Ned Kelly
Updated October 31, 2003

Ned Kelly This section focuses on the most disputed events in the Kelly story. Much oral history is involved which may possibly be accurate - yet elements of the widely 'accepted history' cannot be substantiated. Here we sort fact from fable.

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MYTHS

Was Ned married in gaol?
Ned Kelly photoFact
- None.

Theory - Part of the ever-expanding Kelly mythology includes a story that Ned might have been married in the Melbourne Gaol on the night before he was executed. The 'doomed gaol-marriage' story obviously holds dramatic appeal and was even included in the 1970 Jagger movie 'Ned Kelly'. This romantic idea has been hypothesized for some years, however no known evidence exists to support it and no clear source for the story has immerged. Adding to the improbability of a factual basis for this story is the fact that the identity of the bride seems to have altered numerous times. The most recent speculation depicts Kate Lloyd as the mythical gaol bride, but previous and still persistent stories suggest Ettie Hart and Mary Miller.

Analysis - Such contradictions and confusion, along with the complete lack of evidence, demonstrate how unreliable such unsupported stories are, quite apart from any attempt to determine the identity of Ned's mythic bride. In fact, examining the unlikely idea that Ned was permitted to marry in such circumstances, and that it is completely undocumented - raises a number of questions and issues that leave this story in serious doubt with most historians.

  • Why was their no official government record made of the marriage?
  • A priest would have performed the wedding and so would have automatically produced supportive evidence by registering the marriage in church records, even if he did not do so in prison or government records - yet there is no known church record of such an event ever having taken place.
  • Why would the gaol officials allow such a kind indulgence to a man they had treated with the utmost harshness during his imprisonment to that time?
  • While in gaol Ned was under constant guard and his every action noted and recorded. Given this level of scrutiny how could such a significant event (as sneaking into the gaol a priest, a bride, and possibly a witness) have gone unnoticed and unreported by Ned's guards, not to mention the other gaol inmates? Such an unusual course of action would have involved a complicated and well-planned conspiracy. Yet what possible motive would all those involved have had to enter into such an arrangement, let alone to keep the wedding conspiracy a secret for life? Such a successful and unexplainable conspiracy is extremely improbable.
  • Why would such a marriage be kept secret from Ned's and the alleged bride's families (the Kellys, and Harts, Lloyds, or Millers etc)? This seems unnecessary and highly unlikely.
  • No further evidence has been found. To the contrary, in the instance of Kate Lloyd, registration of Catherine (Kate) Lloyd's marriage to William Cleave in 1895 documentation does exist, in which Kate was recorded as being married as a 'spinster' (not a widow) and under the surname of Lloyd - not Kelly.
  • If ever discovered the woman involved would have been generally viewed by society as the widow of a notorious outlaw and 'murderer', a man who had been shamefully executed for his unthinkable and unforgivable crimes against society. By marrying after he had been sentenced to death, Ned would have had to be willing to risk bringing social shame on his bride (and her family). Furthermore Ned was not known to be a sentimental or romantically inclined person. He was actually acknowledged for taking responsibilities upon himself, particularly with regards to his family and others dependent on him. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that Ned would have treated the contract of marriage in a pragmatic, rather than indulgently sentimental manner, particularly given the era he lived in. It is very difficult to imagine that he would place personal sentiment above pragmatism and duty by marrying a woman whom he knew he could promise nothing to, except potential public shame.
    Historical note:
    In Victorian times reputation was long lasting and had a direct impact on a person's social, and potentially even economic, standing. Ned would have been well aware of the potentially damaging consequences to a woman if she were discovered to have been the wife of such a notorious criminal. Marrying her then, in such circumstances would have been a very uncharacteristic and strange thing to do to someone he presumably loved. Additionally, for Ned to choose to enter into such a marriage and risk the consequences to the bride for the sake of sentiment alone, he would have been acting in direct contrast to his usual and well-known chivalrous and respectful attitude towards women.

Conclusions - Considering the weight of evidence against the gaol marriage idea, along with the complete lack of any evidence to support it, it is a story that should really be treated in the same manner as Dan and Steve's fabled escape from Glenrowan, i.e. as merely part of Kelly mythology and not factual.


Was Ned homosexual?
Facts
- None.

