With thanks to -

History Teachers Association of Victoria' (HTAV) magazine 'Agora' 2011, No 3, Vol 46 

includes the story -

The Politics of Ned

What links did Ned Kelly and his associates have with the republican and Federation movements in the nineteenth -century Victoria? 

Bill Denheld 




     Image below, The Australian Natives' Association meets at Melbourne Town Hall, 1884. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria



NOTE ; - A correction has been made to the above flow chart, in the box headed by ' Gorman son marries daughter of Joseph Winter '
Whereas in the HTAV issue of Agora magazine, this box reads " Gorman daughter marries Joseph Winter. and is incorrect. As the author, I am sorry to cause concern to the Gorman and Winter families. Bill Denheld


Transcript 'The Politics of Ned' as published in Agora, HTAV magazine No3 2011 Vol 46   Copyright  W. Denheld


The Politics of Ned       
What links did Ned Kelly and his associates have with the republican and federation movements in nineteenth-century Australia?

Bill Denheld, www.ironicon.com.au
Though I am not a historian, I am very keen to find answers to questions about puzzling aspects of the Ned Kelly story. It would appear that the great volume of Ned Kelly books and articles, now numbering more than 800, is owed to meticulous record-keeping and reports of the circumstances and the case against Kelly. It is therefore important to know which are the primary and the secondary sources. I created a website, ironicon.com.au or Ned Kelly! From Iron Outlaw to Iron Icon, to share the research, knowledge and findings I have collected which seem to contradict the accepted ‘Kelly history.’ While on the whole the Kelly drama has been covered well, there does appear to be reluctance on the part of many historians to delve into the politics of Ned.

The following statement, which appears on my website, explains my approach:

This website does not glorify bushrangers, criminals or denigrate officers of the law, it simply presents the facts as reported at the time. It is not possible to present theories without an element of ‘conjecture,’ for accepted history may one day be found to be ‘not quite right.’ It is therefore the duty of all historians to ask questions, and hopefully sometimes find answers. This work is purely a quest to find truth and balance and share that knowledge. Mistakes may be made along the way for you to pick up on, so please feel free to add to the story by contacting the author. 

The Kelly story began when James and Mary Quinn and their family of nine arrived in Melbourne in July 1841. They were amongst the 344 bounty immigrants on the ship England. Bounty immigrants had their passage paid for by the new colony, which needed people to do manual labour to open up the ‘untouched land.’ On board were 119 souls from England, twenty-two from Scotland and 203 from Ireland. Protestants comprised 240 of the passengers while Roman Catholics accounted for 104.[i]  

By 1847 the Quinn family had established itself at Wallan East, about 48 kilometres north of Melbourne. The property title was held by ‘Arrowsmith,’ who leased it to ‘Cameron,’ who in turn sub-leased it to ‘Quinn.’ The property contained a large house and dairy facilities. It was in the district that a released convict John (Red) Kelly met James Quinn and his family; John married daughter Ellen in 1850. To help the new couple get started, Quinn allowed John and Ellen to build a small house on a northern corner of his square-mile dairy farm.


Quinn’s eastern and southern boundaries adjoined the property of Patrick and Mary Gorman, who had established themselves in Wallan East some years earlier. Records show the Gormans came out on the ship William Metcalf.
[ii] (As an aside, the William Metcalfe was captained by Captain Browne, whose son Thomas Alexander Browne, aka Rolf Boldrewood, wrote the book Robbery Under Arms.)

Patrick and Mary Gorman had eight sons and two daughters. The Gorman, Quinn and Kelly children all went to the Catholic school in Beveridge. Having spoken with a descendant of Patrick Gorman, David Gorman of Berrigan, I can confirm that Mary Gorman was present as a midwife at Ned Kelly’s birth. At around 1869, when most of the children had grown up, the Gormans left the district. Emanuel James (E.J.) Gorman set himself up at Berrigan, NSW, where land was more affordable, and became a founding member of the Berrigan branch of the Federation League; he convened the first two meetings of the League, first in Berrigan and later in Corowa.

We read that Ned Kelly was born within one month of the Eureka Stockade of December 1854, a dreadful event that set in motion a visceral dislike for the British. I propose that out of this resentment grew a movement represented by the Victorian Natives’ Association (VNA), which later became the Australian Natives’ Association (ANA). The ANA was a co-operative that offered its members health insurance, medical benefits and a political voice championing federation.  

