Importance of Thomas Curnow
Remembered as the teacher who warned the police train at Glenrowan that led to the capture of the KellyGang.
25 years old
Links to the KellyGang , Early Years , Teenage years , First run in with the law , Fitzpatrick Incident , Gold Mining , Mansfield Murders , Escape North , Euroa Robbery , Mass arrest of sympathizers , Jerilderie Robbery , Later in 1879 , Early in 1880 , Death of Aaron Sherritt., Glenrowan Siege , Captured by KellyGang , Time at station master's house , Reason for Glenrowan siege , Plan to warn police , Allowed to go home , Capture of Const Bracken , Warn police , Ned Kelly's Trial , Reward Board , Royal Commission , Family ,
brothers ... sis ters Catherine... wife Jean Mortimer.. brother-in-law Dave Mortimer... children Muriel parents ... uncle ... aunt ... . Photograph I was born in Cornwall in 1855 and arrived in Australia with my family in 1857
I had difficult time. I had been the teacher at Glenrowan for 4 years and married into the area. The school had about 20 students. I am known to history as the man who warned the police that the KellyGang was at Glenrowan. While I was not born in the Kelly Country my wife Jean Mortimer, came from a local Glenrowan family. This coupled with a hip deformity that made me easily recognisable made my life very hard after Glenrowan. But I had to do it to save the lives of the people on the train.
Links to at the KellyGang the Glenrowan Siege
Late on the night of 27 June 1880 I managed to convince the KellyGang to let us go home.
I had already determined to take my sister's red lama scalf to try and warn the police train that the Kellys had taken up the railway line.
Events at the Glenrowan siege
Captured by the KellyGang
This is what I told the Royal Commission
On Sunday morning, 27th June 1880, I determined to take my wife, sister, and child out for a drive along the road from Glenrowan to Greta. We left the school in a buggy at about eleven o'clock in the morning, accompanied by David Mortimer, my brother-in-law, who rode on horseback.
When we got in sight of Mrs Jones's hotel, and opposite the railway crossing, through which we intended to pass, we noticed a number of people about Jones's hotel, and at the crossing. I said, 'Mrs. Jones must be dead; she has been very ill.' As we got near the hotel, a man ran out of it towards Mrs. Jones's stable, distant about twenty yards from the hotel. (RC17598)
I drove past the hotel to the crossing and, seeing Mr Stanistreet, asked him, 'What's the matter?' He replied, 'The Kellys are here; you can't go through.' I thought he was joking, and made a motion to drive through the gates, when a man on horseback, who brooked up the crossing and was talking to a young man whom I knew to be named Delaney, wheeled round his horse and said to me, 'Who are you?' I saw then that he had revolvers in his belt, and was convinced of the truth of Mr. Stanistreet's statement that the Kellys were there. I replied that I was the teacher at Glenrowan. He said, 'Oh I you are the schoolmaster here, are you, and who are those?' pointing to my wife, sister, and brother-in-law. I told him. He then said, 'Where are you going?' I answered, 'Out for a drive.' He then said, 'I am sorry, but I must detain you,' and directed us to get out of the buggy, which we did. He then turned again to Delaney and resumed his conversation with him. I afterwards found that the man who had addressed me was Ned Kelly, the outlaw. ....."(RC17598)
. Time at station master's house
As soon as I had fastened the horse, I joined Mr and Mrs Stanistreet others, who I was told had been taken prisoners by the gang, and was informed by them that Glenrowan had been stuck up since three o'clock that morning, and that the gang had forced Reardon and others to tear up part of the railway line beyond the station, with the purpose of wrecking a special train of police and black trackers, which the outlaws said would pass through Glenrowan. (RC1759 8)
Some person then, I believe it was one of the boys who had been bailed up by the gang, told me that the Kellys had been at Beechworth during the previous night, and had shot several police. After some further conversation, we all listened to what Ned Kelly was saying to Delaney. ....
