The Cameron letter [by Ned Kelly, 1878]

[Editor: This was a letter composed by Ned Kelly in 1878 and sent to Donald Cameron (a Victorian politician).]

[Background information: On 9 December 1878, the Kelly Gang took over Younghusband’s station property at Faithfull’s Creek near Euroa. Twenty-two people at the sheep-station were rounded up and locked in a storeroom while the Gang’s horses were rested. The next day, Ned, Dan and Steve (Joe Byrne was left to guard the prisoners) then drove into Euroa in a commandeered hawker’s cart, where they robbed (without physical violence) the National Bank in the main street of £2260 in notes and gold. They then returned to the property to pick up Joe, and rode off on fresh horses (after entertaining their prisoners with an impromptu trick riding exhibition). An artilleryman, who was stationed in the town soon afterwards, said that “The people in the bank told me that with the exception of the robbers taking the money, they never offered the slightest insult to anyone. I also visited the Younghusbands station where Joe Byrne was sentry over thirty persons while the others were in the bank, and was told everywhere that the outlaws were undoubtedly police-made criminals”. Some of the hostages held at Younghusband’s station reported witnessing Joe at work on a long letter. The letter seems to have been prompted by the reports of Donald Cameron (a Victorian politician) criticising in Parliament (14 November 1878) the progress of the police hunt for the gang. After the Euroa robbery, two copies of the letter were posted, one to Cameron, the other to Superintendent John Sadleir, the officer in charge of the police in the north-east district; it is believed that at least one of the letters was posted in Glenrowan, a few days after the Euroa robbery; Cameron received his copy on 17 December.]

[The Cameron letter]

Edward Kelly
Posted at Glenrowan
Date Dec. 14.

Dear Sir,

Take no offence if I take the opportunity of writing a few lines to you wherein I wish to state a few remarks concerning the case of Trooper Fitzpatrick against Mrs Kelly, W. Skillion & W. Williamson and to state the facts of the case to you. It seems impossible for me to get any justice without I make a statement to some one that will take notice of it as it is no use in me complaining about anything that the Police may choose to say or swear against me and the public in their ignorance and blindness will undoubtedly back them up to their utmost.

No doubt I am now placed in very peculiar circumstances and you might blame me for it but if you knew how I have been wronged and persecuted you would say I cannot be blamed. In April last an information was (which must have come under your notice) sworn against me for shooting trooper Fitzpatrick which was false and my mother with an infant baby and Brother-in-law & another neighbour was taken for aiding and abetting and attempting to murder him, a charge of sir they are as purely innocent as the child unborn.

During my stay on the King River I ran in a wild bull which I gave to Lydicher who afterwards sold him to Carr & he killed him for beef. Sometime afterwards I was told I was blamed for stealing this bull from Whitty. I asked Whitty on Moyhu racecourse why he blamed me for stealing his bull; he said he had found his bull and he never blamed me for stealing him. He said it was Farrell who told him that I stole the bull.

Sometime afterwards I heard again I was blamed for stealing a mob of calves from Whitty and Farrell which I never had anything to do with and along with this and other talk I began to think they wanted something to talk about. Whitty and Burns not being satisfied with all the picked land on King River and Boggy Creek and the run of their stock on the certificate found free and no one interfering with them Paid heavy rent for all the open ground so as a poor man could not keep any stock and impounded every beast they could catch even off government roads; if a poor man happened to leave his horse or bit of a poddy calf outside his paddock it would be impounded.

I have known over 60 head of horses to be in one day impounded by Whitty and Burns, all belonging to poor men of the district; they would have to leave their harvest or ploughing and go to Oxley and then perhaps not have money enough to release them & have to give a bill of sale or borrow the money which is no easy matter & along with all this sort of work Farrell the Policeman stole a horse from George King and had him in Whitty and Jeffrey’s paddock until he left the force and this was the cause of me & my stepfather George King stealing Whitty’s horses and selling them to Baumgarten and those other men; the pick of them was sold at Howlong and the rest was sold to Baumgarten who was a perfect stranger to me and I believe an honest man.

