Monday, 21 August 2017

Sir Redmond Barry : A Fantastic Victorian


Its not surprising that Sir Redmond Barry is not liked by people who idolise a police murderer – after all he sentenced Ned Kelly to death.  But criminals and their families and supporters almost never applaud or have anything decent or fair to say about the Judges who put them away, and its no different for the Kelly story. On the Iron Outlaw website -  unsurprisingly given that its run by a dedicated blind Kelly fanatic - Barry was listed as a “Villain” and a short so called ‘biography’ is nothing but a hatchet job on the man. Quotes disparaging him are taken out of context and all the many great and enduring achievements of his interesting life are completely ignored. The truth is that Barry was one of the great founding fathers of Melbourne and his memory will endure. Amongst Kelly fanatics though, he will only be remembered as the man who sentenced  Ned Kelly to death, and that will partly be the result of people like the Iron Outlaw guy misinforming anyone who looks at his website or reads his book. What a pity he hasn’t the integrity to honestly tell the whole story and allow readers to make up their own minds.

So here, to begin the discussion about Redmond Barry is an abridged version of  his achievements from Wikipaedia:

Sir Redmond Barry, KCMG, QC (7 June 1813 – 23 November 1880), was a colonial judge in Victoria, Australia,  of Anglo-Irish origins. Redmond Barry arrived in New South Wales in April 1837 and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. After two years in Sydney, Barry moved to Melbourne, a city with which he was ever afterwards closely identified, arriving at the new Port Phillip Settlement on 13 November 1839. After practising his profession for some years, he became commissioner of the Court of Requests, and after the creation in 1851 of the colony of Victoria, out of the Port Phillip district of New South Wales, he became the first Solicitor-General of Victoria, with a seat in both the Legislative and Executive Councils. In 1852 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Later he also served as acting Chief Justice and Administrator of the government.

Barry was noted for his service to the community, and he convinced the state government to spend money on public works, particularly on education. He was instrumental in the foundation of the Royal Melbourne Hospital (1848), the University of Melbourne (1853), and the State Library of Victoria (1854). He served as the first chancellor of the university until his death and was also president of the trustees of the State Library. He was the first President of the Ballarat School of Mines (1870), which later became the Ballarat University and now Federation University Australia.

Barry was the judge in the Eureka Stockade treason trials in the Supreme Court in 1855. The thirteen miners were all acquitted.

He chaired the committee for the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne, he represented Victoria at the London International Exhibition of 1862 and at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876. He was made a knight bachelor in 1860, and was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1877.

There a couple of other Kelly myths about Barry, beside the one that he was a ‘villain’. One is that after he sentenced Ellen Kelly for her role in the Fitzpattrick affair, he said he would have sentenced Ned Kelly to 15 years in prison for his role in it, if he were there too. The first known mention of this purported remark  is by  GW Hall in "Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges" and then later by J.J. Kenneally and  Max Brown, in his 1948 biography ‘Australian Son’. (Stuart Dawson describes the way this myth grows in the first comment at the end of this Post) The IO fanatic repeats this lie on his website and in his very recent book, and yet many years ago Ian Jones reported there was no record anywhere of this having ever been said. Ian Jones also said it would have been totally out of character for a Judge of Barrys stature and competence to have made such a remark, and he dismisses it as a fable.

The other myth about Barry and Ned Kelly is the claim that Kelly forecast Barrys death. What actually happened was that immediately after Barry had finished pronouncing the sentence  with the words “May God have mercy on your soul” Kelly replied saying “I will go a little further than that and say I will see you there where I go”

I can’t see how that is a prediction of imminent doom, as Kelly fanciers claim. Rather I see it as Kelly mocking the judge and saying, effectively ‘if you think you’re better than me, you’re not and when you die, you’ll be in the same place as me’ Ned Kelly as we know, had an extraordinary way with words and a very quick tongue.

