Kelly letters beyond doubt

Historian’s research verifies Benalla bank teller’s identity

HISTORY: Darren Sutton (left) and Ned Kelly Vault co-founder Matt Shore will host what is believed to be the only event associated with this weekend’s Kelly Gang Glenrowan siege anniversary. PHOTO: Jamie Kronborg

FRESH research by a Melbourne historian in the 135th anniversary year of the Kelly Gang’s capture has scuttled claims that a pair of 136-year-old letters – long stored in a backyard shed in Melbourne – is fake.

Jenny Coates’ investigations of letters, written early in 1879 by Benalla cadet bank teller George McCracken to his mother, Susannah, in Geelong, have put the authenticity of the documents beyond doubt.

The work by the Monash University honours graduate and PhD student has also confirmed the identity of the writer.

The letters’ existence was revealed by the Chronicle on January 7 after copies of them were made available to Wangaratta solicitor John Suta, who helped Kelly family descendants to secure the repatriation of Ned Kelly’s remains from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and re-burial in Greta cemetery in 2013.

But within three days of the publication of the Chronicle story the letters’ veracity was questioned in the opaque world of Kelly Gang blogging – where participants’ identities often remain obscured.

In the correspondence – the first written on January 3, 1879, and the second on February 14 the same year, immediately after the gang held Jerilderie hostage for a week and leader Ned Kelly penned what has become known as the ‘Jerilderie letter’ – the 18-year-old McCracken recounted North East police activity in a bid to capture the four bushrangers – and inactivity.

MEANWHILE, the 135th anniversary of the Kelly Gang’s last stand will pass unremarked in Glenrowan this weekend.

Bush-made ploughshare armour failed to keep death from finding bushrangers and outlaws Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart and gang leader Ned Kelly from sustaining wounds that led to his capture in a bloody siege in the Warby Range village between June 27 and 28, 1880.

Matt Shore, the co-founder of Beechworth’s Ned Kelly Vault, and historian and fossicker Darren Sutton – who in 2006 recovered a piece of Joe Byrne’s armour from a Woolshed Valley bush forge site – are hosting what is believed to be the only event that coincides with the anniversary.

They will lead on Saturday night a coach tour into the Woolshed Valley that will include where once stood the Sherritt family’s hut . It is where Byrne, with Dan Kelly, murdered his boyhood friend Aaron Sherritt on June 26, 1880 – the trigger that led to the Kelly Gang’s bloody end.

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