Glenrowan History News Reports

Commencement of the Fight (2 July 1880)

A contemporary new report describing the siege and Ned Kelly’s arrival in Melbourne.

Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 – 1954), Friday 2 July 1880, page 4


The township of Glenrowan consists of about half a dozen houses, inclusive of two bush hotels, Jones’s Glenrowan Hotel being about 200 yards from the station on the west side of the line, whilst McDonald’s Hotel is about the same distance on the other side of the line. On arriving, the occupants of the train were convinced by the report of a shot fired from Jones’s Hotel, that they were in the presence of the desperate outlaws. The next few minutes were productive of painful excitement. The police abandoned the horses and rushed to their arms. The black trackers sprang forward with their leader, and soon took up a position in front of the house. Mr. Hare could be plainly seen by the light of the moon. He walked boldly towards the hotel, and when within about twenty-five yards of the verandah, the tall figure of a man came round a corner, and fired. The shot took effect on Mr. Hare’s wrist, but Kelly found in him a foeman who would not shrink from him. Senior-constable Kelly and C. C. Rawlings, a volunteer, were close to him, and the former promptly returned the fire, which was taken up by Mr. Hare, although wounded, and Mr. Rawlings followed his example. Just before Superintendent Hare was wounded, Constable Bracken, the   local policeman, who had been made prisoner in the hotel, courageously made his escape, and running towards the railway station, he quickly spread the information that the Kellys, with about forty prisoners, were inmates of the hotel, which was a weatherboard building containing about six rooms, inclusive of the bar. Behind the building there was a kitchen, the walls of which were constructed of slabs. Into this the police fired. When about sixty shots had been sent into the walls of the building, the clear voice of Hare was distinguished above the screams of the terrified women and children who were in the hotel, giving the order to stop firing. The Kellys fired three or four more shots, after which one of them gave vent to coarse and brutal language, calling to the police, “Come on, you b—— wretches, and you can fire away; you can never harm us.” After the lapse of about a quarter of an hour, Superintendent Hare approached the station, and stated that be had been wounded in the wrist. The wound was a very bad one, and was bleeding very much. There was no doctor present, but the representatives of the press succeeded in stopping the rapid loss of blood. During the trying ordeal Mrs. O’Connor and Miss Smith remained unwilling witnesses of the terrible scene. They retained their seats in the railway carriage, and the bravery which they displayed, notwithstanding that the bullets from the outlaws whistled past the train, surely ought to have had a good effect on the men who were facing death in the execution of their duty. Seeing the wound, the ladies implored Mr. Hare not to return to the fight, but he did so. His reappearance in the trenches was the signal for renewed firing, and the valley was soon filled with smoke. Mr. Hare then became faint from loss of blood, and was compelled to leave the field. He went back to Benalla on an engine in order to have his injury attended to, and send more men to the front. A long and tedious interval followed, during which time Mr. Stainstreet, the stationmaster, suddenly left the hotel, where he had been kept prisoner with the other residents of Glenrowan. He walked boldly away, and had a narrow escape of being shot by the police, but he saved himself by proclaiming he was the stationmaster. He reported that the gang were still in the house, and that the shots of the police had struck the daughter of Mrs. Jones, a girl 14 years of age, on the head, whilst the son, John Jones, a boy of nine years, was wounded in the hip. Very soon after this, painful hysterical screams of terror were heard from Mrs Jones and a Mrs. Reardon, both of whom were walking about the place, disregarding the danger to be feared from the volleys which the police, at short intervals, poured into the hotel. The police frequently called upon the women to come away, but they hesitated, and Mrs. Reardon and her son were frightened to accompany Mr. Reardon to the station. The poor woman was carrying a baby only a few months old in her arms, and she eventually ran to the station, where she received every kindness from the persons there assembled.


The firing of the police after this became very brisk, and it was replied to by the desperadoes from the hotel. Senior-constable Kelly at that juncture found a rifle stained with blood lying on the side of the hill, and this led to the supposition being formed that one of the gang had been wounded, and had escaped through the forest towards Morgan’s Lookout. Just then nine police with Superintendent Sadleir and Dr. Hutchinson came from Benalla. Almost immediately after seven policemen under Sergeant Steele arrived on horseback from Wangaratta. Just before their arrival a heavy volley was poured into the hotel by the police. According to the statement of some of the prisoners, afterwards made, that volley proved fatal to Joe Byrne, who was standing close to to young Delany, drinking a nobbler of whisky at the bar, when he was shot in the groin. He was then carried towards the back of the building, where he gradually sank and died a painful death.


