Updated October 21, 2005

Marian is an enthusiastic amateur historian whose obsession with the Kelly story began on 21st October 1980, the evening the first episode of The Last Outlaw was screened. Her 'simple' ambition is to know everything about Ned.

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William "Brickey" Williamson
"All that trouble for doing a good turn."

by Marian Matta

CONTINUED:

In July, a Sergeant Joyce began agitating for a little largesse to be displayed. On the 25th he wrote to Police Superintendent Frederick Winch, pointing out that “…there would be a double object in assisting [Williamson] by having a portion of his sentence remitted. In the first place he would feel that having given information to the police his case was not overlooked…In the next place, having received a remission he could not well return to the Kelly Country for his name having appeared in the “Argus” having been mentioned before the Royal Commission coupled with having received a mitigation of his sentence the sympathisers would mistrust him should he put in an appearance in that country. On the other hand, if he is allowed to serve his full time he would be discharged at the same time as prisoner Skillion (Kelly’s brother-in-law) when they could return together to the Kelly Country when they would be welcomed by Kelly’s friends. Williamson could easily explain that his interviews with the police were only misleading. He is one of those shrewd men…” Joyce felt that he would fall under the influence of the sympathisers and join a new gang should one be formed. On the other hand, he could see an honest future for William if he could be steered away from such influences.

The next five months saw a flurry of correspondence between officials within the Penal Department, police force, government and Law Department, each official adding his opinion as to whether William should be granted a remission of sentence. On 2nd August details of William’s earlier statements were tabled by Supt Winch at the Royal Commission, and it may not have been coincidental that four days later William wrote an extremely detailed account of the Fitzpatrick incident (see below). If he had been made aware of the agitation for his release which was going on behind the scenes, he might have been hoping for a quick result but 1881 slipped into 1882 and he was still incarcerated. After being a model prisoner for three years, he began to act up; in April he was insolent, in May he “had yarn improperly” (!) and was also disobedient. All this resulted in another thirteen days being tacked on his sentence.

Finally, on 11th October, 1882, William gained his freedom after serving a full four years of his six years sentence. His release was recommended by the Solicitor General “for service rendered to Police” and he left Pentridge with £2/18/10 in pay (roughly a week’s wages) and 2/6 in clothing. He was almost 35 and he was determined to settle down and get his life back in order.

First he tried share-farming in Yass, and on 3rd June 1883 he married 27-year-old Ellen Buckley in Mullengandra, New South Wales (just north of Albury, so despite Sgt Joyce’s calculations, he didn’t move too far from Kelly Country!), and they went on to have five daughters and three sons. The youngest daughter Ida, born 1898, was the mother of Betty Falconer.

The Williamsons settled in the Wagga Wagga district where they bought a farm at Coolamon, successfully running sheep and cattle. The farm is still owned by one of their great-grandchildren. It originally had a two-room building which became the kitchen and William’s study in which he kept his books. Another building was erected in front with all the joinery done by William who after all was the attentive son of a cabinet maker. His grand-daughter recalls there were rhododendrons and chrysanthemums about the place and hams hanging in the kitchen. He was a successful farmer, sending frozen lamb home to his sister Sarah in England and giving wheat to the local nuns. When journalist Brian Cookson interviewed Jim Kelly in 1911, Jim told him, “Williamson, I may say, is now a farmer in a big way”. He employed twelve men during harvest times, one of whom caught the eye of his daughter Ida. William strongly disapproved of their union as Bill McKenzie was still suffering the effects of his service in the Great War, but when it became obvious that the couple weren’t to be dissuaded he was very kind to them and helped them get on their feet. When his father-in-law died many years later Bill cried openly at the funeral.

Although threats were supposedly made on his life by the Kelly sympathisers, William always maintained that they actually treated him kindly. Both Wild Wright and Bill Skillion came to visit – Ida was aged about two but she remembered Wild as a big man with a big moustache. Ida hid under the kitchen table and played as Wild and her father talked, but she began crying when she bumped her head on the underside of the table so Wild cheered her up by pretending to cry too. William and Wild drank coffee and later Ellen Williamson prepared a meal for them. Ida also recalled seeing Bill Skillion walking the four miles up the road to visit, wearing a big hat over his reddish hair (remember that sandy-haired Joe Byrne was mistaken for Bill during the Fitzpatrick incident).Ellen didn’t give him such a welcoming reception and instead disappeared into the parlour during his visit. (Perhaps William broke out the demi-john of sherry that he kept for guests!)

