Edward "Ned" Kelly (3 June 1855 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, and, to some, a folk hero for his defiance of the colonial authorities. Kelly was born in Victoria to an Irish convict father, and as a young man he clashed with the police. Following an incident at his home in 1878, police parties searched for him in the bush. After he murdered three policemen, the colony proclaimed Kelly and his gang wanted outlaws. A final violent confrontation with police took place at Glenrowan. Kelly, dressed in home-made plate metal armour and helmet, was captured and sent to jail. He was hanged for murder at Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880. His daring and notoriety made him an iconic figure in Australian history, folk lore, literature, art and film.
On 9 March 2008, it was claimed that Kelly's burial site had been found by Australian scientists.
John "Red" Kelly, the father of Ned Kelly, was born and raised in Ireland, where he was convicted of criminal acts sometime during his adulthood. There is uncertainty surrounding the exact nature of his crime as most of Ireland's court records were destroyed during the Irish Civil War. Ian Jones claims that Red Kelly stole two pigs and was an informer, but the claim is contested in Kenneally who said 'Red' was a patriot. Red Kelly was sentenced to seven years of penal servitude and transported to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) and arrived in 1843.
After his release in 1848, Red Kelly moved to Victoria Australia and found work in Beveridge at the farm of James Quinn. At the age of 30 he married Quinn's daughter Ellen, then 18. Their first child died early, but Ellen then gave birth to a daughter, Annie, in 1853. Seven of their children survived past infancy.
Ned was baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O'Hea. As a boy, he obtained some basic schooling and once risked his life to save another boy, Richard Shelton, from drowning. As a reward he was given a green sash by the boy's family, which he wore under his armour during his final showdown with police in 1880.
The Kellys were suspected many times of cattle or horse stealing, though never convicted. Red Kelly was arrested when he killed and skinned a calf claimed to be the property of his neighbour. He was found innocent of theft, but guilty of removing the brand from the skin and given the option of a twenty-five pound fine or a sentence of six months with hard labour. Without money to pay the fine Red served his sentence in Kilmore gaol, with the sentence having an ultimately fatal effect on his health. The saga surrounding Red, and his treatment by the police, made a strong impression on his son Ned.
Red Kelly died at Avenel, Victoria on 27 December 1866 when Ned was eleven and a half years old. It was at this time that the Kelly family acquired land and moved to the Greta area of Victoria, which to this day is known as "Kelly Country".
In all, eighteen charges were brought against members of Ned's immediate family before he was declared an outlaw, while only half that number resulted in guilty verdicts. This is a highly unusual ratio for the time, and is one of the reasons that has caused many to posit that Ned's family was unfairly targeted from the time they moved to North-East Victoria. Perhaps the move was necessary because of Ellen's squabbles with family members and her appearances in court over family disputes. Antony O'Brien however argued that Victoria's colonial policing had nothing to do with winning a conviction, rather the determinant of one's criminality was the arrest. Further, O'Brien argued, using the "Statistics of Victoria" crime figures that the region's or family's or national criminality was determined not by individual arrests, but rather by the total number of arrests.
The following year, he was arrested and accused of being an accomplice of bushranger Harry Power. No evidence was produced in court and he was released after a month. Historians tend to disagree over this episode: some see it as evidence of police harassment; others believe that Kelly’s relatives intimidated the witnesses, making them reluctant to give evidence. Ned's grandfather, James Quinn, owned a huge piece of land at the headwaters of the King River known as Glenmore Station, where Power was ultimately arrested.
In October 1870, Kelly was arrested again for assaulting a hawker, Jeremiah McCormack, and for his part in sending McCormack's childless wife an indecent note that had calves' testicles enclosed. This was a result of a row earlier that day caused when McCormack accused a friend of the Kellys, Ben Gould, of using his horse without permission. Gould wrote the note, and Kelly passed it on to one of his cousins to give to the woman. He was sentenced to three months' hard labour on each charge.
Upon his release Kelly returned home. There he met Isaiah "Wild" Wright who had arrived in the area on a chestnut mare. The mare had gone missing and since Wright needed to go back to Mansfield he asked Kelly to find and keep it until his return. Kelly found the mare and used it to go to town. He always maintained that he had no idea that the mare actually belonged to the Mansfield postmaster and that Wright had stolen it. While riding through Greta, Ned was approached by police constable Hall who, from the description of the animal, knew the horse was stolen property. When his attempt to arrest Kelly turned into a fight, Hall drew his gun and tried to shoot him, but Kelly overpowered the policeman and humiliated him by riding him like a horse. Hall later struck Kelly several times with his revolver after he had been arrested. After just three weeks of freedom, the 16-year-old Kelly was sentenced to three years imprisonment along with his brother-in-law Alex Gunn. "Wild" Wright got only eighteen months.