The morning broke beautiful and clear. The police were dispersed all round the hotel, when they were beset by a danger from the rear. Ned Kelly was the cause. It appears he was the man who shot Mr. Hare, and he himself was wounded in the arm by the fire which was returned. He could not without danger get into the hotel, so he sprang upon his horse, and during the excitement which followed he got away towards Morgan’s Lookout; but it was not the intention of the bold ruffian to desert his comrades, and he returned to fight his way to them. It was nearly eight o’clock when his tall figure was seen close behind the line of police. At first it was thought he was a blackfellow. He carried a grey coat over his arm, and walked coolly and slowly among the police. His head, chest, back and sides were all protected with heavy plates of quarter-inch iron. When within easy distance of Senior-constable Kelly, who was watching him, he fired. The police then knew who he was, and Sergeant Steele, Senior-constable Kelly, with Mr. Dowsett (a railway guard), fired on the ruffian. The contest became one which, from its remarkable nature, almost defies description. Nine police joined in the conflict and fired point blank at Kelly; but although it was apparent that many of the shots hit him in consequence of the way in which he staggered, yet he always recovered himself, and tapping his breast, he laughed derisively at his opponents, as he coolly returned the fire, fighting only with a revolver. It appeared as if he was a fiend with a charmed life. For half an hour this strange contest was carried on, and then Sergeant Steele rapidly closed in on him, and when within only about 10 yards of him he fired two shots into his legs and this brought the outlaw down. He was only wounded, and appeared still determined to carry on the desperate conflict, but Steele bravely rushed him and seized the hand in which Kelly held the revolver, the only weapon with which he was armed. He fired one shot after this, but without effect. When on the ground he roared with savage ferocity, cursing the police vehemently. He was stripped of his armour and then became quite submissive, after which he was borne to the railway station by Sergeant Steele, Constable Dwyer, and two representatives of the Melbourne press. Great praise is due to Guard Dowsett for the plucky manner in which he assisted the police. He was armed with a revolver, and got very close to the outlaw. At the railway station Kelly appeared weak from the loss of blood, and some brandy was given him. He was examined in the guard’s van by Dr. Nicholson and Dr. Hutchinson, who found that he was suffering from two bullet wounds in the left arm, a bullet in the right foot, near the right toe, and two wounds in the right leg, those inflicted by Sergeant Steele.


At various times during the morning more police arrived, but the bushrangers could not be dislodged ; and what was more perplexing still, the prisoners inside could not be persuaded to leave, although the police repeatedly called upon them to come out. At twelve o clock, however, the people inside, consisting of about thirty men and youths, suddenly rushed out of the front door, carrying their hands aloft. The police told them to advance towards where they were located, but many of the unfortunate people were so terror stricken that they ran hither and thither screaming for mercy. They then approached the police and threw themselves upon their faces. One by one they were called on, and having been minutely searched were despatched to the station. When the turn of two youths named McAuliffe came, Superintendent Sadlier directed Constable Bracken to arrest them as Kelly sympathisers. They were accordingly handcuffed and taken with the others to the railway station. Young Reardon, who with his father had been confined in the hotel, was severely wounded in the shoulder by a bullet from a rifle in the hands of one of the police. The unfortunate youth was at once attended to by the doctors already named. Although the wound is a serious one, it is not considered such as will prove fatal.


The police after this kept up a constant fire on the place, Dwyer and Armstrong in from of the house, Andrew Clarke, sen., and Constable Kelly getting very close in at various quarters of attack. It was noticed that the fire from the besieged bushrangers was not returned after one o’clock, but it was believed that Dan Kelly and Hart intended to lie quiet until night, and under cover of the darkness make their escape. A consultation was held amongst the officers as to what was best next to be done.