For his part, William carried no ill feelings towards the Kellys either. Of his lost years he simply said, “All that trouble for doing a good turn”. While his wife preferred to read a book, William liked to play with the grandchildren and would sometimes talk about that day in 1878. Despite the earlier statements he had made to the police, in his later years he stuck closely to the version of events asserted by the Kellys. He maintained that Fitzpatrick was drunk (as were many of the lower ranks in those days, according to William) and that, in his opinion, Dan Kelly had not handled the situation well. After William had first spoken to Fitzpatrick he had continued chopping wood until he heard Mrs Kelly’s little children screaming. At that point he ran down to help, found Mrs Kelly threatening the policeman with a shovel, took the shovel and threw it away, and then took the children outside to calm them down. Fitzpatrick had maintained that William had returned to the house (mysteriously appearing from a bedroom) armed with a revolver but William told his family he did not own a gun then (and Betty thinks he didn’t own one later either) and he pointed out that there would have been no point in his calming the children down then running back into the house with a gun and inflaming the situation again. He agreed with the Kelly’s version that the policeman made advances at Kate, that Dan took offence, that Fitzpatrick hurt his wrist on the door, that Mrs Kelly bandaged it and that the whole thing ended with everyone having a cup of tea. William denied stoutly that shots had been fired or that anyone had jumped on horses and chased Fitzpatrick as he left. And was Ned there? Tantalisingly, his descendants aren’t sure although Betty makes the very good point that if Ned had been there at the start his mother mightn’t have felt the need to fight Fitzpatrick herself.

When in 1928 William heard that J. J. Kenneally was writing a book on the Kelly Gang, he sent off a letter, written with Ida’s assistance, in which he detailed his arrest, his “pardon(although he was not actually pardoned as such) and just a little about the Incident itself. This mostly dealt with the way in which Joe Byrne had been mistaken for Bill Skillion.

In later years William returned home to England a couple of times, the first trip being in 1912 although his parents were dead by then. Betty remembers her grandfather wearing a white safari suit and driving a silver-trimmed sulky – she thought he was very impressive! He remained healthy and active right up until his death on 3rd October, 1932 at the age of 84, leaving Grace Kelly as the only surviving witness to the Fitzpatrick Incident. His cause of death was a leg infection resulting from an attack by one of his roosters. The funeral gave some idea of the respect in which “Mr Williamson” was held in the neighbourhood as local schoolchildren formed a guard of honour and his coffin was carried between them.

Many people whose lives became entangled in the Kelly Outbreak carried a tragic legacy into their later years but it seems William Williamson was not one of them. Instead, helped by his own hard work and determination, he went on to have a long, successful and apparently contented life.

