The Jerilderie Letter was written for publication, but it is not a work of literature. It is not history either as it makes no claim to objectivity. It has been called a confession, but it is not one, because the writer expresses no shame, no guilt and no repentance. It is kin to the speeches that once condemned men were allowed to make when they mounted the scaffold where they were to die, in which they told their versions of the events that had led them to that point.
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The Jerilderie Letter was written for publication, but it is not a work of literature. It is not history either as it makes no claim to objectivity.
It has been called a confession, but it is not one, because the writer expresses no shame, no guilt and no repentance. It is kin to the speeches that once condemned men were allowed to make when they mounted the scaffold where they were to die, in which they told their versions of the events that had led them to that point.
Ned was the eldest son of John Kelly, an Irishman transported for seven years for stealing two pigs. Trouble caught up with him again, he served another term and died a broken man aged only Ellen and her children were left destitute and had to move to a hut on a selection taken up by her father at Eleven Mile Creek near Greta.
Ned was first arrested when he was fourteen for assault, but the charge was eventually dismissed. He was arrested again a year later, on suspicion of being an accomplice of the bushranger Harry Power and again the charge was dismissed.
The events recounted in the Jerilderie Letter begin at this point, but they include neither of these arrests, nor do they mention that on the second occasion Kelly apparently co-operated with the police.
The usual account is that Kelly dictated the letter to Joe Byrne, but this is simply the corollary of the mistaken belief that Kelly was illiterate.
When the other three members of the Kelly gang went into Euroa, Byrne was left to keep guard over hostages at a neighbouring sheep station, some of whom would later say they saw him working on some sort of document.
Sophisticated analysis of the handwriting, which can now be seen on line via the digitised copy of the document made by the State Library of Victoria, indicates that it was written in fourteen stages. We should probably conclude that Kelly did write the original, probably in pencil, and with many crossings out, and that he asked Joe Byrne to make a fair copy of it in ink, which meant using a pen with a steel nib and dipping it into a bottle of ink, neither things that bushrangers carried as a rule.
Certainly, a single, if inconsistent, very individual voice, emerges from the letter. His language came in a great, furious rush that could not but remind you of far more literary Irish writers.
The only way to make sense of the Jerilderie Letter is to read it aloud, feeling for its breath and its heartbeat. The text can be set out as a blank verse poem, as if it were a dramatic monologue, say, with pauses, and leaps, and wild swerves of tone.
It gradually builds up to break-neck speed, wild denunciation driven by indignation and contempt, here given full rein by a criminal who, as far as law-abiding people are concerned, has no business feeling either. The letter is, as the Irish say, blarney; the Irish are a nation of story-tellers who pride themselves on being able to prove that black is white. Kelly was a horse-thief, a bushranger and a bank robber, but he will show that the people who thought they had the right to judge him, hunt him down and kill him were very much worse than he was.
These are the worst scourges of Irish life, in the Old Country or in the Antipodes. In the letter Kelly creates a version of himself as a charismatic Irish hero, a Cuchulain come again, generous, honest, strong, noble and brave. The contrast between the dashing young outlaws and their grotesque persecutors is so cleverly managed that we almost forget that it is artifice. The phrasing is mildly oracular and we might suspect that the author is somewhat above himself.
Kelly then steps straight into his narrative, with no attempt to set a scene or fire the imagination. The reader has to concentrate to follow the course of events now recounted; a horse belonging to a Mr Johns got another horse belonging to a hawker called McCormack to go away with it; Mr Gould sent his boy to fetch back the runaway horse only to be accused of making unauthorised use of it. Offence having been taken it was duly returned.
The expression suggests an unstated cause of division between the two but for the moment it will not be explained. This technique has been used for a certain kind of would-be convincing but actually unlikely narrative ever since the Norse sagas.
The true theme of the letter, the oppression of heroic battlers by a crew of criminal bludgers, now becoming apparent, the narrator is emerging as a being of a different order from his oppressors. Six months later Kelly comes home from prison, and lends a man a mare to replace one he las lost. Kelly finds the lost mare which is in fact stolen, and is apprehended by Constable Hall, who tries to shoot him.
The bush simile tells us that Hall is as bloated and fat as a gorged monitor lizard and cannot get out of his own way. Kelly could not defend himself adequately because he was bound over to keep the peace and his sureties would have lost their money.
The strong, generous and considerate hero finds himself once again undermined and undone by crooked bumbledom. The battlers are now identified as Irish battlers, persecuted by British bludgers and their quislings. Kelly has already told us that he is an expert horsethief; what he is letting us know at this point is that the representatives of law and order steal more horses than he ever did.
