Edward "Ned" Kelly (June 1854 or 1855 – 11 November 1880) was an Irish Australian bushranger. He is considered by some to be merely a cold-blooded killer, while others consider him to be a folk hero and symbol of Irish Australian resistance against the Anglo-Australian ruling class.
Kelly was born in Victoria to an Irish convict father, and as a young man he clashed with the Victoria Police. Following an incident at his home in 1878, police parties searched for him in the bush. After he killed three policemen, the colony proclaimed Kelly and his gang wanted outlaws.
A final violent confrontation with police took place at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880. Kelly, dressed in home-made plate metal armour and a helmet, was captured and sent to jail. He was convicted of three counts of wilful murder and hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in November 1880. His daring and notoriety made him an iconic figure in Australian history, folklore, literature, art and film.
In August 2011, anthropologists announced that a skeleton found in a mass grave in Pentridge Prison had been confirmed as Kelly's. His skull, however, remains missing.
Kelly's father, John Kelly (better known as "Red"), was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, and was transported in 1841 from Tipperary to Tasmania for stealing two pigs, not for shooting at a landlord as the Victorian Royal Commission indicated in "an unwarrantable piece of propaganda."
After his release in 1848, Red Kelly moved to Victoria and found work at James Quinn's farm at Wallan Wallan, where he worked as a bush carpenter. He subsequently turned his attention to gold-digging, at which he was successful and which enabled him to purchase a small freehold at Beveridge.
In 1851, at the age of 30, Red Kelly married Ellen Quinn, his employer's 18-year-old daughter, in Ballarat. Their first child, Mary Jane, died at six months in 1850, but Ellen Kelly then gave birth to a daughter, Annie, in 1853.
The Kellys' first son, Edward ("Ned"), was born in Beveridge, just north of Melbourne. His date of birth is not known, but at Beveridge he said to an officer, "Look across there to the left. Do you see a little hill there?", "That is where I was born about 28 years ago. Now, I am passing through it, I suppose, to my doom."
Kelly was baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O'Hea. As a boy he obtained 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.
Kelly's family moved to Avenel, near Seymour, where Red Kelly became noted as an expert cattle-stealer. In 1865 he was convicted of cattle duffing and imprisoned. Red Kelly died at Avenel on 27 December 1866 shortly after his release from Kilmore gaol. When Red Kelly died he was survived by his wife and seven offspring, Ned and Dan, James, Mrs Gunn, Mrs Skillion, Kate and Grace. Several months later the Kelly family acquired 80 acres (320,000 m2) of uncultivated farmland at Eleven Mile Creek near the Greta area of Victoria, which to this day is known as "Kelly Country".
The Kellys were suspected many times of cattle or horse stealing, but never convicted. Ned Kelly himself claimed that he had stolen over 280 horses as a boy. 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 labor. Unable to pay the fine, Red served his sentence, which had 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.
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 led to claims that Ned's family was unfairly targeted from the time they moved to northeast 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 argued that Victoria's colonial police practices treated arrest as equivalent to proof of guilt. 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.
Ned's first documented brush with the law was on 15 October 1869 at the age of 14 when he was charged with the assault and robbery of Ah Fook, a pig and fowl trader from a Chinese camp near Bright. According to Ah Fook, as he was passing the Kelly house, Ned approached him with a long bamboo stick, announcing that he was a bushranger and would kill him if he did not hand over his money. Ned then took him into the bush, beat him with the stick and stole 10 shillings. According to Ned, his sister Annie and two witnesses, Bill Skilling and Bill Grey, Annie was sitting outside the house sewing when Ah Fook walked up and asked for a drink of water. Given creek water, he abused Annie for not giving him rain water and Ned came outside and pushed him. Ah Fook then hit Ned three times with the bamboo stick, causing him to run away. Ah Fook then walked away threatening to return and burn the house down. Ned did not return until sundown. Historians find neither account convincing and believe that Ned's account is likely true up to being hit by Ah Fook but then Ned likely took the stick from him and beat him with it.
Ned was arrested the following day for Highway Robbery and locked up overnight in Benalla. He appeared in court the following morning but Sergeant Whelan, despite using an interpreter to translate Ah Fook's account, requested a remand to allow time to find an interpreter. Ned was held for four days. Appearing in court on 20 October he was again remanded after the police failed to produce an interpreter. The charge was finally dismissed on 26 October and Ned was released. Sergeant Whelan disliked Ned. Three months earlier when he had prosecuted Yeaman Gunn for possession of stolen mutton, Ned testified that he had sold several sheep to Gunn that same day. In a controversial judgement, the magistrate found Gunn guilty and fined him £10. Furious that Ned was not convicted for the robbery, Whelan now kept a careful watch on the Kelly family and, according to fellow officers, became "a perfect encyclopedia of knowledge about them" through his "diligence"
Following his court appearance, the Benalla Ensign reported, "The cunning of himself [Ned] and his mates got him off", the Beechworth Advertiser on the other hand reported that "the charge of robbery has been trumped up by the Chinaman to be revenged on Kelly, who had obviously assaulted him." Interestingly, Ah Fook had described 14-year-old Ned as being aged around 20 years. Some 12 months later a reporter wrote that Ned "gives his age as 15 but is probably between 18 and 20". Although 5' 8" in height, Ned was physically imposing. When arrested, a 224 pounds (102 kg) trooper was purportedly unable to subdue the then 15-year old Ned until several labourers ran to assist him and even then Ned had to be knocked unconscious.
