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An interview with Ned Kelly

Kelly in chains. Soon after capture. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

For more than a century, considerable effort had been invested in creating an enigma around the life and death of Ned Kelly, which was part of the process which turned a cop killer to a national hero.  Any student of Australian history might notice Kelly’s image makeover as someone fighting the British colonial authorities championing rural Irish underclass was deliberate and planned. But listening to Ned Kelly’s own version of incidents that became part of Australian history is altogether a different experience. Here we are bringing two interviews given by Ned Kelly after his capture, which may interest anyone with some enthusiasm for Australian History. This reproduction is for ordinary people who never find time to do a bit of research to unravel the Kelly Mystery.

Capture of Ned Kelly. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893)  Published on Thursday 1 July 1880


After the house had been burned, Ned Kelly’s three sisters and Tom Wright were allowed an interview with him. Tom Wright as well as the three sisters, kissed the wounded man, and a brief conversation ensued, Ned Kelly having, to a certain extent, recovered from the exhaustion consequent on his wounds. At times his eyes were quite bright, and, although he was of course excessively weak, his remarkably powerful physique enabled him to talk rather freely. During the interview he stated:

Hanging of Ned Kelly. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

“I was at last surrounded by the police, and only had a revolver, with which I fired four shots; but it was no good. I had half a mind to shoot myself. I loaded my rifle but could not hold it after I was wounded. I had plenty of ammunition, but it was no good to me. I got shot in the arm and told Byrne and Dan so. I could have got off, but when I saw them all pounding away, I told Dan I would see it over and wait till morning.”

Jesse Dowsett was the train guard on the special train which took the police to Glenrowan for the capture of the bushranger Ned Kelly. Man three-quarter length, full face, white goatee beard and moustache, seated holding a revolver in his right hand and boot with hole in side.. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

“What on earth induced you to go to the hotel?” inquired a spectator.

“We could not do it anywhere else,” replied Kelly, eyeing the spectators who were strangers to him suspiciously. “I would,” he continued, “have fought them in the train, or else upset it if I had the chance. I did not care a — who was in it, but I knew on Sunday morning there would be no usual passengers. I first tackled the line, and could not pull it up, and then came to Glenrowan station.”

Kate Kelly – Sister of Ned Kelly. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

“Since the Jerilderie affair,” remarked a spectator, “we thought you had gone to Queensland.”

“It would not do for everyone to think the same way,” was Kelly’s reply. “If I were once right again,” he continued, “I would go to the barracks and shoot every one of the — traps, and not give one a chance.”

Kelly in chains. Soon after capture. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

Mrs. Skillian to her brother: “It’s a wonder you did not keep behind a tree.”

Ned Kelly: “I had a chance at several policemen during the night, but declined to fire; my arm was broken the first fire; I got away into the bush and found my mare, and could have rushed away to beggary, but wanted to see the thing out, and remained in the bush.”

Ned Kelly’s Armour. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

A sad scene ensued when Wild Wright led Mrs. Skillian to the horrible object which was all that remained of her brother Dan. She bent over it, raised a dirge-like cry, and wept bitterly. Dick Hart applied for the body of his brother, but was told he could not have it till after the post-mortem examination.

The inquest on the bodies will be held at Benalla.

The following additional particulars are from the Evening News:


Glenrowan, Tuesday.

I interviewed Mrs. McDonnel, the landlady of the Railway Tavern, at Glenrowan, this morning. She stated: Early on Sunday morning I was awakened by my husband getting out of bed. He went outside, and someone, who turned out to be Ned Kelly said,

“Don’t you know me?” My husband said “No” “Oh! you must know me, I’m Ned Kelly;” and he laughed whilst he said it. So did the others. He then asked to see me, and being told that I was in bed, he pushed open the door and said, “How are you, Mrs. Mac?” I said, “Who are you? He said,

Ned Kelly’s arrival in Melbourne. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

“I’m Kelly! get up and dress yourself.” I then got up and went out and saw Hart and Byrne outside on horseback. I at once recognised Ned Kelly, and said, “Oh, Ned, how altered you are!” He said, “Don’t call me Ned, my name is Jack Hoyle,” then they all laughed. They had not got on the armour-plates then, and did not put them on until Sunday night, when the police came. Hart went by the name of Collie, and Byrne was called “Sugar.” That was because he was so sweet on the girls. Byrne asked me if I knew him, and I said I did not know him as Byrne. He said “No, I thought not; I have been here often enough under another name.” I then remembered having seen him several times at my house, during the past six months. After they had had a drink they talked quite pleasantly with me and my husband. Ned Kelly told us that we were wanted over at Mrs. Jones’s hotel, and said, ” You must all go over there, children and all.” He then went over the gatehouse and they left Hart to guard us all. The women were kept there all-day Sunday. The outlaws were very civil and joked and laughed with us constantly. They brought us brandy when we required it. Hart said that he had drank six nibblers of brandy, and it was so bad that if he took another, he thought he would lose his head. During the day Ned Kelly amused himself and the others by various games, and he boasted that he could jump further than any other man.

