The bank teller and Ned Kelly

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t spend a lot of time on Ned Kelly. Blogs and websites dedicated to the Kellys explore the subject in great depth and I could never, nor do I want to, go into the kind of detail found on them. The history of north eastern Victoria is so much bigger than the story of the Kelly Gang and so I have focused on things that interest me and what I can relate to my family history and my own experience.

Ned Kelly, wood engraving published by Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, November 1878, courtesy State Library of Victoria

So, now that you’ve read that disclaimer you are probably wondering what I’m up to.

Early this year I had the opportunity to research some letters written in early 1879 in order to authenticate them. The letters were written by a bank teller named George Vernon McCracken when he was working at the Colonial Bank of Australasia in Benalla. The letters mention a whole host of interesting things, not the least of which were the Kelly Gang. The letters had been brought to the attention of Wangaratta solicitor John Suta, known for his work in the repatriation of Ned Kelly’s remains, and a self confessed “Kelly tragic”. John immediately saw the value in the letters and determined to have the letters authenticated. He enlisted Jamie Kronborg, a journalist for North Eastern Media  who wrote this article, published in January this year.

Not long after Jamie’s article I was hard at work, analysing every part of the letters and verifying their provenance. Using dozens of research questions I was able to verify the letters as genuine with a solid provenance. The story and information that came out of this research is complex and very interesting. The connections to Wangaratta come in the most unexpected form and every aspect of the letters and of it’s provenance has its own story.

Just one of the comments young McCracken makes on bank letterhead is that there was “great dissatisfaction at the movements of the police in the matter of the Kellys and people are beginning to declare against the force in general”. He makes other comments about the Kelly Gang, his home and family, and about ordinary events in the bank. The letters give an insight into the life of a young man making his way in the world and reporting back to his parents during his first job away from home.

Needless to say the writing up of this research will take quite a while. It may end up as a peer reviewed journal article as it will probably be too long for one blog post. While I’m working on getting all this down there will be questions about different aspects of the letters and the author but please hold off as all will be revealed in the final publication. I will not respond to specific questions, nor debate about the content of the letters or the author until after the publication. Comments asking about specifics or making uninformed assumptions about the letters or research will not be approved for publication.

While you’re waiting for the bigger story a truncated version of Jamie’s latest newspaper article on my findings can be found for free here. If you subscribe to the Wangaratta Chronicle you can see a more detailed review of the research on page 6 of the edition published on Friday 26th June 2015. This article will also be published in the Beechworth based Ovens and Murray Advertiser. After three months I believe these editions will be available for free via Press Reader.


This post was first published on If you see it anywhere else, please contact the author of this blog.

On This Day in Wangaratta – 22nd June 1857

Bushranging has long been a part of Australia’s history and folklore. We have all heard about the big stories, but we probably don’t realise that bushranging occurred regularly in poorly policed areas and that Wangaratta was one such place, until at least the early 1860s. This sketch by S. T. Gill, composed in 1852 and courtesy of the State Library of Victoria is of bushrangers lying in wait for ‘contributions’ by passersby who were transporting their gold findings around Bendigo.

Bushrangers by S T GillBelow is an account of bushranging carried out by one Wangaratta resident and an accomplice at the One Mile bridge on 22nd June 1857. Their victims were John Currie and Robert Cousens. Even in these early days the bandits tried to add a romantic element and a touch of notoriety by giving themselves nick names. Robert Harding dubbed himself “The Trooper”, while his partner in crime John Banks had yet to determine to own personal style. Also in this article published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser is a report that John Brown, a butcher, was burgled by John Hilton, also known as John Robinson Hall, who fancied himself as “the Marquis”.

On This Day in Wangaratta – 15th June 1930

On this day in Wangaratta the famous female aviator Amy Johnson landed at Bowser. The landing was quite a coup for the town as Wangaratta was the only stopover on her route from Canberra to Melbourne. Newspaper reports put the crowd at 17,000!

These images were taken by local photographer G. E. (Godfrey Ernest) Roberts and come from the collection of the State Library of Victoria. If you look closely at the first image you can see an awful lot of the local police got front row seats! Their shiny police helmets are a giveaway.

