Updated July 20, 2004
In the forth-coming months a number of Kelly books are set to be released or re-released. We will be doing reviews and keeping you updated as to when the books hit the stands. For a extensive list of reviews, we recommend ironoutlaw.
History of the Kelly Gang'
Those readers already familiar with the genuine history of the Kelly gang would recognize those aspects of this book that were invented by the author. However, (perhaps as testament to the skill of the writer), numerous novices to the Kelly story have accepted that it is actually a 'true history', while others, more circumspect, are seeking more information. To that end, the study below does not include a traditional book review - after all 'True History' is already widely reviewed, publicized, read and rewarded novel. Instead, a simple and accessible general summary of what aspects are facts and what are fictions is offered that hopefully should correct the bulk of misperceptions.
Fiction - The title 'True history of the Kelly gang' is the first and most significant fiction. Despite the confusion, 'True History' is a novel, which only loosely follows the known historical facts of Ned Kelly's life. (Peter Carey thought his choice for the title was self-explanatory, and explained it as follows: "Anyone who says "true history" is obviously writing a novel ... true history is totally consistent with the voice of the narrator. No historian would ever say that ".)
Fiction - All the 'parcels' presented as being written by Ned Kelly are an invention of the author, and they (or similar) do not actually exist.
- The 'parcels' are written by Peter Carey from Ned Kelly's perspective,
and are not Ned's words. They begin with the following: "I lost
my own father at 12 yr. of age
" Actually, Ned's precise
age at the time of his father's death has not yet been discovered by researchers,
(as no record of his birth or baptism survives). However, reliable documented
evidence proves that Ned believed himself to be "11 ½"
years of age on 27 Dec 1866, (Ned himself gave this information and signed
father's death registration).
Fact - Ned's father, John 'Red' Kelly, was born in Ireland and transported as a convict to Van Dieman's Land (now named Tasmania), Australia. He did move to Victoria after his release and did indeed try to avoid further trouble with the law.
Fiction - Ned's parents, Ellen Quinn and John Kelly's relationship is presented as resentful and unloving. Few details are known about their relationship, however all indication suggests it is likely their relationship was actually a happy and loving one. (Notably, Ellen is reported to have spoken kindly about John in her later life.)
Fiction - The idea that John Kelly wore dresses, or was involved in raids of squatter's lands or stock, is untrue. All other related aspects to this storyline are obviously also fiction, (i.e. there is no evidence that police spoke to Ned of his father as either a coward or a transvestite, Ned was never involved in a school yard fight over his father's supposed transvestitism, and, Maggie and Ned did not find, or burn, a dress hidden by their father).
Fact - The Kelly did indeed struggle financially and battled brutal poverty.
Fact - The Quinn family (Ellen's parents) did sell up, and move to 1000 acres of land at Glenmore, on the King River, Victoria.
- John Kelly was found in possession of a hide, with the brand cut out,
which he claimed he had cut out to make a whip.
Fiction - Ned didn't assist in the birth of his sister Grace.
Fact - Ned did save Richard (Dick) Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek. He was awarded a green silk sash as a thank you from the Shelton family, (the sash still exists).
- Ned's father, John, died aged 45, of "dropsy", when Ned was
Fact - Ellen did leave Avenel with her children not long after she became a widow, and traveled to north-east Victoria to be nearer her sisters.
- The Kelly family did live with Ellen's sisters' families in a former
hotel in Greta. (Their husbands (both Lloyds), i.e. Ellen's brothers-in-law,
were in gaol at the time.)
Fiction - The implication that Ellen may have made some money through less than respectable mean is untrue.
Fact - Ellen did select 88 acres of land to farm at Eleven Mile Creek, near the township of Greta, in Victoria.
Fiction - There is no evidence showing that Ellen and Harry Power were lovers.
Fact - Alex Gunn did marry Ned's sister, Anne.
Fact - Ned did become the bushranger Harry Power's 'apprentice'.
