This is a true crime story from the convict era in Australia. Ned Kelly was responsible for quite a few deaths, and his crimes and virtues are still debated in schools today. The peculiar facts of his rampage were extremely well documented, and there are even records written by nasty old Ned himself (for an example, go ahead and search for the ÒJerilderie LetterÓ). Rest assured that this story is very closely based on the truth and (where possible) even used the language of Ned Kelly. This story should take about fifteen minutes to read.
Great Southern Liar
A True Account of Ned Kelly, AustraliaÕs Most Infamous Villain
Today is the 11th November 1980 and today I will hang. I only killed as many coppers as I could catch, but I would have slaughtered more if I had the chance and I still might slay a few. The Australian police murdered all the innocent people that died in my little rampage. I write this for anyone to read. Here is my confession and a true account of my actions, I swear it.
I regret nothing, and to my judges, I say it wasnÕt my fault. It was yours.
My early years in prison were due to a misunderstanding. I borrowed a horse from Wild Wright when I was fifteen years old, do you hear me? I borrowed the damned animal, but Wild Wright had stolen it the week before. I was jailed after whipping a policeman who had snuck up on me and somehow got it in his head that he should jump on my back. I threw officer Hall, the huge, cowardly copper, into the dirt over and over. I rode the old pig like he was a bung-leg mule, but I wasnÕt trying to hurt him when I smacked the fool. I wasnÕt trying to hurt him when I dug the spurs of my boots into his fat hips. I could have taken that Colt revolver from him and thrown him in his own police station lock-up, but I resisted.
I ignored the urge to bash his pig head in and the weak old fool had to call on several civilians to help in the fray. I could have thrashed the whole group of them, but IÕve never been a man to hurt good people, only bandy-legged, tyrannical, British-loving coppers.
They locked me up for three years for riding that borrowed horse. When I got out, I found the man who leaned the stupid animal to me, and we decided the best way to settle the injustice was to knock each other about like cockatoos in a storm. We decided to bare-knuckle box, London rules. WeÕd both been drinking whisky and we stumbled down to the bank of the creek behind The Imperial Hotel in Beechworth.
You should have seen the spectacle. A hundred men stood in a wide circle on the cleared, hard ground while their children scrambled up trees to look down on us. A few women were present for the gathering, but weÕre Australian-Irish gentlemen, not animals; the ladies were asked to move themselves to a more appropriate place.
Wild Wright came out strong, and I felt the bare bones of his knuckles pounding on my head for at least the first few rounds. I was getting in a couple of jabs, but that was all. We punched on for twenty rounds, and it took almost three hours to wear the hard-man down. Eventfully, darkness fell, and the boys had to fetch a dozen oil lamps from the nearby houses in the town. They stood close around us to cast an orange glow on the striking limbs and splashes of blood. I took a solid shot to the nose, and my eyes were flushed with that hard, instinctive wetness, but I got him in the end.
I noticed that Wild Wright liked to drop his left guard and I knew if I bashed at his ribs heÕd buckle. I struck hard at his body, and when he doubled over to protect himself, I threw three strong punches high. He lay blubbering and beaten in the dark while the other men brought out the strongest drink they could find.
Wild Wright said, and still says, that was the beating of his life. You just go ahead and ask him, heÕll tell you plain, and we remain dear friends to this day. But, I suppose this will be my last day of friendship or fighting or anything else.
So be it.
I had an honest job for a while after that, but not a long while. I was cutting timber until they arrested me for drunkenness. Can you believe that? The damn police accused a man of being too drunk. What a pack of hypocrites. Would you stand for an injustice like this? Of course not, no man could.
I was being walked to the courthouse by four of the badge-wielding lawmen, and I managed to break out and run into a bootmakerÕs shop. That son-of-a-goat Lonigan came in after me with his blackball baton, and I slammed the fool up into the workbench.
Cobbling nails and leather straps were thrown to the floor as I said, ÒWell Lonigan, I never shot a man yet, but if I do, so help me God youÕll be the first.Ó
The event wasnÕt really too much more than a scuffle and when the courthouse judge eventually came over to the see the mischief he calmed us all down. Of course, I was accused and convicted of more than a little drunkenness, but the whole thing blew over for me.
I canÕt say the police force forgot about that particular brawl so readily.
I believe it was mid-April, perhaps the 15th? Sometime around then in 1878, the dandy, horse-faced, emu-hipped pretend Irishman Fitzpatrick rode down to my motherÕs house to arrest Dan, my brother.
