Interview with Ned Kelly [14 August 1880]

[Editor: In this interview with a journalist, Ned Kelly gives his side of the story, including a statement that he did not shoot Constable Fitzpatrick. Published in The Mercury, 14 August 1880.]

Interview with Ned Kelly.

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 any one. 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. McIntyre 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 foully 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.”

The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Saturday 14 August 1880, supplement page 2

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