaumont has written, the public debate: ‘has never been rivalled in Australian political history for its bitterness, divisiveness, and violence’.

On 28 October 1916, Australians went to the polls. Despite the bipartisan support, media and business endorsement and the military urgency of the matter, the No vote carried the day – with 51.51 per cent and a margin of 72,476 votes. The states were deadlocked: three for, three against.

The issue split the Labor party, with Billy Hughes forming the new National Labor Party and continuing as leader with the support of the conservatives.

He’d have a second conscription plebiscite in December 1917 – and lose again by a bigger margin.

Squizzy Taylor dead!

Second only to Ned Kelly, Squizzy Taylor is Victoria’s most infamous villain. But unlike the bush outlaw in the iron armour who was convicted of murder and ended up dangling on the hangman’s rope, the city gangster in the slick suits repeatedly got away with murder before going out in a blaze of gunfire.

Squizzy – real name Joseph Theodore Leslie Taylor - was born in Brighton, Victoria, in June 1888 and in the pre-War years was a larrikin thief and pickpocket.

In 1913 he was suspected in the Fitzroy robbery and murder of Arthur Trotter, a commercial traveller, and in 1916 was tried but acquitted in the Heidelberg murder of a chauffeur named William Haines.

Then came the 1919 ‘Fitzroy Vendetta’ – a months-long violent war between rival gangsters - which involved numerous robberies, shootings, beatings, arrests and court appearances.

But Squizzy survived it all – and beat another shooting charge.

During 1921 and 1922 he went into hiding to evade burglary charges, but eventually gave himself up in a carefully stage-managed surrender to the city’s police that made all the front pages.

Squizzy beat those charges and was in October 1923 implicated in the Glenferrie murder of Hawthorn bank manager Thomas Berriman – as we discussed a few weeks ago. Squizzy’s luck held. While one gang member would hang for the crime, and another would be sentenced to life behind bars, Squizzy was only convicted of a minor charge and served just six months.

But Squizzy’s luck ran out on 27 October 1927.

That night he came to a Carlton house in search of his old Fitzroy Vendetta rival John ‘Snowy’ Cutmore.

Snowy was sick in bed, but he had a revolver to hand.

Both he and Squizzy fired a number of shots.

Snowy would die where he lay.

Squizzy was hit in the side and managed to get to St Vincent’s Hospital but died soon afterwards.

He was front page news one last time.

Hear more tales from our weird and wild history at Michael Adams’ podcast Forgotten Australia. Be sure to click ‘subscribe’ or ‘follow’ to get every episode delivered free as soon as it’s released!

Michael’s book Hanging Ned Kelly is available now in hardback for the special price of $16.25.

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