Whether you regard him as a hero or villain, there can be no dispute that Ned Kelly is a continuing inspiration for poets, writers, artists and filmmakers. Even though his death was over 140 years ago, he is still widely written, spoken and argued about.
One of the debates and mysteries still ongoing about Ned is the location of his birth.
Most historians tend to agree that Ellen Kelly gave birth to Ned on a farm of 41 acres below the “Big Hill” in Beveridge, and was assisted by Mrs Mary Gorman. This was put forward by Ian Jones, a renowned Australian authority on Ned Kelly in his book ‘Ned Kelly, a short life’ first published in 1995. Due to its publicity this information is now replicated in countless websites, books and articles.
But there are others who say that Ned was born in Wallan and it doesn’t make sense Mary Gorman would travel from Wallan to Beveridge to be the midwife; instead it is more plausible that Ellen went to her parent’s home in Wallan East for the birth. And then there are those that believe Ned was born in the “Kelly House” at Beveridge.
Perhaps the answer is inconsequential and there are greater riddles to be solved on our life’s journey. Nonetheless, history is full of mystery and intrigue and part of the excitement is to follow the trail of breadcrumbs left behind in the hope they lead to the answer one seeks. In this respect, such a challenge serves meaning and creates excitement not only for a simple word scribbler as myself, but also to others with like-minded historical interests and pursuits.
For those content in not knowing, do not think the answer matters anymore, or have already made up their mind and are steadfast in their view which cannot be swayed then maybe this article is of no further interest to you. But for those still curious, I request that you momentarily discount all that you have read regarding Ned Kelly’s birthplace and approach what follows with a, clear, non-biased and open view as we begin anew to solve the riddle of “Where was Ned Kelly born?”
Methods of Analysis
Historians will sometimes get things wrong. This is not a criticism but a mere acknowledgement that as humans we are far from perfect and will make mistakes. From the countless stories written about Ned Kelly it is evident somebody hasn’t quite got their facts right by the different places, dates and events which simply do not match. But I will also go further to say there are published authors who have embellished their stories for no other purpose but to sell their writing. And what better money enterprise than a Ned Kelly story!? Such untruths are not limited to those trying to sell the idea that Ned was born in Beveridge, but also extend to those trying to convince us that Ned was born in Wallan. So how can one separate the facts from fiction when certain things written about Ned cannot be trusted? Stories that have been handed down from one generation to the next do have merit, but given they can suffer from “Chinese whispers”, bear little weight in this article, although some will be referenced. The best source of truth would be Ned Kelly himself but even though I have been told there are some whom he still whispers to, he has yet to give up the secret of his birthplace – or perhaps he has in certain newspaper articles? The next best source of truth is those close to Ned and his family who have recorded events during his early years. Perhaps there are people or Newspapers that have documented events in the mid to late 1800’s and maybe his birthplace is mentioned there? Finally, we can analyse what has been written throughout the years and look for common factors. For if multiple people draw the same conclusion after closely analysing the information available surely it must be the truth, or very close to it?
To help determine Ned’s place of birth we must trace the movements of Ned’s family, in particular that of his mother and attempt to pinpoint her location at the time of his birth. So just as importantly, we also need to try and determine Ned’s date of birth – yet another mystery Ned has withheld from us.
In today’s day and age, and perhaps even beforehand it is simple enough to write a statement with no supporting information and to have people believe it. Fact checking and questioning is not an inherent ideology when reading other people’s work of non-fiction; for we trust what they say and write is the truth and that the underlying research necessary has been performed. But for the question we are attempting to answer, one should take caution to not be so blasé. And conversely, a Ned Kelly author should not be so naive as to believe their work will not be checked at some point. It is for both of these reasons that an in-depth investigation of existing material such as school records, baptism records, birth certificates, death certificates, land titles and any other suport documentation is performed and referenced, and where possible copies are provided to be viewed.
What now proceeds in this article has used common factors from a range of different sources and created close to the supposed year of Ned kelly’s birth and which also adheres to what was written by George Wilson Hall in The Kelly Gang or The outlaws of the Wombat ranges in 1879. This is the first known book since the birth of Ned Kelly’s to document his family’s history. It is acknowledged that not all information within this book is correct and thus a transcript scrutinized by Dr. Stuart Dawson (History, Monash University) has been used. But it should be noted that any incorrect information within this book pertains more to the Kelly Gang in Ned’s later years and that what is written about the location and movements of the Quinn and Kelly families from the 1840’s to the mid-1850’s is credible.
More to come soon
This article is still in it’s research and writing stage (75% complete) and won’t be available until late April 2021 until some further visits to PROV, the titles office and information from other sources is obtained.
But please check back regularly for updates.