* * * * * * *

Statement by William Williamson to J. B. Castieau, dated 6th August 1881

Penal Establishment, Pentridge
6th August 1881

The Inspector General of Penal Establishments

Sir,

I was tried at Beechworth on the 9th October 1878 on a charge of aiding and abetting the Kellys and with an Attempt to Murder, and sentenced to six years hard labor. The day on which the offence was alleged to have been committed I was splitting wood on ?? (indecipherable) Range about a quarter of a mile from Kellys house when Constable Fitzpatrick rode up and asked if I had a splitters licence. I told him that I was not aware one was required. He replied that he did not care but I had better not let the Greta fellow know, meaning the Greta police. He talked with me for about ten minutes and then started in the direction of Greta. I started from home shortly afterwards. It was now about sundown. When I got near Mrs Kelly's house I saw Skillion coming across the paddock and I spoke to him and while thus engaged Fitzpatrick rode up to the fence and asked if Skillion had seen any strange horses and he replied "No." Fitzpatrick then asked where Dan Kelly was. I saw Mrs Kelly at the door and asked her if Dan was in. She did not answer, but Dan came out and Fitzpatrick called him over to him. Skillion started away at this time towards home. I heard Fitzpatrick say something about a Warrant and Dan said he would have something to eat before he went. Fitzpatrick said he would give him a good supper in Greta. Dan said it was cooked and he might as well have it. They were then both going towards the house. When they reached there Mrs Kelly tried to keep Fitzpatrick out when he drew his revolver and threatened to shoot her. She then took a spade and was going to hit him with it when I stepped in between them and took it from her and threw it behind the fire. Two of Mrs Kelly's children, two and four years of age, were screaming. I took them in my arms and went out of the house to quiet them. Soon after this Ned Kelly rushed round the corner of the house to the door and fired two shots ("at Fitzpatrick" added). I left the children and was going towards the house when a ("man"added) named King passed me with a revolver in his hand. I caught him by the shoulder and held him back. He said he thought they were scuffling. At this time Ned Kelly had hold of Fitzpatrick's revolver. Dan had hold of his right arm and Mrs Kelly was holding a spade against Fitzpatrick's chest. Ned took the revolver from his hand and then they let go of him. Ned came out and told me to move into the yard some horses which were on the flat and to tell Skillion to go to Harty's - a farm about four miles away - and bring two more horses. I told Skillion and then brought the horses as desired. I was then told to get their saddles and rations which they had packed and hid in a hollow log - and put them on the horses. When I had done this Skillion came with two more horses. Dan Kelly and his sister Kate and King came to the yard and I asked them how Fitzpatrick was. Kate Kelly said that he was in great pain, that Ned had cut the bullet out and Mrs Kelly had dressed the wound. Dan and King had some talk about what they would do with him (Fitzpatrick). King was for taking him with them and Dan for letting him go. Fitzpatrick promised to say nothing about being shot. Skillion and I were then told to take the horses up on the range and wait there till they came. We waited there about an hour when Dan and King came up and took the horses and started. Skillion and I then started for home, near which place we met Ned Kelly who said that he had been seeing Fitzpatrick on the road and he (Ned) had made it all right with him. Fitzpatrick had promised to say nothing about having been shot, if he could help it, but if there was any noise about it I was to say that Fitzpatrick was standing talking to me when he saw two men on the next range and started away to try to arrest one of them when the other man fired from behind a tree at him, that there were two or three shots fired and one man fell and the other closed on Fitzpatrick and took his revolver and ammunition from him and then let him go. Fitzpatrick was to be said to have then gone in the direction of the Kellys, one of the men to be described as being like the herdsman and the other like Witlow the poundkeeper, and Kelly's mother would state how she had dressed the wound in his wrist. I told Kelly I should never be able to think of that story and had better say that I knew nothing about it. Ned Kelly said "Very well, mind you stick to that." He then left and went in the direction of the other two, namely King and Dan Kelly. I never saw any of them after. On the next morning I was arrested by Sergeant Steele and Constable Brown. When I was taken to the lockup they read the charge and I said that I knew nothing about it. Constable Fitzpatrick swore in court that he saw me splitting wood and after leaving me he came down to the Kellys' place. He described how he had been shot by Ned Kelly and said after the second shot had been fired he saw me coming out of the bedroom of Kelly's hut. Such however was not a fact and he had his back to that part of the hut where was the bedroom and was excited in struggling with Kelly at the door of the hut. If anyone came out of the bedroom it was not I as when I did come to that hut I remained outside. On the trial Fitzpatrick was not asked about my taking the spade from Mrs Kelly.
The reason I said that I knew nothing about the matter was the fear I had of Ned Kelly after I promised him to say what he instructed me to relate, and though I might have interfered when Ned Kelly was taking the revolver from Fitzpatrick yet I thought it better not to do so as I might have made matters worse.
I understand that recently the police have discovered that Byrne was at Kellys hut at the time Fitzpatrick was shot in the wrist.
About December last I wrote a statement of the affair to Captain Standish who shortly afterwards answered that he considered I had received a very heavy sentence considering the circumstances and that he would try to get the Government to grant me a mitigation. (Castieau's underlining) Since then I have heard nothing further about it. I was six months awaiting trial, making the time still longer for me in prison. I therefore respectfully apply to you, Sir, to forward this statement to the Government as I am convinced that if inquiries be made into the truth and exact particulars of the matter they will be induced to grant me a mitigation of sentence.
I am
Your humble servant
William Williamson

 


Sources:

Reminiscences of Betty Falconer
Public Records Office of Victoria, Kelly Historical Collection
Public Records Office of Victoria, Prisoner records
Public Records Office of Victoria, Shipping records
1881 Royal Commission on the police force of Victoria
New South Wales Births Deaths & Marriages
Joseph Ashmead The Thorns And The Briars
Brian W. Cookson The Kelly Gang From Within
Justin Corfield The Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia
Graham Jones Ned Kelly: The Larrikin Years
Ian Jones Ned Kelly: A Short Life
J. J. Kenneally The Complete Inner History Of The Kelly Gang And Their Pursuers
Keith McMenomy Ned Kelly: The Authentic Illustrated Story
Ovens & Murray Advertiser

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First Published 20th October, 2005

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