7[“Gibney at Glenrowan”, The Argus (Melbourne), Monday 19 July 1880, page 7]

GIBNEY AT GLENROWAN.

(Abridged from the Sydney Evening News.)

Through the courtesy of Father Gibney, who is at present in Sydney, we are enabled to give our readers some particulars that have not hitherto been published regarding the closing scenes of the Glenrowan tragedy. Father Gibney, it is needless to remind our readers, is the heroic Catholic priest who, braving the risk of being shot by the outlaws, dauntlessly went up to Jones’s Hotel, Glenrowan, after it had been fired by the police, and calmly walked through the raging sea of flames, in order, if possible, to induce the outlaws to surrender, or, if requisite, to administer the last sacraments of his church to the doomed men. It may be mentioned that Father Gibney is the vicar-general of Western Australia, and that his object in visiting the eastern colonies is to obtain funds for the repair of the Subiaco Boys’ Orphanage, which is situated about three miles from Perth. His orphanage was some time ago struck by lightning and greatly damaged. One boy was killed by the electric fluid, and 30 thrown down. The population is very poor and scattered, and from the circumstances of the case an orphanage is a necessity. This necessitated the vicar-general undertaking his mission to the wealthier sister colonies.

Father Gibney, who left Kilmore on the morning of Monday, June 28, en route for Albury, arrived on the scene at about noon. As the train was approaching Glenrowan the passengers could hear the incessant fire of the police on the house. The constables seemed to fire more vigorously when the train stopped. Father Gibney had previously heard of Ned Kelly being wounded, and finding that the outlaw was lying in one of the back rooms of the station, he determined to let the train go on, and remain at Glenrowan. The rev. gentleman had, at first, much difficulty in getting into the room on account of the number of people going to look at Ned Kelly. As soon as he made himself known to the doctor attending, he at once made room for Father Gibney to get to Kelly. The outlaw was in a precarious state, and there was no certainty that he would survive his wounds. Kelly, when he found that Father Gibney was a priest, at once asked him to do anything he could towards preparing him for death. The rev. father heard his confession, and although he was evidently suffering the most intense agony and pain from the wounds on his hands and feet, he never uttered a strong or impatient word.

Father Gibney was with Kelly about an hour, and when he satisfied himself as to his penitential disposition he administered the sacraments of penance and extreme unction. During the time Father Gibney was with Kelly the intervals between the volleys fired by the police were very short indeed, and continued so throughout the afternoon, till the place was fired. When he had completed his ministrations to Ned Kelly he asked him if he thought it would be safe for him to go up to the house to ask the other bushrangers to surrender. Kelly looked at the priest intently for some time. Father Gibney said, “I’m not afraid.” Kelly then said, “I would not advise you to go; you are a stranger. They may take you for a policeman in disguise, and they’ll shoot you.” The rev. gentleman felt it was hopeless to make the attempt at that time. When the house was seen to be on fire, Father Gibney felt that the outlaws must inevitably die within a few minutes, either by being burnt inside the house or being shot down if they came out. He felt that there was no truce or no terms for the doomed men. Besides he had already been informed by the men who had been released from the besieged house that there was one of their party, an old man named Cherry, mortally wounded and unable to drag himself out from the flames. At this crisis Father Gibney started off direct for the front door of the house. When about midway between the police and the burning hotel he was called upon to come back, and was informed that he must not go there without permission from the officer in charge. He was in a good spot for a shot at the time. Father Gibney recognised the propriety of obtaining the permission of the commanding officer, but in the imminence of the crisis he also saw that there was not a moment to lose. He stood for a moment, and then walked a few paces towards the officer who called him. It glanced across the rev. father’s mind that if the men in the house saw him taking directions from the police who were besieging them, they would conclude at once that he was in the service of the police. He cried out “There is no time to lose.” The flames were bursting through the roof. He started a second time for the house, and as he did so the assembled people clapped hands most enthusiastically. Father Gibney was determined to do his duty at all hazards. Mentally commending himself to God, and praying that if he fell his sins would be forgiven, he marched boldly forward, his only object being to give the wretched inmates of the blazing ruin an opportunity of dying penitent. On entering the door the front room was completely vacant and the weatherboards were riddled with bullet holes; there was hardly a board which had not been perforated with numerous shots. Passing into the bar, which was the room where the fire first caught, Father Gibney saw the body of Byrne lying at the passage door. The outlaw was quite stiff, and the reverend gentleman moved him to ascertain if there was any life in him, but he had evidently been dead a long while. He seemed to have died quite easily, and not to have moved at all from the position in which he dropped. Our informant then called out to the other two whom he supposed to be in the building, “For God’s sake, men, allow me to speak to you, I am a Roman Catholic priest.” The passage and the whole of this room was so enveloped in flames that Father Gibney did not then venture to pass through, but sought in another direction to go to the men. Finding there was no ingress he came back, stepped over the dead body of Byrne, and rushed through a sheet of flame. He then came to the back room, where he saw two bodies lying stretched at full length on their backs, with bags formed into pillows under their heads. He took hold of each of them, and satisfied himself that they were dead. The ceiling and sidewalls were at this time alight. Father Gibney, on his return to the crowd, was warmly received. Inspector Sadleir congratulated the reverend gentleman on his heroism, and said that had it not been for him they would not have known whether the outlaws were burnt alive or not.