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Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Review of "Glenrowan: The Siege that Shaped a Nation" [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Back in the early days of this blog I had bemoaned the fact that there were only the juvenile primer-type Ned Kelly books being published on a regular basis and had asked when the next big in depth Kelly tome would be published. I guess that the newly released book by  entitled "Glenrowan: The Siege that Shaped a Nation" fits the bill as being big and in depth. (This blog was also the first Kelly site to announce that the book was  being released this year and after publication a friend told me how I got a mention in the bibliography for which I was very pleasantly surprised.)

This past week I was sent a copy of the book by one of my new Kelly blog friends, Neal from NSW. I am very grateful to him for being so kind, helpful and generous.

Looking around the Kelly sites I have seen a few bits and pieces of what others have had to say about the book, so I guess it is my turn to give it a go. Get ready!

When I heard that the book was coming out I assumed that it was going to only be about the Siege of Glenrowan (silly me!). I suppose it had to have the bits leading up to the siege and what the aftermath was so that those not aware of the full Kelly story could come up to speed or those who were familiar with it could have a refresher course. It would have suited me fine to be only about the siege, though! At least the chapters on the siege take up the bulk of the book. Those chapters are easily the best in the book.
Mr Shaw did a really admirable job overall with "Glenrowan." 
Shaw has some good insights into certain characters in the saga, as well as the social fabric of the area. It is a very good book, but it could have been a great book if only a bit more care might have been taken in fact finding and research. There are a few errors in the book and those will be looked at in depth in a bit.

When you start the book there is a list of the "Cast of Characters." You have to love something that tells it like it is, like with Hare: "ambitious protege of Standish" and Steele: "opinionated and driven" or Sr Constable John Kelly: "experienced but unambitious." Of Constable Kirkham he says: "Sociable and very mobile at Glenrowan." Later in the book he repeatedly drives home the somewhat irresponsible social butterfly aspect of Kirkham's behaviour at the siege. I was taken a little aback at it, as I really like Thomas Kirkham - he was goring my ox! I did, however, get a big laugh at the running joke about Constable Dwyer and the "bottle."

I like the part in the book where he says that no one saw the big picture of the siege but that when all of the little moments everyone experienced were put together it made the big picture come into view. He called it a "mosaic." I also liked where he described what I call wheels within wheels about the different levels of Kelly sympathizers radiating out from a center.

Ok, now on to the errors part. As I was reading the book I kept a pad and pen to hand to jot down page numbers and notes about what just did not sound right to me fact-wise. Some checked out to be true, but I found quite a few that were very wrong. I am going to list some of them (though there are more and there might be some I have missed) and give the correct information. I will only give the source in a place or two as I am writing a conversational type blog, not a book!  Besides, I don't want to spoil anyone's fun in seeking out the information for themselves. I don't put these corrections here with malicious glee to show how smart I am or to big note how well acquainted with the Kelly story I am. I put them here to help out readers to aid them in getting to the truth of the Kelly saga. That is the only thing that matters.

Note that in the back of the book Ian W. Shaw tells about using primary sources to piece the story together and he had this interesting bit:

"If there are errors, they are mine, and they reflect my beliefs about the most likely occurrence of sequence in a particular setting, based on what is happening elsewhere and how the characters behaved previously."

(I guess that is what was done with the Dan and Steve and the laudanum bit where no one really knows the go?)

Ok, with all that said, here are a few of the things I picked up on:

Names gotten wrong:

Charles Tettleton should be Charles Nettleton

Father Doraghy should be Father Donaghy

Dr Baker should be Dr Barker

Sherrit should be Sherritt

Mary Barry should be Ellen Barry

Jock McHugh/Neil Jock McHugh  should be  Neil McHugh

Dr Hutchison should be Dr Hutchinson

Arthur Loftus Maul Steele should be Arthur Loftus Maule Steele

WH Cookson should be BW Cookson

Neil Metcalfe should be George Metcalf

James Simson should be James Simpson

Diseased Stock Inspector should be Diseased Stock Agent (DSA)

In the list of prisoners at the front of the book it has "Catherine Mortimer, sister of Isobel Curnow, who lived at Glenrowan." It should be Catherine Curnow, sister of Thomas Curnow."  Catherine was visiting Glenrowan from Ballarat.

