Contributed by Joe Montero
Ned Kelly became and continues to be a national icon and for very good reason. The eldest son of Irish-born migrant settler farmers, grew up where people were routinely bullied by the big landowning squatters. They possessed and water resources, owned the law and did what they could to drive the small land owning settlers away.
The Brisbane Courier on Saturday, 6 November 1880 reported on the public petition circulating at the time to prevent Kelly from being hanged.Despite being signed by 60, 000 Victorians , out of a total population of 850,00, it failed
The sentence was carried out on 11 November.
Dr Amanda Kaladelfos, a history researcher at Queensland’s Griffith University suggest that “Kelly articulated a struggle between rich and poor that resonated with many at a time when the Victorian government’s land policies disadvantaged small farmers, and thereafter during a period of growing Australian nationalism and the rise of the Australian labour tradition.”
Ned Kelly became an outlaw with his brother Dan, with friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, Earlier he had faced arrests for assault and horse stealing, and then, along with Dan, accused of attempting to murder a police officer. A 100 pound reward was put on their heads, a considerable amount in those days. A life on the run and as bush rangers had begun.
Later, a reward of 1000 pounds was put on the gang for the killing of three police officers that had been involved in an attempted ambush.
During a life on the run, the Kelly gang gained further fame for the public destruction of debt contracts on held selectors at the bank in Glenrowan, which had just been robbed. Kelly and his gang became extremely popular. Not only that, the gang joined the local in a celebration, and, so the story goes, danced with the officers’ wives.
However, after being betrayed to the police by a school teacher they were captured after two years on the run. Ned Kelly, the sole survivor, was arrested and sent for trial in Melbourne.
tremendous support for Kelly erupted in Melbourne. Crowds of supporters gathered at the trial.
Opinion on Ned Kelly divided, and this division continues today across class lines. The well to do and privilege saw him as a criminal and a thug. Those who lacked wealth and privilege often saw him as a symbol of resistance to oppression. It is this that made him an thew icon that made him an important figure in Australian history. He is remembered.
Below is reproduced part of the transcript of the trial before Redmond Barry. The words were printed in The Age and Argus on 30 September 1880.
Mr Justice Barry coughed and proceeded to pronounce sentence of death; but as he did so Ned Kelly interrupted him
‘Edward Kelly, the verdict pronounced by the jury is one which you must have fully expected.’
‘Yes, under the circumstances.’
‘No circumstances that I can conceive could have altered the result of your trial.’
‘Perhaps not from what you now conceive, but if you had heard me examine the witnesses it would have been different.’
‘I will give you credit for all the skill you appear to desire to assume.”
‘No, I don’t wish to assume anything, ‘There is no flashness or bravado about me. It is not that 1 want to save my life, but because I know I should have been capable of clearing myself of the charge and I could have saved my life in spite of all against me.’
‘The facts are so numerous and so convincing not only as regards the original offence with which you are charged, but with respect to a long series of transactions covering a period of eighteen months, that no rational person would hesitate to arrive at any other conclusion but that the verdict of the jury is irresistible and that it is right. I have no desire whatever to inflict upon you any personal remarks. It is not becoming that I should endeavour to aggravate the sufferings with which your mind must be sincerely agitated.’
‘No; I don’t think that, ..My mind is as easy as the mind of any man in this world, as 1 am prepared to show before God and man.’
‘It is blasphemous of you to say that. You appear to revel in the idea of having men put to death.’
“More men than I have put men to death, but I am the last man in the world that would take a man’s life. Two years ago, even if my own life was at stake – and I am confident, if I thought a man would shoot me I would give him a chance of keeping his life – I would have parted rather with my own. But if I knew that through him innocent persons’ lives were at stake I certainly would have to shoot him if he forced me to do so. But I would want to know that he was really going to take innocent life.’
‘Your statement, involves a cruelly wicked charge of perjury against a phalanx of witnesses.’
‘I dare say; but a day will come at a bigger court than this when we shall see which is right and which is wrong. No matter how long a man lives he is bound to come to judgement somewhere, and as well here as anywhere. It will be different next time there is a Kelly trial for they are not all killed. It would have been for the good of the Crown had I examined the witnesses, and I would have stopped a lot of the reward, I can assure you, and I don’t know that I won’t do it yet if allowed.’
Eventually Barry replied, ‘An offence of this kind is of no ordinary character. Murders have been discovered which have been committed under circumstances of great atrocity. They proceeded from motives other than those which actuated you. They had their origin in many sources. Some have been committed from a sordid desire to take from others property they have acquired, some from jealousy, some from desire for revenge. But yours is a more aggravated crime, and one of larger proportions, for with a party of men you took up arms against society, organised as it is for mutual protection and respect for the law.
‘ ‘That,is how the evidence came out here. It appeared that I deliberately took up arms of my own accord and induced the other three men to join me for the purpose of doing nothing but shooting down the police.’
‘Unfortunately,in a new community where society is not bound together as closely as it should be, there is a class which looks upon the perpetrators of these crimes as heroes. But such unfortunate, ill-educated, ill-prompted youths must be taught to consider the value of human life. It is hard to believe that a man could have sacrificed the lives of his fellow creatures in this wild manner.
‘It is remarkable that although New South Wales joined Victoria in offering a large reward for the detention of the gang, no person came forward to assist the police. There seems to have been a spell cast over the people of the North-Eastern district which I can only attribute to sympathy with crime or dread of the consequences of doing their duty. For months the country has been disturbed by you and your associates, and you actually had the hardihood to confess having stolen over two hundred horses.’
‘Who proves this?”
‘That is your own statement!’
‘You have not heard me. If I had examined the witnesses I could have brought it out differently.’
‘I am not accusing you. This statement was made several times by the witnesses. You confessed it to them and you stand self-accused. It is also proven that you committed several attacks upon banks and you seem to have appropriated large sums of money – several thousands of pounds. It has also come within my knowledge that the country has expended about £50 000 in consequence of the acts of which you and your party have been guilty.
“Although we have met with such examples as Clarke, Gardiner, Melville, Morgan and Scott, who have all met ignominious deaths, still the effect has, apparently, not been to hinder others from following in their footsteps. I think that this is much to he deplored, and some steps must be taken to have society protected.
‘Your unfortunate and miserable companions have met deaths which you might envy.
‘I will forward to the Executive Council notes of evidence which I have taken, and all circumstances connected with your case; but I cannot hold out any hope to you that the sentence I am now about to pass will be remitted. I desire not to give you any further pain or to aggravate the distressing feelings which you must be enduring.
‘Edward Kelly, I hereby sentence you to death by hanging. May the Lord have mercy on your soul!’
‘Yes, I will meet you there! They’re not all dead yet. It will take forty thousand police to get rid of them. I will return from the grave to fight!”