Ned Kelly is an Australian folk “hero”. The son of an Irish convict father and renowned cattle duffer, Ned and his family were allegedly targeted by the constabulary and were persecuted by the law. By 1878 Ned had been arrested on numerous occasions and after an incident at his mother’s house he shot and killed three policemen. This act meant that Ned and the Kelly Gang officially became outlaws and bushrangers.
In 1879, Victoria was in a state of “Kelly fever” and Dandenong and Gembrook were no exceptions. On the 3rd of May in 1879, the following snippet was published in The Australian Town and Country Journal. “Emulative, it may be presumed, of the exploits of the Kelly gang, two young men on the afternoon of the 5th instant, stuck up a lad in the employ of Mr. M’Adam, baker, who was peaceably driving his master’s cart near the township of Dandenong, and robbed him of 30s and two loaves of bread.”
By the 13th of May the excitement was nearing fever pitch. The Melbourne Argus reports that ” Mr. Wooster a state school teacher who resides at Narreewarren, rode into the township, and in great alarm informed the police that the Kellys had made their appearance at the Emerald diggings. He stated that the authority upon which he made the assertion was the statement made to him by a selector named Millard, who lives near the diggings, which are situated about 16 miles from this place, to the effect that on Thursday last a man with a swaggering habit came to his place and demanded food. Milliard at first refused to supply him, when the man opened his coat and displaying a belt stuck full of revolvers announced that he was Ned Kelly. Milliard then complied with his request and gave him food.”
“Wooster also said that there were four other mounted men at the place at all hours. The man also told Milliard that he had lost a horse, branded GP or JP, which he had stolen from a man named Hutton.”
Superintendent Hare of the Victorian Police took the matter seriously and started for Melbourne to investigate. In the meantime the people of the Gembrook/ Pakenham region armed themselves and stayed on alert.
On the 15th of May it was reported in the Warwick Argus and Tenterfield Chronicle that “Four armed men on horseback have been seen in the Dandenong Range; they paid a visit to the house of a settler and demanded food. One of the men mentioned that they had lost a gray horse. The party are supposed to be the Kelly gang.”
Two days later on the 17th of May it was reported in the Australian Town and Country Journal that “Numbers of rumours are again about concerning the Kelly gang; but there is nothing substantiated, although there is no doubt but that the police have some information of the gang having cleared out from their old haunts. Four men have been seen in the Dandenong Ranges, fully armed and answering the description of the gang. Some authentic information in now hourly expected.”
On the same day reported in the Cornwall Chronicle was the following article. “UNFOUNDED RUMOURS ABOUT THE KELLY GANG. The public mind has again been agitated (the Age says) by what appears to be another unfounded rumor concerning the gang of outlaws who have so long eluded the police. The rumor in the present instance was circulated from Dandenong, and at first it appeared probable that the story was a true one. On Sunday the local policeman at Dandenong heard that there existed a Kelly scare amongst the farmers in the vicinity of Scottish Creek, about twenty miles from Dandenong, where it was reproted that a band of armed men had been seen in the ranges in the State Forest by some wood splitters. One man, Milliard, a small farmer and splitter had positively asserted that he had seen three men on Wednesday last. They were, according to the representation made, all mounted and armed. The story became known to Mr. W.H. Wooster, a splitter who conceived it to be his duty on Sunday to inform the constable at Dandenong, who telegraphed information to Melbourne. The superintendent of the district, Mr. Hare, was on duty in Benalla and was at once communicated with. He left Benalla by a goods train and started in a buggy for Dandenong early yesterday morning, he being accompanied by two constables. After a ride of about fifty miles, the party found Milliard, the splitter, who was examined and very materially modified the first story. He said that on Wednesday last he met a man respectably dressed on the ranges. The man asked him if he had seen a grey mare, branded J.W. or G.W., and he (Milliard) replied in the negative. The man then made some remark about the horse being a valuable one, and about having some mates camped on a hill opposite and when he was turning to go away Milliard noticed that he had two pistols in his belt.”
Milliard was shown photographs of Ned and his mates and he declared that they were not the same person. A classic case of Chinese Whispers!