The next event was the most tragic and exciting scene of the day. At 3 o’clock, as there was no prospect of getting the outlaws from the hut, which was now well-riddled with bullets. Senior-constable Johnston, of Violet Town, led the forlorn hope, and went boldly up to the hut, and, under cover of a continuous fire from the scouts, lighted the Benalla side of the building. The fire gradually increased and gained upon the matchwood construction, and in five minutes the place was in one mass of flame.


The Glenrowan hotel continued burning until late in the evening, when as the fire abated the bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart could be plainly discernible amidst the flames, roasting and shrivelling up in a horrible manner. It took some time before they were recovered, and then the remains presented such a sickening and revolting appearance as almost to turn one’s head with horror. The limbs and bodies were swelled and twisted all out of shape, the leg of one had been broken, and a foot burned off, while there was hardly a semblance of fingers on either. The features were perfectly unrecognisable, and it was only by the difference in the shape of their heads that the friends of either were able to identify them. The bodies were taken out of the fire, laid on a sheet of bark, and brought to the railway station, where, in the broad daylight, they lay exposed to the view of the public for a long time, in all their horrid blacknesss and ghastliness. Mrs. Skillion and the younger sisters of the Kellys went to look on all that was left of their brother Dan. It was a heartrending sight, and one never to be effaced from the memory, when they knelt down amongst the crowd on the platform and gave vent to their grief in bitter wails and tears. Byrne was quite stiff when taken out, and had apparently been dead for some time. He was dressed in dark striped trousers, dark striped shirt, and blue sac coat. On one of the fingers of his right hand he wore the topaz ring which was taken from Constable Scanlan after he had been shot by the gang, and on the fourth finger of his left hand was also another gold ring, with a large white seal in it. In one pocket a Roman Catholic prayer book was found, together with some cartridges, and in another a small brown paper parcel, labelled “poison,” and several bullets. Immense crowds came from Benalla, Beechworth, and even Wodonga, to view the scene, and the police had great difficulty in keeping the people from rushing the room where Ned Kelly lay wounded. From the position in which the bodies of Hart and Dan Kelly were found, and their closeness in the fire, it is assumed by some that they shot each other after being wounded. At any rate, they were divested of their helmets and breastplates, which weighed nearly 100lb. each (Ned Kelly’s being 120lb.), while in the case of Byrne his helmet was attached to him when dragged out of the burning building. Apropos of this, it would appear that the outlaws had been dead some time when the house was set on fire, as Father Gibney, who courageously, amidst the cheers of the crowd, rushed up to the blazing house and got inside, informs me that when he caught on the nearest man to him (Byrne), and attempted to carry him out, he saw the other bodies lying together further in the room. Several brave and determined attempts were made by the police and bystanders — who, regardless of the chance of being shot down, crowded around the building — to try and save the inmates from the front of the house, while the back was rushed by an eager throng of officers and men, who, revolver in hand, determined to conquer or die, dashed into the building in order to discover if any of the outlaws still lived. The terrible flames, however, and the thick volumes of smoke drove them back, and in a few moments nothing could be seen of what was once the inside of the hotel. When the flames abated, the bodies of the outlaws, together with a dog, which had also been burnt to death, were dragged out of the fire, and in the detached kitchen the unfortunate platelayer, Cherry was found in a dying condition, and breathed his last very shortly after being brought out of the building.


