Can you help keep Patriotrealm on line?

At the beginning of March, 2023, I join Monty in celebrating Irish month. 

There are many men and women who hail from Ireland and have made lives in other countries over the decades.

Today, I celebrate one woman of Irish heritage and the men who made her life notorious.The woman who was Ned Kelly's mother. I can think of no more fitting person to start our journey.

I promised Malcolm I would do this article some months ago and just to prove that I haven’t forgotten, here it is. It is a story of a very hard life, probably almost typical for many women of that era but a story worth the telling on its own merits.

Ellen Kelly was born Ellen Quinn in the town of Ballymena on the northern tip of Ireland in County Antrim, not far from The Devil’s Causeway, in 1832. She died in 1923, aged 91.

Her father, James Quinn was a competent farmer but being Roman Catholic was subjugated by law to a life of degradation without hope of improvement. King Henry VIII, followed by his daughter Elizabeth 1 set ou to eliminate Catholicism in Ireland. There was mass confiscation of Irish land and huge tracts were re-settled by Protestant planters from England, Wales & Scotland. Later, Oliver Cromwell gave thousands of acres to his soldiers and supporters. Catholics were forbidden to own land, holding public office, becoming teachers or the judiciary, living near a commercial centre and owning a house worth more than 5 pounds.

Irish Catholics became tenant farmers on small blocks of poor land cultivating potatoes. The better lands owned by Protestant farmers were given over to growing grain for export and beef for English butcher shops.


In 1879 after a series of rebellions inspired by the French and American revolutions, there was a pitched battle between 15,000 English soldiers and untrained Irish militiamen armed with pikes. The English Redcoats quickly subdued the untrained Irish rebels. Many captured rebels were burned alive and their womenfolk gang-raped. Masses turn to crime in the knowledge that they would be sentenced to transportation to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land which would ensure them of being fed.

Following the First Fleet in 1788, 160,000 convicts were transported starting with the first shipment out of Kingstown, near Dublin, in 1791. About a quarter of these convicts were Irish.

This is the land into which Ellen was born in 1832, the 5th child of a Catholic family surviving on the wage of a farm labourer and a diet of oatmeal, potatoes and, occasionally, fish. Her family nickname is “Little Nell”. She grows up a bold and free spirited child, does well at school but often plays truant. She listens attentively to her schoolmaster who describes Van Diemen’s Land as the destination for convicts and the sufferings imposed on them as punishment. She also learns that it is a Promised Land where hard and honest work is rewarded by being pardoned and through continuing a life of these good habits a transported person can attain independence and a second chance at life. She learns to read but cannot write.

In 1839, Officials in the Port Philip District of NSW (now Victoria) begin working with British Government emigration officers on a system of assisted immigration. The new colony is desperately short of skilled tradesmen of all kinds and Ireland has a large surplus of same. As well as government sponsored schemes there were also privately funded groups lead by the likes of Carolyn Chisolm and the stockbroker, J. B. Were. James Quinn, now the father of eight children, applies for passage. On 4th April, 1841, the family set sail for Melbourne on board the 939 ton ENGLAND together with another 104 Irish Catholics and a few 1st Class cabin passengers.

After 104 days at sea during which 16 children and two young adult women die from disease that spreads easily in the cramped conditions below decks. They arrive at Sandridge (now Port Melbourne) on 17th July, 1841 The Port Philip District pays the Immigration Agents bounties for the family. 19 pounds each for James and Mary, 15 pounds for Patrick, the eldest boy, 10 pounds each for the other children except 4 year old Jane who attracts only 5 pounds and nothing for Baby Jimmy.

Three weeks later on 7th August, a Tipperary convict named John “Red” Kelly, leaves Dublin on the convict ship PRINCE REGENT 11 bound for Hobart convicted for stealing two pigs worth 6 pounds and defiled by fellow convicts for being a police informer. After 4 months with the loss of only 2 lives they sail up the Derwent River on 2nd January, 1842.

ship placeholder 

Back in Melbourne, 7,800 bounty migrants have arrived in the previous 12 months. The superintendent of Port Philip, Charles La Trobe cannot extract money from the Governor in Sydney to fund a programme of public works. The immigrants are underemployed, the government is in disarray and cannot carry out its functions efficiently. Officers are poorly paid and resort to notorious activities to supplement their incomes. This is particularly true of the police force which is deemed to be very inefficient.

At the same time another Irish migrant arrived at Botany Bay on board the barque CALCUTTA. His name was Redmond Barry, the 28 year old son of a British Army major-general and himself, a graduate of an English military school. The holder of a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College, Dublin he was a practicing lawyer with an insatiable appetite for women. He kept a detailed diary of his various conquests. While en route from England to Botany Bay he began an affair with a Mrs. Scott, wife of a NSW government official travelling in the same ship. Mr. Scott complained to the Captain about Barry’s behaviour and unsuccessfully demanded that he remain in his cabin. Extracts from his diary describe their liaison with meticulous care.”31 July Mrs.S twice” , “4th August Mrs.S four times”, “8th August Mrs. S 3 times” . When he landed in Sydney he was a social pariah and was forced to move to Melbourne but before he left his diary records 25 September, Mrs. S 3 times”, “8 October Mrs. S 10 times”.


In Melbourne his womanising continues as does the collection of enemies. He is involved in a duel after insulting a fellow member of the Melbourne Club but his legal career advances. He is appointed President of the Court of Request, a tribunal handling small debts. The Kelly family will cross his path often in the coming years.

