There was a Ned Kelly. He lived and breathed and fought for what he believed to be right - according to the historians. According to others he was no more than a bushranger, a vicious criminal who paid the just penalty for his crimes on the gallows. But what if he had lived. What would have been the consequences for Australia - and the world?
Release date: January 28, 2016
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
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A. Bertram Chandler
And, unlike other glamorized and over-glamorized criminals of the period, he was a man who just might, had the cards fallen a little differently, have changed the course of Australian history and even, to a lesser degree, of world history. There were the stirrings of revolt, the poor farmers on their selections increasingly resentful of the banks and of the rich squatters, those landowners whose ancestors, like robber barons, had made their grabs during the early days of colonization. There was some sort of underground revolutionary movement, of which Ned Kelly was at least the figurehead. There was talk of a Republic of North East Victoria—and Kelly was known to many as the Captain of the North East.
Not only in Australia were the 1880s a time of ferment. Although the sun was still a long time from setting on the British Empire there were ominous storm clouds on the horizon. There was—as, indeed, there still is—trouble in Ireland. In Canada there was the Metis Revolt, also known as the Riel Rebellion. (It seems strange that the U.S.A. did not become somehow involved in this civil war. Perhaps if Riel had accepted the offer—which in actual history was made—of a regiment of New York Irish Fenians there would have been active involvement.)
It was in the late nineteenth century that the tide of the mechanization of warfare was beginning to flood. That well-known physician Dr. Gatling had invented and was manufacturing—and selling—his manually operated machine gun, although he was unable to interest the admirals and generals in a model with a much higher rate of fire operated by steam or electricity. A decade and a half before 1880 another physician, Dr. Solomon Andrews, had constructed and successfully flown a dirigible airship, a flying machine that, before the development of antiaircraft artillery, could have been used as an effective dive bomber.
And at the same time that Dr. Andrews was making his first flights over New York yet another physician-inventor, Dr. Bland, in Sydney, Australia, was attempting to raise money to finance the construction of his “atmoship”—a steam-powered dirigible. (He was unsuccessful.)
Steam-driven traction engines had already been used in warfare—for the towing of heavy artillery over muddy ground. One or two visionaries had toyed with the idea of arming and armoring such brutes.
The ideas were there, just waiting to be picked up and developed. But unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the admirals and generals of the time were lacking in imagination. Had Ned Kelly become a general—and why not? he was at least as well qualified for such rank as Gabriel Dumont, in Canada, who achieved fame as Riel’s fighting general—he would have been able to make good use of such innovations as the airship, the steam-operated Gatling cannon and the armed and armored traction engine.
As is evidenced by his famous armor, he was not deficient in imagination.
But who was this Ned Kelly?
He was of Irish descent, as were many Australians of his time. His people originally came from Northern Ireland. His father, John Kelly, was the son of Thomas Kelly and Mary Cody. A famous bearer of the Cody surname was Buffalo Bill who, in actual fact, was distantly related to Ned Kelly. Kelly’s mother, Ellen, was a Quinn. His father died in 1866, a year after his birth. His mother remarried in 1874, her second husband being George King, a Californian. It might be argued that King was an evil influence in the young Kelly’s life. It is a matter of record that George King was a horse thief and that his stepson was a willing apprentice.
Perhaps I am being unjust to George King. It could be said that the Kelly clan exercised a bad influence upon him. By the time that he arrived on the scene those who were to become his in-laws were in constant trouble with the police—horse stealing, cattle stealing, brawling, assault. Whenever the usual suspects were rounded up there would be a Kelly or two, or more, among them. Together with—and an excuse for—this lawlessness was the hatred for the English Establishment and for those fellow Irishmen, the police, who wore the uniform of the English oppressors.