I was not there. Fitzpatrick will tell you he saw me and every crooked copper in the state will swear I was involved, but they all lie. I was not at my motherÕs house when they came for my brother.
Now listen close to this because this will show you the real soul of the local coppers. Fitzpatrick spoke sweetly to my sixteen-year-old sister and even made a couple of suggestive comments, which I refuse to repeat.
My dear sister is a lovely young lass, and she does not deserve improper treatment from any man. You couple this indecency with the fact that Fitzpatrick was there to take away Dan and youÕll understand why my mother reacted with a little anger.
Fitzpatrick was driven from the house by a few of my family members, and he hurt his hand stumbling through the bush. The next day he returned with a whole troop of his policing friends, and they made crazy accusations, saying IÕd shot him.
IÕll tell you once more, I was not there. Who will you believe? Me or a pack of lying, cheating, crooked, British-loving cops?
And who do you think got arrested when they returned? Huh?
My darling mother with a whole bunch of children to look after, one of them still suckling at her teat, was arrested and later sentenced to three years hard labour.
By the time the verdict was handed out, later in 1878, Dan and I were making our own liquor and panning for gold up in the Wombat Ranges. We were wanted for a few misdemeanours including horse theft and general lawlessness, but nothing severe. I wrote to the magistrate to offer to turn myself in if they would allow my dear sweet mother to return to our family.
The magistrate refused, and a bounty of a hundred pounds was offered for myself or my brother, two hundred for the pair of us. ThatÕs when everything got a lot more serious.
I was warned that a group of four coppers were camping at Stringybark Creek, searching the area for us. I crept through the bush with three of the boys as the sun was going down and even the snakes stopped slithering when could see us approaching. We could hear someone firing a small calibre rifle into the air, hunting for parrots, and we followed the noise into the rough, isolated valley. We found two police constables guarding their camp, and we knew that there was a couple more in the bush around us somewhere.
I called out, ÒBail up! Hold up your hands,Ó and the pair of our enemies spun around to stare into the barrels of my guns.
The copper named Lonigan, the same man I fought in the bootmakerÕs workshop, pointing his pistol straight at me, so I shot. The little lead ball smashed into the centre of his arrogant, pompous chest and he was dead before he hit the ground.
The other coppers will tell you that Lonigan was taken unawares. TheyÕll tell you I shot Lonigan down as he stood unarmed, but theyÕre all lying. Everyone else is lying. IÕm no murderer. Lonigan pointed his pistol at me, and I had no choice but to defend myself. The only reason IÕm still breathing is that IÕm a better shot than that gutless copper.
We kept the other officer there at the end of our pistols, waiting for his mates to return.
We didnÕt wait long. The sun was almost set and huge, conquering shadows were thrown out behind the nearby mountains, forcing us to battle in the shade.
We could hear the horses of the returning constables, so we hid and waited. The pair rode back to the camp with their guns drawn; theyÕd heard the earlier exchange of pistol fire.
As they looked down on their slaughtered comrade, we pounced, and they didnÕt stand a chance.
We could move between the trees and use the bush as cover, but the stupid coppers were stuck on horseback, making two perfect targets. We shot them down without breaking a sweat. Of course, this too was self-defence. They rode back on us; we didnÕt start this whole thing.
In the confusion of it all, Constable McIntyre managed to escape, the damned weakling, and IÕm sure youÕre aware that his eyewitness account of the event is very different to mine. HeÕs a liar and a fool and a coward and I havenÕt got a single squirt of pity for anyone who believes him over me.
So late in 1878, we were cop killers and the enemies of every British sympathiser in the country. Luckily, we were the friends and allies of every true Irish or Australian citizen who refused to simply lie down and receive whatever injustice was being passed out by the authorities.
The Kelly Gang, as weÕve been dubbed, was famous. Famous and outlawed and broke. We couldnÕt show our faces in any town or to anyone who might support the police. We lived in the bush and ate the kangaroos we could shoot while we tried to figure out a way to get back on top of the situation.
We had a mate watching the town of Euroa, and it became quite clear that they had a little bank down there with a lot of money. We were hoping for five thousand pounds and dreaming of maybe ten thousand when we decided to rob the place.
The main band of the local police force were out looking for us in some far-away place, the fools, and we captured a nearby wool station by force. We rode in there with our guns drawn and everyone surrendered straight away, no need for violence.