While Kelly was in prison, his brothers Jim (aged 12) and Dan (aged 10) were arrested by Constable Flood for riding a horse that did not belong to them. The horse had been lent to them by a farmer for whom they had been doing some work, but the boys spent a night in the cells before the matter was cleared.
Two years later, Jim Kelly was arrested for cattle-rustling. He and his family claimed that he did not know that some of the cattle did not belong to his employer and cousin Tom Lloyd. Jim was given a five-year sentence, but as O'Brien pointed out the receiver of the 'stolen stock' James Dixon was not prosecuted as he was 'a gentleman'
In October 1877, Gustav and William Baumgarten were arrested for supplying stolen horses to Ned Kelly and were later sentenced in 1878. William served time in Pentridge Prison, Melbourne.
On the 15 April 1878, Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick arrived at Benalla suffering from wounds to his left wrist. He claimed that he had been attacked by Ned, Dan, Ellen, their associate Bricky Williamson and Ned's brother-in-law, Bill Skilling. Fitzpatrick claimed that all except Ellen had been armed with revolvers. Williamson and Skilling were arrested for their part in the affair. Ned and Dan were nowhere to be found, but Ellen was taken into custody along with her baby, Alice. She was still in prison at the time of Ned's execution. (Ellen would outlive her most famous son by several decades and died on 27 March 1923).
The Kellys claimed that Fitzpatrick came into their house to question Dan over a cattle duff incident. While there, he made a pass at Ellen's daughter Kate. Her mother hit his hand with a coal shovel and the men knocked Fitzpatrick to the floor. They then bandaged his injured wrist, and he had left saying that no real harm had been done. No guns, they claimed, were used during the incident, and Ned was not involved since he had been away in New South Wales. The belief that Ned was in New South Wales is still disputed, although Fitzpatrick's testimony of events is coloured by the fact that he was later dismissed from the force for drunkenness and perjury.
The trial at Beechworth
Ellen Kelly, Skillon and Williamson appeared on 9 October 1878 before Judge Redmond Barry charged with attempted murder and were convicted on Fitzpatrick's unsupported evidence. Barry stated that if Ned were present he would 'give him 15 years'
On 25 October 1878, Sergeant Kennedy set off to search for the Kellys, accompanied by Constables McIntyre, Lonigan, and Scanlon. The wanted men were suspected of being in the Wombat Ranges north of Mansfield, Victoria. The police set up a camp near two shepherd huts at Stringybark Creek in a heavily timbered area. A second police party had set off from Greata near the Wangaratta end, with the intention of closing in on Ned in a pincer movement.
The Mansfield team of police under Kennedy on arrival at Stringybark split into two groups: Kennedy and Scanlon went in search of the Kellys, while the others, Lonigan and McIntyre remained to guard their camp. Brown suggested in, Australian Son (1948) that Sgt. Kennedy was tipped off as to the whereabouts of the Kellys. O'Brien (1999) drew attention to the 1881 Royal Commission's questioning of McIntyre, which explored a possibility that Kennedy and Scanlon may have searched for the Kellys to gain a reward for themselves. Jones stated (p. 131) that Kennedy and Scanlon had once split a reward for the arrest of 'Wild Wright'. O'Brien's research focus on the practice of splitting rewards highlighting that it was known as 'going whacks'.
The Mansfield police team (Lonigan and McIntyre) remaining in the base camp fired at parrots, unaware they were only a mile away from the Kelly camp. Alerted by the shooting, the Kellys searched and discovered the well-armed police camped near the "shingle hut" at Stringybark Creek. Although the police were disguised as prospectors, they had pack horses with leather strap arrangements suitable for carrying out bodies.
