Ned Kelly
Updated April 24, 2004

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This section offers a quick guide to Kelly history for those interested in the basic facts only.


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Facts at a glance: Assorted Kelly Facts

General historical overview and Glossary


'Kelly Gang' members:
Edward Kelly, Joseph Byrne, Steven Hart and Daniel Kelly


'Bushrangers'
The Kelly Gang were outlaws, however they did not rob stage-coaches or individuals and so did not behave like previous highway bandits, or, as they were known in Australia, 'bushrangers'. During their 'career' as a criminal gang Ned, Joe, Dan and Steve were responsible for a number of crimes, including the shooting deaths of the 3 policemen at Stringybark Creek, and later a 'double agent' named Aaron Sherritt. After they were legally declared 'outlaws' by parliament and dubbed the 'Kelly Gang', they successfully carried out two bank robberies (at Euroa and Jerilderie). Terrified hostages were detained during both robberies, however all were treated relatively well by their captors and released unharmed. The gang members were fugitives for nearly 2 years (October 1878 - June 1880) until an unplanned siege with police developed at the Glenrowan Inn, during which 3 of the gang members died. (They had taken a number of hostages and held up the Inn at gunpoint with the intention of derailing a police train nearby.)
(Note: Although it is occasionally claimed that Ned Kelly, or other members of the Kelly gang, committed various further murders, no evidence has been produced to support such claims.)

Previous criminal activities
It is unknown exactly how Ned, Joe, Steve and Dan met, but it is possible they met either in prison, or through contacts made in prison. They had all been convicted of petty crimes prior to becoming outlaws, mostly involving stock theft in their youth. For the 2 or so years prior to the 'Fitzpatrick incident', they, along with others (including Ned's step-father, George King, and Joe's friend, Aaron Sherritt), had also been involved in a well-organised illegal horse and cattle trade. (For further details - click HERE)

'Fitzpatrick Incident'
One evening, in April of 1878, police constable Alexander Fitzpatrick (pictured) called at the Kelly homestead. It is not known what really happened, but an altercation occurred, after which Fitzpatrick left the house and claimed that Ned had shot at him. Ned denied this claim and insisted he wasn't even near Greta at the time. Despite Fitzpatrick smelling of alcohol and his story being full of inconsistencies, a warrant was issued for Ned and Dan's arrest. They were unaware there would be an attempted murder claim, but nevertheless knew there would be some trouble and so headed into the bush to avoid it. While they were away, the police arrested two of the Kelly's neighbours, who were both convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 6 years gaol (despite the fact that a sworn witness proved that one of the neighbours was definitely nowhere near the Kelly house at the time and Fitzpatrick's testimony was suspect). Fitzpatrick had also claimed that Ned's mother Ellen had hit him with a shovel in an attempt to kill him. Despite there being no supportive evidence of this, Ellen was convicted and sentenced to 3 years hard labour. She was sent to prison (along with her new baby) and not released until February 1881. When Ned heard about the sentences he was furious, and became convinced that poor settlers had no hope of justice.

The 'Kelly Gang' and the Stringybark Creek gunfight
The Kelly gang was born by 'accident' after a tragic gunfight at Stringybark Creek in the Wombat Ranges, Victoria, (in October 1878). When the police were searching the bush land for Ned and Dan Kelly, a violent encounter occurred, resulting in three policemen being shot and killed (Kennedy, Lonigan and Scanlon), and one escaping to report the incident (McIntyre). The civilian men involved in the police deaths, (Ned, Joe, Dan and Steve), were shortly after legally declared murderers, and by an act of parliament officially 'outlawed', they became publicly referred to as the 'Kelly Gang'. Afterwards, Ned maintained that he was innocent of the charge of 'willful murder' because he claimed he had only shot them in self-defense during an attempt to disarm the police party.
(Note: Ned claimed personal responsibility for all 3 of the shooting deaths of the police, whether this is the case or not is unknown however because McIntyre witnessed him shoot only 1 of the 3 who died. It is possible that Ned made the claim in order to shield one or more of the other gang members.)

'Cameron' and 'Jerilderie' Letters
Both Kelly gang letters were hand written by Joe Byrne, but their content was a composite effort for the most part dictated by Ned and written in the first person from his point of view. The letters were planned and written before each of the gang's bank robberies. They acted as a type of manifesto, but also to publicly plead injustice and unfair police harassment (against the gang members and their families), as well as to justify and explain, amongst other things, the gang's thievery and the tragic events of Stringybark Creek. Neither letter was published in full during Ned's lifetime.
The Euroa letter, now known as the 'Cameron' letter due to its addressee parliamentarian Donald Cameron M.L.A., was left at Faithful Creek Station (the gang's base during their first robbery, in December 1878) and posted by Mrs. Fitzgerald after the gang's successful robbery of the Euroa bank.
The 'Jerilderie' letter was specifically written with the intension to publish and distribute to the general populace, but was confiscated by police after the robbery at the town of Jerilderie (February 1879), where the letter was left for publication.
(Note: A copy and transcript of the Jerilderie letter can be found at the Victorian State Library website )

Sympathisers
The Kelly Gang had numerous 'sympathisers' within 'Kelly country', mostly made up of the extended family members and friends of the gang and poor farming 'settlers'. The gang members regularly received supplies (such as food and clean clothes) and help (such as information about the police movements), from their sympathisers, and this was no doubt the reason they survived on the run so successfully for nearly 2 years. Information was passed from one sympathiser to the next until it reached the gang, this process was colloquially known as the 'bush telegraph'. Help was continually given to the gang despite the very real risk to those involved under section 5 of the Felons Apprehension Act, which declared that anyone aiding the gang could be sentenced to up to 15 years gaol, or even be 'legally' shot by accident (if they happened to be with the gang). Even when many of the gang's 'sympathisers' were imprisoned by the police and held without charge (for up to 3 months), none betrayed the gang. More?

