[Editor: This is a chapter from The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers (5th edition, 1946) by J. J. Kenneally.]
THE ARMOUR AND AMMUNITION.
So quietly did the Kellys live at their old home that the general opinion of the public and some of the police was that the Kellys had gone to one of the other colonies. Sergeant Steele held this view right up to the shooting of Aaron Sherritt. The Kellys wanted more money, but the sticking up of the banks was not so easy now, on account of the preparations of defence made by the bank officials. It was stated that the manager was secured behind a stout wall, which had a porthole in it, and through which he could shoot an intruder without exposing himself to view.
The Kellys decided to get some kind of covering that would resist a bullet at the close range of ten yards. They had heard that an indiarubber coat would do this. After a trial the rubber coat was declared to be ineffective. Then they tried sheet iron. This would resist a revolver, but would not stop a rifle bullet.
The next material to suggest itself was steel. But where could they get steel in suitable sheets? There was a difficulty about this. After some discussion it was decided to test the resisting qualities of the mould-board of their own single-furrow plough. The mould-board stood the test and stopped the bullets of their best rifle at ten yards. This removed their difficulty. It was then decided to commandeer twenty mould-boards from their enemies — police agents or spies — and make a suit of armour for each of the four outlaws. Four mould-boards were required for the body of each armour. The next difficulty was how to make the mould-board straight; how could they take the twist out of it? This was quickly solved by Dan. It was decided that as Dan was a handy man with blacksmith’s tools, he and his cousin Tom Lloyd should make the armour. They secured a big green log and stripped the bark off. They then simultaneously heated the mould-boards in a great hot fire, big enough to get all the mould-boards red hot. They then placed each mould-board in turn on the green log and beat it straight. This was done in a very short space of time. The green sappy log was necessary, because a dry log would become alight from the red-hot sheets of steel. One mould-board after another was straightened on the bank of the Eleven-Mile Creek near Skillion’s. Then the rest of the work was done on the anvil at the old homestead. Each suit of armour had to be made to measure. Great care had to be taken with the first suit. When Ned Kelly had a “try-on” it was considered a great success. The next suit was for Joe Byrne. This suit did not take nearly as long as Ned’s. The armour for Steve Hart was easily done, and Dan’s was the last one to be made. There was only one helmet made, and that was for Ned Kelly. The weight of Ned Kelly’s armour complete was 95 lb., and resisted Martini rifles at ten yards. It is remarkable that the armours were made at Kelly’s homestead, on the Eleven-Mile Creek, while Supt. C. H. Nicolson, having given up active pursuit, was lulling the outlaws into a sense of false security.
It was thought by the police that the armours were made by a Greta blacksmith. This was only a guess, which was made on the assumption that such work could only be done by a qualified tradesman. However unintentional, this was quite a compliment to Dan Kelly and his youthful cousin, Tom Lloyd, who assisted him.
Two full-sized mould-boards were required for the front body piece and two equally large mould-boards were required for the back body piece of each suit of armour. The mould-boards were riveted together down the centre of the front and back. The shaping of the body pieces was carried out on a small green log. The back and front body pieces were held together over the shoulders by strong leather straps, and were fastened together at the sides with bolts and straps. A steel apron protected the thighs in front, and was hung from a bolt in the centre. This allowed the apron to be easily swung to one side or the other, but could be kept in a fixed position, when required, by a bolt on each side. Only one helmet was made, and that was the one worn by Ned Kelly at Glenrowan. This helmet has been identified by Police-Inspector Pewtress as the one now exhibited at the Aquarium, in the Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne. All other helmets exhibited are very rough and clumsy imitations of the original. The helmet made by Dan Kelly and Tom Lloyd rested on the shoulders of the armour, and was high enough to protect the top of the head.
A large sized mould-board was cut to the size required, and an opening was cut out the full width of the face from the eyes down. The narrow strip passing over the forehead was bolted to the other end of the mould-board. A piece of steel was fitted to protect the face and was secured on each side by hinges, leaving a very narrow opening for the eyes.