One policeman who became a special enemy of Ned Kelly was Constable Fitzpatrick, a notorious liar and womanizer. It seems that, when under the influence of liquor, he dropped into the Kelly cottage at Greta for afternoon tea, Mrs. Kelly just having baked a batch of scones. Also present was Kate, Ned’s beloved sister. Fitzpatrick made unwelcome advances to Kate. Ellen Kelly intervened to protect her daughter’s honor and struck Fitzpatrick on the wrist with a shovel, wounding him slightly. At this juncture Ned Kelly returned home and evicted the constable from the premises. Fitzpatrick reported to his superiors that his injuries were due to an unprovoked assault upon him by Ned Kelly who, he said, had drawn a revolver and fired at him. Allegations and counter-allegations confused the issue. Ellen Kelly was arrested as an accessory to the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick and given a jail sentence. Ned loved his mother deeply and this miscarriage of justice hardened his hostile attitude toward the police in particular and toward the Establishment in general.
Meanwhile a warrant was out for his arrest for his alleged complicity in the Fitzpatrick affair. He and four friends took refuge in the bush, in the wild, hilly country that he knew so well. He was tracked, eventually, by four well-armed policemen. These, early one afternoon, set up camp by Stringybark Creek. The next day two of the troopers, Kennedy and Scanlan, left the camp to continue the search for Kelly and his accomplices. Lonigan and McIntyre stayed behind. McIntyre shot some parrots to provide the wherewithal for a meal and the noise of the reports attracted the attention of Kelly and his followers. The police camp was attacked and Lonigan, an old enemy of Kelly’s, was shot dead. McIntyre surrendered but when Kennedy and Scanlan returned attempted to warn them. Fire was exchanged. Kennedy and Scanlan were killed. In the confusion McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse.
And Ned Kelly had become an outlaw.
Without the support of the poor farmers and the laborers who, rightly or wrongly, regarded the Kelly Gang as their champions against the big landowners and the banks, Kelly’s career as a bushranger and bank robber could not have lasted as long as it did. He could always be sure of finding food and shelter and, more important perhaps, information. He always knew just where the police would be looking for him and made sure that he would be somewhere else. He became a legend in his own time. Ballads were sung about his exploits, set to the music of traditional folk songs.
It was not only in the countryside that he had his supporters. He was regarded as a hero by many in Melbourne, the capital city of the State of Victoria. There was talk, even, of secession from the British Empire and the founding of an independent republic. It is not known to what extent an army of freedom fighters had been organized but there certainly seems to have been the nucleus of such a body.
And if there were a freedom army it had its traitors. One such was Aaron Sherritt, a Kelly family friend and also a paid police spy. This became known to Kelly and his lieutenants. At first Kelly wanted him left alone—hoping, perhaps, to use him as a double agent. But Joe Byrne and Ned’s brother Dan were determined that Sherritt must be executed. They shot him down in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law—and while this was happening four policemen, who were supposed to be protecting him, were hiding under a bed!
And if there was a freedom army, it had the beginnings of an armored corps. Kelly knew that sooner or later there would be a real showdown with the police and that he and his men would have to face a murderous fire. He experimented with various materials. Sheet iron, readily available, proved ineffective. Steel was much better—but available only from a rather unusual source. So it was that the Kelly family’s only plow lost its mold board, and so it was that several farmers whose smallholdings were in the vicinity of the Kelly homestead reported the mold boards of their plows stolen. A suit of armor fashioned from this material weighed ninety-five pounds. It would resist penetration by a rifle bullet fired at a range of ten yards. It traded mobility for protection.
After the execution of Aaron Sherritt it was hoped by Kelly that the police would be lured to the scene of the crime, near the town of Beechworth. He laid his plans accordingly. As he had thought would be the case a special train left Melbourne for Beechworth, via Wangaratta. Aboard this train were Superintendent Hare and other Victorian Police officers. There was an Inspector O’Connor, on loan from the Queensland Police, and his five black trackers, Aborigines employed for their skills in bushcraft. There were journalists. There were even two ladies—Mrs. O’Connor and her sister—just along for the ride. There was a pilot engine preceding the main train, it having occurred to Hare that an attempt might be made to tamper with the track.
