Ned Kelly
Updated December 8, 2003

Ned Kelly This section focuses on the most disputed events in the Kelly story. Much oral history is involved which may possibly be accurate - yet elements of the widely 'accepted history' cannot be substantiated. Here we sort fact from fable.

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Was Ned Kelly married?

Rumours that Ned Kelly had a wife, or at least a fiancé, began to surface during his lifetime, and have continued on and off to the present day. Unfortunately no defining evidence has yet been produced to prove either claim. The names of many women have been linked with Ned's over the years, some more likely than others, yet there is no evidence that historians can treat as fact. Despite this - is it nonetheless possible that Ned may indeed have married? If not, was Ned ever in love with one or more of the women his name was linked to? Alternatively, could it be possible that Ned was homosexual?

Ned Kelly married

Quick find index:

*Is there reason to believe Ned was married? *Is there reason to believe Ned was not married? *Is there reason to believe Ned was engaged?
* Was Ned ever in love? * What evidence exists to suggest that Ned was involved in a romance?
* Who are the most popular suggestions as Ned's beloved?
* Was Ned married in gaol the night before he was executed? * Was Ned homosexual?
* How do we analyse the available 'evidence'? * Historical context
* Summary and Conclusions * Sources and notes

Ned Kelly


Was Ned Kelly legally married?

Facts - None. Despite trying in earnest, history researchers are yet to uncover any documentation, such as a marriage certificate or official church registration, to prove that Ned Kelly was ever legally married.

Analysis - It is possible that Ned did formally marry. However, until supporting documentary evidence surfaces, we must assume that he did not wed either under church or common law. Without a church or state marriage record, a relevant certificate, or sworn witnesses, it is only speculation to assert otherwise. Note: It is theoretically possible that Ned was married, and the relevant church documentation was lost or destroyed. Theoretically there is also a very remote possibility that he may have married but under a false name. (However motive for such an unethical course of action is limited, and rather than a devise to deceive a woman, it would presumably have been to protect both his, and his hypothetical wife's, identity in order to aid in evading detection during his years outside the law.) Theoretically it is possible that Ned was in a de-facto marriage or relationship, but again, we have absolutely no evidence to conclude that he was.

Conclusion - From the lack of evidence, historians are left to surmise that Ned was not legally married.

Is there reason to believe Ned was married?

Facts - None.

Theory - There have been a number of widely spread rumours and claims dating back to 1879; however there has been no evidence to support any of them as factual.

  • Much of the speculation and suspicion around the possibility of Ned having married was apparently created by Ned himself. During his speech to his hostages at Jerilderie in February 1879 hearsay reports claimed that he had said, "When outlawed I was only three weeks married…"
    Note: Whether or not this quote was accurate, or that Ned was misheard, or misquoted, or whether the comment was made at all, is something historians simply do not know. This appears to be the earliest and probably most obvious source of public speculation that, perhaps, Ned did have a wife.
  • Methodist Minister E. Cook Pritchard spent from 1850 to 1880 doing missionary work in Australia, and wrote an account of his experience in 'Under the Southern Cross'. After his death his wife, who had accompanied him during this time, apparently claimed to their daughter that the clergyman had performed a marriage ceremony for Ned Kelly in N.S.W. She evidently repeated this claim to her grandson as well, as Kelly website received an email (written 27/05/2000) by the grandson of E. Cook Pritchard, Mike Stamford. Who wrote:
    "My greatgrandfather was a missionary in Australia 1850-1880 ish. My grandmother who was with him told me (1940's) he had married Ned Kelly, is this possible. His name was E. Cook Pritchard, and he was a Methodist (so perhaps not). He wrote a book called "Under the Southern Cross" and he certainly mentions meeting bushrangers and being treated with respect because he wore a "dog-collar" It would be great to find out. I can see no reason why she would tell a "whopper" to impress a small boy, she was a parson's wife!"

