Ten days before he was hanged Ned Kelly claimed that ill treatment and persecution of his family by Police were what drove him to behave as he did. He wrote : “If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the Police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away”. This is the central tenet of the Kelly story, the belief that ill-treatment and persecution ‘exasperated to madness’ and compelled Ned Kelly to take a stand because, as he claimed “There never was such a thing as justice in the English laws but any amount of injustice”
It is of course, quite common for accused or convicted criminals to claim to be innocent victims of a corrupt system, but examples of innocent people being wrongly convicted and even executed for crimes they didn’t commit are rare; they exist but they are rare - most such claims turn out to be wishful thinking. Ned Kellys audacious claim to be innocent is made even more outrageous by the fact that he openly admitted to stealing ‘innumerable’ horses and cattle, to robbing two Banks and to killing three Policemen, and attempting the railway massacre, hostage taking and siege at Glenrowan. Such extreme behavior couldn’t possibly be justified by petty or minor breaches of Protocol by local officials – extreme responses must surely require extreme provocation. To be in any way justified, such extreme behavior could only be a response to an equally audacious program of extreme persecution and corruption, which of course is what the Kelly legend claims was the case. But what is the evidence for such persecution?
In the previous four posts looking very carefully for the evidence of extreme persecution and corruption, what we have seen is that the actual historical evidence, the official records and the newspaper reports from the time thoroughly contradict this claim of Ned Kelly’s. Looking carefully at each one of the numerous interactions between the Kellys, the Police and the judiciary, up to four years before Ned Kelly was hanged, its impossible to find evidence of any sort of systemic or routine persecution or ill treatment of the Kellys, let alone something extreme and harsh enough to justify the crimes of the Kelly Gang. Instead the pattern that emerges is of a system that frequently gave the Kellys the benefit of the doubt, dismissal or reduction of possible criminal charges, offers of sympathetic help, and surprisingly generous remissions of sentence. It was a system that when necessary the Kellys themselves had sufficient confidence in to make use of themselves in private actions. Moreover, when Ned Kelly was in Gaol, and later when he was allegedly ‘going straight’ for a couple of years, the record shows that the Police took no interest at all in the Kellys, leaving them completely alone. That, unequivocally is what the historical records show : zero evidence for systemic corruption, Police persecution and ill treatment of the Kellys.
In this series of Posts I haven't yet discussed the last two recorded interactions between Ned and the Police before he took to the bush after Fitzpatrick was wounded at the Kelly household in April 1878. These incidents were the so-called Lydeker case from 1876, and Neds arrest in late 1877 for drunkenness. I wont discuss either of these cases here because I discussed the detail of both of these incidents a couple of years ago ( HERE and HERE ). Read them and see yet again, they provide absolutely no support for the poor persecuted Ned Kelly myth. The Lydeker case shows Ned once again being acquitted of something he almost certainly was guilty of because of the strict way the Law was followed by the Courts, making a mockery of his complaint that there was ‘never such a thing as justice in the English laws but any amount of injustice’. Neds immature reaction to the arrest for being drunk resulted in the fine he had to pay being 60 times greater than it would have been if he had simply accepted the charge and the minor penalty. I cannot believe there are people who think that Neds violent behavior in this matter ( resisting handcuffs, and then claiming his drink was spiked ) is in any way consistent with a person capable of having high minded political vision about democracy and justice and a Republic. His behavior was typical of a drunken moron.