We bailed everybody up and tied the hostages in a storage building while we waited for any absent farmworkers to return to the property. I think there were twenty-two people restrained in that little room before the end of the day.
The next morning, we cut down the telegraph poles and made sure we destroyed so much of the wire that the repair company would have to make more than one trip out there to fix it.
Then we dressed in the finest clothes we could find in the house, the kind of clothes a man wears to attend a bank, and we prepared our weapons. We walked to the building that we were about to hold up with grins on our faces, and the local ladies smiled as we passed them on the main street.
We got into the bank, and we drew our guns, and we made a lot of noise, and they started throwing money at us. In just a few seconds, we had the staff of the little building in the centre of the room, staring up at the barrels of our pistols. They were all afraid and the hot Australian sun was making the sweat run down our foreheads, but I assured my captives that we only wanted the money. I made a few threats, and the bank manager told a few lies, but soon the safe was open. Once our colossal withdrawal had been properly made, the encounter was quite pleasant. I felt like a drink to celebrate and the manager felt like a drink to commiserate, so we opened a bottle of whisky, and I dare say that was the most enjoyable robbery this country has ever seen.
We left the town in good spirits, and the bank managerÕs wife even waved goodbye. No one was hurt, but we only stole two thousand pounds.
This mediocre amount of cash was not enough, not even close. We needed more money and to make matter worse, the police arrested twenty-three men for being ÒSympathisers of the Kelly gang.Ó
Now that is some British, sheep-turd talk. They arrested any man they considered to be a friend of mine to make me mad and mad I was.
To retaliate, I held up the police station in Jerilderie.
We got there at midnight, and the heavy cloud cover refused to allow The Moon to light The Earth. There was a single copper at the station with his family, so we had them under control in just a few minutes.
In the morning, we dressed in police uniforms and moved around the town. We told people we had been called in as reinforcements, just in case the Kelly gang was found in the area. Ha!
The local folk believed us and treated us as if we were their saviours. We even had our horsesÕ shoes repaired and charged the cost of it to the local police stationÕs account. Eventually, we had to get down to business, and we robbed the bank there too.
Again, we took about two thousand pounds and the reward for our capture, dead or alive, was raised to eight thousand pounds.
It was in this period of aggravation, while our robberies were less than expected and the police had arrested a whole slew of our friends, that we learned of SherrittÕs deceit.
He had been a friend of mine and a man from our gang, Byrne, had even suggested the Sherritt should marry his sister. We had never hurt an innocent person, and the coppers kept on harassing us, but still, Sherritt turned against us.
I have never lied about my gangÕs operations, and I confess to planning this manÕs murder. On Friday, the 25th June 1980, we hid in the bush beside SherrittÕs farmhouse. We knew the police would try to protect him and we knew that he was a cautious man, so we kidnapped his friend and forced the prisoner to knock on SherrittÕs door.
As the traitor answered the call and stepped forward into his open doorway, Byrne pressed a pistol barrel to his breast and pulled the trigger. A spray of blood was propelled back into the building and SherrittÕs wife, with his mother in law, ran to the front of the house to see us standing over the dying husband. They watched Byrne, screaming in horror, as he assassinated the traitor and fired into him again as he lay dying. But of course, we never hurt the women. We retreated into the night before nearby police could have any effect on the event.
Now weÕre getting to the end of our tale. I had a brilliant and savage plan to destroy the entire police force of the area in one single blow, and I couldnÕt wait to bring on the bloodshed.
I had two line-repairmen destroy a section of train track just outside of Glenrowan. I knew the coppers would send a carriage full of reinforcements and I was going to catch them napping. The train would be thrown into the deep, rocky drainage ditch so that I could look down on the pig-faced, tyrant coppers, and fire into them one by one as any survivors crawled from the wreckage. It would be fantastic! I was going to kill a whole army in one hit, but first I needed to prepare myself. I needed hostages.
With the tracks destroyed and the trap prepared, my gang and I marched about sixty of the Glenrowan townspeople into the local bar at gunpoint. We told them not to be afraid and ordered the owners of the establishment to let the patrons drink for free. We set up card competitions and games for the children, and the musicians were ordered to play the most jubilant songs they knew. The citizens there were hostages, but this was a happy time. Soon we would be rid of the coppers and we could celebrate for real.
