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One of the most famous and best known characters in Australian folk lore, Ned Kelly was a murderer, bank robber, horse thief and a Robin Hood of the Australian bush. No story is better known amongst Australians than the gunfight at Glenrowan where he and his gang met their “Waterloo”. Up in “Kelly country”, north east Victoria, one still needs to take care of what one says if the topic of the Kellys comes up over a few beers or three. He still has many supporters. If my comments appear to be biased it is because I am.

So how did this legendary bushranger become part of our folklore? This is about a man who is regarded as a larrikin and murderer by some and a hero to others. 

Ned Kelly was born to a father named John “Red” Kelly, a ticket of leave man of Irish birth.

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Many of the labourers in the early days of the colony were ticket-of-leave men, convicts who had served part of their sentence and demonstrated good behaviour. Ticket-of-leave holders were allowed to take up paid work in an allocated district and had to notify any change in their circumstances. The ticket-of-leave could be rescinded if the holder fell afoul of the law.

He was convicted and sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing two pigs valued at six pounds. He got his ticket of leave in 1845 and was pardoned in 1848. He met up with another Irishman named James Quinn who had a farm at Wallan who took him on as an employee. Red lived at the farm and married the farmer’s daughter, Ellen, 18 years old. They had two girls, the first of which died in infancy. Red went off to the goldfields and returned a year later with enough gold to buy his own 41 acre property at Beveridge, a nearby town. In December, 1854 a son, Edward, known as Ned, was born.

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The family increases with the birth of more sisters and brother for Ned. Red cannot make ends meet and sells his farm at a considerable loss. Other family members are constantly in trouble with the police and being an ex-convict, Red is a target for persecution. To get away from the police the family moved to Avenel, about 50 miles north on the Sydney Road.

Red now had six children with another on the way. To make ends meet he set up a still selling sly grog. A poddy calf strays onto his property. He kills and skins it. The carcase is used to feed his family and an uneaten hind quarter is left hanging on his verandah. The neighbour who owned the calf sees it and concludes it must have come from his missing calf. Cattle stealing was rife at the time and the Victorian government introduced a law that said whenever a beast is to be slaughtered the police had to be notified first and the brand must be kept on the hide. Red is convicted for possessing an unbranded calf skin and is fined 25 pounds, in default, 6 months in prison. He does not have 25 pounds and goes to the Avenel lock-up. Ned, 10 years old at the time then becomes the man of the house. His main task is cutting and chopping wood for cooking and warmth. He develops into a strapping big and muscular young man and to make ends meet starts stealing horses, hiding them in the bush and when a reward is offered returns the horse and claims the reward. He also befriends local aboriginal people who teach him many of their bush skills.

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At 45 years of age Red is released from prison but the years of incarceration and heavy drinking play havoc with his health and at Christmas 1866 he breathes his last breath leaving Ellen destitute with 7 children.

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Ned resumes his role as man of the house. The family move to a little town east of Benalla called Greta where two of Ellen’s sisters live without their husbands who are in Beechworth prison for cattle stealing. There are many Kelly relatives living in this district and almost to a man they have been in trouble with the police for stealing cattle and horses. The area is heavily populated by selectors.

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Selection is the act of choosing and acquiring a subdivided tract of land for farming purposes in Australia. A selection is also descriptive of the plot of land that was selected. The term derived from "free selection before survey" of crown land in some Australian colonies under land legislation introduced in the 1860s. These acts were intended to encourage closer settlement, based on intensive agriculture, such as wheat-growing, rather than extensive agriculture, such as wool production. Selectors often came into conflict with squatters, who already occupied the land and often managed to circumvent the law.

In 1860 the Victorian government passed the Land Act. This allowed small parcels of land to be separated from Squatters large holdings and passed to selectors at a nominal rent for 3 years and obligations to improve the land after which they could claim the title. Police were in league with the wealthy squatters to force selectors to default in which case the land would revert to the squatter. Police harassment of selectors was common thus generating much resentment.

Ned’s first brush with the police occurs when a Chinaman named Ah Fook calls to the homestead and starts an argument with Ned’s sister. Ned comes to her aid and an altercation starts.

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Ah Fook runs off and complains to the police that Ned accosted him and stole 10/-. Ned is arrested and gaoled where he remains for a week due to delays in him being brought before the magistrate. He is eventually acquitted but the experience instils a hatred of the police which will never end.

He takes up with Harry Power, a bushranger who has escaped from Pentridge gaol. Together they commit a number of minor robberies far afield from Greta. They part company in May, 1870. Ned is 15, a grown man and returns to the homestead in Greta. He is arrested as an accomplice of Power but is acquitted of three charges for lack of evidence. Ned is always in trouble with the police for a succession of minor infringements but in August, 1871 and still only 15 he is convicted of receiving a stolen horse and sentenced to 3 years in Pentridge with hard labour.. He had, in fact, paid 20 pounds for the horse but trumped up police evidence got him convicted.

