The Kellys had their own system of informants, spies and safe houses. The arrest of Kelly sympathisers only strengthened Kelly support. It also meant that those families, having lost their breadwinners, were lacking income and therefore doing it tough. Kelly and his gang resolved to obtain funds to help those sympathisers.
The New South Wales police had been smug about the Victorian attempts to catch Kelly, believing that they could do a more efficient job.
Through information deliberately filtered to the police, Ned let it be known that he intended to hold up the bank in Goulburn.
Instead, on 8 February 1879, they rode to Jerilderie. In pairs they had drinks at the local hotel, gathering local knowledge, including the names of the local police. Kelly then went to the police station and yelled out “Devine, there’s a drunken man at Davidson’s Hotel who has committed murder. Get up at once, all of you.” Devine and his deputy, Richards, immediately got up and ran out, straight into revolvers aimed at them.
They were locked in their own cells. Mrs Devine, in her nightie, was made to go round the premises with a candle gathering up the firearms. They then spent Saturday night in the sitting room with the children and Mrs Devine.
The next day, Sunday, they dressed in police uniforms and made Constable Richards take them round the town, introducing them as visiting police who had come to investigate the Kelly affair.
Constable Devine asked Kelly not to frighten his wife, who was pregnant. Kelly thereafter lifted all heavy loads for her and mad sure that she did not strain herself. When Mrs Devine said she had to convert the courthouse into a church for the morning mass, Ned sent Dan to help her. Dan even arranged the flowers.
On Monday Ned held up the local bank, The Bank of New South Wales. The bank’s accountant, one Mr Living, was told to find the manager and found him in his bath. He said through the door “Oh, excuse me sir, but we are stuck up. The Kellys are here.” The manager told him not to talk rubbish but quickly changed his mind as he was ordered naked from the bath at gunpoint.
The bank was relieved of £2,140 in cash and coins.
When Kelly saw a tin full of mortgages and papers, he declared he would burn them. Living, the accountant, pleaded to be allowed to retrieve his life policy and Kelly allowed him to search for it, saying that he would burn the rest later. He did not, however, return to this stated intention.
Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were holding up the Royal Mail Hotel next door to the bank. Anyone who came by the bank was made a hostage at the hotel. After the robbery, the meeting at the hotel turned into a party. Kelly bought drinks for all, using money obtained in the robbery. He also addressed the hostages, about 60 in number, from a letter he had prepared that set out his version of the various past events.
Sydney Punch magazine of 1 March 1879 had the following account in respect of one incident in the hotel:
“It is said that when Kelly in the excitement of his braggadocio speech to the people at the bar of the hotel, after the bank robbery, inadvertently laid his revolvers on the counter. Constable Richards whispered to Mr Living, the accountant of the bank, that it would be easy to secure the weapons and take Kelly, and implored Living to help him. ‘No thank you,’ said the accountant, ‘I would rather be Living than dead.’ “
When the authorities learned of the Jerilderie robbery, the Victorian government’s reward went up to £4,000, matched by a reward of £4,000 from the government of New South Wales.
Reward poster issued a week after the Jerilderie events
The Jerilderie Letter:
Before the Kelly Gang held up the bank in Jerilderie, Joe Byrne had written down a lengthy document dictated to him by Ned. It is 7,391 words in length and is an amazing document that sets out Ned’s history, version of events and grievances, not only on behalf of himself but also for his family and poorer Australians, especially the treatment of Irish Catholics by the police and by the English and Protestant squatters. He referred to it as a “little bit of my life”. It is passionate, eloquent and believable, made all the more impressive by Kelly’s lack of education and hard life.
First page of the Jerilderie letter
It was Kelly’s intention to have the document, which subsequently became known as the Jerilderie letter, printed in the town’s newspaper (the Cameron letter having been suppressed) but the paper’s editor had fled when he became aware of the gang’s presence in Jerilderie. Ned gave the letter to one of the bank’s tellers, who promised that he would have it published, but the teller gave it to the Crown Law Office in Melbourne.
Like the Cameron letter, the Jerilderie letter was also suppressed. Its contents were not made public, its existence was not disclosed and it was not mentioned at his trial. It was rediscovered in 1930 and published by the Melbourne Herald, the first that the public learned of it.
According to historian Alex McDermott:
"... even now it's hard to defy his voice. With this letter Kelly inserts himself into history, on his own terms, with his own voice...We hear the living speaker in a way that no other document in our history achieves...(it is) one of the most extraordinary documents in Australian history."