Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

10 of 30 - Shootout at Glenrowan

Monday, June 28th, 1880, Glenrowan, Victoria, Australia - In the early hours of the morning, police Sgt Steele heard a noise among the gum trees behind them and spun around. Through the grey mists behind them a strange apparition appeared, like a large topheavy man lurching from tree to tree. It fired opened fire on them with a revolver and Steele, Senior Constable Kelly, and Dowsett, a railway guard, returned fire, but the bullets just bounced off the ghostly figure.


Friday, June 10th, 2016, Glenrowan, Victoria, Australia - Returning from the beekeeping conference in Wangaratta, the next town down the Hume Highway was Glenrowan. Honestly I wouldn't have stopped there but the aforementioned Ingress game had a portal there I wanted to visit. Upon arrival I noticed all these tourist signs about Ned Kelly and decided to investigate.
   I had first become aware of Ned Kelly when I toured the Melbourne Gaol, where there was informational signs about some Ned Kelly character as if of course we know all about him. I kept looking for the sign that contained the beginning of the story thinking I had missed it, but it just wasn't there. Turns out all those signs are up in Glenrowan, 150 miles up the Hume river valley. Such is life.
   As it turns out though, it's really a very interesting story!!


Sunday, June 27th, 1880, Glenrowan, Victoria, Australia -    Ned Kelly had become a notorious outlaw, or what they call a "bushranger" in the sort of "wild west" days of Australia. Him and his gang ranged far and wide robbing banks and other such mischief. There were many interesting adventures, I'm sure, but I find their last one of particularly remarkable note. They basically, it seems, planned to defeat the police in one pitched battle and then to go on a bank robbing spree without having to worry about the police.
   So to go about this they planned to murder a police informer up country, and then when the police dispatched a special police train to the area, to derail it and ambush the police.
   The initial murder went off well enough. The informer seemed to have three police guards who just hid in the back room when they shot their informer in his doorway, not a very impressive moment on the police's part. As predicted a police train was dispatched, and the gang retired to the little town of Glenrowan, where the tracks curved through a forested glen. There in the midafternoon they took over the Glenrowan Hotel, held everyone they could find hostage, and compelled some railway workers to pull up the tracks. Then they set about waiting for the train, during which time they apparently encouraged their hostages to play card games, and kept the barstaff serving drinks -- some hostages later admitted it wasn't a half bad afternoon really.

   Unfortunately for their scheme, during the night the local schoolmaster snuck out and ran down the line and successfully warned the approaching police train around 3am. So the police train was able to stop and deploy its forces before it reached the town. Also of interesting note the train was carrying a fair number of newsmen from Melbourne who had expected to report on the earlier murder they were on their way to, so now all the preeminent media outlets of the area happened to have reporters right in the thick of things.
   Around 4am the police were in position behind trees and other cover surrounding the hotel. Some more daring reporters sheltered behind further trees, while most occupied the tine railway stationhouse, barely 100 yards from the hotel. The Kellys released their prisoners to better prepare for action, and then the firing began, with the outlaws (I think there were only four of them) and the police blazing away at eachother in the night. But here's where one of the most remarkable things about this story comes up.
   Ned Kelly's gang had made themselves suits of plate armor from plowblades, or rather had a local blacksmith do it for them. The resulting armor looked quite like what you'd picture a medieval knight to wear, with solid plate completely protecting their upper body and groin, and cylindrical helmets with narrow slits for their eyes. The suits weighed about 100 pounds each. Over these suits they wore long grey overcoats. The police had heard reports about the armor but as one might imagine dismissed the reports as too fantastical.
   As it turns out, it seems the armor worked quite well, with bullets bouncing right off the outlaws. Their helmets were padded on the inside to protect them from the constant concussion of bullets.
   A police superintendent was wounded in the hand in the first few minutes of the gunfight and a newspaper sketch artist staunched his wound (this is how RIGHT THERE the newsmen were!)
   The firing continued intermittently throughout the night, with gunsmoke sometimes obscuring the view. In the morning fifteen more police reinforcements arrived, doubling the number of police to 30. It was in the dim grey light of early morning that it was discovered that Ned Kelly had apparently snuck through the lines in the fog and made an attack on the police from their flank. After a short firefight he was injured in his unarmored leg and arms and captured alive by the police.

   Meanwhile, some hostages were only now getting out of the house and informed the police there were still three gang members in the hotel, and the shootout continued. Bullets could pass entirely through the thin walls of the building and the police had to take care not to injure their own allies on the fire side of the building. At about 5am gang member Joe Byrne was hit and killed as he lifted a glass of whiskey to his lips.
   The two remaining gang members apparently stood in full view of the police, blazing away at them, clearly confident of the protection of their armor (and, lord knows how they didn't get shot in the legs, but said confidence seemed to be well placed). At 10am 30 hostages were escaped from the hotel under a white flag -- though two were immediately arrested as gang sympathizers.
   At 2pm a 12 pounder cannon (For comparison those cannons you see being used in pictures of Napoleonic battles, those are mostly only 6 pounders, this was a Big Gun) and company of militia arrived via another train. Under covering fire at 2:30 a police officer was able to ignite a fire under the hotel and flames soon engulfed the building.
   In the end all that was left of the hotel was a lamp post and sign board. The two outlaws were found dead, still in their impenetrable armor.

   Ned Kelly was later tried in Melbourne, held in the Melbourne Gaol ("jail"), where I first encountered him, and there hanged. His last words were "such is life."


   Today Glenrowan is still an idyllic little hamlet in a small glen with railway tracks leading through the middle of it. The stationhouse is still there, and signs indicate where the police positioned themselves (on present "Siege Street"), where the hotel was of course (still an empty lot), and where the copse of trees where Ned Kelly was finally taken down is. Today the tiny town appears to garner most of its income through Ned Kelly tourism. Such is life.


See Also: Read more about his earlier exploits on wikipedia.

Tags: australia, history
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