No man had anything to do with the horses but me and George King. William Cooke who was convicted for Whitty’s horses had nothing to do with them nor was he ever in my company at Peterson the German’s at Howlong. The brand was altered by me and George King and the horses were sold as straight. Any man requiring horses would have bought them the same as those men and would have been potted the same and I consider Whitty ought to do something towards the release of those innocent men otherwise there will be a collision between me & him as I can to his satisfaction prove I took J Welshe’s black mare and the rest of the horses which I will prove to him in next issue & after those horses had been found and the row being over them I wrote a letter to Mr. Swannall of Lake Rowan to advertise my horses for sale as I was intend to sell out.

I sold them afterwards at Benalla and the rest in New South Wales & left Victoria as I wished to see certain parts of the country and very shortly afterwards there was a warrant for me & I since hear the Police Sergeant Steel, Straughan & Fitzpatrick and others searched the Steven Mile & every other place in the district for me and a man named Newman who had escaped from the Wangaratta Police for months before the 15th of April. Therefore it was impossible for me to be in Victoria as every schoolboy knows me and on the 15th of April Fitzpatrick came to the Steven Mile and had some conversation with Williamson who was splitting on the hill; seeing my brother and another man he rode down and had some conversation with this man whom he swore was William Skillion; this man was not called in Beechworth as he could have proved Fitzpatrick’s falsehood as Skillion and another man was away after horses at this time which can be proved by eight or nine witnesses; the man who the trooper swore was Skillion can prove Williamson’s innocence besides other important evidence which can be brought on the prisoner’s behalf. The trooper after speaking to this man rode to the house and Dan came out; he asked Dan to go to Greta with him. Dan asked him what for and he said he had a warrant for him for stealing Whitty’s horses.

They both went inside; Dan was having something to eat. The Trooper was impatient & Mrs. Kelly asked him what he wanted Dan for and he said he had a warrant for him. Dan said produce your warrant & he said he had none, it was only a telegram from Chiltern. Mrs. Kelly said he need not go unless he liked without a warrant. She told the trooper he had no business on her premises without some authority besides his own word. He pulled out his revolver and said he would blow her brains out if she interfered in the arrest; Mrs. Kelly said if Ned was here he would ram the revolver down his throat.

To frighten the trooper Dan said Ned is coming now, the trooper looked around to see if it was true, Dan dropped the knife and fork which showed he had no murderous intention, clapped Heenan’s hug on him, took his revolver and threw him and part of the door outside and kept him there until Skillion and Ryan came with horses which Dan sold. That night the trooper left and invented some scheme to say he got shot, which any man can see it is impossible for him to have been shot. He told Dan to clear out, that Sergeant Steel or Detective Brown would be there before morning as Straughan was over the Murray trying to get up a case against Dan and the Lloyds as the Germans over the Murray would swear to any one, and they will lag you, guilty or not.

Next day Skillion, Williamson and Mrs. Kelly with an infant were taken and thrown into prison and were six months awaiting trial and no bail allowed and was convicted on the evidence of the meanest man that ever the sun shone on. I have been told by Police that he is hardly ever sober, also between him and his father they sold his sister to a Chinaman but he seems a strapping & rather genteel looking young man & more fit to be a starcher to a laundry than a trooper, but to a keen observer he has the wrong appearance to have anything like a clear conscience or a manly heart. The deceit is too plain to be seen in the white cabbage-hearted looking face. I heard nothing of this transaction until very close on the trial, I being then over 400 miles from Greta.

