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Bill Denheld
amateur  Kelly researcher









   The brand E Kelly 



The case for James Whitty      Sept 2001
Author unknown

In this very well written piece the author questions the vilification of James Whitty who has been described as Ned Kelly's arch enemy because he caused Kelly to become known as a horse and cattle thief in the district. If the truth be known, Kelly's self professed thievery could be seen as a prank following a 'blame it on the Kellys' after Whitty's bull went missing.

This following document will expose the many facts, one of which was, 'they were all as bad as each other' when it came to horse and cattle stealing!, but as history is written by the winners, Ned Kelly's reputation was further tarnished to perhaps a point of no return that infuriated Kelly, so 'he would give them something to talk about' if nothing else. The whole affair was nothing more than a feud to do with a class divides between the British and Irishmen who were either Catholic, or Protestant - the ruling classes. 

The following 3 pages of 19 a thesis document was given to me around ten years ago by a descendant of a pioneering family that settled in the Oxley plains north of the King River valley but south of Wangaratta.

The author remains unknown because the title page was missing, and presents the facts exonerating James Whitty from being depicted in popular Kelly books as a nasty piece of work. Obviously the author felt determined enough to set the record straight.

To the author, I apologise for taking the liberty to publish your interesting document without knowing your name, perhaps someone will recognise the work and let me know if it was ever published, where and by whom. 



September 8, 2001 Page 2


Who was James Whitty? One view likely to be exposed on the big screen in the near future is that James Whitty was the man who set Ned Kelly on a mad career of crime. The historical reality is much more difficult to uncover. Most of the "evidence" against Whitty circumstantial and the "facts" are skeletal, as shown in Attachment A

An extreme view is that James Whitty was a besotted farmer who got rich with the help of his Tipperary-born wife, by getting the best of a bargain with The Devil. That is how eminent Australian author, Peter Carey, characterises James Whitty is his latest novel, the so-called ‘True History of the Kelly Gang.' At least Carey has the grace to add a note describing the encounter as "fanciful". But his portrayal of Whitty is just as jaundiced throughout the book. That is an outcome of Carey's dependence on TV scriptwriter and local historian, Ian Jones, to whom Carey says he turned "when I was lost or bewildered or simply forgetful of the facts".

According to Jones, Ned Kelly went bad because James Whitty and others spread lies about him. Ned did not steal Whitty's bull, nor Whitty's calves, although later he did steal a lot of horses, including Whitty's, just to give them all something to talk about. Jones believes all this because Ned says so and Jones' faith in Ned is as great as the "almost boundless" faith he says Ned had in his fellow-man. So, over a decade or so, Jones has constructed a caricature of Whitty that may be just as fanciful as the Carey version.

Jones asserts that Whitty was "a dour and implacable glazier who led the King Valley squatters against the battling cocky fanners", and, Ned Kelly's "old enemy... leading light of the King Valley squatters". When making those observations in his 1992 book, The Friendship That destroyed Ned Kelly, Jones provides no authenticating source beyond Kelly's Cameron and Jerilderie letters. More recently, Jones has argued a different case, telling a Nightline audience on 9 April 2001 that "stupid" actions by the police "catapulted the Kelly outbreak into a rebellion, because at that point Ned had to act on behalf of a whole class of people in the north-east." But in his 1995 master work, Ned Kelly, A Short Life, Jones tries to sustain a different line— that untrue accusations by James Whitty and his associates set Kelly on the path that led inexorably to Stringybark Creek, Glenrowan and the gallows. The line wavers as Jones the historian battles with Jones the TV producer and script writer.

The first difficulty is that Ned Kelly's perverse viewpoint as expressed in the Cameron and Jerilderie letters remains Jones primary source. The greater difficulty is that Jones accepts at face value the three claims Ned Kelly makes. First, Ned say, he turns to large-scale stock theft because he is tired of false accusations made by Whitty and others and decides to give them something to talk about. Unlike Jones, an earlier writer Frank Clune wisely dismisses Ned's claim as "self-deception". Second, Ned says, that Whitty, along with the Byrne family, had taken all the best land in the King Valley and, not content with that were greedily impounding stock that happened to stray from the paddocks of "poor" owners. Third, Ned says, Constable Thomas Farrell, brother to James Whitty's son-in-law, John Farrell, stole a horse from Ned's father-in-law, George King, and kept it in one of Whitty's or Farrell's paddocks until he left the police force.

