The SANDS OF TIME Collection – 23. The Last Stand

23. The Last Stand
Stephen Hart, Daniel Kelly & Joseph Byrne — 920 x 750 mm
© Robert Morgan

STEPHEN HART (1859-1880)

Stephen Hart was born in Wangaratta on 13 February 1859.  His father was a farmer who had settled on the Three Mile Creek across from the Wangaratta Racecourse.  There were seven children in the family, four boys and three girls.  At school, Steve was intelligent and well-behaved, but he hankered for the excitement only fast horses could provide.

Living within sight of a racecourse, and with his slim build and natural horsemanship, Steve became a successful jockey.  Before long he was being charged with illegal usage of horses, and was a prisoner in Beechworth Gaol.  On his release, he received a stern lecture from Sergeant Steele of Wangaratta Police, and he gave Steels a promise he would go straight; but farm work was dull work for a young man whose main joy in life was riding the North East’s fastest thoroughbreds, and making the dangerously high jumps needed to clear the railway gates at Wangaratta.

Steve’s moment of truth, according to legend, came one day while out fencing.  He is said to have thrown down the shovel, and with the brief announcement, “a short life and a merry one,” to have ridden off (his family thought, to go shearing in New South Wales).  Whether it were merry or not, life in the Kelly Gang was dangerously short.  Two years later, he was dead.

DANIEL KELLY (1861-1880)

Born in 1861, Dan was the youngest of “Red” Kelly’s three sons. He attended the Glenrowan West School, and at the tender age of ten he had already come under the eye of the police – arrested with his brother Jim by Constable Flood on a charge of illegally using a horse.  The case was trivial, and the youthful pair discharged.

In 1877, Dan was sentenced to three months for wilfully damaging the store of the hawker Goodman at Winton, and in Beechworth Gaol he met Steve Hart – the beginning of a friendship that survived to their deaths.

Despite the evidence of the charred remains and the statements by the men who rushed into the Glenrowan Inn as the fire was taking hold, many people claimed that Dan and Steve escaped from the burning hotel, and were taken care of by a sympathetic German until official interest in the Gang ended.  According to various stories, Dan Kelly worked on a station property near Goondiwindi on the new South Wales-Queensland border; he was a tramp who was killed while train-jumping in Ipswich; he was wounded in World War II; he and Steve Hart served in the Boer War.  Literally hundreds of people claimed that they had seen Dan Kelly, or that they were Dan Kelly.  Gradually the claims died down, and finally the year came when the police were disappointed to announce in their annual record, that there was only one man claiming to be Dan Kelly.

JOSEPH BYRNE (1856-1880)

Joe Byrne had been born and reared on the Woolshed, the fabulously rich valley which had been home to upwards of thirty thousand miners during the gold boom.  When the gold ran out, the Byrnes stayed on, and Joe lived with his widowed mother, younger brother Patrick, and two sisters, in a modest cottage at the head of Byrne’s Gully, with a fairly scattered group of other settlers, including the Sherritts, for neighbours.  Joe and Aaron Sherritt had grown up together, played together, and gone to gaol together – the Beechworth Gaol where their friendship with Dan Kelly began.

A keen student at school on the Woolshed, Joe had grown up to be something of a writer and a poet.  He was the member of the Gang, who, when plans had been settled, wrote them all down in great detail.  He was also the Gang’s sharp-shooter, charmer and wit.  At Jerilderie he added to the growing fund of puns about the Gang (one anonymous punster had Jerilderie suffering from Hart-Byrne), by referring to the kellys as matchmakers, having taken young girls (the housemaids from Euroa), to young husbands.

As an outlaw, after the shootings at Stringybark Creek, we have a fairly good description of him – six feet tall, well-built, mild grey eyes, brown bushy whiskers and a very light moustache – and the more official details, such as the scar on his left shin.

His measure as a man and a mate, was summed up by Ned Kelly at Jerilderie.  When asked if Dan Kelly were his second in command, he pointed to Joe Byrne and said, “That man – he is as straight and true as steel”.

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