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On 14th February, 1879 NSW and Victoria decide to act in unison. The NSW premier, Sir Henry Parkes proposes that each state put up 4,000 pounds for the capture of the gang, ie., 2,000 pounds for each member. Victoria agrees. The Ovens and Murray Advertiser describes it as the biggest reward ever offered anywhere in the world for the apprehension of any criminals.

On 23rd April, 1879, the incarcerated sympathisers, who have spent 107 days in prison for no legal reason, are discharged. The magistrates cannot continue the abuse of process any longer.

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In the meantime the Kelly gang have gone to ground secreting themselves in the Buffalo Ranges east of Mansfield. Hare undertakes further searches at sympathiser’s homesteads but finds nothing. There is a change in police command. Assistant Commissioner Nicholson takes over from Standish. Nicholson has not supported the tactics used by Standish. He was involved in the arrest of Harry Power and knows that the secret of success is recruiting informants. Nicholson and Detective Ward recruit 32 agents, each on a daily stipend of a few shillings, with bonuses for valuable tips. Among them are Aaron Sherritt, best friend of Joe Byrne and at one time engaged to his sister. Sherritt is not trusted but is considered to be useful as bait. Another recruit is Ned’s uncle. Patrick Quinn.

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Bushrangers the Kelly Gang (L-R) Steve Hart, Dan Kelly and Ned Kelly.Source:Herald Sun

With the change in tactics, the absence of police raids and fruitless searches, interest in the gang subsides. A new Chief Secretary is elected and he announces that the 8,000 pound reward is soon to be withdrawn hoping that anyone with information will come forward quickly hoping for payment. In March, Dan Kelly is seen at the Moyhu races supporting his sisters who are competing, but nobody seems to take much notice.

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Then in March, an old Greta farmer goes to plough his paddock and finds that his old mouldboard plough is missing. When he reports it to the police he discovers that there are several other similar reports. Ned has been experimenting with a variety of materials to make suits of armour but none, except the steel of a mouldboard, will repel bullets from a Martini-Henry rifle at close range.

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It will take the mouldboards from six ploughs to make one suit of armour and it is not too heavy to be manageable by a superhuman strong man like Ned. Joe is not convinced. The suits are shaped with the help of sympathetic smithies. The suits consist of a helmet, breastplate and a lappet to protect the groin. Ned also has two plates to protect his upper arms. He also had a back lappet made to protect his buttocks but discarded it because he could not ride a horse wearing it.

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The police are not asleep. Blacktrackers employed by Const. John Kelly (no relation), have noticed very small footprints when tracking the plough thieves. They are identified as the kind of boot worn by the Kelly gang. The increased presence of sympathisers at the Glenrowan Inn are also reported by informants. More and more of the Greta mob are congregating at the two Glenrowan pubs so something is going on. Plenty of money is being spent but nothing illegal is happening. Ned’s sisters are seen buying inordinate amounts of groceries. Nicholson decides to re-open the Glenrowan police station which had been closed 6 months earlier.

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The view from Glenrowan Railway Station looking back to the remains of Anne Jone's Hotel,Glenrowan Inn.It was the scene of the final confrontation between Ned Kelly and the Victorian Police.

Late in April, Const. Fitzpatrick, at Standish’s behest, is dismissed from the police force as a “liar, larrikin, perjurer and drunkard...and could never be trusted out of sight to do his duty. This is the man whose false testimony got Ellen Kelly sentenced and imprisoned. Notwithstanding what is being done, the lack of police activity prompts the Cabinet to replace Nicholson with Hare who reluctantly accepts. The government give Nicholson one month’s grace before the change is made.

 

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In May, Nicholson receives a message that the gang is running out of money and that they are making some kind of metal jackets but he has not produced the gang and is replaced by Hare. In June, Hare meets with one of Nicholson’s spies who tells him he has proof positive that the gang have armour suits and they will use them soon to rob another bank. The Kellys have run out of funds. On 26th June, 1880 the Felons Apprehension Act is repealed. The warrants for Ned and Dan for the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick remain but the warrants for Joe and Steve for the Stringybark Creek murders expire. Technically they are no longer outlaws.

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Aaron Sherritt

On that same night, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly go to Aaron Sherritt’s homestead. He was once Joe’s best friend but is now known to be a police informer and has given them information about Joe.

Sherritt has three police staying at his house keeping watch on Joe’s mother’s house nearby hoping he might visit. Aaron is lured to the door and silhouetted against the light, Joe shoots him dead. He then engages in a gun fight with the police inside the house. Nobody gets shot. Dan tries to set the house on fire but it goes out. There are two women in the house and he does not want to harm them so they ride off having done what they came to do.

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At 10.00pm the same night Ned and Steve are riding down the main street of Glenrowan with four pack horses loaded with the suits of armour, a large drum of blasting powder, lots of ammunition and signal rockets. They secrete themselves behind McDonnell’s Hotel. A report from one of Nicholson’s spies, before his demotion was that Ned Kelly said he was going to blow up a train. No other details but tonight his plan was about to be hatched. The first curve heading north out of Glenrowan straddles a culvert with drops on both sides. A train derailed there would kill or seriously injure any passengers.

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Ned surmises that once the police hear of the Sherritt murder they will despatch a train full of troopers. Ned and Steve get to work to remove the rails. They cannot do it by themselves and go to a nearby camp where quarry workers are housed. He co-opts their assistance at gunpoint but they refuse. He then goes to the fettlers’ house and raises the two fettlers who installed the tracks. At gunpoint the two fettlers are forced to come with their tools to lift the rails. All of the town people who have been roused are herded into the Glenrowan Inn under guard by Steve Hart.