Ned Kelly and his brother Dan considered their chances of survival against the well-armed party and decided to overpower the two officers, then wait for the two others to return. According to Jones (p. 132) the Kellys knew that that a police member (Strahan), from Greta team boasted he would shoot Ned 'like a dog' and Kelly believed these police were that Greta party. He was unaware of the Mansfield group. Ned's plan was for the police to surrender, allowing the Kellys to take their arms and horses. Ned and Dan advanced to the police camp, ordering them to surrender. Constable McIntyre threw his arms up. Lonigan drew his revolver and Ned shot him. Lonigan staggered some distance, and collapsed dead.
When the other two police returned to camp, Constable McIntyre, at Ned's direction, called on them to surrender. Scanlon went for his pistol; Ned fired. Scanlon was killed. Kennedy ran, firing as he sought cover moving from tree to tree. In an exchange of gunfire, Kennedy was mortally shot. Ned fired a fatal shot into Kennedy. McIntyre, in the confusion, escaped on horseback uninjured.
The exact place at Germans Creek where this occurred has only recently been identified. On leaving the scene Ned stole Sergeant Kennedy's handwritten note for his wife and his gold fob watch. Asked later why he stole the watch, Ned replied, "What's the use of a watch to a dead man?" Kennedy's watch was returned to his kin many years later.
In response to these killings the Victorian parliament passed the Felons' Apprehension Act which outlawed the gang and made it possible for anyone to shoot them. There was no need for the outlaws to be arrested and for there to be a trial. The Act was based on the 1865 Act passed in New South Wales which declared Ben Hall and his gang outlaws.
Following the killings at Stringybark, the gang committed two major robberies, at Euroa, Victoria and Jerilderie, New South Wales. Their strategy involved the taking of hostages and robbing the bank safes.
It is claimed that Ned, posing as a policeman, took one of the men prisoner on the grounds of being the "notorious Ned Kelly". The man was locked up in the storeroom saying that he would report the "officer" to his superiors. It was only then that he was told who his captor was.
The outlaws gave an exhibition of horsemanship which entertained and surprised their hostages. After having supper, and telling the hostages not to raise the alarm for another three hours, they left. The entire crime was carried out without injury and the gang netted £2000, a large sum in those days.
On Monday the gang rounded up various people and forced them into the back parlour of the Royal Mail Hotel. While Dan Kelly and Steve Hart kept the hostages busy with "drinks on the house" , Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne raided the local bank of about two thousand pounds. Kelly also burned all the townspeople's mortgage deeds in the bank.
The Jerilderie Letter, as it is called, is a document of 7,391 words and has become a famous piece of Australian literature. Kelly had written a previous letter (14 December 1878) to a member of Parliament stating his grievances, but the correspondence had been suppressed from the public. The letter highlights the various incidents that led to him becoming an outlaw (see Rise to notoriety).
The letter was never published and was concealed until re-discovered in 1930. It was then published by the Melbourne Herald.
The handwritten document was donated anonymously to the State Library of Victoria in 2000. Historian Alex McDermott says of the Letter, "... even now it's hard to defy his voice. With this letter Kelly inserts himself into history, on his own terms, with his own voice...We hear the living speaker in a way that no other document in our history achieves..." Kelly's language is colorful, rough and full of metaphors; it is "one of the most extraordinary documents in Australian history".
The gang discovered that Aaron Sherritt, Joe Byrne's erstwhile best friend, was a police informer. On the 26 June 1880 Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne went to Sherritt's house and killed him. (Ian Jones, authority on the Kelly Gang, has made a compelling case in his book, The Fatal Friendship that the police manipulated events so that Sherritt appeared a traitor and to provoke the gang into emerging from hiding to dispose of him.) The four policemen who were living openly with him at the time hid under the bed and did not report the murder until late the following morning. This delay was to prove crucial since it upset Ned's timing for another ambush.
The Kelly Gang arrived in Glenrowan on 27 June forcibly taking about seventy hostages at the Glenrowan Inn. They knew that a train loaded with police was on its way and ordered the rail tracks pulled up in order to cause a derailment.
The gang members donned their now-famous armour. It is not known exactly who made the armour, although it was likely forged from stolen and donated plow parts. Each man's armour weighed about 96 pounds (44 kg); all four had helmets, and Byrne's was said to be the most well done, with the brow reaching down to the nose piece, almost forming two eye slits.
While holed up in the Glenrowan Inn, the Kelly gang's attempt to derail the police train failed due to the bravery of a released hostage, schoolmaster Thomas Curnow. Curnow convinced Ned to let him go and then as soon as he was released he alerted the authorities, at great risk to his own life, by standing on the railway line near sunrise and waving a lantern wrapped in his red scarf. The police then stopped the train before it would have been derailed and laid siege to the inn.
