War and History Fiction posted May 7, 2012

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Edward (Ned) Kelly. Australia's famous bushranger.

Such is Life

by Aussie

The cell was eight feet wide. Moonlight shone through the tiny window, giving air but no hope to the man within. Ned knew the cell was eight feet wide and six feet long - he had paced it out in his loneliness and desperation for human contact.
The light from a single candle lit the walkway to his cell - the scuffing of sandalled feet announced the presence of the man Ned had been waiting for.

Father Kelly was Ned's uncle, and he had ministered to the Kelly family for what seemed like forever. This visit was important to Ned, on the morrow; he would swing.
The clacking of Rosary beads stopped in front of his cell.

"Ah, Neddy my boy," Father Kelly held his candle high enough to see the ragged face of his nephew.

"Father, I never thought I would see your face before...before." Ned burst into tears as Father Kelly held his hands through the iron bars.

"Guard, open this door, I need to see this penitent now!"
"Won't do him no good," the guard giggled as he turned the key in the rusty lock.

Father Kelly embraced Ned, held him tight. Ned was skin and bone, filthy from being left alone since his incarceration. After spending ten days in this tiny cell, shot in both legs at the siege of Glenrowan and grieving over the death of his friends, especially his brother, Dan - Ned prayed for his own death.

"I brought you some bread and cheese," Father Kelly tried to smile at the wretch that once was his handsome nephew, remembering him with curly hair and a long beard - Ned had been shaved, all his hair was gone.

"Thank you Father," he mumbled as he tore into the bread and cheese like a rabid dog.

"Would you like to make your confession, Ned?"

"I, I don't know what to say, I would rather just tell you about what happened to the gang."

"Alright, just tell it like it was, if it will ease your mind, son. I'm sorry that I have been away so long; three years in Sydney Town. Now, I need to hear your side of the story."

Ned's eyes stared into space as he remembered the gunfight at Stringybark Creek in the Wombat Ranges of Victoria.

"We were watering the horses and all of a sudden the troopers came galloping down the river bank, guns blazing. I was only defending myself, shot a young constable by the name of Thomas Lonigan - only a young fella, didn't mean to kill him, it was him or me. Things got out of hand and all my friends joined in - before I knew it - three troopers were dead! One got away to tell the tale.

We knew the troopers would be after us then, called us murderers. Price on our heads. It was self defence, Father. I even wrote a letter afterwards, sent it to Donald Cameron the parliamentarian. Pleading my innocence over the constable's death. No one listened," a sob caught in Ned's throat.

"So, we became known as the Kelly gang and we were on the run from the law for two years. Of course we had eyes and ears amongst our supporters; Bush Telegraph they called it. The troopers were always one step behind us, never caught us though."

"Our supporters took a hell of a chance, if they were caught helping us they faced fifteen years imprisonment. Even shot on sight for aiding us. Most of our friends were poor farmers. Without their help and foodstuffs, we wouldn't have been on the run for so long."

Father Kelly sat and listened without speaking, all the time he was running his Rosary beads through his gnarled fingers.

"We decided to make some armour from some stolen and donated farming plough shears, which we all wore at the siege at Glenrowan. Still, that's another story. I had already proved the armour against bullets, couldn't shoot me - thought I was bullet proof. Until Glenrowan."

"What happened at Glenrowan, Ned? I've heard bits and pieces from parishioners. Tell me the whole story, son."

Ned stood unsteadily on his injured legs, shuffling towards the small window, watching as dawn painted the sky with a promise of a hot day.

"We knew there was a train coming with more troopers to catch us and so we decided to blow it off the tracks with dynamite. Joe and Dan rode as fast as they could to Glenrowan, to set the charges on the tracks. Steve and me were already at the Glenrowan Inn, we were taking hostages. Our plan to blow the troopers to Kingdom Come; wasn't meant to be. The train was delayed so long that we decided to forget the venture. I let one of the hostages go - big mistake. Thomas Currow convinced me that he was our ally, so I let him walk away. He rode off with all intentions of warning the train driver about the dynamite.
Another hostage escaped (he was a trooper)dobbed us in, told the troopers that we were holed up at Glenrowan Inn. We had no chance, never had a snowflake's chance in hell."

The sun rose slowly and lit the cell. The men had been talking most of the night. Ned make no confession for his so-called sins. Father Kelly abandoned any hope of Ned asking for absolution for his life of robberies and murder.

"That's when all hell broke loose..."I left the Inn the night before but decided that I couldn't abandon my friends and especially my brother Dan. Trooper bastards shot me in both legs, agony it was. I was in real strife, bleeding like a stuck pig, still I needed to get the boys out. Wasn't meant to be, Joe, Dan and Steve were already dead. So I made my last stand, hoping to join my friends. Finally run out of ammo and was bleeding so bad I couldn't stand any longer, troopers carried me off." Ned sighed with relief, he had related his story and felt his anger dissipate.

The sun rose higher in the sky, Ned trembled with fear and the pain of the gunshot wounds.

"They hauled me off to the Magistrate's Court and charged me with the murder of that young constable that I shot in self defence. I can still hear the Magistrate's words as he put his black square of cloth on his wig."

"Edward Kelly you have been found guilty of the wilful murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek. The sentence of this court is that you be taken to Melbourne jail and hanged by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul," Ned shook his head as if trying to shake off those words.

A key turned in the rusty lock and three guards stood looking down at Ned and Father Kelly.

"Time's up, Ned, your time anyway," one swarthy guard sniggered at the wretch in front of him.

Father Kelly helped Ned to his feet and offered his arm for support.
"He don't need no support, Father. Not far to walk now," the same guard butted Ned in the belly with his rifle. "He's a murderer, getting his just rewards."

Father Kelly held fast to Ned, he knew the guard wouldn't dare strike a priest.

The walk was short and Father Kelly prayed for Ned as he helped him climb the stairs of the scaffold. Thankfully, the gallows was inside the prison, no spectators.

Three men stood at the top of the stairs - jail warden, executioner and Father Kelly. The hangman placed the noose around Ned's neck and pulled a hessian sack over his face.

"Edward Kelly, on this day, the eleventh day of November 1880 in the year of our Lord, you have been sentenced to death. I am here to carry out this sentence. Do you have any last words?" The warden spoke loudly without emotion in his voice.

"Ah, such is life," Ned murmured.

The warden nodded to the executioner, and he pulled the lever on the trapdoor. Ned dropped through the hole to eternity.

After Ned was declared dead by the doctor, a plaster death mask was taken of his face. This cast is still on public display today. His body was desecrated by medical men. The purpose of this despicable act to 'study' the body ended in dissection and decapitation of the corpse. Body parts were buried in the grounds of the jail - his head has never been found.

This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry


Australian English and grammar; story based of the facts surrounding the life and death of Edward (Ned)Kelly - bushranger and folk hero who was hanged at Melbourne jail November 11th 1880 for the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek. Ned maintained his innocence, he had shot in self defence. Today, Ned is still thought of as a folk hero, visitors to Glenrowan are many. After the siege the police burnt down the Glenrowan Inn.
The Kelly gang were outlaws, however they did not rob stage-coaches or individuals and so did not behave like the previous highway bandits, or as they were known in Australia, 'bushrangers'. During their 'career' as a criminal gang Ned, Joe, Dan and Steve were responsible for a number of crimes, including the shooting deaths of the 3 policemen at Stringybark Creek, and later a 'double agent' named Aaron Sherrit. Hostages at the siege of Glenrowan were treated relatively well. The Kelly gang were fugitives for nearly 2 years - October 1878 - June 1880.
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