The list of workers bailed up at the quarrymen's tents has mistakenly added John Delaney's name. There is also a name on it that I am not familiar with, "John Maitland."

Book has John Nicolson in a place that should be Charles Nicolson in reference to him resuming his position in the hunt for the Kellys.

Book has the Felon's Apprehension Act being called The Outlaw Act, it should be The Outlawry Act.

The book has both McIntyre and Lonigan sitting on the log when the camp was bailed up, only Lonigan was, McIntyre was by the fire stirring the pot.

The book has McIntyre "discarding" his boots while on the run from Stringybark Creek. He actually arrived at McColl's farmhouse with one boot on and one under his arm, so they were not fully discarded.

The book has Standish moving headquarters from Melbourne to Wangaratta. It was moved to Benalla. Remember how he was always staying at Craven's Commercial Hotel?

The book has the Euroa bank raid taking place on December 12, 1878 when it was December 10, 1878.

The book has Ned Kelly dictating the Jerilderie Letter to Joe Byrne in one session at Faithful's Creek Station at the time of Euroa. Not so, Joe Byrne merely made copies of the Cameron Letter at that time and place.

The book says that Aaron and his bride moved into a two room slab hut he had built on his property. It was a two room abandoned hut that he merely took over and had to pay off the real owner (with money borrowed from one of the policemen staying in the hut with them) when he returned!

The book suggests that gossip around the Woolshed was that Detective Michael Ward was the father of Mrs Aaron Sherritt's unborn child! I had read about him interfering with young schoolgirls in the area, but not Ellen Barry Sherritt by name.

The book says that there were half a dozen canvas tents near the Inn in Glenrowan. There were only four of them. (Maybe the "half a dozen" idea came from an illustration of Glenrowan showing the tents on which the number 6 is overlaid? The 6 is a key which indicates what it is on the page and captioned at the bottom, and is not the number of tents.)

The book has Bracken as previously having been a guard at Beechworth Prison. Actually, he was a guard at the Lunatic Asylum in Beechworth.

The book has Superintendent Hare sending an invitation to Charles Rawlins to join the contingent on the police train. Not true. Rawlins himself testified for the Reward Board saying that:

"On Sunday afternoon I was in Benalla, and I heard about the murder of Sherritt, and I went down to the station, and, hearing a train was going away, I spoke to the station master, and he told me that the train had left Melbourne at half-past ten o'clock that evening. This was about eleven o'clock that I was there. He said a train would be at Benalla about half-past two o'clock. I went on to the station when it reached Benalla, and met Mr. Hare, and I told him that the station master said that providing Mr. Hare would allow me to go on the train he would have no objection. I have a free pass on all the Victorian Railways."

Book has the Glenrowan postmaster Hillmorton Reynolds seeing Ann Jones and Ned Kelly talking in the breeze-way at the Inn when Ann said "look out, Ned, he is going to escape!" It was not Hillmorton Reynolds, as he was left at  home during the siege, it was his brother Edward Reynolds.

Book has Martin Cherry and Dave Mortimer carrying the wounded Johnny Jones to the kitchen at the Inn. Ann and Jane were the ones who did it according to their testimony.

Joe's final toast before his death is worded differently in the book than it is in Ian Jones's A Short Life.

The book has Dan and Steve lifting and moving Joe Byrne's body and taking it down to one of the bedrooms at the Inn. Rev Gibney and others testified to finding the body in the barroom where he fell. They may have had to lift him off of a couple of prisoners that he fell across, but they did not take him down the passageway into a bedroom.

The book has where when Ned said his feet were cold that a tin of warm water was brought in for him to soak his feet in. Actually, in testimony, it was said that a kerosene tin of water was heated and placed against his feet.

The lights proposed to be brought to Glenrowan were not designed by the Gov Astronomer. They were designed by Lt Thomas Draper. See my blog post called Part 1: Calling for a Cannon and Asking for a Light for more info:

In the book it says that Dan and Steve committed suicide by taking laudanum. It was said that the previously sought for lost packet was found and that is what it contained. While this may be what happened, there is no actual proof.

