Who Was Ned Kelly?

All about the infamous bush ranger Ned Kelly.

On November 11th, 1880 Edward "˜Ned' Kelly, Australia's most notorious bushranger, was hanged at the Melbourne Jail. The last words he uttered were "Such is life." The bandit was just twenty five years of age.

Ned Kelly's father had been transported to Australia as a convict from Ireland in 1842. After serving seven years in Tasmania for the crime of stealing two pigs, John "˜Red' Kelly moved to Port Phillip, Victoria. In 1850 he married Ellen Quinn, also from Ireland. He found a livelihood of sorts as a horse thief.

Ned was the third of eight children to John and Ellen Kelly. He was also the eldest son. The son was to follow the father into a life of crime. When his father died when he was twelve, Ned had to leave school to become the family bread winner. The family now moved to a slab hut on Eleven Mile Creek. Ned rolled up his sleeves and became a resourceful bush worker to help provide for the family. In the process he became well aware of the bitter rivalry between the small time settlers and the wealthy land owners.

Ned, along with the other settlers, made money from rounding up and selling unbranded horses. The police, however, were determined to crack down on such practices. The police also looked disapprovingly at the clannishness of the settlers. So, from his early teens Ned grew to have a hatred for police authority. The Kelly house had a reputation among the authorities as a gathering place for thieves and scoundrels. The police superintendent visited the homestead to warn Mrs Kelly about harbouring rogues. In typical Irish fashion she told him to mind his own business. The superintendent, a Mr Nicholson, now became determined to crack down on what he called the "˜Kelly gang.' Before he was sixteen, young Ned would be arrested twice on trumped up charges.

In 1871, Ned was thrown in jail for three years for receiving a stolen horse. He returned home to find that his mother had remarried. His step father was an accomplished horse thief from California. Not long after Ned's release, a police officer by the name of Fitzpatrick came with a warrant for the arrest of both Ned and his brother Dan for horse stealing. The police man stopped off at a local tavern on the way. There he encountered Mrs. Kelly along with Ned's sister Kate and his brother Dan. Apparently Fitzpatrick made a pass at Kate. A fight with Dan ensued in which the trooper's gun accidentally went off. Mrs. Kelly apologetically bandaged the wound that resulted to Fitzpatrick's wrist. However, the policeman promptly returned to barracks to report that Dan had resisted arrest. He also stated that Ned had entered the tavern and shot him in the wrist. Ned was actually some four hundred miles away.

Troopers rushed to the Kelly homestead. Dan had already gone bush but arrests were made with gay abandon. Mrs. Kelly herself was sentenced to three years imprisonment. This series of events naturally outraged Ned Kelly. He wrote a letter to the magistrate hoping to secure his mother's release. Failing this he joined his brother in the bush. They soon gathered a gang around themselves.

Four police officers charged in after them. At Stringbark Creek the officers caught up with the fleeing Kelly boys. A shoot out followed in which Ned Kelly killed three of the police men. He and his men then disappeared into the undergrowth.

Ned Kelly was now the most hunted man in all of Australia. Two hundred police officers poured into the bush to hunt him down. But they could find no trace of the Kelly gang.

On December 10th, 1878 the Kelly Gang invaded a bush station near Euroa. Twenty two people were rounded up and locked in the sheep station. Then Ned and two of his men rode into Euroa and proceeded to rob its National Bank. They collected 2,000 pounds in a brazen daylight robbery and then disappeared back into the bush.

Two months later they struck the Bank of NSW at Jerilderie. In a remarkable 24 hour period Ned and his boys captured the two local policemen and locked them up. Then about 60 townspeople were rounded up into the dining room of the Royal Hotel. Ned now dictated an 8,300 word statement of his actions. It was a part autobiography, part self justification that Ned wanted the whole world to read. After completing this, Ned and his gang set about robbing the bank.

The price on the heads of the Kelly gang was now $8,000 pounds. The last stand of the Ned Kelly gang occured in the town of Glenrowan. On June 27, 1880 they held up the Glenrowan Railway Station. They then herded the local townspeople into a hotel near the station. After the town's policeman was taken captive and the telegraph wires cut, the gang got down to drinking with the locals. That night, Ned ordered the railway tracks ripped up.

The following morning the local schoolteacher managed to escape the town. He was able to warn an approaching trainload of police officers of their pending derailment. Meanwhile Ned Kelly prepared for the shoot out he knew was sure to come. He put on the home made armour that he had hewn out of plough shares - a helmet, breast plate and back plate. At about 3 am the police surrounded the township. They opened fire on the hotel and kept up a long assault. In the melee two children were killed and one wounded. Despite his armour, Ned Kelly was severely wounded. He soon took to the bush. Finally, at sunrise, he staggered towards the approaching police officers. Bullets whizzed off his armour. But then the officers decided to take out Ned's legs. The outlaw fell to the ground. Finally Ned Kelly was captured.

Following his execution Ned Kelly's body was decapitated and buried in an unmarked grave in the grounds of the Old Melbourne Jail.

© High Speed Ventures 2011