But Barry was an old man, 67 and a diabetic. Three weeks later he died with a complication of an abscess that developed on his neck. But he outlived Kelly, and contributed massively to the cultural richness of Melbourne not only then but even now, through the Library , the Hospital and the University and other institutions that he promoted and supported.

Now, Kelly fanciers thought it was terrific when Aidan Phelan wrote a piece about Ned Kelly that  said this about him : The first thing we need to look at is the debate about whether Ned Kelly was a hero or a villain and why people dig their heels in on a particular side. It’s very easy to forget that Ned Kelly was a living, breathing human being. He had loves, hates, family, friends, skills and talents just like all of us.”


Now, I agree with that, even though its stating the obvious, but I ask, would the Kelly sympathisers extend the same understanding to Sir Redmond Barry?

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Ned Kelly wasn't a bad kid

The green sash incident - ( love the dog!)

In contrast to the wealth of information that we have about the second half of Ned Kellys life, there is very little about the first half. Also in contrast to the second half, which was characterised by criminality and violence, what little we know of the first half suggests Ned Kelly was a fine boy.

Neds exact birthdate and place are unrecorded, but it was thought to have happened near Beveridge.  Ian Jones says it happened in a rental house that Neds father had built on land he bought on the south side of Mt Fraser, aka “the Big Hill”, in December 1854. Many years later, when being taken south to Melbourne by train after his capture, Ned himself was reported to have directed his guards attention to a ‘little hill’ to the left and said “That was where I drew my first breath” As Bill Denheld has noted, heading south the “Big Hill” would have been to the right, meaning either Ned had his wires crossed or else he was born near the ‘little hill’ not the Big Hill. More than 10 years ago the indefatigable Bill Denheld explored the area around the ‘little hill’ with Gary Dean and they found unmistakable evidence of a building site. Bill wrote A proper archaeological dig will prove the dwelling configuration.” As far as I know this hasn’t been done, possibly because almost nobody ever dared question Ian Jones’ assertion that the birthplace was on the southern slopes of Mt Fraser. Bills interesting discussions and photo collection of this site can be viewed on his webpages HERE. The exact truth remains unknown, but clearly Ned Kelly was born near Beveridge.

As Ive previously written, while he was growing up Neds father worked hard to provide for his growing  family. However he carried a heavy burden of guilt for the betrayal that he was involved in prior to his deportation from Ireland, and this fuelled both his determination to stay clear of the Law, but also his increasing dependence on alcohol. Never-the-less he was a law abiding citizen who I believe tried to protect his family from the negative influences of his own and his wife’s wider families and their associates, criminals who were frequently in trouble with the law for assaults, theft and other crimes. In 1863 Ellen attempted to defend her brother-in-law James against a charge of cattle stealing, and took Ned to the court to be a witness for the defence, both of them swearing on oath that James was at home with them when he was supposed to be stealing  13 cattle from a local blacksmith, Thomas Flynn. “Ellen has either told the truth or coached Ned to lie under oath” (Grantlee Kieza in “Mrs Kelly”) James is convicted and sentenced to three years hard labour. One can only wonder at what effect the sombre environment of a Court and his mothers encouragement to tell lies under oath would have had on 8 year old Ned. It would at the least have been confusing.

When a catholic school opened later that year, Ned started school. His teachers, a husband and wife were influenced by non-violent Quaker philosophy and so corporal punishment was rare. Ned learned to read and write to “second class standard” in six months. I am not sure what ‘second class standard’ is but by all accounts this was a worthy achievement.