On 16th of March 1870, bushranger Harry Power and Ned Kelly stuck up and robbed Mr M'Bean. Later that year on 2 May, he was charged with robbery in company and accused of being Power's accomplice. The victims could not identify Ned, and the charges were dismissed. He was then charged with robbery under arms, but the principal witness could not be located and the charges were dismissed. He was then charged a third time, for a hold-up with Power against a man named Murray. Although the victims for the third charge were reported to have also failed to identify Ned, they had in fact been refused a chance to identify him by Superintendents Nicolas and Hare. Instead, superintendent Nicolas told the magistrate that Ned fit the description and asked for him to be remanded to the Kyneton court for trial. Instead of being sent to Kyneton, he was sent to Melbourne where he spent the weekend in the Richmond lock-up before transferring to Kyneton. 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. Another factor in the lack of identification may have been that the witnesses had described Power's accomplice as a "half-caste". However, superintendent Nicholas and Captain Standish believed this to be the result of Ned going unwashed.
In October 1870, Kelly was arrested again for assaulting a hawker, Jeremiah McCormack, and for his part in sending McCormack's childless wife a box containing calves' testicles and an indecent note. This was a result of a row earlier that day when McCormack accused a friend of the Kellys, Ben Gould, of using his horse without permission. Gould wrote the note, and Kelly passed it 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. While he was staying with the Kellys, the mare had gone missing and Wright borrowed one of the Kelly horses to return to Mansfield. He asked Ned to look for the horse and said he could keep it until his return. Kelly found the mare and used it to go to Wangaratta where he stayed for a few days but while riding through Greta on his way home, 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 and driving his spurs into the back of his legs. Hall later struck Kelly several times with his revolver after he had been arrested. Ned always maintained that he had no idea that the mare actually belonged to the Mansfield postmaster and that Wright had stolen it. After just three weeks of freedom, 16-year-old Kelly, along with his brother-in-law Alex Gunn, was sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labour for "feloniously receiving a horse". "Wild" Wright escaped arrest for the theft on 2 May following an "exchange of shots" with police, but was arrested the following day. Wright received only eighteen months for stealing the horse. After his release from Pentridge Prison in February 1874, Ned allegedly fought and won a bare-knuckled boxing match with 'Wild' Wright that lasted 20 rounds.
In September 1877 a drunk Kelly was arrested for riding over a footpath and locked-up for the night. The next day, while he was escorted by four policemen, he escaped and ran, taking refuge in a shoemaker's shop. The police and the shop owner tried to handcuff him but failed. During the struggle Kelly's trousers were almost ripped off. Trying to get Kelly to submit, Constable Lonigan, whom Kelly later shot dead, "black-balled" him (grabbed and squeezed his testicles). During the struggle, a miller walked in, and on seeing the behaviour of the police said "You should be ashamed of themselves." The miller then tried to pacify the situation and induced Kelly to put on the handcuffs.
Kelly said about the incident "It was in the course of this attempted arrest Fitzpatrick endeavoured to catch hold of me by the foot, and in the struggle he tore the sole and heel of my boot clean off. With one well-directed blow, I sent him sprawling against the wall, and the staggering blow I then gave him partly accounts to me for his subsequent conduct towards my family and myself."
Legend has it that Kelly told Lonigan that "If I ever shoot a man, Lonigan, it'll be you!"
In October 1877, Gustav and William Baumgarten were arrested for supplying stolen horses to Kelly and were sentenced in 1878. Baumgarten served time in Pentridge Prison, Melbourne.
Following his father's death, Kelly's mother, Ellen, married a Californian named George King, with whom she had three children. King, Kelly and Dan Kelly became involved in cattle rustling.
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.
From early March 1879 to June 1880 nothing was heard of the gang's whereabouts. However, in late March 1879 Ned's sisters Kate and Margaret asked the captain of the Victoria Cross how much he would charge to take four or five gentlemen friends to California from Queenscliff. On 31 March, an unidentified man arranged an appointment with the captain at the General Post Office to give a definite answer for the cost. The captain contacted police, who placed a large number of detectives and plain-clothes police throughout the building, but the man failed to appear. There is no evidence that Ned's sisters were enquiring on behalf of the gang, and was reported in the Argus as "without foundation".In April 1880 a Notice of Withdrawal of Reward was posted by Government. It stated that after 20 July 1880 the Government would "absolutely cancel and withdraw the offer for the reward"
On 26 June 1880 the Felons' Apprehension Act 612 expired, and the gang's outlaw status their arrest warrants expired with it. While Ned and Dan still had prior warrants outstanding for the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, technically Hart and Byrne were free men although the police still retained the right to re-issue the murder warrants.
