On the 10th of December 1878, Mr Maurice Garrett was performing his solemn duties as Euroa’s undertaker, the funeral of William Gouge, the son of George & Ann, farmers from Balmattum.
That day some unexpected visitors would arrive at the National Bank to make an unscheduled withdrawal. Arriving and leaving unnoticed by Euroa’s solitary Police Trooper but they left a lasting impression
Ladies and Gentlemen! My name is Charles Lane De Boos, I owned the North Eastern Hotel and locally I am considered a keen historian. I will be taking you on a journey, back to 1878, when the Kelly Gang were outlaws. Suspected of killing Police, with a price upon their heads. One Police Trooper Alexander Fitzpatrick had sparked a powder keg that was to become known as the Kelly Uprising. Looking for Dan Kelly on a charge of horse stealing, Fitzpatrick disobeyed orders and arrived at the Kelly/King homestead alone, drunk and without a warrant. Some sort of incident took place in that house, the Police Trooper claimed attempted murder; the Kelly’s claimed outrages towards the woman folk. The events of the 15th April 1878 still reverberate down through the years. Ned’s mother, Ellen Kelly, a brother-in-law, William Skillion and a neighbour, William Williams were charged with the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. In the Beechworth Court, Sir Redmond Barry, the presiding Judge, would sentence Ellen Kelly to 3 years hard labour, the two men receiving 6 years hard labour. Ellen would have to take her couple of month old baby with her to Gaol until weaned. Ned and Dan headed to the bush knowing there was trouble to follow.
And follow them it did.
On the 26th October, Stringybark Ck would become infamous for the deaths of 3 Police officers and the forging of the Kelly Gang. Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. With-in a few weeks the Police declared the Gang Outlaws and a price was put on their heads, This started nearly 2 years of embarrassment and enormous financial outlay for the Victorian and N.S.W. Police forces and Governments. The reward money would grow from 500 up to 8000 pounds, well over 2 million dollars in your currency!
The newspapers were a buzz with sensational headlines. Double agents were recruited but they were few in number and often the information was not believed nor acted upon. Sightings were investigated, some proved to be true, but most of the trails were cold and of no use. The Police were under pressure to stamp the flashness out of this larrikin called Kelly. Police re-enforcements flooded into the North-East. It was ‘double pay and country girls’ for the Police.
By Dec 1878 the Gang were running out of money. The friends, relatives and sympathisers could do no more than they already had with limited funds. Their plan was to rob a Bank and it would be an ambitious one. The authorities were expecting this, so they were being well guarded. The Kelly’s looked at Seymour, Oxley, Milawa, Benalla, Wangaratta and even Beechworth. Euroa would be seen as the easiest target, but it would need to be well planned to succeed.
In 1872 the railway had come to town and businesses moved from what was known as old Euroa into the new town. The population by 1878 was approximately 350 people. The National bank had leased a building in Kirkland Avenue and in 1876 moved into the building, here, behind me. They appointed Mr Robert Scott as the Manager. Bank tellers, William Bradley and Robert Booth stayed at my business, Mr C.L. DeBoos, North Eastern Hotel only a few doors from the Bank.
I recognised Joe Byrne to be a man who was in my pub two days before the robbery, 18 months later when his lifeless body was stung up on a cell door at Benalla after being killed at Glenrowan in the shoot-out with Police. He had been in Euroa, checking on the security here in town, helped no doubt by Benjamin Gould, a hawker.
The day before the robbery the Gang had ridden onto Faithfull’s Creek Station, nearly five miles north of Euroa. Starting in the morning they systematically rounded up the station manager, the overseer, workers and even people passing by. James Gloster, a hawker and ally of the Kelly’s, just happened to arrive with 4 full sets of brand new clothes that just happened to fit them, so they bailed him up. That night 14 male prisoners would share a makeshift cell in a shed, some stayed awake listening to Ned talk of the past events that shadowed him and his visions of the future that flickered briefly in the darkness.
Dawn the next day, found Joe Byrne busily making copies from a draft of what would be know as the Cameron letter, a precursor of the Jerilderie letter, a manifesto of war. Ned’s version of the events which had led to them being declared outlaws. The day saw more additions to the growing number of hostages being held at Faithfull’s Creek Station. An important part of the plan would be to break the telegraph line that ran past the homestead, so news of the robbery would take longer to reach the authorities.
Mid way through the afternoon Joe Byrne was left in charge of the hostages, it would help that some of them were sympathisers. Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, accompanied by a couple of the hostages made their way towards the National Bank. The Bank had closed for business at 3 o’clock but at 4 o’clock, while the banks books were being balanced the gang arrived at their target.
Mr Bradley on opening the door was told by this stranger that he had a cheque to cash, and being told they were closed for the day he demanded to see the manager and Ned pushed his way in telling the surprised tellers who he was.
Dan and Steve enter bank behind Ned with hands their hands on holsters.
The rest of the gang joined Ned in bailing up the occupants of the bank. Robert Scott, the Manager, tried to stall for time by claiming he could not remember the where a-bouts of the keys for the safe. On entering the private residence, Susan Scott was found to be preparing her children to leave for the funeral of young William Gouge. On finding her husband was hindering Ned; Susan retrieved the keys for the safe. This meant the total haul would be worth at least 2,260 pounds, 1500 in notes, sovereigns, silver, gold and some bank loan sureties.
After being told by the gang to prepare for a journey, Mrs Susan Scott re-entered the room wearing an outfit worthy of the Melbourne Cup. The surprise was evident on every ones faces, including Mr Scott! The indignity of being robbed was compounded by the fact his wife was quite taken by this, “Much more handsome and well dressed man than she had expected / and by no means the ferocious ruffian she imagined him to be”
The occupants of the bank, including the contents of the safe, were then loaded onto the buggies for the journey back out to Faithfull’s Creek Station.
