Letters into Kelly past

Research to verify author

FROM THE PAST: An extract from George McCracken’s Benalla letter of January 3, 1879 – misdated 1878 – in which he writes of public dissatisfaction with the police in the hunt for the Kelly Gang.

Research is under way to authenticate a pair of letters – long stored in a Melbourne backyard shed – in which a Benalla banker 136 years ago alludes to police cowardice in the face of the Kelly Gang’s popularity in the North East.

Copies of the letters – which have been given to John Suta, the Wangaratta solicitor who helped Kelly descendants to secure the reburial of Ned Kelly’s remains in Greta cemetery in 2013 – were written on Colonial Bank of Australasia letterheaded by George McCracken to his mother early in 1879.

If the writer’s identity can be verified then Mr Suta hopes that the letters can form part of a new, three-month exhibition interpreting the life of the would-be republican leader, bushranger and convicted murderer that is to open in Bendigo Art Gallery on March 28.

The letters were long kept in an East Brighton shed by a woman called Ethel Forrest, believed to be descended from George McCracken and most likely his granddaughter.

They were given by Mrs Forrest 34 years ago to a relative – then a young school student – who does not wish to be named.

“I believe she gave them to me because at the time I told her that at school we were debating in history class whether Ned was good or bad,” the recipient said.

“She and her husband (by then deceased) had no children and I think she probably wanted the letters preserved but didn’t tell me anything about the man who wrote (them) and the letters were never spoken of again.”

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