Amy Johnson probably leaving the Pinsent Hotel

Amy Johnson probably leaving the Pinsent Hotel

This report from the Maitland Mercury tells all.

Maitland Mercury, 16th June 1930A better image of Johnson’s Gypsy Moth can be viewed at the Coffs Harbour Library here and an image of Major de Havilland’s Hawk Moth which accompanied Amy to Melbourne can be viewed here.


On This Day in Wangaratta – 9th June 1896

On this day in 1896 Dr William Joseph Carroll passed away after battling pleurisy for six weeks. He was only 41. Dr Carroll was born in Dublin to wealthy former Lord Mayor Sir William Carroll (also a doctor) and Margaret Elizabeth Pearson. Sir William was quite well known in Dublin society, being dubbed one of the city’s ‘Civic Celebrities’. What brought his sons William and Stanislaus to Victoria is not known but William jnr arrived in New South Wales around 1880. He married 17 year old Ada Agnes Hudson early the next year at Corowa.

Dr Carroll worked for short times at Wahgunyah and Warracknabeal, before settling in Wangaratta in the late 1880s. His name made the news in 1893 when a man named Carl Stumph was brought before the Rushworth Court on a charge of perjury after he claimed to be a registered medical practitioner. Stumph had ‘practiced’ in Rushworth for several years, using the name and qualifications of the real Dr William Carroll of Wangaratta.

The Carroll’s must have been a theatrical family. William jnr’s brother Stanislaus, was an actor who used the stage name Stannis Leslie while working at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. Their father, while knighted, struggled to find the respect often accorded to his position. You can see a wonderful cartoon lampooning Sir William by portraying him as a fat clown here.

Dr Carroll’s widow, later spelling her name as Aida Agnes or Agnes Aida, moved to Brisbane where she died in 1923. For all the prominence of Dr Carroll’s father and the celebrity of his brother, Dr William Joseph Carroll quickly faded into obscurity. No death notice appeared in the newspapers and most probably no international obituary. He left no probate and he is buried alone in an unknown grave in the Roman Catholic section of the Wangaratta cemetery.

Trove Tuesday – Wangaratta 1863 – Part 5

Following on from the last Trove Tuesday we continue reading an account of Wangaratta published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser (O&MA) in January 1863.

The progress of the town, although gradual, is very marked, and those buildings in course of erection are all brick, of which material the town principally consists. The antiquated structures of bark and slab have, by happy degrees, yielded to the ravages of time, and been replaced by more durable specimens of architecture ; a conspicuous instance being the lock-up, a commodious erection, secure and well ventilated ; spoken of in the highest terms by many of its ‘ habitues,’ and recently substituted for a combination of green hide, bark, slabs, nails, and iron hoop ; a structure which, having acted as kitchen to a former resident, was promoted to do duty as a lock-up for some six years, and was one time actually proclaimed a Gaol.

Reading this part of the article one can see how inadequate the protection of residents of the Wangaratta district from criminals was until the early 1860s. Certainly the authorities thought initially that a bark shack was adequate, as prisoners were also handcuffed or chained up inside this ‘lockup’. As the goldfields around Beechworth expanded things changed dramatically. More travellers came through Wangaratta, and the town prospered and grew in line with the burgeoning economy, requiring a way of containing more prisoners in more than a humpy. Wangaratta was also proclaimed the site of a Court of Petty Sessions in 1851. Accommodation for attendees of the court from all areas around the town had to be provided and tenders were called for the same year.

Tender  lockup, The Argus, 22 May 1851

Like the story of the various Court House buildings, the police lockup was a story of false starts. Tenders were called for a lockup several times. In May 1855 F. Ryley was awarded the contract to erect a lockup and in 1857 another tender was awarded to E. Chambers to erect an iron lockup. In August 1858 another contract was awarded to Smith, Banks and Cranston, to build a lockup at a cost of £170. Still the lockup didn’t get built or the one already in existence was beyond capacity and tenders were again called in December 1859. The newspaper report of 1863 indicates that the town wasn’t successful in getting an adequate lockup until around 1862.

