Ned Kelly

From Academic Kids

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Ned Kelly the day before his execution

Edward "Ned" Kelly (approx 1854-5 [DOB uncertain] – November 11, 1880) is Australia's most famous bushranger, and, to some, a folk hero for his defiance of colonial authorities. He was known as the Man in the Iron Mask (after the Alexandre Dumas book) due to the fact that he was armoured when captured.


Early life

Ned was born in Beveridge, Victoria just north of Melbourne, probably in December, 1854. The eldest son and third of eight children born to Irish Catholic parents John Kelly and Ellen Quinn, the latter was a member of the notorious Quinn extended family, or "clan". As a boy he attended school and risked his life to save another boy who was drowning. As a reward he was given a green sash, which he would wear under his armour during his final showdown with police.

Ned's father died when Ned was only 12, and according to custom he was forced to leave school to become head of the family. It was at this time that the Kelly family moved to the Glenrowan area of Victoria, which to this day is known as Kelly Country. Ned grew up in poverty in some of the harshest conditions in Australia, and folk tales tell of his sleeping on the ground in the bush during the Victorian winter.

Rise to notoriety

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An extracted page of the Jerilderie Letter.

It should be noted, that in all, 18 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 due to Ellen Quinn's bad family name. Indeed, Ellen was eventually wrongfully convicted of aiding and abetting an attempted murder, and was in prison at the time of Ned's execution. Ellen remarried and died 27 March 1923.

In 1869, 14 year old Ned was arrested for assaulting a Chinese pig farmer named Ah Fook and for being an accomplice of bushranger Harry Power. He was found not guilty for both charges, but in 1870 was arrested again for assaulting a hawker, Jeremiah McCormick, and for his part in sending McCormick's wife an indecent note that had calve's testicles enclosed with it. Ned did not write the note, but passed it to one of his cousins to give to the lady. He was sentenced to three months hard labour on each charge. Three weeks after his release, he was arrested again for being in possession of what was, unbeknown to him, a stolen horse. After attempting to flee, 16-year-old Ned was held down and pistol-whipped by a Senior Constable Hall, and later sentenced to three years hard labour.

After his release he became involved in a cattle rustling operation with his brother Dan, which attracted the attention of the local police. Ned's sister Ellen also attracted the attention of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, who assaulted her on a visit to the Kelly home in 1878. Fitzpatrick accused Ned of attempted murder, and Ned went into hiding; in October, when the police eventually found him, he and his accomplices killed three of the policemen and escaped once more. Kelly then formed the Kelly Gang consisting of himself, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.

He robbed two banks at Euroa and Jerilderie in February, 1879, as he needed money to make suits of armour which he believed would protect him from the police.

At this time, he dictated a lengthy letter for publication describing his view of his activities and the treatment of his family and, more generally, the treatment of Irish Catholics by English and Irish Protestant police. The Jerilderie Letter, as it is called, discusses the possibility of an uprising, not only in Australia but in the United States and Ireland itself, against what he regarded as a gross injustice. Some accounts of the Kelly story see Ned as ultimately planning armed rebellion (some even assert that he aimed to declare the north-east of Victoria an independent republic), but his actions give little indication of such a role.

Capture and execution

The police caught onto his trail again in June, 1880. The Kelly Gang arrived in Glenrowan on June 27 and held about 70 hostages at the Glenrowan Inn, owned by the Jones family. The gang members brought with them armour that they had made themselves from the stolen iron mould boards of ploughs, earlier that year in a hideout in the Greta Swamps. Each man's armour weighed about 80 pounds; all four had helmets, and Joe Byrne was said to be the most well done, which the brow reaching down to the nose piece, forming two eye slits.

While holed up in the Glenrowan Inn, Ned and his gang's attempt to derail a special police train from Melbourne failed when a released hostage, schoolmaster Thomas Curnow, gave the alert, at great risk to his own life, by standing on the railway line near sunrise, waving a red scarf illuminated by a candle.

At about dawn on Monday, June 28 in the subsequent shootout with the police, Ned Kelly was shot twenty-eight times in the legs (sources vary, some saying six times), as his limbs were left unprotected by his armour. The other Kelly Gang members also died in the hotel, Joe Byrne allegedly by loss of blood due to a gunshot wound that severed his femoral artery, and Dan Kelly and Steve Hart by self-ingestion of poison (autopsies were not performed).