Meanwhile the Kelly gang had prepared an ambush at Glenrowan, a village to the south of Wangarrata. Very conveniently there was a gang of platelayers there, engaged on maintenance work on the railway. These Kelly persuaded, at pistol point, to tear up the rails a short way north of the station. According to some, pro-Kelly historians his intention was not actually to derail the train, with inevitable casualties, but to trap it, blowing up the track south of Glenrowan after it had passed. Then Hare and his men would be captured and held as hostages until Kelly’s demands for justice, land reform and for the release of his mother from Melbourne Jail were met.
It was a long wait; the special train was not running on time. Almost the entire population of the village, together with the railway workers, was confined by Kelly and his men to Mrs. Jones’s hotel. Even the village policeman, Constable Bracken, was among the more or less willing guests at the party. Another guest, Thomas Curnow, the village schoolmaster, was allowed by Kelly to leave quite early so that he could look after—he said—his sick wife. There are those who say that Kelly’s kindly nature was his undoing.
At last the train came, the noise of its approach carrying through the still, cold, night air. The time was about three in the morning. Curnow was ready for it. Using a candle and a red silk scarf belonging to his wife he was able to flag it down, then stammered out his story to Police Superintendent Hare. The police disembarked and almost immediately began to pour a murderous fire into the flimsy wood and hessian structure that was the hotel.
A very short while later somebody loosed two signal rockets. Were these supposed to call reinforcements to the beleaguered Kelly Gang or were they supposed to inform Kelly adherents in the vicinity that their leader’s plans had gone awry? To this day nobody knows—but those rockets were fired. Meanwhile people were being killed and injured by the police fire, women and children among them. Even though a white flag was raised by young Dan Kelly, who tried to arrange a truce so that the villagers could escape from the by now almost demolished building, this was ignored by the police. Such was the hysteria of the gallant law enforcers that a message was telegraphed to Melbourne requesting that a piece of field artillery be sent to Glenrowan by rail. This cannon actually commenced its journey but before it had come very far some genius decided to set fire to what was left of the hotel.
For a while Ned himself was out of the picture. Early in the action he, in full armor, had left the hotel on some errand, possibly to fire the signal rockets. He had been shot at and wounded in the foot and arm, neither of which were protected. Apparently the pain from these injuries caused him to lose consciousness for a while. Eventually he recovered and tried to hobble back to the hotel. The police—whose fire, aimed at his body, had no apparent effect—fell back in terror. But Sergeant Steele kept his wits about him and aimed his shotgun at Ned’s unprotected legs, bringing him down. (That same Sergeant Steele had to be restrained by his own men from killing Kelly there and then as he sprawled injured on the ground.)
When it was all over Ned was a badly wounded prisoner. Joe Byrne, Steve Hart and Dan Kelly were dead—as were the innocent old man Martin Cherry and the son of Mrs. Jones, the unfortunate owner of the hotel.
Ned was nursed back to health, stood trial for murder, was inevitably found guilty and was hanged, in Melbourne Jail, on November 11, 1880. After his execution public feeling was such that many of the reforms that he had been advocating were introduced. Certain sections of the press demanded that some members of the Victorian Police Force who had taken part in the siege be brought to trial on charges of manslaughter.
But in those times that would have been going altogether too far.
Every story must have its beginning and the beginning of this one was not quite two years ago. Or just over one hundred years ago. Some of it, perhaps, never happened. (But it must have happened; otherwise I should not be sitting here writing this.)
That morning I was doing what I am doing now. Writing. It could almost have been the same machine that I was using, a manually operated typewriter of German manufacture. I was working on yet another novel in the never-ending series in which I had become trapped, a further installment of the adventures—and misadventures—of a character who had been referred to by Publishers Weekly as “science fiction’s answer to Hornblower.” When I was interrupted by the telephone I’d gotten to an interesting part of the story; my hero was putting up a token resistance against the amorous advances of a beautiful, blonde, not too alien princess. I used a very appropriate word when my train of thought was disturbed by the insistent ringing. Nonetheless I did not answer the call until I had finished the sentence: “… made a major production of filling and lighting his pipe while trying to ignore her attentions.”