The location of the hide, slab and bark lockup building is not known. Having been a kitchen at one time, it must have been closely connected with an early house. The lockup could have been on the same block as the police camp on the corner of Murphy and Faithfull Streets, or at the Police Office. The Police Office was originally on a peculiar triangular piece of land (later absorbed into the market and still later the King George Memorial Gardens) on the corner of Ovens and Templeton Streets. It had a direct line of sight to the punt over the Ovens River, to the market reserve, and to William Henry Clark’s Hope Inn. Police could see who was coming and going in and out of the town, and in and out of my ancestor’s pub!

Wangaratta, 1857 by Surveyor Wedge

Wangaratta, 1857 by Surveyor Wedge

Not surprisingly, the early bark lockup featured in several adventures, or rather misadventures in the town, not the least of which occurred in 1855.

The man Macnamara, whose capture I reported in my last communication, …  effected his escape out of the lock-up here on the same night of his incarceration. It is not known at what hour he made his unceremonious exit ; but thus much is known, that about half-past five o’clock on Thursday morning last, as Mr. Cook was proceeding to his work at Mr. Millard’s new building [Royal Victoria Hotel], his attention, when passing the lock-up was attracted to a hole in the roof of that substantial and truly architectural edifice. Mr. Cook fancying the hole had been recently made, and that some foul play had been at work during the night, naturally inquired of Lieutenant Hare’s* servant, a Chinaman, who happened to be close by, whether there were any prisoners in the lock-up, and, if so, how many ? The celestial gentleman replied ” three,” but on his going to the window of the cage to ascertain if the birds were all there, he to his utter astonishment found that one (Macnamara) had flown. Rose, the lock-up keeper, who was comfortably enveloped in the arms of the drowsy god, was at once aroused, and in less than half an hour Lieutenant Hare and all his subordinates were fully accoutered and seen wending their way in different directions in pursuit of the fugitive. … From what I can learn, he had been securely hand cuffed to a chain in the usual way, and this, I presume, was supposed by the Government at Wangaratta to be quantum sufficit for his safe keeping. Should this be the case, I for one beg to differ with them, and at the same time to tell them that when such characters as Macnamarra are in their custody, and when the interest of their paymasters, the people, is so deeply involved they should invariably place a sentinel on the lock-up, knowing as they do that it is a most miserable and dilapidated fabric, and quite unfit for the retention of the most harmless prisoner.

*Lieutenant Hare was Francis Augustus Hare who became a Superintendent of police and was involved in the capture of bushranger Harry Power in 1870 and the Kelly gang at Glenrowan in 1880. Hare’s involvement with Kelly’s capture was symbolic rather than practical as he was wounded in wrist in the first volley fired by Ned Kelly. This 1855 incident would also have looked rather embarrassing on his record. This image of Hare is courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

The lockup building however, wasn’t the only thing amiss with law and order in the district. The police themselves were sometimes a problem to the residents as shown by this report of January 1853.

This morning the Lock-up-house-keeper of  Wangaratta was charged by the Chief Constable of that place with having been intoxicated while on duty last Tuesday night and with allowing a prisoner in his charge at the time to be drunk also, and at large on the station. The case was heard by Mr. Smyth, Resident Commissioner and Mr. Harper, Police Magistrate. The prisoner was sentenced to forfeit the wages due to sum £4 8s, and to be discharged from his office. Mr Smyth stated in court, that he had received a serious charge of drunkenness and misbehaviour against several of the Wangaratta Constables including the Lock-up-keeper from Lieutenant Christian of the mounted patrol, and that … the matter would be strictly investigated. The establishment of the new police of the Colony will, it is to be expected, bring the constables of the different townships on the road into a better state of discipline. The presence of the expected resident Police Magistrate at Wangaratta will (if a suitable man be appointed) be of great service to the travelling public.

Tenders were also called annually for people to provide rations for both prisoners and police horses. This is a good way of finding your ancestors in early records as this information, if not published in newspapers, was always published in the Government Gazette available online.

