A Play …
This is a condensed part of a full play that is centred around a well-worked story; that of “The Kelly Gang” … But the difference is displayed in the title … I hope to have delved a little at least into what I call; “An Arrogance of Power” … It is political and social power sometimes held by a charismatic individual like Kelly, or an Authority of governance … or subordinate officials who aspire to have it.
In Ned Kelly’s case, He possessed it as a natural strength, the Colonial Authorities jealously guarded it as their perceived right, and other minor officials desired it as a personal treasure. In the story of the Kelly uprising, this “arrogance” was played out by several people.
I want to try with this portrayal of Ned Kelly, to elevate the man from what may be called in some quarters; A “criminal” mythology, to where I think he more rightly deserves to be placed in our Nation’s short but colourful Colonial history:
That of Heroic Mythology
Act# 4 Scene: 2
… A jail cell. Kelly sits on wooden bench … hands clasped, head down, he is musing on his fate, a cock crows, Kelly starts!
Kelly- “Hark, the dawn, sweet Christ! dawn.(he places his head in his hands, then raises it to gaze straight toward audience). Dear Lord, give my distress reason, this last moment before sunrise … this last moment of my life on this earth. What dire fate carried me to this end? Where my brothers now … my friends? .. Must I face this darkness alone amongst my enemies? … Ah, damn, damn, damn! What humour of the gods threw me to such beasts … is it for the meanest pun that I am cast so? a murderer they call me, yet they have killed more than I. A thief they call me and still they rob the poor and ignorant. (He stands and paces the cell) Yet, there are many who see such injustices done … but why was it to me that fell the responsibility to try to correct such injustices? … I who wanted no more than a farm, and a quiet life. What trick of circumstance brought me to these gallows? … No! … Settle your mind, Ned … hark now while there is still time … go steadily over the facts, for there, is the secret of the rebellion.”
(He sits down, hands apart in front and reflects)
[Stage direction: Here the stage is divided into two, Ned in his cell on the right, (from the audience’s viewpoint) the Governor, Judge Redmond Barry, Superintendent Hare sitting in comfortable chairs, on the left. They are surrounded by all the trappings of their class, they pour themselves glasses of wine from time to time whilst they talk. Their conversation is calm, well constructed and carefully considered. Kelly’s soliloquy is questioning, his answers full of self-doubt till the end where he finally gains the upper-hand, then he becomes calm, self-assured, certain of his conclusion, whilst the others shift about in their chairs, squirming as they become evasive. doubtful …
As each question is put up by Kelly, his side of the stage darkens, the other lights up and his question is “answered” by one of the three as if they were talking to him and vice-versa.]
Judge Redmond Barry holds out his glass, superintendent Hare starts, quickly servile but clumsily reaches out and fills the glass from a carafe on the table … as he fills, they hear a cock crow … they all turn to a window on the set wall.
Governor: “Dawn … it won’t be long now!”
Sir Red. Barry: “If it were done, best it were done quickly.”
Gov; “No passing regrets, Redmond?”
Sir Redmond Barry: ‘With each mans’ death I too am diminished … ha ha! But no, not this time … for Kelly’s crimes shaped his own end eh, Hare? ”
Sup’ Hare: “Certainly, we had all the evidence … (snorts humorously) if such were needed, for he convicted himself by his intent … and that was clear enough.”
Gov’: “What then the talk of his mother?”
[stage darkens, return to Kelly.]
Kelly: ”When the troopers harassed and arrested my mother … did I act too hastily and with too much temper’?”
Sup. Hare.: ”Well, to be accurate, the evidence against his mother was a little … thin on the ground (a soft guffaw from the others) to warrant her arrest … but! … we had to create a catalyst to follow through with the suppression of the district radicals.”
Gov’.: ”Hear! hear!”( the judge snorts approval)
Kelly:” Did I act in too much haste to avenge the treatment given to my family, and friends? … Perhaps I was bold beyond reason?”
Sup’. H.: ”Likewise his father and assorted relatives and friends … we had to make an example of the clan lest their outspoken behaviour be seen as a quality of leadership and so spark rebellion amongst the larger Irish community there in the district. Amongst such clannish people we had little evidence … but we had power and arms enough to divide and accuse regardless of guilt … it is our right to rule … and the prisons, ours to fill!”
Judge Barry: “’Tis a pity Kennedy, and his patrol didn’t rid us of the problem early in the piece.”
Gov’ … ”Being their own kind … you’d have thought they would have been more cunning … set a thief to catch a thief … ”
Sup’. H.:” Ah! … they were ambushed … ’twas bad luck for them … armed to the teeth they were too … ’twas bad luck for us, that!”
(Lights up his pipe).
Kelly: ”Kennedy and his lot … that was an evil day!… For Kennedy was a brave man, the wrath of God be upon me for his death. I’m sure. But then … what were they to expect? Irishmen hunting Irishmen, they could expect nothing but trouble! Those canny bastards always set us against ourselves … divide and rule is the order of the day.“
Sup’ H.:(he draws on his pipe, expels a long breath)” ‘Twas very important to have their own countrymen hunting them, sets the train of doubt and mistrust amongst their community .. They have a long memory: the Irish. And a long memory gives rise to a shorter temper!.