'Kelly Country' - A colloquial term that encompasses a large area in the northeast Victorian region, which the Kelly gang traveled in with relative freedom and security, and where most of their sympathisers lived. It became known as 'Kelly Country' during the gang's outlawry and is still widely referred to as such. (Ned was reported to have said, "This country belongs to us".)

'Bush Telegraph' - A colloquial term for the spreading of information through the bush and country areas. The information traveled from person to person by word of mouth. The gang used the bush telegraph to aid their survival and for safe passage through Kelly Country, (e.g. keeping track of police movements, avoid police search parties, etc.)

Armour
The Kelly gang created 4 sets of 'homemade' armour constructed from stolen and donated farming plough shears, which they all wore at Glenrowan during the siege. Despite an initial desire by the police to destroy the armour afterward, it was preserved and survives to the present day. More?

Glenrowan Siege and murder of Aaron Sherritt
The 'Siege of Glenrowan' (26th - 28th June 1880) was the result of an unsuccessful plan by the Kelly gang to derail a train carrying police. It began when Joe Byrne, accompanied by Dan, went to Beechworth and killed a double agent, (Aaron Sherritt, pictured right).
The gang had expected a quick and decisive response from the police by sending troops to the Northeast to engage the gang, so while Joe and Dan rode quickly to Glenrowan, Ned and Steve were already there and taking hostages in the Glenrowan Inn. The gang and their hostages then waited for the police train to arrive. Unexpectedly, the train was extensively delayed and by the time it arrived the gang were exhausted and ready to abandon their plans. A hostage, (Thomas Curnow), convinced Ned he was an ally and was released. However instead he betrayed the gang by warning and safely halting the police train before it was derailed. When the train arrived a hostage, (police Constable Hugh Bracken), escaped and informed the police of the gang's location within the inn. The police immediately descended on the inn and a long gun battle and hostage crises ensued during which 3 gang members died (Joe, Dan and Steve), Ned was captured, and a number of civilian hostages were shot by police gunfire, (four of whom died, while others received injures). The police actions were later severely criticised by the 1881 Royal Commission into the Kelly Outbreak. For further information - click HERE

The 'Last Stand'
During the siege of Glenrowan, Ned Kelly, while wearing the now recognisable 'homemade' armour, made his famous and extraordinary 'Last Stand'. Although he had escaped from the Inn the previous night he chose to return, and despite serious gunshot wounds and blood loss, he tried to assist Dan and Steve who were still trapped inside the Glenrowan Inn, which was, by then, surrounded by police. Ned, alone and already severely wounded, engaged numerous police in a futile gunfight until he collapsed (after being shot in the legs) and was captured.

Trial and Execution
After only a 2-day trial (28th & 29th October 1880) , Ned Kelly was found guilty of the willful murder of police Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on the 11th of November 1880. His death was quick, however afterward, for the purpose of 'study', medical doctors and students subjected his body to the disrespectful act of dissection. Organs were removed, decapitation occurred and a plaster cast, or 'death mask, was made of his head for phrenologists to study. Once this disrespectful and macabre process was completed, various body parts may or may not have joined the rest of the body in being deposited in the mass inmate graveyard of the gaol. Parts of the gaol graveyard were later exhumed and no records kept, so it is unknown where Ned's body is currently buried. More?

Royal Commission
A parliamentary instigated investigation into the cause and details of an important matter, which is conducted by a panel of well-respected members of the community, who, based on their findings, make conclusions and recommendations for any further actions to be taken.
In the instance of the R.C. into the Kelly outbreak the commission was established to try to determine why and how the Kelly outbreak occurred by discovering what people and circumstances may have caused or contributed to it. The commission made a number of significant conclusions and recommendations (such as to intimate that certain police had not done their duty and recommending that they should be demoted or dismissed as a result).

'Game as Ned Kelly' - This now well established colloquial Australian expression arose after Ned's remarkable actions during his 'Last Stand' at Glenrowan, and is used to indicate someone's gameness or fearlessness despite the odds.

Selection - a small area of land selected for farming from government owned land. The 'selector' had to meet certain requirements in order to secure it, including paying the government an annual fee (£1 per acre), and make ongoing improvements to the land, usually by clearing bush trees and undergrowth, thereby gradually buying the land from the government. It was often extremely hard work and the selectors struggled to make a decent living. The inequitable situations of the 'squatters' and 'selectors' caused much resentment amongst the poorer farmers against the government and so perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of the Kelly gang's sympathisers were selectors.

Squatters - 'Squatters' were wealthy graziers who leased large areas of government land (usually 1000s of hectares) for comparatively little money.

 

Researched, data compiled, and written, by N. Cowie

For more Kelly Facts:

Time Line of Kelly history - CLICK HERE
Personal details and descriptions of the Kelly gang members - CLICK HERE


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First published March 2004

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