Book has 3 policemen  dragging Joe's body from the Inn. It was actually two, Armstrong and Dwyer.

Book has the cannon and artillerymen actually arriving in Glenrowan. Not so, they were turned back at Seymour as the siege was over by the time they reached that station. See Part 2 of Calling for a Cannon and Asking for a Light:

Book has Aaron's inquest on the same day as Joe Byrne's. Not so, the papers said that Aaron's inquest was on Monday June 28, not Tuesday, the 30th like Joe's was.

The Book has Ned Kelly leaving Melbourne under guard on a train bound for Beechworth on Monday August 9, 1880 for a preliminary hearing. The actual date that Ned left Melbourne was on Sunday August 1, 1880.

Book says Owen Jones (Ann Jones's husband) died in the late 1880s. Owen Jones died in 1890.

Book has Michael Reardon getting a government pension of a pound per year. It was actually a pound per week...52 pounds per year!

Book has Hare's memoirs as coming out in 1891. It was published in 1892.

Book has Kate's baby Catherine being born in 1889. Baby Catherine was born in 1898.

Ok, there you have it. If anyone would like to chime in about any of this, please feel free to do so.


  1. Crikey! You told me you had found a few errors.....looks more like half the book!!

  2. Great review Sharon,and as always very thorough. :) Seeing a list of the mistakes together looks huge,lol.It's a shame that so many avoidable mistakes were made by the author.I enjoyed reading the book,but yes there are alot of little & not so little mistakes that really take away from how good a book it should/could have been.

    P.S. I got a laugh out of that comment re Dwyer & his bottle too! lol.Almost as good a laugh re how he kicked his shin on Ned's armour & ending up hurting himself when he was (very cowardly) trying to hurt Ned by kicking him.

  3. Glad you liked the review, Lisa. It is truly a shame that these booboos were not discovered before publication. I don't know how these things work, but maybe if there is another print run in the future they can do some of these fixes? That still would not help the initial book buyers, though!
    Yeah, Neal, it seems like more than a few! There are still some not listed that I am a little iffy on and who knows what I might have missed as I am more schooled in some aspects of the saga than others.

  4. Thank you Sharon; your post pretty much sums up why I struggled reading this book. Obviously a lot of research has gone into writing it but the sloppy (non-existent/inexpert?) editing seriously affects the final result. A real shame. I also struggled with the 'fictional interludes' where the author reports on conversations/thoughts/actions that can only have been imagined, e.g. what happened to Steve and Dan.

  5. Isn't it weird that nearly all of the errors with the names you picked up in the book are just a simple letter. Possibly he had trouble reading the 130 year old writing style? More than a research issue?

  6. That is a fair point (but does not include George Metcalf or Ellen Barry in that premise). We can only wonder where he looked to get the info. (I don't have the time or patience to wait for all the stuff from the PROV to load on dialup to do a doublecheck on that) I have seen Sherritt as Sherrit in something and knew it was wrong as I have seen Aaron Sherritt's signature and it definitely had double t's at the end. And Edward Barker's name is correct on the list of witnesses to the execution. As far as others, some of the names are in the newspapers of the day and spelled correctly. I even tried to misspell them like he did (with the addition of Ned Kelly's name and the year 1880) and nothing came up in the Trove search. But with the correct spellings and Ned's name and 1880 they were there. So if he used primary sources like the Argus or other papers, he would have seen the true spellings of Hutchinson, Barker, Donaghy, etc. Not sure if all of those names were handwritten somewhere for him to get confused by or not. I have seen Neil McHugh listed as Jack, not Jock, before, but that was still a mistake. I surely do know what you mean about how hard it is to read some of the handwriting of certain Kelly players, though! Also, there are times one should check secondary sources! And it is always good to have a proofreader who knows the subject at hand, too.

  7. Terrific review, Sharon. It is a shame that a work with such potential has been marred by so many piddling little errors. I understand how these errors can crawl in. A few are acceptable, but your list is pretty long. Hopefully Mr Shaw will take it all in good part and see to it that the errors are corrected for the next edition.

    Thank you for posting!


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