Auntie Maggie Ned Kelly’s sister, Maggie Skilling . Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

He also got up a bit of a dance with the ladies there, and none of us were afraid. In the afternoon he rode off to find Bracken, the constable, as he wanted his horse, and brought him back. We were all then put into the hotel. We made tea and took our meals with the Kellys, but they forced us to taste everything before they eat it themselves. We all lay down at night and were easy in our minds.

Parting of Ned Kelly and his cousin, Miss Lloyd, at Benalla railway station. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

They told us we would be let go as soon as the Beechworth train was smashed up, when suddenly we heard the whistle of the engine, and just then Dan said, “That Bracken has gone.” Ned called out to them to stand by the house, and they went into the verandah. The train came up slowly, and some police got out at the station. We could see they were greatly excited and gesticulating wildly. Then several of them came marching up to the hotel. Dan said, “Give it to them, boys,” and they all fired. We saw one of them fall, and then they scattered and began to fire at us. The bullets came into the house from every direction, and the women were very much afraid and kept screaming. One of the bullets struck Mr. Jones’s poor little boy, and he said, “Oh! mother, I am shot,” and fell down on the floor. Mrs. Jones screamed, and we lifted him on to the bed. Just after this another bullet struck the girl in the head, but she pulled it out with her finger, and is all right now. It was only a half-spent ball. Ned left us soon after daylight to look after the horses. He had got on his armour, and said,

“It’s all right, boys, they can’t hurt me.”

Soon after we saw them fire at him from the back of the house. He fell. Dan shouted with rage when he saw his brother fall, and rushed outside shooting at everyone. He could see he was struck in the leg, and forced to come back. Someone outside called out to let out the women and the boys.

Young Delaney and my little boy Jack asked Dan to let them go, saying they might as well be shot outside as in, and then they let us all out one at a time. A line repairer climbed up a telegraph pole to fix on a wire, and he did a brave thing, for the bullets whistled all round him, but he was lucky and escaped.

Ned’s two sisters soon after came up, and Mrs. Skillian wanted to go into the house, but Mr. Sadlier would not let her go. Father M’Gibony then said he would go, but they kept him back. They soon after set fire to the hotel, one constable going to the side with a big bunch of straw, soaked in kerosene, and the police kept firing at the other side all the time, but they were all dead then. As soon as the place was blazing, the priest walked to the doorway, and looked inside. He then waved his hat as a signal that all was right and dragged old Cherry out.

He received the dying man’s last words and gave him the sacrament. The bodies of Dan and Steve were found lying side by side in an inner room. They had shot themselves and lay down dead together. Father M’Gibony attended to Ned and gave him consolation. Ned seemed to be very sorry for what he had done, and said it was not his fault. He says that he says his prayers every night and is a God-fearing man. I believe he is too; but he was driven to crime. The people came up in hundreds to the station and crowded round to see the dead bodies. It was a pitiful sight to see the two poor girls holding Ned head and bathing his temples. Kate was self-possessed, and scarcely cried, although one could see how she suffered. Miss Lloyd, Ned’s cousin, who was very fond of him, went down to Benalla. She will break her heart, poor girl, if he is hanged. I hope he will not be, for it was a dreadful day’s work for them all shooting at innocent people, and not caring whom they hurt.”

Melbourne, 12.20 p.m.

The police who most distinguished themselves were sergeant Steele and senior-constable Kelly, who captured Ned, Superintendent Hare, constable Brachen, Lieutenant, O’Connor, of the Queensland Police, one of the black trackers, and a few others out of about 60 in all engaged. This morning a crowd of curious people came up to Glenrowan from different parts of ithe country. The ruins of the hotel were scanned eagerly, and all relics in the shape of kives, forks, bullets, empty cartridge cases, were seized upon. Some of the bullets lodged in the stockyard fence, and these were at once cut out and appropriated. The spot where Ned Kelly fell was also a subject of great interest, and some leaves with blood upon them were taken away as treasures. The burnt corpses of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were taken away to Greta by their friends. That place was in a great state of excitement all night, and Mrs. Skillian’s hut being crowded with sympathisers. Wild Wright stayed at Mrs. M’Donnell’s Railway Tavern last night and talked to her in whispers all night. Both of them seemed to be greatly affected. There were some thousands of people at Glenrowan yesterday. The two charred corpses were laid down at the railway platform, and Mrs. Skillian divided her attention between them and Ned Kelly. She was very violent and cursed and abused the police all the time she was there. Ned Kelly’s sisters went over to Greta where the remains of those burned were taken. Ned Kelly was brought down to Melbourne this morning by the early train and will get to town at 2 o’clock. The man who ran down the line on Sunday night when the special train arrived, is a schoolmaster at Glenrowan named Curnel. He is afraid the Kelly sympathisers will retaliate. He was sent to Benalla with his wife and family. A magisterial inquiry will be held upon the bodies of Byrne and Cherry. The platelayer, who was shot by Ned Kelly, is much better to-day, and looks very well, and, although he is weak, his wounds are mere flesh wounds, and not dangerous. A little boy, a son of Mrs. Jones, hotelkeeper, who was wounded slightly, died this morning in the Wangaratta hospital from exhaustion following the excitement of yesterday, and the loss of blood from the wound. Matters are quiet at Glenrowan

