A trove of Ned Kelly

20160403_174032 (2)The whiff of gunpowder, ghostly echoing of gun fire, and satirical kookaburras in the Victorian bush, was enough for this Irish-born priest to abandon his travel plans and hurry from the train to a good vantage point. The murderous Kelly Gang was surrounded, and his services may be needed.

Indeed they were. He was first into the burning Glenrowan Hotel, and the only one to see the remains of two of the gang members before they burned to a crisp. He administered the last sacrament to the only survivor dragged from the building, and heard the confession of Ned Kelly himself, while the bushranger lay wounded and bleeding back at the station.

Father Matthew Gibney returned to Perth in 1880 in a blaze of glory. He became bishop, however financial mismanagement marred his enthusiasm to serve, and the one-time celebrity went into seclusion. A few days before Father Gibney’s death in 1925 aged 90, he received a message granting him a papal benediction.

Books about Ned Kelly often report him as the only fish in the bowl. But many scintillating stories surround him, like that of Father Gibney. The innovative book, “The Reporting of Ned Kelly & The Kelly Gang”, is a compilation of original newspaper reports and reproduced verbatim by bookseller Trudy Toohill.

It’s a resource of articles exactly as Ned himself would have read them, without the historical revisionism of interpretive books written today. It begins with Ned’s first reported crime as a 14 year old in 1869, under the headline “A Juvenile Bushranger”. It finishes with eye-witness interviews and statements published in full by the newspapers of the day. You just don’t get that in other Ned Kelly books.

Toohill was able to assemble the articles thanks to the National Library of Australia’s Trove platform. It’s a world-leading resource in which 476,633,585 Australian books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, and archives, are available and searchable online. The innovation comes with the public collaboration – there were 10,878 scanned newspaper text corrections by readers yesterday alone.

Uncovering new Australian stories may be more difficult in years ahead, because continued expansion by Trove is under threat by the current federal budget constraints. “The Reporting of Ned Kelly” is a good read for the statements of the eye witnesses. It was complied using Trove, and you can then search Trove yourself for more about those other interesting characters.

Without it the discovery of Father Gibney would not have been so easy. Or even that of The Reverend Samuel Sandiford, another man of the cloth central to the Kelly story. It was his loaned gun that was taken from the police by the Kelly Gang at Stringybark Creek, it killed Sergeant Kennedy, used at the Euroa hold-up, and killed Aaron Sherritt which pre-empted the Glenrowan siege.

Click here to buy the book “The Reporting of Ned Kelly”

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