 On his release Ned stays out of trouble finding work easy to get due to his formidable size and strength until he is arrested for being drunk & disorderly and engaged two policemen, Lonigan and Fitzpatrick, in a very vicious fight resulting in him being fined and released. The two police will become his bitter enemies.

On 15th April, 1878, Fitzpatrick goes to the Kelly house to arrest Dan Kelly without a warrant. An altercation occurs as he attempts to handcuff Dan. Ellen, attacks him with a shovel. A shot is fired and Fitzpatrick is wounded in his wrist. Fitzpatrick goes to a neighbouring house and has his wound dressed before returning to Benalla. Ellen and two neighbours who were also present are charged and convicted of attempted murder. Ellen is sentenced to three years in prison while still nursing a new born baby by Judge Redmond Barry, known as The Hanging Judge.

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In exchange for their mother’s freedom, Ned and Dan offer to give themselves up on the various charges the police want them for but they are rejected. Ned, Dan and two mates, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne have been operating a gold sluice deep in the Wombat Ranges and return to their diggings to be out of harm’s way. The police are determined to get them and two parties set out from Benalla and Mansfield with orders to bring the Kelly’s in dead or alive. The Kellys were tipped off about these parties by faithful neighbours.

The Mansfield party set off provisioned for two weeks and armed with pistols, shotguns and a 0.52 repeating rifle. After about 20 miles they set up camp in wild country at Stringybark Creek. Const. McIntyre goes off to shoot game for a meal and fires two shots at some parrots but misses. The shots are heard by the Kellys who carefully investigate and find the camp about a mile from their own. The Kellys have a pocket revolver, a sawn-off carbine and a shotgun. He conceives a plan to disarm the police before the second party arrives and send them on their way back home.

Ned is an expert bushman and knows he can get away from the police in this wild country. They carefully approach the police camp and find McIntyre and Lonigan tending a big fire. Ned bursts into the camp ordering the police to throw down their weapons. McIntyre does as ordered. Lonigan jumps up, draws his pistol and aims at Ned who fires first and with a single shot hits him in his right eye.

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Dan Kelly searches the police tent and finds a large cache of guns and ammunition. They are convinced that the police intended to kill and not just arrest them. The other two policemen, Kennedy and Scanlan are out nonpatrol in the bush. Ned makes a deal with McIntyre that if they all surrender their weapons he will let them go next morning on foot.

As nightfall approaches Kennedy and Scanlan are seen arriving. The Kellys secrete themselves behind logs and stumps. McIntyre calls to Kennedy to dismount and surrender his weapons because he is surrounded. Kennedy thinks it’s a joke and puts his hand on his revolver. Ned fires a warning shot at him and calls for his surrender. Both policemen fire back. Scanlan is bucked from his horse and attempts to fire at Ned. Ned fires and wounds him. Joe Byrne finishes him off.

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Kennedy is thrown from his horse which is grabbed by McIntyre who leaps onto it and gallops away while Kennedy gets behind a tree and fires back. He runs off in the same direction as McIntyre in his horse. Ned takes a double barrelled police shotgun and takes off in pursuit. Kennedy has two shots at Ned and misses, one searing his beard. Kennedy has another shot with his revolver and grazes Ned’s ribs. Ned returns fire hitting Kennedy in the right armpit. Ned fires again and Kennedy falls down dead. By this time McIntyre is well away but after about 2 miles his horse cannot go any further. Suspecting it has been wounded he removes the bridle and saddle and turns the horse loose proceeding himself on foot.

McIntyre sleeps the night in a wombat hole and next morning starts walking west knowing that sooner or later he will cross the Benalla/Mansfield telegraph line. The Kellys are met by a relative, Tom Lloyd and return to his hut at Greta where they get a feed and head off once more through the scrub towards Beechworth in pouring rain. On 27th October McIntyre reaches John McColl’s run and raises the alarm but it is Sunday and the telegraph office is closed so a Mansfield policeman takes a horse to ride on to Benalla, 50 miles away.

Down in Melbourne the authorities move fast. The Premier, Graham Berry and Chief Commissioner, Captain Standish meet in the Premier’s office. Superintendent Nicholson is instructed to proceed to Benalla in command of a special force solely devoted to capturing the Kelly gang. All available troopers from the Richmond police depot are ordered with their horses to proceed by special train to Benalla. 79 of them depart that same afternoon. Sergeant Kennedy is popular in Mansfield and left a wife and 5 children. Citizens are keen to form groups to join the search for the gang but the police reject the offers; they want professionals, not amateurs.

