Joe was born in 1857 and went to school as far as the fifth grade (one year further than Ned) which was pretty good for those days. Joe most likely met Ned in 1877 when he (Joe) was charged with assaulting Ah On, a local Chinaman. Aaron was also charged with this offence. The Byrne homestead, a little slab hut, was located on half an acre in the Woolshed Valley gold diggings. In such a place the average man, without the aid of gold mining machinery, could still scratch out a living. Many diggers, including
numerous Chinese, elusive ore after most of the other miners had moved on to richer fields. (5)
Chinese miners were somewhat unpopular with most diggers due to the fact that they sent the proceeds of the gold they found back home to China, rather than wasting it on booze and gambling. Anti-Chinese groups were created wherever large numbers of Chinese worked. Such an environment was opposite the Byrne home. (Max Brown said Joe caught their horses, did their errands and played practical jokes on them and created ridiculous names for them such as Hoo Flung Dung)
Police reports in 1879 found that there were at least two Chinamen who might assist the outlaws, they also mentioned that there were several in Sebastapol who were intimate with the Byrnes. Whilst living amongst the Chinese Joe learned to speak Cantonese. He was a known opium addict who frequently visited Chinese opium dens. Police telegraphic correspondence reported his purchase of opium in 1878, according to these reports he was a user of both cannabis and opium. Joe was an excellent horseman, and he
like Ned was a very capable shot, and as with the rest of the gang, a very competent bushman. He understood alluvial gold digging and would have been a great asset at the mining site at Bullock creek (also known as Kelly’s creek).
Joe was camera shy, he never wanted to have his photograph taken. The police tried desperately to gain his ‘likeness’ but never succeeded. Many telegraphs went back and forth between the police and photographers, trying to get a picture of Joe, they were unsuccessful.
Until recently the only photograph available and the one used for various sketches of Joe was the one of his body strung up to the Benalla lockup. (6)
It was said that when told by police that her son ‘had got his head in a halter’ and ‘she could save him if she liked’, the indignant widow (Mrs. Byrne) replied ‘he has made his bed, let him lie on it’. After Joe’s body was removed from the Benalla lock up door where it had been on display, Mrs. Byrne did not claim it. It appears odd that her son Joe should risk his life by visiting his mother’s house where he knows police will be watching and despite his ‘proving’ his loyalty to his mother in this way, she abandoned him upon his death. ‘Mythology’ tells the tale of Joe being able to shoot a coin thrown in the air, if he was that good a shot, the police were lucky to escape death at Glenrowan by his hand.
There are many events that took place in the lives of Ned and Joe, there is not enough space here to cover them all, and it is not my intention to try. I shall simply try to cover the most important facts. After 1878 Ned & Joe’s lives were as one.
5) Brown Max. Australian Son.
6) Joe was killed as he drank a toast at the bar of the Glenrowan on 28