NED (EDWARD) KELLY  1854 - 1880  (Va, Vb)


Kelly: 1800, artist unknown – Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, Australia. Mask: date and artist unknown – Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria,  Australia. Morgan: poster for the film Mad Dog Morgan, directed by the French-born Australian film-maker Philippe Mora, 1976.  Beveridge: date and photographer unknown. Last Stand: wood engraving by the English illustrator Francis Thomas Dean Carrington (1843-1918), published in The Australasian Sketcher, July 1880 – State Library of Victoria, Australia. Kelly: by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) – Nolan Collection, Canberra Museum, Australia. Billy the Kid: enhanced detail from a “tintype” (made on a thin metal sheet), produced by the American photographer Ben Wittick (1845-1903), c1880 – private collection. James: 1864, artist unknown. Gunfight: date and artist unknown. Wyatt: c1887, artist unknown. Virgil: date and artist unknown. Morgan, date and artist unknown – Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

xxxxxIt was in 1878 that the famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly - a legend in his own time - allegedly shot and wounded a police officer while resisting the arrest of his brother Daniel for horse stealing. The two brothers escaped, fled to the outback and, joined by two others, formed the Kelly gang. Over the next two years this gang carried out a series of daring bank raids and shootouts with the police in the border area between Victoria and New South Wales. The end came in 1880 after the gang had taken possession of a little hotel in the small township of Glenrowan. They were besieged by the police and eventually overcome. Kelly was wounded and captured, and his fellow gang members were killed. Later that year Kelly was tried, convicted and hanged. In this final battle the gang wore an assortment of home-made body armour, including the primitive metal helmets which gained for its leader both fame and notoriety, (Kelly’s illustrated above).

xxxxxKelly and his gang are seen as the last and the most notorious of the so-called “bushrangers”, bandits in the Australian outback of Victoria and New South Wales who preyed on settlers and miners in the late 18th century and for much of the 19th. The vast majority of them were escaped convicts or former convicts who, working alone or in small bands, terrorised the local population by carrying out ruthless acts of robbery, rape and murder. Like the highwayman of old they specialised in holding up banks and stagecoaches. Amongst their number was the first bushranger “Black Caesar”, at work in the late 18th century, and men such as John Lynch and “Mad Dog Morgan”, but Ned Kelly, complete with his iron mask, became and has remained the most celebrated of them all.

xxxxxThe attacks of these armed rebels had become so serious by the beginning of the 19th century that in 1815 martial law was proclaimed in New South Wales, and severe penalties were passed against their crimes. Raids continued however, and matters became worse with the discovery of gold in 1851. Gold shipments were targeted and bank robberies increased.

xxxxxHowever, whilst the majority of these outlaws were nothing short of callous murderers, there were those who caught the imagination of the public by sharing their booty with the poor or showing a certain amount of concern for their victims. And some of these brigands - Ned Kelly amongst them - came to personify the downtrodden, poverty-stricken workers, kept down by wealthy landowners and a brutal, corrupt police force. The exploits of such men have become part of Australian folklore, glorified in legend and song.

xxxxxEdward (Ned) Kelly was born near the small township of Beveridge, close to Melbourne in the state of Victoria, the eldest son of Irish Catholic parents. His father, an ex-convict, died in 1866 and Kelly, then aged 12, became the family breadwinner. In May the following year the family moved to Greta, a tiny Victorian community near Benalla which was well known for its lawlessness. Herexthe young Kelly got to know and work with the infamous bushranger Harry Power (1819-1891), and he was soon in trouble. After a few minor brushes with the law, in May 1871 he was convicted of horse stealing and sent to prison for three years. He was released in February 1874, but in October 1878 came a more serious charge. Following a fracas with a police officer at their home at Eleven Mile Creek (illustrated), he and his mother Ellen were accused of attempted murder. He evaded arrest, but she was tried and convicted at Beechworth and, together with a newborn baby, was sent to prison for three years.


xxxxxFor Ned Kelly it was a turning point in his life. Claiming that the allegations were false (as they were later proved to be) he turned outlaw. Having escaped to the bush together with his brother Dan and their two mates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, the four men went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges. The government promptly placed a reward of £100 on their heads, and this leapt to £1000 in October 1878 when the gang ambushed a police posse at Stringybark Creek and shot three of them dead. A massive manhunt was launched, the biggest in Australia’s history.

xxxxxBut over the next eighteen months the gang remained at large and active in an area which became known as Kelly Country. In December 1878 they raided the national bank at Euroa and, on the strength of a number of hostages (held captive at Faithful Creek sheep station about five miles away), they were handed over £2000 in cash and gold. Then they took the bank manager, his family and his staff back to Faithful Creek and entertained them and the hostages with a display of horsemanship before making their getaway.

xxxxxIn February the following year they made an even more daring raid. Arriving in the town of Jerilderie, they broke into the local police station, imprisoned the two officers, and then paraded around the town in police uniforms. Two days later they rounded up a number of local people and, using them as hostages, raided the town bank and helped themselves to another huge sum. After both raids Kelly left a letter with one of the hostages, justifying the gang’s actions on the grounds that the police systematically persecuted Irish Catholics in general and his family in particular. The “Jerilderie Letter”, a document of over 8,000 words, was to become a valuable piece of Australian literature as well as history.