The Kelly gang make slow progress due to flooded streams blocking their way but eventually make it to a woolshed owned by Aaron Sherritt, a close friend of Joe Byrne. Sherritt takes them to a cave where they light a fire and dry out while he stands watch. The gang planned to cross into NSW but the Murray River was in record flood at the time and could not be crossed. The main crossings were patrolled by police and other crossings were impassable. Several unsuccessful attempts were made. By this time police resources were heavily bolstered by transfers from Melbourne. The gang kept moving throughout northern Victoria to avoid capture and were able to do so by a combination of superb bush skills and help from sympathisers.

There is a growing mood of sympathy for the gang and the matter of police behaviour was raised in the Victorian parliament on 13th November, 1878 about what had been the root cause of the Stringybark Creek massacre. The premier is called upon to instigate an inquiry and after much heated debate he agrees to do so.

The gang cannot exist on the goodwill of friendly neighbours and living off the land. They have to keep away from closer settlements and remain on the move within their familiar stamping grounds in north-east Victoria.

 Next time, the Kelly family work out what to do next. 

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Around the dinner table Ned describes the Stringybark Creek fight and his past life of persecution by police for things he did and things he did not do and the incarceration of his mother.

He denies murdering the police stating it was a fair stand up fight with his enemies who were out to kill him first.

All the time Joe Byrne is writing this down as a letter to be given to Superintendent Sadlier with a warning that he will continue his war against the police until his mother and her baby are released from prison.


At the western end of what is generally described as Kelly country lies a neat little town called Euroa on the main road and railway to Sydney. It has a police station manned by a single mounted policeman, a couple of pubs, a railway station and a bank. It has a population of about 300 and is about 100 miles from Melbourne.

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Euroa Bank

The Kellys are not that well known in the town but are very familiar with the bush of the Strathbogie Ranges that sit just above and where the gang is holed up. Joe Byrne goes into town on a fact finding mission. He learns that the policeman is not overly diligent and that most of the town will be at a funeral the next Tuesday afternoon.

He studies the location of the bank. The next day he visits the homestead of Faithfull Creek station, one of the richest conglomerate runs in Victoria. He asks to see the manager but is told he is away. He goes outside and signals the rest of the gang who are watching from the nearby bush. The homestead housekeeper, Mrs. Fitzgerald, is preparing food. Ned barges in and politely asks her for a meal and feed for their horses. She calls her husband. Ned tells them who they are. The station groom attends to the horses. The rest of the station hands arrive for lunch. At gunpoint Ned bails them up and locks them all in a store room. The manager returns, Ned introduces himself and tells him all they want is food and rest and he is allowed to remain free. A hawker arrives in the evening and he too is imprisoned in the store. There are now 14 men locked in the store room.

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Dan Kelly is left to watch over the captives and the homestead while the other three take to the telegraph lines along the railway with axes and wire cutters to destroy it and prevent any quick repairs. Four fettlers come on the scene and are too taken captive and imprisoned. Leaving Joe Byrne to keep guard over the prisoners the rest of the gang proceed into Euroa to meet up with Benjamin Gould, an ex-convict friend of Ned’s who has been in town for a week studying the daily routine of the town. It is after 3 o’clock closing time at the bank. Ned knocks on the door asking if they can cash a cheque for the Faithfull Creek station. The clerk reluctantly opens the door, bursts in and bails up the bank manager. They force him to open the safe and get away with 2,260 pounds. To affect the getaway and avoid any alarm being raised, Ned persuades the bank manager and his wife to drive them in their buggy to where he wants to go. The wife takes a bit of convincing that Ned is who he claims to be because he us such a gentleman.

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The gang returns to the homestead. The 37 prisoners are released and they all sit down to dinner. Ned gives Mrs. Fitzgerald a bag of coins in payment for her trouble in feeding them. At 8.30pm the gang saddles up and departs. At the same time Nicholson and Sadlier are on a train to Albury following a tip that the Kellys are aiming to cross the Murray which is in the opposite direction. By midnight the word has got to them about the Euro hold-up. Next morning a team of police with blacktrackers descend on Euroa to follow them up but there are so many tracks around the homestead that the blacktrackers cannot pick up a track. They are not helped by the fact that the 37 captives ended up as Kelly sympathisers because of his gentlemanly and benign behaviour to them when they were captives. Nothing like the uncouth ruffian he had been reported to be.

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Superintendent Hare is out in charge of the Euroa hold-up and is ordered to depart immediately. So many reports of sightings of the gang come from so far afield that the police cannot cope with the information. Hare recruits another 58 hand picked men from police stations all over the state and by the end of December 217 police and 70 soldiers from the state Garrison Corps are stationed in the north east just to hunt down the Kelly gang. The job of the soldiers is to defend all the banks in the area. Captain Standish remains secreted in his office in Benalla not wanting to involve himself in the rough and tumble of the chase. He laments that if Const. Fitzpatrick had told the truth about his gunshot wound and if Ned’s mother and her baby had not been dealt with so harshly, none of this would have happened.