Red Kelly, prisoner 3428, conducts himself like a model prisoner, works hard and causes no trouble. He detests the treatment handed out to fellow prisoners by the English jailers but escapes the regular floggings handed out for various minor infractions. He develops a hatred for British authority but conforms obediently. Onn11th July, 1845 he gets his ticket-of-leave. The only blemish on his record is a fine of 5 shillings on 2nd August, 1847 for being drunk & disorderly. His fondness for whiskey will cause him much grief in the future but on this occasion it does not prevent the granting of his Certificate of Freedom on 11th January, 1848.


a Certificate of Freedom similar to that granted to Kelly

James Quinn has also been diligently busy. He moves the family to a rented property of 1,280 acres at Broadmeadows. His two eldest sons are big enough to manage bullock teams leaving James free to manage the farm and increase his stock. In 1849 he moves the family again to a 640 nacre property at Wallan. The farm work is hard but satisfying and profitable. The family enjoy a life that they never even dreamed about in Ireland. James is selling so much milk that he is able to purchase and adjoining holding of 710 acres. He now farming 1.350 acres and is planning to build a new home of 6 rooms.


 Bullock teams at Wilcannia, Darling River, New South Wales

Ellen develops into a fine horsewoman giving rein to her free spirit. She prefers to ride straddled rather than side saddle much to the chagrin of more conservative observers who regard that as being “unladylike”.

In 1850 Ellen is 18 years old, a beautiful, raven haired, exuberant young girl when James meets Red Kelly, a solidly built 30 year old with a mass of red hair, bushy whiskers and the toughness of a man who has worked 10 years in the Australian bush. With the labour market in Tasmania choked with ex-convicts and immigrants he moves to Melbourne and is working as a log splitter and fencer when he meets James Quinn at the Donnybrook pub. They discuss starting up an illicit still to make poteen moonshine but James, who has never had trouble with the police, rejects the proposal. Red keeps hanging around the Quinn farm and very soon Ellen is besotted by him. James does his best to keep them apart because he does not like Red’s passion for whiskey. Ellen however is in love with this man and remains so for the rest of her life. In the middle of 1850 at 18, she informs her parents that she is pregnant and that Red Ned is the father.

They marry on 18th November, 1850 at St. Francis Church in Melbourne, one of three events that will bring the Quinn prosperity to a close. 

St Francis Chiurch 1861

Ellen is 6 months pregnant at the time of the wedding. Earlier that year her brother Patrick drowns in an accident on the Murray River at Echuca. James has lost his right hand man in the running of the farm. On 6th February, 1851, huge bushfires engulf the entire district around Wallan leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. 

Another bushfire sweeps the nation with the discovery of gold at Bathurst followed by huge discoveries in Victoria. Almost every able bodied man departs for the diggings leaving a critical shortage of labour. Recruitment of government staff, especially police, takes a severe downward turn. Many undesirable types and ex-convicts are recruited. 

A native police unit is formed under the command of Henry Dana, a ruthless ex-military man. The unit makes its headquarters on the Merri Creek, downstream from Wallan near where Red and Ellen have made their home. Alfred Clarke, a freelence crusading journalist describes this unit as the “Satanic Battalion of Black Guards”.


Although the young couple live in terror of the black troopers the shortage of labour proves to be a godsend to Red who finds plenty of work and high prices for their small farm produce. By the end of 1853 Ellen has two more offspring. Red decides to leave and go to the diggings. He doesn’t make a fortune but does well enough that after a few months returns, builds a small house and goes into partnership with Ellen’s father as a horse dealer. He is able to pay 615 pounds for a 41 acre farm at Beveridge and another half-acre block in town to erect a rental cottage. In the same month as the Eureka Stockade rebellion, Ellen gives birth to her first son, Edward, later to become known as Ned Kelly.

The life of Ned Kelly has been fully laid out in my article under his name. To avoid duplication I have excluded any description of his exploits from this article except where the context requires it by reference only. This article is about his mother, not Ned himself.

Red’s dreams of prosperity from their new Beveridge farm are not realised. The route to Sydney now by-passes the town and the passing trade falls away. Red is forced to take out a mortgage on the farm for 200 pounds. He buries his troubles in larger intakes of drink at the local pub.

4884954590 95c1d2b5cc 3986778269

The aftermath of the Eureka Stockade incident further inflames his antipathy toward government and the police and the feeling of persecution grows. Ellen’s father has built a reputation for honesty but this is sullied when his teenage son, Jimmy Quinn, is arrested for stealing a bullock.

He is acquitted but his volcanic temper, similar to Ellen’s, does him no good. The Quinns claim that this is the start of the police persecution against them. Jimmy is at the start of a long criminal career which fills Ellen with foreboding and she is pregnant again with a daughter who will be named Maggie.

Red is forced to sell the farm getting about 1/3 of what he paid for it 3 years ago. He also sells half the block in town and erects a cabin on the remaining half. Things get worse when three of Red’s brothers arrive from Tipperary in July, 1857 bringing with them the relics of Red’s past life in Ireland. In 1859 Ellen is pregnant again and through more diligent application to work Red is able to buy 21 acres and a couple of small town blocks for investment. He starts to build a cottage on the little farm. Ellen’s brother Jimmy has an expanding criminal career that attracts the constant attention of the police. He is admired by Ellen’s children but it draws the attention of the police to the entire Quinn and Kelly families. Ellen is pregnant again and in 1860 delivers a third son named Dan.

In 1863, to escape the privations brought by his criminal relatives, James Quinn sells his holdings and plans to move to North East Victoria. He buys Glenmore Run, a 20,000 acre property on the King River for 2,000 pounds. 


Ellen’s sisters, Kate and Jane, married to the Lloyd brothers have already moved to Greta. The police believe that this is a deliberate move to establish a remote base for stealing livestock. Red makes the same decision, sells up what he has at Beveridge and moves north to Avenel. With their few farm animals they become tenant farmers on 40 acres at 14 pounds rent per year. For the same rent they could acquire a 112 acre selection near the Quinns. Ellen resists the temptation as she wants to distance herself from her troublesome relatives.

