Cookson, 31 08 1911 2

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31 August 1911

(full text transcription)


The Glenrowan Hotel is a comparatively new building of brick. It is on the further side of the railway from the site of that memorable battle on June 28, 1880. In front of the hotel is the railway station. Beyond that again is the new police camp. Part of the old battle ground-and a very important part-is enclosed for the purposes of a yard to the police station. There is a gully running through one corner of this yard, and in this gully, partially buried in silt, partly decayed, but still huge and otherwise unaltered during the 33 years that have passed since the siege of the hotel, is the log beside which Ned Kelly fell.

Here is the identical spot at which the famous outlaw made his last stand, and secure in the belief that his heavy armour was invulnerable, fired away at the police so coolly that they might be excused for as they did, thinking that it was the devil, and not a man, with whom they had to deal. Here is still pointed out the very place in which the wounded outlaw leaned against the log and made a last attempt to wreak murder amidst his assailants with a weapon as crude as it was formidable. Some reports state that it was a rifle with which Ned Kelly fired his last shots. Others that it was a revolver. Sergeant Steele, who brought him down at last-and who by the way, is still living very comfortably with his family at Wangaratta-says it was neither rifle nor revolver, but a revolving rifle with a barrel cut down for use at close quarters, and as it was Sergeant Steele who shot the outlaw down, and who arrested the weapon from his grasp at the finish, he ought to know.

There is a street, now, along the railway frontage to the old battle ground, where once was nothing but open country. Parts of the original fencing are still there, with the bullet marks from the weapons of the robbers still plainly visible. Many of the trees at the rear also bear marks of the desperate encounter of that fatal night.

Jones's Hotel was, of course, destroyed by fire on the night of the battle. It was afterwards rebuilt, and was again burnt down. A wine tavern, built of brick, now stands on the site, occupying a corner of the new main street. The stores and a dozen or so modest cottages make up the house contents of the intersecting thoughfare.

There is only one other street in Glenrowan. That is one on the other side of the line, running parallel with it, in which the new hotel stands. Close alongside the new hotel building is an old weatherboard one, low of verandah, and decayed with age. It was Glenrowan's second hotel in the time of the Kellys, and it came in for some ill-usage on the night of the battle. Several of the front boards were pieced by rifle bullets-apparently Martini-Henrys. And the holes are there yet. The bullets themselves played strange pranks within the building, ricochetting oddly, and in the most erratic manner, through the rooms. "But," the oldest resident explains, "they emptied the building quick enough for anything." For once the oldest resident is to be believed.

Almost anyone at Glenrowan will point out to a stranger the places of interest-all, their capture-and be pleased and proud to do it. The principal facts are all present in the mind of the youngest inhabitant. But it cannot be denied that, though time has in no wise pushed the memory of those stirring events into oblivion, it has toned down the sharp edges of the story and mellowed it until it reads not nearly so blackly against the outlaws now as it did in the earlier stages of the telling. Indeed, there are plenty of people in the part of the world who vow that the Kellys and their companions were more sinned against than sining. They recite instances of pusillanimity, and incompetence shown by the police, they relate stories of shameful treatment endured by the Kelly family on the part of the police officers who, it appears, had them in a firm grip by reason of the misdeeds of certain of their progenitors; and they affirm, emphatically, that the outlaws were brave, capable men, deeply affectionate to their relatives, faithful to their friends, and capable of development into first-class pioneers and excellent citizens had the police not goaded them into breaking the law. Much of which may be quite true, of course. The subsequent inquiry into the pursuit and capture of the gang, by a Royal Commission, resulted in reports very damaging to the Victorian police force.

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the previous day / next day . . . BW Cookson in the Sydney Sun index