The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 – 1954) Sat 14 Aug 1880


The following embodies the major portion of a conversation between an Age reporter and Ned Kelly in the Beechworth gaol: —

Reporter: You have said you were harshly and unjustly treated by the police, and that you were hounded down by them. Can you explain what you mean?

Kelly: Yes. I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life, or that one fault justifies another, but the public in judging a case like mine should remember that the darkest life may have a bright side, and that after the worst has been said against a man, he may, if he is heard, tell a story in his own rough way that will perhaps lead them to mitigate the harshness of their thoughts against him, and find as many excuses for him as he would plead for himself. For my own part I do not care one straw about my life now for the result of the trial. I know very well from the stories I have been told of how I am spoken of, that the public at large execrate my name; the newspapers cannot speak of me with that patient toleration generally extended to men awaiting trial, and who are assumed according to the boast of British justice, to be innocent until they are proved to be guilty; but I do not mind, for I have outlived that care that curries public favour or dreads the public frown. Let the hand of the law strike me down if it will, but I ask that my story might be heard and considered; not that I wish to avert any decree the law may deem necessary to vindicate justice, or win a word of pity from anyone. 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 ill-treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away. People who live in large towns have no idea of the tyrannical conduct of the police in country places far removed from Court. They have no idea of the harsh and overbearing manner in which they execute their duty, or how they neglect their duty and abuse their powers.

Reporter: Can you give any instance of which you complain?

Kelly: I can. Mc Intyre in his evidence said I told him Lonigan had given me a hiding in Benalla. It is not true that I ever said this to McIntyre. But I will tell you what the real facts are, which probably McIntyre may be acquainted with. Some time ago I had been drinking, and I think I was drugged, and I was arrested for some trifling offence—riding over a footpath, I believe—and lodged in the lock-up. On the following day, when I was taken out of the lock-up, and still dazed, I escaped, and was pursued by the police. I took refuge in a shoemaker’s shop, and four constables soon came in after me. They, assisted by the owner of the shop, tried to put the handcuffs on me, but failed. In the struggle that ensued my trousers were almost torn off me. Finding me a more difficult man to manage than they expected, Lonigan seized me in such a manner—a cruel, cowardly and disgusting manner—that he inflicted terrible pain on me ; but still I would not surrender. The act of Lonigan, which cannot be described, might have ruined me for life, if it did not actually kill me. While the struggle was still going on a miller came in, and, seeing how I was being ill-treated, said the police should be ashamed of themselves, and he endeavoured to pacify them and induce me to be handcuffed. I allowed this man to put the handcuffs on me, though I refused to submit to the police. 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.

Reporter: That is one of the examples you give, of an exasperating character, of the harsh treatment indulged in by the police.

Kelly: It is. In the course of this attempted arrest, Fitzpatrick endeavoured to catch hold of me by the foot, and in the struggle, he tore the sole and heel of my boot clean off. With one well-directed blow I sent him sprawling against the wall, and the staggering blow I then gave him partly accounts to me for his subsequent conduct towards my family and myself.

Reporter: Now Kelly, what is the real history of Fitzpatrick’s business? Did he ever try to take liberties with your sister Kate?

Kelly: No; that is a foolish story. If he or any other policeman tried to take liberties with my sister, Victoria would not hold him.

Reporter: Then what is the real story?

Kelly: I will tell you. I declare to you that I felt more keenly than I can express the unjust treatment meted out to my mother, who was arrested with a baby at her breast and convicted of a crime of which she was innocent.

Reporter: Tell me the whole story of that affair.