Ned Kelly declared to all of us who were listening to him that he would have the life of any one who aided the police in any way, or who even showed a friendly feeling for them, and declared that he could and would find them out. He said that a law was made rendering it a crime for any one to help them (the outlaws), and that he would make it a crime against the Kelly gang for any one to aid the police. The women, who were listening to what Kelly was saying, asked him to let Delaney off. After keeping Delaney in a state of extreme terror for about half an hour the outlaw made him promise never again to seek admission into the police force, and finally said, 'I forgive you this time; but mind you be careful for the future.' ...." (RC17598)
. Reason for Glenrowan siege
"Ned Kelly and Byrne then went from the railway crossing to Mrs. Jones's hotel, preceded by the majority of their male prisoners, and I was with them. When we reached Mrs. Jones's there were, including those who had just been taken over, about fifty persons in and about the hotel, all of whom appeared to be prisoners of the gang. We were allowed to go about in the hotel, excepting one room, which the outlaws used, and of which they kept the key, and we were allowed outside, but were forbidden to leave the premises. Dan Kelly, a short time after I entered the hotel, asked me to have a drink, and I drank with him at the bar. ....
Byrne came in the bar, and, looking at Dan Kelly's glass said, 'Be careful, old man.' Dan Kelly replied, 'All right,' and poured water into his brandy. While talking with Byrne and Dan Kelly, I expressed surprise at Glenrowan being stuck up by them, and they said that they had come to Glenrowan in order to wreck a special train of inspectors, police, and black trackers, which would pass through Glenrowan for Beechworth, to take up their trail from there. ....."
. The plan to warn the police
About one o'clock I was standing in the yard of Jones' hotel, thinking of the intentions of the gang, and I keenly felt that it was my duty to do anything that I could to prevent the outrage which the outlaws had planned from being accomplished, and I determined that I would try to do so. While standing in the yard Dan Kelly came out of the hotel and asked me to go inside and have a dance. .... (RC17598)
It flashed across my mind that, in passing the Glenrowan police barracks to reach my house, Bracken, the trooper stationed there, might see us and would be able to give an alarm. I knew that Bracken had been stationed at Greta, and felt sure that he would recognize Ned Kelly. He (Ned Kelly) said he would go, and we were getting ready, when Dan Kelly interfered, and said that Ned had better stay behind, and let him or Byrne go with me. ...
After the jumping was concluded, I left Jones's and went to Mr. Stanistreet's house to see my wife and sister. They came out to meet me, and noticing the red lama scarf wrapped round my sister caused me to think, 'What a splendid danger signal that would make.' The idea of stopping the train by means of it then entered my mind, and made me still more anxious for liberty. I went with my wife and sister into Mr. Stanistreet's house, and saw Hart lying down on a sofa. He had three loaded guns by his side. ...(RC17598)
Shortly after Mr. Stanistreet and I were walking about at the back of his house, and Mr. Stanistreet expressed a wish that an alarm could be given. .... I do not know whether Mr. or Mrs. Stanistreet suspected the use I intended making of my liberty if I got it; but afterwards I heard Mrs. Stanistreet saying to Ned Kelly that he ought to allow me to take my sister, who was in delicate health, home.
I was sitting in Mr. Stanistreet's when Dan Kelly came in enquiring for a parcel in a small bag which he had lost. He seemed very anxious about it, and examined the house throughout in search of it. ..... They thanked me, and I perceived that I had in a great measure obtained their confidence by telling them this. (RC17598)
About dusk I heard Ned Kelly saying to Mrs. Jones (they were standing between the hotel and the kitchen, which was a detached building) that he was going down soon to the police barracks to capture Bracken, and that he was going to take her daughter down to call Bracken out. Mrs. Jones asked him not to take her. Ned Kelly said that he did not intend to shoot Bracken, and that her daughter must go. ....
