[Editor: This article about Ned Kelly, his letter to Donald Cameron, and the Kelly gang’s killing of policemen at Mansfield, was published in The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 19 December 1878. Appended to the article were several reports considered to be relevant to the Kelly gang.]
The Mansfield murderers.
Mr. Donald Cameron, M.L.A., submitted to the Chief Secretary yesterday the letter he received from Edward Kelly, the leader of the Mansfield murderers. Mr. Berry read the document carefully, and agreed with Mr. Cameron that it would be injudicious to publish it at present, as it was clearly written for the purpose of exciting public sympathy for the murderers. As, however, it contained very serious allegations against members of the police force that may require some investigation, it was handed over to the Attorney-General for his consideration. The terrible threats made by Kelly to tear up rails and sacrifice life on the North-Eastern Railway, were noted by Mr. Berry, who took steps to bring them under the cognisance of the railway authorities, in order that precautions might be taken immediately. The determination not to publish the letter in extenso at present will be adhered to, but Mr. Cameron has felt justified in supplying us with the following outline of its contents:—
Kelly commences with an apology for troubling Mr. Cameron, but declares that he felt bound to make his case known, in order that justice might be done to his friends. He then gives a history of his life from the time he went to live at Greta, and details various cases of horse stealing in which, he alleges, he was wrongfully accused by the police.
In giving his version of the outrage on Constable Fitzpatrick, he states that when it occurred he was 400 miles away from the place, and that he subsequently learned that it was because the constable was endeavouring to arrest his brother merely on the strength of a telegram, and without any warrant, that he was turned out of their house. He denies that Fitzpatrick was shot in the arm, averring that this was a concocted story, and alleges that a certain publican was a party to the fabrication.
His great complaint is that his mother, with her baby, and his two friends, Skillion and Williams, have been wrongfully imprisoned. He, therefore, demands that justice shall be done to them, but asks no mercy for himself, and indicates that he expects none. When he returned home, he found that warrants were out for his arrest, and that a reward was offered for him. Being afraid, he went mining with his brother and some other men. They were under the impression that the country was “woven” with police, and as they had only two small guns, they thought their only chance was in attacking a police camp, securing the police arms, and in then making a rush through the supposed cordon to New South Wales.
He then relates how they surprised the camp near Mansfield, and shot Sergeant Kennedy and the two constables. Constable M’Intyre surrendered at once, but Lonigan, instead of bailing up, ran to a “battery,’ and “popped up his head” as if he were going to shoot. He (Kelly) thereupon covered him with his rifle, and shot him. Sergeant Kennedy and he (Kelly) fired at each other for some time. Kennedy eventually got behind a tree, where he was shot in the arm. He then made a rush out, but turned back again, and threw up his arm. By this time he had dropped his revolver, but he (Kelly) did not observe that he had done so, and supposing that he raised his arm to fire again he (Kelly) fired and shot him dead through the chest. He pretends to be sorry for having shot Kennedy and Scanlan, but expresses no regret for the murder of Lonigan.
Towards the end of the letter he makes a number of horrible threats the principal of which are against the Railway department, and declares that he will carry them out if justice is not done to his relatives and friends, who he again alleges have been grievously wronged by several members of the police force. He makes a complaint about the police who are in pursuit of the gang not wearing their uniform, and asks why they should not don their regimentals, and fight the matter out in their true colours. As it is, he says they cannot be distinguished from civilians, and renders it possible that he may shoot civilians by mistake. If justice is not done to his friends he will “wage a war on all mankind.”
He attempts to finish with a verse of original poetry, the only two intelligible lines of which are:—
“I don’t want shot or powder
To avenge my cause”
He continues — “And so I conclude — Mind your railways — with a sweet good-bye from Edward Kelly, a forced outlaw.”
[By electric telegraph.]
(From our special reporter.)
Benalla, Wednesday 10.30pm
There has been nothing new heard about the Kellys to-day. Late this evening, however, a person arrived here from the Goulburn district, and informed the authorities that on Friday last four mounted men were seen near Kialla, which is about 18 miles from Violet Town, on the north-west side of the railway. It is said the men were riding three bay horses and a grey one, and they had also new clothes on.
The person who gave the information states that they called at his place for a drink of water, which they got, but it was not noticed whether they carried any arms, nor can any satisfactory reason be assumed why this information was not given to the authorities before now, instead of allowing six days to elapse since the occurrence took place.
Very little importance is attached to the information, as it is not thought probable that the outlaws would leave the security of their fastnesses in the ranges to venture into an open country, more especially as the whole of the district is so cut up by selectors fences that they would principally have to keep to main roads, where they could not well conceal their tracks. The only reason for supposing the gang to have gone in that direction is that the Kellys have an uncle residing in the district
Benalla, Thursday, 1 a.m.
The police have just received information to the effect that the house of a selector living about five miles from here, at Ryan’s Branch, on the Kilfera-road, was stuck up by some men at a quarter to 10 o’clock last night. The information was brought in here by a son of the selector referred to, but his statement is of the vaguest.
He says that as the family, consisting of his father, mother, sister, and himself, were about going to bed a man, or some men, came to the door, and ordered them to bail up. Without waiting to hear anymore, the young man made his way out at the back of the house and walked into Benalla to give the information, but he says that before he left he heard a gun snapped or fired off. A strong party of police has been despatched to the spot indicated.
(From our own correspondent.)
The rumour that the Kelly gang passed through Chiltern on Friday morning is without foundation, as the parties referred to were farmers residing near Gooramdaal. I mention this fact to prevent misleading the police in operations now being carried on in this district.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 19 December 1878, p. 6
bay = a reddish-brown colour; particularly used to refer to a reddish-brown horse (especially with a black mane and black tail); a reddish-brown animal
cognisance = awareness, knowledge, understanding; to be aware of and understand something
in extenso = (Latin) in full, at length, at full length; complete, unabridged (from the Latin “extensus”, from “extendere”, meaning “extend” or “stretch out”)
M.L.A. = Member of the Legislative Assembly
selector = the purchaser of an area of land obtained by free-selection; land legislation in Australia in the1860s was passed by several colonies which enabled people to obtain land for farming, whereby they could nominate a limited area of land to rent or buy, being able to select land which had not yet been surveyed (hence the phrase “free selection before survey”) and even obtain land previously leased by squatters (although squatters were able to buy sections of their land, up to a designated limit; with many of them buying up further sections under the names of family members, friends, and employees)
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]