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Troopers in pursuit of The Kelly Gang

After no real sightings of the gang for three weeks after the Euroa hold up, Standish issues an order for a list to be made up of all known or suspected Kelly sympathisers. They are all rounded up and arrested in the following weeks charged under the Felons Apprehension Act. None of these people have done anything wrong but nevertheless they are shipped off to Beechworth Prison handcuffed together. There is public outrage at this treatment of innocent men and the hardship inflicted on their families for no reason. Widespread sympathy for the Kellys grows as a result. No progress is made in locating the gang and reports of sightings from very far afield continue to come in. Police in NSW are also on the alert and reports of sightings come from as far away as Goulburn.

At Beechworth the police prosecutor seeks to continue the remand of the prisoners without producing any evidence simply because the magistrate sides with the police action due to the extreme circumstances but on 22nd January, 1879 he appears again and Standish still has no evidence for him to support the charges. He withdraws from the case and immediately switches sides and appears as counsel for the accused. Hare is assigned to replace him. Endless, fruitless searching goes on. One of Standish’s staff tell him they will never succeed using current methods because the police have no bush skills. They only stick to main roads. Ned Kelly is the toughest, smartest and bravest bushman in the entire colony and without knowledge of the bush no police will ever catch him. They have to change tactics.

Up in Jerilderie, the Jerilderie Gazette,on 11th January, publishes an article complaining that their sole policeman is away looking for the Kelly gang leaving their town unprotected.

Sure enough, on 8th February two men appear at the bar of the Woolpack Inn, two miles out of town, having come from the direction of the Lachlan River.

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Woolpack Inn 1843 - 1887

They strike up a conversation with the barmaid/owner. The topic of the Kelly gang comes up and she tells them that they are widely admired by the populace in the district as very brave men. They also get information about the current state of police presence in the town then finish their drinks and head off south. Just down the road they meet up with Dan and Steve. The two are Ned and Joe Byrne.

There are two police on duty that night. They sleep in the police barracks about a quarter of a mile out of town. Just after midnight there is an urgent knocking on the door. A big black bearded man reports that there is a severe disturbance at the Woolpack Inn, several badly drunken men are playing havoc and the police are needed immediately. The man says “Are there only two of you?” The police confirm tat they are the only ones. The man draws his pistol and announces “Throw up your hands. I am Ned Kelly.” The police are locked up in their own cells and the wife of one of them proceeds to cook them a meal while Dan attends to feeding their horses. They retire for the night and at dawn the wife again prepares breakfast for all. It is Sunday and the wife, Mrs. Devine, says she must go to church because her absence will create suspicion. Every Sunday she arranges the flowers on the altar because on weekdays the place is used as the Court House. Ned agrees and Dan dons a police uniform to escort her to the church. She does her tasks and they return to the police station. In the afternoon Joe Byrne and Steve Hart take the more docile of the two constables on a tour of the town and study the Bank of NSW and the telegraph office.

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Over the time that the gang have been at the police station, Ned and Joe have been writing a 56 page letter setting out his side of the story against the police. This letter will become known as The Jerilderie Letter and he wants Samuel Gill, editor of the Jerilderie Gazette to publish it.

Early Monday morning Dan and Joe, dressed in police uniforms, take their horses to the blacksmith to be shod. They return to the police station around 11.00am and the four of them, plus Const. Richards, go to the Royal Mail Hotel, next to the bank. Ned tells the hotel owner, Cox, that he wants a room and for him to put everybody who comes into the hotel into this room and lock them up. At the same time Dan and Steve round up the rest of the hotel staff, take them into the parlour and keep guard over about 30 prisoners. Joe Byrne enters the bank via the back door and rounds up two staff who he takes into the hotel to be with the others. They then try to find the bank manager and after some difficulty do find him in the back room of the bank having a bath. Just as the manager is about to hand over his keys a customer comes to make a deposit. It is William Elliott, the schoolmaster, with the previous day’s church collection.

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Bank NSW Jerilderie

What occurs next is described in the first episode of my story on John Monash. Before the gang departs Ned burns all the contents of the deed box and the ban’s books in his belief that banks are an enemy of the common man and he wants to relieve these people of the burden of being beholden to the bank.

Samuel Gill, a newspaper man always on the lookout for news, heartened by the four new troopers in town thinks that his earlier editorial may have borne fruit. He goes to the police station and finds the real police locked in the cell. Mrs. Devine quickly tell him the story and he rushes back into town. On realising what has happened he starts to run to the next town where there might be a working telegraph. Realising that Gill is the one man he needs to publish his 56 page letter, Ned searches for him without success. He goes to Gill’s house and speaks to his wife telling her he wants the letter printed and published. Nothing more. Mrs. Gill cannot do it so Ned leaves the letter with the bank clerk with instructions to get Gill to print and publish it. The gang then go to the post office, check the outgoing cables from that morning, smash the Morse key beyond repair, cut down eight telegraph poles and cut the wires into little bits. They ride off cutting down more telegraph poles as they go. Their haul is over 2,000 pounds but Ned has not been able to get his letter printed or published.