I heard I was outlawed and £100 pound reward for me in Victoria and also hundreds of charges of horsestealing was against me, besides shooting a trooper. I came into Victoria and enquired after my brother and found him working with another man on Bullock Creek. Heard how the Police used to be blowing that they would shoot me first & then cry surrender. How they used to come to the house when there was no one there but women and Superintendent Smith used to say see all the men I have out today, I will have as many more tomorrow and blow him into pieces as small as paper that is in our guns, and they used to repeatedly rush into the house, revolver in hand, upset milk dishes, empty the flour out on the ground, break tins of eggs and even throw the meat out of the cask on to the floor and dirty & destroy all the provisions, which can be proved, and shove the girls in front of them into the rooms like dogs & abuse and insult them.

Detective Ward & Constable Hayes took out their revolvers and threatened to shoot the girls and children whilst Mrs. Skillion was absent, the oldest being with her. The greatest murderers and ruffians would not be guilty of such an action. This sort of cruelty & disgraceful conduct to my brothers and sisters who had no protection, coupled with the conviction of my mother and those innocent men, certainly made my blood boil as I don’t think there is a man born could have the patience to suffer what I did.

They were not satisfied with frightening & insulting my sisters night and day and destroying their provisions and lagging my mother with an infant baby and those innocent men but should follow me and my brother, who was innocent of having anything to do with any stolen horses, into the wilds where he had been quietly digging and doing well, neither molesting or interfering with any one. And I was not there long & on the 25th of October I came on the tracks of Police horses between tabletop & the bogs; I crossed there and went to Emu Swamp and returning home I came on more Police tracks making for our camp. I told my mates, & me and my brother went out next morning and found Police camped at the Shingle hut with long firearms and we came to the conclusion our doom was sealed unless we could take their firearms, as we had nothing but a gun and a rifle, if they came on us at our work or camp we had no chance, only to die like dogs, as we thought the country was woven with Police & we might have a chance of fighting them if we had firearms as it generally takes 40 to one.

We approached the spring as close as we could get to the camp. The intervening space being clear we saw two men at the logs; they got up & one took a double barrel fowling piece and one drove the horses down and hobbled them against the tent and we thought there was more men in the tent, those being on sentry. We could have shot those men without speaking but not wishing to take life we waited. McIntyre laid the gun against the stump and Lonigan sat on the log. I advanced, my brother Dan keeping McIntyre covered; I called on them to throw up their hands, McIntyre obeyed and never attempted to reach for his gun or revolver.

Lonigan ran to a battery of logs and put his head up to take aim at me when I shot him or he would have shot me, as I knew well. I asked who was in the tent, McIntyre replied no one. I approached the camp and took possession of their revolvers and fowling piece which I loaded with bullets instead of shot. I told McIntyre I did not want to shoot him or anyone that would surrender. I explained Fitzpatrick’s falsehood which no policeman can be ignorant of. He said he knew Fitzpatrick had wronged us but he could not help it. He said he intended to leave the force on account of his bad health; his life was insured. The other two men who had no firearms came up when they heard the shot fired, and went back to our camp for fear the Police might call there in our absence and surprise us on our arrival.

My brother went back to the spring and I stopped at the logs with McIntyre. Kennedy and Scanlan came up, McInyre said he would get them to surrender if I spared their lives as well as his, I said I did not know either him, Scanlan or Kennedy and had nothing against them and would not shoot any of them if they gave up their firearms and promise to leave the force as it was the meanest billet in the world. They are worse than cold blooded murderers or hangmen. He said he was sure they would never follow me anymore. I gave him my word that I would give them a chance. McIntyre went up to Kennedy, Scanlan being behind with a rifle & revolver. I called on them to throw up their hands. Scanlan slewed his horse around to gallop away but turned again, and as quick as thought fired at me with the rifle and was in the act of firing again when I shot him.

