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Ned Kelly, Bushranger
Cold-blooded killer, or folk hero?
Ned Kelly, June 1854 or 55 - November 1880
By the time Ned Kelly was twenty-four he had spent a lot of time in jail and was considered by the law as a bushranger who was nothing but trouble. By the common folk who knew him or heard of him, he was a folk hero whose family had been targeted unfairly.
After a series of arrests for petty thefts and minor incidents, and what he considered unfair persecution of him and his family, Kelly was on the run again in April of 1878. A report from a young constable, Alexander Fizpatrick, had accused Ned, his mother Ellen, his brother Dan, his brother-in-law Alex Gunn, and friends Bill Skilling and Bricky Williamson, of assault. Fitzpatrick claimed they attacked and shot him in the wrist. He said all, except Ellen, were armed with guns.
Ned's mother was taken into custody with her baby. Williamson and Skilling were arrested. Ned and Dan had escaped, back into the bush country.
The story of the incident was quite different according to the Kellys. They claimed the constable had accosted Kate, Ned's sister, while in their home. The constable had gone there to question Dan on another incident. Insulted and angered, Ellen picked up a coal shovel and hit the constable on the offending hand with it. The men held Fitzpatrick down, bandaged his wrist and let him go. The Kellys denied that any guns were used. They also claimed Ned was not even present at the time.
Even though the doctor who treated Fitzpatrick could not confirm the injury was from a gun and had reported the constable had apparently been drinking alcohol, the judge accepted Fitzpatrick's story as true. Ellen, Skilling, and Williamson were convicted of attempted murder.
Constable Fitzpatrick was later dismissed from the force for drunkenness and perjury. Go figure.
Meanwhile, Ned and Dan were still hiding out. By this time they had met up with two friends, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. They were all hiding out in the Wombat Ranges north of Mansfield, Victoria. The Kelly brothers knew the police would not believe their side of the story of Constable Fitzpatrick so were not about to turn themselves in. They had no clue that a team of police had received tips as to where they were hiding out. One man on this team was Lonigan, Ned's old nemesis.
Lonigan and his partner, McIntyre, stayed in the camp about a mile away from the Kellys at Stringybark Creek. Kennedy, the leader, and Scanlon left to pinpoint where the Kellys were. Apparently, Lonigan and McIntyre did not realize they were so close to the gang and to pass the time they started shooting at parrots. The Kellys heard the shooting and always on guard went to find out who was there. They spotted the police in their camp at Stringybark Creek. Intending to just disarm the police and take their guns and horses, the Kellys approached the camp and surprised the two. McIntyre was willing to surrender, but Lonigan drew his gun. Ned shot him and Lonigan died on the spot.
When Kennedy and Scanlon returned, McIntyre told them to surrender, but Scanlon drew his gun and Ned shot him. Scanlon was now dead and Kennedy made a run for safety. Gunfire broke out and Kennedy was killed. Meanwhile, McIntyre escaped on horseback.
Because of this incident, the Felons' Apprehension Act was passed in the Victorian parliament. This "outlawed" the Kelly brothers and it was now legal for anyone to shoot them on sight.
Kellys' gang went on to commit a series of bank robberies. In Euroa, the Kelly gang robbed the National Bank and took hostages. The gang left the hostages unharmed and got away with a large sum of money. Before leaving the hostages, the gang apparently entertained them with a show of horsemanship. The lore of Ned Kelly was growing fast.
In January of 1879 all of Kelly's friends and sympathizers were arrested. These people were held for three months. Resentment towards the police and the government grew due to the belief that they were abusing their power. The media condemned the government and more support for the Kelly gang from the common folk was overwhelming.
Folklore is often born from actual facts and legends and Ned Kelly was now a legend. He had become Australia's folk hero.
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