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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mr. Living: The Bank Teller with the Crooked Halo [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Recently I was looking around in the appendices of the book "Ned Kelly: After a Century of Acrimony" by John Meredith and Bill Scott and ran across an intriguing entry under "Books and Mention in Books" -

Meudell, George   'The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift' Pp. 74-79. London, Routledge, 1929.

I was curious to know what the man who originally coined the phrase "Australia for the Australians" had to say about Ned Kelly. I then checked Brian McDonald's "What They Said About Ned" to see if the book was listed. It was and the notation for it said:

"In the chapter "Banks and Bankers" he mentions the precautions taken in the Bank of Victoria at the tiny branch of Corop during the Kelly reign."

Next step was finding a free copy online to read. That was soon accomplished through the wonderful Internet Archive.

Parts of the book not even having to do with the Kellys are of great interest (and some were allegedly very controversial in their era), and he had one really good quote that I would like to share here (almost wish I could have a skywriter emblazon it across the horizon!) -

It is almost impossible to carry the torch of truth
through a crowd without singeing somebody's beard.

Ok, now on to the Kelly-ness!

Mr. Meudell opens up his discourse on the Kellys with this gratifying statement:

"Ned Kelly was a man born out of his time with no education excepting his great knowledge of the

Book of the Bush; his leaping thought, rapid action and fertility of resource marked him as a clever

fighter who in a modern war could have entered as a private and ended as a general."

A few more paragraphs go on about the exploits of the Kellys, but the most fascinating anecdote concerns the Jerilderie Raid and its aftermath and Mr. Meudell's association with Edwin Living. You will recall that Edwin Living (sometimes referred to as Edward Living, and even as Lyving) was the accountant at the Bank of New South Wales when the Kellys came to call in February of 1879.

Text from the book:

