News

Truth of Dan Kelly’s fate stays a mystery

MYSTERY MAN: Dan Kelly, the bushranger’s brother, whose fate may remain unknown.
MYSTERY MAN: Dan Kelly, the bushranger’s brother, whose fate may remain unknown. Contributed

IT IS a debate that has been in play for 80 years.

When an Ipswich vagrant going by the name of James Ryan walked into the offices of The Truth newspaper in 1933 and said he was bushranger Dan Kelly it unleashed an enduring controversy.

Ryan is buried in the Ipswich General Cemetery and his links to Kelly are honoured at the site.

Before Ryan's claims, Dan Kelly was thought to have died in the Glenrowan hotel fire of 1880.

In 2005 Cairns author and historian Brian Stevenson debated Cr Paul Tully about the issue in Ipswich. Mr Stevenson does not believe Ryan was Kelly, while Cr Tully is open to the possibility that he was.

Mr Stevenson has listed the errors in Ryan's statements. In the 1933 Truth article, Ryan said his father's name was "Old Ned". Kelly's father was in fact John Kelly.

Ryan said his father was brought to Australia from Dublin in 1845 for poaching. John Kelly was brought to Australia in 1841 from Tipperary for the theft of two pigs.

Ryan said his mother's name was Kate. Kelly's mother's name was Ellen.

Stevenson lists other errors and told The QT that "we have on record a gentleman that doesn't know the name of his father, doesn't know the name of his mother and gets mixed up as to when they were in jail and when they died".

"He says Constable Fitzpatrick was shot through the heart, but Constable Fitzpatrick lived a reasonably long life and died in 1924. There are inaccuracies all the way through it," he said.

But Cr Tully said the shrewd Ryan had good reason to throw in some misleading titbits of information and that he might have been "keeping things up his sleeve just in case he was charged with murder".

"He believed when he went into the offices of The Truth that the statute of limitations prevented him being prosecuted after 50 years, but that is not true," he said.

"If you were facing murder charges you might throw up a few furphies just in case the police had you extradited. Maybe he was changing some of the information so that if he was charged he could claim it was just a joke.

"You talk to people who knew him like (local resident) John Harris and they swear that he was Dan Kelly. One of the key facts is that in 1934 he appeared at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds in sideshow alley where people paid to question him. He spoke about his family and the Kelly gang and no one was able to refute him or catch him out on any detail. The Truth newspaper reported that."

Cr Tully said the article in The Truth may have included "transcription errors" by the journalist.

"The story in the newspaper in 1933 was provided orally. But having seen a newsreel of this chap, he spoke with a slight speech impediment and was roughly spoken," he said

"Could the reporter take shorthand? Everyone is assuming that what was written in the newspaper was accurately reported, but I defy anyone in Australia to say they have never read an inaccurate report in a newspaper."

Mr Stevenson said Cr Tully had "drawn a pretty long bow".

"Journalists get things wrong occasionally, but not perpetually," he said.

"If you think you are going to get yourself in trouble for murdering somebody, you keep quiet. You don't get yourself written about in the Sunday papers."

Mr Stevenson said Ryan likely enjoyed having the attention focused on him and the "free drinks" at hotels that went with his tales.

The Truth from August 1, 1948.
The Truth from August 1, 1948.

When The QT visited Cr Tully to talk about the Kelly saga he presented us with Ryan's death certificate. It says he was 94 years of age when he died in 1948 and that his parents were Luke Ryan and Kate Lawler.

But the real Dan Kelly was born in 1861 and would have been 87.

Cr Tully said a further discrepancy pointed to Ryan's propensity to leave false trails about his true identity for much of his life.

"That death certificate raises more questions than it answers," he said.

"I have done an online search of Victorian historical birth records and they do not show any record of a person named James Ryan with parents with those names.

"Did he falsify his pension application where that information came from? It is a bizarre situation. Even in death he might have had the laugh of keeping the truth concealed."

Topics:  dan kelly, paul tully




RSPCA beat competition in bid for council tender

The Ipswich pound and rehoming centre will be run by RSPCA after September 30.

The council's decision surprised even the RSPCA

Two bidders clean up as old bombs set for export market

SOLD: The Ipswich City Council public auction of abandoned vehicles saw all of them snapped up quickly.

All 23 cars, and one boat, sold for $10,600

Latest deals and offers

Ipswich people love heritage

'It's a great vote of confidence for a program that was launched in 1992 and has since provided thousands of property owners with heritage conservation'


Sunday a family day of fun

FUN: Christopher and Jess are looking forward to the Family Fun Day.

Church plans an event that will have the kids cheering

What's on the big screen this week

Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston in a scene from the movie Ben-Hur.

AN OLD classic returns to the big screen with a new young star.

Bachelor Richie gives bacon-loving Noni the boot

Noni Janur features on this season of The Bachelor.

TOOWOOMBA swimwear designer still single but focusing on her career.

Zumbo's Just Desserts serves up magical dishes

Gigi Falanga, left, joins hosts Adriano Zumbo and Rachel Khoo on the TV series Zumbo's Just Desserts.

ADRIANO Zumbo’s decadent creations have become prime-time viewing.

Sir Cliff Richard feels 'best' after sex abuse allegations

Sir Cliff Richard is 'back' to his best after sex abuse claims

Blac Chyna sued after car injured 2 women

Blac Chyna is being sued after her friend crashed into another car

Chris Hemsworth surprises kids at hospital as Thor

Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston surprised children at hospital

ISLAND FOR SALE: Cheap Fraser Coast island drops price again

Suna Island in the Great Sandy Strait will be auctioned by Ray White Hervey Bay on Saturday morning.

This is the cheapest island you will find for sale in Australia

How a family home can fit on a 250sq m block

This is what you can build on 250m2.

Here's the floor plan of a home built on 250sq m

$100m plan for Curtis Island 'world class' luxury resort

$100 million resort: Top views at Turtle Street at Curtis Island.

"At the moment we think it meets all the town planning approvals.”

Coast building approvals at seven-year high: report

The the 2015/16 Development Indicators Annual Highlights Report documents local development activity that took place during the last financial year.

New report shows increasing development on the Sunshine Coast

Top honours for Mackay and Whitsunday builders

The Kerrisdale Gardens property from Paynter Dixon Queensland which won them Project of the Year.

Mackay and Whitsunday builders awarded top honours last night.

Investors eye Gladstone's $4m island with resort approval

UP FOR SALE: Turtle Island is on the market.

CHINESE and Sydney investors flag interest in Gladstone island.