Early the following year, 1864, when Ned Kelly was nine his family sold up and moved from Beveridge to Avenel, possibly in an ongoing attempt by Red to put distance between his family and the families of  his criminal brother, brothers-in-law and their asociates. They were debt free but had almost no money. They rented land and began to work it, and again proving Reds intent that his children prosper, he sent them back to school at Avenel for 4d each per week. At Beveridge Ned was remembered by a class mate as being ‘a tall and active lad and excelled all others at school games’. At Avenel he was remembered as ‘well behaved’ and ‘a very quiet boy’ However, at Avenel the teacher was much more ‘old school’ and inclined to box students around the ears and use a leather strap to maintain discipline. Later that year when they were all assessed by a Board of Education inspector, Ned passed Reading and Writing but failed Arithmetic, Grammar and Geography. He was second equal with three others in the class of 13 children,and his interest and talent for writing was already becoming apparent! When he was examined again in March the following year he also passed in Arithmetic. His age was noted to be 10 years and three months, the basis for the view that Ned was born in December 1854. Ian Jones (ASL) writes “So the first year at Avenel passed happily and peacefully enough and in November Ellen became pregnant” 1865 however was going to be very different.

Firstly, this was the year that Ned saved Richard Shelton, from drowning. Ned was 10 and big for his age – Richard was 6 – or 7, or 5 depending on which resource you believe. ( Corfield says he was born in 1860) The story is that he had slipped into Hughes Creek trying to retrieve his hat and Ned rescued him. I am not sure what the original sources are for this story, but it is one that lends itself to hyperbole, the stream being described as ‘swollen by recent rain’ and ‘a boiling hole of turbulent water’ by Jones, a ‘swirling torrent’ by Kieza, ‘raging waters’ by Fitzsimons, ‘rushing brown waters’ by Paul Terry -  yet 1865 was known as a year of drought! Forgive  my scepticism but Ned had apparently scammed the Sheltons before, collecting a reward for returning to them a ‘lost’ horse whose disappearance they suspected Ned may have been involved in. The horse was in good condition suggesting it had been looked after by someone who was fond of horses – Ned perhaps ? Nobody seems entirely sure exactly when Neds rescue of Richard happened, except that it was a school day morning, so I wonder how they can so easily remember it had been raining,  but  in any event its clear Richards parents believed the story and were most grateful to Ned for pulling their son out of the water and possibly saving his life. They presented him with the famous green sash, said to be one of Neds most prized possessions and as is well known, he was wearing it when captured at Glenrowan some 15 years later. Its now preserved in the Pioneer Museum in Benalla. I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that Richard, when he grew up never denied the detail of this story but seemed reluctant to discuss it. I wonder if we really know the full story?

The second event of importance to the story that year was Red Kellys theft of a neighbours calf, his arrest and eventual imprisonment for ‘having illegally in his possession one cow hide’ This was Reds first transgression for more than a decade, and it resulted from the pressure to provide for his family, provision that was made almost impossible by his failing health and the drought- an absence of water and an excess of alcohol. He was treated leniently by the Courts and the Prison and released early, ( take note, believers in the myth of Kelly persecution)  but at the end of the year was again before the Court, this time for being drunk and disorderly. The Kellys were poverty stricken, and in 1866 there was no more money to send the children to school.

Instead, as Ian Jones wrote “Red fought a losing battle with the farm and with booze. His liver and heart suffered. As the year rotted away Ned helplessly watched his father destroy himself.”   He died in December. Ned was now 12 and approaching puberty, and he had just lost the restraining hand and cautionary advice from his father at the very time boys need it most. From here on, without Red, everything was about to change - he fell under the influences of his volatile mother and her family, the desperation of poverty and testosterone : tragically,  the ‘well behaved’ boy was going to be transformed into a killer.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Book Review : The Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia

A Gatling gun - one of these was NOT taken by Police to Stringybark Creek

I’m going to make this weeks post a short one because frankly, Ive been very busy with work, and haven’t had as much free time as I usually have for writing Posts. This Post will be especially of interest I hope to people who own Justin Corfields “Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia”, one of the ‘must-have’ books for anyone seriously interested in the Kelly story. I would go so far as to say if you call yourself a Kelly fan and don’t have this book then you’re not serious. I use it all the time.