    Note: Unfortunately there is not sufficient information (not even the alleged bride's name) to support this claim. Given that the information is hearsay and has no documentation to substantiate it, it cannot be treated as fact.
  • A document exists that was written after the destruction of the gang, which indicates that some members of the police force believed it possible that Ned may have been married. During September 1880 a search by police was carried out for Sgt. Kennedy's still missing watch (which had been stolen by Ned at Stringybark Creek). A report was written by Constable James Dwyer, (dated 25/9/80) as follows:

    The Wife of Ned Kelly.
    I have to report that in consequence of what I have heard through a lady at present in Melbourne, and whose name I am under a promise not to reveal, has informed me, that the wife of Ned Kelly is a domestic servent with Mr. I. H. Shestedt, proprietor of the Continental Hotel, opposite the Royal Hotel, Deniliquin, and is called "Madela". She is about 25 or 30 years of age, five feet, six or seven in. high, long, dark hair, dark complexion, hazel eyes, masculine features, and dresses very respectably.
    My informant states that in the confidential chatting at night in the bedroom with Madela, that she several times mentioned of having received a splendid watch from Ned Kelly, and had it and some more articles of splendid jewellery, in her box but that she had not the box with her at Shestedt's Hotel.
    This woman, calling herself "Madela", told my informant that she was previously married to a man named Lorreine, and that in ten months afterwards, he was brought home dead to her. They were at the time keeping a hotel in the district of Greta. Det Ward or Senior Constables Flood or Strahan will know if this has been true. She told her also that she was only three months Married to Ned Kelly when he turned out bushranging. She used to rave and talk in her sleep of Ned Kelly and my informant mentioning it in the morning, she would with frightened would wild look in her eye and anxious expression on her countenance, aske 'Oh, what was I saying" and my informant telling her, she would then tell many incidents of the Kelly gang and pray that they would never be caught. After the destruction of the gang at Glenrowan. she was like a woman frantic when in her bedroom at night, and would get out of bed, going on her knees would pray to God and the Virgin to save Ned Kelly from being hanged. A few days before my informant left the hotel, she saw a letter from Kitty Kelly addressed to this woman calling herself "Madela" and commenced the letter with "My dear sister-in-law" telling her of her extreme trouble, and arranging to meet her here in Melbourne on the 5th October, and that if her brother was condemned to be hanged, they would try to give him Poison in an nutchip when giving him a farewell kiss, and so not have the disgrace on them that he was hanged. The police at Deniliquin must know something of this woman, if such a one exists, and if so, she should be watched, for she certainly has the late poor Kennedy's watch.
    James Dwyer
    Constable 2507