The person from Porlock—I never finished that novel, any more than Coleridge finished “Kubla Khan”—was Duffin. Duffin was editor of The Sydney Star, one of our evening newspapers. He was less than a friend but rather more than a mere acquaintance. Now and again he would commission me to do scientific—or pseudo-scientific—articles for him. I assumed that he was about to do so again.
He wasted no time. “I’d like you,” he said, “to do an article for us. The usual rates.”
“Not UFOs again?” I demanded.
“I’ll tell you over lunch. You know that new Vietnamese place in the Cross? The one opposite the Wayside Chapel? I’ll see you there.”
He hung up and I got changed into something respectable. My hero would have to wait until late afternoon, or possibly the next day, for the consummation. (I wonder if he and that tow-haired trollop are still waiting, frozen in some kind of literary stasis …) I left the unfinished page, the half-written chapter, in the typewriter and went out to meet Duffin and to find out what was expected of me in return for the free lunch and the usual rates.
The restaurant was as good as Duffin had implied that it would be. The honey prawns were especially delicious. For a while we busily plied our chopsticks and sipped our cold beer.
And then …
“The Centennial’s coming up,” he said.
“Not for a long while,” I told him. “In any case, it will be the Bicentenary.”
He said, “I’m talking about the Siege of Glenrowan, not the First Fleet.”
“History is not my field,” I said.
“Even so, I want a piece from you about the Siege.”
“From me? And all this time in advance?”
“It could take you some time to do it properly,” he said.
“But it has already been done, and done, and done. People have written about it. There have been films.”
“I want you to write about it.”
“But I’m a fiction writer, a science fiction writer at that.”
“You’re a writer,” he said patiently, “who is very interested in history, Australian history and one who has a definite connection with Glenrowan. You told me, a while ago, that an ancestor of yours was among that gang of platelayers whom Ned Kelly persuaded to tear up the track north of the station.”
“He was. But if you’re hoping that he left a diary, an eyewitness account of the events of that night, you’ll be disappointed. He was there, as I told you, but he didn’t approve of Kelly. In his later years he was a pillar of the Establishment, a respected and respectable shipmaster. He was notorious for only one thing. He would never, if he could possibly avoid it, have an Irishman in his crew.”
“But he was there,” insisted Duffin, “at Glenrowan.”
“So were a lot of other people.”
“True. But only one of them was your great-grandfather. Only one of them was the great-grandfather of a competent writer.” He looked at his watch. “Finish your chili beef. We’ve an appointment.”
“Dr. Graumann. You must have heard of him.”
“I have,” I admitted. “The man who resurrected J. W. Dunne’s theories about time. Omni published an interview with him a while ago. I didn’t know that he was in Australia.”
“Well, he is. Has been for some weeks now. We’ve been interested in his work. We’ve let him know that we shall pay handsomely for a real story. So far he has not come up with one. And then I thought of the Ned Kelly angle.”
“Ned Kelly, and J.W. Dunne’s theories …” I muttered. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“It does,” he assured me.
We got a taxi without any difficulty and drove out, over the Bridge, to one of those tall apartment blocks on the north shore of the Harbor. This Dr. Graumann, I thought, was doing himself well. But charlatans never seem to find it hard to persuade allegedly hard-headed businessmen to subsidize their activities. During the ride I had been recalling the Omni interview. I had gained the impression that Graumann was a refugee from the Bad Old Days of science fiction, the archetypical Mad Scientist. He had been trotting out as fact the tired old fables that were played around with and then discarded by science fiction writers years ago. And, obviously, had found somebody to sponsor his so-called research.
Graumann was on the top floor in a luxury suite, with a view. The wide window of his living room looked out over the Harbor and the Bridge. Graumann, himself, was something of a disappointment. He didn’t look like a Mad Scientist. He didn’t look like a charlatan, even. He was a very ordinary-looking middle-aged man, slightly pudgy, with close-cropped graying hair, dressed formally in a three-piece dark blue suit, white shirt and a blue, polka dot bow tie. He used his heavily black-rimmed spectacles more to gesticulate with than as an aid to vision. His gray eyes looked keen enough without them, keen and … fanatical? Perhaps—but it may have been that I was seeing what I thought I should see.