After the siege at Glenrowan, when raking over the ashes, which was all that remained of Mrs. Jones’ hotel, the police failed to discover the three missing helmets, and three imitations were made at a blacksmith’s shop in Collins-street, Melbourne. It is a matter for regret that these spurious helmets were exhibited to the public and passed off as genuine. It is alleged that a police official, apparently without authority, gave Ned Kelly’s armour with a bogus helmet to a titled millionaire at Sunbury. After completing the four suits of armour, all pieces, cuttings, and trimmings left over were very carefully buried alongside the forge, and within 30 feet of the back door of the old homestead.
MORE POLICE DECEPTION.
Assistant Chief Commissioner of Police Supt. C. H. Nicolson on oath stated on the 7th September, 1881:—
“On my return to that district in June, 1879, I did not discourage the popular fiction that the Strathbogie Ranges were favourite haunts of the outlaws, as I desired to draw public attention from their real haunts, and also to flatter the gang that the police were as ignorant as the public. It was the policy of Mr. Sadleir and myself to keep up this idea of the Strathbogie Ranges, so as to draw them away; but we knew perfectly well they could not make that their haunt — it is not country fit for it.”
The Kellys were now well provided with guns, rifles and revolvers. They also had four suits of armour; all they now wanted was a good supply of ammunition. The “Outlawry Act” made it a little difficult to buy ammunition in a country town. It was therefore necessary to go to Melbourne to get a supply. Rosier’s was the recognised gunshop in Bourke street, Melbourne, and it was arranged that the cousin who helped to make the armour should go with Mrs. Skillion and a friend from Glenrowan way. The three were to go down together. Mrs. Skillion and her cousin blacksmith met the Glenrowan man at Benalla railway station and secured three first-class return tickets to Melbourne. The three called at Rosier’s in the afternoon; they wanted ammunition; they said they were going on a shooting trip on the Phillip and French Islands in Western Port. Rosier had all the ammunition they ordered except that required for a certain rifle. He had some of this class, but not enough. The party paid for the ammunition and said they would call back again next morning at 11 o’clock, as Rosier promised to have the extra quantity in for the rifle by that time to complete their order. In order to establish their bona fides, Rosier was paid £2 deposit on the further supply, for which they would call next day. The Glenrowan friend took the ammunition already secured and left by train that afternoon for Benalla. He disembarked at Benalla, and that night the ammunition was handed over to the outlaws.
As soon as the party left Rosier’s the latter reported to the police the sale of a large parcel of ammunition. “They are coming back again to-morrow morning,” said Rosier; “they are sure to return, because they paid me £2 as a deposit on the further supply of rifle cartridges they want.”
Mrs. Skillion and Tom Lloyd had tea at the Bobby Burns Hotel, and, engaging rooms for the night, they paid for them in advance. They did not intend to return to this place, but in the event of the police following them to this hotel they would doubtless wait for them to return, just as the police were doing at Rosier’s. They stayed at another hotel. Next morning the police came to Rosier’s and planted themselves in the shop ready to pounce upon these unarmed simpletons from the country. They waited till 11 o’clock in their cramped positions, but as country people are not always punctual, the police made allowances, and waited on and on, but the owner of the £2 deposit did not turn up. Again and again Rosier assured the police that his country customers would return, as they had paid £2 deposit.
Mrs. Skillion and her cousin boarded the evening train at Essendon for Benalla.
By this time the police woke up and wired to Supt. Sadleir at Benalla to watch the evening train for the Kelly friends and relatives, and to search the train for ammunition, which under the War Precautions or “Outlawry Act” was contraband of war. When the train drew into the Benalla railway station Mrs. Skillion and Tom Lloyd were detained by the police, while the latter searched the train for ammunition. No ammunition could be found. The police then jumped to the conclusion that the packet must have been dropped from the train between Violet Town and Benalla. Mrs. Skillion’s friend had left his horse in a small paddock near the Benalla pumping station. The police seized this horse as soon as Supt. Sadleir received the wire from Melbourne and stabled him in Cobb & Co.’s stables. When their search of the train failed, the police, feeling somewhat ashamed, told Tom Lloyd that they found his horse wandering in the street and “kindly” took charge of him on account of their “good will” for the owner. The outlaws were now fully equipped with arms and ammunition and with armour; but they were in no hurry yet awhile to levy tribute on the banks.