    Note: It is important to highlight that Kate "Kitty" Kelly had a limited education and no known examples of her handwriting exist, so is therefore unlikely to have written the alleged letter. Further to this, Detective Ward filed a follow-up report (28/9/80) stating that he carefully read over the constable's report. He stated that he knew of no such person in the north Eastern district as Lorraine, but went on to say that the public house in Greta was run by a widow. A note was also made on the back, by Supt. C. Nicholson, forwarding it to Mr Sadlier 'for any information he may be able to give or action he may think proper to take in the matter'. It was also marked for further enquiry on 2nd of October. The letter proves nothing, however, it does indicate that the police treated the 'Madela' report seriously enough to consider the possibility of a wife's existence.
  • In The Herald Newspaper, evening edition, 3rd of December 1880, an article appeared titled 'Ned Kelly's Wife'. Following are some relevant extracts from the article:
    "On several occasions during the career of the bushranger, Edward Kelly, it was stated that he had been married not long before the commission of the police murders. After his arrest however, and at Beechworth, when he was before the police court there, and in Melbourne at the time of his trial, it was authoritatively stated that he was not married, but was engaged to a young woman who was pointed out and possessed considerable personal attractions. Since Kelly's execution, however, the statements that he was married have been revived with greater force than ever. It is said that in September, 1878, he was wedded at Greta to a young woman who formally resided at Daylesford, and was well known there… At last the statements assumed a tangible form, and we are now in a position to state that there is, and has been for some time, in one of the medical institutions in Melbourne, a young woman who claims to be the widow of the bushranger, who a few weeks ago expiated his crime upon the scaffold. From the statement of Mrs E. Kelly, it seems that, in September last, she was bitten by a snake…
    …she was taken at once to Daylesford Hospital, where Dr.M'Gregor treated her for the bite…
    …Finding that she could not obtain relief in the country she came to Melbourne, and entered on of the medical institutions, where she remained for about two months…she is now a fair way to recover…
    She is of a modest and retiring disposition, and does not care to be occupied in any way with the friends of the outlaws who have become of late so notorious. She speaks very feelingly of her late husband, and states that she did not know anything against his character when she married him, and holds the opinion of which his friends and sympathisers advance, that he was a much abused person, and of course blames the police for the trouble. At the request of one reporter who interviewed her relative to her previous existence and her knowledge of the movements of the gang, she wrote a lengthy letter, but it chiefly is a revelation of the statements made by the Kelly sympathisers over and over again. She asserts that Edward Kelly was not present at the time of the Fitzpatrick affair, and attempts to justify the murder by saying that the officers got out with the deliberate intention of shooting Kelly and earning the reward offered by the Government for his arrest. In referent to her marriage and her husband Mrs Kelly says:- "I resided in Greta in the year 1878 and was married to Edward Kelly in the same year after an acquaintance of five months. I had not heard anything previously against his character, and therefore consider I was quite justified in marrying him. I always found him truthful, honest and straightforward, and a more kind and affectionate man it would be difficult to find. He was true as steel…If Kelly had not been harassed and taunted by the police he would have been a credit to his name…. Doubtless this statement will be open to a deal of criticism. Yet it is that if his wife, whose happiness has been blighted in its bed. Who will not at least sympathise with me in this calamity? But I am reassured that his affections did not diminish in the slightest degree towards me up to the last hour of his life. I can safely say my love for him has never lessened." The strangest part of the affair is that while the woman talks and writes in the above strain, and is quite rational, we can find no record in the Registrar-General's office of the marriage, nor can we find the Catholic clergyman by whom she says she was married at Greta. The woman states that she left her marriage certificate at home before she came to Melbourne, and that she also left behind some letters from Kelly, addressed to her as his wife. The question is, is this woman really the wife of Ned Kelly. Several gentlemen who have spoken to her believe that she is, but our impression is that she labours under an hallucination in the matter.

    Note: Whether or not the reporter is correct in his impression that the unnamed woman was labouring under an "hallucination" about being married to Ned Kelly, it seems possible that she might have known Ned, or at least someone who knew him. There is a chance that she might be the same woman referred to in the police letter 'Madela', as there couldn't have been too many women openly claiming to be Ned's wife. However there is no established connection between the two, and a discrepancy in their towns of residence. The woman is quoted directly. However, as her name is never given there is no way of verifying the newspaper article via another source. It is significant that the reporter states the paper had searched for a registration of the marriage, but that none was found. This reduces the chance that a record once existed but has since been lost. Additionally the woman, who was obviously desperate to be believed, apparently never returned to produce the documents that she professed to have that would have proved her claim. This fact seriously diminishes her credibility. While the reporter describes a number of the claims as having been authoritatively stated - this merely describes the manner in which the claims were presented to him and does not mean his source/s were credible. (For example, the reporter writes that it had been "authoritatively stated" that Ned was not married but was engaged. Yet this is merely rumour. The credibility of this unknown source cannot be determined and so must be treated as highly suspect.) Indeed all of the statements in the article cannot be substantiated beyond rumour, the content of which cannot be treated as true or factual.

Conclusion - All of the above individual stories that Ned had a wife have no alternate source for verification and are therefore unable to be substantiated or treated factually. Moreover each claim is based entirely on hearsay.


Is there reason to believe Ned was not married?

Facts -

  • No proof exists that he did marry.
  • No proof exists that he was ever engaged.
  • Ned's brother Jim Kelly's unequivocal opinion on the subject is that Ned 'had no girl'. Jim publicly disavowed in writing the idea that Ned had a girlfriend, let alone a wife, and this statement is important and credible. Later editions of the 1929 book, 'The Inner History of the Kelly Gang and their Pursuers' by J.J. Kenneally, contain a letter written by Jim in December 1930. He reviewed Kenneally's book in a positive light, then added comments about a recently published novel by another author. The following is an excerpt from the letter:
    "…'The girl who helped Ned Kelly'. This book is another example of mercenary journalism. My brother Ned was so devoted to his mother that he had no 'girl'. Of course, the author of the book above referred to protect himself by calling his concoction 'a novel'. A more recent concoction is being published in a daily paper for the purpose of increasing or maintaining its circulation…"