Kennedy alighted on the off side of his horse and got behind a tree and opened hot fire. McIntyre got on Kennedy’s horse and galloped away. I could have shot him if I chose as he was right against me but rather than break my word I let him go. My brother advanced from the spring; Kennedy fired at him and ran as he found neither of us was dead. I followed him; he got behind another tree and fired at me again. I shot him in the arm-pit as he was behind the tree, he dropped his revolver and ran again and slewed round and I fired with the gun again and shot him through the right chest as I did not know he had dropped his revolver, and was turning to surrender, he could not live or I would have let him go.

Had they been my own brothers I could not help shooting them, or else lie down and let them shoot me which they would have done had their bullets been directed as they intended them. But as for handcuffing Kennedy to a tree or cutting his ear off, or brutally treating any of them, is a cruel falsehood. If Kennedy’s ear was cut off it has been done since. I put his cloak over him and left him as honourable as I could and if they were my own brothers I could not be more sorry for them with the exception of Lonigan, I did not begrudge him what bit of lead he got as he was the flashest and meanest man that I had any account against for him. Fitzpatrick, Sergeant Whelan, Constable O’Day & King the bootmaker once tried to handcuff me at Benalla and when they could not Fitzpatrick tried to choke me. Lonigan caught me by the privates and would have killed me but was not able; Mr. McInnes came up and I allowed him to put the handcuffs on when the Police were bested.

This cannot be called wilful murder for I was compelled to shoot then in my own defence or lie down like a cur and die. Certainly their wives and children are to be pitied but those men came into the bush with the intention of shooting me down like a dog and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged. And is my mother and her infant baby and my poor little brothers and sisters not to be pitied more so, who has got no alternative only to put up with the brutal and unmanly conduct of the Police who have never had any relations or a mother or must have forgot them.

I was never convicted of horsestealing. I was once arrested by Constable Hall and 14 more men in Greta and there was a subscription raised for Hall by persons who had too much money about Greta in honour of Hall arresting Wild Wright and Gunn. Wright and Gunn were potted & Hall could not pot me for horsestealing but with the subscription money he gave £20 to James Murdock who has presently been hung in Wagga Wagga and on Murdock’s evidence I was found guilty of receiving knowing to be stolen which I, Wright W. Ambrose, J Ambrose & W Hatcher & W. Williamson and others can prove I was innocent of knowing the mare to be stolen & I was once accused of taking a hawker of the name of McCormacks horse to pull another hawker named Ben Gould out of a bog. Mr. Gould got up in the morning to feed his horses, seen McCormack’s horse and knew he had strayed, sent his man in with him about two miles to where McCormack was camped in Greta. Mr & Mrs McCormack came out and seen the waggon bogged and accused him of using the horse. I told Gould that was for his good nature. Mrs. McCormack turned on me and accused me for catching the horse for Gould as Gould knew he was wicked and could not catch him himself. Me and my uncle was cutting and branding calves and Ben Gould wrapped up a pair of testicles, wrote a note and gave it to me to give to Mrs. McCormack. McCormack said he would fight me, I was then 14 years of age, I was getting off my horse and Mrs. McCormack hit the horse, he jumped forwards and my fist came in collision with McCormack’s nose who swore he was standing 10 yards away from another man and the one hit knocked the two men down, however ridiculous the evidence may seem I received 3 months or 10£ fine for hitting him and 3 months for delivering the parcel and bound to the peace for 12 months.

At the time I was taken by Hall and his 14 assistants, therefore I did dare not strike any of them as Hall was a great cur, and as for Dan he never was tried for assaulting a woman. Mr. Butler P.M. sentenced him to 3 months without the option of a fine and one month or two pounds fine for wilfully destroying property, a sentence which there is no law to uphold and yet they had to do their sentence & their prosecution. Mr. D. Goodman since got 4 years for perjury concerning the same property. The Minister of Justice should enquire into this respecting their sentence and he will find a wrong jurisdiction given by Butler P.M. on the 19th of October 1899 at Benalla, and these are the only charges was ever proved against either of us, therefore we are falsely represented.