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Jerilderie Post Office

Living, the bank clerk, and his manager took the letter to Melbourne and delivered it to the head off ice of the Bank of NSW who then passed it to the Chief Secretary of Victoria, Cameron. Cameron loaned it to the police for use in Ned’s trial. They copied it and that copy remains in the Public Records Office. The original was returned to Living and it remained in private hands until 2000 when it was donated to the State Library of Victoria where it remains today.

As the gang with their two packhorses ride south a deluge swamps them and the surrounding country. This is a happy event because the heavy rain will obliterate their tracks and foil the use of blacktrackers. They eventually reach the Murray River and ford it just before dawn. After the telegraph lines are repaired the word gets to Superintendent Hare that the bank at Jerilderie has been held up by the Kelly gang. He orders all river crossing stations to be on the alert but nobody sees a thing.

The police in both states are furious with the people of Jerilderie. It is inconceivable that four men could capture and hold up an entire town without a finger being raised to oppose them but the same thing happened at Euroa. The courteous behaviour, of Ned in particular, and the burning of the bank documents gained the outlaws a lot of sympathetic support. No shots were fired in anger and nobody was hurt. Added to that, the newspapers were derisive of the failures of the Victoria police in particular. The Ovens and Murray Advertiser which circulated throughout north eastern Victoria was scathing in its editorials.

Next time, as Politicians and Victorian Police become increasingly frustrated, Ned Kelly faces his Last Stand. 

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On 14th February, 1879 NSW and Victoria decide to act in unison. The NSW premier, Sir Henry Parkes proposes that each state put up 4,000 pounds for the capture of the gang, ie., 2,000 pounds for each member. Victoria agrees. The Ovens and Murray Advertiser describes it as the biggest reward ever offered anywhere in the world for the apprehension of any criminals.

On 23rd April, 1879, the incarcerated sympathisers, who have spent 107 days in prison for no legal reason, are discharged. The magistrates cannot continue the abuse of process any longer.


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In the meantime the Kelly gang have gone to ground secreting themselves in the Buffalo Ranges east of Mansfield. Hare undertakes further searches at sympathiser’s homesteads but finds nothing. There is a change in police command. Assistant Commissioner Nicholson takes over from Standish. Nicholson has not supported the tactics used by Standish. He was involved in the arrest of Harry Power and knows that the secret of success is recruiting informants. Nicholson and Detective Ward recruit 32 agents, each on a daily stipend of a few shillings, with bonuses for valuable tips. Among them are Aaron Sherritt, best friend of Joe Byrne and at one time engaged to his sister. Sherritt is not trusted but is considered to be useful as bait. Another recruit is Ned’s uncle. Patrick Quinn.

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Bushrangers the Kelly Gang (L-R) Steve Hart, Dan Kelly and Ned Kelly.Source:Herald Sun

With the change in tactics, the absence of police raids and fruitless searches, interest in the gang subsides. A new Chief Secretary is elected and he announces that the 8,000 pound reward is soon to be withdrawn hoping that anyone with information will come forward quickly hoping for payment. In March, Dan Kelly is seen at the Moyhu races supporting his sisters who are competing, but nobody seems to take much notice.

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Then in March, an old Greta farmer goes to plough his paddock and finds that his old mouldboard plough is missing. When he reports it to the police he discovers that there are several other similar reports. Ned has been experimenting with a variety of materials to make suits of armour but none, except the steel of a mouldboard, will repel bullets from a Martini-Henry rifle at close range.

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It will take the mouldboards from six ploughs to make one suit of armour and it is not too heavy to be manageable by a superhuman strong man like Ned. Joe is not convinced. The suits are shaped with the help of sympathetic smithies. The suits consist of a helmet, breastplate and a lappet to protect the groin. Ned also has two plates to protect his upper arms. He also had a back lappet made to protect his buttocks but discarded it because he could not ride a horse wearing it.

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The police are not asleep. Blacktrackers employed by Const. John Kelly (no relation), have noticed very small footprints when tracking the plough thieves. They are identified as the kind of boot worn by the Kelly gang. The increased presence of sympathisers at the Glenrowan Inn are also reported by informants. More and more of the Greta mob are congregating at the two Glenrowan pubs so something is going on. Plenty of money is being spent but nothing illegal is happening. Ned’s sisters are seen buying inordinate amounts of groceries. Nicholson decides to re-open the Glenrowan police station which had been closed 6 months earlier.

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The view from Glenrowan Railway Station looking back to the remains of Anne Jone's Hotel,Glenrowan Inn.It was the scene of the final confrontation between Ned Kelly and the Victorian Police.