On Friday, 25 June 1880, Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne rode into the valley known as 'The Woolshed,' where Aaron Sherritt had a small farm. Ned had decided to rob the banks of Benalla, headquarters of most of the police engaged in the Kelly hunt. First he planned to kill or capture the Benalla police in a pitched battle at the small town of Glenrowan, when they had been lured there by a diversion further along the railway line.
Aaron Sherritt was to provide the necessary diversion. Treacherous, brutal, immoral and vain, Sherritt was the most dangerous of the many police informers. Police money had bought him a thoroughbred horse, flash clothes, and a fatal arrogance. Spurned as a traitor by Joe Byrne's younger sister, he had approached Kate Kelly and had been threatened by an enraged Mrs. Skillion. He had married a 15-year old girl and settled on his parents' farm to spy for the police and work for the death of his former friends. He thought that the gang still trusted him although he had spoken of gaining the £8,000. Four policemen were stationed at the Sherritt house for protection.
The gang decided to kill him, while knowing of the protection. They had watched the hut the previous night and seen Sherritt come to the door, alone, to talk to Anton Weekes, a German who had a small farm nearby. The two outlaws captured and handcuffed Weekes, reassuring him that he would not be hurt if he obeyed them. They pushed him to the back door of the hut. Joe rapped on the door and then stood back, with Dan in the darkness. They could hear movement inside. Sherritt's voice asked: 'Who is there?' Prompted by Joe, the German replied: 'It is me, I have lost my way.' Young Mrs. Sherritt opened the door. Aaron stood framed in the doorway and began to joke with Weekes. "You must be drunk, Anton. You know that it's over that way," laughed Sherritt. As he raised his arm to point the direction, Byrne fired at point-blank range. Sherritt staggered back bleeding from a bullet through the chest. Byrne followed him and fired again. Sherritt died without a word. His wife screamed and ran to cradle his head in her arms while her mother (Mrs. Barry) asked her son-in-law's killer: 'Why did you do it, Joe? Why did you do it?' Mrs. Barry knew the Byrne family well and had been a particular friend of Mrs. Byrne, Joe's mother. "I won't hurt you, Ma'am," replied the outlaw. 'But that ******* had it coming to him. He will never put me away again.'
Ned Kelly survived to stand trial on 19 October 1880, at Melbourne before Irish-born Justice Sir Redmond Barry. Mr. Smyth and Mr. Chomley appeared for the crown, and Mr. Bindon for the prisoner. The trial was adjourned to the 28th, where Kelly was presented on the charge of the murder of Sergeant Kennedy, Constable Scanlan and Lonigan, the various bank robberies, the murder of Sherritt, and resistance to the police at Glenrowan, together with a long catalogue of minor charges. He was convicted of the wilful murder of Constable Lonigan and was sentenced to death by hanging by Justice Barry. Several unusual exchanges between the prisoner Kelly and the judge included the Judge's customary words "May God have mercy on your soul", to which Kelly replied "I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go". At Ned's request, his picture was taken and he was granted farewell interviews with family members. His mother's last words to Ned were reported to be "Mind you die like a Kelly".
He was hanged on 11 November 1880 at the Melbourne Gaol. 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 could not hear.
The Argus reported that Mr. Castieau, the governor of the gaol, informed the condemned man that the hour of execution had been fixed at ten o'clock. Kelly simply replied "Such is life." His leg-irons were removed, and after a short time he was marched out. He was submissive on the way, and when passing the gaol's flower beds, he remarked "what a nice little garden," but said nothing further until reaching the Press room, where he remained until the arrival of chaplain Dean Donaghy.
The Argus reported that Kelly intended to make a speech, but he merely said, "Ah, well, I suppose it has come to this," as the rope was being placed round his neck.
Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that a petition to spare Kelly's life attracted over 30,000 signatures.
A newspaper reported that Kelly's body was dissected by medical students who removed his head and organs for study. Dissection outside of a coronial enquiry was illegal. Public outrage at the rumour raised real fears of public disorder, leading the commissioner of police to write to the gaol's governor, who denied that a dissection had taken place. His head was allegedly given to phrenologists for study, then returned to the police, who used it for a time as a paperweight.
On 1 August 2012 the Victorian government issued a license for Kelly's bones to be returned to the Kelly family, who made plans for their final burial. They also appealed for the person who possessed Kelly's skull to return it.
On 20 January 2013, Kelly's descendants granted Kelly's final wish, and buried his remains within consecrated ground at Greta cemetery, near his mother's unmarked grave. A piece of Kelly's skull was also buried with his remains and was surrounded by concrete to prevent looting. The burial followed a Requiem Mass that was held on 18 January 2013 at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Wangaratta.
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