Hostages and gang leave bank and get onto buggies and depart.
The Station Masters wife noticed this odd procession briskly rattle off in the direction of Faithfull’s Creek Station and commented to her husband she had seen “the bank people with a lot of friends going off for a picnic”.
Back at Faithfull’s Creek station Joe Byrne would have some more guests to add to the haul of hostages. The journey back would be high lighted by two incidents. This curious procession passed by the cemetery where the funeral of William Gouge was taking place. The mother of the lad was “horrified that Mrs Scott would drive past at such a pace when the poor boy was being laid to rest in his grave”. The second incident was the horse falling and almost over turning the cart, Robert Scott, Bank Manager and bank robbery victim, helped Ned Kelly, police murderer, outlaw and now, bank robber. Both of them working together to help the horse back to its feet and continue on the journey with Mr Scott driving. They got on well. At the murder trial of Ned Kelly, Robert was not a useful witness for the police. He stated, “The prisoner treated me personally very well” and “did not use a single rude word to Mrs Scott”
On return, the gang noticed an addition to the hostages, a telegraph line repairer. Joe Byrne had collected him when he came to repair the break in the line. Ned told the hostages he was sorry he did not pass a pub or he would have brought them a drink! Although he may have needed another horse and dray, for there was now 37 hostages! It was reported in the papers “the bushrangers played with the children and treated every one with the utmost civility” There were comments such as “a character polite in the extreme”, “They were perfect gentlemen”, “thank-you’s” and “much obliged” were often in their sentences. It was later, after every one had eaten, that the gang put on a series of clever horse riding tricks, impressing everyone including the station hands. By 8.30 the moon was full and high in the sky. Ned delivered a short speech to his soon to be released prisoners warning them to wait for 3 hours until after the gang had left or there would be consequences. In a haze of dust Ned, Dan, Steve and Joe, spurred their horses towards the ranges, disappearing into the cover of a silvery moonlit night.
The money from the Euroa robbery was well short of the 10,000 pounds they had hoped might occupy the safe, but still, it was described as being “daring and skilfully planned”. The conduct of the gang members as being, “most audacious” and “four cool determined men”
Only 3 months later, the Bank of News South Wales in Jerilderie, would also be held up by the Kelly Gang. After Jerilderie the reward was raised to 8000 pounds, dead or alive. There were reports of people linked to the outlaws paying debts using fresh bank notes that had the aroma of soil, the proceeds of the robbery, after being buried, had been distributed to family, friends and sympathisers.
For a time the Kelly gang was no where to be found, and then, there was Glenrowan. Ned’s plan to form “The Republic of the North East Victoria”. But the plans went to pieces, everything went wrong. The Police train did not crash down the ravine; instead its occupants opened fire on not only the gang but hostages as well. Joe Byrne would make a toast, “Many more years in the bush for the Kelly Gang!” A bullet would pass through a wall of Anne Jones’s Inn and end Joe’s life by severing the femoral artery in his leg. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart’s charred remains were retrieved from the burning Inn. Ned would famously go down in a shower of bullets wearing a suit of armour. When word reached here in town, 7 Euroa men including myself, travelled to Benalla to witness Ned Kelly being loaded on a stretcher into the train. We saw the charred remains of Dan and Steve and Joe’s stiff, lifeless body suspended on a cell door for all to see.
Ned Kelly was tried in Beechworth and sentenced in Melbourne for the murder of police at Stringy Bark Creek. He was hanged at 10.00am on the 11th of November 1880 in the Old Melbourne Gaol. A petition of more than 30,000 signatures would not make the Government change their minds.
The residents of Euroa would recover from that eventful day. Although, Mr Scott, Bank Manager, was relieved of his position only weeks after the Kelly Gang had come to town. Apparently there were discrepancies in the books, he received 6 months salary and moved to Melbourne.
Bank Teller, Robert Booth, was also known as “Big Bob”; he was nicknamed by his mates and played football for Euroa. By all accounts a good player and not a shy man. During the robbery, he asked for and received 2 souvenirs, a crooked six pence from Ned and a bullet engraved with the letter ‘H’ from Steve Hart.
Benjamin Gould would be charged with “giving aid to the Gang” and spent several months in the Beechworth Gaol awaiting trial. Presumably there was not enough evidence and Benjamin was released. He would become a regular face in the North East owning a sideshow, taking it to local events such as dances and horseraces.
Faithfull’s Creek Station was destroyed in 1940 but its burnt out ruins would stand for another 20 years. A memento of the hut the hostages were kept in, the granite step was bequeathed by Mrs Lydiard to the Euroa Farmer’s Arms Hotel Museum.
Time ran out for the bank. It was demolished and rebuilt using the same bricks. The original safe door was used in the rebuild and is proudly still in use today.
A Royal Commission was held into what had occurred at the time known as “The Kelly Uprising”. A result was the sacking of several Police, some were demoted and some took early retirement. Changes were made so the Victoria Police were made to reform and become publicly accountable. The Governments Lands Act, which Ned had fought against, was changed, making it workable.
Many relics and sites still exist today. Some pristine, some gone and others hang in the balance. So pick up the trail and immerse yourself in Australia’s living history.
“Ladies & Gentlemen, Thank you for attending the Re-Enactment of the Robbery of Euroa’s National Bank. Part of “Take the Journey, Celebrate the History of Euroa”. Performed by members of the Beechworth Pioneers Re-Enactment Group. Supported by The Euroa Gazette, N.A.B., the Shire of Strathbogie and the Strathbogie Ranges Region.