I met the Kelly gang only in their works and
through Ted Living, my fellow-bank clerk. At one
time Living was accountant at the bank of N.S.W.
branch at Jerilderie, a small N.S.W. town north of
the Murray River. The Kellys had already robbed
three banks and had been posted missing four months
until suddenly and early on a Sunday morning they
appeared at Jerilderie police station. The Kelly gang
rode into the police yard and bailed up the three
policemen whom they locked in the cells. Then the
Kellys donned the policemen's Sunday clothes. In
full sight of the public they spent the day in the
precincts of the gaol and Ned Kelly escorted the ser-
geant's wife to the Roman Catholic church on Sunday
morning and stood guard while she dusted the church
before the visiting clergyman arrived. All day the
gang held the police and not a townsman knew. On
Sunday night they cut the few telegraph wires leading
from the town, telephones and automobiles were not
then invented. Tartleton, the manager, and Living,
the accountant and teller of the Bank of New South
Wales, had been at near-by stations spending Saturday
and Sunday, and they rode to the bank early on
Monday. Tartleton went upstairs for a shower bath
and Living got out his cash and sorted his notes.
The junior clerk had left the front door ajar. Ned
Kelly walked in a little before ten and placing the
muzzle of a Brown Bess rifle against Living's temple,
ordered him to put up his hands, which Ted did with
much zeal and rapidity. Ned said, "Gimme yer keys,"
and Ted replied with the swiftness of a flashlight,
" All right, Mr. Kelly." By this time Steve Hart
had been upstairs and collected Tartleton at the
point of his rifle from under the shower. Tartleton
dropped his soap, threw up his arms and said, "Won't
you let me dry meself." "No bally fear," said Mr.
Hart. "Come along down as y'ar." And come as
he was he did in nine and one-fifth seconds by the
stop watch. Mr. Ned Kelly then filled two saddle-
bags from the safes and tills with notes and gold
valued at pounds 15,000. A big heavy canvas bag took
his fancy, and he was about to drag it along when
Living smilingly remarked, "Them's coppers, mister.'
"That be damned for a yarn," said Ned, but
he drew a jack knife, used for trimming his nails
and cutting tobacco, from his pocket, cut the bag
and punted pennies with his boots all over the bank
floor. "Come and 'av a drink," said their genial
host, Mr. Edward Kelly, so they left the bank to its
fate, disdaining to take title deeds and overdrafts,
loans and advances, and crossed the road to the
public house. Dan Kelly and Byrne had rounded up
every man, woman and child in the village and put
them in the pub. The police had been given some
tucker and beer and were left in the lock up. They
missed all the fun that day.
Just as the gang entered the hotel corridor, Dan
Kelly had drawn a bead with his gun on the publican
who had suggested that Daniel was tipsy. Ned threw
his brother's rifle up and the bullet was shot into the
ceiling instead of through Boniface. One shearer
had a concertina and another a fiddle, so the bar room
was cleared and everybody danced. The Messrs.
Kelly generously bought drinks for all hands, most
generously and frequently, and by noon both cellar
and bar were empty of anything to drink. Living
managed to slip out the back door over to the bank
stable, got his horse and rode like Steve Donoghue,
Tod Sloan and Frank Dempsey, not gracefully but
very fast, towards Deniliquin to break the news.
When he reached the telegraph office his favourite
prad fell down dead. He bought it as a colt for
five pounds. Very bravely Ted pushed on with the
good work, took the first train for Melbourne, and
turned up at ten o'clock precisely next morning before
one Walsh, the inspector of the Bank of New South
Wales in Melbourne armed with a huge red and yellow
carpet bag. Walsh, without looking up said, "What's
that for," and Living brazenly replied, "Want more."
"More what? " said Walsh. "Cash," hinted Ted.
"Mr. Kelly took the lot on Sunday." "Oh, did he,"
said Walsh, and without taking breath, said, "Mr.
Living, why are you absent from your branch without
leave?' Of course the newspapers had answered
that for Ted. However, old Walsh said, "Go back
at once to Jerilderie by the noon train." Then he
relaxed, and Ted and I spent a joyous night with the
lads of the village (and some of the lassies) telling
about the vile and rude behaviour of the Kelly gang
in collaring fifteen thousand of the "best," mixed
and all that it was. Ned Kelly gave Living an account
of his life written in his own blood. This we tried
to sell to the Melbourne newspapers, but the best
offer by Sam Winter of the Melbourne "Herald"
was only five pounds, so Living kept the MS. which
was afterwards lost by a friend. Tartleton was so
angry with Walsh's harsh reception that he resigned
from the bank. By midnight on Tuesday neither
Ted's halo or mine fitted nicely, but we both agreed
the Kelly gang ought to have made the event a
quarterly affair.

Well, that was quite a lively report! I spotted quite a few boo boos (there are some real doozies) but will let you the readers figure out what is what for yourselves for a refreshing change.

I am wondering how and when George Meudell made the acquaintance of Edwin Living. Did they know each other from a previous job posting at a bank? Or did they first meet that day in Melbourne as two young men full of excitement and adventure and ready to take on the world? Living was 29 and unmarried and Meudell was 19 and also single, so I can well see them falling in together and painting the town red.

Accounts like this one really helps to bring the people of the Kelly saga to life, doesn't it? Can't you just see Ted Living propping up the bar and telling his tale (even if not exactly with a Harry Flashman-like "and I alone survived" edge to it but still properly embellished in pertinent parts) to a rapt audience eager to buy him drinks and lap up his every word?

According to "100 Years in Jerilderie," Mr. Living (hopefully with halo back in place) and Tarleton (the proper spelling) returned to Jerilderie on Thursday with the carpet bag full of money (with a trooper in tow) to replace what was taken during the Kelly Gang raid. Also, interestingly, according to a newspaper account, on Living's way to Melbourne the train made a stop in his old stomping ground of Castlemaine, where news of the robbery and Living's journey had already been telegraphed, and his mother and uncle and old friends rushed to the station "anxious to see that he was not maimed and wounded in the encounter with the noted bushrangers."

To read what came before and after the Jerilderie Raid portion of Meudell's book, please see the link below.

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