Because they cannot keep up with him, or catch him by legal means, they fake the evidence and perjure themselves, with impunity. The question is not unvexed; Kelly father and son had both tried to work with the police and were betrayed. So we learn that while Kelly was in gaol all the horses in his possession were stolen by another policeman, Constable Flood, and sold to the navvies working on the new railway line.
After leaving prison Kelly tells us he went timber-getting. All the details check out. Kelly was going straight, but he was constantly suspected of cattle stealing.
Meanwhile two graziers are catching any horses they find around their holding and taking them to the pound in Oxley, which is causing extreme hardship to poor farmers who have no way of getting to Oxley to redeem their horses and no way of paying the fine.
Kelly makes no claim that he returned the horses to the poor farmers who owned them. He does not present himself as a Robin Hood. There are those who have sought to prove that Kelly was in fact present, in which case we have to ask why he would have left it to his mother to attack Fitzpatrick.
Dan has more to say. Our Irish boy is now goaded beyond endurance. The question is whether Kelly can get away with it. Kelly recounts the sequence of events in what must have been a very confused situation with astounding and possibly fictitious clarity. We can only wonder if Kelly really believed his own version of history; certainly he had no better information to mitigate his vision of the Catholic Irish as an innocent, tortured and brutalised people. Kelly declares war on the colonial administration, as if he and his three comrades would have been capable of raising an army.
We have to ask ourselves whether he was delusional by this stage. With its extraordinary combination of anguish and drollery, the Jerilderie Letter is a precious part of our Australian inheritance, and we almost lost it.
Instead Living travelled to Melbourne where he delivered the letter to his employers who showed it to the police. The police told them not to make it public. That might have been the last that was ever heard of the letter, but on his way to catch the train to Melbourne, to rest his horse Living stopped overnight at the Lauriston Hotel eight miles from Deniliquin, where he allowed the publican John Hanlon not only to read the letter but to make his own copy.
Living must have taken the original back to Jerilderie again; when John V. In fact several people did know where the letter was. In Ian Jones, one of many biographers of Ned Kelly, was shown the original letter by a friend of the owner, and was allowed to act as its custodian; in Jones was permitted to offer the letter to a national collection.
They have now been buried for a third time, this time where he wanted, in the graveyard at Greta. Strangely, all but a small fragment of his skull is still missing. That and who knows what else? Publisher Text Publishing. Date of Publication Category Miscellany. In addition to her career as an author, Greer has held several lectureships at universities in England and the United States, following her first lectureship at the University of Warwick.
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The Jerilderie Letter
Ken Gelder does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. If you had to argue for the merits of one Australian book, one piece of writing, what would it be? See the end of this article for information on how to get involved. In fact, it was his second attempt at writing an account of his life and times. The first — known as the Cameron Letter — was sent to a police superintendent, John Sadlier, and a local politician, Donald Cameron, in December In the event, the Cameron Letter was never published. So Kelly wrote a second draft and took it to Jerilderie in southern New South Wales in February , where he robbed a bank and tried to give the manuscript to a local journalist.
Transcript of the Jerilderie letter written by bushranger Ned Kelly in I wish to acquaint you with some of the occurrences of the present, past and future. In or about the Spring of the ground was very soft. The ground was that rotten it would bog a duck in places so Mr Gould had to abandon his waggon for fear of losing his horses in the spewy ground. Although a gelding was as clever as old Wombat or any other Stallion. This was false and Gould was amazed at the idea. I could not help laughing to hear Mrs McCormack accusing him of using the horse after him being so kind as to send his boy to take him from the Ruita Cruta and take him back to him.
Jerilderie Letter Jerilderie Letter
It would be easy to assume that the Kelly Gang members were tough, ignorant, uneducated men who mindlessly pursued a career in crime. But both Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne could read and write, and wrote letters to the press and others, explaining their situation and calling for justice. It also calls for the resignation of a corrupt police force that, Kelly maintained, preyed upon Irish Catholic settlers. Although there is little use of punctuation and correct grammar, the letter is a powerful insight into his feelings and his desire to set the record straight:. I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct off a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some call honest gentlemen. Kelly dictated the letter to Byrne, who rewrote it in better handwriting and with fewer mistakes.
Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie letter
It is one of only two original Kelly letters known to have survived. The Jerilderie Letter is a page document of approximately 8, words. In the letter Kelly tries to justify his actions, including the murder of three policemen in October at Stringybark Creek. He describes cases of alleged police corruption and calls for justice for poor families. The document is named after the town of Jerilderie , New South Wales , where the Kelly Gang carried out an armed robbery in February during which Kelly tried to have his document published as a pamphlet. Two copies were made of Ned Kelly's letter, one by publican John Hanlon and one by a government clerk.