Twenty years later, in the 1870s, with no shortage of social inequities on display, Ned Kelly showed a determination to draw a line in the sand against those social injustices dished out to his class. One example of this was an incident in which an old mate of Kelly’s, Alexander Fitzpatrick (now a police officer), came calling for something Dan Kelly had supposedly done. Kelly and Fitzpatrick had had illicit horse dealings in the past, and it is thought that this may have given Fitzpatrick reason to hound the Kellys whenever he could. An altercation erupted and the constable was hit on the head with a stove shovel by Ned’s mother Ellen. Someone is alleged to have produced a revolver and Fitzpatrick was wounded in the wrist and sent packing on his horse. Soon the police were back to arrest Ned and Dan for attempted murder; by this time they had fled into hiding. The police instead arrested Ellen Kelly, with babe in arms, and placed an arrest warrant on her two boys with rewards of 100 pounds each (a huge sum for someone who was only ‘wanted’). Ellen served three years, during which time the Kelly Gang evolved.  

It was not until six months later, with Ned still in hiding in the ranges, that a police party dressed as prospectors closed in on the Kelly camp after a tip-off from locals. The Kellys, however, were aware of the police camped very close to their hideout and a decision was made by Ned to seize the initiative after they had noticed the police had two pack-horses ready with undertaker body-straps. A shoot-out resulted, with three of the four police shot dead. We could ask, ‘did the Kellys kill the police in self defence’? Many believed so, but a fair trial would never be afforded to Kelly and he was later hanged.

The killings of the three police at Stringybark Creek became the biggest story in the media and reporters milked the panic until it became hysteria. When Ned was caught twenty months later it should be noted that Alfred Deakin was the legal journalist at the Age; later he was attorney-general in the first Australian parliament and, later still, prime minister. Deakin was meant to report on Kelly’s trial on a daily basis in order to guarantee Kelly got a fair go. This was an arrangement sought by Ned’s lawyer, David Gaunson, who worked hard to defend Ned’s murder charge on the grounds of self-defence.[iii] Instead, the Age and the Argus, which tended to reflect the Protestant viewpoint, continued the negative reporting of Ned for months, perhaps partly because they distrusted Samuel Winter, an Irish-Catholic and founding member of the ANA, who owned the popular Herald.

Samuel Winter in his Mayoral robe- circa 1871,
Image, courtesy Herald Sun   

I have not yet read a history book that draws a connection between Ned Kelly and those that led the charge for a fairer society, such as his Beveridge schoolmates and neighbors the Gormans. A booklet on the history of the ANA, One Nation with One Destiny, tells of the ANA’s influential push towards federation, but as to the ANA’s founders, it only says these comprised ‘a small group of men’ without any mention to those who happened to be very close to the Kellys – the Gormans and the Quinns.[iv] There is, however, no shortage of accolades for Edmund Barton, who became our first prime minister, and Alfred Deakin, who were both members of the ANA. E.J. Gorman and Samuel Winter, founders of the VNA and ANA respectively, do not rate a mention; as the diagram shows both men had strong connections with the Kellys.

Some will say Ned Kelly’s connections to the ‘drivers of change’ in nineteenth-century Australia is of little or no consequence, yet if we want to be fair about this factual historical connection, we need to ask why these names have been absent from our history books. David Gorman’s grandfather, Joseph Winter, owned and ran the Advocate, a Catholic-orientated Melbourne newspaper expressing Irish-Australian views, while Joseph’s brother Samuel ran the Herald – the brothers were a formidable political force, particularly as Samuel was a key player in the ANA, which spear-headed the move towards federation.



Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne are said to have made plans for a ‘Republic of North-eastern Victoria.’ A printed page of block text regarding the plan is known to have existed, and journalist Leonard Radic (whom Ian Jones, noted Kelly historian, describes as ‘a highly reputable witness’) says he saw this document displayed in a British Library Museum in 1962.[v] Unfortunately it has become lost since then; if ever found it might raise Ned Kelly’s status to that of republican forefather.  

Putting all the evidence together it is highly likely that Ned Kelly would have been pleased that his family friends – the Gormans and Winters – helped to bring about a parliament by the people, for the people, in Australia in 1901. The extent to which these activists were influenced by the rebellious actions and beliefs of Kelly himself is yet another fascinating question.  


[i] Records from the England confirm the arrival of James Quinn. Go to http://vic1847.comlu.com/41/eg41.html.

[ii] Records from the William Metcalfe can be seen at http://vic1847.comlu.com/ship39.html#wil.

[iii] Alex C. Castles and Jennifer Castles, Ned Kelly’s Last Days: Setting the Record Straight on the Death of the Outlaw (NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2005).

[iv] Judy Johnson, One Nation with One Destiny: The Role of the Australian Natives’ Association in the Federation of Australia (Melbourne: ANA, 1984).

[v] Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life (2003), 200– 1.