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Reardon, Michael (1863–1942)

Believed to be the last of those who saw the final battle between the Kelly Gang, the last of the bushrangers, and the police 62 years ago, Michael Reardon is dead at 79 years.

The Kelly brothers and their gang had raided many towns, robbed many banks, bailed up many travellers and killed and wounded many policemen and the final search for them centred round Glenrowan, a small town in North-eastern Victoria on the main Sydney-Melbourne railway.

They took possession of the town, herded its male residents and any others who came along into the Glenrowan Inn, and held them prisoner.

Among these was Michael Reardon, then a lad of 16. His father was a platelayer on the railway and he and a number of other men were conscripted to tear up a section of track south of the town. The idea of Ned Kelly, the leader, was to wreck a trainload of armed police which he knew to be on the way. While the work was going on Ned Kelly sat on his horse, revolver in hand, to make sure that the job was thoroughly done.

The Glenrowan schoolmaster, Curnow, escaped and warned the police of the break in the line so they completed the journey by foot. They laid siege to the hotel and one of their bullets killed a youth lying beside Reardon on the floor among the prisoners. Another bullet lodged in Reardon's chest. Because of its position it could not be extracted and he carried it until his death.

Before the final attack in which the hotel was set ablaze the captives were allowed to go. Ned Kelly in his primitive body armour made from stolen plough mould boards and weighing nearly 100 pounds, broke through the cordon and fired on the police from the rear. The police fired low, wounding him in the legs and captured him. He was hanged in Melbourne.

Reardon received a small pension for his injury. One of his sons was killed at Tobruk.

The Australian bushranger owes a lot to legend and the fiction writer, although there were adventures in which the truth was stranger than fiction.

Bushranging as a more or less flourishing industry had three epochs. In the first the robbers were convict escapees, in the second they were unusually free men of an adventurous lawless type tempted by the gold convoys from the diggings to the coast and the third was concerned entirely with the doings of a single gang, the Kellys.

Frank Gardiner the king and exemplar of the bold stealers was captured time end again only to escape and when he was sentenced to life imprisonment for one of his minor offences he was reprieved and he went to America to live out cheerful days.

Incredible tales are told of the exploits of these men. They had a reputation for bloodthirstiness among the public which helped them, but in most cases it was entirely undeserved. They killed only as a last resort but the time came when they grew careless of human life. This brutality lost them the sympathy of their former supporters and galvanised the authorities into a more ruthless and energetic chase.

Ben Hall's gang for 2½ years found the police quite harmless and baffled or evaded them with ease and a good deal of pleasant humour but when they began to shoot to kill the tracking began in earnest. In a month or two the leaders had been shot and the gang dispersed.

Daniel Morgan was of a different type. He shot unarmed and sleeping men and tortured women. He was shot by a farm hand.

After 1870 only isolated cases of bushranging were reported until the third epoch began in 1878 with the formation of the Kelly gang which after a series of raids met its Waterloo at Glenrowan.

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'Reardon, Michael (1863–1942)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/reardon-michael-13574/text24298, accessed 24 November 2017.

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