Theory - Speculation that Ned Kelly was gay has periodically arisen over many decades. Ned is a public figure and an Australian icon; it is therefore not surprising that such a theory has cropped up more than once. One possible reason some people may be keen to show that Ned may have been married, or even in a serious committed relationship, is that such a relationship with a woman would appear to go a long way towards proving that Ned was not homosexual. Additionally, homosexuality is still considered, by some in the community, to have negative connotations. Thus claiming (or even 'accusing') Ned of homosexuality is supposedly thought, at least by some of his detractors, to denigrate and malign him.

Circumstantial evidence - Researchers have found no evidence to indicate that Ned was homosexual, and this factor is reflected in the type of 'arguments' periodically used to support the idea. These arguments are unconvincing and circumstantial at best, particularly when put in an historical context. Typical arguments are as follows:

  • The gang members were said to enjoy wearing men's perfume or 'scent'.
  • Gang members have been reputed to have worn woman's clothes to evade detection by police.
  • Gang members were said to dance with other men. For example: At Glenrowan before the siege Dan chose to dance with the hostage Thomas Curnow, and, oral history says that Ned danced with a policeman at a race-day picnic during the days of his outlawry.
  • These 'arguments', coupled with the fact that these men spent months at a time in the bush together with no female company, have given rise to the idea that one or all of the gang members were gay.

Ned Kelly glenrowan

Analysis - Such behaviors, either considered alone or combined, cannot be determined as being sexually motivated. Certainly 19th century homosexual men may have worn perfume, danced together, and spent time in the bush together, however these things were not what made them homosexual. These activities were not exclusive to homosexuals; heterosexual men also did such things. Therefore after only cursory examination of the cited incidents, it is easy to recognise that nothing can be concluded about individual or group sexual preferences.
Following are the above circumstantial arguments placed in their historical context:

  • The perfume or 'scent' was a matter of fashion, just as after-shave is today (not to mention the fact that it also went a long way to cover up the smell of the camp fires and horse sweat). It was thought that such 'scent' impressed and attracted women. Some men wore perfume, regardless of whether they were married, gay, or straight.
  • Cross-dressing is not the same as homosexuality. The reputed dress wearing would have been specifically done to evade capture, and not done for 'pleasure'. It would have been no different to when, in Jerilderie, the gang members dressed up in police uniforms. It would have simply been a clever form of disguise.
  • It was not uncommon for men to dance with each other in Colonial times, particularly when there was a shortage of women to dance with. No stigma was attached to men dancing together and nothing sexual was interpreted by it.
  • Being in the bush in entirely male company was, again, not uncommon for the times and so can be easily dismissed as an indication of homosexuality. The lack of women in the bush was more of a matter of pragmatism that anything else. Women were under heavy social pressure and mores in Victorian times, and such free behavior as riding around unchaperoned in the bush with a group of men, even at the best of times would most likely have branded the women 'loose'. It was simply not viewed as 'respectable' behavior for women, and, no matter how 'innocent' the incident, would have had social repercussions and consequences for the woman involved. Therefore women in such situations would have been rare, and probably limited to relatives.
    Additionally, in particular regard to the Kelly gang members, once they were outlawed and the police had begun to hunt them, they obviously would have had little choice but to retreat to the bush together to hide, and thus travel without women. Avoiding detection by police would have been influenced by the size of the party of travelers, (i.e. the smaller the more easily hidden). If women were with men, such a group would have stood out for being unusual. Fewer supplies would have been required and they could have traveled more quickly. The Felons Apprehension Act also determined that anyone seen with the Kellys was at risk of being shot, or convicted under section 5 and imprisoned. The gang members would have had too higher concern for their female relatives and friends to have them risk such a fate, simply for the sake of having female company.

Conclusions - The number of reported and possible female 'sweethearts' Ned is linked to, along with the complete lack of suggested male partners, does significantly decrease the likelihood that Ned might have been homosexual. Conversely, however, if it were proved that Ned was in fact married, this would not necessarily constitute 'proof' that he was not gay. So in trying to determine whether Ned was, or was not, a homosexual, a marriage is somewhat immaterial. Instead, to prove homosexuality, authentic and supportive proof is required. So here we find another example of a theoretically possible hypothesis in Kelly mythology with absolutely no evidence to support it. Considering the obvious lack of evidence we may, therefore, presume with considerable confidence that it was highly unlikely that Ned was homosexual.
Note: The question of homosexuality has also been extended to other members of the Kelly gang; as if by showing one member was gay this would prove the others were gay also. This is obviously not logical and certainly not evidential. This theory has been asserted, presumably for the same motivations, despite the lack of any supporting evidence.