At about dawn on Monday 28 June, Ned Kelly emerged from the inn in his suit of armour. He marched towards the police, firing his gun at them, while their bullets bounced off his armour. His lower limbs, however, were unprotected and he was shot repeatedly in the legs. The other Kelly Gang members died in the hotel; Joe Byrne allegedly perished due to loss of blood due to a gunshot wound that severed his femoral artery, and Dan Kelly and Steve Hart committed suicide (according to witness Matthew Gibney). The police suffered only one minor injury: Superintendent Francis Hare, the senior officer on the scene, received a slight wound to his wrist, then fled the battle. For his cowardice the Royal Commission later suspended Hare from the Victorian Police Force. Several hostages were also shot, two fatally.
Ned Kelly survived to stand trial, and was sentenced to death by the Irish-born judge Sir Redmond Barry. This case was extraordinary in that there were exchanges between the prisoner Kelly and the judge, and the case has been the subject of attention by historians and lawyers. When the judge uttered the customary words "May God have mercy on your soul", Kelly replied "I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go". He was hanged on 11 November 1880 at the Melbourne Gaol for the murder of Constable Lonigan. Although two newspapers (The Age and The Herald) reported Kelly's last words as "Such is life", another source, Kelly's gaol warden, wrote in his diary that when Kelly was prompted to say his last words, the prisoner opened his mouth and mumbled something that he couldn't hear. Sir Redmond Barry died of the effects of a carbuncle on his neck on 23 November 1880, twelve days after Kelly.
Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that a petition to spare Kelly's life attracted over 30,000 signatures.
Forensic pathologists have examined the bones, which are much decayed and jumbled with the remains of others, making identification difficult. However, Kelly's remains were identified by an old wrist injury and by the fact that his head was removed for phrenological study. Mrs. Ellen Hollow, Kelly's 62-year old great-niece, offered to supply her own DNA to help identify Kelly's bones.
Others, commencing with Kenneally (1929), and McQuilton (1979) and Jones (1995), perceived the Kelly Outbreak and the problems of Victoria's Land Selection Acts post-1860s as interlinked. McQuilton identified Kelly as the "social bandit" who was caught up in unresolved social contradictions - that is, the selector-squatter conflicts over land - and that Kelly gave the selectors the leadership they so lacked. O'Brien (1999) identified a leaderless rural malaise in Northeastern Victoria as early as 1872-73, around land, policing and the Impounding Act.
After Ned Kelly's death, the Victorian Royal Commission (1881-83) into the Victorian Police Force led to many changes to the nature of policing in the colony.
Though the Kelly Gang was destroyed in 1880, for almost seven years a serious threat of a second outbreak existed because of major problems around land settlement and selection (McQuilton, Ch. 10).
McQuilton suggested two police officers involved in the pursuit of the Kelly Gang — namely, Superintendent John Sadleir (1833-1919), author of Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, and Inspector W.B. Montford — averted the Second Outbreak by coming to understand that the unresolved social contradiction in Northeastern Victoria was around land, not crime, and by their good work in aiding small selectors.
The vendor's representative, Tom Thompson, claimed that the revolver was left by Constable Fitzpatrick at the Kelly house after the melee in 1878, given to Kate Kelly, and then (much later) found in a house or shed in Forbes, New South Wales.
According to press reports in the days following the auction, firearms experts assessed the revolver as being of a design (a copy of an English Webley .32 revolver) not manufactured until 1884, well after the claimed provenance had the weapon changing hands from Constable Fitzpatrick to the Kellys. In addition, a stamp on the gun which the auction catalogue interpreted as R*C, an indication that the revolver was of the Royal Constabulary, was instead read as a European manufacturer's proof mark.
Further, evidence by Constable Fitzpatrick said that when he left the Kelly homestead after the incident, he had his revolver and handcuffs; (cited in Keith McMenomy (1984), p. 69.)
One of the gaols in which Kelly was incarcerated has become the Ned Kelly Museum in Glenrowan, Victoria, and many weapons and artifacts used by him and his gang are in exhibit there. Since his death, Kelly has become part of Australian folklore, the language and the subject of a large number of books and several films. The Australian term "as game as Ned Kelly" entered the language and is a common expression.
