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.
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.