In late 1865 Ellen is pregnant again. Severe drought has brought hunger and desperation to the family. It is in this scenario that Red collars and kills the stray calf that leads to his imprisonment for possession of an unbranded skin. On release, drink takes hold, his health deteriorates and on 28th December, Red passes away.

Red’s death imposes permanent responsibility on Ned as the head of the family, one that he had assumed when Red went to gaol. Ellen is now a 34 year old widow with 7 children under the age of 13. She has her first brush with the law when she is found guilty of assault in a fight with the wife of the grazier who reported Red for the stolen stray calf. She is fined 2 pounds or 7 days gaol in default. The Kelly’s are well regarded by the Avenel town folk and her financial woes are met by a kindly local bootmaker. Three months later on 28th May, 1867 she is again charged and fined with a similar offence and incurs the same penalty.

Ellen Kelly at her home in rural Victoria in the late 1800s.(Supplied: Harper Collins)

The presiding magistrate in both cases is Arthur Akehurst, a man who should have been charged with murder during the Eureka uprising but is appointed as a magistrate instead. Ellen concludes that there is no future for her family by remaining in Avenel so she sells up everything and moves further to the north to Greta where her two sisters are already living. The sisters are married to the Lloyd brothers who are both in prison. Ellen and her sisters with their own 10 offspring take up residence in an old abandoned pub.

Life in this communal arrangement with three sisters and their 17 children is pleasant enough until Red’s brother, James Kelly turns up drunk. He makes advances to the three women who reject him by beating him with brooms and sticks until he leaves. He returns at about 2.00am, still drunk, strikes a wax match on the wall of the pub which immediately catches fire and burns to the ground.

Ellen’s first encounter with judge, Sir Redmond Barry, comes with the trial of James Kelly at Beechworth. Barry has fathered four children with his mistress, Mrs. Barrow, and has developed a severe reputation for dealing with law breakers of Irish background. James is convicted of setting fire to the old pub and to the horror of all concerned, is sentenced to death. On appeal, the sentence is commuted to 10 years hard labour but Ned’s disdain for this judge is not appeased in any way.


Ellen has lost everything in the fire but some neighbours come to the rescue, take up a collection and find her a rental house in Wangaratta where she scrapes a living doing washing and dressmaking. Her older children remain in Greta living with the Lloyds at 15 Mile Creek in the charge of Ned and Annie. Ned starts building up his livestock with a few bush nags and 18 unbranded sheep which graze on the farm of the neighbouring Connolly family.

After six months of living this way her brothers, Jack & Jimmy Quinn move to Greta to help their sisters and make a selection at Eleven Mile Creek of 88 partly cleared acres with a dilapidated shack where the entire family can now reside under one roof. Ellen pays the government 4 pounds 9 shillings each 6 months for 23 years before title passes into her name. She is near enough to Glenmore, the base of the Quinn’s livestock stealing activities, to get help in an emergency but she also hoes it is far enough away to avoid the regular and constant police net that has already snagged several members of her family.

Her efforts to isolate her children from her criminal relatives are in vain. A jailbird mate of the Lloyd brothers named Harry Johnson escapes from Pentridge and hides out for months at the Quinn’s 20,000 acre run on the King River with the help of the Lloyds. The Lloyds introduce him to  their 14 year old nephew, Ned. Johnson changes his name to “Harry Power”, tells Ned there is no future in horse stealing and that he has decided to become a highwayman and needs an apprentice.


Harry Power

Ellen keeps the family supported by selling milk, eggs and whatever the farm can produce, providing bed and breakfast to travellers and selling home-made spirits without a licence. Ellen, at 37, is still relatively young, slim and attractive. It is 2 ½ years since she had a man in her life. Along comes a 36 year old boundary rider named Bill Frost. Bill begins to stay over for weekends, then moves in regularly and proposes marriage. The desperate Ellen is besotted and becomes pregnant.

On 22nd August, 1869, her father, James Quinn passes away from dysentery. James dies heavily in debt and his estate passes to his eldest son, Jack. Wealthy neighbours petition the police to prevent the transfer of the lease because Jack is a former prison inmate. Commissioner Standish petitions the Minister for Lands to not renew the Glenmore lease. The minister in the midst of an election campaign and does nothing so Standish decides to open a police station at Glenmore for the specific purpose of surveillance of the Quinns. The injustice of these actions only further embeds Ned’s hatred of the police and government.

By October, 1869, Ellen is four months pregnant. Bill Frost’s ardour begins to wane and he finds comfort in another bed. On 29th March, 1870, Ellen gives birth to a baby girl. She names her Ellen Kelly, discarding any connection with the father. Seven weeks later she registers the birth of Ellen Kelly Junior.

In all this time Ned has been running riot throughout the colony as Harry Power’s apprentice. He is caught and arrested and faces court in what should have been an open and shut case against him but the informant fails to make a positive identification and Ned is released. On the same day Ellen is in Wangaratta Court for sly grogging. She sold liquor to a licencing inspector posing as a traveller but, again, the inspector cannot make a positive identification that Ellen actually was the one who served him and she is also acquitted.

In the winter of 1870, Ellen still nursing her own baby and with 8 children under the age of 17, is about to become a grandmother. Anne is pregnant to Alex Gunn and living on the other side of Winton. Ellen and Ned continue growing what they can on the farm and Ellen earns a few extra shillings selling sly grog. Her reliance on this grows when Ned is arrested for assault and sentenced to 3 months hard labour at Beechworth. On the day of his release Annie’s baby daughter dies at 13 weeks old. The failure of the police to apprehend and successfully charge Ned as an accomplice of Harry Power cause a rearrangement of police staffing in NE Victoria and an intensifying of the pressure to be put on the Quinn/Kelly/Lloyd families.

