Over the weekend, I spent the day in Glenrowan, giving my inner history nerd the chance to finally enjoy the Ned Kelly history the town has to offer. Glenrowan has always been on my to-visit list, so it was great to finally step foot in the town and see all the town has in regards to Ned Kelly. My interest in visiting the town has certainly increased as I've gotten older, but it's since traveling to Forbes and visiting the sites of Bushranger Ben Hall that I've wanted to also get to Glenrowan for Ned Kelly. And since the recent Glenrowan film has been announced - created by those behind The Legend Of Ben Hall - it was the perfect time to visit!
Let me start off by saying that Saturday was freaking freezing! It was -2.5*C when I woke up, with the temperature barely reaching 2*C by the time we reached Glenrowan. Adding to that, it was a pea-soup fog when we left home at 9:30am, with it just lifting before Benalla at about 11am. I'm rarely a morning person, especially on a Saturday, and most definitely when it's the middle of winter, so the idea of going anywhere early on such a cold morning is not my idea of fun - that is until you add the word history and tourist.
When we arrived in Glenrowan, we actually had to drop some things off at a bloke's house just on the other side of Glenrowan, but having to travel this way gave us some amazing views of the valley around Glenrowan, heading towards the Mount Buller region. We could actually see snow covering the mountains on the horizon, which is a sight I haven't seen before.
Onto the important stuff - Ned Kelly. I'm sure most people in Australia are familiar with the story this infamous Bushranger - most notably that he held up the banks of Euroa and Jerilderie, shot police at Stringybark Creek and that he was hanged at the gallows in the Melbourne Goal, bringing to a close the era of Bushrangers in 1880. Bushrangers are an Australian concept, originally referring to escaped convicts during the early years of British settlement. By the mid-1800s, the term had come to describe those who had abandoned social rights and privileges to take up 'robbery under arms', as a way of life, using the bush as their base.
The height of the Bushranger era was the 1850s and 1860s, during the Gold Rush, with the likes of Ben Hall, Dan Morgan and Captain Thunderbolt reigning the New South Wales and Victorian countryside. By the time Ned Kelly rose in infamy, the Bushranging era was already in decline, and the fall of the Kelly Gang eventually brought its end.
Our first stop was the Ned Kelly Museum & Kate's Cottage, which not only had an awesome gift shop, but also held a lot of history and artifacts relating to the Kelly family and Kelly Gang, as well as pieces from the time period. It's only a small museum, but it's crammed with so much history and helps tell such an important and iconic story.
Ned, or Edward, was born to Irish parents John 'Red' Kelly and Ellen Quinn in 1854. Red had been convicted of stealing two pigs in 1841 and was sentenced to seven years transportation, serving his time in Tasmania, then known as Van Diemans Land. Ellen arrived with her parents and siblings in Melbourne as migrants in 1841. Red and Ellen met in Wallan, and after they married in 1850, started to raise a family. Between 1854 and 1863, the family moved from Wallan to Beveridge to Avenal.
Red's drinking continued to worsen over the years and he died of dropsy in 1867, leaving Ellen a widow at 33 with seven children. Ned was just 12 years old. Ellen moved the family to an 88-acre property on Eleven Mile Creek near Greta to be close to her family. It was here where the Kelly's reputation for trouble began.
At 16, in 1871, Ned was convicted for innocently receiving a stolen horse. The man who stole it was given 18 months for illegal use while Ned was sentences to three years hard labour. He served his time in Beechworth Gaol, Pentridge Prison and on the convict hulk at Williamstown. He left prison in February 1874, spending three years in hard, honest work.
In 1876, Ned built a house for his mother on their Eleven Mile Creek property. All that remains of the original home, situated 9km on the Kelly Gap road, is the rubble of brick chimneys. Located behind the museum is an authentic reconstructed replica of the Kelly Homestead as it was prior to 1880. The rooms contain artefacts donated by the Kelly family, some of which were used by Ellen and Ned's sister Kate. Other items are of the period, and may or may not have been present in the original homestead, although it's probable that they were.
It is in this homestead is where Ned's bushranger beginnings took off with The Fitzpatrick Incident.
Throughout 1877, Ned and his American stepfather, George King, headed a major horse stealing gang, climaxing with a major raid on the district's most powerful squatter, James Whitty. When Ned's 16-year-old brother, Dan, became a suspect, a rakish young police constable called Fitzpatrick tried to arrest him at the Kelly homestead. A mysterious brawl erupted - Fitzpatrick swore that Ellen had assaulted him and Ned had shot him in the wrist. Ned and Dan became fugitives while Ellen, with a baby on her breast, was sentenced to three years hard labour at Beechworth Gaol. Ned and Dan had offered to surrender if she was released but the offer was refused.
The next historic incident came in October 1878 at Stringybark Creek. Ned and Dan were operating a gold mine on Bullock Creed, helped by various friends, and on October 25, by sheer chance, a party of four Mansfield police made camp less than 2km away at Stringybark Creek. The next day, the Kelly boys set out to disarm the police and take their horses, accompanied by Joe Bryne and Steve Hart, who happened to be with them that day. There was a gunfight, resulting in three police killed and one constable escaping. The tragedy at Stringbark Creek created the Kelly Gang - Ned, Dan, Joe & Steve.