 

HISTORY

Facts, evidence, circumstantial evidence, data, primary sources, hearsay, rumour, theory, interpretation and conclusions: How do we analysis the available evidence?


Marriage and romance in a Historical Context:

Victorian Era - working class picnic group

Analysis - This topic needs to be reviewed in its historical context. Thus it should be taken into consideration that social and family relationships were held, and viewed, very differently in Victorian times than they are today. Society was far more formal, as well as being limited behaviorally and usually insulated socially. Families tended to be larger and members often relied on each other for intimate connections and informal relationships far more than they do in the 21st century. 'Flirting' tended to be a far more non-sexually motivated pursuit than it is today, often safely 'practiced' between relations. Loving devotion to another family member was not usually, or necessarily, sexual or romantic. Romances before marriage could certainly be serious, but were not necessarily so. Evidence of a romance existing between two people does not indicate its depth, and of course many light-hearted romances regularly existed between couples. In order to give the parties enough time to get to know each other before a formal commitment was made, 'courting' was often a lengthy process and many such relationships did not progress to marriage. Therefore what we see of the past should not be interpreted from this distance, or with modern values, and evidence of affection should not necessarily be concluded as romantic love or monogamy, particularly given the smaller social circles and heavier reliance on family and close friends in most aspects of 19th century life in country Victoria.

Marriage in the 19th century was treated seriously and usually in a responsible manner. Divorce was not readily available and the accompanying opposition and 'shame' to those involved in a divorce was immense, so marriage was usually seen as binding until death. This was particularly true for those raised in the Catholic faith. There is no evidence to suggest Ned was immune to society's expectations and values in this regard. One factor usually overlooked in the 'marriage debate' is the nature of Ned's character. He was a pragmatic, somewhat serious, and certainly loyal man, who was intensely devoted to his family. Despite his occasionally spontaneous temper, his approach towards those he loved, and to women in particular, was one of respect. There is also no evidence to suggest that Ned had a particularly romantic nature. It therefore seems rather unlikely that he would have married any woman he loved in a flippant or ill-considered manner. It follows from this that it is unlikely that he would have offered any woman a marriage in which he could not provide for her and any children they may have had. (Note: Considering this, any claims of a marriage occurring after Ned was outlawed are considerably more suspect than ones occurring beforehand.)

Perhaps the most interesting change to this particular aspect of Kelly mythology is that, whereas in the past society was content to have Ned's sister Kate Kelly as the 'heroine' of Kelly folklore, now with modern values (perhaps being more sexually motivated) the main female protagonist is also required to be a romantic love interest of the hero. As the story becomes more generalized and popular, and the focus moves away from factual precision, towards legend - the desire for a romance increases. (It is worth noting that it is usually recommended during the modern teaching of scriptwriting in film schools that the hero has a love interest to widen the 'appeal' of the story.) It is easy to understand why a love interest is usually written in for Ned in fictional literature, and why one is commonly intimated and pursued in historical studies.


SUMMARY and CONCLUSIONS

This, like all historical analysis should be, is a factual investigation and in trying to discover if Ned may have been married, it is essential to define and evaluate what can be proved. This investigation is by no means definitive, however it is clear that, to date, there has been no evidence discovered to indicate that Ned was ever married, and very little to establish that he was involved in a serious romance at the time of his death. However, it must also be recognised that it is theoretically possible that Ned may have been married, but probability, along with the lack of evidence, suggests that he wasn't. Probability also suggests that Ned had some romantic relationships during his lifetime, but as to how serious they were, or how many he had - historians simply do not know without some, yet undiscovered, form/s of proof. Certainly Ned's brother Jim believed he had "no girl" - at least during the last and most significant part of his life and this should not be ignored. As much as we would all like to believe Ned was married, or at least had one woman whom he loved devotedly, neither is a proven fact one way or another. It would be exciting if one, or more, verifiable documents surface and are authenticated, that indicate Ned was indeed married, or even ever in love, with any woman and then answers to the above questions could be far more conclusive. However from the limited facts available to Kelly historians at present, all aspects of this subject can currently only be examined and discussed in a speculative manner, and no affirmative conclusions drawn. Notably, although not a particularly exciting approach, objectivity is the main ingredient to historical analysis, and all theories and information must be assessed both as a whole, as well as on an individual basis.