Films included the first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (Australia, 1906), another with Mick Jagger in the title role (1970), and more recently Ned Kelly (2003) starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush. A TV mini series of six episodes The Last Outlaw (1980) highlighted the plight of the selector and the social conflicts and battles between selector and squatters. During the 1960s, Ned Kelly graduated from folk lore into the academic arena. His story and the social issues around land selection, squatters, national identity, policing and his court case are studied at universities, seminars and lectures.
Jerilderie, one of the towns Kelly robbed, built its police station featuring numerous structural components mimicking his distinctive face plate. Some examples include walls made of differently toned bricks making up his image to storm drains with holes cut in them to form it.
An image of Kelly, based on Sidney Nolan's imagery, appeared in the "Tin Symphony" segment of the opening ceremony for the year 2000 Olympic Games. He has also appeared in advertisements, most notably in television spots for Bushell's tea. A man drinking tea in the iconic suit of armour is the focal point of part of the ad.
Australia Post produced a stamp/envelope set The Siege Of Glenrowan - Centenary 1980 to mark the capture of Kelly 100 years before. The 22-cent 'stamp' printed on the envelope shows Kelly 'at bay' wearing his armoured helmet and Colt revolver in hand.
Our Sunshine(1991) by Robert Drewe was the basis of the 2003 film Ned Kelly that starred Heath Ledger.
Harry Southwell wrote, directed and produced three films based on the Kelly Gang: The Kelly Gang (1920), When the Kellys Were Out (1923) and When the Kellys Rode (1934), as well as the unfinished, A Message to Kelly (1947).
The Glenrowan Affair was produced by Rupert Kathner in 1951, featuring the exploits of Kelly and his "wild colonial boys" on their journey of treachery, violence, murder and terror, told from the perspective of an aging Dan Kelly. It starred the famous Carlton footballer Bob Chitty as Ned Kelly. It was one of the last films to portray him with an Australian accent.
The next major film of the Kelly story was Ned Kelly (1970), starring Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and directed by Tony Richardson. It was not a success and during its making it led to a protest by Australian Actors Equity over the importation of Jagger, with complaints from Kelly family descendants and others over the film being shot in New South Wales, rather than in the Victoria locations where most of the events actually took place.
Ian Jones and Bronwyn Binns wrote a script for a four-part television mini-series, The Last Outlaw 1980, which they co-produced. The series premiered on the centenary of the day that Kelly was hanged. The film's detailed historical accuracy distinguished it from many other Kelly films.
In 2003, Ned Kelly, a $30 million budget movie about Kelly's life was released. Directed by Gregor Jordan, and written by John M. McDonagh, it starred Heath Ledger as Kelly, along with Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, and Naomi Watts. Based on Robert Drewe's book Our Sunshine, the film covers the period from Kelly's arrest for horse theft as a teenager to the gang's armour-clad battle at Glenrowan. It attempts to portray the events from the perspectives of both Kelly and of the authorities responsible for his capture and prosecution. It was not a success; one review dismissed it as fiction.
Other songs about Ned Kelly include those by Paul Kelly ("Our Sunshine" (1999)), Slim Dusty ("Game as Ned Kelly" and "Ned Kelly Isn't Dead"), Ashley Davies ("Ned Kelly" (2001)), Waylon Jennings ("Ned Kelly" (1970)), Redgum ("Poor Ned" (1978)), Midnight Oil ("If Ned Kelly Was King" (1983)), The Whitlams ("Kate Kelly" (2002)), and Trevor Lucas ("Ballad of Ned Kelly", performed by Fotheringay on their eponymous album). He was also referred to in the Midnight Oil song "Mountains of Burma" (1990) ("The heart of Kelly's country cleared").
The Australian band "The Kelly Gang" consisted of Jack Nolan, Scott Aplin, Rick Grossman (bassist for Hoodoo Gurus) and Rob Hirst (drummer for Midnight Oil) and recorded one album Looking for the Sun (2004) which has one of Sydney Nolan's iconic "Ned Kelly" series as its album cover.
"Shelter for my Soul" was written and recorded by Powderfinger's Bernard Fanning for the 2003 film Ned Kelly. It was written from Kelly's perspective on death row and played over the movie's closing credits.
"888" was written and recorded by Melbourne Celt/Punk band The Currency. It has a reference to the Old Melbourne Gaol. And it's lyrics say "It says here, Ned's parting words, it says here, such is life".