In December, the Gang occupied Faithfull's Creek homestead, 6km from the town of Eurora. On the 10th, the Gang, minus Joe Bryne, traveled into the town and robbed the National Bank of some £2000, also returning to the homestead with the bank staff, including the manager, his wife and seven children, mother-in-law, nanny and maid.
They then headed north into New South Wales to the town of Jerilderie (which, fun fact, is actually just half an hour from where I've lived my entire life). Between February 8-10 1879, the Gang held up the town, based in the police station and sometimes wearing police uniforms. They again took some £2000 from the bank of New South Wales and rode away from another public relations triumph. It was here that Ned gave us the Jerilderie Letter, although it did not appear in print until 50 years after his death.
After two bank robberies, Victoria increased the Kelly reward to £4000, matched by the same amount from New South Wales - the total worth more than $2 million today.
Although they had success with both robberies, the Kelly Gang disappeared from the radar for seventeen months. So while the Gang hid, the police turned to their friends and relatives, locking them up for months without trial. When this move failed to draw them out, the police drew up a blacklist of Kelly associates who would not be allowed to take up land in the North East. In June 1880, plans were laid to bring the Gang out of hiding. Aaron Sherritt, a lifeslong friend of Joe Bryne, had been a key Kelly agent while pretending to help the police. A detective set out to incriminate Aaron in the eyes of the gang in the hopes they would break cover to kill him.
The plan worked with Bryne deciding that Aaron must die. But while the police were planning to use this to capture the Gang, the Gang planned to use Aaron's death as bait to draw the pursing police into a trap. A trap that would be sprung at Glenrowan. The Gang made themselves suits of armour from plough-steel, readied a small army of supporters and struck.
This where we head to the Siege Precinct, marked with several key spots that were crucial in the Glenrowan Siege and Kelly's Last Stand. Located on the aptly-named Siege Street, these sites are not only marked with historical marks and information boards, but also bollard depicting townspeople, police and the Gang.
On Saturday night, 26 June 1880, Joe Bryne and Dan Kelly rode to Woolshed Valley near Beechworth and killed Aaron Sherritt. Meanwhile, Ned Kelly and Steve Hart held up the tiny railway town of Glenrowan, broke the railway line on a dangerous bend then rounded up townspeople in Ann Jone's Glenrowan Inn and waited for the train that would carry pursuing police. Three hours after Aaron's death, at 10pm on Sunday, a special police train set out from Melbourne.
The train approached Glenrowan in the early hours of Monday, 28 June, only to be stopped by the local school teacher who had been released by the Gang. As police charged towards the Glenrowan Inn, packed with 40 people, including the Gang donned in their armour. They open fired, and although badly wounded in the first few minuted of the battle, Ned left the fight to turn back supporters who had been summoned by misfired signal rockets.
At 3pm, a constable fired the Glenrowan Inn and it was burnt to the ground. Joe Bryne's body was rescued but those of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were charred beyond recognition.
Of the four members of the Kelly Gang, Ned was the only one to walk away from Glenrowan alive. At dawn, after having left the Inn, he returned in a courageous attempt to rescue his men, only to be brought down after a remarkable half-hour gunfight. Close to death, he was captured by police.
The spot where Ned was shot and captured is marked with a plaque, surrounded by a native landscape that feels as though you've stepped back in time. Of course, this isn't what the place looked like when Ned was shot down, but it does feel as though it could have been the scene Ned was faced with over 100 years ago. In the silence, you could almost hear the gunshots ring out.
The plaque reads: Early on the cold Winter morning of Monday, June 28th 1880, the seriously wounded Edward (Ned) Kelly finally fell at this place and was captured, brought down by Sergeant Steele's double barrelled shot gun, fired from across the nearby creek.
Ned, after a Petty Sessions hearing at Beechworth in August, stood trial for murder at Melbourne's Supreme Court on 28 October 1880. The judge, Sir Redmond Barry, sentenced Ned to hang. Although a massive movement was launched to save his life, which included a petition with more than 32,000 signatures presented to the Governor, Ned's execution was scheduled for Thursday, 11 November 1880. At 9am in the morning, a crowd of 5000 gathered outside Melbourne Gaol, and at 10am Ned was led out onto the scaffold. At four minutes past 10, the executioner pulled the lever and Ned Kelly plunged into immortality.
Ned's last words - "Ah well, I suppose it has come to this..." - have been widely interpreted to this day as "such is life."
During the day, we stopped for lunch at the Glenrowan Bakehouse, which has some amazing pies and cakes - highly recommend stopping in if you're ever in the area. And of course, we couldn't not come all the way to Glenrowan without getting a photo with the Big Ned Kelly Statue. It's both taller and smaller than I thought it would be, if that makes sense. But it's such a great focal point in the town.
Glenrowan definitely isn't as big or bustling as I thought it was, and honestly, if it weren't for being such an important part of the Ned Kelly story, the town probably wouldn't have survived on the scale it is - just a few houses and pub on the railway line. But in saying that, it's definitely worth a day trip to visit. There's also the Ned Kelly Story, an animatronics museum that performs reenactments every half hour. We didn't stop in here, but could hear the gunshots every so often.
If you're ever in the Glenrowan region, you definitely need to stop in and see the sights. Even if you aren't big into history, you will certainly enjoy what the town has to offer and the story it can tell. With Ben Hall and Ned Kelly ticked off my list, the next Bushranger to tackle is Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan, who terrorized northern Victoria long before the Kelly Gang. But more on that another time!
See You Soon!
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