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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Part 1: Calling for a Cannon and Asking for a Light [Sharon Hollingsworth]

The Siege of Glenrowan came to an end around 3 PM on June 28, 1880. Previous to that, the situation was that Joe Byrne was laying dead inside the Glenrowan Inn and Ned Kelly had been captured early that morning, leaving Kelly Gang members Steve Hart and Dan Kelly inside the Inn with dozens of policemen surrounding the building. The police feared that the two desperate - and now leaderless - young men would somehow attempt to escape under cover of the night if the siege were to last into the evening, so Superintendent Sadleir ordered a cannon to be sent up from Melbourne to blow the house down around them. Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary in Melbourne had consulted with Robert Ellery, the Government Astronomer about getting an electric light apparatus sent to Glenrowan so that the aforementioned escape fear would not eventuate.

Seems that fate took a hand, in the person of Senior-Constable Charles Johnston, so that neither of those two devices would be needed.

Here is part of what Senior-Constable Charles Johnston said before the Royal Commission in 1881:

7159. Were you present when the proposal was made to burn the house? - I was; I made it.
7160. Had you any idea at the time that you would be burning the bodies, or did you think it would drive them out? - To drive them out.
7161. Did you expect it would injure any human beings besides them? - I did not. I was not told there was any other person in the hotel.
7162. You were not told at that time that Byrne was lying at the hotel dead? - I was not told where he was; I was told he was shot.
7163. Were you present at the consultation about burning? - I was. I went to where Mr. Sadleir and Mr. O’Connor were standing, and I said to Mr. Sadleir - I asked him what he was intending to do, and he said, “I have sent for a cannon to Melbourne, to be here about three o’clock.”
7164. The proposal was to batter the house down? - Blow the house down with cannon. I said, “Surely you will not send down for a cannon; cannot you take other means to get them out.” I said, “Why not fire it?” Mr. Sadleir said, “How would you do that?” I said, “By getting some straw and kerosene and to get at the windward of the building it could be fired, and perhaps they would come out then.

After Johnston did the deed, Father Gibney, rushed into the Inn just as the fire was starting to take hold, and found Dan and Steve to be dead already. Their bodies, along with the body of a hapless dog that had been caught in the crossfire, were later retrieved from the ashes. The cannon ordered by Sadleir to blow the Inn down was turned back on its rail journey as it was no longer needed. One wonders what would have happened if that cannon would have gotten there much sooner and been utilized or been threatened to be used. Would the mere threat of using it have caused them to surrender (that is if they were still alive at that time), thus saving Ann Jones's home and business? Or would the artillerymen have been ordered to just open fire with no warning,  thus destroying life, home and livelihood? (In part two of this blog post I will be going into more depth on the call for the cannon.)
There is much to ponder. Since there weren't any CSI type forensics teams (nor the science and technology) around in those days, we will never know the true time and cause of Dan Kelly's and Steve Hart's deaths. We can only surmise whether any of the ideas from a cannon to using an electric light apparatus would have worked if they had lived long enough. The Kelly saga is full of "what ifs."

Concerning the aforementioned electric light apparatus, Mr. Ellery seemed to think that it would have been a means to help aid in their escape.

Here are a few items I found as concerns Mr. Ellery and that:

From: The Argus of June 29, 1880 -

As the day wore on and it was doubtful whether the gang would be dislodged before dark, the Chief Secretary sent for Mr. Ellery, and asked him if he could proceed to Glenrowan by special train with the electric light, so as to prevent the escape of the murderers. Mr. Ellery said that means could not be adopted in time to procure the light, and he also said that the light is so vivid and direct that it throws dark shadows, and probably would enable the bushrangers to escape rather than assist in effecting their capture. He recommended that bonfires should be made round the building, which would lighten the space between them and it. This suggestion was also telegraphed to the officer in command.

From: Charles White's The History of Australian Bushranging  -

Fearing that darkness might set in before the cannon could be brought to bear upon the wooden tenement, he communicated with Mr. Ellery, Government Astronomer of the colony, asking his advice as to the practicability of sending to the seat of war an electric-light apparatus to preserve the continuity of the besiegers' work; but that gentleman discountenanced the project, explaining that even if the apparatus were placed on the ground it would take quite twenty-four hours to get into fair working order. 

From: The South Australian Register of July 8, 1880 -

Mr. Ellery of the Observatory, sent back word to say that the police could have an electric light if they insisted, but he advised them to refrain from using it, unless the desired the outlaws to escape.

Mr. Ellery seemed to be the go-to man as far as this type thing went. In the year previous to the siege Mr. Ellery gave well-attended lectures on electricity after which there were practical demonstrations of this new technology.  He had a help-mate who managed those demonstrations. The Argus of July 17, 1879 said that "the erection and management of the electric machines and lamps were successfully conducted by Lt. Draper of the V V Engineers."

Lieutenant Draper was Thomas Draper, also known as T.T. Draper. By 1881, Draper and W.H. Masters had lit up much of Melbourne and started the first telephone exchange in Australia. Some of their first customers for telephone installation were the Russell Street Barracks and the Melbourne Club. But, before that, in August of 1879 Lt. Draper had been in charge of setting up and running the electric light apparatuses in Melbourne for some of the first night exhibition football games. Players from the East Melbourne Artillery and Collingwood Rifles made up the teams.
  At one of the exhibition games there were six lights set up, half run by battery and the other half run by steam engines. The steam engines had to be stoked for an hour before any light at all appeared, then it had to be constantly maintained. Even with constant maintenance, one of the lights went out altogether early in the game.

From the newspaper reports of the illuminated game it seems that Mr. Ellery was possibly correct in asserting that the lights would assist the gang in escaping.

The Argus of August 6, 1879 stated that "Men were continually going out of sight into dark patches, and the ball though painted white, required too much of an effort for the eye to follow."
It told of them having to play with a tan ball (that no one in the stands could see) for a while when the white ball deflated.

The Portland Guardian
of August 9, 1879 stated that "The reflection of the light was often peculiar. Sometimes it shone on the crowd outside the fence, and at other times all the lights  appeared to concentrate their rays on the ground, and then the game could be watched with perfection, while the crowd was almost invisible." 

Sounds like a good way to lose a bushranger or two under cover of night!

Oh, yeah, Mr. Ellery did have his own light that he would loan out on occasion for those presenting lectures that included illuminated pictures. It was an oxy-hydrogen light, also known as a Drummond Light or limelight. It was basically a spotlight. That would  not have worked for the siege either.

Stay tuned for part two of Calling for a Cannon and Asking for a Light...coming soon!

Part 2 is now available to read:

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