Jones adds a little substance to this raw material by drawing circumstantial evidence, mainly from Entries in the Police Gazette and advertisements or other articles, mainly from the Wangaratta Despatch and the Ovens and Murray Advertiser. Otherwise, Jones view of Ned's relationship with James Whitty is justified by some undisclosed research summarised in a monograph by Jones partner, Bronwyn Binns, and two letters from a descendant of James Whitty's brother, Patrick" The detail available from contemporary press articles inspired Jones to flesh out the "confrontation" between Kelly and Whitty at Moyhu races on 28 February 1877. His dramatisation is at least the equal of Carey's more recent effort and of Max Brown's 1947 version "".Ned is there to deny having stolen Whitty's bull. Jones has Ned striding past a banjo-strumming Negro minstrel and a lady spinning her Wheel of Fortune, his "alexandrite" eyes flashing as "the figure of stern authority", James Whitty-


September 8, 2001 Page 3
faces the "equally authoritative" Ned Kelly. There is a threat of thunder and a "most curious" storm coming that sets the stage for "an explosive confrontation". The melodrama turns to farce when Whitty says his missing bull has been found and readily concedes that he never thought Ned took it-- only that his son-in-law Farrell had said Ned took it. In the absence of any contrary evidence, Jones speculates that Ned was left with the choice of looking for Farrell or instead enjoying the rest of the race program. (viii) Nonetheless it is that incident, compounded by a further accusation a couple of weeks later about some stolen calves, that Ned says pushed him towards horse stealing on a scale beyond any past accusation.

Such dramatisations may well be within the current bounds of scholarship but some of Jones' fictional embellishments are more dubious. At the time of the Moyhu race-course confrontation, for example, Jones describes Whitty as "now 62, a Dickensian figure of stern authority with his starched collar, rawboned face and grey side-whiskers. Seemingly all good stuff —except that the only factual basis for the description would appear to be Jones "interpretation" of the photograph of James Whitty that is displayed in the Burke Museum, Beechworth, as part of a montage of district pioneers.

Since the photographs for the montage were collected some years after James Whitty's death, it is not possible to say when the photograph was taken or whether he looked more or less "Dickensian" than his contemporaries. Jones likes the word "Dickensian": a Murray Valley farmer who befriends the Kelly outlaws and obtains first-hand evidence of Ned's "obsession" with Whitty is Dickensian simply because his name is "Gideon Margery “(ix)

Even more misleading is Jones' account of the day James Whitty takes possession of Myhree homestead, the "jewel" in the crown of his expanding empire. Jones imagined him striding through empty rooms once inhabited by real squatters, now revealed to be the Dockers and the Clarks, pioneers who Jones seems to believe were spent forces but who in fact remained influential landholders.. Of course Jones recognises that Whitty's sense of satisfaction is diminished by the absence of his "beloved" wife, Catherine, who died three years before. And as a measure of Whitty's sense of loss, Jones offers the entirely unsubstantiated comment that the "normally thrifty" grazier had donated a stained glass window to her memory at Moyhu Catholic Church.

For a moment Whitty loses his image at the implacable oppressor of the poor and becomes the miserly upstart laying claim to the house on the hill, a kind of class traitor. "It had been a long, hard struggle for the then illiterate Irish labourer who had arrived in the colony on an assisted passage thirty-seven years before," says Jones.(x) But then, "Whitty's achievements spoke of great energy and determination and he brought the same spirit to his inevitable clashes with the battling selectors who surrounded him. Ned in determining that he would give Whitty and his friends 'something to talk about' must have realised that he was taking on a dangerous enemy."

It would be too tedious to go through a complex text in any further detail but it should be clear from the examples above that to Suit his own purposes Jones has fabricated a malign image of James Whitty. Needing to sustain his thesis of a class struggle between "squatters" and selectors, of a heroic rebellion by the oppressed against their oppressors, scriptwriter Jones needs the personification of Whitty as arch-enemy, as super-villain as anti-hero to match his hero, Ned. The trouble is that some of the known facts about James Whitty refuse to fit the role in which he is cast.

