The Bush Rangers
Ned Kelly is probably the most famous bush ranger connected with Beechworth. Early records show in 1870 Ned aged 16 stood trial on a minor charge and served six months at Beechworth Gaol. In 1878 his mother, son-in-law Skillon and another man were arrested and placed in jail pending trial for attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. She was given three years' hard labour, considered by some to be extremely harsh.
Following a raid at Jerilderie, the Kelly Gang 'disappeared' for about sixteen months. During this time the police arrested 22 Kelly 'sympathisers', who were held for about four months before being released for lack of evidence. Feelings ran high and the Gaol's old wooden gates were replaced by the present iron ones because authorities feared an organised attempt to free the sympathisers.
After the famous 'shootout' at Glenrowan, a wounded Ned was taken to Benalla, then to Melbourne Gaol Hospital. In August 1880, he was returned to Beechworth for his preliminary trial for the murder of Constable Lonigan. He was remanded and returned to the Central Criminal Court in Melbourne.
The legend of bush ranger Harry Power (real name Harry Johnstone) is an especially interesting one. Said to have been well-dressed and usually a 'gentleman' he was not given to violent crime (although the threat was there) and was a 'mature age' bush ranger, in his 50's at the time he was most notorious.
Power had been transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1841 for stealing shoes. In 1855 he is believed to have shot a police trooper and in 1856, while serving time in prison, was accused of the murder of a guard. He reappeared again in February, 1864, charged at Beechworth for horse stealing. In 1869 he escaped from Pentridge and became on of the most notorious and active bush rangers in the Mansfield, Bright, Beechworth and Seymour areas, robbing travellers and mail coaches. He gained a reputation for being a 'good humoured' bush ranger, and had his share of supporters, including the Kelly family. In fact, it is suggested that in 1870 young Ned was recruited as his 'apprentice'. There are rumours, however, that Ned actually gave information on his whereabouts to the police and was subsequently given some reward payments. Harry was transferred to Beechworth where he was tried on three counts of Robbery Under Arms and returned to Pentridge, serving out his full sentence.
He was released in 1885, aged 66. After his release he was employed as a Guide on the old prison hulk Success which he had known as a convict. He moved to Swan Hill where he enjoyed considerable notoriety.