Late in April, Const. Fitzpatrick, at Standish’s behest, is dismissed from the police force as a “liar, larrikin, perjurer and drunkard...and could never be trusted out of sight to do his duty. This is the man whose false testimony got Ellen Kelly sentenced and imprisoned. Notwithstanding what is being done, the lack of police activity prompts the Cabinet to replace Nicholson with Hare who reluctantly accepts. The government give Nicholson one month’s grace before the change is made.

In May, Nicholson receives a message that the gang is running out of money and that they are making some kind of metal jackets but he has not produced the gang and is replaced by Hare. In June, Hare meets with one of Nicholson’s spies who tells him he has proof positive that the gang have armour suits and they will use them soon to rob another bank. The Kellys have run out of funds. On 26th June, 1880 the Felons Apprehension Act is repealed. The warrants for Ned and Dan for the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick remain but the warrants for Joe and Steve for the Stringybark Creek murders expire. Technically they are no longer outlaws.

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Aaron Sherritt

On that same night, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly go to Aaron Sherritt’s homestead. He was once Joe’s best friend but is now known to be a police informer and has given them information about Joe.

Sherritt has three police staying at his house keeping watch on Joe’s mother’s house nearby hoping he might visit. Aaron is lured to the door and silhouetted against the light, Joe shoots him dead. He then engages in a gun fight with the police inside the house. Nobody gets shot. Dan tries to set the house on fire but it goes out. There are two women in the house and he does not want to harm them so they ride off having done what they came to do.

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At 10.00pm the same night Ned and Steve are riding down the main street of Glenrowan with four pack horses loaded with the suits of armour, a large drum of blasting powder, lots of ammunition and signal rockets. They secrete themselves behind McDonnell’s Hotel. A report from one of Nicholson’s spies, before his demotion was that Ned Kelly said he was going to blow up a train. No other details but tonight his plan was about to be hatched. The first curve heading north out of Glenrowan straddles a culvert with drops on both sides. A train derailed there would kill or seriously injure any passengers.

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Ned surmises that once the police hear of the Sherritt murder they will despatch a train full of troopers. Ned and Steve get to work to remove the rails. They cannot do it by themselves and go to a nearby camp where quarry workers are housed. He co-opts their assistance at gunpoint but they refuse. He then goes to the fettlers’ house and raises the two fettlers who installed the tracks. At gunpoint the two fettlers are forced to come with their tools to lift the rails. All of the town people who have been roused are herded into the Glenrowan Inn under guard by Steve Hart.

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Photograph taken during the siege at Glenrowan

The fettlers work slowly but in 90 minutes the job is done and four rails are removed. The townsfolk who are awake are all herded together in the Glenrowan Inn. No train arrives because the police at the Sherritt house are too afraid to leave not knowing that Joe and Dan have left already. At Glenrowan Dan is nervous and says they should all leave and go bush because it is now daylight. Ned says no. It is Sunday. There are no trains unless they are specials and they will stand and fight to the last. He has had enough of running.

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Eventually the police at the Sherritt house hail a passing traveller and send a note into Beechworth telling what had happened. About the same time Thomas Curnow, the Glenrowan school teacher goes driving with his family on this bright sunny morning. He lives outside the town and is unaware of the events of the night before. Ned detains them all. Curnow has a dislocated hip and limps. He engages Dan and Ned in friendly conversation looking for an opening to escape and warn the police. The message of the Sherritt murder has reached Beechworth and is soon conveyed to Benalla where Hare is having lunch at the Commercial Hotel. Hare does not want to act without specific authority from his superiors so he cables Melbourne for orders. Standish, his superior, is out for the afternoon and he gets no reply. Late in the afternoon Standish returns and authorises Hare to organise the special train.

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At Glenrowan there have been fun and games and much drinking all the day. Curnow, who is imprisoned in the Glenrowan Inn with the men asks Ned if he can go to visit his wife at the stationmaster’s house where the women and children are imprisoned. Ned agrees. Curnow meets his wife and notices a red scarf on his sister’s neck which he takes as it might be a useful means of making a red light. Back in Melbourne Standish organises another special train to bring the blacktrackers back to Benalla. It will arrive at 1.00am and the two trains will travel together.

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Around midnight Ned agrees that Curnow can take his family home in their buggy. Curnow tells his wife that he plans to go on to Benalla and warn the police of the fractured rails. His wife objects in fear that the gang will return and shoot them all. He takes her to her mother’s place for safety then returns alone to do what he has decided to do. At 1.30am the special train approaches Benalla station. It had been delayed because on a Sunday no staff were at Craigieburn to open the gates so it crashed through damaging its breaking system. At Benalla, Hare was waiting with his other train. The carriages are unhitched and coupled onto Hare’s train leaving the locomotive to proceed first as a pilot train. At 2 am the trains leave Benalla heading for Beechworth. Glenrowan is 14 miles away.

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Sketch of Glenrowan showing the railway station, centre, station masters house on the left and the Glenrowan Inn owned by Ann Jones, to the north.