The report of bullets having been fired into the bodies of the troopers after their death is false & the coroner should be consulted. I have no intention of asking mercy for myself of any mortal man, or apologising, but I wish to give timely warning that if my people do not get justice and those innocent released from prison and the Police wear their uniform I shall be forced to seek revenge of everything of the human race for the future. I will not take innocent life if justice is given but as it is the Police are afraid or ashamed to wear their uniform therefore every man’s life is in danger as I was outlawed without any cause and cannot be no worse & have but once to die & if the Public do not see justice done I will seek revenge for the name and character which has been given to me and my relations while God gives me strength to pull a trigger.

The witnesses which can prove Fitzpatrick’s falsehood can be found by advertising and if this is not done immediately horrible disasters shall follow. Fitzpatrick shall be the cause of greater slaughter to the rising generation than St. Patrick was to the snakes and frogs in Ireland. For had I robbed, plundered, ravished & murdered everything I met my character could not be painted blacker than it is at present but thank God my conscience is as clear as the snow in Peru and as I hear a picked jury amongst which was a discharged Sergeant of Police was empanelled on the trial and David Lindsay who gave evidence for the Crown is a shanty-keeper having no license & is liable to a heavy fine and keeps a book of information for the Police and his character needs no comment for he is capable of rendering Fitzpatrick any assistance he required for a conviction as he could be broke any time Fitzpatrick chose to inform on him.

I am really astonished to see Members of the Legislative Assembly led astray by such articles as the Police, for while an outlaw reigns their pocket swells Tis double pay and country girls — by concluding as I have no more paper unless I rob for it, if I get justice I will cry a go. For I need no lead or powder to revenge my cause, and if words be louder I will oppose your laws. With no offence (remember your railroads) and a sweet good bye from Edward Kelly, a forced outlaw.

Published in:

Edward Kelly gives statement of his murders of Sergeant Kennedy and others and makes other threats”, Public Record Office Victoria (accessed 23 October 2012)

Also published in:
Ned Kelly’s letter”, The Age, (Melbourne, Vic.), 18 February 1879, p. 3
J. J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers (8th edition), Moe (Vic.): The Kelly Gang Publishing Company, 1969 (first published 1 March 1929), pp. 71-74
Max Brown, Ned Kelly: Australian Son, North Ryde (NSW): Angus & Robertson, 1987 (first published 1948, as Australian Son), pp. 236-243 (“Appendix 1: The Cameron Letter”)
The Cameron Letter, Iron (accessed 23 October 2012)
The Cameron Letter, The Association for the Advancement of Australian Culture (accessed 23 October 2012)

Editor’s notes:
J. J. Kenneally, in The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers, and Max Brown, in Ned Kelly: Australian Son, both have the name “Farrell” blanked out in two places:
1) “He said it was —— who told him that I stole the bull”
2) “along with all this sort of work —— the Policeman stole a horse”.
However, the original letter (held by the Public Record Office of Victoria) has the name “Farrell” in those two places. The name may have originally been withheld by Kenneally due to a concern of legal action for defamation.

billet = (slang) job, occupation

blow = boast

cry a go = give in, give up, surrender; desist; also rendered as 1) “cry ‘a go’”, 2) “call a go” (derived from the game of cribbage, where the term “cry a go” means to pass or miss a turn)

cur = a mixed-breed dog, a mongrel dog; a dog of inferior quality; can also refer to a man who is contemptible or cowardly

Donald Cameron = a journalist and politician; Member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria (representing West Bourke, 1877-1880); he was born in 1848 in New South Wales, and died on 10 August 1888 in Melbourne (Vic.)
See: 1) “Donald Cameron”, Parliament of Victoria (accessed 13 June 2019)
2) “Deaths”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 11 August 1888, p. 5 [death notice for Donald Cameron]

flash = showy, vulgar; fashionable or showy, but often in a way that shows a lack of taste