Introductions were made.
“Mr. Duffin has been telling me about you, Mr. Grimes,” he said. His accent was that of a New Yorker, I thought. “Perhaps I shall have greater success with you than with the real Australians.”
I told him, rather tartly, that I was real enough.
Duffin said, “Dr. Graumann means the Aborigines, Grimes.”
Graumann motioned us to the chairs set around a low table. He took a seat himself, facing us.
He said, “Mr. Grimes, I have what some people would call an obsession. I believe, most sincerely, that Earth has been visited, more than once, in the distant Past, by beings from other planets. All over the world there are … relics. In this country there are your Aboriginal rock paintings, depicting humanoids wearing spacesuits. I had hoped, by the use of my techniques, to tap ancestral memories….”
“So you’re trying to find an Aboriginal Bridey Murphy,” I said.
“Not Bridey Murphy!” he snapped. “My theories have nothing at all to do with reincarnation!” I feared that he would break the earpiece of his spectacles as he waved them at me. “My theories—which, to give credit where credit is due, are a development of Dunne’s theories … You have heard of Dunne?”
His manner implied that he would be surprised if I said that I had.
“J.W. Dunne,” I told him. “English mathematician and aircraft designer. Author of An Experiment with Time and The Serial Universe.”
He looked at me with some surprise and said, “So you have read his books?”
“A long time ago,” I admitted. “A very long time ago.”
“And what do you remember of them?”
“What started him off,” I said, “were some very vivid premonitory dreams that he had. He … sort of worked things out. Most dreams, he reasoned, are based on memories of the Past—but a few are based on memories of the Future. Have I got it right?”
“Go on, Mr. Grimes.”
“He used analogies. A photograph is a sort of two-dimensional presentation of your three-dimensional self. Your three-dimensional self, the one that’s sitting across the table listening to me, is a sort of cross section of the four-dimensional you. The Fourth Dimension is Time.”
“Crude, but adequate,” he commented. “Go on.”
“From birth to death you co-exist with yourself. Your spark of consciousness travels at a steady rate along your elongated four-dimensional being, your World Line, from conception to eventual demise. But when you are sleeping it is free to … wander, back into the Past, forward into the Future. And those glimpses of what is to come are the basis for premonitory dreams. And, I suppose, for such psychological phenomena as déjà vu.”
He said, “Unfortunately I have not yet been able to send any of my subjects into the Future.” He smiled bleakly. “Perhaps there is no Future. In any case, as Dunne made clear in The Serial Universe, there is an infinitude of possible Futures branching out from every instant of experienced Time. But the Past is immutable. And it is the Past that I am mainly interested in.”
“As we are, too,” put in Duffin.
“Your Past, sir?” Graumann’s voice was scornful. “Something that happened less than one century ago. An event of no real importance, already well documented.”
An angry flush spread over Duffin’s normally pale, fat face.
He said stiffly, “We have given you more than a little assistance, Doctor Graumann, in your search for alien starmen.” (If there ever were such beings, I could almost hear him thinking.) “I feel that you owe us something in return. And if what you consider to be only a minor experiment, of no interest to yourself, is successful we shall be happy to continue our sponsorship of your major research.”
“Very well.” Graumann returned his attention to me. “I am given to understand, Mr. Grimes, that a relative of yours, a paternal great-grandfather, was among those present at the so-called siege …”
“He was,” I said.
“Now, this is important. Had he yet become a father? Had he yet initiated the chain of events culminating in yourself?”
“No. I can’t recall the exact date but he married Harriet O’Connor, my great-grandmother, some years after the Glenrowan affair.”