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Photograph taken during the siege at Glenrowan

The fettlers work slowly but in 90 minutes the job is done and four rails are removed. The townsfolk who are awake are all herded together in the Glenrowan Inn. No train arrives because the police at the Sherritt house are too afraid to leave not knowing that Joe and Dan have left already. At Glenrowan Dan is nervous and says they should all leave and go bush because it is now daylight. Ned says no. It is Sunday. There are no trains unless they are specials and they will stand and fight to the last. He has had enough of running.

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Eventually the police at the Sherritt house hail a passing traveller and send a note into Beechworth telling what had happened. About the same time Thomas Curnow, the Glenrowan school teacher goes driving with his family on this bright sunny morning. He lives outside the town and is unaware of the events of the night before. Ned detains them all. Curnow has a dislocated hip and limps. He engages Dan and Ned in friendly conversation looking for an opening to escape and warn the police. The message of the Sherritt murder has reached Beechworth and is soon conveyed to Benalla where Hare is having lunch at the Commercial Hotel. Hare does not want to act without specific authority from his superiors so he cables Melbourne for orders. Standish, his superior, is out for the afternoon and he gets no reply. Late in the afternoon Standish returns and authorises Hare to organise the special train.

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At Glenrowan there have been fun and games and much drinking all the day. Curnow, who is imprisoned in the Glenrowan Inn with the men asks Ned if he can go to visit his wife at the stationmaster’s house where the women and children are imprisoned. Ned agrees. Curnow meets his wife and notices a red scarf on his sister’s neck which he takes as it might be a useful means of making a red light. Back in Melbourne Standish organises another special train to bring the blacktrackers back to Benalla. It will arrive at 1.00am and the two trains will travel together.

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Around midnight Ned agrees that Curnow can take his family home in their buggy. Curnow tells his wife that he plans to go on to Benalla and warn the police of the fractured rails. His wife objects in fear that the gang will return and shoot them all. He takes her to her mother’s place for safety then returns alone to do what he has decided to do. At 1.30am the special train approaches Benalla station. It had been delayed because on a Sunday no staff were at Craigieburn to open the gates so it crashed through damaging its breaking system. At Benalla, Hare was waiting with his other train. The carriages are unhitched and coupled onto Hare’s train leaving the locomotive to proceed first as a pilot train. At 2 am the trains leave Benalla heading for Beechworth. Glenrowan is 14 miles away.

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Sketch of Glenrowan showing the railway station, centre, station masters house on the left and the Glenrowan Inn owned by Ann Jones, to the north.

Curnow has taken his wife to her mother’s house but she is still hysterical that they will be shot. Curnow volunteers that he will return to their home in case the gang comes but as he does so he hears the train coming. He grabs the red scarf, a candle and matches. The train line is opposite the house so he runs down the embankment, lights the candle, holds the scarf in front signalling the danger. It is about a mile and a half from Glenrowan. The train driver spots the small red light thinking it is a burning log. He sees the light moving, realises it is not a log and stops the train. Ned and the others also hear the train and hear it stopped. He realises that Curnow has tricked him and given the warning. Curnow tells the police the story and goes back to bed in case the gang come after him and his family. He needs an alibi.

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The police horses cannot be unloaded where they are so Hare and his six best men ride in the pilot engine and proceed to Glenrowan station. There they start unloading the horses. At the Glenrowan Inn the gang starts donning their armour. As they emerge they see the two engines and the carriages behind. At the Glenrowan Inn three gang members are standing in the shadow of the verandah, Ned is at the corner of the building. Ned hold his rifle like a pistol and aims it at Hare. Ned fires and hits Hare in the wrist. The other three open fire. The police scatter and run for cover and start shooting back. Ned starts walking directly toward the police firing as he goes. Const. Gascoine keeps firing at Ned with no effect until a bullet ricochets from the armour and hits Ned in the foot. Another hits him in the arm. Joe Byrne is hit in his right calf. The rockets are fired signalling the sympathisers but none come. Steve and Dan back into the Inn to calm the prisoners. Joe and Ned discuss what next to do but Joe is immobilised from his wound so Ned goes out alone. He makes for his horse but as he gets there sinks to his knees through loss of blood. He makes another attempt to walk down the hill but sinks again, this time into unconsciousness.

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 There is confusion everywhere. The police fire indiscriminately at the hotel. The walls are thin and shots penetrate the walls easily. The imprisoned townsfolk try to protect themselves by lying down. Several are hit, including children, but none killed outright. Eventually the owner of the inn is able to get the police to stop firing so that they can all get out unharmed. Steve, Joe & Dan remain inside. Ned regains consciousness and is able to join them in the inn. More police arrive from Wangaratta on horseback. The firing resumes in greater intensity. Joe Byrne is hit in his femoral artery and falls down dead. Ned moves out once more in a bid to get to his horse. Dan and Steve remain in the inn. Ned walks steadily ahead. Many shots bounce off his armour. Ned is confronting six police at point blank range with no effect until one raises a shotgun aimed at his legs and fires. Ned falls to the ground and the police are onto him instantly.

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reinactment of Ned Kelly's death

Inside the inn Dan and Steve have watched the defeat of Ned. The gunfight resumes and Dan is hit in the leg. At about 10.30am the remaining group inside the inn, mostly Kelly sympathisers, are allowed to leave. Dan and Steve remain and more police reinforcements arrive. About 3.00pm Steve and Dan are still inside the inn firing at police. The police pile hay against the building, douse it with kerosene and set it on fire. As the fire subsides a priest enters the smoking ruin and finds the bodies of all three remaining outlaws.

The war between the police and the Kelly gang is over.

Further reading:

https://patriotrealm.com/index.php/1340-ned-kelly-part-one-the-beginning-of-the-legend

https://patriotrealm.com/index.php/1349-ned-kelly-part-2-survival

 

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