BAMOS - Vol 35 No.1 Autumn 2022 Autumn 2022 - Page 13


BAMOS Autumn 2022

The Siege of Glenrowan : Ned Kelly ’ s Last Stand

Dick Whitaker
On Monday 28 June 1880 one of the more famous events in Australian history took place : the siege of Glenrowan — also known as Ned Kelly ' s last stand . This event continues to be discussed in detail over many platforms , but surprisingly little information is available about the weather on that day . This is an attempt to reconstruct those long-ago meteorological conditions .
The back story
On the early morning of Monday 28 June 1880 , a party of police confronted the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang , who were holed up in the Glenrowan Inn , located in north-eastern Victoria .
Just before dawn , police opened fire on the gang as they stepped out onto the veranda of the Inn and the two groups exchanged gunfire for an extended period . The events that followed are now part of Australian folklore , with Ned emerging from the half-light of the dawn dressed in armour plate and attacking the police from behind .
He was eventually captured and the other gang members ( Dan Kelly , Steve Hart and Joe Byrne ) were killed .
One feature of the siege is seldom discussed — that of the weather . However , by using available resources from the Bureau of Meteorology data base , contemporary photography , lunar tables and existing newspaper reports , we can construct a reasonable estimate of the weather conditions on the morning of 28 June 1880 .
Ned Kelly , in full armour , attacks the police . Photograph : Wikipedia Commons .
Available weather data Rainfall :
Glenrowan lies between two much larger rural settlements — recognised as cities today — but much smaller back in 1880 . Wangaratta is about 14 km to the northeast of Glenrowan , and Benalla 30 km to the southwest .
Weather observations did not commence at Benalla until 1882 — some two years after the siege . But fortunately records go back to 1868 at Wangaratta , with daily rainfall totals recorded all through until 1987 — a virtually unbroken period close to 120 years . This covered all of 1880 , including , of course , the day of the siege .
Temperature :
Temperatures are a more difficult issue . Rainfall data was taken from many rural locations during the 19th Century but temperature data is less common . The reasons for this are various but basically thermometers were harder to come by and more expensive to purchase than the simple rain gauge .
As far as the Glenrowan siege is concerned no temperature data was available in the immediate area but some ideas can be obtained from contemporary newspaper reports . The event was big news and reporters from major newspapers were sent to Glenrowan in the early morning of June 28 . They rode on a special train that carried a police contingent tasked with confronting and subduing the gang .
The reporters were Joseph Melvin of the Argus , George Allen of the Melbourne Daily Telegraph , John McWhirter of The Age and Francis Carrington of the Australasian Sketcher . They boarded the police train at Spencer Street Station late on Sunday night , 27 June 1880 .
Newspaper Reports :
Francis Carrington later recalled that " the great speed we were going at caused the carriage to oscillate very violently . The night was intensely cold ". 1
John McWhirter of The Age also described the scene : " The night was a splendid one , the moon shining with unusual brightness whilst the sharp frosty air caused the slightest noise in the forest beyond to be distinctly heard ". 1
An article also appeared in the Freeman ' s Journal , Saturday 3 July 1880 — likely written by one of the reporters on the police train : " The night was clear and cold , the sky being almost unclouded . It was a pleasant night despite the sharpness of the temperature for the air was crisp and bracing and the sky was thickly studded with myriads of stars ." 2
1 Friday essay : how a “ gonzo Press gang forged the Ned Kelly Legend ”
2 Newspaper Article “ Freemans Journal ”, Saturday 3 July 1880 , P15