Childhood sweetheart Ned’s secret love
THE wealthy grandmother who died in Balmain hospital in 1926 seemed much like any other.
Ettie Williams, age 65, had come from Victoria to look after the surviving children of her daughter, who had died in childbirth four years earlier.
But before she died, Ettie told her grandchildren stories about her youth. Back then, she said, she’d been the childhood sweetheart of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most notorious bushranger.
Was Ettie his wife? Or his fiancee? The family accounts differ. But all her descendants knew one thing. It was a family secret, never to be revealed.
Almost a century later, Ettie’s great-great-grandson Paul O’keefe feels it is time to set the record straight.
After 10 years delving into his family’s complex history, he’s embarked on a national speaking tour. He says the evidence he collected shows Ettie Hart – younger sister of Steve Hart, a member of the Kelly gang who died in the fire at the Glenrowan Inn on June 28, 1880 – ‘‘was up to her eyeballs in the whole saga’’.
When Kelly was hanged on November 11, 1880, at Melbourne Gaol, he was wearing a ring. Kelly author Ian Jones says the outlaw’s love was Kate Lloyd, sister of his cousin Tom Lloyd, one of the Kelly gang’s most ardent supporters.
Instead, O’keefe says, Kelly had fallen in love with the younger sister of his mate Steve.
At his home in Newport, O’keefe leafs through the folder of evidence he has collected.
He says recently released police records from the manhunt before Kelly’s capture show police had known Kelly was romantically involved with one of the sisters of his gang members. By process of elimination, this came down to Ettie Hart.
‘‘All the evidence points to Ned and Ettie being childhood sweethearts,’’ O’keefe says. ‘‘Ettie was at Glenrowan after the gang’s last stand. At Jerilderie [while his gang were holding up the local bank and stealing £2000], Kelly gave a speech about how he had only been married for three weeks when he was outlawed.’’
The police reports indicate Kelly had married. But by the time he dictated his famous 7500 word Jerilderie Letter — explaining why his gang had shot three policemen at Stringybark Creek in Victoria — he was already an outlaw.
‘‘Any contact would have been very secretive and extremely dangerous for her. My dear, sweet, great-great-grandma was helping Ned, her brother and their sympathisers to plot their ultimate aim – the republic of North East Victoria. No wonder they kept their true relationship secret.’’
For O’keefe, the clincher came on Mother’s Day, 2010, when he was visiting his parents in Balmain and his mother asked if he’d like to see some of the family papers. Some were newspaper cuttings from 1879, stories about the Kelly gang on the run. But the most important find was a scrapbook with ‘‘Ettie Hart, Three Mile Creek, Wangaratta’’ written on the inside cover.
‘‘It contains romantic, handwritten and extremely sad poetry all about a love,’’ O’keefe says. He recites a line from just one of her undated poems, written to an unidentifiable lover who had just died – ‘‘like brother, you have gone to your rest where suffering can no longer harm you’’.
‘‘Who could it be but about Ned?’’ he asks.