November 2007

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Redmond Barry & Edward Kelly

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

In the 40 years since young Redmond Barry’s arrival in Melbourne, low on cash and prospects, the raw frontier town of 5000 souls had grown into a grand and well-appointed metropolis. And the ambitious Irish barrister had played no small part in its progress. Its library, university, art gallery and museum were the result of his tireless and conscientious exertions. Cultured, courteous, liberal enough to cohabit openly with his mistress and give their four children his name, Barry could take pride in the civilisation he had nurtured in the antipodean wilderness.

But beyond the reaches of the city, untamed and lawless elements saw fit to wage war against the agents of that civilisation. And in his capacity as Chief Justice of Victoria, it often fell upon Sir Redmond Barry KCMG to bring these feral elements to book. In 1876, he had no compunction in sending an indigent middle-aged woman to prison for three years for conspiring with her horse-thief sons. And now, four years later, one of those sons was standing before him in the dock to receive due retribution for the cold-blooded murder of a police constable.

In the three months since his capture at Glenrowan, Ned Kelly’s gunshot wounds had begun to heal. His sense of injustice, however, was still red-raw. A fair trial, the notorious bushranger hoped, would show that he had acted in self-defence. The police had come hunting him with intent to kill, and he acted under strong provocation. But his lawyer called no witnesses and argued legal technicalities. It took the jury only 25 minutes to find the defendant guilty.

Kelly heard the verdict in silence. Asked if he had anything to say before being sentenced, he leaned on the dock and began to speak, his voice low but clearly audible. Neither his lawyers nor the jury were to blame, he said. He should have spoken up when he had the chance - but that would have looked like flashness.

Barry cleared his throat and began to pronounce sentence. But Kelly cut him short. The Crown would have been better served, he said, had the court allowed him to examine the witnesses. It would’ve made no difference, countered Barry. Back and forth, the unschooled bushman and the erudite judge traded points, neither persuading the other. “Edward Kelly,” concluded Barry, “I hereby sentence you to death by hanging.”

“I will see you there where I go,” replied Kelly.

Twelve days after Kelly’s execution, Barry dropped dead from congested lungs and a carbuncle on the neck. Kelly left a legend. Barry left almost nothing. He’d given his money, anonymously, to the worthy poor. Such is life.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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