The Glenrowan Inn was a little establishment of five rooms. It was
constructed of timber (weatherboards) and had a tin roof. The walls were lined with
hession and the ceilings with calico. The building was fairly new, having been built
in front of the original building which was then used as a kitchen or skillion.
The Kelly gang would propel this little Inn into the forefront of Australian history.
Mrs. Jones, the owner and land-lady of the Glenrowan Inn, would later wish she had
never laid eyes on Ned Kelly and his associates.
Close to the Inn was a railway-line and train-station. Across from here was
another pub called the Railway Arms Hotel (or simply McDonnell’s, often ironically called
McDonalds by contemporary writers). Here the gang housed some horses and ammunition.
(including a barrel of blasting powder) The owner of this establishment, Patrick (Paddy)
McDonnell (or Mac as Ned called him), was one of many sympathisers of the gang.
Joe and Dan were occupied with the execution of Aaron Sherritt
(the alleged spy) as Ned and Steve organised to have the rails lifted in
order to destroy or stop a police special train that they expected soon. (as a result of
their killing of Aaron)
It was now approx. one AM Sunday morning, when Ned and Steve began their task.
They bailed up the tents occupied by a group of navvies or stone-breakers employed
by a chap named Piazzi. These tents were very close to the Inn and to the railway-station.
The workers were brought to the Inn by Ned. Mrs. Jones, had earlier been awoken
from her sick bed and forced to comply with Ned’s request of entry.
Ned asked the workers from the tents to lift the rails, however they explained
to him that they were not railway employees and could not do the job he requested.
Therefore, all were induced at gunpoint to go to the home of Mr. Stanistreet, the railway
Everyone, including the stationmaster returned to the line and were forced to open a
tool box. (Mrs. Stanistreet and her children were allowed to stay home)
They pointed out to Ned that they needed a plate-layer to do the requested job.
Fortunately there were two such men (Sullivan & Reardon) living in town and Ned went
with the stationmaster to collect them whilst Steve guarded the others.
Platelayer Reardon however did not want to comply with Ned’s demands, and when
he tried to refuse, Ned told him that he would “tickle him up with the revolver”.
Only then did Reardon reluctantly acquiesce.
As Ned returned to the tracks, Dan & Joe arrived from their deadly visit to Aaron’s hut.
The place where Ned wanted the tracks torn up was at a very dangerous part of the line.
Tracks removed from here would surely mean doom for anyone onboard a train that attempted
to pass over. (Did Ned expect the train to stop prior to this break in the line?)
Hostages/prisoners were allowed to watch proceedings and even assisted by throwing
rails (complete with attached sleepers) over the embankment. Jane Jones, Mrs. Jones’s
daughter, was present and many commented on how ‘overly’ friendly she was toward the
outlaws. (this would be used against Jane and her mother later when the Crown attempted
to charge them with assisting the gang) She was seen with her arm around Steve and he
rested his head on her lap.
In actual fact Steve Hart was a sick man and needed to rest.
(it was further alleged that Jane had hold of one of the gang’s pistols)
It would have been obvious to all present that the gang meant business and any train coming
past here was doomed, as were its passengers. (Ned never mentioned to the prisoners that
he did not intend wrecking the train, what was his true plan?) Who really cared?
After all they were just corrupt police. (or so it was said) The reality was, however, that
corrupt or not, if the plan was to wreck the train, this was drastic action.
At least one prisoner would ensure the plan failed.
It should be noted here again that it is possible that Ned had intended to stop the train before
it got to the spot where the rails were removed and that the rails were removed to ensure it
did in fact stop as directed. (blasting powder was carried with the original intention of blowing
the rails after the train passed, hence it could not go forward nor back)
The last train (9pm) had now passed through Glenrowan, so the only train that should
pass through now would be a police one. This police train would now rattle past, if it did not stop
it would head straight into eternity.
All the townsfolk were bailed up and taken to either the Inn or the Station-Master’s
house. The only exceptions being a couple of sympathisers, Mrs. Stanistreet and
interestingly the local policeman Hugh Bracken. (including his wife and son)
Naturally it took time to collect all the townsfolk, eventually however there were reported
to be up to 62 men, women and children being held in the two locations.
According to eye-witnesses prisoners were allowed to walk about and in the
most part were not too concerned. Little did they know of what was to come, perhaps
if they had they known they would have tried harder to escape. (then again men like Martin
Cherry intentionally went to the Inn to be part of the action)
The train was now running very, very late, what had become of it? The gang
knew that Aaron had police in his hut and that once word was received by the
police headquarters a special train would be sent full of police and trackers to
Beechworth in search of them. This train had to pass through Glenrowan on the way.
To keep people occupied the tired bushrangers organised dancing and sports events.
There was also card playing and plenty of drinking, (most reports say that the Kelly Gang
did not drink very much at all) after all they were in a pub.
Due to the fear of the police who were in Aaron’s hut when he was executed,
word had only just reached Superintendent Hare in Benalla. The gang had
miscalculated by allowing sympathisers to scare the police and intercept any
messages they tried to send out. That coupled with the usually slow police way of
doing things meant it seemed the police would never arrive and the plan doomed.
One prisoner, the local schoolmaster, Thomas Curnow, wanted desperately
to foil the gang’s plan to destroy the police train. He tried several ploys to prove he
was with Ned ‘heart and soul’, including telling Ned that “the station-master possessed
a revolver”. Ned was impressed with the man and when a dance was organised
Curnow asked to drop by the school to collect his dancing boots. Fortunately Dan
overheard and realised that the police station was close to Curnow’s home. Curnow
had to wait.
The dancing got under way with David Mortimer playing concertina and young
Johnny Jones singing a few songs. (including ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’)
It was now getting dark and twenty-one hostages were told they may as well go
home, (mostly people Ned trusted) it certainly looked like no police were coming.
Only now would Ned finally go to collect the local police officer Const Bracken.
Why he waited so long is a mystery, fortunately for Ned, Bracken was ill.
Ned donned his armour and headed across to the policeman’s residence. (along
with townsfolk who could assist by calling the policeman out)
Imagine the shock Bracken received, being the first lawman to see Ned in his armour.
According to John McQuilton, ‘Ned shook hands with Bracken’s two year old son’
before leaving with the policeman. Ned escorted Bracken over to the Inn, leaving
Mrs. Bracken at home with her son.
Ned now allowed Curnow to do what he had waited hours to do, go home.
“Go quietly to bed, and don’t dream too loud” Ned told Curnow. He would soon
be betrayed by this innocent looking teacher.
Ned and Bracken discussed various topics of interest. The police officer must have
felt very nervous, not only because he was the towns sole law enforcer, but also because
he had rejoined the force specifically to assist in the efforts to capture Ned and the gang.
Was Ned aware of this? If he was, he did not hold it against the man.
Finally at about 2AM Ned decided enough was enough and told Dan to tell everyone
that they were free to go. As Dan was carrying out Ned’s wish, Mrs. Jones allegedly called
everyone back to hear Ned give a lecture. (Mrs’ Jones disputed this claim)
Imagine how that would have gone down with the tired prisoners. It took Ned about a
half an hour before he started this lecture, within a matter of minutes of the start of this
impromptu lecture the whistle of a train was heard.
The cunning Schoolmaster Curnow had won.
The date was Monday 28th of June 1880 the moon shone bright, (not a full moon)
the air was cold, lives and history were about to be changed forever.