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Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Strange Woman from Benalla [Sharon Hollingsworth]

With St. Valentine's Day coming up soon, it is time to be thinking about romantic interludes! Read on to find out about one that occurred at Glenrowan when the Kellys were about.

During the siege of Glenrowan there were around 60 or so prisoners being held at Ann Jones's Inn. We know the names of many of them, but there is one that was alluded to but we never were told her name, she was simply referred to as "a strange woman from Benalla."

In James Reardon's testimony for the Royal Commission he said:

"...Ryan and his wife, and three or four children, and three of mine, and a strange woman from Benalla, they rushed out, and the firing was on them as hard as it could be blazed, from the drain.."

How she came to be bailed up and held in the Inn can be found in a letter written many years later by John Charles Lowe describing his experiences during the siege.

Below is a portion of the letter courtesy of Dave White.

John Lowe writes:

 I was not twenty years of age at the time, and lived with my Pa at Benalla had a horse and dray of my own and was engaged to go to Glenrowan to cart metal for the main street in Benalla. We pitched camp about two chains from Mrs Jones' hotel, and about three chains from the railway station - almost in a direct line. We were there about a month when on a Saturday night we were having a bit of jollification, and we were late before we went to bed. It was about 12 o'clock. (The occasion was one of our mates had a female visitor from Benalla with him in his tent, and we were doing all we could to annoy him, and having some fun.)

My tent was on the railway fence, the others at the back of it. Between one and two o'clock, I was awakened by a man at my tent door who ordered me to get up. I told him to go to "....", as I thought it was one of my men keeping up the joke. Then a voice from the back of the tent said: "Put a bullet through him, Straughan, if he resists." He then said: "We are Police. You had better get up," which I did.

When I got outside I recognized both of them, as I knew them. Before they went out, Kelly asked me if I knew them. I said I did and had often seen them in Benalla. He then told me they had shot Sherritt near Beechworth and that there would be a train load of police along at any moment and he wanted men to help him pull up the line so as to wreck the train.

He cautioned me very severely and assured me he would do me no harm as long as I obeyed him. He then asked how many men were in the other tents. I told him. He said: "Tell them to get out," which I did. He was with me at each tent door and had a look in at the last tent. They refused to move.

There was some argument and Piazza [this would be Adolphus Piazzi] the boss, was one of them. He lifted his gun, which he kept beside his bed and sat up, threatening to shoot. Kelly ripped the tent door open and said:

    "You ......! You lift a gun to me," and fired his rifle at Piazza. As he fired, Piazza knocked the gun with his arm and the charge went down beside his leg and through his bunk into the ground. And the visitor from Benalla gave a terrible scream as she was in the bunk with another Italian.

    Kelly then turned on me for telling him in the first place there was two in the tent and not letting him know there was a female there, and he was very annoyed, but I excused myself by saying she was not a regular. All out, he asked all hands did they know him when the female said: "I know you, Ned Kelly," and put her arms around his neck and attempted to kiss him, to which he objected. He then repeated what he told me re what he wanted and the police and the train and further cautioned us and that he would not harm us.

He thought we were line repairers and that we knew all about the job. We told him we were not and had no tools that would do the job. We then went over to the lineman's tool shed and directed him where the repairers lived about a quarter mile up....

To read more... the full letter can be found at

Later, all of them were to wind up at the Glenrowan Inn where the strange woman from Benalla was able to escape early on (as related by James Reardon), but Lowe and his mates and many of the male prisoners were there until a truce was called Monday morning allowing the remaining prisoners to come out.

Oddly, this woman from Benalla got a special mention on national television in the documentary on the archaeological dig of the Glenrowan Inn entitled "Ned Kelly Uncovered" hosted by Tony Robinson. One of the onscreen experts was talking about Ned Kelly bailing up the workmen in the tents and said that when they came to the foreman's tent, he (Piazzi) had a woman in bed with him! Reading John Lowe's eyewitness account above tells us that is not entirely the time, the woman was in the bunk with the other Italian man in the tent and it was him that she had come to visit. (Just think, if it was Joe Byrne she was trying to come on to with the arms around the neck and the attempt to plant a kiss on, he would have probably been a tad more open and accepting than Ned was to the overture!)
These are the tents between the Glenrowan Inn and the railway station in which John Lowe and the other navvies were residing when the Kelly Gang (and the strange woman from Benalla)  came to visit.
As an aside, I am wondering who was the "other Italian" besides Piazzi in the tent?  There was testimony in the Royal Commission where Sadleir was asked if he had ever heard of a "Frenchman named Amidie" who had offered to storm the Inn at the siege along with others. Sadleir had not heard of the man, but Whelan had but had not heard about his offer to storm the house. I am wondering, if instead of being French, maybe the man was Italian? And maybe his name was spelled Amadei (Italian for "son of Amadeo") instead of Amidie (which is a French name)? Wouldn't they be pronounced about the same? It is just conjecture, but could he have been the man in the tent with the strange woman from Benalla? Something to think about!

1 comment:

  1. Good write up Sharon, this makes me ponder on something that I have often thought about.
    There must have been several eyewitnesses at Glenrowan that were not rounded up or if they were were not stopped from leaving.
    Look at how poor Martin Cherry, how did he 'hear about' the siege & was able to just wonder over?
    Having a woman in your tent sure sound like an Italian to me. :) Talk about being in the wrong tent at the wrong time. lol
    Happy Valentine's Day. Dave (BAILUP)


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