1856 politics Wangaratta style

The political and social alignments of the early residents of Wangaratta have long fascinated me. Who socialised or was in business with whom, was an indicator of town and sometimes family dynamics. While there were clearly divisions in Wangaratta, they were often not as rigid as we might imagine when viewing the mid 19th century though our 21st century lens. An example of this is that townsfolk of all persuasions contributed to various church funds and attended the ceremony for the laying of foundation stones for what we may now think of as a rival church. In a developing ‘settler society’ everyone was aware that the prosperity of the town, and therefore of their own business, depended on strong town growth. Non developing or small towns were often overshadowed by more highly developed places and diversity was the key to successful growth. As illustrated in my Trove Tuesday posts about Wangaratta, published in 1863 in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser, there was a lot at stake and township rivalry was rife. Having a sympathetic and active representative in Melbourne was a key ingredient for town success.

The post today is about an appeal in September 1856 by residents of the Eastern Province for James Stewart to stand for election to the Legislative Council in the first Victorian Parliament which met on the 21st November 1856. Stewart was elected to the Eastern Province of Victoria which covered around 40 percent of the colony. He remained one of the members until his untimely death in August 1863.

Victorian Legislative Council provinces 1856

While in office Stewart rubbed shoulders with the likes of Stephen and James Henty, pioneers of Portland, and John Pascoe Fawkner.

John Pascoe Fawkner, oil on canvas by John Kemp 1877, courtesy of State Library of Victoria

James Henty, daguerrotype c1855, courtesy State Library of Victoria










John Pascoe Fawkner did not, however, impress some Wangaratta residents, particularly the outspoken and firey Irishman, Michael Cusack. In 1858 the Hon. Benjamin Williams (also representing the Eastern Province) travelled to Wangaratta to nominate for his expired seat. Standing against Williams for nomination was William Pearson. Both men made speeches to a small, unruly crowd from the first floor balcony of Meldrum’s Wangaratta Hotel. At stake was a Land Bill which the people hoped would force squatters off their huge leases and open up land for sale or selection in smaller holdings. Michael Cusack supported Williams against Pearson, who he claimed was a stooge of Gippsland squatters. Alexander Tone attempted to speak in support of the liberal minded Williams but was prevented by John Goodman the returning officer, who ruled that speeches were only allowed by the candidates, their nominators and seconders.  

Mr. MICHAEL CUSACK endeavoured to point out to the Returning Officer that there was a precedent for the course taken by Mr. Tone, and we understood Mr. Cusack to say that it was permitted at the nomination of the billygoat Fawkner.

These types of public declarations of political loyalty were quite common (as were the hilarious insults) and many candidates were reluctant to stand unless they could be assured of significant support. A show of hands in the above nomination gave Williams 44 votes and Pearson only one vote.

In a local history context political petitions are useful research tools to locate people, particularly if the subscribers were not actually enrolled to vote. Below is a transcription of the published request for James Stewart to stand for election in 1856. I cross referenced the names with the 1856 electoral roll and have listed in square parentheses the full name and occupation of the Wangaratta petitioners, as recorded on the electoral roll.

1856 'Election Notices.', 'Election Notices', The Argus, 6th September, 1856, p. 6

‘Election Notices’, The Argus, 6th September, 1856, p. 6

Election Notices.
TO JAMES STEWART, Esq., of Melbourne. Sir,-We the undersigned Electors of the Eastern Province respectfully request you to represent us in the Legislative Council.
From your long residence in this colony, your unvarying assiduity in business matters, and your general intelligence as to public affairs, we feel convinced that we shall have every reason to be satisfied with our choice of yourself to fill this important post.