. Allowed to go home
I drove to the front of Jones's hotel, and put my wife and sister and Alec Reynolds, who was about seven years of age, the son of the postmaster at Glenrowan, into the buggy. Ned Kelly directed me to take the little boy with us. We were kept waiting in front of the hotel about an hour. Ned Kelly then came to us on horseback, and told me to drive on. It was then, I believe, about ten o'clock. As we got into the road, I found that we were accompanied by Ned Kelly, Byrne, and my brother-in-law, each on horseback, and by a Mr E Reynolds and R Gibbins on foot, both of whom resided with Mr Reynolds, the Glenrowan postmaster. On the road down, Ned Kelly said that he was going to fill the rats around with the fat carcases of the police.... (RC17598)
We reached the barracks, and were directed by Ned Kelly to halt about twenty yards distant from the front door of the barracks. Ned Kelly got off his horse and fastened him to a fence near, ordering my brother-in-law to do the same, and he did so. Kelly then ordered him to advance to the barracks door and knock, which he did. Ned Kelly got behind an angle of the walls, and levelled his rifle either at Dave Mortimer or at the door. No reply came to the knocking or calling, though they were often and loudly repeated at Ned Kelly's whispered command. ...
Capture of Bracken
We neither saw nor heard anything for, I think, more than an hour, when Ned Kelly appeared, Bracken, E. Reynolds, and Bracken's horse with him. Kelly stopped when he reached us, and ordered Bracken to mount the horse brought round, and Bracken did so. Ned Kelly put a halter on the horse, which he kept hold of, saying-'I can't trust you with the bridle, Bracken.' Bracken said to Ned Kelly that had he not been ill in bed all day he (Kelly) would not have taken him easily, and that if the horse he was on was what it used to be it would take more than Ned Kelly to keep him a prisoner. Ned Kelly and Byrne mounted their horses, and I and my party got into the buggy....(RC17598)
As soon as we were out of hearing of the outlaws, I announced to my wife and sister my intention to go to Benalla and give information as to the intentions and whereabouts of the outlaws. They both anxiously and earnestly opposed my purpose, saying that it was not at all likely that we should be allowed to come home unless some of the agents of the gang were watching; that I should not be able to reach Benalla, as I should be shot on the road by spies, and that, even if I succeeded, we should be hunted out and shot. While the discussion was going on, and supper was being got ready, I quietly prepared everything, including the red lama scarf, candle, and matches, to go to Benalla, intending to keep as close to the railway line as I could, in case of the special coming before I could reach there. (RC17598) See also (MDTel1/7/80)(OMA1/7/80) (Argus6/7/80) (FH) (FH) (BWC)
I declared to my wife that I did not intend to go by the road-that I meant to keep as close to the line as possible in order to be safer. At last, my sister gave way, but my wife worked herself into such an excited and hysterical state that she declared that she would not leave the house-that if I would go she would stay there, and she, baby, and my sister would be murdered. I wanted to take them to my mother-in-law's farm, about one-third of a mile from our place, for safety while I was away. At length, Mrs. Curnow consented to go to her mother's to obtain advice, and, as we were momentarily expecting the promised visit from one of the gang, I left the doors unlocked, and wrote a note, leaving it on the table, stating that we were gone to Mrs Mortimer's to obtain medicine, as Miss Curnow was taken ill. My sister wore her red lama scarf, at my request. When we got there Mrs. Curnow was exceedingly anxious to get home again and would not stay there, and we went back. I succeeded in persuading Mrs. Curnow to go to bed; and my sister and I told her I had given up my project.
My sister engaged my wife's attention while I went out to harness my horse to go, for I could not rest, and felt that I must perform what was clearly my duty. I heard the train coming in the distance as I was harnessing the horse, and I immediately caught up the candle, scarf, and matches, and ran down the line to meet the train. I ran on until I got to where I could see straight before me along the line, and where those in the train would be able to see the danger signal for some distance. I then lit the candle and held it behind the red scarf. (RC17598)
As the guard's van got opposite me I caught sight of the guard, who shouted 'What's the matter?' I yelled 'The Kellys,' and the pilot engine then stopped a little past me, and the guard jumped down. I told the guard of the line being torn up just beyond the station, and of the Kelly gang lying in wait at the station for the special train of police. He said a special train was behind him, and he would go on to the station and then pull up. I cried, 'No, no l don't you do that, or you will get shot.' He then said that he would go back and stop the special which was coming on. He asked me who I was, and I told him I was the school teacher there, and requested him not to divulge who it was that stopped and warned him, as I was doing it at the risk of my life. He promised to keep my name secret. He asked me to jump in the van, but I declined, as my wife and sister were without protection. The pilot engine whistled several times while I was talking with the guard.
