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13 January 2008

The Kelly Gang's Ipswich Connection!



It is widely speculated that the Ipswich General Cemetery is the final resting-place of a member of perhaps the most notorious Australian family - the Kelly Gang.

Paul Tully inspects the grave site at the
Ipswich General Cemetery of the reputed
final resting place of bushranger Dan Kelly,
brother of Ned Kelly.

Records show that in 1933, an elderly man (pictured at right) known as James Ryan, claimed to Brisbane's Truth newspaper that he was, in fact, Dan Kelly, the brother of Ned Kelly.

An article which appeared on the front page of Brisbane's Truth newspaper dated 13 August 1933 bore the headline:

"I am Dan Kelly, Declares Aged Bushman - Thrilling Confession of Days When Hold Up Terror Reigned".

The article recounted in graphic detail the adventures of the Kelly gang as told by James Ryan, or Dan Kelly.

According to this and other articles which appeared in the newspaper, James Ryan, or Dan Kelly, escaped along with Steve Hart from the siege in the burning hotel at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880 and headed to Queensland with nothing but a new identity.

The supposed bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were reduced to charcoal in the intense fire and were never positively identified. The body of gang member Joe Byrne was retrieved and strung up outside the Benalla Police Lockup.

Speculation has been rife for over a century that Dan Kelly and Steve Hart managed to escape during the smoke, fire and commotion as Ann Jones' hotel burnt to the ground, probably assisted by a deliberately wrong "positive identification" by visiting Catholic Priest Father Gibney.

The Truth newspaper reported that hundreds of historians from all over the country and even those who had associations with the Kelly's could not disprove that James Ryan was truly Dan Kelly.

The alleged Dan Kelly travelled throughout Queensland eventually moving from Longreach to Brisbane, reputedly having served in the Boer War. For a time, he lived under the old Toombul Railway bridge in Brisbane where the Clayfield Police kept a close eye on him.

In 1934, he appeared in a Sideshow at the Brisbane Exhibition and recounted the tales of the Kelly Gang with an intimate knowledge of the Kelly family history. No one was ever able to successfully refute his claim that he was a member of the Kelly Gang.

He had came forward to the Truth newspaper in 1933 - more than 50 years after the famous shootout - wrongly believing that the Statute of Limitations legally prevented any prosecution for murder after more than half a century.

He eventually settled in a small hut at Fairney View near Fernvale (between Ipswich and Esk), 40km north-west of Brisbane and was well-known in the local district.

Former Moreton Shire Deputy Chairman John Harris recalls sitting on Dan Kelly's lap as a boy and being shown the deep burn scars on the man's back which he claimed he received in the Glenrowan fire when he was pinned by a burning beam.

He had the initials "D.K." branded on his buttocks.

John Harris was scared of the man and truly believes that he was sitting in the lap of the real Dan Kelly.

On 29 July 1948 Dan Kelly, also known as James Ryan, was released from the Brisbane General Hospital (now known as the Royal Brisbane Hospital) after a short illness and made his way to Ipswich that afternoon.

At 9.00pm, he was walking along the main Ipswich-Brisbane railway line at the end of Wharf Street in Ipswich when he was struck by a coal train and decapitated.

He was carrying a small suitcase with all his earthly possessions and ten pounds was found in his pockets which went towards his burial costs.

He was buried as a Roman Catholic in a pauper's grave at the Ipswich General Cemetery on 31 July 1948 under the name "J. Ryan" with Reverend Bergin officiating in the presence of only the cemetery sexton and the undertaker.

The Truth newspaper of 1 August 1948 front-page story reported:


On 11 November 1998, a memorial was erected on the site of the old pauper's grave in the Ipswich General Cemetery which now stands as a silent tribute to what may be the final resting place of one of Australia's most notorious bushrangers.

We may never know who the character known in Ipswich as "James Ryan" really was.

But one thing is certain, in the end, the death in Ipswich of James Ryan on 29 July 1948 closed another chapter on the legend of Dan Kelly and his involvement in the infamous Kelly Gang.

Debonair Dan Kelly at the age of 16.

Do you remember the man Dan Kelly in Queensland in the 1930s or 1940s?
Do you know of some untold or unusual aspect of Queensland History?
Email History Queensland with full information and any historic pictures.
Or post to: History Queensland, PO Box 1, Goodna Qld 4300

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