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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Fine Art and Pleasure of Collecting Kelly Books (by guest blogger Brian McDonald)

Note from Sharon: I recently asked Brian McDonald if he would like to do a guest posting here at Eleven Mile Creek and he readily agreed. Of course, the subject he chose is one near and dear to his heart (as well as mine) which is collecting books (in this particular case about Ned and the Kelly Gang). Brianmac has well earned the sobriquets of "Book-Keeper" and "Keeper of the Flame" due to his expansive bushranging and Colonial history personal library collection. Anyone who wants further information on available Kelly books should consult the marvelous book which Brian penned/compiled called  "What They Said About Ned: Looking at the Legend of Ned Kelly through Books including An Annotated Bibliography of The Kelly Gang Comprising a comprehensive list of books, magazines, articles and journals on Ned for the use of librarians, researchers, and collectors." Whew! That was a mouthful! Behind the scenes in emails all of us just refer  to it as "WTSAN." (and, yes, I do put a "tick" beside each title that I have acquired, just as he refers to in the following blog post.)
You can find "WTSAN" and other reprinted works of Colonial Australian History at Brian's website

Now on to the meat of the matter.

The Fine Art and Pleasure of Collecting Kelly Books
by Brian McDonald

Have you ever tried to count the number of books that have been published about Ned Kelly?

I’m referring here to books that have been devoted to Ned and his gang. Books by people such as Ian Jones, Keith McMenomy, John McQuilton, Frank Clune, John Molony, Graham Jones, Justin Corfield, John Phillips and the list goes on and on.

Then, of course, there are the general books written about bushranging that incorporate a chapter or several chapters on Ned Kelly written by the likes of Bill Wannan, Charles White, George Boxall, Allan M Nixon and more recently by Robert Coupe, Evan McHugh, Susan West, etc., etc., etc.

What about reminisces? Those people who penned accounts of their experiences in Australia and who mentioned Ned and his exploits such as John Sadleir, Francis Hare, Charles Trevelyan, Henry Nesfield, John Singleton, Frederic Spurr and others.

But wait … there’s more.

Then there are the official publications such the Royal Commission into the Victorian Police Force and the resulting published reports, newspaper accounts, magazine articles, art books, children’s books, encyclopaedias, and so on and so forth.

In 1954, Frank Clune stated in his introduction to The Kelly Hunters that his interest in Ned was revived when he began collecting books on the history of Australia in the 1930s. He began collecting Kellyana, and stated:

…my Kelly Shelf now extends to three shelves, and I have copies, including press-cuttings and photostats, of over 1000 Kelly “items”. (Clune, 1954, p. xii)

This is born out when you read through Frank’s bibliography in The Kelly Hunters, although he does miss the 1000 mark, he lists an impressive 159 items of Kellyana. Clune’s friend, Clive Turnbull, had only listed 42 printed books in his publication Kellyana in 1943.

In 1980 John Meredith and Bill Scott’s excellent book Ned Kelly After a century of acrimony was published. I know John had a lovely collection of Kellyana, I’m fairly sure that Bill collected Kellyana too, and consequently the resulting list of Kelly items and souvenirs in the appendix is extremely comprehensive.

If you happen have either of these two books on your shelf, the chances are that the bibliographical entries may have little ticks beside some items. If they were in the book when you purchased it, then it came from a collection of Kellyana as the previous owner would tick each tome in their personal collection.

If, however, the ticks are yours … then it’s too late … you are a bibliophile! The collecting bug has hit you too!

I still remember the feelings of euphoria as my small collection of bushranging books finally reached the end of the first shelf. As each new edition was added to the shelf I would search for it in Clune’s bibliography and put that satisfying little pencil tick against it.

When I purchased John Meredith and Bill Scott’s book my stomach sank to my feet as I perused the enormous number of books that they had listed. When I had finished ticking the entries that were to be found on my shelves, the resulting un-ticked entries would have equalled the number of shots fired at Glenrowan! But now I was aware of the books that I wanted to find for my collection … and the search was on.

For many collectors the hunting down Kellyana has, in some cases, taken on the same proportion as the original 1879 hunt. As items of Kellyana come on the market they are usually snapped up with the same speed as reloading a Martini-Henri rifle … and high prices are being paid for some items too. If an original copy of George Wilson Hall’s Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges or The Book of Keli were to come on the market tomorrow, they would command in the tens of thousands of dollars if not hundreds of thousands!

One of the numerous editions of The Life and Adventures of the Kelly Outlaws, published in Adelaide by Frearson and Brother around 1881, sold at auction for $7,281 in 2004.

One of the largest private collections of Kellyana and bushranging sold at auction in 2000 and the prices realised for some of the rarer items were quite astounding. A copy of Iron Ned Kelly and his Gang had a pre-sale estimate of $80 to $120 sold for $345. A very rare Belfast, Ireland, publication entitled Adventures of the Kelly Gang of Bushrangers: A Thrilling Story of Australian Police Duty and Bush Life had an estimate of $200 to $400 ended up selling for $1,150.

The cream of this private collection was the hand written brief for the Prosecution in The Queen v. Edward Kelly. There were only five briefs compiled in 1880 and this was the only one in private hands – it sold for $27,400.

If you are one of those poor (literally with some of these prices I’ve mentioned above!) souls that collect Kellyana, don’t despair. Kellyana is out there, it’s just a matter of tracking it down. A good place to start is can type in the author and title or just type “Ned Kelly” as a keyword. Book shops around the world list on this site and you should be able to find the book you’ve been looking for. They list books from the cheapest to the most expensive (that can be reversed if desired), but don’t forget postage costs if buying from overseas.

eBay is another source for buying Kellyana … but do be careful! I’ve watched items sell for exorbitant prices, particularly if people become involved in a bidding war. Something that I have found worthwhile is checking to see if the item you are going to bid on is listed on abebooks. Knowing that you can buy a copy if you don’t win the eBay item definitely takes the disappointment out of losing. Keep searching and good luck!

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