[Editor: This article, regarding the trial of Ned Kelly, was published in The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), 6 November 1880.]
Ned Kelly: A sketch in court.
(From a correspondent.)
It was thought best to try the man in the metropolis on account of the alleged difficulty in getting an impartial jury to decide the case in the north-eastern district, and this decision had the effect of gathering together a great crowd of the criminal classes to one place, and stirring their minds up to a red-hot pitch of excitement until they not only regarded the ruffian as a hero, but as a much-abused individual, and one whose death should be avenged. Some of the doggrel written to the memory of his exploits has been sung by urchins at the street-corners for half-pence, and there is not a single youth in his teens in the whole of the city who does not know at least one ditty of the kind. The Wantabadgery affair was not without its disastrous results upon the mind of the youth of the colony. One young man, named Tippo Hayes, who was a sort of hero amongst his mates on account of the police having, as he said, a “down” upon him, when brought before the City Police Court on a charge of vagrancy and insulting behaviour, recited a long and carefully prepared speech, in which he stated that he was a very much abused young fellow, and the police always drove him to gaol as soon as he came out of it. “Don’t make a Moonlight of me, yer washups,” he said; “I am young yet, and my mind is easily led to the downward path,” at which there was a murmur of applause from the audience assembled. But he got 12 months.
The crowd that turned up and congregated around the courthouse on the day of the trial was of a most motley description and curious to behold. There were people of all grades and stations of life rubbing shoulders with each other in the desire to obtain admittance. There were ladies in silks and wretched, ragged creatures, with scarcely enough clothing to cover their bodies, gaudily dressed “swells,” and gentlemen of position, and drink-soddened gutter snipe, and abandoned criminals, all huddled up together like sheep in a pen anxious to get inside the doors of the court. A large body of police, however, was told off to keep out all suspicious-looking characters, and in consequence of this arrangement being carried out to the letter the audience was comparatively respectable, a great portion of it being composed of ladies. When he was taken out of the train at North Melbourne and conveyed to gaol, a crowd of fully 200 females assembled around the railway station, and mixing with the mob of roughs there expressed their pity and sorrow in unmeasured terms. They struggled with the others to get a glimpse of the prisoner as he reclined upon a mattress and was taken away. They called out and waved their hands, and many of them gave way to tears. It is a very pretty and proper thing that woman should feel affected at the sight of poor suffering humanity; but to shed tears over a ruffian who tore up a railway line and openly avowed his intention of shooting every human being who crawled out of the wreck is stretching matters a little too far; but so the case stands, and so the custom will be in all probability for all time.
A little difficulty was experienced at first in settling the people in their places, but at last all was ready, and the figure of Kelly appeared in the dock. There was a dead silence for a moment, and then the murmur of voices remarking his appearance grew so loud that the usher had to call for quietness. The prisoner cast a hurried glance all over the court to look for familiar faces; and Mrs. Skillion, his sister, observing him, half rose from her seat in the body of the court, and made a sign to him. The trial opened with an application on the part of his counsel for another postponement and a fresh lease of life to the prisoner, but his Honor declined to allow it. It was months since he had been taken prisoner, and that was quite enough time for any one — more in fact than was allowed most prisoners. The first day’s proceedings were merely a repetition of the evidence taken on a former occasion, and the prisoner evinced little or no interest therein, save that he frequently communed with his solicitor, and appeared to be dissatisfied with the way in which his counsel was defending him. He was dressed in a suit of tweed, with a white shirt and black necktie, and was singularly unlike any of the portraits which have been published of him. He has small eyes and a heavy, cunning expression of countenance, not by any means brutal or ruffianly in its appearance; yet there is a something in it which tells of the bad passions within, and a treacherous light in the twinkling black eyes which is by no means calculated to inspire a stranger with confidence. The evidence of M‘Intyre, the constable who escaped death at Stringybark Creek when the police were murdered by the gang, filled up the greater portion of the first day; and as the ghastly narrative proceeded the prisoner became visibly excited, and rose once or twice as if to speak. When M‘Intyre said that Lonigan fell at the first shot, and he could hear him breathing heavily and struggling on the ground in the grass behind, and then suddenly lay quiet and was dead, there was a sensation in the court, and a slight scowl passed over the prisoner’s face. As he left the court in the dusk of the evening he waved his sister good-bye, and disappeared.
There was little else talked of in Melbourne that evening. The roughs assembled at the street-corners and discussed the question openly, and canvassed the chances of the prisoner escaping death. It is wonderful the amount of sympathy that was expressed for him, and still more wonderful the number of people in good positions who gave way to a mistaken feeling of pity in his behalf.