The pilot went back, and I hastened home and found Mrs. Curnow had been almost insane while I was stopping the train, and had been made worse by the whistling of the pilot engine. She would not leave the house after I had stopped the train, and we blew out the lights to seem to be in bed. My sister hid the red scarf and my wet clothes, and we were going to deny that it was I who had stopped the train, if one of the outlaws came down to us. After the first volleys had been fired, I, with an old man who lived opposite me, went up to Jones's to ascertain who were victorious; but we were ordered back by the police, and we returned home. While I was away my sister and wife had a terrible fright through Mr. Rawlins, who had accompanied the police, coming down to the school. They thought that he was Ned Kelly when he asked for the door to be opened. When I reached home I found Mr. Rawlins there. He asked me to draw a plan of Mrs. Jones's house, which I partly did; but, on hearing the train returning from Benalla, he hurried out, and stopping it, he got into it. (RC17598)
During the Sunday afternoon I heard Mr. Stanistreet ask Ned Kelly to allow the rails torn up to be replaced, and he pointed out to Ned Kelly the sacrifice of innocent lives which would ensue if the Monday morning's passenger train were wrecked. The outlaw refused to allow it to be done. In speaking of and to one another the outlaws had assumed names. In the Argus report, May 16th, of James Reardon's evidence, given before the Police Commission at Glenrowan, it is stated that James Reardon said he told me that 'the line was broken,' and that he told me 'how the train could be stopped.' Mr. Reardon is laboring under a wrong impression. I am positive that he did not tell me how the train could be stopped. Stopping the train, nor how to stop it, was not mentioned to me by any one. Of this I am absolutely certain. I have been informed that an impression prevails that it was in my power, before the outlaws stuck up Glenrowan, to have furnished information to the authorities relating to the Kelly gang or their friends. Others assert that I was employed by the authorities to obtain information. I desire to emphatically state that this impression and assertion are both false." (RC17598)
Read David Mortimer's account of what happened (JJK)
After the Siege On 30/6/1880 I had an interview with Com Standish in Benalla and the next day I met Mr Ramsay, The Chief Secreary. He said that the Government was certainly prepared to make some substantial recognition of my services. (Age1/7/1880) (Argus1/7/80) (RC77)
I was granted a week's leave of absence to pack up and leave Glenrowan, I could not go back there again. I underrstand that the Government will consider as to what shall be his future sphere of duty. (Age 1/7/1880)
Kelly Reward Board Following the meetings of the Reward Board in December 1880 I recieved a reward of £350 and I was recommened for a special reward
What did they think about this (Argus22/4/81)
I complained (Argus26/4/81)
Report Commission Moving towards an inquiry (Argus8/12/80)
I gave evidence to the Royal Commission, see above
See how the press reported my evidence (Argus21/9/81)
The Royal Commission made the following finding in relation to me
"14. That the conduct of Mr. Thos. Curnow, State School teacher, in warning the special train from Benalla to Beechworth on the morning of the 28th of June 1880, whereby a terrible disaster, involving the probable loss of many lives, was averted, deserves the highest praise, and the Commission strongly recommends that his services receive special recognition on the part of the Government. " (RC2ndReport)
After I left Glenrowan I was a teacher in Ballarat until 1915. I was teaching in Gippsland under an assumed name for a time (BWC)
I died in Ballarat in 1922. (Argus22/12/1922)
What happened to Thomas Curnow's family
I married Isabella (Bridget) Mortimer (brother of David Mortimer) . We had 3 children Mauriel Maude b1879 (married a farmer in Western Australia), Isobel b1881 (nursed in World War I), Thomas b 1883 (killed in action in World War I), Leonard 1887 (wounded in action in World War I)