Jacob Vincent [farmer]
Thos Millard [Thomas Millard, publican, Royal Victoria Hotel]
W. Clark * [William Henry Clark, publican, Commercial Hotel]
W. A. Dobbyn [William Augustus Dobbyn, surgeon]
James Meldrum *? [publican, Wangaratta Hotel]
Edward Lucas [storekeeper, store in Reid St]
Michael Cusack * [auctioneer]
Patrick Flanigan [carrier]
John Foord [builder, house in Baker St]
John Moore * [farmer]
John Crisp * [yeoman, Royal Hotel, tenant W. Murdoch, Wangaratta]
Andrew Swan [blacksmith]
Jackson Orr [carrier]
James Woodland (his mark), [carrier], Witness – W. J. Disher
Edmund Batchelor [Edward Batchelor, farmer]
Thos. Wells [Thomas Wells, not on 1856 electoral roll]
Thomas Clark * [publican, Violet Town]
Richard Clarke * [publican, Benalla]

The 1856 electoral roll for Victoria is available on-line on a subscription basis. Men (only) qualified to be placed on the electoral roll if they met certain criteria, the most common of which was that they owned freehold land. Most of the 74 men recorded on this petition came from the Wangaratta, Beechworth, and Seymour electoral divisions. A few men in the Wangaratta division were registered to vote but did not sign the petition. These were: Samuel Evans, storekeeper; George Gray, squatter; Edward Green, squatter ; Thomas Learmont, storekeeper in Murphy St; William Middleton, farmer; Edward Sainthill Pearse, chemist in Murphy St; Cooper Searle, officiating minster, Church of England. I wonder if this indicates that they held opposing views to the majority who did sign the petition to Stewart or if they just weren’t around when the petition was circulated.

Men who are related to me are indicated by an * in the above article are. I have included Thomas Clark from Violet Town and Richard Clarke [sic] from Benalla as they are brothers of my great great great grandfather William Henry Clark. I need to do further research to confirm if James Meldrum’s wife Mary Leacy is related to me via her mother.

Doing business in 1873

A few weeks ago I was able to peruse early copies of The Dispatch and North Eastern Advertiser. This was the newspaper that John Rowan commenced in the early 1860s as the Wangaratta Dispatch. Rowan had moved on to Wahgunyah where he died in July 1873 but the newspaper had already been purchased by George Searle and Angus McKay in June 1872.

These were the days when office spaces were rare and it was the norm to find (respectable!) businesses based in hotels. Below are just a few of the advertisements from page one of two editions from October 1873 that relate to Wangaratta. There are ads for some of the smaller hotels and interesting businesses and some give clues as to when their businesses were first begun or when they arrived in town.

First up the population needed refreshment. Note that both John Dodsworth and Bridget Jarvis both reminded the community that they had previously been in business in the town. Dodsworth must have been responsible for many of the hangovers in town, having been brewing there since early 1870.









The population needed clothing and hairdressing. Mrs Chandler was possibly the wife of George Chandler whose drapery business became insolvent earlier in 1873. I’m not sure what the locals thought of that. William Meldrum’s store was part of the long history of the Callanders/Coles allotments on Murphy Street. Situated on a block originally purchased from the Crown by James Woodland, Meldrum sold out to Harrison Bros & Kettle around 1890. After fire destroyed the shop in 1909 the four owners who sold out to Callander & Forer. William McGain notes his premises as being next to Meldrum’s in Murphy Street. He also noted that he was near The Dispatch offices in Murphy Street. The newspaper moved around quite a bit with at least two locations in Reid Street after this time. This is perplexing as it must have been a mammoth task to move a printing press.

wang dis 15101873 p1 Woodhead tailor

They needed housing.

wang disp 15101873 p1 no5 Grant

They needed to educate their children.

They needed men to assist them get in or out of trouble.

wang dis 15101873 p1Gray auctioneerwang dis 15101873 p1 Norton & Notcutt solicitors

wang dis 15101873 p1 ToneAnd they needed men to despatch them. Thomas Swan’s business was situated on south western end of Murphy Street. Swan married my relative Elizabeth Cook, a daughter of Christopher Cook, a bricklayer whom we met here and here. I particularly like that to arrange a funeral with William Simpson, a bereaved party had to attend his office situated, albeit temporarily, in the premises of McKeone Bros., bookseller’s. One wonders if coffin selections could be browsed alongside the books.

wang dis 15101873 p1 swan undertakerwang dis 15101873 p1 Simpson undertakerOf course these were not the only businesses in town. They are merely a small selection  from the front page of a few editions of the ‘Dispatch & North Eastern Advertiser’ published in October 1873.