Curnow has taken his wife to her mother’s house but she is still hysterical that they will be shot. Curnow volunteers that he will return to their home in case the gang comes but as he does so he hears the train coming. He grabs the red scarf, a candle and matches. The train line is opposite the house so he runs down the embankment, lights the candle, holds the scarf in front signalling the danger. It is about a mile and a half from Glenrowan. The train driver spots the small red light thinking it is a burning log. He sees the light moving, realises it is not a log and stops the train. Ned and the others also hear the train and hear it stopped. He realises that Curnow has tricked him and given the warning. Curnow tells the police the story and goes back to bed in case the gang come after him and his family. He needs an alibi.

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The police horses cannot be unloaded where they are so Hare and his six best men ride in the pilot engine and proceed to Glenrowan station. There they start unloading the horses. At the Glenrowan Inn the gang starts donning their armour. As they emerge they see the two engines and the carriages behind. At the Glenrowan Inn three gang members are standing in the shadow of the verandah, Ned is at the corner of the building. Ned hold his rifle like a pistol and aims it at Hare. Ned fires and hits Hare in the wrist. The other three open fire. The police scatter and run for cover and start shooting back. Ned starts walking directly toward the police firing as he goes. Const. Gascoine keeps firing at Ned with no effect until a bullet ricochets from the armour and hits Ned in the foot. Another hits him in the arm. Joe Byrne is hit in his right calf. The rockets are fired signalling the sympathisers but none come. Steve and Dan back into the Inn to calm the prisoners. Joe and Ned discuss what next to do but Joe is immobilised from his wound so Ned goes out alone. He makes for his horse but as he gets there sinks to his knees through loss of blood. He makes another attempt to walk down the hill but sinks again, this time into unconsciousness.

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 There is confusion everywhere. The police fire indiscriminately at the hotel. The walls are thin and shots penetrate the walls easily. The imprisoned townsfolk try to protect themselves by lying down. Several are hit, including children, but none killed outright. Eventually the owner of the inn is able to get the police to stop firing so that they can all get out unharmed. Steve, Joe & Dan remain inside. Ned regains consciousness and is able to join them in the inn. More police arrive from Wangaratta on horseback. The firing resumes in greater intensity. Joe Byrne is hit in his femoral artery and falls down dead. Ned moves out once more in a bid to get to his horse. Dan and Steve remain in the inn. Ned walks steadily ahead. Many shots bounce off his armour. Ned is confronting six police at point blank range with no effect until one raises a shotgun aimed at his legs and fires. Ned falls to the ground and the police are onto him instantly.

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reinactment of Ned Kelly's death

Inside the inn Dan and Steve have watched the defeat of Ned. The gunfight resumes and Dan is hit in the leg. At about 10.30am the remaining group inside the inn, mostly Kelly sympathisers, are allowed to leave. Dan and Steve remain and more police reinforcements arrive. About 3.00pm Steve and Dan are still inside the inn firing at police. The police pile hay against the building, douse it with kerosene and set it on fire. As the fire subsides a priest enters the smoking ruin and finds the bodies of all three remaining outlaws.

The war between the police and the Kelly gang is over.

The smouldering ashes of the Glenrowan Inn take many hours to cool down before the police can do anything further but eventually they do. The bodies of the three bushrangers and a non-sympathiser hostage, Martin Cherry, who has been hit by a police bullet, are retrieved. Superintendent Sadlier, the most senior man on the spot does not want to release the bodies to the families. They are to be kept for an inquest but the large throng of armed sympathisers, who outnumber the police, remonstrate and cause him to change his mind. Soon after, Standish arrives from Benalla and approves the release of the bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart to their families.


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The Kelly gang exchanges gunfire with police during the Glenrowan siege

Ned is carried to the station masters house where his numerous wounds are tended by a local doctor. He is taken to Benalla as there is no safe lock-up at Glenrowan. The next day he is taken by the regular train to the Melbourne Gaol with a magistrate in attendance to ensure that he is treated lawfully.

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Ned Kelly on the Australasian Sketcher cover, 10 July 1880

Supt. Sadlier is preparing an official police parade at Benalla to honour the police who brought down the gang but a large and menacing crowd causes him to abandon those plans. Thomas Curnow and his family are removed to Melbourne for their own safety.

Ned’s mother, Ellen, is also incarcerated at Melbourne Gaol. The Governor permits her to visit him and he tells her of what has happened to her family back at Greta. At the same time, there is growing public concern at the way the police have handled the whole matter at Glenrowan. Letters of protest are published in the Age and the Argus. The general feeling is that the police are to blame for the destruction of the Glenrowan Inn, the exposure to danger, injury and subsequent death of so many innocent people held captive inside and the failure to secure a proper inquest over Dan and Steve in the face of public demonstrations. The newly elected government decides to appoint a Royal Commission into the whole affair and the general organisation of the police force. The newly-elected premier, Graham Berry, had been premier in 1877. At that time he had undertaken to mount an inquiry into the police force but was defeated at the next election before it could be convened. Now he was about to let history repeat itself.

