Beechworth and the Kellys
Beechworth is where a number of the incidents involving Ned and his family played out in the local courthouse and in the resulting gaol sentences. It is also where there was a turning point in Ned’s life where he was no longer committing somewhat minor offences and then being hounded by the police. He made what seems to be a conscious decision to ‘take the attack up to the police’ and seek retribution for the oppression of his family and the common folk by what he saw as the local ‘aristocracy’ and authorities.
In 1871 when Ned was 16 years old he was sentenced to three years gaol for receiving a stolen house, the character who actually stole it only got 18 months. Ned served this time in Pentridge Gaol in Melbourne. He had earlier served 5 months in Beechworth Gaol for assaulting and later ‘insulting’ a travelling hawker and his wife by giving them some bull’s testicles as part of a prank.
Ned’s brothers served time in Beechworth for various offences, Jim got 5 years for stealing cattle. His mother Ellen was also sentenced to three years hard labour for the ‘attempted’ murder of Alexander Fitzpatrick, a police officer, in 1878. She had hit him on the head with a pan when Fitzpatrick attempted to arrest Dan Kelly for horse stealing at their house without a warrant. Fitzpatrick alleged that Ned had shot him. After being held at Beechworth she served out the sentence at the Old Melbourne Gaol. She was in that gaol when Ned was hung there in November 1880 after the Glenrowan siege. It was reported that she was allowed to visit him and told him to ‘die like a Kelly’. It was in the two years between 1878 and 1880 that Ned set about seeking retribution and revenge for all the injustices that he felt he and his family had suffered. More to follow.
We went on a tour of the 1864 Beechworth Gaol. Quite an eye opener. It only closed in 2004. Very basic place indeed. Prisoner’s cells were only fitted with flushing toilets in 1994. Saw Ned’s cell and also his mothers, who had a new born baby at the time. The cell his mother had was different to the others as it was for females who had young children and who chose to take them to gaol with them. It had a back door opening into a yard. There were 8 hangings at the gaol. Ned was taken to Beechworth after the Glenrowan siege for sentencing, if he had been sentenced there he would have been hung in Beechworth. Apparently, our guide told us, it was thought by the authorities that it would be unlikely a jury would convict Ned in Beechworth (because of his followers and general support of town folk) so he was sent to Melbourne for trial.
There are many mid 18 century stone buildings in the historic precinct of the town that have been faithfully restored. It is an interesting town, much to see which we have left for another time. Trees were starting to leaf up with the onset of spring, would look great in autumn! It is now off to Mansfield.