After Kelly’s capture at Glenrowan, the efforts of police were devoted to his prosecution. The most serious charges that the police had against Kelly were the murders he committed at Stringybark Creek. Many of the documents in the Kelly Collection are concerned with amassing evidence for this trial, and so many of the stories told are focussed to this end.
The initial hearing of the case, according to established procedure, was at the Beechworth Court of Assize, the local court closest to the scene of the crime. Kelly appeared before this court at the end of July and was committed to stand trial. The court also at this point began to take sworn depositions from witnesses. These depositions formed the nucleus of the prosecution case and gave the defence a framework of the case that needed to be answered.
Two prosecution cases were prepared, charging Kelly with the murder of Constables Lonigan and Scanlon respectively. Only one case was tried, for the murder of Lonigan, on 30 October 1880 in front of Judge Sir Redmond Barry. Kelly was found guilty, and sentenced to death, rendering the other trial unnecessary.
The logic of the prosecution case was very simple. It established that Kelly had killed Constable Lonigan and had admitted to the killing in front of witnesses. This sort of admision of guilt is the one exception to the general rule that hearsay evidence is not admissible in a criminal trial.
One feature of the prosecution witnesses was that while the thrust of their testimonies were Kelly’s admissions over Stringybark Creek, they also had the opportunity to detail their involvement in Kelly’s other crimes. There are two things that can be drawn from this. The first is that this was perhaps a prosecution strategy to put Kelly on trial for his whole career, rather than just the one case at issue. The second is that the number of times that Kelly told his story to the various people he encountered during the Outbreak demonstrates his need to tell that story.
Another Glenrowan Casualty Identified
Hidden among the documents in the Kelly collection are details of an unexplored incident at Glenrowan.
When considered in relation to the deadly, one-sided gunfight at Stringybark Creek (where three policemen were shot and killed), and the equally deadly and foolish plan at Glenrowan (where innocent hostages, including children, were killed), this incident magnifies the idea that the Kelly Gang was rather careless and accident-prone.
A detective’s report spells out the case: ‘Ned Kelly before daylight on that Sunday morning [27 June 1880] called out a contractor named Adolphus Piuzzi from his tent near the railway line and that Piuzzi attempted to use his gun when Kelly fired at him and very nearly shot him. And afterwards, later in the day, when [George] Metcalf was bailed up outside the Station Master’s house, Kelly was fiddling with this gun of Piuzzi’s when it exploded striking Metcalf in the face. The blood came from his face and Mr Stanistreet’s son got him water to wash it off.
‘And Kelly then said, “I did not mean to fire, it went off accidentally”‘, the detective report concluded.
But there is a remarkable twist in the account. It seems that Metcalf, before he died a few months later from the eye wound, made up a story that he had hidden in a chimney and that a shot fired by police had bounced off the bricks striking him. It looked as if he wanted to get compensation from the government.
Unfortunately for him, several witnesses saw him being shot by Ned Kelly. A manslaughter charge against the outlaw could, and probably should, have been drafted. Certainly, Metcalf can now be safely added to the outlaw’s death tally.
Sources: Louis Waller, “Regina v. Edward Kelly” in Colin Cave (ed) Ned Kelly: Man and Myth, (Melbourne: Cassell Australia, 1968)