There remain a few other arguments that are advanced in support of the idea that the Kellys were persecuted, the first of which is the oft repeated claim that Supt Nicolson issued a directive that the Kellys were to be arrested, charged and put in Prison for the slightest of misdemeanors “to take their prestige away from them”. Ian Jones wrote that “This opinion- which seems suspiciously like a directive – is often quoted as proof that there was an official policy of ‘persecuting’ the clan” Peter Fitzsimons wrote “From now on…it is official police policy to look for an excuse to put the family and their cohorts behind bars” Surely THAT statement is proof of Ned Kellys claim that there was a campaign of Police persecution? Well, no it isn’t.! Its actually another of the myths perpetuated by Kelly supporters and repeated by followers who never bothered to read what Nicholson actually said. In any case, he said this in April 1877, much too late in the Kelly saga to give support to the idea that such a campaign was responsible for Neds anti-social behavior. By 1877 he had been in prison twice, and at that exact moment, though Nicholson may not yet have known it, Ned had already launched his criminal career of ‘wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing’
What Nicolson actually said was that in his opinion ‘that without oppressing the people or worrying them in any way, that he should endeavor whenever they commit any paltry crime, to bring them to justice and send them to Pentridge even on a paltry sentence the object being to take their prestige from them, which has as good an effect as being sent into prison with very heavy sentences …and that is a very good way of taking the flashness out of them’ . The very clear instruction was not to do what Peter Fitzsimons carelessly repeats from every other Kelly source, and to look for excuses to put the family behind bars but rather Nicholson makes it plain that the Kellys are NOT to be oppressed or worried ‘in any way’. Nicolsons instruction regarding the Kellys is ‘do NOT provoke them, do NOT attempt to entrap them, do NOT set them up or frame them, do NOT persecute or oppress or worry them IN ANY WAY!. This is the absolute OPPOSITE of a campaign of persecution . However, given the known lawlessness of the extended family of Kellys and Quinns, Nicolsons view was that if they put a foot wrong, the full force of the Law should be applied. What Nicolson is affirming here is the absolute rule of law. And as we have seen, when the Kellys didn’t put a foot wrong, the Police left them alone.
This observation of the fact that when the Kellys were not breaking the Law they were left alone, is exactly the opposite of what would be predicted if Ned Kellys claim about unjust persecution was true.
But what about the Royal Commission some will say? The Commission severely criticized Police for the way they behaved during the outbreak and some of them were censured and demoted or recommended for early retirement and others were sacked. Isn’t that proof of what Ned Kelly claimed, that the Police were corrupt and waged a campaign of ill-treatment and persecution against him and against his family? Such a question demonstrates that the person asking it couldn’t possibly have read the Reports of the Royal Commsission and is simply repeating the myths about it created by a litany of Kelly writers that goes at least as far back as Kenneally and as recently as Ian Jones, Justin Corfield and Peter Fitzsimons. The answer to the question is an absolutely emphatic NO, because the Commission specifically addressed that question and answered it in their findings as follows :
“ It may also be mentioned that the charge of persecution of the family by the members of the police force has been frequently urged in extenuation of the crimes of the outlaws; but, after careful examination, your Commissioners have arrived at the conclusion that the police, in their dealings with the Kellys and their relations, were simply desirous of discharging their duty conscientiously; and that no evidence has been adduced to support the allegation that either the outlaws or their friends were subjected to persecution or unnecessary annoyance at the hands of the police.”
There is no ambiguity or wriggle room in this statement. The Royal Commission, which sat for more than six months and interrogated 64 witnesses, and even visited Mrs. Kelly in her home at Greta concluded there was no evidence to support what we now know is the greatest of the Kelly myths, that the Kellys and their friends “were subjected to persecution or unnecessary annoyance at the hands of the police”
There is perhaps one other response that sympathisers might have - they might say the absence of evidence is what you would expect from such corrupt and devious authorities, because they completely covered their tracks and concealed all the evidence - in other words a conspiracy theory. If that WAS their argument, it would at least mean they had conceded that there was no actual empirical evidence for their ‘poor persecuted Ned’ theory. But, as I have written before, any theory advanced without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
The truth of the matter is that Ned Kellys claim that he was driven to crime by police persecution and ill-treatment is simply a lie. It simply didn’t happen. It’s a myth, and the biggest of Ned Kellys lies, yet another falsehood that he managed to trick many into believing was true, a lie which the Kelly descendants and their supporters perpetuate to this day. The idea that it was Police persecution that drove Kelly to crime is now utterly exposed as a myth, an excuse cooked up by Ned Kelly to direct blame away from himself, where it belonged, onto the scapegoat of the Victoria Police. Ned Kelly, the police made criminal is a myth whose time has ended, its a Kelly story that can safely be consigned to the dustbin of history.