Guest: Margaret Tanner

FELON’S APPREHENSION ACT 1878

In colonial Australia the families of ex-convicts and poor Irish immigrants were often on the receiving end of an unfair English justice system, which favoured the rich and powerful.

Against this background, Ned Kelly, his brother Dan and their friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne formed a gang and became bushrangers (outlaws). They were hated by the authorities but revered and aided by many ordinary folk who thought Ned Kelly had been persecuted and forced into crime.

On the 26th October 1878 at Stringybark Creek, the Kelly gang shot and killed three police troopers and wounded a fourth, when the police set a trap for them. After this there was a price on Ned Kelly’s head.

Desperate to catch the bushrangers the government of the time revived a medieval law that had been obsolete in England for centuries.  They called it the Felon’s Apprehension Act of 1878.

This Act enabled the Kelly gang to be proclaimed as outlaws. It was one of the most serious laws parliament could evoke.  It authorized any person to shoot the proclaimed dead like wild beasts, without demand for surrender, or any process of arrest or trial.

On the ninth of December 1878, the Kelly gang came out of hiding in the ranges to hold up the bank in Euroa, their first public appearance since the Stringybark Creek murders.  They made their way to a sheep station on the Faithful Creek to spend the night, having first locked up the manager and his men in the storeroom.  The next day after a hearty meal they rode away.

On the day of the tenth, at the exact time the Licensing Court was in session and the town’s only policeman otherwise occupied, the Kelly gang robbed the bank. They got away with more than nineteen hundred pounds as well as thirty or so ounces of gold.  After a siege at the Glenrowan hotel, Ned was finally captured. Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were killed when the hotel was set alight.

Ned Kelly was subsequently put on trial, found guilty and hanged in what is now known as the Old Melbourne Jail.

The Old Melbourne Jail is now a tourist attraction and is open to the public and what a spooky place it is even in daylight.  Ned Kelly’s death mask is out on display and the scaffold still stands with the rope swinging over the trapdoor.

I visited there one day when I was researching one of my books.  The stone cells are small and icy cold, and there is an aura there that chilled me to the bone. At night time not a skerrick of light would come in through the tiny window up near the roof. Once the door of the cell was shut, I swear, you would have felt as if you had been entombed.

STOLEN BIRTHRIGHT – A sequel to Savage Utopia – from Whiskey Creek Press

A dark secret and an act of treachery lead to a terrible injustice. And how can an English aristocrat marry a convict’s daughter?

The Honourable Marcus Lindquist cursed inwardly as another bump almost unseated him. What did this idiot of a driver think he was doing? Bloody half-witted colonial. He had been forced to leave England to save the Lindquist name from being dragged further into disrepute, now he was exiled in this Godforsaken penal colony. Australia was only fit for convicts and destitute immigrants.

Sylvia had ruined his life. She had betrayed him. Cast him aside to marry the heir to a Dukedom. He was just starting to think about marriage and settling down to produce heirs, when he had met and become infatuated with Lady Sylvia Hayworth. Just the thought of her full lips and lush, ripe body being given to another man almost destroyed him.

“Youse have to stay the night here.” Their uncouth looking driver poked his head through the coach window. “Too late to travel on the road now.”

“Road!” Marcus bit off an oath. Is that what they called it? Rutted track seemed more appropriate. He felt bruised and battered as he stepped stiffly from the coach and waited for the other occupants to alight.

He stamped his feet to get his circulation moving again after eight hours in the cramped coach. They had stopped only to eat and change the horses; now he was forced to spend the night in some revolting, bug-infested tavern, undoubtedly run by villainous riff raff.

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24 thoughts on “Guest: Margaret Tanner”

  1. Hi Isabel,
    Lovely to be here with you. Thank you so much for inviting me to this lovely spot. Ned Kelly is Australia’s most famous bushranger (outlaw), on a par with America’s Jessie James.

    Regards
    Margaret

  2. Great post, Margaret. Poor Ned and his family! It did make me think of Jesse James. How chilling they left the noose on display! And your description of the cell gave me chills too.
    Loved the excerpt from Stolen Birthright! I’ve always loved that cover too. 🙂 Best of luck with it!
    Cate

  3. Enjoyed reading about Ned Kelly, Margaret. And a good excerpt.
    I’ve been in a similar jail here in Pennsylvania where a number of Irish men were hanged back in the 1870s as members of the Molly Maguires, an alleged terrorist group fighting mine owners for better working conditions.

  4. We are so glad you have you visit us today. Margaret. I have a penpal in Australia who’s relative was part of that history. it is difficult to believe the horrors they had to endure. Had to be strong people.

  5. Hi Susan,
    Thanks for dropping by. It is certainly a spooky place. Said to be haunted and I can believe it. Bad enough in daytime but I wouldn’t dare go visit at night, although there are special nigh tours.
    Regards
    Margaret

  6. Hi Margaret,

    I love the Kelly Gang history, and have written articles about it. One of those articles covered the ‘night tours’ at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

    I took the tour, and believe me, it was eerie. I swear I had Ned Kelly looking over my shoulder from behind me!

    The whole Gaol was filled with spirits – you could feel them everywhere you went. It didn’t bother me, but it freaked a lot of people on the tour.

    I love the Old Melbourne Gaol so much I included it in one of my books.

    But I much prefer the place in daylight…

    Cheryl

  7. Hi Cheryl,
    Thanks for dropping by. I know what you are saying. It is spooky and I haven’t done the night tour. Yes, the Old Melbourne Gaol does figure in your novel, Saving Emma. I remember when I did the review for it. Great story, coming out in July this year from The Wild Rose Press.

    Cheers
    Margaret

    Regards
    Margaret

  8. Thanks for sharing a bit of Austrailian history. Your Old Melbourne Gaol sounds a bit like an old New York prison in this country, nick named Sing Sing. I did some research for the back story for one of my characters, 4’x7′ stone cells and cruel punishments.
    Prisons have certainly changed. Your excerpt was great too, pulled me right into your story. I was wishing for more.

  9. Thanks Kathy,
    Sing Sing, yes, I have heard of it. 4 x 7 stone cells, pretty much sums it up too. For cruel and inhumane treatment, Port Arthur in Tasmania, which was were many of the early convicts were sent to when they arrived on the prison ships from England, was hell on earth. Some prisoners murdered other prisoners, so they could be hanged thus ending their tortured lives. Glad you liked the excerpt. It is the sequel to Savage Utopia, which is actually set during the convict era and the hero and heroine are convicts transported from England on a prison ship. A harrowing era in Australia’s history, that is for sure.

    Regards
    Margaret

  10. Here in Philadelphia, the Eastern State Penitentiary is similar. I went once for the haunted house aspect, but hated it. I don’t like to purposely scare myself, and the place was creepy enough without the added haunted house horrors they put up.

  11. Hi Isabel,
    Old prisons the world over are spooky. You should see some of the medieval ones in England. Daylight visits I can tolerate, but night time, forget it.

    Regards
    Margaret

  12. Hi Margaret,
    Thanks for an interesting article. Ned Kelly’s story is well known, yet there always seems to be more to learn about him and his gang.

    Thanks for having Margaret as your guest, Isabel.

    Hugs
    Serena

  13. Margaret,
    Great post about our infamous Ned,
    And I love the old Melbourne goal, so many ghosts, so many interesting stories about those tiny cells,
    Thanks,
    Suzi

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