A new broom, Const. Flood arrests Ellen’s two youngest boys, Jim and Dan aged 12 and 10, for illegally using a horse. Having observed the court procedures as a spectator at Ned’s trial in Beechworth, she decides to represent the boys herself. She has no funds toi engage a lawyer anyway. Under her cross examination, the informant concedes that the boys were not stealing his horse and the case is dismissed.

Her next court appearance is to sue Bill Frost for maintenance of their child, Ellen junior. Frost has since married Bridgett Cotter but is ordered by the court to pay Ellen 5 shillings per week for 2 years to support their baby. Sadly, on 28th January, 1872, little Ellen breates her last breath after suffering gastroenteritis.

Ellen’s brother Jimmy Quinn, known as Mad Jimmy, is in court at Wangaratta charged with two very serious assaults. Ellen and her sister Margaret are there to support him but he is convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment along with his mate, Brickey Williamson, who got 18 months for aiding and abetting. While in prison Redmond Barry sentences Jimmy to another 18 months on a charge of bashing his sister.

Knowing that the men of the house are in prison, Const. Flood concludes that anything that Ellen gets is gotten illegally. He suspects that they are stealing sheep and targets the younger boys and the women too. 

Ellen’s daughter Annie who has lost her baby and has her husband in prison is 18 and succumbs to the advances of Flood who is also married with a young son. Annie and Flood’s relationship is openly displayed much to the displeasure of Commissioner Standish who acts to have him transferred out of Greta but a few weeks later Annie is pregnant again. The healthy baby girl is born on 9th November, 1872 but Annie is beset with an infection and dies in agony the following day. Ellen’s 15 year old daughter Maggie rides into Geta to register the death of her sister and birth of her niece. She names Annie’s husband Alex Quinn as the father even though he has been in gaol for 15 months.

Ellen resolves to raise the baby as her own. Flood denies that he is the father and on the day of Annie’s funeral summons Ellen and friend, Jane Graham to court for stealing a saddle.

During this time Ned is kept informed of what is happening. He is seething and vows to “Roast” Flood alive. He is far from being a model prisoner and loses 3 months remission for minor offences. The case of the stolen saddle comes before the Benalla Police Court on 1st November. It hears that the saddle was legally exchanged for another with Jane and the case was dismissed.

Against this backdrop a stranger appears at the Kelly shanty. A 23 year old American from California. He says his name is George King and is a horse thief. Ellen, desperate for romance becomes pregnant again.


On 17th February, 1873, Ellen’s 13 year old son Jim and his 17 year old mate, Tom Williams, were droving a mob of cattle from Greta to Wangaratta to sell for his cousin, Jack Lloyd. Along the way they innocently picked up some cattle grazing on the roadside. They were arrested and charged with stealing two heifers and two steers. The cows are worth only a few pounds and have been returned to their owners but the judge sentences both boys to 5 years in Beechworth gaol and Ellen has lost another of her offspring to a life of crime.

Ned has improved his ways at Pentridge and is transferred to a prison hulk in Hobson’s Bay with regular work on shore. Ellen is a little relieved and is pregnant again along with her 16 year old daughter Maggie. Maggie marries the father, Bill Skilling and they take up a selection near Ellen’s with only Brickey Williamson’s in between. Two weeks later Ellen delivers another daughter registered a George King’s child.

On 2nd February, 1874, Ned is released from prison. He has grown and developed into a mountain of a man. He has 2 pounds 10 shillings but reckons his herd of horses secreted in the bush will add well to that. He attempted to earn an honest living as a horse-breaker, shearer and general farm contractor. Ellen is 42 when she marries George King with Ned as a witness on 19th February, 1874.

Ned’s hopes for his herd of horses are dashed when he finds out that they have all been stolen and sold by Const. Flood. Flood is notoriously known in police circles as a horse thief and is transferred away from Greta.

Ellen’s marriage to George King does not go smoothly but he is home often enough to make her pregnant again and on 18th March, 1875 delivers a baby boy officially named John King but will always be known as John Kelly. The marriage is going sour, George repeatedly mistreats Ellen but he manages to make her pregnant again.

After a period of successful horse stealing and sale in NSW, Ned, George and Joe Byrne arrive back at Ellen’s shack. A new policeman named Fitzpatrick at Greta to deal with an increased amount of horse stealing. He has a girlfriend at Frankston but Ellen’s 14 year old daughter Kate, catches his eye. Fitzpatrick has a superiority complex and does not endear himself to Ellen. Ned is noncommittal until Fitzpatrick arrests him in Benalla for being drunk. The charge is not sustained and as 1877 draws to a close Ned and others use some of their horse stealing proceeds to build Ellen a new house at Eleven Mile Creek. George King returned home and beat Ellen with a whip. Ned then gave George an almighty flogging for mistreating his mother sending him off never to be seen again. He reportedly died in Kyneton in February, 1879.

In April, 1878, Fitzpatrick was put in charge of Greta Police Station temporarily. Police standing orders stated that police were not to go to the Kelly household alone. On 13th April, Ellen gives birth to her 12th baby. In the 10th April issue of The Police Gazette, Fitzpatrick reads that warrants have been sworn for the arrest of Dan Kelly and Jack Lloyd. He decides to go to the Kelly house en route between Benalla and Greta. He has no warrant but the gazette notice is enough authority for him to act. He is about to ride into destiny.