We all danced and sung and had a grand evening, but a few of the older men needed rest, so I let some hostages go. There was my mistake. I was too kind, for one of the men I released made his way over the train tracks. He stood on the broken section and waved his wifeÕs red scar in the air. The police were able to stop the train in time, and my spectacular railway-snare had been disarmed. An army of police officers descended on our drunken revelry.
At about three oÕclock in the morning, as the bats returned to their caves and the earliest of birds began to sing, bullets smashed through the wooden walls of our pub. We looked outside to see a speckling of lamps, held steady by the arriving coppers.
There was chaos for a while as the horde of hostages fell to the floor and scrambled from one side of the building to the other, searching for cover. No one was hit just yet, but the women and young men were screaming, and small explosions of splintering wood were erupting all over the walls and floors and the roof as the shots from the coppers ricochet through the bar.
My gang and I were ready, even if our trap had failed. We assembled in the back room where we kept our supplies and we prepared our final surprise. When we returned to the front line of combat we returned like knights charging toward some ancient medieval battlefield.
We had crafted suits of armour from steel and tin sheets, and we wrapped the metal barricades around ourselves. IÕm certain the police could see us standing proud and tall like indestructible metal demons in the womb of that hot, dirty skirmish. Broken glass crunched under my boots, and I could feel the hard, murderous bullets colliding with the breastplate of my armour as my helmet was being slapped about.
We returned fire and, through the narrow eye slit of my metal mask, I could see the fear and confusion of the police force. Our enemies were shrieking to one another, trying to figure out what the hell they were fighting against and I laughed with my boys. We took cover and shot and stood in turn, swaying drunk and unbreakable in our bulletproof casings.
Before too long, the sheer volume of gunpowder that had been burnt left a thick and heavy smoke hanging in the dim morning air. No one could see anything, and we had to take regular breaks from our combat so that we could later return to trying to murder one another more efficiently.
As the sun began to rise and a light blue hue washed over the carnage, we let the women and children go. In all the confusion and the smoke and the movement of the girls, I escaped.
I slipped from the siege in the heavy armour and snuck through the bush. I sat and rested for a while, appraising a few trifling injuries and patching up a couple of bloody gashes in my hands. Then I was mobile again. I was exhausted and that suit of armour that had kept me alive until that moment became an unimaginable hindrance.
I could barely hold my weighted arms up to see the sights on my pistols and the tiny slit I had cut open for my eyes was far too narrow. I stumbled over the low, dead branches of the bush and barely managed to keep my footing as I approached the coppers from the rear.
It still gives me great pleasure to think about my final, glorious image and the horror of my enemies as I flanked them in the morning light. I arrived behind them, completely taking the already nervous and sleep deprived police by surprise. I must have looked like some amazing, hulking god in that weak and smoky morning glow.
I could see their backs and their defences and their positions perfectly, and I began to fire at them with wild, crazed shots. I bellowed insults at my filthy, hated enemies as they scrambled to make sense of my surprise arrival.
I was having the time of my life until a lucky bullet destroyed my knee. The pain was unbearable, and I was on the ground, pinned down by the armour as a gang of coppers all pouncing on me like they were afraid I was about to fly away.
When I dropped I had a bullet in my foot and my hand and my leg and my arm and a couple more in my groyne for good measure.
I didnÕt see the rest of the fight, but IÕm told the coppers brought forward a damn cannon with a company of militia to deal with the hotel, so my boys released the last of the hostages. What else could they do?
Joe Byrne, one of my dearest friends and the man who pulled the trigger on Sherritt, was shot dead at five am as he stood to take a final drink of whisky at the bar. In the end, the coppers decided to set the whole building on fire. Apparently, the last two of my Kelly Gang considered surrender, until my sister screamed out to them, ÒItÕs better to burn!Ó
The coppers lit the place up and later found two extra bodies, wrapped in armour and burnt beyond recognition.
Today is the 11th November 1980 and today I will hang. The offence they chose to convict me of was that original shooting when I fired on Lonigan at Stringybark Creek to defend myself. I donÕt care about the men I killed or their families or their sympathisers, I wish I had the chance to kill more. TheyÕll have their revenge, and IÕll be in an unmarked grave somewhere behind the gaol, but IÕll bet you right now, theyÕll still be telling stories about me in a hundred years.
Such is life.
So thatÕs our most notorious villain. Some people admire Ned for his courage, and itÕs been claimed that the police backed him into a corner. Personally, I think the best thing for the mean-spirited liar was a short rope and a long drop.