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Monday, February 2, 2015
THE FELONS APPREHENSION ACT 1878 - MARGARET TANNER
NED KELLY, AUSTRALIAN OUTLAW - MARGARET
In colonial Australia the families of
ex-convicts and poor Irish immigrants were often on the receiving end of an
unfair English justice system, which favoured the rich and powerful.
Against this background, Ned Kelly, his brother Dan
and their friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne formed a gang and became bushrangers
(outlaws). They were hated by the authorities but revered and aided by many
ordinary folk who thought Ned Kelly had been persecuted and forced into crime.
On the 26th October 1878 at Stringybark
Creek, the Kelly gang stumbled into a police ambush. They ended up shooting and
killing three police troopers and wounding a fourth. After this there was a
price on Ned Kelly’s head.
Desperate to catch the bushrangers the government of
the time revived a medieval law that had been obsolete in England for centuries.They called it the Felon’s Apprehension Act
This Act enabled the Kelly gang to be proclaimed as outlaws.It was one of the most serious laws
parliament could evoke.It authorized
any person to shoot the proclaimed dead like wild beasts, without demand for
surrender, or any process of arrest or trial.
On the ninth of December 1878, the Kelly gang
came out of hiding in the ranges to hold up the bank in Euroa, their first
public appearance since the Stringybark Creek murders.They made their way to a sheep ramch on the
Faithful Creek to spend the night, having first locked up the manager and his
men in the storeroom.The next day after
a hearty meal they rode away.
On the day of the tenth, at the exact time the Licensing Court was
in session and the town's only policeman otherwise occupied, the Kelly gang
robbed the bank. They got away with more than nineteen hundred pounds as well
as thirty or so ounces of gold.
After a siege at the Glenrowan hotel, Dan Kelly,
Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were killed when the hotel was set alight. Ned, who
had escaped, returned to save his brother. By this time he had donned a heavy
suit of armour made from sheets of iron. The only part of his body exposed were
his arms and legs. Because the armour was so heavy, although it repelled
bullets, it restricted his movements and the police were able to bring him down
when they shot at his legs.
Ned Kelly was subsequently put on trial, found
guilty and hanged in what is now known as the Old Melbourne Jail.
There are many myths and legends about Ned Kelly and
his gang. For years it was whispered that Dan Kelly actually escaped the hotel
at the height of the siege, before the hotel was set alight. Even though three
charred bodies were later found in the ruins, one did not belong to Dan. Rumour
has it that a catholic priest who went into the hotel before it was set on
fire, to give the men the last rites, discovered that Dan wasn’t there, and
that Joe Byrne and Steve Hart were already dead. Fact or fiction, the priest
would never confirm it one way or the other.
The Old Melbourne Jail is now a tourist attraction
and is open to the public and what a spooky place it is even in daylight.Ned Kelly’s death mask is out on display and
the scaffold still stands with the rope swinging over the trapdoor.
I visited there one day when I was researching one
of my books.The stone cells are small
and icy cold, and there is an aura there that chilled me to the bone. At night
time not a skerrick of light would come in through the tiny window up near the
roof. Once the door of the cell was shut, I swear, you would have felt as if
you had been entombed.
My novel, Savage Possession, is set during this
period of time, and the Kelly gang have a cameo role in it.