The Kelly version of what happened next changes from time to time. Fitzpatrick’s version never varies even when interviewed for newspapers in 1911. Fitzpatrick’s version is that he rode up to Ellen’s new house, scanned the surroundings to see if Dan was about. He calls out to Ellen who had given birth to Alice two days prior. Ellen invites him in. There are four of the smaller children in the house, 14 year old Kate being the eldest. Ellen watches him carefully as she does not want another episode like Annie and Const. Flood. The visit lasts about an hour with Ellen giving no hint of Dan’s movements. Fitzpatrick hears wood cutting in the distance and leaves to check it out. He finds Brickey Williamson splitting rails. He asks if Williamson has a licence to split rails looking for some reason to arrest him. Bricky says he does not need one as it is on his selection. At about sundown he leaves to continue to Benalla when he sees two riders in the distance approaching Ellen’s house. He hails the riders and notices one of the horses is the one ridden by Dan. He goes to Ellen’s house and calls Dan to come out. Dan appears and is told he is under arrest. Fitzpatrick allows him to return inside to finish his dinner. Fitzpatrick waits patiently inside watching Dan eat. Ellen whispers something to the older girls who run across to the old house.

Ellen turns on Fitzpatrick with a vengeance when, suddenly, Ned appears, draws his pocket revolver and tells Fitzpatrick to get out of the house. Ned does not know that Dan has already agreed to be arrested. Ned takes a shot at Fitzpatrick and misses. Ellen grabs a shovel and attacks Fitzpatrick sending him flying across the room. Ned fires a second shot and hits Fitzpatrick in the wrist. Dan grabs Fitzpatrick’s revolver and points it at him. Bricky Williamson appears with a handgun and wrestles the shovel off Ellen. Fitzpatrick grabs the muzzle of Ned’s pistol and the gun goes off, a bullet passing through the sleeve of Fitzpatrick’s jumper. There are now three guns levelled at Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick states that Kate Kelly was in the room all this time and took no part in what happened. He said she just sat there and cried.

Fitzpatrick’s arm is bleeding profusely. The bullet is lodged under his skin. He becomes dizzy and just wants to leave while he is still alive. Ned unloads the police revolver and hands it back to Fitzgerald. Ned provides him with a razor to extract the bullet. Ellen bandages the wound and he goes outside into the fresh air to recover. Ned and Fitzpatrick are on relatively friendly terms and they have a discussion with Ned concocting and suggesting various scenarios as to how Fitzpatrick got shot threatening him with dire consequences if he reports otherwise.. Fitzpatrick leaves about 10.00pm headed for Benalla accompanied by Ned and Dan for a couple of miles. After about 5 miles he is feeling faint again and calls at the store of David Lindsay at Winton.

Lindsay and his brother Richard bandage Fitzpatrick’s arm and ride with him into Benalla at about 2.00am. He reports to the sergeant on duty and records a tale that will set Victoria ablaze that Ned Kelly tried to kill one of Her Majesty’s policemen with the help of his mother.

The attempted murder of a policeman is a capital offence with a penalty of death by hanging. Ned, Dan and Joe Byrne take off from Greta leaving Ellen to face the consequences alone with three day old Alice.

The Benalla telegraph office opens at 8.00am. Sergeant Whelan sends his report to Comm. Standish and Victoria’s police detectives. Warrants are issued against Ned and Dan for attempted murder and against Ellen, Bill Skilling and Brickey Williamson for aiding and abetting. The NSW police are alerted.

Sergeant Steele and Detective Brown from Wangaratta have been investigating Ned’s horse stealing activities. They decide to enforce the warrants, ride out to Eleven Mile Creek and take up a position to keep the house under surveillance. Snr const. Strachan joins them as reinforcement. About 9.00pm they approach Ellen’s house. Ellen is home with her children and brother, Mad Jimmy Quinn. Ellen tells the police that she knows nothing about any shooting or Fitzpatrick. As for Ned, she says she hasn’t seen him for at least four months. Kate tells the same story. The police tell Ellen to get her things together and prepare for her absence then proceed to Brickey Williamson’s hut. He also denies any knowledge of Fitzpatrick or any shooting. The police then arrest Williamson, handcuff him to a horse and let it find its own way back to Greta police station. They then proceed to Bill Skilling’s house and arrest him. At around 1.00am they return to Ellen’s house and arrest her. She contradicts her previous statement that she knew nothing about Fitzpatrick when she tells the police that if it had not been for her the boys would have killed him.

In Melbourne,The Age reported that Ellen struck Fitzpatrick over the head with a shovel with such force that only his new, strong helmet saved him from a fatal blow and that Ellen and the others would have killed him if Ned had not intervened. Ellen is painted as the matriarch of a notorious crime family which is probably not far from the truth given the record of her sons and near relatives, the Quinns and the Lloyds.

The following day, 18th April, Ellen, Skilling and Williamson are brought before the court presided over by Frank McDonnell, the family’s former solicitor, who remands the three of them for 8 days and they are transferred to Beechworth Gaol. On 26th April they are remanded again to appear on 17th May. Ellen is permitted to take her baby Alice into gaol with her and is allocated a special cell with warm air pumped through pipes to keep out the cold and with a grassed courtyard separate from other prisoners.

On 17th May the three accused attend a committal hearing in Benalla before three Justices of the Peace. They are presented with the police case and witnesses, asked if they have anything to say and reply “Nothing”. They are committed on the Capital Charge at the next Court of Assize at Beechworth on 9th October. Ellen is granted bail of 100 pounds plus two sureties of 50 pounds each but cannot raise the money. She returns to Beechworth Gaol. Ellen sits and waits. She has no alternative and receives no help from her two fugitive brothers or her other son, Jim who is in prison in Sydney. Unexpectedly, two well regarded Greta farmers, Robert Graham and William Dinning offer help with 50 pounds each, her bail is reduced from 100 to 50 pounds and she returns to Eleven Mile Creek in June.