They attended socials and dances among their friends. On one occasion the outlaws were resting near the Strathbogie Ranges and had arranged with Ben Gould to have a supply of provisions for them when he attended a picnic some distance from Violet Town. Ben Gould had his tent on the picnic grounds and sold hot saveloys to the public. Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne walked into his tent. Ben was thunderstruck when Ned Kelly arrived and said to Ben, “Have you got anything in the back, Ben?” Without answering Ned’s question Ben whispered, “Good gracious, man, don’t you know that there is £2000 on your head?” “Never mind that, Ben, old man,” said Ned, “we’re all right here.” Ben did happen to have “something” in the back and he gave each of the two outlaws a glass of whisky. Ned and Joe mixed with the crowd. Some of the Kellys’ friends recognised Ned, and busied themselves in showing their appreciation of the local constable, who, having come from the city, was a stranger in these parts.
The Kellys’ friends flattered the constable and shouted freely for him. The constable thought that these were the nicest people he had ever met; they were so sociable. He got pretty full, and as the afternoon advanced, someone suggested dancing on the green. Good music was available, and Ned Kelly took the merry constable as his partner in a buck set. Ned thoroughly enjoyed himself, and as the constable had never seen a photograph of Ned Kelly except distorted and extravagant press pictures, and knew for a certainty that the outlaws would not be there, he also enjoyed himself. The constable had not the slightest suspicion that his arms had been around an outlaw on whose head there was a reward of £2000. Towards evening the people began to drift away from the grounds. The constable went home, and Ned and Joe Byrne had a meal with Ben Gould, and then went off with a good supply of rations. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart could hardly credit Ned’s account of the fun that Joe and himself had had at the picnic.
As a neighbour and her two daughters were returning one night from a dance at Greta they felt somewhat scared on suddenly meeting four horsemen, and in the confusion she pulled up her buggy horse. One of the horsemen said: “I suppose you thought we were the Kellys?” The lady replied, “We’re not afraid of the Kellys, they would do us no harm; the Kellys are all right.” “You’re right, old woman, the Kellys won’t harm you.” She then recognised the spokesman to be Ned Kelly. Although police parties were for a time constantly watching the homes of Joe Byrne, Steve Hart and the Kellys, they never seemed to get into close quarters with the outlaws, and if they had been in close quarters with the Kellys the police did not know it. On one occasion, while watching Kellys’ homestead on a moonlight night, the police heard someone playing the concertina, and noticed several horses tied up at the yard and the house lighted up. Suddenly the dog barked, and as suddenly the music ceased and the lights went out. Men were seen moving about. In making a hasty retreat one of the police, Constable Graham, tripped over a log and dropped his rifle, which he did not wait to pick up. He feared the Kellys were after him, and consequently time was more precious than the rifle; it was the essence of the “contract.”
CONSTABLE FITZPATRICK’S DISMISSAL.
Shortly after the passing of the Outlawry Act Constable Alex. Fitzpatrick was transferred to the police depot, and from there he was sent to Lancefield, where he was under Senior-Constable Mayes.
After being only nine months in Lancefield, Fitzpatrick was charged by Senior-Constable Mayes as follows:—
“That he was not fit to be in the police force; that he associated with the lowest persons in Lancefield; that he could not be trusted out of sight, and that he never did his duty.”
As the result of these charges Fitzpatrick was dismissed from the Victorian Police Force.
When giving evidence before the Royal Commission on July 6, 1881, Fitzpatrick was cross-examined as follows:—
Question: How long were you in the police force?
Fitzpatrick: Over three years.
Question: Did you plead guilty to charges of misconduct during that time?
Fitzpatrick: I did, foolishly.
Question: How often?
Fitzpatrick: I could not tell you how many times, but they were very trifling offences.
Question: Did you plead guilty to neglect of duty during the three years?
Fitzpatrick: Yes, for missing the train once or twice in Sydney.
Question: Are you aware that the Inspector-General of Sydney wrote to complain of your misconduct in Sydney?
Question: Were you never told in Sydney, by any officer of police there, that they complained of your conduct?
Fitzpatrick: I was.
Question: You had the opportunity of answering the charge at Sydney?
