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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alexander Fitzpatrick - A Forgotten Conviction [Brian Stevenson]

Poor Alexander Fitzpatrick. It is hard to think of someone less liked by more Kelly cognoscenti, and even the police did not think much of him. Indeed, so enamoured were they that when he was convalescing with a severely injured leg, he was fined five shillings for laughing in the police hospital after lights out. (Royal Commission, 1881, Question 12897.) When Fitzpatrick was discharged, Commissioner Standish viewed his conduct as 'generally bad and discreditable to the force' and added 'I cannot hold out any hope of his ever being reinstated to the position of Constable in the Victorian Police.'

Fitzpatrick was one of the last major survivors in the Kelly drama. When he died in 1924, Jim Kelly was the only figure of comparative significance still around. (Ellen Kelly had died the year before.)The journalist B W Cookson interviewed Fitzpatrick in 1911. By then, Fitzpatrick had decided to put the best spin possible on the events of 15 April 1878, stating simply that although he was little more than a boy (he was 22) he did his duty, and revealing a surprising and significant awe for Ned Kelly.

Fitzpatrick's fondness for the bottle probably played a part that fateful day. He stopped for a few drinks at David Lindsay's Winton Hotel before going to Greta to arrest Dan Kelly. What happened afterwards, of course, is a matter of conjecture, but his fondness for drink got him into more trouble many years later. Only this time, it would be he who would suffer direct consequences.

Here is what I found on the wonderful National Library Trove site, from the Melbourne Argus of 18 July 1894.

'Alexander Fitzpatrick, who was found guilty of obtaining different small sums of money from Mrs Ryan of the Saracen's Head Hotel, Bourke Street, by means of valueless cheques, came up for sentence at the Crown Court yesterday, before the Chief Justice. Mr Tucker, who appeared for the defence, asked that a light sentence should be inflicted. The prisoner was a young, married man. It also appeared that he had been drinking heavily during his stay at the hotel. the prisoner himself also addressed the Court in mitigation of sentence, and stated that when he passed the cheques he thought that he would have enough funds at the bank to meet them. He was sentence to twelve months imprisonment.'

I have found little else about this article, and am amazed that the Fitzpatrick haters, having run the hapless Alexander up hill and down dale for over 130 years, have not made anything of this little gem. To the best of my knowledge, no other writer had mentioned it. Nothing in the article identifies Fitzpatrick as having anything to do with Ned Kelly, but a couple of brief items in the Barrier Miner, the Broken Hill newspaper, helpfully mentioned the connection. [Update: many new articles have been added to Trove about this conviction in the time since the publication of this blog and some mention the Kelly connection]

I could not find any other account of this story and neither Sharon Hollingsworth nor I could turn up any other corroboration. There are online lists of prison inmates for the period, but his name does not appear on any of them. [update: after this post was published Sharon found a record for an Alexander Fitzpatrick at the PROV with the accession # of  VPRS515/P0001/48/Page362 and we discussed it at length at a couple of other Kelly forums] Moreover, Fitzpatrick was hardly young - he was 38 at the time - though he was married, and had been so for sixteen years, and had two children. The existence of more than one Alexander Fitzpatrick in Victoria in 1894 is certainly a possibility.

On the other hand, the balance of evidence certainly points to it being him. We have the Broken Hill paper's statement. Further, the prisoner Fitzpatrick evidently had a drinking problem, and so did the notorious Alex. It would be with him all his life. When he died in 1924, aged 67, one of the causes of death was cirrhosis of the liver.

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