- Ellen did have an intimate relationship with Bill Frost, and later had
an illegitimate daughter to him. He abandoned her, and she sued him for
child support and won (having established in court that he was her only
Fiction - Stories of the devil and banshee are not part of Kelly folk-law and are obviously fictitious.
Fact - Although the details have been fictionalised, a Chinese man named Ah Fook did come to the Kelly's selection asking for a drink of illegal liquor. He grew angry when he was given only water, and became involved in a physical altercation with Ned. He afterward accused Ned of theft, and Ned was arrested. He was charged with assault and robbery, but the case was dismissed.
Fiction - The account of a boy, that later Harry Power claimed was not human, who came to the Kelly house to take Ned to wait for Harry at another family's house is fiction.
Fiction - Ned did not either try to shoot, or succeed in shooting, Bill Frost. While no doubt Ned was gullible and intimidated by the old bushranger, Harry Power, he was not 'tricked' into being his apprentice (by believing he killed a man by him, or any other manner).
Fact - Harry did rob (magistrate) Robert McBean of horse and a treasured watch, who thereafter put pressure on the police to increase their efforts to capture Harry.
- Ned did run away from Harry and return to the Kelly's selection.
- Ned was arrested for being an accomplice to robbery, and asked to give
police details to help capture him.
Fact - A £500 reward was designated for Harry Power's capture. Harry was arrested and it was locally believed that Ned had betrayed him. However it was indeed Ned's uncle, Jack Lloyd, who gave the relevant information and received the reward money.
Fact - The social judgment and ostracizing that Ned experienced after Harry's arrest did occur. He was treated badly by the local populace due to popular belief that he had betrayed Harry Power to the police. There was inherent shame, rejection and loathing, in the eyes of poorer classes toward anyone that was involved with any betrayal to an authority. This aspect of Australian society is highlighted and accurately portrayed throughout the novel.
Fact - Ned was encouraged by Constable Hall to start a fight with his uncles, Pat and Jimmy Quinn, and lure them to the police barracks. The result was indeed a fight with police, which resulted with his uncles being arrested and given gaol terms. Ned did relent in court and told the truth regarding the police's involvement, earning him the enmity of Constable Hall.
- McCormack's horse was found loose by the Kelly's and returned. The McCormack's
did accuse the Kelly's of working the horse. Gould did put some calves'
testicles in an envelope and send them to the childless McCormack's with
a note suggesting they could be of use.
Fiction - Ned was not "6 ft. 2 in." tall when released. In fact, his tallest recorded height was only 5 ft. 10 in.
- Ned did ride a horse that he repeatedly claimed he was unaware had been
stolen by Isaiah 'Wild' Wright, and was arrested on mere suspicion of
horse theft (without a warrant) by Constable Hall. While making the arrest
Hall did indeed try to shoot Ned. Fortunately for Ned the gun misfired,
and he saw his only chance was to try and wrestled the gun from Hall.
Fiction - The rat charmer visit and consequent plague is fictitious.
Fact - Ned's half-sister, Ellen Frost (illegitimate daughter of Ellen Kelly), did die aged 1 yr.
Fact - Ned's sister, Annie Gunn, did become pregnant to police Constable Flood, and died soon after giving birth to a daughter, (who later died aged 1 ½).
Fact - Ellen Kelly did have a relationship and became pregnant to a considerably younger man, George King. Despite Ellen's pregnancy, they did not marry until after Ned was released from prison, (however it is not known why, but it seems unlikely they waited for Ned's blessing, and more likely that Ned insisted on the marriage).
- It is unlikely that Ellen encouraged Ned to steal horses with George
King immediately after his release from prison. It would have been Ned's
choice to take on 'honest' work.
Fiction - Ned did not turn his back on his family. It is possible that he gave his mother some of his earnings, although there is no proof of this.
Fact - Ned did have a close friendship with his cousin Tom Lloyd, and it is likely they were involved in a legitimate horse trade during the time Ned was employed by the sawmill.
- Steve Hart did not wear dresses.
