He was taken hostage by Ned Kelly during the outlaw gang’s last stand and later stopped a fellow officer from shooting the infamous bushranger dead – but nobody knows where Constable Hugh Bracken lies today.

An online fundraiser is now looking to commemorate the former police officer’s life and service at the Victorian country cemetery where he is buried in an unmarked grave.

The Wallan Cemetery Trust, Greta Cemetery Trust, and Victoria Police Historical Graves Committee have so far raised more than $5000 of a $7500 goal.

Constable Hugh Bracken. (Supplied)

Bracken, born in Ireland in 1840, served with Victoria Police from September 27, 1861, to March 31, 1866, and then August 13, 1867, to November 14, 1873.

He rejoined the force in 1878 after the Kelly Gang ambushed a group of police officers at Stringybark Creek, killing three.

On June 27, 1880, he was the sole constable assigned to the town of Glenrowan, where the Kelly Gang rode in for what would be their final stand against the law.

Bracken was stationed at Greta, five miles away, when – as he afterwards told newspaper The Australasian – he opened the knock after he heard his name called at about 11pm.

Bushranger Ned Kelly at Melbourne Gaol on the day before his execution. (National Library of Australia)

“Just as I did so, Ned Kelly presented a revolver at my head,” Bracken said.

“He was masked with an iron helmet, and I didn’t at first know it was Ned Kelly. The mask was like a nail-can.

“He told me to ‘bail up’, and throw my hands up. I said, ‘You are not Ned Kelly; you are only one of the police trying my mettle’.”

The helmeted Kelly was able to convince Bracken of his identity, and with gang accomplice Joe Byrne took him to Glenrowan Hotel, where some 40-plus hostages were held.

Bracken left behind his pregnant wife and young son.

When police besieged the Ned Kelly Gang in the Glenrowan Hotel (left background in picture) hundreds of spectators gathered nearby, some even using a ladder to get a better view from the roof of the railway station. This unusual picture is from 100 Australian Bushrangers, 1789-1901 (Rigby, $14.95), by Allan M. Nixon. He says that the total number of bushrangers in Australia's past probably ran into hundreds; many of them received little publicity. March 13, 1988.
When police besieged the Ned Kelly Gang in the Glenrowan Hotel (left background in picture) hundreds of spectators gathered nearby. (Nine)

While at the hotel, he sparred verbally with Kelly when the outlaw made threats to shoot police.

“I remarked that the police were only earning an honest living, and asked how he, if he was an honest man, could get on without them?” Bracken recalled.

“He turned upon me, and demanded, ‘And am not I an honest man?’ I replied, ‘I’m damned if you are,’ and nearly all laughed.”

The police and Indigenous trackers who captured Ned Kelly pose in front of the tree where he was caught. (State Library of Victoria)

Bracken managed to steal a key used to lock the hotel’s front door, and when the gang were otherwise occupied, he was able to escape and was able to warn approaching police about where the gang were, as well as the hostages.

He also rode to Wangaratta and returned with extra police.

Byrne, on noticing the constable’s escape, is said to have exclaimed: “Let me but catch him, and I will make a Bracken of him.”

Bracken took part in the subsequent siege of the hotel, which saw gang members Byrne, Dan Kelly, and Steve Hart killed.

Kelly was wounded and captured early the next morning.

Noeleen Lloyd, of the Greta Cemetery Trust, said it was here that Bracken acted on his conscience – a decision that would haunt him.

A police sergeant approached the badly wounded bushranger and threatened to shoot him dead.

“If you shoot Kelly, I’ll shoot you,” Bracken told him.

Ned Kelly’s armour at the State Library of Victoria. (Joe Armao)

Kelly was instead arrested, and executed at Old Melbourne Gaol on November 11.

Bracken was medically discharged from the force in 1883. He took his own life at his home in Wallan in 1900.

Lloyd, who herself is directly descended from Kelly Gang member Steve Hart, said Bracken had suffered harassment and bullying from fellow officers after halting the impromptu execution.

He was buried in Wallan Cemetery, but there is no record of what section or plot, nor who buried him.

“Recent, very thorough research, shows that he has no direct line in Australia – his first son died in WWI and his second son had one daughter who had no children,” the fundraisers said online.

“It is not in doubt that he needs to have a marker to remember him he as a person – but also his place in Australian history.”

“Hugh was an incredible, brave policeman,” Lloyd said.

“He was very dedicated.”

In place of a gravestone, the fundraisers hope to place a memorial plaque and a storyboard at the cemetery to commemorate Bracken’s life and service.

If the $7500 target is reached, they hope to unveil the memorial on the 125th anniversary of Bracken’s death, February 23, 2025.

A 1873 prison portrait of Ned Kelly.

How Ned Kelly became Australia’s most famous criminal

As Bracken’s name is not inscribed on the Victoria Police Honour Roll, and as he did not die in the line of duty, the memorial project does not qualify for assistance from either the Victoria Police Historical Graves Committee nor Victoria Police Blue Ribbon.

Lloyd said she had been “blown away” by the response in the community.

“There’s just this groundswell among people who know the story,” she said.

“It’s been on the forefront of a lot of peoples’ minds for a lot of years.”

Anybody interested in learning more, or any members of the Bracken family, are encouraged to get in touch with Lloyd via email.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyond blue on 1300 22 4636.

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