AARON SHERRITT, by James Bray of Beechworth, inscribed on back, "Aaron Sherritt". Fold damage right centre and lower right.
Aaron represents one of the most extraordinary enigmas of the Kelly story. Lifelong mate of Kelly Gang lieutenant Joe Byrne, he could easily have become involved in the Stringybark Creek gun battle that spawned the Gang. As it was, he was one of the first friends the Kellys turned to after this tragedy. He guarded them during an overnight rest near Beechworth and scouted for them on their northward escape. Early in the pursuit, he was approached by the police to betray the Gang and agreed to help them in return for a guarantee that Joe Byrne's life would be spared. For the next twenty months he played a precarious double game, pretending to help the police while remaining loyal to Joe and the Kellys. Aware of this, a ruthless detective set out to incriminate Aaron in the eyes of the Gang so they would be forced to break from cover and kill him - giving police a chance to capture these elusive outlaws.
The plan worked, but in a tragic irony, Aaron's murder was also conceived as bait for a Kelly trap. A special train carrying police to pursue Aaron's killers would be wrecked at Glenrowan in the first phase of a fantastic plan to set up a Republic of North Eastern Victoria.
Joe Byrne shot Aaron on a Saturday night, the police siege of Glenrowan started in the early hours of Monday morning and Joe Byrne was killed before daylight. Ned Kelly was captured a couple of hours later and the last two members of the Gang were dead by mid-afternoon. By Tuesday evening, Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne, lifelong mates, lay in unmarked graves forty miles apart. In killing Aaron, Joe had brought about his own death and the destruction of the Kelly Gang.
The present photo was taken perhaps a year before the Kelly Outbreak. Aaron was a notoriously "flash" dresser. For some reason he posed for this study in ordinary bush working clothes - moleskins, worn boots, fancy shirt, sash and waistcoat. The chin strap of his pork-pied hat is under his mouth. In the Kelly outlawry years, he wore it under his nose - badge of the Gang and their sympathisers.
The photo neatly captures Sherritt's deceptive appearance and demeanour. He was almost unbelievably tough - sleeping out in shirtsleeves on freezing winter nights - and was a respected bare-knuckle fighter. Yet, a senior police officer spoke of him as "a slip of a lad", deceived by his slim, loose build. Aaron was six feet and weighed twelve or thirteen stone. In spite of his own formidable qualities, he regarded Ned Kelly with awe, telling a senior policeman, "I look upon Ned Kelly as an extraordinary man; there is no man in the world like him, he is superhuman. I look upon him as invulnerable." For his part, Ned seems to have been far more reluctant than Joe Byrne to believe that Aaron had betrayed the Gang.
THE PRESENT CARTE IS THE ONLY KNOWN ORIGINAL PRINT OF THIS PHOTO. It has been widely reproduced. In a fascinating detail, a pencil inscription on the back has been erased out. Close examination reveals the word, "Beware".