On Thursday in Australia a startling discovery was laid to rest which ended a 130 year mystery: where was Ned Kelly buried? For those of you who haven't heard of this infamous Australian outlaw, he was a symbol of Irish-Australian defiance against the British, and is still held up today as a national hero in Australia despite the fact that he is supposed to have murdered at least three police men (they were British, so that's all right!!). For these murders, he was captured in Victoria and executed at Old Melbourne Gaol in November 1880. He was the main opposition to a decadent and vicious British legal system, implemented on a country full of 'convicts', most of whom had only ended up there because they had stolen an apple (or clothes, money, horse etc etc) in a moment of desperation and/or madness. In such oppressive and resentful regimes, it is unsurprising when the criminal underclass are held up as heroes. There are many examples in the culture of Westerns, even in England Robin Hood and Dick Turpin are well-known heroes.
Now you are probably wondering how the title fits in to a blog post about Ned Kelly, well I am just getting to the point. You see this article I read in the paper about the discovery of Ned Kelly's head got me thinking about what it must have been like to have been sent to a strange and foreign land for stealing a horse. Although I am sure Australia is a lovely country now (having never been there I can not judge) I am sure back in the days before Western civilisation hit it, it was mostly just a barren waste land, and these people were piled on to inadequate ships and sailed to the other side of the world. We complain about long haul flights lasting many many hours, but the journeys these people endured would have lasted many many months, if indeed they survived to get there. A lot got there and found eventually that they could make a life out there, and thus a new country was born, from a mother country bursting at the seams because of their ridiculous criminal justice system.
Now I am going to confess that I have a criminal ancestor, whose story is so long and exciting it would be better placed in a novel or as a film (it would make an excellent Hollywood film as it is that unbelievable)! Alexander Loe Kaye, my great (several more greats) grandfather on my father's side, was born in the Bolton area, and appears on marriage records in Bolton where he claims to be of 'Bolton Hall'. A few years later, he appears in criminal records stating how he has stolen a horse and is being transported to Australia. My father discovered what happened to him later when he showed up in records in South Africa under a different name. What had happened was that Alexander had escaped from Australia, fleeing across the Pacific, ending up in South Africa (and this is not made up) where he pretends to be a lawyer under a new name. He striked up an enmity with the governor there because he took all these cases against him. Through his network of spies, the governor tracked down his true identity, and his criminal past. With Alexander discovered, he is about to be shipped back to Australia, when he is hidden by his wife (or the woman who he has been illegally married to, since he is still married to my great-something grandmother in England) and helped by his friend to escape the authorities. However, he is eventually caught, and ends up in Norfolk Island, where he commits suicide.
We do not know of the circumstances in which Alexander stole the horse, though we can probably assume it was not out of poverty and desperation that he did so. Nevetheless, I suppose every one has a criminal ancestor, I bet if you digged deep enough you would find one. My mother made lots of jokes on a recent trip to Scotland about my father's criminal heritage, but of course she must have one some where.
In my other brush with crime in recent weeks, last week we visited the estate of my uncle in Scotland. They own a house which they have never lived in, and which they wanted to develop but never had the time and money for sadly. The house is now derelict, covered in dry rot, it stands in beautiful surroundings, too dangerous for any one to go inside. Yet despite this, a group of 'artsy goths' as my mum called them, encouraged by their friends 'who were all doing it' had entered this house. There was a model dressed in gothic clothing having photographs of her hanging from the balustrades because it looked kind of spooky.
The sequence of events goes like this - Mum, Dad and I wanted to go and see the house, dad and I decided to walk from the visitor centre, a distance of about a mile, while Mum took the car. When she got there she heard voices, in a foreign language she thought. She called out to my Dad, who replied from the woods where we were approaching the house. She thought the intruders must have left, so she called my uncle, who told her to sound the horn. When we arrived she thought the intruders must have left, so we searched the woods around the house for about half an hour. Eventually my cousin Andrew arrived, he and my Dad go in the house to confront the intruders. Andrew told them calmly that the house is dangerous, that they will be carrying dry rot on their feet into their homes which could have damaging effects, and that they were trespassing on their property. They thought that the was the end of the matter but they thought wrong....
For the moment they left the premises they were confronted by my Mum, 'HOW DARE YOU? HAVE YOU NO SHAME. YOU CAN'T JUST WALK INTO OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTIES WITHOUT ASKING AND IT IS BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT THIS PLACE IS DERELICT. YOU SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. YOU ARE VERY LUCKY THAT I AM AN AUNTIE WHO LIVES IN ENGLAND!!!!' And there Dad and I, understanding full well the seriousness of it, and very angry, but equally unable to control our laughter at Mum's incredible speech. Apparently these people were so scared off that they spent £20 at the farm shop! My cousin Andrew told his father how my mother had given 'those intruders a right old fashioned bollocking.' So they won't be intruding again any time soon I am sure.
And that it is for now. Does any one else know of any criminal ancestors in their family?