The excitement that was created in Melbourne by the intelligence of the latest outrage of the Kelly gang, and of their capture at Glenrowan, was intensified on Tuesday when it became known that Edward Kelly, the one survivor of the band of desperadoes, was on his way to Melbourne. In the anticipation of obtaining a view of the notorious bushranger, a large number of persons assembled at the Spencer street station, and it was found necessary to bring the barricades used on occasions of unusually heavy traffic into use in order to keep the people clear of the train. A goodly number of people also went to the Essendon station, believing that the prisoner would be removed from the train there, and taken as quietly as possible to the Melbourne gaol. At the North Melbourne station, which had been selected as on the whole the most convenient place for taking him out of the train, several hundreds of people had assembled to await the arrival of the train from Wodonga. Shortly before 2 o’clock the ordinary train arrived at North Melbourne, and the passengers soon informed the excited crowd that Kelly was in the van of the train. The platform was rushed, and the crowd tried every means of obtaining a glimpse at the prisoner. Kelly was in charge of Senior-constable Walsh, Senior-constable Coghlan, and Constables Griffin, Banker, and Waldron. Dr. Charles Ryan also travelled in the van, and was unremitting in his attention to his patient during the long journey. On arriving at North Melbourne station, inspector Montford took charge of Kelly, who was placed on a stretcher, and lifted in a waggonette in waiting for him. His removal was to some extent impeded by the crowd which pressed round the van, and was with difficulty kept back. The patient lay perfectly helpless. His face wore a wan appearance, indicative of prostration, and his hands and feet were bound up. Although he looked at the crowd with some interest, all the look of bravado had gone. There was no demonstration of any sort made by the crowd, although the female section expressed commiseration for the worn-out, broken-down, and dejected appearance of one who had become known to them as a man of reckless bravery and of great endurance. The waggonette was rapidly driven by a direct course to the Melbourne gaol. Along the route numbers of men, women, and children rushed out from factories, shops, and private residences, and followed the waggonette, eager to obtain a glance at the prisoner. At the Gaol, 600 or 700 persons had assembled. The waggonette drove up at a brisk pace, and was taken into the gaol-yard before the people had time to obtain even as much as a glimpse at it. As it entered the gaol-yard, three cheers were called for, and mildly responded to by the crowd, but the manner in which they were called for and given left it a matter of doubt whether they were intended as a recognition of the success of the police officers who drove up their captive, or as a manifestation partly of sympathy with and partly of recognition of the prisoner’s reckless daring. When safely lodged within the gaol walls, the prisoner was given over into the hands of the governor, Mr. Castieau, who had him immediately removed to the gaol hospital. Dr. Shields, of Hotham, the health officer for the gaol, was sent for, and was soon in attendance. He found the patient to be in a feverish state. A wound on the left foot showed that a bullet had passed through it. In the right arm there were two serious wounds, which had been caused by a bullet going right through the fleshy part of the lower arm. The right hand was seriously injured, and in the right leg there were found no less than eight or nine slugshots. Dr. Ryan was also in attendance, and the opinion of both medical gentleman was that Kelly would in all probability recover from his injuries, serious as they were, and notwithstanding the despondency and loss of spirit shown by the prisoner, who has never concealed the fact that he would rather die in any way than allow the law to take its course. During the afternoon the prisoner’s condition improved, and he became more communicative than at the time of his departure from Glenrowan. Almost immediately after his admission to the gaol, Kelly was visited by the Rev. J. P. Aylward, who had a short interview with him. Upon that rev. gentleman devolved the duty of conveying to Kelly’s mother, who is undergoing her sentence in the same gaol, the first intimation of the destruction of the gang, of the death of Dan Kelly and Hart, and of the capture and removal to Melbourne of Edward Kelly. On the journey to Melbourne and after his arrival Kelly conversed tolerably freely at times with those round him, but divulged little that was new with regard to the proceedings or intentions of his gang. He was specially reserved in his references to his late mates, and as a rule declined to say anything about them. In reply to a question as to whether he had on any previous occasion been in Melbourne, he said that he must decline to answer it. He stated that the police had taken the gang unawares, and that finding that the police had discovered their whereabouts through the murder of Sherrit, the attempt to upset the special train was had recourse to as a desperate last resource. Kelly spoke frequently of his determination to bring the black trackers to grief, and alluded to that as one strong motive for the act in question. At a late hour last evening Kelly was progressing favorably, and his medical attendants considered him out of danger. Superintendent Hare returned to town by the train in which Kelly was brought, which was, as previously stated, an ordinary passenger train, and brought down a very large number of passengers. The superintendent proceeded direct to Spencer street. The large crowd, which had been gathered there in anticipation of seeing Kelly himself, soon recognised Mr. Hare, and cheers were given him with enthusiasm as he alighted from the train. He was in a weak state, having suffered from great loss of blood through the wound in his wrist, which proved to be much more serious than was at first thought. Fears were entertained that amputation of the left arm would be necessary, but Dr. Ryan who was attending him held out strong hopes of the hand being healed without serious permanent injury. Superintendent Hare, immediately on his arrival in town, proceeded to his residence at Richmond, and was in an improved state of health last night, though still weak.

By AJFPhelan56

Father, writer, artist and bushranging historian residing in Melbourne, Australia. Author of 'Glenrowan' and the popular website A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

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