Fact - It is not a proven fact that a fight between Ned Kelly and Wild Wright occurred, but there is evidence to strongly suggest it did take place, and that Ned won. (It is unknown whether Joe Byrne was present, although it seems possible that he was. He did not kick Wild.)
Fiction - There is no evidence to prove that Ned ever owned, or even read, the novel Lorna Doone.
- Dan was a member of the larrikin group referred to as the 'Greta Mob'.
- Constable Flood did not torture Dan Kelly.
Fact - Ned did join George King in a horse theft scheme.
Fiction - Dan Kelly did not wear dresses. (There were no stolen dresses, and Ned did not return any, or meet Alexander Fitzpatrick doing so. There was no argument between Ned and Steve about dress wearing.)
- Ned and Fitzpatrick were friends.
- Joe Byrne did suffer from an opium addiction.
Fiction - The story about the kidnapped blacksmith, paying him off with a calf, and bumping into Constable Fitzpatrick while returning him to Winton, is fictional. As is Fitzpatrick telling Ned he was in love with his sister Kate, and Steve Hart's vigil outside the police station.
- Ned was arrested for being 'drunk' and riding his horse on a footpath,
he claimed he had been drugged. The next day, when he was being taken
to court, he did resist being handcuffed and fought a number of police
in a boot-maker's shop in Benalla. He did turn himself in to a Justice
of the Peace.
Fiction - Fear of Ned was not the cause for George King abandoning Ellen. (In fact his reason is unknown.) His horse being butchered is invented.
Fact - Fitzpatrick did talk Ned into getting Dan Kelly to surrender to police, he was found guilty of willful damage to property and imprisoned for 3 months.
- There was an incident at the Kelly homestead involving Constable Fitzpatrick,
which resulted in arrest warrants being issued for Ned, Dan and Ellen
Kelly for attempted murder of the police officer. Also warrants were issued
for Bill Skillion and neighbour Brickey Williamson.
Fact - Ellen, Skillion and Williamson were arrested over the 'attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, and a £100 reward was offered for Ned and Dan. Ellen was tried, found guilty and sentenced to 3 years hard labour, and Skillion and Williamson were sentenced to 6 years each.
Fact - The police did have long belts (known as an 'undertaker') designed to carry dead bodies on the side of a horse, that they intended to take on their search for Dan and Ned. This knowledge, along with the threats made to their sisters by police, did give Ned and Dan reason to believe the police did not intended to simply arrest them, but to shoot them dead.
- Ned did find more than one set of police tracks around Stringybark Creek
by accident and did believe he and Dan were surrounded and that their
lives were at risk. Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were with them at this time.
Fact - The general circumstances of the Stringybark Creek confrontation are presented reasonably accurately in the novel. Ned did intend to rob them for supplies and weapons, rather than shoot them, and was sorry afterwards for their deaths. He did shoot Constable Lonigan and possibly Scanlon (although Scanlon he may have been shot by one of the others, Ned did state on a number of occasions that he alone had shot all 3 men). He did shoot Sergeant Kennedy in a running gun fight and was unaware Kennedy was trying to surrender.
- According to statements made by Contable McIntyre, Joe Byrne was not
aggressive in the least toward him, he did not threaten (or kick) him.
In fact Joe was the only one of the four men that made a favourable impression
on the police officer. (He said Joe, "had not the villainous expression
of the others", and that he alone showed him consideration, offering
tea and tobacco.)
Fact - Dan was injured in the gunfight, however, unlike the book, it was not a serious or debilitating wound, (a shot grazed his shoulder).
- It may be possible that Aaron Sherritt felt Ned was in some way responsible
for Joe's involvement in the police shootings; however there is no evidence
that Aaron ever openly displayed resentful feelings towards him. (Nothing
is known about Aaron's feelings about Ned's friendship with Joe, or about
the relationship between Aaron and Ned.) Aaron is recorded as greatly
admiring Ned's strength, (strength was something Aaron considered important),
however little else is known about his opinion of other aspects of Ned's
- The gang did attempt to run their horses across the Murray River and
were nearly caught by police as it was flooded.