“There could have been children, by other ladies, before that marriage,” said Graumann. “But it is of no consequence. You are in the direct line of descent. Before your grandfather was conceived your great grandfather had experienced the famous siege. That experience, therefore, is accessible. And now we return to Dunne’s concept of the World Line. Yours is a continuation of that of his father, and his of that of his father, and so on and so on. You seem to have accepted the proposition that your spark of consciousness may travel back and forth during sleep, to revisit your Past, to preview your Future. What if that spark, that lens through which your mind inspects the Universe, could be induced to transfer, as it were, to your father’s World Line, at the moment of your conception, to continue its Pastward journey? And then your grandfather’s World Line … And your great-grandfather’s….”
“Why stop there?” I asked. “I’ve a pirate clambering around in the branches of my family tree.”
“Pirates, especially minor pirates,” sneered Duffin, “were two a penny. There was only one Ned Kelly.”
“I am at a loss,” said Graumann, “to understand this fascination with a criminal, a … a bushranger.”
“But he was more than a bushranger,” I told him. “Much more. He was a freedom fighter, the champion of the poor farmers on their selections and of the landless laborers.”
“You obviously don’t share your great-grandfather’s opinion of him,” said Duffin.
“Of course I don’t. Why should I? I’ve never subscribed to the ‘God bless the squire and his relations and keep us in our proper stations’ philosophy. Ned Kelly may have been of humble birth—but, given his chance, he would have made something of himself.”
“I agree,” Duffin said. “That’s why I want a late-twentieth-century man, you, to look at Ned, even though it will be through your ancestor’s eyes. I want you to hear him speak, even though it will be through your great grandfather’s ears. You, belonging to another era, will be an altogether unbiased witness. With you as an observer we shall, at last, meet the real Ned Kelly.”
“I haven’t yet agreed to be Dr. Graumann’s guinea pig,” I said.
“You’ll be a mug if you don’t, Grimes,” said Duffin. “Even if the experiment doesn’t work it will be material for you. You’ll be able to use it in one of your far-fetched stories.”
I turned to Graumann, who had been listening to us with slightly contemptuous amusement.
“Tell me, Doctor,” I asked, “are your techniques dangerous?”
“So far, in this country,” he said, “I have employed six subjects, all of whom were found for me by Mr. Duffin. Three women, three men, of Aboriginal descent. They experienced nothing worse than dreams, extremely vivid dreams, of the remote Past of their people.”
“And no starmen”, grumbled Duffin. “Not even a bunyip.”
“But there were … hints,” Graumann said. “Lights and noises in the sky.”
“No more than hints,” stated Duffin. “We shall be expecting more than hints from you, Grimes.”
“What are your techniques, Doctor?” I persisted.
“A mind-liberating drug,” he said. “Surely you have made your own experiments with such.”
“Perhaps I have, but not by injection. I detest having needles shoved into me.”
“The drug will be taken orally. And there are audiovisual devices to induce the proper mood in the subject. You will seem to sleep, that is all. You will awake, refreshed but with the memory of a remarkably vivid dream. I suggest that we make the first experiment now. The apparatus is set up.”
“It won’t kill you, Grimes,” said Duffin cheerfully.
“Then why don’t you try it?”
“I didn’t have an ancestor at Glenrowan. Come to that, as far as I know none of my forebears was present at any really interesting historical event.”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s get it over with. If I don’t like it, there won’t be a second time.”
“There has to be a first time for everything,” said Duffin fatuously.
Graumann’s laboratory, if you could call it that, had once been the master bedroom of the suite, complete with Harbor view. Now it was more like a museum with an odd mixture of art, history and technology all in the same confined space. On the walls were reproductions of Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings and also a large reproduction of the photograph that was taken of the bushranger shortly before his death. There was a suit of the famous armor that had been hammered out from plowshares. I looked at it curiously.
“It’s the real thing,” Duffin told me. “It cost us plenty to hire it. Go on, touch it….”
I touched it. The metal was cold under my fingertips. And had my great-grandfather, I wondered, touched it all those many years ago when he, with the others, had been held by the outlaws in Mrs. Jones’ pub, awaiting the arrival of the special train from Melbourne? It was possible. I felt that already I had established a link with the past.
Graumann was fussing around with th. . .
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