Theories of Origin
A popular theory is that Ned
was inspired by armour worn by bandits in a favorite novel from his childhood,
the classic story 'Lorna Doone' by R.D.Blackmore. Another source of inspiration
is thought to be the inclusion of Chinese 'armour' in a carnival procession
through the streets of Beechworth during 1873, where it could have been
seen by a number of people associated with the Kelly's, including Joe
Byrne, (who had a close relationship with the Chinese in Beechworth).
It has been noted that the design of the Kelly armour has similarities
with Chinese armour.
Number of sets of Armour
There has been some dispute
about the number of suits of armour that were made and/or worn by the
gang, particularly the number of helmets. For example, J.J.Kenneally ('The
Inner History of the Kelly Gang') theorized that only Ned's helmet was
genuine and the police had made up the other 3 helmets in the weeks after
the siege. However this theory has little credibility. Eyewitness accounts
and evidence collected at the time of the siege indicates that there were
in fact 4 suits - complete with 4 helmets - used by the gang at Glenrowan.
Note: For some time it has been rumored that more suits had also
been made for Kelly sympathizers, but not used. Although possible this
claim has never been verified.
Results from the ANSTO
scientific tests on Joe's armour
A professional blacksmith
uses a charcoal fire and bellows to heat the steel to yellow hot, that
is over 1000 degrees celcius, before being moulded. Whereas a normal bush
fire has a much lower temperature and would only be able to get the metal
to 'cherry red' or 750 degrees, at this temperature it's a lot harder
to shape. Yet the tests performed by ANSTO indicated that the plough shares
were indeed only heated in the low temperatures expected of a bush forge.
- The helmet was tested in
the nuclear reactor. To understand the internal structure of the metal
the helmet was blasted with neutrons. These did not damage the armour
in any way, but gave vital clues as to its composition. Neutron diffraction:
this process provides information on how the atoms are deformed in the
crystal lattice of the armour as a result of heat treatment or being
worked with a hammer or something similar. This
test confirmed that it's made of the same type of steel that would have
been available in the 1880's.
- The X-Ray department tested
one of the side plates in order to determine what temperature the armour
reached, if any of the trace elements were changed, and what the starting
material was. X-ray fluorescence: x-rays from radioactive sources were
used to generate characteristic radiation from elements within the armour,
confirming the alloy content of the steel. Lead detected at some
places indicated where bullets had ricocheted off the armour.
X-ray diffraction: this process is similar to neutron diffraction. The
x-rays interact with the crystal structure near the surface, whereas
neutrons examine the bulk of the material.
These tests indicated that significantly it had
only been heated until it was 'cherry red'.
The back and breast plates were tested using metallography, to get information
about the carbides that indicates the actual temperature the plates had
been to. Metallography can find out exactly what temperature the metal
was heated to by looking at the individual metal crystals. To do this
a small part of the surface of the plates had to be ground down and etched
with acid to reveal the individual metal crystals, then looked at under
areas of the armour that had been scuffed bare while on display were polished
without mechanical deformation, the area etched in acid and the revealed
metal structure (which proved to be steel) was replicated with cellulose
There was a great variety of results, differentiating the original areas
of the metal and those that had been changed when they fabricated them
into a suit of armour.
The heating of the metal was "very patchy". In some places it
hasn't been heated enough, and bent cold, and in other spots it's been
subjected to extended periods in a heat source of about 750 degrees.
Published June 10, 2004
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