Contextual Note: It is difficult to imagine that Ned would have even been interested in initiating or pursuing a courtship after the time he was declared an outlaw and was being hunted. Ned's priorities and energies would have been related to basic survival. As science has proved, the instinct to survive always takes precedent over other basic human needs. Self preservation alone would have been an exceptionally difficult task in view of the fact that Ned was an outlaw and a rebel. Added to this, his primary concerns would have included: protecting the lives of Joe, Dan and Steve and keeping his family and friends from harm; getting supplies without risk both to the gang and those aiding them; concern for his family (particularly his mother in gaol); wariness of friends in case they proved to be spies; detailed planning of robberies and Glenrowan battle plans; and making armour. All these things would have required constant vigilance and been extremely stressful, and hardly an ideal environment for romance.

Historians must rely on documented evidence of a marriage, or similar information being widely acknowledged or accepted and recorded at the time, before concluding or presenting it as truth. In this instance researchers to date have discovered or produced no such evidence. One of the reasons there has been such a wide variety of women nominated for Ned is because all such claims rely entirely on hearsay or interpretation of circumstantial evidence, and lack proof. Every historian interested in this question is entitled to state an educated opinion, but caution should be used before stating any hypothesis as anything more than a theory or possibility. No theory of a marriage or engagement should be stated as fact by anyone without conclusive supportive proof.
Without clear evidence of a marriage, historians are merely speculating and so, factually speaking, until any clear verifiable evidence surfaces, from the facts available we must conclude that Ned was not married. Researchers have no clear evidence to suggest that Ned was ever engaged or involved a serious or committed romantic relationship, so, in that regard also, based on the currently available facts we can make no conclusions. Based on the facts available at present it is most probable that Ned was not homosexual.

 

Notes
Sources:
Brown, Max 'Australian Son' 1948
Cannon, M. 'Australia in the Victorian Age' 1975
Carey, Peter 'True history of the Kelly gang' 2000
Dean, G. and Balcarek, D. 'Ned and the others' 1999
Dean, G. and Balcarek, D. 'Women and Bushrangers' 2002
Drew, Robert 'Our Sunshine' 1991
Himmelfarb, G. 'Marriage and morals among the Victorians' 1986
Jones, I. 'A Short Life' 1995, 2003
Kenneally, JJ 'True history of the Kelly gang and their pursuers'
Mason, Michael 'The making of Victorian sexuality' 1994
McMenomy, K 'The authentic illustrated history' 1984, 2001
Molony, John 'Ned Kelly' 1980, 2001
O'Farrell, Patrick 'The Irish in Australia' 1897
Walvin, James 'Victorian Values' Andre Deutsch Limited 1987

Documents
Victorian Historical Journal 1990
State Library of Victoria Archive Newspaper Collection
Indices 1837 - 1888
NB. Kate Lloyd's birth is listed as 1868, which would make her only 12 at Glenrowan. There have been some doubts raised about her precise birth date. Kate's immediately older sibling, Bridgid, is listed as being born in 1864, the next, Jane, not till 1871, therefore Kate could not have been born before Nov/Dec 1864 at the earliest, (making her only 15 at most in June of 1880). Addressing the possibility that the date recorded of 1868 might be inaccurate, considering her siblings' birth dates and the unlikelihood the record would be more than a year or two out, it still seems feasible that she was probably around 13 or 14 years in 1880.

Multi-media
The Last Outlaw Mini-series
1970 Ned Kelly movie
2003 Ned Kelly movie
3LO radio - ABC 774

Internet
www.ironoutlaw.com
www.nedkellythemovie.com
Public Record Office Victoria (Series VPRS 4965)

Picture Sources (with thanks)
Australian Pictorial Weekly An Illustrated Newspaper (Publisher Queensberry Hill Press Facsimile edit 1982)
Cannon, M. 'Australia in the Victorian Age' 1975
McDonagh J.M. 'Ned Kelly The Screenplay' 2003 (Photo: Carolyn Johns)
McMenomy, Keith 'The authentic illustrated history' 1984, 2001
Molony, John 'Ned Kelly' 1980, 2001
www.davidsposters.com

Thanks
Many thanks to Marian Matta for her encouragement and insightful comments, these prompting further investigation on a number of aspects of this research topic. Thanks also to Ellen Hollow for providing information from the 1837 - 1888 Victorian indices, and Dave White for supplying at request a number of newspaper clippings, including The Herald (3/12/1880).
N. Cowie

For more info see pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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First Published 31st October 2003

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