About a week ago there was a rather unpleasant debate on the True Story Facebook page regarding a Kelly fanciers assertion that the Police took a Gatling Gun to Stringybark Creek. That suggestion has never been made anywhere else anywhere at any time as far as I know, but the Kelly fancier refused to back down, and wouldn’t volunteer the evidence or his sources for his extraordinary claim. With the internet and Google being what they are, finding out  what a Gatling gun is and what it looks like is ridiculously easy, and anyone who bothered to do so would quickly realise the absurdity of the suggestion  that one was dragged into the rugged impenetrable Wombat Ranges in the hunt for Ned and Dan. Eventually, the person who made the suggestion disappeared, cursing and swearing in typical Kelly fancier style.

During this time, I looked at what Justin Corfield had to say about guns used in the outbreak, and though I realise that most Kelly fanciers would not need to own Corfields book – because they already know everything – the entry about Guns might please them but it surprised me, because I thought it created a picture not unlike the one Kelly fanciers believe and I often have seen them claim about SBC, that the Police were ‘armed to the teeth’. Ive never thought that was the case.

There’s much information that’s interesting in this entry, and Corfield writes “There has been much debate over the weapons used at Stringybark Creek”. He goes on to describe the weapons the Gang used and acquired during the holdup and subsequently, and recounts how they got each of them and what happened to them. By the time they got to Glenrowan Corfield says the Gang had ‘at least 15 revolvers, two double barrelled shot-guns, four single-shot rifles, three single-shot carbines,  four repeating rifles and the original sawn off carbine used at Stringybark Creek” Funny that nobody ever says the Gang was armed to the teeth, but of course they were! Corfield says that Neds carbine, the one he said could shoot round corners and that was held together with string, ended up at the Museum of Applied Science in the 1950’s ‘until it was thrown away’ !! What?? Thrown away? By whom? And why? Unfortunately here Corfield provides no further information about this appalling blunder!

Once the narrative documenting the Gangs armoury is completed he finally turns to the Police weaponry in a paragraph that begins:

“The Victoria Police were also heavily armed. The mounted troopers were armed with a Webley revolver and Colt revolvers were issued to foot police. There were also twenty-two .577 calibre single-shot  Enfield rifles distributed among the police of the region. With the shooting of the three Policemen at SBC the Police were issued with four more Spencer repeating rifles, eighty-six breech loading rifles, sixty two Martini-Henri rifles and 256 revolvers.”

All-in-all this does sound like the police were ‘armed to the teeth’, as Kelly sympathisers often say. However, when it comes to SBC this was most definitely not the case. The only additional arms police took to SBC in addition to their standard issue revolvers were a shotgun borrowed from a local Reverend, and a Spencer rifle borrowed from a gold escort the day before they left Mansfield. When the Kelly gang of four with two rifles and a revolver ambushed the two police remaining in the Camp, all the unsuspecting policemen had between them was Lonigans revolver – as near as they could be to being unarmed.  ( Ignorant Kelly fanciers usually say this was a fair fight for gods sake!)  Corfield listed carefully exactly what guns the Kelly’s took to SBC, but neglects to do the same thing with what the police had, and as I pointed out starts his descriptions of police arms with “The Victoria police were also heavily armed”.  In regard to what happened at SBC this is clearly a misrepresentation, and a serious one, given the contentious nature of that terrible incident. One has to assume this oversight wasn't deliberate but it was surely careless. 

In fact, the more I make use of Corfield’s encyclopaedia, the more I realise its author has a distinct pro-kelly bias, as indicated in this entry, where the Kelly  myth about police being armed to the teeth at SBC is perpetuated.

There’s a review of this encyclopdia  HERE. It was written by Alex McDermott, a Kelly scholar of yesteryear who has in the past debated Ian Jones and published a commentary of the Jerilderie letter. Sadly he seems to have dropped out of the Kelly debates ( though I suppose he could be Dee! ) Like me he thinks this encyclopedia ‘is a collection of marvels, built on significant flaws.’ By flaws he refers to the influence of Corfield’s Kelly-sympathetic upbringing on how he chooses to portray the events and people he includes and what he choses to ignore.  McDermott says “I challenge the reader to find in this extensive and voluminous work any one incriminating fact, moment, incident or detail that is not justified, explained away, interpreted with a sympathy that at times suggests prejudice.” 