Jim KellyAnalysis - The Kelly family were very close and given that Jim would have been in personal contact with Ned, both prior to his capture at Glenrowan, and before his execution, it is extremely likely that he would have known if his brother had a wife or girlfriend at the time of his death. The statement does allow for Ned having casual dalliances, but with no woman being singled out by Ned; i.e. no serious or formal relationship (such as a courtship). The only issue then that needs to be considered is whether Jim would have chosen to make a misleading statement on the matter. Given that the context of his correspondence was to set the record straight on a number of issues for which his account has been verified, it is highly unlikely that he would have chosen to lie about this issue. There seems no plausible reason for Jim to lie to Mr. Kenneally whom he saw as an ally, particularly considering the fact that the statement was made 50 years after Ned's lifetime. Notable is the obvious certainty and conviction with which Jim made the statement. It is very difficult to discount this written, clear, and adamant claim by Ned's own brother who knew him intimately.

Historical context: Jim refers to Ned's strong 'devotion' to their mother Ellen. (Ned's concern for his mother was clearly evident by his reaction to her imprisonment and his attempts to have her freed.) Ellen KellyJust as in many cultures today, in Victorian times this type of devotion in an adult child to a parent was certainly not viewed as strange or unacceptable, nor was it entirely uncommon. (The terms 'bachelor' and 'spinster' were once used as simple descriptive words, not value judgments like they are often used today.) It should not be forgotten that Ellen was a poor widowed mother with a large number of dependant children. Had Ned survived and lived a law-abiding life, there is a clear implication that he would have considered it his duty to take care of and provide for her and his younger siblings. He would also have taken Ellen's welfare into consideration when contemplating a possible marriage of his own. A good example of such devotion and the Kelly family's values exists in Jim's behavior toward Ellen. Almost immediately after Ned's death Jim was imprisoned for theft. However, after his release he began work and consistently lead a quiet and honest life, taking care of his mother until her death. Jim never married and was, just as he later wrote of Ned, "devoted to his mother". Jim's understanding and explanation, therefore, as to why Ned 'had no girl' has credibility.

It could also been seen as somewhat telling that in the first pro-Kelly book written (Kenneally 1929), with background information directly from a number of the players in the Kelly story who were then still alive, a wife or fiancé is notably absent. If Ned had had a serious romance with a woman, she presumably would have been important enough to be mentioned in this very partisan account, as Ned's widow or fiancé would also have been a victim, and thus made Ned's execution more evocative of sympathy.

Conclusion - On balance, there is considerable reason to believe that Ned was not married, and very little to suggest he might have been.


Is there reason to believe Ned was engaged?

Facts - None.

Theory - There have been a number of theories put forward suggesting that Ned might have been engaged at some time or other. The identity of the alleged fiancé associated with these theories has been inconsistent and inconclusive, and none of the theories have yet been proven to be factual.

Rumour - It was alleged in newspapers that at the time of his trial Ned was engaged. Yet no source was recorded and no corroborative evidence was produced to show this was anything more than rumour.

Analysis - Public speculation about a 'celebrity' outlaw's personal life would have been inevitable. Ned had already been seen as a romantic figure by some parts of the community for many months prior to his capture. The press were eager for any piece of personal information on Ned to present to the enthralled public, so the idea that he might be in love or engaged would obviously have been included in a press article on the outlaw, whether it was true or not. Considering that no source for the rumour that Ned was engaged was recorded at the time, a newspaper report cannot be treated as reliable. Even assuming the rumour was genuine there is no plausible explanation for why it was not common knowledge particularly amongst the Kelly family, (e.g. Jim Kelly). Certainly no correspondence suggesting an engagement, either from Ned, his alleged fiancé, or any of their family members or friends, has ever been found. So, while the idea that Ned was engaged is appealing, considering the lack of evidence it remains simply rumour.

Conclusion - There is no evidence to verify that Ned was ever engaged.

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