We have had a number of bushrangers during the short history of Australia but none have stirred Australians more than Ned Kelly and the “Kelly Gang”. Love him or hate him, there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to opinions of our most infamous bushranger.
Who is Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly?
Ned was the eldest son of John Kelly (ex-convict who was transported from Ireland) and Ellen Quinn (a free immigrant from Ireland). There is much debate over when he was actually born as there are no records of his Catholic Baptism but evidence suggests that it’s likely to have been sometime between late 1854 and June 1855.
When Ned’s father died in 1866, Ned was 11 years old and was the eldest child of 7 children at the time. His mother moved with the children to be nearer to family and get on with their lives as best as they could in those tough times.
When Ned was 16 years old, a well known bushranger, Harry Power (who had escaped from prison at the time) came along and asked Ned to join him as his offsider. Needing the money to help his mother he went along. It’s most likely that during his time with Harry Power that he learnt a lot of his bush-skills.
His time with Power was short-lived with him being arrested and Power eventually being caught. When Power was brought in, it was made to look as though Ned was the informer but in fact it was Ned’s uncle who had turned him in.
From his release there were various charges against Ned Kelly and at one time during the lead up to the Kelly Gang, Ned was sentenced to hard labour for 3 years.
Trouble with the Law
In 1878 there was an incident with a Constable Fitzpatrick while attempting to arrest Dan Kelly. Ned and Dan decided it would be better for everyone if they got out of the way and went out in the bush to hide out.
Warrants were issued for their arrest for “attempted murder” of Constable Fitzpatrick with a £100 reward. Their mother was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in gaol with hard labour for attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick.
Kelly Gang Formed
Shortly after this a police party of four went in search of the two Kelly’s in the Wombat Ranges. It is often reported that Ned Kelly (along with Dan, and their friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart) just wanted to disarm the officers and take their horses but things didn’t go to plan.
At Stringybark Creek on the 26th of October police officers Sgt Kennedy and Constables Lonigan and Scanlon were shot dead. Perhaps a kill or be killed situation? Constable McIntyre was the only one to survive and he raised the alarm about the other officers.
On October 29th the government issued a notice of a reward of £800 for the arrest and conviction of all four, now known as the ‘Kelly Gang’. In November this was changed to £2,000 (£500 for each offender) and they were legally declared Outlaws which meant any civilian could legally shoot any of the gang members on sight.
Following this, the Kelly gang robbed a bank in Euroa as well as holding hostages at nearby Faithfull’s Creek in North-East Victoria.
A lot of the Kelly Gang’s friends and sympathisers were arrested and were able to be held up to 3 months to stop them from assisting the outlaws in evading capture. This only increased their numbers of supporters who were starting to resent the government and the police of the state.
In early February of 1879, the gang held up the town of Jerilderie in NSW and robbed its bank. It’s during this time that Ned Kelly wrote his famous ‘Jerilderie Letter’ where he explained his version of events and asked for leniency for their families, friends and supporters who had done no wrong. The reward for the gang had risen to £8,000 – £2,000 per outlaw.
It all came to a head in Glenrowan during a siege between 26th and 28th of June. Clad in the famous armour that has become a symbol of the Kelly Gang they had a shoot-out with the police which brought the gang undone.
Joe Byrne was shot and died from blood loss; his body was taken away and strung up for spectators and photographers. Daniel Kelly and Steve Hart died inside the Inn they were holed up in. Ned Kelly was shot and badly injured but escaped, then came back to try and rescue Dan and Steve. He came upon the police line from the rear and boldly took them on single-handedly, known as Ned Kelly’s ‘last stand’.
He was shot and captured, the only surviving Kelly gang member, he was taken to Melbourne to await trial and his fate.
Ned Kelly was found guilty of wilful murder and sentenced to execution by hanging. When Judge Barry declared the sentence, Ned responded, “I will go a little further than that and say I will see you there where I go”.
There was a petition for a reprieve organised with over 30,000 signatures but it did no good. Meanwhile Ned continued to write letters to explain his version of events and to ask for his mother’s release from gaol but nothing came of it.
November 11th 1880, Ned Kelly was executed by hanging at Melbourne Gaol; his last words were “Such is Life!”
One interesting fact is that 12 days later, the judge who sentenced him to death died also.
In 1881 there was a Royal Commission into the Kelly Outbreak which painted the police involved in the lead up to them being declared as outlaws in an unfavourable light though it didn’t excuse or condone the actions of the Kelly gang either! Regardless, it brought about major changes to the Victorian Police force which are still in effect today.
There has been much speculation about Ned Kelly and the Kelly gang over the years; even today they still make news headlines!
- Where are the remains of Ned Kelly and will he be given a proper burial?
- Where is Ned Kelly’s skull?
- Did Steve Hart and Dan Kelly actually escape?
- Did Ned Kelly get married?
For me personally, I am a supporter. I certainly do not condone their actions BUT looking at the way events played out back then (or what we know of them) I believe Ned Kelly was mostly misunderstood. Circumstances beyond his control seemed to force his hand. No matter what wrong doings the Kelly Gang did, we also need to look at the Police of the time and see their part in the whole drama too.
Ned Kelly has been much written about over the years and of course there have been movies made about him, the first one made in 1905. Another one made in 1970 starred Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones as Ned and in 2003 Heath Ledger starred as Ned Kelly in the film of the same name. It’s been knocked by Kelly fans for being little more than a romanticised Hollywood attempt at history and inaccurate in parts, I couldn’t say as I haven’t seen it. My personal favourite was the 1980 mini-series ‘The Last Outlaw’ which seems to be the most accurately portrayed (as best as can be) version of events.
At Australian Native T-Shirts we have many fantastic Ned Kelly t-shirts, pewter figurines and buckles, stubby holders and other merchandise. These make great gifts for those admire Ned Kelly – the Legend!