As the evidence proceeded on the second day, the anxiety of the prisoner visibly increased. He removed his shirt-collar, and appeared in a gaudily coloured neckerchief, with the ends loosely dangling about him in a “carefully careless” sort of style which betrayed the inward conceit of the man and showed that he held himself in good opinion. He stood in the dock the greater portion of the day and conversed very earnestly and frequently with his legal adviser. As soon as the speech in his defence had been made, a visible shade of disappointment passed over his face, and he seemed as though he controlled his speech by a great effort. When the Judge had finished the prisoner, with a nervous hand, wiped the perspiration which had collected on his forehead, and grew very pale, even to the lips. His eyes wandered restlessly from one face to another as though seeking some ray of pity or sympathy exhibited therein. But they were about the most solid-looking lot of jurymen that could well be imagined, and nothing could be gained by the closest scrutiny. During the early part of the trial he appeared to take the matter rather in the light of a joke, and expressed his carelessness by facetious looks and expressions; and on one occasion, catching the eye of a juryman, he winked. But when he saw how terribly in earnest the proceedings were, he began to realize his position, and all his assumed bravado left him. When the jury returned a verdict of guilty, although he must have expected it, still he was visibly staggered by it, and held fast on the side of the dock. The Judge asked him if he had anything to say why the sentence of death should not be passed, and for a moment he could not find his speech. The silence in the court was intense. Every eye was strained upon him. Every voice was hushed. The papers upon the table appeared to lie without a quiver, and the heavy breathing of several people could be distinctly heard. In one corner a young man who was busy attempting to sketch the features of the prisoner desisted, and held his breath awaiting his words. In the centre of the court sat his sister, Mrs. Skillion, her pale and wearied face wearing a look of anguish which was truly touching; and beside her his cousin, Miss Lloyd, who was at one time his betrothed wife, half arose from her seat, and, with one hand pressed upon her heart and the other slightly extended, formed the completion to a picture at once painful, pitiable, and yet terribly realistic in its stern earnestness.
In a low yet calm voice the doomed man expressed his regret that he had not defended himself, stating that there were many important cross questions left untouched, and many allegations left unanswered. The police were to blame for it all, from the beginning. He had done only what any other man would have done, and submitted to the decision of the Court. His voice died away, and then the Judge slowly but impressively sentenced him to death. His Honor Judge Barry has a most imposing way of delivering a sentence upon a criminal, and one which he, as well as the audience, will be likely to remember.
The prisoner fell back in the dock and clutched the panel with both hands. It was then that one could see the evil passions of the man’s nature. How strongly they surged within and struggled for the mastery. His white face grew whiter still, and the sullen, heavy eyebrows glowered upon the court. His eyes lit up with the fury within him; and, as he cast a fierce look upon the Judge, he savagely remarked that he would go further than the gallows, and meet the Judge there. He was removed from the dock, the silence was broken by the murmur of voices commenting upon the scene, the jury were discharged, the living throng left the courthouse, and silence once more reigned inside. Outside an immense crowd had collected to await the result, and as soon as it was known that the death sentence had been passed the excitement was intense. The people stood about in groups in the street, and for two hours after the court was over persons lingered about the precincts. Mrs. Skillion and her friends were of course objects of great curiosity, and were escorted by a mob of two or three hundred curious persons down Lonsdale-street to the hotel where she lodged. A great many went inside during the evening in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the party, but she kept quiet and in private.
In the back streets of the city the only subject of argument that night was the trial of the bushranger, and everywhere were to be heard expressions of sympathy for his fate. The excitement amongst the criminal classes was intense. Every little item and incident was discussed and rediscussed, and any one who had been inside the court and had been present during the trial was surrounded by a group of eager sympathetic people, and was a little hero for the time being. The races were forgotten, and every one seemed to give way to the feeling of excitement which appeared to prevail over the trial of the most successful and notorious chief of a gang of outlaws that ever set the laws at defiance.
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), 6 November 1880, p. 887 (23rd page of that issue)
Also published in:
The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), 8 November 1880, p. 3 [article entitled “The trial of Ned Kelly”]
The Week (Brisbane, Qld.), 13 November 1880, p. 466 (10th page of that issue) [article entitled “The trial of Ned Kelly”]
Barry = Sir Redmond Barry (1813-1880), judge; he was born in Ballyclough (County Cork, Ireland) in 1813, came to Australia in 1839, and died in East Melbourne in 1880
See: 1) Peter Ryan, “Barry, Sir Redmond (1813–1880)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Redmond Barry”, Wikipedia
doggrel = (an alternative spelling of “doggerel”) poetry which is considered to be of crude, irregular, or rough construction; poorly-written poetry, bad poetry; trivial poetry; (archaic) comedic, burlesque, or humorous poetry (especially of irregular construction)
gaol = an alternative spelling of “jail” (prison)
Honor = an honorific used to address, or refer to, a judge of a law court (e.g. his Honor, your Honor)
metropolis = a capital city; a main city; a large and busy city (especially the main city, or the only city, of a particular region)
Moonlight = Andrew George Scott (1842-1880), a bushranger, who was known as Captain Moonlight (also spelt: Captain Moonlite)
See: 1) “Scott, Andrew George (1842–1880)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Captain Moonlite”, Wikipedia
neckerchief = a piece of cloth worn around someone’s neck (the piece of cloth is usually square, folded into a triangle, looped around the neck, with the ends being tied together)
swell = someone who is fashionably dressed; a toff, a dandy; someone who is socially prominent
Wantabadgery affair = the holding up of the Wantabadgery Station (near Wagga Wagga, NSW) by the bushranger Captain Moonlight (Andrew George Scott) and his gang in 1879
washup = (vernacular) Worship (an honorific used to address, or refer to, a justice of the peace, magistrate, or mayor, e.g. his Worship, your Worship)
yer = (vernacular) you
[Editor: Changed “the portrait which” to “the portraits which”.]