Overall though, his review is positive, because much of what the encyclopedia covers isn’t in the least bit controversial. It’s the best reference book by a long way, but one has to be aware of its shortcomings. Copies can still be found at Abebooks for $60 - $70 , and I just saw a second hand one advertised on Amazon for $650!! 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Exactly when did Ned Kelly stand up for his family?


On Facebook and elsewhere one of the often-repeated claims made about Ned Kelly was that he ‘stood up’ for his family. The idea seems to be that his family were victims of police persecution from well before Ned Kelly was even a kid, but once he approached adulthood he finally decided ‘enough is enough’, his loyalty and devotion to his family compelled him to take a stand against the corrupt system of policing and ‘justice’, a brave defiant stand that ultimately resulted in his death. The police and the authorities were the baddies, and the Kellys led by Ned were the goodies. Death was a kind of martyrdom.

This is a wonderfully romantic almost classic vision of a true hero, the brave fearless youth who rescued a drowning child, grows up to tackle the goliath of institutional oppression and corruption. Here was a man inspired by what are now claimed to be true Australian values, justice and a fair go for all, embarked on a quest for justice for his family. It is emotionally appealing at every level.

But is it actually true?

The first problem with this narrative, is that the 1881 Royal Commission investigated the claim that the Kellys were persecuted by the Police and most definitely concluded that they were NOT. This is what they wrote :

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. 


Any Kelly supporter who knows that this is what the Commission found, but continues to claim the Kellys were persecuted needs to explain how the Commission got it so wrong. They took evidence from all kinds of people over many months  and even visited Ellen Kelly in her own home, and they concluded not that there was hardly any evidence or only weak evidence of Kelly persecution but that there was NO evidence. Kelly supporters never fail to mention and applaud adverse findings that the Commission made about various Police, but when it comes to this finding, the finding that there was no police persecution of the Kellys, the sympathisers turn a deaf ear, and pretend it was never said. Denial, in other words.

Either they accept the authority of the Commission and all its findings, or they dismiss the entire thing – theres nothing credible about cherry picking findings they like and disregarding ones they don’t.

The other awful problem the people have who believe Ned Kelly ‘stood up’ for his family, is that when you look at what he actually did for his family, very little of it seems to be about ‘standing up’ for them.
Take the incident between Ned and the McCormicks, that resulted in Ned Kellys first imprisonment, in 1871, when Ned was 15. Neds involvement in this dispute was entirely gratuitous, and it had nothing at all to do with sticking up for his family, but as a result of it he was sentenced to three months hard labour for ‘violent assault’ plus a £10 fine or three months hard labour for ‘sending indecent letters to a female’. He was also to provide three £20 sureties ‘to keep the peace towards McCormick and his wife’. After the sureties were paid, his family couldn’t find the last £10, so he ended up going inside for six months instead of three. So Neds support for his mother consisted of brawling in public that resulted in her entire savings being expended, and her oldest son locked up and of no use to her at all for six months. Great help indeed!

Ned was freed from Gaol five weeks early, an inconvenient fact for those who say he was relentlessly persecuted and oppressed by the ‘system’. But did he decide to stay out of trouble so he could help his poor mother? No, within a few weeks he was back inside, this time for ‘feloniously receiving’ and he was gone for nearly three years. Three years of not standing up for his family or being there to defend them. Well done Ned, your mother must have been proud  of you!

