Ned Kelly: from the Jerilderie Letter, 10 February 1879

[At the start of a month’s visit in Australia I thought it appropriate to repost the following, included also in Barbaric Vast & Wild: Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present. (J.R.)]                                                                                                              

(As dictated to Joe Byrne)

Any man knows it is possible to swear a lie, and if a policeman loses a conviction for the sake of swearing a lie, he has broken his oath. Therefore he is a perjurer either way. A policeman is a disgrace to his country, not alone to the mother that suckled him. In the first place he is a rogue in his heart but too cowardly to follow it up without having the force to disguise it. Next he is traitor to his country, ancestors, and religion as they were all catholics before the Saxons and Cranmore yoke held sway. Since then they were persecuted, massacred, thrown into martyrdom, and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation. 

What would people say if they saw a strapping big lump of an Irishman shepherding sheep for fifteen bob a week, or tailing turkeys in Tallarook ranges for a smile from Julia, or even begging his tucker? They would say he ought to be ashamed of himself and tar-and-feather him. But he would be a king to a policeman who for a lazy, loafing, cowardly bilit left the ash corner deserted the shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty, to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed, massacred, and murdered their fore-fathers by the greatest of torture such as rolling them down hill in spiked barrels, pulling their toe and finger nails, and on the wheel. And every torture imaginable.

More were transported to Van Diemand’s Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself. All of true blood, bone, and beauty that were not murdered on their own soil or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day, were doomed to Port Mcquarie, Toweringabbie, Norfolk Island, and Emu Plains, and in those places of tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the shamrock and a credit to Paddy’s land.

What would people say if I became a policeman and took an oath to arrest my brothers and sisters and relations and convict them by fair or foul means after the conviction of my mother and the persecutions and insults offered to myself and people? Would they say I was a decent gentleman, and yet a police-man is still in worse and guilty of meaner actions than that. The Queen must surely be proud of such heroic men as the police and Irish soldiers as it takes eight or eleven of the biggest mud crushers in Melbourne to take one poor little half starved larrakin to a watch house. I have seen as many as eleven, big and ugly enough to lift Mount Macedon out of a crab hole more like the species of a baboon or Guerilla than a man, actually come into a court house and swear they could not arrest one eight stone larrakin, and them armed with battens and neddies, without some civilians assistance and some of them going to the hospital from the affects of hits from the fists of the larrakin and the Magistrate would send the poor little larrakin into a dungeon for being a better man than such a parcel of armed curs.

What would England do if America declared war and hoisted a green flag as it’s all Irishmen that have got command of her armies, forts, and batteries, even her very life-guards and beef-tasters are Irish. Would they not slew around and fight her with their own arms for the sake of the colour they dare not wear for years, and to reinstate it and rise old Erins isle once more, from the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke, which has kept it in poverty and starvation, and caused them to wear the enemies’ coats? What else can England expect.

Is there not big fat-necked Unicorns enough paid to torment and drive me to do things which I don’t wish to do, without the public assisting them? I have never interefered with any person unless they deserved it, and yet there are civilians who take firearms against me, for what reason I do not know, unless they want me to turn on them and exterminate them without medicine. I shall be compelled to make an example of some of them if they can find no other employment If I had robbed and plundered, ravished and murdered everything I met, young and old rich and poor, the public could not do any more than take firearms and assisting the police as they have done, but by the light that shines, pegged on an ant-bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot, will be fool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the Police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or cad or those who would be so deprived as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human burial, their property either consumed or confiscated and them theirs and all belonging to them exterminated off the face of the earth, the enemy I cannot catch myself I shall give a payable reward for.


[The following was pieced together from entries elsewhere on the world wide web.]

Ned Kelly, the Australian bushranger, carried out a series of daring robberies with his gang in Victoria and New South Wales from 1878 to 1880, after which he was captured and hanged.

Only two original documents by Ned Kelly are known to have survived. The most significant of these is the Jerilderie Letter, dictated by Ned Kelly to fellow gang member Joe Byrne in 1879. It is a direct link to the Kelly Gang and the events with which they were associated. This lengthy letter has been described as Ned Kelly’s “manifesto,” and brings his distinctive voice to life. The Jerilderie Letter provides a detailed account of Ned Kelly’s troubled relations with the police. The passionate tone of the letter makes plain the intensity of Kelly’s antagonism towards the police, and his sense of injustice about the treatment that his family had received at the hands of the law.

The letter was written immediately before the Kelly Gang’s raid on the Riverina town of Jerilderie in February 1879. In that raid, the gang held up the Bank of New South Wales and escaped with more than £2000. While the gang controlled the town, Kelly sought to give the letter to Samuel Gill, editor of the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette, with the specific demand that it be published. However, to Kelly’s anger, he discovered that Gill had already escaped from the town after becoming aware of the gang's presence.

To pacify Kelly, the bank’s accountant, Edwin Living, offered to take the letter and to pass it to Gill. Kelly gave it to him — his clear purpose in seeking to have the letter printed was to provide an explanation for his situation and an accurate record of what had passed between the Kelly family and the police. Edwin Living lent the letter to the police in Melbourne, and a copy of it was made. The original document was eventually returned to Living. It seems that at no stage did Living ever take steps to have the letter printed.

Originally penned in 1879 by Joe Byrne as dictated to him by Ned Kelly, this letter was first published in the 1948 edition of Max Brown’s novel Australian Son, which was based on it. Introducing it, Max Brown said, “Following is an 8,300 word statement I have called The Jerilderie Letter. This is the document Kelly handed to Living. The text is from a copy of the original letter made in 1879 or 1880 by a government clerk, and is printed here with such spelling, punctuation, etc., as the clerk or Kelly and Byrne, or all three possessed. Nevertheless, it is one of the most powerful and extraordinary of Australian historical documents, and represents over half of Kelly’s extant writings and by far his best single written statement.”

Not poetry as such, it possesses a quality of writing outside the box of literature that has more than passing interest.