- The police did visit the Kelly's homestead and threaten to kill Ned
and Dan when they found them.
- Ned and the gang were condemned by the press media and dubbed the 'Mansfield
murders'. They were declared 'Outlaws' and could be shot on sight by anyone.
- Steve and Dan did not steal dresses from a sympathizer family, or claim
to be 'Sons of Sieve'.
Fiction - Only one letter was sent to the parliamentarian Cameron, and Ned did not write it. The 'Cameron Letter' is written in Joe Byrne's handwriting, but from Ned's point of view. (It is believed that Joe wrote as Ned dictated the words to him).
Fiction - There is no evidence that Joe was angry at being in the position he found himself in or being Ned's friend, neither is there any indication that Aaron asked Ned to release Joe. (M.H.'s story about the Sons of Sieve torturing a horse is fictional.)
Fact - The inept 'Raid of Sebastapol', by police of the Sherritt's home, did occur.
Fact - The progressive increase of the reward money for the Kelly gang, to £8,000, is true.
Fiction - There is no evidence that Joe resisted the idea of robbing a bank, and some to suggest he was heavily involved in planning the details of it. (Obviously M.H. did not plan the robbery).
- In December, 1878, the gang did hold up Faithfull's Creek station and
robbed the bank at Euroa, the details of which are generally written accurately.
However, while Joe did write the letter to Cameron it wasn't an impulse
idea after speaking to a hostage, (Ned dictated the majority of it).
Fact - The police did arrest 21 men on mere suspicion of being Kelly sympathizers. They were held on remand, and unjustly imprisoned for up to 3 months without evidence or charge laid against them.
- The Kelly gang did use the majority of the stolen bank money paying
debts and sympathizers.
Fact - Aaron Sherritt did take police bribes and gave them useless information, the gang knew the details of Aaron's interactions with the police, at least initially.
Fact - Parts of Ned and Joe's 'Cameron' letter were summarized and commented on in the newspapers, but the letter was generally belittled. No formal action was taken by MP Cameron on receipt of the letter.
Fact - In February 1879, the Kelly gang did take the N.S.W. town of Jerilderie, its police and citizens, hostage, and they successfully robbed its bank.
- Ned had again dictated a 58 page manifesto (now know as 'the Jerilderie
Letter') to Joe. At Jerilderie Ned tried to get it published by the town's
publisher, Mr. Gill, however he escaped before an arrangement could be
made. Ned was angry, but trusted the letter to the bank's accountant,
Living, (not Mrs. Gill), who promised to get it published for him, but
instead later surrendered it to the government.
Fact - The Kelly gang did go into hiding from February 1879 to June 1880, and the police could not find them. (Little is known about the gang's movements during this time.)
Fiction - Ned did not have a daughter.
- Aaron Sherritt did not lead the police to one of the gang's hide outs
as described, although it is true that the gang no longer trusted him.
Fact - The gang did plan and make 4 suits of 'homemade' armour from farming mouldboards (ploughshares). Joe did not think the armour would protect the gang.
Fact - Joe, (accompanied by Dan), did shoot and kill Aaron in his home outside Beechworth. They did force a local man, Anton Wicks, to knock on the Sherritt's door and pretend he was lost, in order to lure Aaron out. Four police officers were there, ostensibly to protect Aaron, and did hide under the bed.
Fact - Ned and Steve were in Glenrowan getting the train tracks torn up and taking hostages into the Glenrowan Inn. Joe and Dan joined them there after returning from Beechworth.
- One of the hostages taken by the gang was school teacher Thomas Curnow,
who easily convinced Ned he was an ally and was released. Instead of going
home however, he stopped the police train and warned them of the damaged
Fact - The police train was late and the gang members were exhausted by the time it arrived. The hostages did sing songs.
- The descriptions of the siege at Glenrowan were for the most part presented
fairly accurately. Police bullets did kill and injure hostages. Joe Byrne
was shot dead.
- Ned Kelly was hanged for murder (on 11/11/1880) as described.