(all three laugh).
Gov’.: “He’ll be but a memory in a few short moments! … ha! ha!” (the gov’ throws his head back to laugh at his own joke … the other two look at each other and roll their eyes).
Judge Barry: (taps tips of his finders together) ”Though in the eyes of the Crown … we have achieved the desired effect of suppressing a sedition and or a potential uprising of the Irish rebellious contingent in the community … there is a mild … mild I reiterate, moral question that begs discussion. eye-eee (ie.) the deliberate setting-up of these people and incidents and subsequent loss of life to achieve the objective … vis-a-vis: the rooting out and extinguishing of seditious elements within the community”.
Gov’.: “Deliberate setting-up?” (Gov looks to Sup.Hare).
Sup’.H.: (clears throat)”Well, Sir … er, to be honest … (clears throat again).
Gov’: “Out with it man!”
Kelly; (pacing the cell, stops, turns head to side, ponders) All the circumstances, all the petty infringements of law, the paltry nit-picking and harassment of our clan … (paces floor as he reasons) the Irish agin’ Irish, relative against relative it seems as if there was a more deliberate force at work than mere chance, it seems as if everything fell too, too smoothly into place, as if all the trivial accusations were deliberately set up to “strike at” our family but … no!, no! … surely it couldn’t be so …?
Sup. H.: ”I did have a report from Superintendent Nicholson that, among other people, most strongly recommended the (gazes quickly to Judge Barry) “rooting out” of the Kelly family from the district and to (if I may quote)”send them to Pentridge even on a paltry charge” to take them away from the community and to reduce their influence in the area so, yes, Sir, in some ways it was a deliberate “set-up” as Judge Barry mentioned, though I must admit that it did not go always as planned and I think it was our good fortune that there was not a general uprising at the siege of the Glenrowan Inn! .. and if they had succeeded in the derailment of the troop train … ?(he finishes with a nervous swig of wine) … thank heaven for the schoolmaster” …
Gov’: ”Ah, yes … the spoiler … ”
Sup’ H: ”Spoiler, Sir?”
Judge B; “We have our own “spoilers”, Hare … every Jesus has his Judas …” He gulps his wine.
Gov’; “Quite so, quite so … That close, eh? … (Sup Hare nods in silence) Hmm, is this report common knowledge?”
Sup’.H.: “Only to the higher echelons of the department, Sir.”
Gov’: (stands and begins to pace the floor with hands clasped behind back) “Then keep it such … and Nicholson? … good man that, sees deeply into a problem … (pauses, reflects on his statement) … reward him with a promotion (suddenly raises finger) no, wait! … not promotion, money! give him a supplement to his pay … heh!heh! … money is the most subtle gag! … besides, we don’t want a too competent man near the “top” (stops pacing, looks to the others meaningfully) do we?” (no word from the other two, so he smiles). You know I have received a petition of plea for clemency for Kelly … thirty thousand signatures … (he looks from one to the other, reading their reactions). Yes … (he sighs and sits back down) that is an awful lot of support in the community … of course there is no chance of it happening, as if the Crown can relinquish so firm a grasp on law and order! No, he shall hang as ordained in the courts of justice.” (Gov raises his glass toward Judge Barry).
Kelly: ”But if it was such, if there was a deliberate conspiracy to victimise our family and friends … let me think … (counts out on fingers) Me. Mother, Dan, Jim, Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherrit, Jack Lloyd, Bill Skillion, James Quinn. Pat Quinn (stops counting and looks toward audience in a state of shock) all sentenced, all served time … there can be little doubt but that we were hounded into the courts for some covert reason. Damn their eyes that they have played us into an insidious trap! That the authorised government would sink to such depths to isolate and oppress a group of people as an example to the general mass. What twisted frame of mind would seek such notorious security? That it would selectively sacrifice individuals for its own greater comfort. No, it was not I who was the criminal in this escapade. Let the filth of their cunning permeate into the furtherest reaches of their administration, for they will reap just reward for the evil they sow this day (clenches fist in anger).
Judge B.:(swills wine in glass whilst gazing down reflectively) ”I fear we have set a precedent with this action that can lead us down a treacherous path,”
Gov.: ”How so. Redmond?”
Judge B: “‘Tis a fateful pity we picked on such courageous an individual as Edward Kelly, on the surface he would appear “easy-meat”; poor, uneducated country-bumkin! But there is a natural leader under that impoverished hide that may yet become a beacon to others.”
Gov.: “Come, come,Redmond. You colour us as tyrants and that … that(waves fingers) dirt as a new Brian Boru !”
Judge B.: ”You heard him in my courtroom? … You read his “Jerilderie Letter”?
Gov.: ”Ravings! my dear man, ravings!”
Judge B.: ”To us, yes, for we deem them as such … We dismiss the crude rhetoric as a maniacs rave … but I tell you there was a power in both those “ravings”, a power that came from a deep belief in the injustice of his jailing … of his family’s convictions … of the oppression of his peoples … MY peoples still! … Such a power has its own silent brooding strength within! … we are indeed fortunate if there is not an uprising after dawn today!”