Jones must have been dismayed when he obtained detail about the formation of the Stock Protection League. Far from being "the leading light", Whitty was no more than a member of the group that convened the inaugural meeting and was elected as a committee member. Jones seeks to explain this away by claiming that as 'Whitty, as usual, adopted a low profile”(xi)  just as elsewhere he claims Whitty was a "grey eminence", In fact, as usual, James Whitty took his lead from Andrew Byrne who not only convened the inaugural meeting of the Stock Protection League but was elected president. Byrne, rather than Whitty could fairly claim to be the leading light among members who included John Evans as vice-president, William Dale as treasurer, RR. Tilt as paid secretary, a committee comprising A. Tone, John Brincombe, E.Batchelor, T.Smith, A.Clarke, J.Reid, A.Jeffiay (or more likely Jeffrey), Patrick Byrne and membership comprising Henry Langtree, Rowland Vincent, W.Baird, W.Dinning, F. G.Docker, J.RDocker, someone called French, John Reid, John Webster, William Orr, W.Sinclair, J.Kaine and Benjamin Evans!` (xii)


September 8, 2001 Page 4
Several of these people would have far greater claims than James Whitty to be seen as doyen of the north-east or even the King Valley squattocracy That is evident from their stories in Worthy of Mention, Profiles of people of the past from Wangaratta and district (from which Whitty is a significant omission) (xiii) Andrew Byrne, for example, selected 320 acres at Moyhu in 1859, six years before James Whitty, eventually expanding to more than 3,000 acres and employing 40 Chinese share-farmers. As a Justice of the Peace who represented the western riding on Oxley Shire Council, from 1874 and 1893, serving several terms as president, Andrew Byrne is credited with founding the Moyhu Co-operative Store and the Moyhu Cooperative Dairy Company.

He was alternately president and sometime secretary of the Moyhu Racing club for some years and "every sports club and picnic in the district" is said to have had his support(xiv) John Bristow Docker and his brother Frederick George managed the Bontharambo run that their father, the Rev Joseph Docker had settled there in the 1930s and obtained pre-emptive rights in 1853.' Ironically, given the picture Jones paints of the "powerful" Whitty clan, John Docker took over Myhree run after James Whitty himself died there in 1929. ""John Evans, who was chosen vice-president of the Stock Protection League on Andrew Byrne's casting vote, was the son of the man who took over the "Whitefleld" run of 76,000 acres from William Clark in 1853.

Famous for being taken hostage by the bushranger "Mad Dog" Morgan, John Evans was more than an ordinary grazier. He was an expert horseman who bred and raced many horses, including some trained by his brother-in-law, Mark Whitty (not James Whitty's son, more likely a cousin or another brother). Yes, John Evans, an Anglican, married Eleanor, James Whitty's niece in February 1870-- the kind of connection by marriage, that Jones believes accounted for much of James Whitty's power.

Any of these pioneers along with the Faithfulls, the Clarks, the Chisholms, the Mackays and many others could have served Jones as representatives of the "squatter" class. Instead, because Ned Kelly named Whitty and exaggerated the consequences of a brief exchange at either Moyhu or Oxley races, Jones makes Whitty his stereotype of "oppression". The Whitty of-Jones imagination is a caricature worthy of the masterful Dickens from whom Jones draws acknowledged inspiration. A more sensible view would be to see Whitty as a victim as well as a beneficiary of the inequities arising from land distribution in early Victoria.

None of this matters if we want only larger-than-life myths and legends or moral tales of haves and have-note of the righteous poor battling the oppression of the undeserving rich. It matters only if we want the truth. As historian Andrew McDermott said of Jones' view of Ned Kelly: "If Ned Kelly had not lived we would not have one of the most precious icons that we now have to worship....that is quite different from the historical reality that took place". The same can be said of Jones' view of James Whitty and more so of Peter Carey's fanciful creation..


The case for James Whitty - list of facts -table- sources click on page links below
Pages 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19


If copied to other publications please reference this source -  
These 'Two huts' pages are not for profit but copyright W.Denheld. Jan 2015 
Reproduced by Denheld but the author owns copyright dated Sept 2001