Heenan’s hug = a fighting hold; a reference to the fighting hold used by the American boxer John Camel Heenan (1834-1873; his middle name was sometimes mistakenly reported as “Carmel”)
See: “List: phrase “Heenan’s hug””, Institute of Australian Culture (Trove)

lag = inform on, dob in someone to the authorities, dob on someone to an authority

P.M. = Police Magistrate

poddy = poddy calf, a hand-fed calf; can also refer to an unbranded calf

pot = to jail, to send to jail (to be “potted” is to be sent to jail)

privates = private parts; genitalia

shanty-keeper = someone who owns or runs a “shanty” (a pub, especially an unlicensed pub)

shot = lead balls used in antique rifles; pellets of lead contained within a shotgun cartridge; iron or lead projectiles fired from cannons, whether as a single large cannon ball (round shot), or as multiple small pieces, such as canister shot, spherical case shot (shrapnel), or grapeshot (may also refer to: the past tense of the act of shooting (discharging of) a firearm, crossbow, bow, etc.; the act of being hit with a bullet)

splitting = splitting trees, or splitting wood

stop = stay

waggon = an archaic spelling of “wagon”

[Editor: Whilst there are many errors within the letter, editorial corrections have been kept at a relative minimum.

Changed “sold that night” to “sold. That night”; “was insured the other two” to “was insured. The other two”; “if I choose” to “if I chose”, “a honourable” to “as honourable”; “Fitzpatrick Sergeant Whelan” to “Fitzpatrick, Sergeant Whelan,”; “every mans” to “every man’s”; “Members of Legislative Assembly” to “Members of the Legislative Assembly”.

Inserted a comma after “against Mrs Kelly”, “impounded by Whitty and Burns”, “murder him”, “he had none”, “if it was true”, “no murderous intention”, “Keenan’s hug on him”, “say he got shot”, “Dan to clear out”, “they will lag you”, “hardly ever sober”, “close on the trial”, “was against me”, “I have out today”, “is in our guns”, “rush into the house”, “revolver in hand”, “upset milk dishes”, “out on the ground”, “all the provisions” “which can be proved”, “who had no protection”, “those innocent men”, “me and my brother”, “with any stolen horses”, “doing well”, “told my mates”, “had no chance”, “die like dogs”, “men in the tent”,
“I advanced”, “throw up their hands”, “have shot me”, “was in the tent”, “know either him”, “up to Kennedy”, “behind the tree”, “exception of Lonigan”, “pitied more so”, “Wright W. Ambrose”, “to feed his horses”, “he had strayed”, “pair of testicles”, “would fight me”, “hit the horse”, “wilfully destroying property”, “either of us”, “as the Police”, “from Edward Kelly”.

Inserted a semi-colon after “stealing his bull”, “government roads”, “men of the district”, “those other men”, “splitting on the hill”, “was William Skillion”, “or nine witnesses”, “Dan came out”, “both went inside”, “interfered in the arrest”, “tabletop & the bogs”, “men at the logs”, “McIntyre covered”, “his bad health”, “advanced from the spring”, “I followed him”, “was not able”.

Placed a full stop after “cannot be blamed”, “from Whitty”, “but me and George King”, “something to eat”, “sun shone on”, “or a manly heart”, “life we waited”, “sat on the log”, “as I knew well”, instead of shot”, “that would surrender”, “logs with McIntyre”, “in the world”, “give them a chance”, “rifle & revolver”, “throw up their hands”, “opened hot fire”, “against for him”, “convicted of horsestealing”, “his good nature”, “give to Mrs. McCormack”, “assaulting a woman”, “their prosecution”, “should be consulted”.]

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]


  1. ashleigh says:

    Ned Kelly was a hero

  2. Jay Black says:

    He was certainly famous and infamous… and perhaps a psychopath.

  3. According to the National Museum of Australia. This letter was written in 1879, not 1878, including any other sources I have looked up all say the Jerilderie letter (or the Cameron Letter) was written in 1879. So now I am confused.

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