About the same time Const. Fitzpatrick, who endures rumours spread by some of his colleagues that he is a drunkard and a liar, marries his pregnant fiancée and is transferred to Richmond Police Depot for his own safety. The hunt for Ned and his associates continues without success nor does Ellen hear from them. She is informed that the judge in her case will be Redmond Barry, presents herself at the court dressed in black and with great fear and trepidation. Barry has made it known that he considers accused from that district“ he has always found it to be more necessary to inflict severe punishment in this part of the colony than any other.” This is the same room where, 15 years earlier, Elizabeth Scott was sent to the gallows for sly grogging.

Ellen and her co-accused are represented by barrister John Bowman. The jury, according to Ned, is rigged against his family, a former police sergeant sitting amongst them. Fitzpatrick presents his story and is cross examined by Bowman to no avail.  His evidence is consistent. Dr. Nicholson who dressed Fitzpatrick’s wound gave evidence consistent with that for Fitzpatrick. On the other hand the prosecutor Hussey Chomley makes mincemeat of witnesses for the defence mainly on the basis that they are related or on otherwise friendly terms with the Kelly’s and Ellen’s co-accused. Two hours later the jury returns a verdict of “Guilty” and are remanded for sentencing beck to Beechworth Gaol. Two days later, Barry sentences Ellen to three years hard labour. Her daughters in the gallery are relieved that she did not get the death sentence.

Ellen becomes Victorian Female Prisoner No. 3520. She was sentenced on 9th October, 1978 convicted of Wounding with intent to prevent lawful apprehension. Despite the prospect of a death sentence her sentence is regarded as very severe given her age and feeding a young baby at her breast. Police Magistrate Alfred Wyatt giving evidence before the 1881 Royal Commission on the Victorian Police Force stated that                                             I thought the sentence on that old woman, Mrs Kelly, a very severe one.

Ellen Kelly predicted to Brickey Williamson that

“They’ll play up. There will be murder now”.

Life in gaol is tough but Ellen decides to make the best of it by working within the system, obeying the rules and hoping good conduct will earn her remissions. She is able to keep baby Alice with her. In her absence Maggie becomes head of the household looking after the other young children. Ned and Dan hatch a plan to have her released in exchange for giving themselves up voluntarily. The plan is put to the Benalla Police magistrate, Alfred Wyatt, by Ellen’s brother, Pat Quinn but the law is not prepared to make a deal.

On 24th October, Ellen is moved from Beechworth to the Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street. Her co-accused are sent to Pentridge. Alice can stay with Ellen until she is 1 year old then must be sent to relatives. Fortunately, the gaol governor is a kindly man who is concerned at the lack of work and activity available to female prisoners but Ellen must and decides that there is no escape other than to obey the rules, do her jobs and hope for privileges, a larger cell and hope for remissions.

It is at this time that the Stringybark Creek incident takes place. That story is well recorded and reported as are the police efforts to track down and arrest Ned and his gang. On the news of the recovery of Const. Kennedy’s body, the prison governor tells Ellen what has transpired and the serious trouble that Ned and Dan now face. She is shocked that what started out as a horse stealing charge has now brought both her boys to certain death. The Argus newspaper states that the mother of the two boys is a “notoriously bad woman”.

Ellen is given a job in the prison laundry. She works hard and the prison staff treat her well. A turn of events for Fitzpatrick add hope to her case to be reheard. Fitzpatrick is seconded to police in Sydney to help in the identification of Jim Kelly who is serving time there under an assumed name. As Fitzpatrick has dealt with him in the past it is thought that he could help with a positive identification. Fitzpatrick does not perform his duties very well. He is accused of involvement in a robbery and is directed to return to Melbourne. He continues to abuse his rank and his evidence that got Ellen convicted is becoming more and more unbelievable. It is seen even within police circles as the cause of the friction between the Kellys and their sympathisers and the police generally. Eventually he is dismissed from the force on orders of Comm. Standish.

While Ellen is in gaol the police continue their fruitless search for the gang. Oblivious to all that is going on outside, Ellen becomes the topic of a scheme being hatched by Bricky Williamson who is serving time in Pentridge for his part in the Fitzpatrick incident.

Bricky tells the police that he has intimate knowledge of the gang’s movements and hideouts. He also tells them that he is the father of Ellen’s baby, Alice. He offers to disclose all and lead the police to the hideout if he, in return, is released from prison. The authorities reject to proposal

Ellen receives another blow. Alice is now 12 months old and cannot remain in gaol with Ellen. Maggie and Tom Lloyd travel to Melbourne to collect Alice. While in Melbourne they purchase a large quantity of ammunition from the police armaments supplier. The police are alerted but fail to intercept the shipment.

In July, 1879 Ellen is given a promotion to a Class 3 prisoner and on 22nd December promoted again to Class 2. Freedom is now in sight. Plans are being hatched at Glenrowan but she is unaware of any of it as are the prison and other authorities. On Saturday, 26th June, 1880 Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly approach the hut of Aaron Sherritt with the intent of killing him because he has become a police informer. They knock on the door, Sherritt appears and Joe shoots him dead. They attempt to set fire to the hut but fail and depart quickly to join Ned at Glenrowan where he is preparing to derail a train carrying police troopers.

The gunfight, the capture of Ned and the death of the other three gang members is well documented elsewhere. Ellen is completely unaware of any of these events but she has a very realistic nightmare of an altercation with the police where her sons are killed. On Tuesday 29th June, Governor Castieau summons Ellen to his office. The gaol has been abuzz with stories of Ned’s capture and delivery to the prison hospital; ward. Prison Governor Castieau tells Ellen whathas happened. She asks if she can see Ned but the request is declined due to his badly injured state and cannot be granted until he is well enough to receive her.

