Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Cold-blooded killer, or folk hero?
Ned Kelly, June 1854 or 55 - November 1880
With the anger and resentment of the local folks growing towards police and government, Kelly's gang became folk heroes. They still felt Ned and his family were unfairly targeted from the beginning. After the friends and sympathizers of Kelly were arrested this did not ease the resentment any -- it only added to the feeling of sympathy for Ned Kelly and built on the legends.
February 8, 1879 was a Saturday none in the area would ever forget. Kelly's gang pulled off a raid that was so outrageously daring and cleverly thought out, it is still talked about today. New folklore is probably added to it every time the story is told.
Kelly and his gang came riding into town and broke into the police station. They took two officers, Richards and Devine, and locked them up in the jail cell. The gang changed into police uniforms and strolled around the town. When people noticed new officers around, Kelly and his friends said they were there to help out. They were "reinforcements from Sydney" they told the people.
Come Monday, some folks found themselves in a back parlour of the Royal Mail Hotel. They had been taken by force by the Kelly gang. Drinks on the house were ordered and given to the hostages by two members of the gang -- meanwhile, Ned and Joe Byrne robbed the bank of 2,414 pounds. Before leaving the bank, Kelly decided to burn all the mortgage deeds of the townspeople that the bank was holding.
Once again, the Kelly gang disappeared and could not be found. A reward totaling 8,000 pounds was now on their heads. Nothing was heard or seen of the Kelly gang until June of 1880. However, towards the end of March in 1879, Margaret and Kate, Ned's sisters, caused quite a ruckus.
The sisters wanted to purchase passage for "five gentlemen friends" to California on the Victoria Cross, which was anchored in Melbourne. They spoke with the captain of the ship. On the last day of March, a "suspicious looking man" approached the captain to confirm the passage. No arrangements had yet been made, so the captain said he would meet with him later at the General Post Office after checking on availability and costs.
The captain then alerted the police who placed several detectives throughout the post office. Much to their chagrin, the man never returned. Apparently the sisters or someone else had alerted Ned about the sting. The government posted a Notice of Withdrawal of Reward for the Kelly gang and stated that the reward would be cancelled after July 20, 1880. They must have had the opinion that this notice would encourage people to go after Ned sooner.
Ned was pretty good at hiding, but could he trust all his friends?
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