ned kelly
Updated June 10, 2004

ned kelly

The Armour

Overview | Origins | Creation
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Suits - Ned | Joe
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Armour Notes

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 the microscope.

Metallography: 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 acetate film.
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.


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First Published June 10, 2004


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