History News Reports The Harts The Kellys

The Author Speaks: Anecdotes and Editing

A brief discussion on the difficulty in choosing what to keep or cut when writing a book based on fact.

Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1869 – 1883; 1914 – 1918), Monday 17 January 1881, page 2

Miss Ettie Hart (says the Melbourne correspondent of the Gippsland Mercury) has ceased to be barmaid at Backley’s hotel. Either she did not draw, or disliked the business. Kate Kelly is weary of wandering, and is likely to return to Greta. In the meantime I hear that a “deputation” of Gretans is out on the sly in the ranges looking for Ned Kelly’s “plant” The outlaw did leave a plant, but from what I can gather he hid it so well that even he himself could not find it.

Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1858 – 1880), Tuesday 30 November 1880, page 3


Before Messrs. Charlton, Dean, Moses, and Carpenter, at the Water Police Court, on November 25, says the S. M. Herald, James Gregory Tomkins, and James Pringle were summonsed, at the instance of Sub-inspector Anderson, for that on the 23rd day of November, on the premises at the rear of No. 128, Pitt-street in Sydney, they did permit to be exhibited to the public, a woman named Kate Kelly and a man named James Kelly, relatives of the notorious criminal, Edward Kelly, who was recently executed in the neighboring colony, to the great damage and common nuisance of all persons therein inhabiting and passing, and to the evil example of others in the like case offending, and against the peace of the Queen. Sub-inspector Anderson deposed that he laid the information. On Monday night he saw a number of persons coming from the premises referred to and going into them. There were boys from 12 to 20 years of age, and girls of the larrikin and disorderly classes. He had to station some constabulary to keep order on the footpath. He considered the exhibition of the relatives of Edward Kelly a gross outrage, and highly injurious to public morals.

To the Bench: The inhabitants complained to the Inspector general of the exhibition.

To Pringle: Did not see you there.

To Tompkins: Nor did I see you there. Sub-inspector Camphin went to the premises mentioned on Monday afternoon, and saw Tomkins in a shed which was being fixed up. Saw the exhibition there that evening. Saw James Kelly riding on a horse aud leading another into the shed. Heard a man named Donovan standing at the door calling out, ‘The renowned Kate Kelly, mounted on her pony Oliver Twist, and Jim Kelly, mounted on Ned Kelly’s grey mare Kitty, and upon the saddle upon which Ned Kelly rode. Admission, 1s. There’s no fraud in this. These are the genuine persons — no waxworks here,” and remarks of that kind. A man named Lewis was standing in King street making similar remarks. A number of boys were distributing handbills advertising the show. On Tuesday morning Tompkins went to the Inspector-general’s office and there saw witness. He said a detective had visited him and cautioned him respecting the show. He knew horses were being exhibited, but did not know whose they were. The Inspector-general said the exhibition was disgraceful, and ought to be stopped. Tompkins said he would keep the people out. Witness went on Tuesday evening to assist Tompkins in keeping people out, but the exhibition continued us usual. A number of persons assembled aud obstructed the thoroughfare. The services of several constables were required to keep order. Detective Williams gave corroborative evidence in every important particular. The case was then remanded for a week. Bail allowed in sureties of £60 and two each of £40. A promise was also given that the exhibition should not take place in the meanwhile.

Finding an endpoint for the novel was not exactly difficult from a narrative perspective, but where the difficulty lay was in the fact that there was still so much rich material to mine from the period after Ned Kelly’s hanging.

I had initially planned to do a whole epilogue following Kate Kelly as she attended the “performance” at the Apollo Hall on the night of the execution, followed by her ill-fated journey to adjust to life after the outlawry. The problem in doing that is that it’s not only a lot of material to add, it’s also incredibly depressing and distracts from the core narrative. After all, it’s not Kate’s story that the book is about. Truly, Kate led a very sad life after the events of the outbreak leading to an untimely death, which is something that in itself had me motivated to really convey more of her struggle. Alas, it would have been too much to tack on the end when it really deserves its own book, and ideally a straight nonfiction one at that, which has actually been done and is just about to be released through Allen & Unwin.

Kate Kelly

Kate had become something of a celebrity and there was frequently gossip published about her in the papers. Usually it was just about where she had been spotted and what she was doing there, and the associated speculation that comes with that. In some ways it was almost like a precursor to the celebrity status of someone like Roberta Williams, inasmuch as their celebrity comes from an association to notable crime figures rather than anything they personally had done, (and I must stress that is the only point of comparison here). There was a level of glamour attached to Kate that had very little to do with her or her actual actions, but a lot to do with the press being eager to print exciting stories about the Kellys, and of daring ladies in particular. Somehow, Maggie Skillion, the older and less “pretty” sister who was already married, didn’t fit the ideal the press were looking for and many of her deeds were attributed to Kate.

The press were fond of sensationalising stories about the Kelly women – especially with regards to their horse riding prowess. Occasionally Maggie Skillion would get the spotlight, but the press generally preferred to amplify the deeds of Kate.

Then I had also debated about what to do with Ettie’s thread at the end of the narrative, given that she didn’t get to have closure with Ned. Ultimately I concluded that her involvement with the reprieve movement was enough of an endpoint, though it’s unresolved and as such is unsatisfactory from a narrative perspective — such is life. Ettie, comparably, had a better life than the Kelly sisters, going off to raise a family with relative wealth and comfort. The research done by Paul O’Keefe into her story is excellent and also deserves to be told in its own right and it has, to an extent, in a presentation that O’Keefe himself put together about her secret diary.

The hard part with a book like this is the amount of detailed knowledge that I have which was necessarily left out. Little details and moments help to flesh out the world but don’t always fit into the narrative. For example, things like the Byrnes building a stable to hide Paddy’s grey mare so that he could better conceal when it was him as a decoy being spotted, instead of Joe; or Tom Lloyd and Dan Kelly chasing a police spy up a tree for sneaking around the farm trying to gather information for the police; or Aaron Sherritt getting into a punch-on with one of the Cave Party to settle a dispute and trouncing him, resulting in the rest of the party force-feeding the loser booze as punishment. Undoubtedly these would have made for interesting reading, but in a novel there needs to be focus, and in order to maintain focus I had to cut a lot of those touches loose, though obviously I did manage to cram a lot in all the same.

Among the omitted anecdotes from the first edition was a section on William Burman’s studio recreations of Ned Kelly’s capture that were sold as carte de visite (playing card sized studio photographs, which were highly collectible), intended to demonstrate the sudden popularity of Kellyana following the siege.

What ought to be taken away from the novel is the fact that the Kelly story didn’t stop with Ned’s hanging, nor did it only affect the gang and their immediate relatives. The pain continued to actively affect the lives of the players and their families for decades afterwards. This is the reality of such tumultuous times. There was even the risk of a second gang forming, consisting of Jim Kelly, Dick Hart, Paddy Byrne, Wild Wright and Tom Lloyd. So palpable was the fear from the police that such an occurrence might occur, that Constable Robert Graham, stationed at Greta, went out of his way to talk the men out of such actions and even Ellen Kelly got involved to help settle things.

Ultimately I settled on an epilogue that gave brief descriptions of what happened to key players after the hanging. This felt like the best choice and still does. With the upcoming second edition, I have found ways to incorporate some of the material I had to take out of the original, meaning this new version is closer to what I had originally intended; almost like a “director’s cut”, if you will. I hope it will prove to be an even fuller experience for readers than the first edition. There is no set release date yet, but it will be early this year.

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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