Kelly: I will. My mother, her son-in-law Skillian, and a man named William Williamson, were, on the 12th October 1878, at the Beechworth assizes, by Sir Redmond Barry, sentenced my mother to three years, Skillian and Williamson to six years each. Williamson is not related to us; he occupied land at Greta. The only witness of the alleged attempt at murder was Constable Fitzpatrick, who has since been dismissed from the police force. His evidence, I declare, is fully false. On the 12th of October my mother, brother-in-law, and Williamson were sentenced, and the police started to arrest my brother Dan and me on the 25th October, or thirteen days after my mother was sentenced. Now the following is a true version of the affair. I think a warrant had been issued at Chiltern for Dan’s arrest on a charge of horse stealing, of which he was quite innocent. Before this warrant could reach Fitzpatrick, he somehow became aware of it and started out to Greta to arrest Dan. He got drinking at some place in the neighbourhood while he was watching for Dan to come home. He saw Dan outside the house and said to him, “Dan, I want you to come into town with me.” “Now,” said Dan, “I don’t care to come into town; I have no business with you.” “Oh,” said Fitzpatrick, “There is a warrant against you for horse-stealing.” “Very well,” said Dan; “if that is the case I will go with you; but I have just come in from a long ride, so let me have something to eat before I go.” Thereupon the two went into my mother’s place. Dan did not like to tell my mother, and Fitzpatrick was silent, but after a little time said he was going into town with Fitzpatrick, and, my mother wanting to know what for, Fitzpatrick said, “There is a warrant out against him, and I have arrested him.” “Well,” said

Dan, “you have said so much about a warrant.Show us your warrant.” Fitzpatrick said, “I have got no warrant, but a telegram came saying there was a warrant out for you.” “Well,” says my mother, who was putting some fire on the oven in which she was baking bread, “I don’t see why any man should be taken on the mere word of a policeman, and Dan you need not go unless you like.” Fitzpatrick once drew his revolver and covered my mother with it, saying “I will blow your brains out if you interfere.” My mother said to Fitzpatrick, “You would not be so ready to show that pop- gun of yours, if Ned was here.” Instantly, Dan, with the view of distracting Fitzpatrick’s attention, cried out “There is Ned coming along by the side of the house.” Fitzpatrick at once fell into the ruse and looked in the direction indicated by Dan, but I was not in fact within 200 miles of the place at the time. Directly Dan saw Fitzpatrick’s attention was taken off him, he rushed Fitzpatrick, disarmed him, emptied his revolver,gave it him back, and let him go, not offering him any violence whatever. A day or two afterwards my mother, Skillian, and Williamson, both of whom were not present on that occasion, were arrested on a charge of aiding and abetting an attempt by me to murder Fitzpatrick, and were confined six months before they were tried in May of 1878. A reward of £100 was offered for my apprehension for this alleged attempt at murder.

At the trial Fitzpatrick swore I shot him in the wrist, and he was afterwards compelled to submit to the cutting out of the bullet. I now know the position in which I stand, and now declare to God, Fitzpatrick’s statement is false from beginning to end. My version may be doubted, but there are one or two facts that help me. Fitzpatrick has been since dismissed from the force. Dr. Nicholson gave evidence that Fitzpatrick’s wound might have been caused as stated by him, but that he had not probed the wound; however, since the trial the doctor has told Fitzpatrick that his wound was never caused by a bullet. I believe Fitzpatrick, in order to give a colour to his story, and to relieve himself for his failure to arrest Dan, inflicted a mere flesh wound on his wrist, but whether or not it was so I declare that his statement affecting me was wilfully and deliberately false, for I was not within hundreds of miles of that place at the time, and I never at any date shot at Fitzpatrick. From the time my mother was arrested, up to her sentence, Dan and myself kept out of the way, and were earning our living quietly by digging. As soon as my mother’s conviction had been obtained in that way, the police evidently made a determined effort to earn the reward. That, I believe, had then been increased to £200. They may have intended to apprehend us, but I firmly believe they only wanted the slightest pretext to shoot both my brother and myself.

Reporter: I have received a letter from a lady in Melbourne who requests me to put this question to you—Did you ever come to her house and ask to see her husband? Because the lady writing the letter says she felt convinced, from the likeness she saw in the Sketcher, that a man identical in appearance with the likeness named called at her house some time ago and asked for her husband. At the time he called she says she and her daughter were both under the impression it was Ned Kelly.

Kelly seemed greatly amused, and said he had never called there, and expressed a desire to see the Sketcher. Upon this Mr. Gaunson asked if he was not allowed to see the papers, and he said he knew nothing of what was going on except what he might be told. Mr. Gaunson said he would show him the Sketcher, and on his visit on Sunday evening he took him up the Sketcher to look at. He was evidently much gratified by the sight of a newspaper. He intently studied the picture which has appeared in the Sketcher, and said, “It is a mere fancy sketch of a bushman, and in no way like me.”

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