Dan’s funeral takes place at Greta cemetery on 30th June in the presence of his family and about 80 sympathisers but Ellen is unaware of this. At 3.00pm on the same day Ellen is ushered in to see Ned at long last after two years. She is overcome with grief at his appearance and short prospects of life. Her visit is limited to half an hour and she returns to her duties with the promise that she can visit him again later. Ned however is taken back to Beechworth where the charges against him will be heard. The main prosecution witness is Const. McIntyre who makes the following statement at the later Royal Commission.

           it was thought by some that the punishment allotted to Mrs.Kelly for her attack on Fitzpatrick should have been months instead of years of imprisonment. She had one of the most tragical and harrowing experiences that human nature can furnish, for she was confined in the jail in which her unhappy son suffered the last punishment of the law.”

The prosecution believes that it is impossible to convene a jury in that part of the world that would not be at least partly sympathetic to Ned’s plight and succeeds in persuading the judge to transfer the case back to Melbourne. Ned arrives back at Melbourne Gaol. On 26th August he is fit enough to be placed in an isolation cell. Ellen and his sister Maggie are allowed to visit. The visit is a long one because all know that despite the fact that Ned’s trial has not started, they know what the outcome will be.

Ned’s trial starts on 25th October, 1880. Ellen is not in the court. The trial carries over until the next day when Ned is found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He is returned to the Condemned Cell No.38. The following Sunday Ellen is allowed to visit Ned again in the presence of a warder.


Strenuous efforts are made by Ned’s supporter for clemency without success. Ellen is not aware of this but is aware of the commotion that milling crowds outside the gaol are making. Ellen’s 15 year old daughter Grace arrives in Melbourne. She is allowed to visit her mother and Ned but not together.

Ned is scheduled to be hanged at 10.00am on 11th November. Ellen is allowed to make a final visit to Ned on the 9th. Her parting words to him were “Mind you die like a Kelly son.” The clang of the trapdoor can be heard all through the gaol, the body, as required by law, is allowed to swing for another half hour. Ellen is not allowed to witness the event or its aftermath. His body is taken down and dismembered by medical students. The head is removed, de-fleshed and a plaster cast made for a death mask. What remains is placed into a packing casea, covered with quicklime and buried in the prison yard with no marker. Ellen is not allowed to witness any of this process nor visit his unmarked grave.

Ned Kelly's headless skeleton has finally been identified more than 130 years after his execution in the Old Melbourne Gaol.Victoria's Attorney-General Robert Clark says the infamous bushranger's remains have been identified by doctors and scientists at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM).His body, missing most of the skull, was put into a wooden axe box and thrown into a mass grave with the corpses of other prisoners.

Three months later, on 7th February, 1881, Ellen is released from gaol having earned eight months remissions. Daughter Kate collects her and takes her back to Eleven Mile Creek. Her selection has been forfeited while she was in gaol but is allowed to renew the lease on payment of 5 shillings for an illegal occupation fee. Her house and possessions are derelict and strewn everywhere by police raiding parties.

Her house becomes a sympathisers rendezvous and is under constant police attention because they suspect that her brother Jack Quinn and other sympathisers are planning to form another gang to take on the police.

On 14th May, the Royal Commission travels to Greta to pay Ellen a visit. They describe her house as a place of gloomy, desolate appearance with broken glass windows and no cultivation of the land apart from a small kitchen plot. She does not invite them in but asks them to write down a statement.     

                                            “The police have treated my children very badly. I have three very young ones, and had one only a fortnight old when I got into trouble. That child I took to Melbourne with me but I left Kate and Grace and the younger children behind. The police used to treat them very ill. They used to take them out of bed at night and make them walk before them. The police made the children go first when examining a house, so as to prevent the outlaws, if in the house, from suddenly shooting them. Kate is now only about 16 years old and is still a mere child. She is older than Grace. Mrs. Skilling is married, and, of course, knew more than the others who are mere children. She is not in the house now. Mr. Brooke Smith was the worst behaved of the force and had less sense than any of them. He used to throw things out of the house, and he came in once to the lock-up staggering drunk. I did not like his conduct. That was at Benalla. I wonder they allowed a man to behave as he did to an unfortunate woman. He wanted me to say things that were not true. My holding comprises 88 acres, but it is not fenced in. The Crown will not give me a title. If they did I could sell at once and leave this locality. I was entitled to a lease a long time ago, but they are keeping it back. Perhaps if I had a lease I might stay for a while if they would let me alone. I want to live quietly. The police keep coming backwards and forwards, and saying there are ‘reports, reports’. As to the papers there was nothing but lies in them from the beginning. I would sooner be closer to a school, on account of my children.

If I had anything forward I would soon go away from here.”


Grace then makes a statement telling that on one occasion Detective Ward threatened to shoot her if she did not tell them where her brothers were.

Ellen’s remaining son Jim is 22 and in October 1881 is arrested with Wild Wright for stealing horses at Cootamundra in NSW. Wright is acquitted but Jim gets 5 years hard labour. He is released in January 1886 after serving 4 years. He sets up business as a bootmaker in Winton and leaves an honest life. He also takes on droving and shearing jobsthat take him away from home for long periods. Grace and Kate find work locally and the days of poverty are relieved to some extent. Her remaining children and grandchildren marry and are prolific producers of babies. Ellen’s hardships however continue when her daughter Maggie dies of rheumatic gout in 1896 at age 38 then the following February, Maggies 22 year old daughter, Ellen Skilling, drowns herself in a deep lagoon after falling out with her step father, Tom Lloyd in February, 1897. Then on 4th October, 1898 Kate who was married and living at Forbes, NSW drowns in a waterhole after giving birth to another daughter who, dies a few weeks later. Her cause of death is said to have been milk fever.

Ellen decides to raise Kate’s children as her own. She cannot cope at her old home and moves in to live with son Jim in his house where she will remain for the rest of her life.


