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Armour News

21/08/03 CATALYST ABC TV / ANSTO Investigation (Paul Willis - Reporter)

The big question about the armour is 'how was it made?' The armour tested was the suit that belonged to Joe Byrne (now owned by Rupert Hammond). Was it made by a professional blacksmith or by the amateur Kelly gang out in the bush? The key to finding out who made the armour lies in the temperature that the metal was heated to. A professional blacksmith uses a charcoal fire and bellows to heat the steel to yellow hot, that is over 1000 degrees celcius, before shaping it. 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.
ANSTO (The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) is the only place in Australia where all the tests can be done under one roof. A number of analytical techniques and a large team of scientists from ANSTO, the Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia were involved. Gordon Throrogood a physicist from ANSTO explained that the tests would examine the structure of the steel, what changes to it have occurred, how it started out initially, so the scientific team could determine how it was made.

  • The helmet was tested in the nuclear reactor. To understand the internal structure of the metal the helmet was blasted with neutrons. Which 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. 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 it's 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 etch it 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.

After two and half days of testing and examining, the team reassembles to put together what they've found.
The findings of the research according to Gordon Throrogood were that the armour was probably likely to have been made by a "bush forge" and not made by a blacksmith. He said a bit more work needed to be done but the tests show the metal only got to about 700, 750 degrees C. the sorts of temperatures that are consistent with a fire that able to be built in the bush and kept fairly hot in order to work the metal.
Extract from transcript:
Narration: So the burning question is…could it have been made by the Kelly gang?
Gordon Throrogood: "Oh yeah definitely, definitely. It looks like it's been made by people who haven't had the time to sit down and work out how they're going to do it. It's been made in a hurry. If it had been made by a blacksmith and people who weren't worried about being watched and stuff the craftsmanship would be a lot better… so yeah definitely it was made by the Kelly Gang. Yeah there's no doubt."
Narration: …It seems that the accepted view of how the armour was made could be wrong…

Full Program Transcript:

28/06/02 'Finally, Ned's heavy metal gets it together' (Orietta Guerrera)
According to The Age

It has been immortalised in art, film, literature and the popular imagination. But until yesterday, we have not seen the original version of Ned Kelly's armour. In the 122 years since the Kelly gang's last stand at Glenrowan, the bits and pieces of their steel armour - helmets, breastplates, backplates, shoulder pieces, aprons - have changed hands countless times.

Along the way, the parts got mixed up. Kelly's armour had been displayed with a backplate that was actually the breastplate of one of his gang members, either Steve Hart or Dan Kelly.
For many years, says historian Ian Jones, no one cared. There was a "culture of institutional apathy" about Kelly relics. "They were just relics of a criminal outbreak and they weren't taken terribly seriously," he says. But as Kelly's stature as a historical figure grew, so did interest in correctly piecing together the gang's armour. In 1998, barrister and amateur historian Ken Oldis completed a report that sourced Kelly's helmet and breastplate to the State Library, his backplate to the Victoria Police Museum and a shoulder piece to Scienceworks museum.

Yesterday, for the first time, the State Library and the Victoria Police, owners of the armour of Ned, his brother Dan and Hart, met for a historic swap meet. The exchange means the library now has the most complete suit of Ned's armour, comprising his breastplate, backplate, helmet and one shoulder piece. Mr Jones, Mr Oldis and historian Keith McMenomy pieced together the armour by studying sketches, police photographs and documents. Of particular help was a sketch by Thomas Carrington, drawn early in the morning of Kelly's capture. Oldis compared dents and bullet marks on Kelly's helmet and breastplate with those in the sketch.

Ned's armour will go on display in a Kelly exhibition at the library next year.
The Museum of Victoria, which has the second shoulder plate, will contribute it to the exhibition.
As for Dan's and Steve's suits,
police will use forensic science to try to detect any other mix-ups.

For full story go to:

27/06/02 'Kelly gang armour matched up'
According to The Border Mail

The armour used by Ned Kelly and his gang was matched up yesterday for the first time since the famous showdown with police at Glenrowan. The pieces of the three suits of armour held in public collections were rearranged to coincide with the anniversary of the bushrangers' final shootout at the Glenrowan pub on June 28, 1880.
After the siege the four sets of armour were dispersed. Ned's suit, made up of helmet, breastplate, backplate, apron and shoulder-plates, bolted and strapped together using forged iron from ploughshares, was presented in the Victorian Supreme Court as evidence in his trial. Suits fashioned for Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were also gathered by police. In December, 1880, Joe Byrne's armour was souvenired by Supt Hare and is now owned by a private collector.
The three other suits are owned by the Victoria Police Museum, State Library of Victoria and Old Melbourne Jail. A century of being moved from place to place for display in museums and exhibitions resulted in the suits becoming mismatched. In recent years, researchers have identified the correct pieces for each suit using photographs taken after the Glenrowan siege, sketches made at the same time, police archival records, diaries and forensic testing.

In a ceremony yesterday at the Old Melbourne Jail, the police, State Library and the jail swapped sections to restore the suits made for Ned, Dan and Steve Hart. Ned's 41kg suit is now complete at the State Library of Victoria.
On Saturday, June 27, 1880, the gang assembled at Glenrowan and commandeered the hotel. When the police arrived, Ned took refuge in the bush and the other three in the pub. Ned, in his armour, confronted the police but was brought down with bullets in his legs. The pub was set alight and the bodies of the other three gang members were found in the ashes.*
Ned was hanged on November 11, 1880.
*There were in fact only two bodies found in the ashes, that of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. (Joe Byrne's slightly singed body was dragged from the Glenrowan Inn before the flames engulfed the building.

27/06/02 'Kelly reunion at Gaol' (Kate Jones)
According to The Herald Sun

Since the capture of the Kelly Gang 122 years ago, their trademark iron suits of armour have been scattered - souvenired by historians, seized by Police and hoarded by Glenrowan locals.
Today, three suits of Armour - used by Ned and Dan Kelly and fellow outlaw Steve Hart - will come together again. In a ceremony at the Old Melbourne Gaol today, Victoria Police and The State Library will exchange suits of armour to coincide with the 122nd anniversary of the Glenrowan Siege. The exchange will also determine which pieces of armour each gang member wore.
Since the 1880 siege the suits have been displayed at dozens of different exhibitions, court hearings and libraries. Matching pieces of suits were separated and mixed up. But a group of three keen Kelly historians were able to piece the iron suits together using Police sketches, photos and bullet marks.
Despite wearing armour, everyone in the Kelly gang - except for leader Ned - was killed at the Glenrowan shootout. Ned Kelly was convicted of bank robberies and shootings and hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

My thanks to the various sources who brought to my attention some of the articles and information in the news sections.


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