Fitzpatrick: I did write out a report in reference to that. In completing his answer to another question, Fitzpatrick said:— “There are many constables in the force who have done more serious things than I did, and have remained in the force and got promotion.”
In this latter statement, Fitzpatrick was corroborated by Ned Kelly, who stated that there were men in the police force who were not fit to be there.
* * * * *
From the time Mr. C. H. Nicolson took charge in July, 1879, the only activity on the part of the police was among the police spies. The Kellys handled the police spies very wisely, and through their friends kept them supplied with something new. This was an easy matter, owing to the bitterness of the quarrels which continued between the heads of the police department engaged in the Kelly hunt.
In July, 1879, Supt. Hare returned to Melbourne a broken man; he was completely baffled by the outlaws. The blacktrackers were the only section of the Kelly hunters who were taken seriously by the outlaws. But as the Kellys put in their time between their old home on Eleven-Mile Creek and certain week-end resorts or camping places which they had established in the ranges, they were not troubled by the Queensland blacktrackers. Still, the outlaws held a somewhat exaggerated idea of the tracking powers of the blacks. These trackers were kept under close police supervision, and the Kellys, not being able to get in touch with them, were unable to square them. The sympathisers did not know enough of the habits of the Queensland blacks to attempt to get in direct touch with them. Otherwise the Kellys would have secured their services just as effectively as the services of many spies who joined the “spy brigade” for the purpose of supplying the outlaws with most reliable inside police information.
“THE GREATEST MAN IN THE WORLD.”
Aaron Sherritt regarded Ned Kelly as the greatest man in Australia for clean dealing as a mate and for his extraordinary powers of endurance. Supt. Hare, giving evidence before the Royal Commission, said of the endurance of Aaron Sherritt and the outlaws:— “I say he (Aaron Sherritt) was a man of most wonderful endurance. He would go night after night without sleep. In the coldest nights in winter he would be under a tree without a particle of blanket of any sort, in his shirt sleeves, whilst many of my men were lying wrapped up in furs in the middle of winter. This is an instance that occurred actually: I saw the man one night, when the water was frozen on the running creeks and I was frozen to death nearly. I came down, and said, ‘Where is Aaron Sherritt?’ and I saw a white thing lying under a tree, and there was Aaron without his coat. The men (police) were covered up with all kinds of coats and furs and waterproof coatings, and everything else, and this man was lying on the ground uncovered. I said, ‘Are you mad, Aaron, lying there?’ and he said, ‘I do not care about coats.’ I said to him (Aaron Sherritt) on one occasion, ‘Can the outlaws endure as you are doing?’ He replied, ‘Ned Kelly could beat me into fits.’ He said, ‘I can beat all the others; I am a better man than Joe Byrne, and I am better than Dan Kelly, and I am a better man than Steve Hart. I can lick these two youngsters into fits. I have always beaten Joe, but I look upon Ned Kelly as an extraordinary man; there is no man in the world like him — he is superhuman. I look upon him as invulnerable; you (Supt. Hare) can do nothing with him,’ and that was the opinion of all his (Aaron Sherritt’s) agents. Nearly every one in the district thought him invincible. When the police had a row with any of the sympathisers they would always finish off by saying, ‘I will tell Ned about you; he will make it hot for you some day’; never speaking about the others at all.”
(Is it any wonder that the police, on “double-pay,” instinctively avoided coming into contact with this Napoleon of the Southern Hemisphere?)
Commissioner to Supt. Hare:—
Question: Did you ever ascertain what those traces were on the Warby Mountains? — No, never to this day; and I believe it was the men (Kellys) flying before us. They were as wonderful as everyone said they were; they could fly before us; but if we had had some of Mr. O’Connor’s men on that day we could have got them, I believe.
J. J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers, Melbourne: J. Roy Stevens, 5th edition, 1946 [first published 1929], pages 173-186
[Editor: Corrected “all the mould-board” to “all the mould-boards”; “Rosier‘s was” to “Rosier’s was”; “Grahma” to “Graham”; “eKlly, who” to “Kelly, who”; “(Are you mad” to “‘Are you mad”. Added question mark after “Where is Aaron Sherritt”. Removed quotation mark after the first instance of “helmet” in the graphic caption re. Joe Byrne’s armour.]