xxxxxAfter a number of skirmishes with the police, the end came in June 1880. Learning that police reinforcements were arriving by train, the gang took over the town of Glenrowan and, having herded about sixty hostages into the local inn, forced railway workers to rip up the track. But the plan misfired. One of the hostages, the local school teacher, was allowed to go free, and he stopped the train before it met with certain disaster. The large contingent of police aboard the train then laid siege to the inn and the gang’s fate was sealed. The shoot out began around 3 a.m. The four outlaws, wearing their crude suits of armour, held out for close on nine hours, but weighed down by their bulky steel plates, they were unable to mount their horses and make their getaway. Ned Kelly, having managed to escape on foot, returned to rescue his brother and friends, but by that time Byrne had been killed and the other two were unable to leave the inn. There followed a futile gunfight with the police - Kelly’s famous “last stand” (illustrated). Eventually, severely wounded in the legs, he collapsed and was taken prisoner.

xxxxxLater that year he was tried, convicted of murder, and despite a massive public petition in favour of his reprieve, was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in the November. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere within the prison walls, but he has lived on as a hero in Australian folklore, admired by many for his courage, determination, and his sympathy for the underdog. Such laudable traits are remembered today in the colloquial expression “as game as Ned Kelly”, but - to redress the balance - there are those who regard him as a criminal and a murderer. At the siege of Glenrowan, for example, four of the hostages were killed in the gunfight, and a large number were wounded.


xxxxxIncidentally, immediately after his execution his head was cut off and a death mask was made (a normal procedure for executed bushrangers). Medical students then dissected the body. What was left of him was buried, but the whereabouts of his skull is still unknown. ……

xxxxx…… It is said that when he was captured a paper in one of his pockets referred to the establishment of a “Republic of North-Eastern Victoria”. Had he lived he may well have become a radical force in politics. ……

xxxxx…… Needless to say, over the years Ned Kelly and his exploits have been the subject of many films, many books and many documentaries. These, plus the stories and songs he has inspired, have provided a welcome boost for the Australian tourist industry! ……

xxxxx……  Among the artists who have put the Kelly legend on canvas is the Australian Sidney Nolan (1917-1992). His series of paintings provide a highly individual image of the folk hero and his primitive metal helmet. ……

xxxxx…… According to some accounts, moments before his death Kelly uttered his famous last words: “Such is life”. Ironically, ten days later the judge who sentenced him to death by hanging was himself chocked to death by a serious congestion of the lungs.

xxxxxButxthe Australian “outback” was not the only area in the world where the upkeep of law and order was threatened by the gunman. In the American “Wild West”, for example, this year - 1880 - saw the capture of the notorious outlaw and folk-legend Billy the Kid (born William Henry McCarty in 1859). Accused of stealing from a Chinese laundry in 1875, he escaped from gaol and turned to horse stealing and cattle rustling in Arizona. He then became involved in the so-called Lincoln County War, New Mexico, a bloody conflict between rival gangs, and was eventually arrested for murder in December 1880. He was sentenced to be hanged, but he again managed to escape from gaol, killing two guards in the process, and it was not until July 1881 that his hideout was discovered and he was shot dead. Legend has it that he killed 21 men, one for each year of his life, but the number was probably somewhere between four and nine.

xxxxxAndxit was soon after this - in April 1882 - that another frontier outlaw, the infamous but legendary hero Jesse James (born 1847) met his death at the hands of a member of his own gang. Jesse and his older brother Frank (1843-1915) both served as Confederate guerrilla fighters during the American Civil War, and were known to have taken part in atrocities committed against Union soldiers. After the war their home state of Missouri was in social turmoil, a scene of widespread fighting between gangs of veterans from both sides of the conflict. Taking advantage of this volatile situation, the two brothers formed a gang and from 1866 began a series of raids upon local banks, stagecoaches and trains. Many officials and innocent bystanders were killed in these attacks, which were carried out from Iowa to Texas in the south, and from Kansas eastward to West Virginia. Eventually, in September 1876 during a raid on a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, the gang was ambushed and only the brothers escaped. A new gang was formed and other robberies were committed, but in April 1882 two gang members, working in collusion with the state governor, shot and killed Jesse to obtain the price upon his head, some $5,000. Later, Frank James gave himself up, was acquitted of two murder charges, and then took on a variety of everyday jobs. He died at the James Farm in 1915, aged 72, where he had gone to give tours of his old homestead for 25 cents a head!

xxxxxAndx1881 saw the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, a 30 second burst of fire that has gone down in history as the classic shootout of the Old West. It occurred in the October when the city marshal Virgil Earp (1843-1905), calling upon the support of his two brothers, Wyatt and Morgan, confronted members of the Clanton and McLaury families, renowned as horse thieves. They refused to hand over their guns and the fight began, leaving three dead and three wounded. The illustration shows the Earp Brothers (left to right): Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan. Also taking part in the encounter - on the side of the Earps - was the legendary gambler, vagabond and famed sharpshooter Doc Holliday (1851-1887).


Outlaws of the

American Wild West


xxxxxNed Kelly, the famous Australian bushranger (bandit), became an outlaw in 1878 when - as he always maintained - his mother was wrongly accused of attempted murder and was sent to prison for three years, together with a baby in arms. For two years his gang of four outwitted the police in the countryside around Benalla, Victoria, during which time they killed three policemen sent to arrest them, and carried out highly successful bank raids at Euroa and Jerilderie. Kelly’s exploits, seen by many as a stand against police oppression, made him a legend in his lifetime, but this came to an end in 1880. Failing to derail a train carrying police reinforcements, he and his gang were cornered in the town of Glenrowan. In the gun battle that followed the gang, wearing home-made suits of armour, held out for nearly nine hours, but eventually only Ned Kelly survived. He came out fighting - Kelly’s famous last stand - but was badly wounded in the legs and forced to surrender. Later that year he was tried, convicted of murder, and hanged at Melbourne gaol. His daring escapades, admired by some, denounced by others, earned him a permanent place in Australian folklore.