Spotlight: The Dance At The Glenrowan Inn Before The Fight

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Ned Kelly’s plan was starting to fray at the edges. Since Saturday morning he had been in charge of an ever-growing collection of locals; women and children were held in Stanistreet the station-master’s house under the watchful eye of Steve Hart and the rest were over at Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn. It was now Sunday and the locals were growing restless – how to entertain them? How else but a dance!

This etching, based on a sketch by Thomas Carrington, depicts the famous dance at the inn that acted as a prelude to the carnage that was the Glenrowan siege. We see the crowd gathered around to observe a line of men doing a clog dance to Dave Mortimer’s concertina playing. The central figure is clearly meant to be one of the outlaws dressed in crimean shirt, cord trousers, horse-riding boots and pistol tucked into a stylish sash. Perhaps Joe Byrne dancing away thoughts of the murder of his best friend Aaron Sherritt?
Watching the proceedings is Ned Kelly flanked by fifteen year old Jane Jones, the daughter of the publican. Ned’s white topcoat is draped over his shoulders like a cloak and he wears the quilted skullcap he would later wear under his iron helmet. His arms are folded and his brow stern as he observes the frivolity. In the back of his mind, now addled with hours of alcohol consumption and lack of sleep, he would be thinking about the special police train he was expecting to come up the line from Benalla at any moment. The train, however, would be many hours away from arriving due to a series of blunders that stemmed from Joe’s and Dan’s overzealous terrorising of the police in Aaron Sherritt’s hut and the subsequent interference from sympathisers such as Joe’s brother Paddy who delayed news reaching the police.

Throughout the evening festivities would continue, performances of popular tunes such as The Wild Colonial Boy filled the air and Jane Jones would spend the evening getting cosy with the outlaws, particularly Dan Kelly who she was spotted kissing much to the chagrin of Tom Cameron, one of her schoolmates who was possibly more than a bit jealous. Joe Byrne seemed far more interested in Ann Jones, at one point being seen playing with her hair as she tugged at a ring on his finger (Joe wore Lonigan’s and Scanlan’s rings, purloined from their bodies at Stringybark Creek). All the time Ned fretted over the non-arrival of the fated train.

Finally, as the party wound down, Ned came to a decision – the prisoners were all to be sent home. It was two in the morning on Monday 28 June and Ned had finally decided to cut his losses. Before making the announcement Ann Jones convinced him to make a speech and so, overtired and full of spirits, Ned addressed the crowd. Unfortunately he was cut short by the screech of a train whistle and his brother Dan bursting in shouting about the train arriving. The prisoners were ordered to lay on the floor and Joe locked the front door, leaving the key on the mantle before the gang went into the bedroom to dress in their armour. While the gang were occupied Constable Bracken slipped the front door key into the cuff of his trousers and sneaked through the inn to keep the gang in earshot.

Heading out the back door, Ned rushes to the paddock and mounts up. He rides down the line, bitter winter cold searing his nostrils, to see the pilot engine slowing down as it approaches the station, ghostly white plumes of steam undulating into the night sky. His heart filled with rage, he curses under his breath.

…Someone has warned the train.

2 thoughts on “Spotlight: The Dance At The Glenrowan Inn Before The Fight

  1. Ive never been convinced by stories that suggest this was a jolly little ho-down at the Inn. I think if a gang known to be killers and armed bank robbers took hostages and ordered them to dance at gunpoint they probably mostly would. Wasn’t this a tactic originated by Ben Hall?

    But I’m interested in your mention of Neds brain being addled by hours of alcohol consumption, because Ive gained the impression – and I couldn’t say exactly where from – that Ned Kelly wasn’t a drinker. It seems the other gang members were drinkers but Ive wondered if perhaps Ned Kelly had seen so much of the damage that alcohol had done to his family – his father specially – that he had actually chosen to avoid the stuff. On the other hand he did get arrested once for drunken behaviour on a horse, though even that could perhaps be indicative of his unfamiliarity with the stuff. So I am interested to know what the source is for your claim that he was drunk.

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    1. Ned’s apparent inability to feel his wounds is indicative firstly. Secondly, his belligerent outbursts at various points are not only not in keeping with his conduct on similar hold ups but also imply that he was not fully in control of his faculties. Third, witnesses reported that during his final speech at Glenrowan he struggled to get on a chair indicating he had impaired motor functions. But most conclusively Dr. Nicholson’s description of Ned upon capture stated that he reeked of brandy. Ned was not known to be a drinker but all members of the gang were described as having been drinking considerable amounts of brandy, whiskey and gin (Steve and Dan making an effort to stay sober however). Ned’s resistance to alcohol consumption would have reduced his tolerance for alcohol, which means even a fraction of the amount the others consumed would have been enough to seriously intoxicate him.

      As for the jolly celebratory atmosphere, we can only go on witness accounts and none that I’ve come across have indicated anything to the contrary. Even though Ned’s actions resulted in the death of Ann Jones’ son and the loss of her home and business, she still referred to him as a darling man and condemned the police. Perhaps that gives an insight into why the prisoners may have engaged in frivolity?

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