Ned Kelly
Updated October 31, 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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It seems that the more the Kelly story becomes part of Australia's folk law, the more urgently a female figure is sought as Ned's 'partner'. Most likely this is because it is natural for people to respond to a need to complete a story by giving the 'hero' a beloved heroine, in this case adding a romantic dimension to the Kelly legend. It is certainly romantic to imagine that Ned experienced a tender relationship with a supportive partner. Thus a wife or various girlfriends for Ned have surfaced in much of the Kelly mythology, and no doubt will continue to do so. A romance adds another dimension to the tragic aspects of the Kelly story and widens its general appeal, as well as conveniently appearing to counter the occasional claim that Ned may have been homosexual.

In the absence of a specific person numerous theories have surfaced over the years about which woman might have been romantically linked to Ned (some of these are listed under 'nominees'). The reason a considerable number of theories abound is simple - the absence of any widely accepted evidence that Ned was married, or even devotedly in love with a particular woman, has encouraged speculation, and theories are focused on to different degrees by different researchers.

Was Ned ever in love?

Fact - It is not known for certain whether Ned was ever in love. However Ned was 25 years old at the time of his death and therefore it seems likely that, at some stage, he would have experienced romantic love. Yet whether or not he was ever in love is a question that is impossible for anyone (other than Ned) to answer factually in the absence of evidence.

Theory - There are a number of different theories that claim that Ned was in love with one woman or another. The stories vary in a number of ways, the most notable obviously being the different women involved. Other variants include: when the romance occurred, and how serious it was. Some women are suggested as being Ned's wife or fiancé, others only casual dalliances. Some of the nominees are completely fictional yet people have wondered whether they were based on real women. The more popular and well-known romantic nominees are listed (under 'nominees') and their stories examined for supportive evidence.

Ned Kelly courtroom

Circumstantial evidence - An incident in August of 1880 added to public speculation about Ned's love life. When, from his position in the dock of the Beechworth courthouse, Ned was reported to have returned a 'blown kiss' to one of the numerous women in the courthouse. "…That there are many sympathisers present there can be little doubt, especially amongst the ladies, many of whom made no secret of the matter. Indeed, one young girl of good looks and respectable attire showed questionable taste in going to the extent of kissing hands to the outlaw, who returned the compliment with interest…" (Illustrated Australian News). There has never been any evidence produced to prove who this unknown young woman was. It appears that no eyewitness was able to state her identity, or give anything more than a vague description. This is not surprising however, as so many women attended the hearing that the courthouse was completely full. (If it were made to one of Ned's close female relatives, presumably she would have been recognised, as they were well known in the area and sought out by the curious press.)
- Naturally much speculation about the mystery woman's identity arose, it is unfortunate that she was never identified. No conclusions can be reached about who she was, as her identity was not known at the time and her name never recorded, but it is an interesting incident and gives fuel to the theory that Ned might have been involved in a romance.
- It is worth noting that the gesture itself does not actually show that Ned was 'in love', as it does not indicate the level of affection behind the gesture, (e.g. Ned may simply have been flirting), or even if there was any affection at all. It may have been serious, or, simply a light-hearted gesture, (e.g. perhaps made to an old girlfriend of whom Ned was still fond, or even to a complete stranger).
- Obviously nothing can be concluded from the gesture, except to say that Ned made a gesture to an unknown woman who was one of the many women who attended the hearing in the courtroom on that particular day. However, clearly, this is far too vague to draw any conclusions from. The incident is interesting nevertheless, as it does illustrate the possibility that Ned may have had a sweetheart of some kind.

Analysis - The number of claimed romances tends to reflect the lack of conclusive evidence.
Even if there were evidence of a courtship, it would not automatically prove that Ned was in love. However it is highly probable that Ned was, at some stage in his life, in love with one (or more), women. It is, nevertheless, simply impossible to assume, state, or guess, exactly how deeply Ned may have felt about any woman, even one with whom he may have been intimately involved. More information is required, and, unless conclusive evidence such as a verified love letter or marriage is ever discovered, historians can only speculate.

Conclusions - No conclusions can be drawn without further evidence.


Are there any known documents of a romance involving Ned?

Facts - Ned was literate and could write, so it is possible that he may have written something of a romantic nature to a woman at some stage of his life. Any woman he may have been romantically involved with, as well as their close friends and relatives, may also have written about such a relationship. Yet no such document has ever been discovered.

Theory - Expectedly, there have been claimed sightings of love letters involving Ned, however so far none has been produced, or displayed, to enable expert handwriting comparison and analysis, (a step that would be vital for any letter's authentication).

Conclusions - No known documents exist that support a romance involving Ned Kelly.


Alleged artifact
Theory - There is a story of a carving of initials within a heart shape that is claimed by some to be circumstantial evidence of a romance involving Ned. The story involves a gun, claimed to be originally owned by the police black-tracker Moses. According to the story the gun made its way into the Kelly gangs' possession. It is not known what happened to the gun after this, but such a gun turned up at an antiques auction in recent years. The gun is purported to have carved on the wooden butt "NK" or possibly "EK", "K8" and the symbol of a heart, which has been interpreted as 'Kate you are in my heart, Ned Kelly'.
- Regardless of whether the said gun was ever in the possession of the Kelly gang, or Moses, which is highly questionable, the carving itself is not evidence. The alleged carving cannot be determined to be 'evidence' in the same way, for example, as a letter expressing love written in Ned's handwriting could be viewed. A carving is not a signature, so it is impossible to identify its author, particularly with any item that has passed through many unknown hands. There are a number of questions that need to be answered before attempting to use this item as historical evidence. They are:

  1. Who had access to the gun? Answer - unknown.
  2. Who made the carving? Answer - unknown. There is apparently no proof that Ned ever even held this gun, let alone made the carving. Importantly we have no evidence to prove, or confirm, that it was Ned Kelly who made the carving, (particularly if it is "NK" as previously Ned had carved his initials as EK).
  3. When was the carving made? Answer - unknown.
  4. Who do the initials refer to? Answer - unknown. There is no evidence to confirm whom either of the initials refers to. K8 does tend to indicate that the woman referred to had the relatively common name of Kate, but not whom she may have been.
  5. What did the carving mean? Answer - open to interpretation. For example, the interpretation of the significance of the carving itself may not necessarily be clear to anyone but the unknown person who wrote it. It certainly does not offer any evidence that, whomever the 'E or NK' was, that he was in love with, or devoted monogamously to, whomever the 'K8' referred to may have been. Particularly as historians have no idea if the carving was made simply as a playful gesture of affection, or with a more serious romantic intent.

Conclusions - Historians simply cannot know the answers to any of these vital questions, and so cannot include the item in any serious historical analysis. Obvious also is the high possibility that the carving may simply be a forgery, (probably made to deliberately increase the item's sale value at auction). Therefore it can only be used to enhance the myth of Ned Kelly, but it cannot be used as evidence in the search to discover if Ned Kelly was married or involved with a woman romantically.

For more info: see pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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