The Early Years, continued:
At the age of 12, Ned stepped into his father’s shoes when Red died.
Ellen moved herself and her family to Eleven Mile Creek, not far from Benalla and halfway between Greta and Glenrowan, where she lived in a slab hut. Superintendent Nicholson recorded that they lived in poverty and squalor, the slab hut with bark roof being divided into 5 compartments by partitions of blankets and rags.
The Kelly house at Eleven Mile Creek.
What remains of the Kelly homestead at Eleven Mile Creek
Police Superintendents Hare and Nicholson were both stationed in the Greta area and had much dealing with the three main local families, the Kelly, Quinn and Lloyd families, in the early years at Greta. Supt Nicholson prosecuted a number of the early charges against Ned and both led the search for him after he was outlawed.
The three families had intermarried and recorded an inordinate number of arrests: in the 1870’s and 1880’s, 19 members of these families recorded 57 arrests and 33 convictions. Ned’s uncle James Quinn scored 9 years in gaol, 16 arrests and 10 convictions.
The nearest town to the Kelly home was Greta, the area being frontier country, much like the American Wild West. Greta was also a notorious centre for crime.
Even today the Greta area and surrounding districts are still referred to as "Kelly Country".
Mrs Kelly’s shack became a sort of halfway house. She took in boarders and travellers and there was much Irish talk of villainy and injustice.
Bushranging in the Australian colonies reached its peak in about 1865. The goldfields had attracted lawlessness and bushranging, all the more so in that a lot of law enforcement officials had joined the goldfields activities. By 1865 the goldfields had had their heyday and a new breed of bushranger had developed – Australian born, flashily dressed, finely mounted and evoking the highwaymen heroes of myth who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Some defined “rich” as anyone who had something worth taking, but Australia-at-large regarded them as folk heroes: Gardiner, Gilbert, Ben Hall, Thudnerbolt.
The police. already held in low esteem, suffered further in comparison. They did little to enhance their public image by such acts as shooting down popular bushranger Ben Hall from ambush.
In 1868 Ned’s uncle, James Kelly, turned up drunk at the Kelly hut. He had recently been released from gaol after a 3 year term for pig stealing. After having a gin bottle broken over his head and being driven away with a stick, he returned and burnt down the hut. He was charged with arson and, whilst there is no account as to whether Ned was in attendance at the court, it is likely that he was present to hear his mother give evidence. He would then also have been present to hear trial judge Redmond Barry sentence James Kelly to death by hanging, later commuted to 15 years imprisonment.
Ellen Kelly set up another shack, at Wangaratta, taking washing during the day and carrying out dressmaking at night.
Ned, an excellent rider and bushmen, assisted the family financial position by ring barking trees, clearing land, breaking horses, mustering cattle and fencing. Given the hostility of the large landowners (squatters) towards the smaller settlers (selectors), it is likely that he was also involved in cattle duffing.
At age 14 he was arrested for assault and robbery of a Chinese pig farmer with the delightful name of Ah Fook. Ned denied the charges but was held in the Benalla lockup for 10 days. The magistrate dismissed the charges and Ned was released, but from that day on he was regarded by the police as a “juvenile bushranger”.
The police regarded the Kellys as serious offenders and Ellen Kelly’s hut as one of the distruct crime centres, Inspector Nicholson openly and unashamedly stating in an official report “The Kelly gang must be rooted out of the neighbourhood and sent to Pentridge gaol, even on a paltry sentence. This would be a good way of taking the flashness out of them”.
Ned Kelly, aged 15
At age 15, Ned was arrested and charged with being an accomplice of the bushranger Harry Power, who was responsible for numerous armed holdups whilst on the run. Power came to know the Kellys, the Quinns and the Lloyds and stayed with them at various times, coming into contact with Ned through this association.
Victims held up by Power sometimes reported a young man in the background. That man was Ned, an apprentice to Power who taught him the finer points of bushranging and more about bushcraft. Power said nothing about Ned and the charges against Ned were dismissed. Power drew 15 years and upon release became a tour guide for bushranger tours. He died in 1891 from drowning, surviving his apprentice by 11 years.
Four months later Ned again ran foul of the law, being charged with assault and obscenity in respect of a hawker named Jeremiah McCormack.
As for the assault, Ned claimed in his Jerilderie letter of 1879 that his “fist came into contact with McCormack’s nose” after McCormack struck Ned’s horse with a bullock skin.
In respect of the count of obscenity, Ned and his uncle Jack Lloyd were cutting and branding calves. The McCormacks had no children. Another hawker, Ben Gould, sent a package to Mrs McCormack via Ned Kelly. Ned asked his cousin Tom Lloyd to deliver it. He did so, saying “This is from Ned.” In the package as a pair of testicles, the note suggesting that they might be of use to her.
Gould admitted he wrote the note but Kelly went to gaol for 3 months, starting his gaol term on 11 November, 1870, ten years to the day from when he would be hanged.