The Fitzpatrick Incident and Outlawed
The events which resulted in Ned being declared an outlaw started on 15 April, 1878.
According to Constable Fitzpatrick, then aged 21, he went to the Kelly house to arrest Ned’s brother, Dan, aged 17, for horse stealing.
There are two versions as to what happened next.
When he arrived at the Kellys’ he arrested Dan. Dan asked whether they could have something to eat before leaving for Benalla and he agreed. They then went inside.
After a couple of minutes, Ned Kelly rushed in and shot at him from about 1.5 metres and missed.
Mrs Kelly grabbed a shovel from beside the fireplace and hit him over the head. He put up his hand to prevent another blow and Ned shot him in the wrist.
He went to draw his revolver but Dan snatched it away.
The husband of Ned’s sister, Maggie, one Bill Skillion, was also present with a revolver in his hand, as was a neighbour, Bricky Williamson, also with a revolver.
He fell unconscious.
When he recovered, Kelly held his hand while Fitzpatrick cut out the bullet.
He was then held until allowed to leave at 11.00pm.
Ned’s version was set out in his later Jerilderie letter:
He, Ned Kelly, was over 600 kilometres away, in New South Wales, at the time.
Fitzpatrick, “the meanest man that ever the sun shone on:, called at the house to arrest Dan Kelly.
His mother, who was nursing an infant child, Alice, demanded to see his warrant.
Fitzpatrick pulled out his revolver and said that he would blow out her brains if she resisted arrest.
She said that if Ned were here he would ram his revolver down his throat.
Dan called out “Here comes Ned now” and, as Fitzpatrick spun around, Dan grabbed the revolver, grabbed Fitzpatrick and threw him out.
Another version says that Fitzpatrick was attracted to Ned’s sister Kate Kelly, aged 14, and that as she walked past, he grabbed her and set her on his knee. Dan went to his sister’s defence.
So which version is to be believed? Some pertinent points:
· The local police were under strict instructions to go to the Kelly house only in pairs, yet Fitzpatrick, who was aware of this directive, went alone.
· He admitted that he had no warrant.
· He admitted that he stopped at Winton on the way to have some drinks.
· Upon Fitzpatrick’s return, he was examined by Dr Nicholson of Benalla, who said that there was a slight wound on the wrist which may, or may not, have been caused by a bullet.
· Fitzpatrick was later dismissed from the force for drunkenness and perjury.
· It is hard to accept that Ned, a crack shot, would have missed from 1.5 metres.
Nonetheless the police arrested Ellen Kelly, Skillion and Williamson for “aiding and betting Ned Kelly with shooting with intent to murder Constable Fitzpatrick”.
Dan Kelly, knowing that he would not be believed, took to the mountains where he met up with Ned.
Ellen, Skillion and Williamson were in gaol for 6 months, Ellen with baby Alice, before their trial came up in October 1878. Found guilty, Judge Redmond Barry (who had stated that he wanted the death penalty for the Eureka Stockade miners) sentenced Ellen Kelly to 3 years and Skillion and Williamson each to 6 years gaol.
Barry told Ellen Kelly that “had Ned been present I would have sentenced him to twenty one years”.
£100 was placed on each of the heads of each of Ned and Dan Kelly.
Ned and Danheaded into the rough country of the Wombat Ranges and were joined by friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne. Steve Hart was aged 18, a snappy dresser and brilliant horseman. Joe Byrne, 21, was a close friend of Ned’s, a bush poet and the most thoughtful member of the gang. As with all the members of the Kelly Gang, he was a good horseman and crack shot. Byrne could also speak fluent Cantonese from having grown up with Chinese diggers in the goldfields.
Ned and Dan Kelly, wood engraving, 1878
The gang panned for gold and set up a whisky still to earn funds for a retrial for Ellen Kelly.
Events, however, were already beyond their control.