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Australia's Infamous Ned Kelly

A bushranger, horse thief, bank robber, accused murderer, and folk hero still remembered in Victoria, the area known as "Ned Kelly Country."


Second in our series about Famous ( or Infamous ) Australians

by

Heather and Barry Minton


 

 Mural at Benalla Information Centre and Museum.

 

England has Robin Hood, America has Billy the Kid and Australia has Ned Kelly.  In the early days of settlement we had a similar situation to America’s wild west with vast distances and too few law enforcement personnel. Stage coaches and unwary travelers were frequently held up by bushrangers (highwaymen).  Ned Kelly was the most famous of these.  He was considered to be a ruthless cold-blooded killer by some but a folk hero and symbol of the Irish-Australian resistance to the British ruling classes by many others.

A number of movies have been made of his story, the latest starring Heath Ledger.

 

Edward “Ned” Kelly (l855-1880) was born in Beveridge, Victoria.  His father John “Red” Kelly was convicted of ‘criminal acts’ in Ireland, sentenced to seven years hard labour and transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1843.  After his release he moved to Victoria where he married Ellen Quinn and had seven children.

The Kellys were often suspected of cattle or horse stealing and Red was eventually convicted and sentenced to six months hard labour, he died when Ned was eleven years old.  Ellen Kelly and her family then acquired 80 acres of farmland from her father at Eleven Mile Creek near Benalla in central Victoria and the area is known as “Ned Kelly Country” today.

 Bark Hut, a reproduction of the Homestead at Glenrowan.

 

This reproduction of a typical bark hut where the family would have lived can be seen at Kates Cottage Museum and Homestead, Glenrowan.

As a boy, Ned risked his life to save another boy (Richard Shelton) from drowning in a flooded creek and the boy’s family rewarded him with the gift of a green sash finished at each end with gold metallic fringing.

 

Ned Kelly’s sash courtesy of Benalla Information Centre and Museum.

 

Ned grew into a wild larrikin, often in trouble with the police. He was charged with assault several times and served three months hard labour. He was also accused of being an accomplice of the bushranger, Harry Power, but no evidence was produced in court. He was later charged with horse stealing but maintained that he was minding the horse for a friend and didn’t know it was stolen.  However, he was still sentenced at Beechworth to three years imprisonment with hard labour for “feloniously receiving a horse”.

 

Beechworth Jail where Ned Kelly was imprisoned

                 

While Ned was in prison his brothers Jim and Dan were also in and out of trouble with the law. Meanwhile Ellen Kelly had remarried an American, George King and when Ned was released from jail he and his brother Dan joined King in a cattle rustling operation.

 

 

In 1878 an incident occurred at the Kelly home where Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was enquiring into a cattle rustling incident. The family maintained that the constable made a pass at Ned’s sister Kate, and in the ensuing melee the constable was shot in the hand. Although there is strong evidence that Ned was away in New South Wales at the time, he was declared a wanted man. Doubting that he could persuade the police of his innocence he went into hiding and was joined by Dan and friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. The police searched for Ned in the bush and after he killed three policemen at Stringybark Creek, he and his gang were proclaimed wanted outlaws. Along with two other family friends present at the time Ellen Kelly with her baby Alice, was taken into custody. She was charged with “attempted murder” and served three years in Beechworth Jail. Constable Fitzpatrick was later dismissed from the force for drunkenness and perjury.

 

Beechworth Jail cell doors.

 

Following the killings the gang turned to bank robberies.  They raided the National Bank at Euroa in Victoria where the crime was carried out without injuries and the gang netted the equivalent of A$100,000 in today’s money.

In Jerilderie, New South Wales the gang was particularly daring. They imprisoned two police officers in their own cells and, dressed in their police uniforms, they then robbed the local bank netting a further A$100,000. While there they also burned all the townspeople’s mortgage deeds in the bank which, of course, made them very popular.

By June 1880 the police were closing in on the Kelly gang and at the Victorian town of Glenrowan, Victoria the gang held seventy hostages at the Glenrowan Inn.  The gang were equipped with armour consisting of helmets and breast plates fashioned out of plough mould boards. Each set weighed about 96 pounds (44kg) and all wore grey cotton coats reaching past the knees over the armour. 

Display of Armour courtesy of Kates Cottage Museum, Glenrowan.

 

The gang knew that a passenger train was on its way with a police detachment on board so an attempt was made to cause a derailment.  However, the attempt failed as one of the hostages, a schoolmaster, Thomas Curnow, convinced Ned to release him and he raised the alarm halting the train before it could be derailed.  The police then laid siege to the inn at dawn 28th June 1880.

There are a number of contradictory stories as to what exactly happened next. However, after a great deal of rifle fire and the police setting fire to the Inn, Ned Kelly was captured, wounded in the foot and the left arm. Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were all killed. When Ned’s armour was removed, he was found to be wearing the green sash with the gold fringe he had been given as a boy.

 

Kelly Gang weapons courtesy of Benalla Information Centre and Museum.

 

Ned Kelly stood trial in Melbourne and was sentenced to hang by Justice Redmond Barry.  When the judge uttered the customary words “May God have mercy on your soul” Ned replied “I will go a little further than that and say I will see you there when I go.” 

Ned Kelly was hanged in Melbourne Jail 11th November 1880, his last words were “Such is life.” Justice Barry died twelve days later from natural causes.

 

Waxwork figure of Ned in the dock courtesy of Benalla Information Centre and Museum.

There are a number of places of interest to visit in Victoria while following the Ned Kelly story.  The Benalla Information Centre and Museum, has a small but interesting display of Kelly memorabilia including some of the Kelly Gang weapons and the green and gold sash of which he was so proud.  The blood stains can clearly be seen. They also display the above waxworks figure of Ned in the dock, at his trial.

Ned Kelly’s armour is on display at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, and his death mask, pistol and armour belonging to one of the gang, is displayed at the Old Melbourne Jail. 

Glenrowan, is the main town of interest in the Kelly story as it has an excellent museum with memorabilia including a set of armour and a reproduction of the Kelly homestead. There is also a guided walk through the town to see the places where the capture drama unfolded.

Statue of Ned Kelly in action at Glenrowan.

 

“Ned Kelly Country” in North East Victoria and Southern New South Wales includes the towns of Benalla, Euroa, Glenrowan, Mansfield, Chiltern, Beechworth, Yackandah and Jerilderie and is an interesting area to visit with lots of history. Gold was found at a number of places in the area in the 1850’s.

Beechworth in particular was founded on gold and over four million ounces were mined there. The grandeur of the city’s buildings reflects this with over 30 buildings classified by the National Trust, including the imposing post office building which dominates the town centre.

 

Post Office, Beechworth.

 

The Beechworth Jail, built in 1860, where Ned Kelly and his gang and Ellen Kelly all served time, was in use until 2004 and is now open to the public. Although the cells are now modernized, you get a good impression of the size and harshness of earlier conditions.

 

Ellen Kelly’s cell, Beechworth Jail.

 

Chiltern was also founded during the gold mining boom and at one time had fourteen suburbs. It is now a sleepy little town and the authentic and well preserved streetscape of the 1800’s has often been used in movies.

 

 Chiltern, Victoria, Australia.

Yackandandah, also founded on gold, now has a population of only 600 people and the entire town has been classified by the National Trust. The old Bank of Victoria building is now an interesting museum.

 

Yackandandah main street.

 

Yackandandah Museum

 

This whole area in central Victoria has much to offer the tourist and is only a short drive from Melbourne.

Story and Pictures courtesy of Heather and Barry Minton

 

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Last Updated on July 03, 2012 by M. Maxine George editor.