Two of the Ned Kelly gang survived ambush and lived on for years, says historian

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The Independent Online

Paul Tully, a historian and local councillor in Queensland, is demanding in a 35-page submission that now, more than a century after their "deaths", an inquest into the demise of the gang be held. He believes Dan Kelly and Steve Hart escaped a gun battle with the police that preceded the fire, and managed to live ordinary lives for a further 68 years. Other historians, however, dismiss his claims.

Mr Tully has been challenging the official story of the Kelly gang for many years, and his latest claim occurs, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, on the 125th anniversary of their demise. The legend began when Ned shot a policeman who was trying to arrest his brother Dan. He fled to the outback and formed a gang that carried out a series of bank robberies until, in June 1880, after a shoot-out with police at Stringy Bark Creek, they were outnumbered by policemen in Glenrowan, Queensland.

Officially, Dan and Steve Hart died when police set fire to the hotel where they sheltered, and two charred bodies were later found. Mr Tully thinks these may have belonged to two drunken hostages held by the gang. Ned was shot in the leg, arrested and hanged at the age of 25 at Melbourne's jail in 1880.

The Tully claim is based on the case of James Ryan. In 1933, the then-elderly Ryan claimed to be Ned Kelly's brother, inspiring the front page headline of The Sunday Truth, a Brisbane paper: "I am Dan Kelly, declares aged bushman". His evidence for being Dan Kelly was a few fading memories, the initials DK branded on his buttocks, and some deep burn scars he had on the back which he claimed he received in the Glenrowan fire when he was pinned by a burning beam.

Ryan defied anyone to prove him wrong, but, unfortunately, any further inquiries were curtailed when, in 1948, he was hit by a coal train and decapitated. He was buried in Ipswich, Queensland.

The late James Ryan is not the only Dan Kelly candidate. Since 2001, a woman called Maureen Tyler has claimed that her grandfather, known as Charles Divine Tindale was really Dan Kelly. Instead of perishing like the rest of the gang in the Glenrowan fire, says Ms Tyler, her grandfather hid in the hotel cellar and managed to escape.

He was, she says, reluctant to reveal his true identity for fear that he would be punished. Ms Tyler also heard rumours that fellow gang member Steve Hart also escaped and is now buried in southern Queensland.

Just to complicate matters further, another Kelly expert, Barry MacArthur, is reported to believe that it is Ned Kelly who escaped and lived into his dotage. His theory is that it was Dan who was tried and hanged in Melbourne. Yet another historian, Ken Oldis, dismissing Mr Tully's claims about James Ryan, said: "It's just another example of people who've got nothing to do with the real story, which was a terrible tragedy - a policeman died, a young man died. They just want to drag it up to get a bit of publicity."

Even Kelly artefacts are not free from controversy. In May 2002, a picture supposedly of Ned Kelly was sold at Christie's for £7,000, although forensic experts denied it was him.

Thus the Kelly legend continues to grow. It has inspired hundreds of plays, songs and books - including Peter Carey's 2001 Booker Prize-winner, The True History of the Kelly Gang - and several films, including a 2003 offering starring Heath Ledger and a 1970 effort with Mick Jagger as Ned.