(A silence prevails)
Gov.: (stands and thinks) “Then we must ‘colour’ the man’s last moments.”
Sup’ Hare; ”How so Your Excellency?”
Gov.: ”Why, we shall apply that time-honoured system when dealing with the ‘honest’ opposition we shall LIE! … lie and dishonour their memory! (pounds fist into palm of other hand)Let the sentence follow its rubric script, only we, (pauses, wags finger) shall darken the language to the pitch of blood! What is left untarnished … let them adore! But I beg you, fellow corpsmen, let it be little or best still … nothing of respectable substance! We hang Kelly as a murderer; let us paint him as more than such! You; Hare, make sure you report his “cowardice” at the hanging, use any language at your command to make an unfavourable impression with our friends of the Press of his last moments … we must start now to nip any sympathy in the bud and we shall use all means available to do it! … ”
Kelly: “And still it was I who took up the challenge to right their criminal intent but why? … why was it left to me? … many a time gladly would I have given over the reins to another … (softly). Christ too begged release, yet there was none to take it. Likewise my own position … Joe Byrne? … too cavalier … Dan? too young, likewise Steve Hart but of the rest? … like the disciples of Christ: no vision, it would have all frittered away till there was only the cruel oppression left and us rotting in Pentridge goal … No, there was no other to take the initiative … only I (slumps down on bunk, arms limp on lap…slowly looks up to audience, stands, points to audience accusingly) … and you! You stand by and let me and the likes of us carry the burden of responsibility and pay the price! … what is your part in this history? … (stands transfixed, mouth slightly open, pointing finger lowers slowly softly speaks) … But what am I saying … they are invisible: the silent majority, they do not figure in history, till the suffering attains a greater magnitude, then and only then does the collective whinge become a moan of anguish! … aaaahhh! (flings arm wide).bugger the lot of them! … it is too late to lament my lot now, I am condemned to die dishonourably to give cold honour to a cowardly population … well, I’ll give them one thing to think about: at least I’ll die game! … (shouts) I AM NED KELLY … SON OF RED KELLY! … ”
Gov.: ”It is nearly time now, superintendant, go and witness Kelly’s “cowardice” and give it favourable report in the daily press.” (Sup’ Hare stands to attn, salutes and departs.) ”Good man that (nods after Hare), I must recommend a suitable reward for his services.”
Judge B: “More money, Your Excellency? (Gov is about to sit, stops mid action and gazes questioningly at the judge) … since I’m sure we don’t want too competent a man near the top” (sips wine innocently)
Gov.: (sits down slowly but comfortably) ”I’m sure I can manage my … subordinates … Redmond … yes, more money, never fails (sips wine, sighs) I’ll have to order in another crate of this most enjoyable red, it sits most delightfully on my digestion!”
Judge B.: “It disturbs mine.”
Gov.: “That is because you gulp it down too fast my dear Redmond … I’ve watched you. No! … don’t deny it, but listen, good wine is money to the blood … as the coins feel reassuring when they jingle in your pocket and you “embrace” them with your fingers before you spend them … So it is with wine, you let it lay a little on the tongue then press it gently against the palate to feel the richness of it’s fruit before you consume … BEFORE you consume, my dear Redmond … then it will not sour your gut! … (looks to the judge and laughs) ha! ha! ha!”
Kelly: (returns to bench and sits, hands on knees) “Ah well, they destroy me … but I will take some of them with me … for I will be the nemesis of their hatred! … they have “roped ” themselves to me. Now, as I die … so must they … mine is not the only neck that will be gracing the rope !” (places head in hands and sobs gently he then stops, looks up) Mother … please give me strength to die like a Kelly.”
Judge B.: (taps fingertips together as he speaks) “Of course all this damn drama has risen out of the selectors’ poverty. There is such a thing as too much poverty, Gov’, I see it before my bench continually … ”
Gov.: ”… and where there is poverty there is crime … ”
Judge B.: “And where there is wealth, I contritely add: Is there not greater crime?”
Gov.: “Ahh! but that ‘crime’ is affiliated, my dear Redmond, affiliated.”
Judge B.: “And we, I take it, are all shareholders?”
Gov.: (stands up abruptly, looks to the judge) “Yes, by God!, that or poverty! … I leave you choose the more favourable … (lowers voice) but come , Redmond, I didn’t make the rules, I am only a caretaker and I too must answer to a greater power … well aware am I that the substance of the poor always goes to enrich the wealthy (hunches shoulders appealingly) but what would you? … Those of us who pull the levers of Authority know only too well the tenuous hold we have on that power … and we know only too well that we rule not on our own strength … for what really are you Redmond, or I, if challenged to arms … but through the obedient strength of those we command … those we own … and if they but knew what we know … So, dear Redmond … Let us be thankful we are only hanging one man, not a whole class!”
Judge B.: ”(drains glass with a wince) Pray we are not , in the long run, hanging ourselves!”
(Stands to leave). Stage darkens.
N.B.: The full play “An Arrogance of Power” can be read on my blog site here.
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