Ned Kelly was freed in early 1874, ( and, - another inconvenient fact -  once again received a generous remission of his sentence)  and supposedly for the next two years at least was going straight. So did he NOW demonstrate his devotion to his mother and stand up for his family? Well, by April 1877 , three years later Ned had admitted he had abandoned the straight life working for wages and was engaged in full time ‘wholesale and retail’ stock theft. He bragged about how much money he was making. He said he was living the life of a ‘rambling gambler’ and was apparently well known for dressing well and wearing fine boots. Ian Jones  ( A Short Life) wrote he was ‘ an enthusiastic gambler who spent his money freely on grog for his fellow workers” But during this time when he had regular paid work, and then eventually a very lucrative criminal enterprise, how exactly was he demonstrating his great affection for his mother? Helping her out on the farm? Fixing up the house?

At this exact time, Inspecting Superintendent  Nicolson visited the area and called in to see Mrs Kelly. This is his report from early 1877:

“I visited the notorious Mrs Kelly on the road from hence to Benalla. She lived on a piece of partly cleared and partly cultivated land on the roadside in an old wooden hut with a large bark roof. The dwelling was divided into five apartments by partitions of  blanketing, rags etc. There were no men in the house only children and two girls of about 14 years of age said to be her daughters. They all appeared to be living in poverty and squalor. She said her sons were out at work but did not indicate where and that their relatives seldom came near them.”

“Poverty and squalor” was his mother’s lot, whilst Neds was the life of a ‘rambling gambler’. Later that year when he was fined for being drunk and disorderly, for resisting arrest and for assaulting police in the execution of their duty, he paid the £4/6s himself. At least now he was paying his own fines, but there is little evidence of any particular devotion to his mother, or any evidence that he was ‘standing up’ for her.


However, to give Ned his due, at the end of the year his conscience must have got the better of him because  with the help of Joe Byrne, Williamson and Skillion, he replaced his mothers squalid old hut with a much more substantial place, with actual interior walls.  Morrissey wrote that the old hut was about to collapse and if it had done so, Mrs Kellys selection may have become forfeit. This act, albeit out of almost desperate necessity is about the only thing Ned did that could be said to be for his family. But what son wouldn’t have done that for his mother if he could? Frankly, I don’t see it as an exhibition of something exceptional in Ned Kellys character.  

Four months later, at the new Kelly home, Constable Fitzpatrick was injured , and arrest warrants were issued for Ned, his mother, Dan and two others on charges of attempted murder. Ned claimed he wasn’t there at the time, and was therefore innocent – so did he stand up for his family and demonstrate his devotion to his mother by defending her? Well, no he didn’t, because as he well knew those claims were lies and he disappeared with Dan into the Bush, leaving his mother alone to face the music with her newborn baby Alice.

Later, he tried to make some sort of deal with the police to get his mothers freedom, but it was an offer he knew couldn’t possibly be accepted – it was just grandstanding, a pretence at caring – there still isn’t a case anywhere in legal history that Ive heard of where a wanted suspect has negotiated his surrender on the basis that some other convicted criminal is released. And then of course Ned Kelly made it altogether impossible to do anything for anyone but himself by murdering three policemen at Stringybark Creek and being outlawed as a result. From then on it was all about his own survival.

He robbed two banks and obtained a huge amount of money. But he didn’t use the money to buy legal help for his mother -  he give the money to his supporters and family members who were soon paying off debts and seen wearing smart clothes and buying new saddles. The proceeds of either robbery would have bought some pretty  expensive Lawyers advice but he didn’t bother. And by the time he launched his ill-fated attack at Glenrowan, Mrs Kelly had less than a year to run on her sentence - but Glenrowan wasn’t about Mrs Kelly, it was about murder and revenge, and he was ready to sacrifice not only his own life, but his brothers as well.


So did Ned Kelly really stand up for his family? I think its pretty clear the answer is no -  he created more problems for them than he solved. When Mrs Kelly needed him he seemed to mostly be off having a good time, or else in Gaol, and then for the last two years of his life he was on the run. If he hadn’t built that house I would have said he never did anything but create trouble for his family.