In 1906 the world’s first full; length feature film is made. It is The Story of the Kelly Gang. Ellen is tracked down by a journalist, Brian Cookson, who wants to do a series of interviews with as many of the surviving characters as he can. The film itself was made in Heidelberg but the interviews were conducted throughout Victoria wherever the characters might be found. At 79, Ellen grants Cookson his interview and tells him she has borne 12 children and outlived them all. 

She tells him of the incident with Const. Fitzpatrick which is portrayed in the film as his attempt to assault her daughter and how Ned leapt to her defence, contrary to the story told by Fitzpatrick. She denied ever hitting Fitzpatrick at all.

The interviews are published in the Sydney The Sun in a series of instalments from 27th August to 24th September, 1911.

Following her release from prison she returned to her house at Eleven Mile Creek. It had fallen into a sad state of neglect in her absence and life was very, very hard supporting her own young children as well as her three grandchildren. She did not resort to her old standby ways of sly grogging. She is supported by relatives and friends. Greta remains a hotbed of revenge which keeps the police very cautious but nothing serious breaks out that involves Ellen. However, it becomes a meeting place of sympathisers and the police fear that it is a rendezvous for the formation of a new gang. Police numbers in Greta and Glenrowan are increased.

Although she is spared the constant attention of the police, Jim gets himself arrested for horse stealing in NSW in October, 1881 and is sentenced to another 5 years hard labour at Wagga.

In October, 1882 Bricky Williamson is released from prison but never returns to Greta. Similarly, Bill Skilling, the other neighbour convicted for his part in the Fitzpatrick incident. Is released on 11th June, 1883 and never returns to Greta where his wife and two children still reside.

In January, 1886, Jim is released from Parramatta gaol prematurely and returns to Greta. Despite being under a constant cloud of suspicion he decides to give up his horse stealing ways and become an honest shoemaker. In between bouts of discontent he takes on itinerary work as a drover and shearer but all the time he devotes himself to looking after his mother and stays out of trouble.

Jim settles down and builds a new house where he, his mother and the five children can all reside together. This house provides Ellen with a luxury she has never had before, a house that does not have a dirt floor.

From that point her life takes on a new turn for the better. The old criminal associations are in the past, the main characters either dead, in prison or departed for parts much further afield. Ellen involves herself in the education of her five children, all turn out to be model citizens and never falling foul of the law.

Ellen’s youngest son John, known as Jack Kelly, became a successful bush jockey. He does not want to follow the life of a poor farm labourer under the cloud of being a notorious Kelly. He leaves to work on stations across the border working his way to Queensland. At Bourke he crosses paths with Wirth’s Wild West Show and joins it as a trick rider. The show tours New Zealand. Jack is joined by his childhood sweetheart, Violet Knight. They marry in Auckland and together they form an act called Kelly and Kelly promoting themselves as the “World’s Champion Stockwhip Crackers & Rope Spinners”. Violet becomes “The Only Lady Stockwhip Cracker in the World”. They take their show all over the world ending up with their name in lights on Broadway.

This is Ellen Mary Kelly (King)Ned's sister in costume who performed in shows.This photo is held by SLV Vic. Gov.

In 1906 they retire from show business and with four children settle in Perth. He comes under notice of the WA Police Commissioner, Frederick Hare. Jack is recruited to train the WA police Mounted Section where he remains until 1908. The call of show business however proves too strong to resist. Jack and Vie move to Canada where they are made honorary members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. From there they join Barnum & Bailey’s Circus and tour the Americas and the world.

While appearing in Barcelona Vie dies in childbirth. Jack returns to America and joins Ringling Bros Circus then on to Hollywood where he is engaged teaching movie stars how to ride.

On 11th November, 1914, another grandson, Fred Foster, Kate’s son,who has been a member of the 16th Light Horse Regiment at Benalla, leaves for the war in Europe. There, he transferred to the 17th Battalion.

On 15th April at Lagnicourt, he died in the German spring breakthrough, his body lost in the confusion of the battle. His name now appears on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux marking soldiers with no known grave.

In her final years Ellen has at last reached that sought after state of contentment that she dreamed about 50 years earlier.

She is the sole survivor of the original Quinns and Kellys and her surviving family members are exemplary citizens. She is a proud and loyal subject of King and country despite the trial and tribulations imposed on her and her family by the police. She is immensely proud that Jack had performed before King George V..

In her advanced years she is transferred to Wangaratta Hospital, where, on 27th March, 1923 she breathes her last breath. She was 91. She was survived by two sons, James and John and three daughters,

The Benalla newspaper, North Eastern Ensign reported

“…truly a victim of circumstances who fought her adversities as only strong souls can fight them. Though death ends a long life of suffering, her end is deeply regretted by a large circle of friends who knew her as a kind-hearted woman and heartedly sympathized with her in her misfortunes.”

After Ellen’s death, Jim spent his last few years as a recluse living with his nephew. He dies peacefully in his sleep on 18th December, 1946 aged 87. He is buried in Greta cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Nearly 160 years after Ellen and Red, the only true love of her life, planted the seed of a happy family at Beveridge, the house that Red built is still standing and has been declared as part of the National Heritage. The Victorian government provided $1 million for its restoration much to the consternation of elements of families connected with the slain policemen. The counter argument is that it is part of our history and is worth preserving on that basis.


In 2012 Pentridge Prison was sold by the Victorian Government for a housing development. An exhumation licence was issued. Ned’s bones were identified by DNA testing. On 17th January, 2013 a requiem mass was held at St. Patrick’s Church, Wangaratta for Ned. His remains were interred with those of his mother at Greta Cemetery and 133 years after their last tearful farewell mother and son were once again united.



Donate to keep us online

Please donate to 

Swiftcode METWAU4B

BSB 484799



Reference PR

Please email me so I can thank you. 


Responsive Grid for Articles patriotrealm
Clear filters