‘Such is life.’- Ned Kelly’s final words before execution.
Ned Kelly remains a controversial figure in Australia; was he a murderer ( his gang murdered three police officers and an informer) or was he a Robin Hood character? More books have been written about him than any other Australian and three movies (one starring Mick Jagger, another starring Heath Ledger) have been made about the Kelly Gang.
I can proudly say that my two Irish great, great uncles, Thomas and Richard Lawless, as members of the Victorian Mounted Police, were involved in the hunt for the Ned Kelly gang. The two brothers were not at the final shootout at Glenrowan but they were in the police parties hunting for the gang.
The two brothers had emigrated to Melbourne in the early 1860’s with their mother and siblings (including my great grandmother) from Castlecomer, Kilkenny, Ireland. The family had barely survived the Irish Famine and were keen to start a new life in Australia.
Thomas and Richard, from an early age, were renowned for their riding skills and both joined the Victorian police force where they became horse breakers at Richmond Barracks in Melbourne.
The police hunt through the Wombat Ranges.
After the murder of three police officers at Stringybark Creek by the Kelly Gang in October 1878, Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare assembled a group of police officers to head to the town of Benalla in North East Victoria to capture the Kelly Gang. The Lawless brothers were picked to be part of the contingent, because of their riding skills.
Hare remains a controversial figure also. He was an unpopular character and notorious self- promoter. Augustus Hare would later write an account of his hunt for the Kelly Gang called, The Last of the Bushrangers. Hare was at the final shootout at Glenrowan and was wounded in the hand.
In Benalla, acting on a tip-off by an informer, Hare and three men (including Thomas Lawless) went undercover at the Whorouly race meeting. Whorouly was a small town near Benalla. The informer had told Hare that the Kelly Gang would be at the meeting. The police officers mingled with the crowd and in the case of Thomas Lawless, set up a table and performed card tricks for the punters.
After performing card tricks for some time, Lawless decided to enter one of the races hoping to get a better view of the racecourse. Lawless rode in the race and won it! Of course. It was the only exciting event that happened to the police that day.
Aided by their many sympathisers, The Kelly Gang did not make an appearance at the racecourse. Apparently, they had watched the races from a hill at the rear of the racecourse. To be continued….