Ned Kelly survived to stand trial, and was sentenced to death by Judge Redmond Barry who had tried him on previous occasions for lesser crimes. When the judge uttered the customary words "may God have mercy on your soul", Ned is reported to have replied "I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go". He was hanged on November 11 at the Melbourne Gaol, his last words being "Ah well I suppose it has come to this... Such is life". Redmond Barry died on November 23, 1880, twelve days after Kelly.

Stories abounded of Ned's altruistic and gentlemanly behavior, casting him as a modern-day Robin Hood. More than thirty-two thousand Victorians signed a petition against Kelly's sentencing, and an inquiry was held in which all the police officers involved in Ned's exploits were either removed from employment or demoted.

Ned Kelly's death mask in the Old Melbourne
Ned Kelly's death mask in the Old Melbourne Gaol

Cultural impact

One of the jails in which he was incarcerated has become the Ned Kelly Museum in Australia, and many weapons and artifacts used by him and his gang are in exhibit there. Some people have referred to him as the Billy the Kid of Australia.

Since his death Kelly has become part of Australian folklore, and the subject of a large number of books and several films. To some, he is a folk hero, to others a common thug whose crimes were brutal and entirely for personal gain. The distinctive homemade armour he wore for his final unsuccessful stand against the police was the subject of a famous series of paintings by Sidney Nolan.

Ironically Jerilderie, one of the towns Ned Kelly robbed has built its Police Station featuring no less than 19 stuctural components mimicing 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.


The Last of the Bushrangers, by F. A. Hare was published in London in 1892. A. Bertram Chandler's novel Kelly Country (1983) is an alternate history in which Kelly leads a successful revolution; the result is that Australia becomes a world power. Peter Carey's novel True History of the Kelly Gang was published in 2000, and was awarded the 2001 Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Ian Jones's has produced several books concerning the Kelly Gang, including The Fatal Friendship and Ned Kelly; A short life.

Films and television

The Story of the Kelly Gang is considered the world's first feature length film, it was released in 1906, with a then-unprecented running time of 70 minutes. Ned Kelly's actual suit of armour was borrowed from the Victorian Museum and worn in the film.

Harry Southwell wrote, directed and produced three films, The Kelly Gang (1920), When the Kellys Were Out (1923) and When the Kellys Rode (1934), and began work on a fourth, A Message to Kelly (1947).

The Glenrowan Affair was produced by Rupert Kathner in 1951, featuring the exploits of Ned 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 Bob Chitty as Ned Kelly.

In 1967, independent filmmaker Garry Shead directed and produced Stringybark Massacre, an avant garde re-creation of the murder of the three police officers at Stringybark.

The next major film version of the Kelly story was Ned Kelly, starring Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, directed by Tony Richardson, running 1 hour, 43 minutes. It was poorly received.

Kelly expert and author Ian Jones worked with Tony Richardson on the script for Ned Kelly, and went on to present his own take on Ned Kelly in his 1980 television mini-series The Last Outlaw, which he co-wrote and produced with Bronwyn Binns. The series premiered on the centenary of the day that Kelly was hanged and its detailed historical accuracy distinguished it from many other films.

Yahoo Serious wrote, directed and starred in the 1993 satire film Reckless Kelly as a decendant of Ned Kelly. It was considered a disapointment when compared to his first film, Young Einstein.

In 2003, Ned Kelly, a $30 million budget movie about Kelly's life was released. Directed by Gregor Jordan, it starred Heath Ledger (as Kelly), 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 Kelly gang's armour-clad battle at Glenrowan, and attempts to portray the events from the perspectives of Kelly, and also of the authorities responsible for his capture and prosecution. That same year a low budget satire movie called Ned was released. Written, directed and starring Abe Forsythe, it depicted the Kelly gang wearing fake beards and tin buckets on their heads. It performed poorly at the box office.


In 1971 U.S. country singer Johnny Cash wrote and recorded the song "Ned Kelly" for his album The Man In Black. Other songs about Ned Kelly include Slim Dusty ("Game As Ned Kelly"), Ashley Davies ("Ned Kelly" (2001)), Waylon Jennings ("Ned Kelly" (1970)), Midnight Oil ("If Ned Kelly Was King" (1983)) and The Whitlams ("Kate Kelly", from the album "Torch the Moon").

External links

sv:Ned Kelly


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