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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jim Kelly in a Circus Troupe??? [Sharon Hollingsworth]

In a previous blog posting called "Under the Big Top" at I detailed about the Kelly Gang's tie-ins with Australian circuses. In that I mentioned about Ned Kelly's half-brother, Jack King, who went by the professional name of Jack Kelly when he was performing in circuses as an expert horseman. He was with Wirth's Circus in the 1890s, leaving for a while to become a policeman out in West Australia, and then leaving that post in 1908 to rejoin Wirth's. Why I bring all this up is to show that it was perhaps Jack King (Kelly) who was the one alluded to in a narrative regarding what happened at the Kelly homestead back in 1878 and not Jim Kelly who was said to be quoted. Of course, Jack was only 3 years old back then, but maybe he was told the story by family members or maybe he actually remembers it? What I am referring to is an account in a book called "Datas: the Memory Man by Himself" published in the 1930s telling about the time that Datas (aka William John Maurice Bottle) was performing his amazing feats of memory with Wirth's Circus in Australia in 1909/1910.

Ian Jones, in the notes at the back of "Ned Kelly: A Short Life" credits the book "Datas: The Memory Man by Himself" as being the reference he used for "Jim's account" of what happened at the homestead on April 15, 1878 which is detailed in his book.

A long time ago I found the full text for the Datas book online, then could not find it for a good long while, but luckily stumbled back over it in recent days while searching for something else.

Datas says that:

"....young Jim Kelly - a younger brother of Dan and Ned the bushrangers - was a great pal of mine, having travelled over 44,000 miles with me as ring-master of Wirth's Circus with which I was
appearing. From Jim I heard many wonderful stories of his notorious brothers at first hand....."

It went on for several paragraphs relating the whole Kelly drama, one very telling part being this:

"I was only a kid at the time.."
of the Fitzpatrick episode in 1878. That would have had to be Jack King Kelly. Jim Kelly was 19 at the time and in still in gaol, hardly a kid and hardly there!

Datas kept on saying Jim this, Jim that, but we know that in 1910 when B.W. Cookson went to the Kelly country to interview people that Jim Kelly was at home in Greta and working as a drover as he had been for quite some time. He was not out travelling in a circus troupe, but his younger half-brother Jack was!

Datas also related how he met Thomas Curnow who related his experiences to him and that:

"....perhaps the most singular thing about that tour of mine in Australia is the fact that
not only was Jim Kelly a member of the circus company but amongst the tent-men was one
named Gilbert, who was the son of the notorious Gilbert, who, with another desperado named
O'Mealy was one of the Ben Hall gang of bushrangers..."

Datas went on to related about Jim Kelly and an episode with a drunken elephant and about his own amusing incident when he mistook an escaped lion for a dog!

To read this chapter go to

So, we can safely assume that it was Jack King Kelly who was with Datas the Memory Man touring with Wirth's Circus and NOT Jim Kelly (Maybe the Memory Man had an uncharacteristic lapse of memory?).

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