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On 1st August, Ned, now on crutches, is taken by train to Beechworth for a committal hearing to start on 6th. Ned is charged with the Stringybark Creek killings. The evidence is overwhelming and he is committed to stand trial. The Crown Prosecutor applies to have the trial moved from Beechworth to Melbourne. He believes that it would not be possible to empanel a jury that would not be sympathetic to Ned. Justice Redmond Barry agrees and moves the trial to Melbourne. They further agree to split the charges. Instead of one charge of killing three police, there are now three charges of killing each one on the basis that if one charge fails there is another that can be brought forward. The acquittal of the thirteen diggers from the Eureka Stockade incident 20 years before is not forgotten and Barry was presiding over 11 of those cases.

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The trial of Ned Kelly, wood engraving, published in The Illustrated Australian news, Melbourne, David Syme and Co. November 6, 1880. Source State Library of Victoria, Illustrated newspaper file. Illustrated Australian news.

The trial date is set for 28th October before Judge Redmond Barry, the senior judge in Victoria, who was once described as liking nothing better than to endorse death warrants. Ned had been represented at his committal by David Gaunson, Member of Parliament for Ararat, a rabid advocate for the abolition of capital punishment and an experienced advocate but not a barrister. For this reason, he could not appear for Ned in the Supreme Court. The Kelly family could not raise the funds needed to engage a senior barrister so they used a recently qualified man named Henry Bindon with Gaunson assisting without fee.

A well-known admonition in Victoria at the time was “all accused are innocent until proved Irish”. The defence was to be based on self-defence and that the family had been unfairly maligned and marginalised for years. Barry should have disqualified himself having presided over the case against Ellen and comments he made against Ned had he been the one in front of him instead of his mother. But he was unmoved. Bindon seeks an adjournment to better prepare himself. It is denied. Ned pleads “Not Guilty”. The jury is empanelled.

Bindon’s cross-examination of Const. McIntyre, the principal Crown witness is inept. He asks only 21 questions. The first day ends with the jury already pretty well convinced that Ned is guilty. On the second day, the Crown seeks to introduce the Jerilderie letter. Bindon’s objection is upheld because the Crown does not have the original. Bindon would like to put Ned on the stand but the law at the time forbad an accused person from giving sworn evidence on his own behalf. Bindon states that the defence will not call any evidence. At the end of the closing addresses the jury retires. They return after 30 minutes. The verdict is “Guilty”.

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"Ned Kelly in the Dock - A Scene from Life" Ned Kelly in the dock during his trial.
Wood engraving published in The Illustrated Australian News.

A courteous but defiant exchange takes place between Ned and Judge Barry ending with the pronouncement that “….you then and there will be hanged by the neck until you are dead”, followed by “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.” Ned calmly replies “I will see you there where I go”.

David Gaunson and his brother draft a Petition for Reprieve for distribution at places where people gather. Ned writes to the Governor of Victoria hoping his letter will arrive before the next Executive Council meeting. It does not and the Council confirms that Ned will hang on Thursday, 11th November.

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Image of Ned Kelly taken on November 10, 1880, the day before his execution.

The Gaunson petition achieves much success. On Guy Fawkes Night, 5th November over 6,000 gather at the Hippodrome unanimously supporting the notion that Ned’s sentence should be commuted. TheAge and the Argus, on the other hand, roundly condemn Gaunson and describe the crowd at the Hippodrome as “   the social scum of a large city…”. Nevertheless, the Governor refers the petition to the next Executive Council meeting. The final petition has 32,434 signatures and is presented to the Council on 8th November. The Council rejects the petition.

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The next day a large crowd storms the Supreme Court Reserve demanding a reconsideration. The Chief Secretary, Berry, agrees to meet a deputation that night. Berry is not persuaded that the sentence should be commuted but confirms that the Royal Commission that he had previously announced will proceed. He also agreed to refer the matter to the Council again tomorrow, 10th November.

Nothing changes and the next morning Ned’s last wish is granted. His mother is brought to him for one last meeting. The formalities of the last rites and a sumptuous meal are concluded, the officials assemble and at 10.00am the trap door is activated and Ned breathes his last breath 4 minutes later. Outside the main gate a crowd of several thousand gather to lament Ned’s passing. After 30 minutes Ned is officially pronounced “Dead”. His body is placed in a rough coffin, sprinkled with lime to speed de-composition, and buried in a remote position in the gaol yard marked simply by a stone etched with EK and a broad arrow. Ned’s last words as recorded are “Such is Life”.

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Epilogue:

It is clearly a mark of poetic justice that 12 days later, Redmond Barry, the Hanging Judge, dies suddenly from blood poisoning caused by an infected carbuncle on the back of his neck. A prophetic conformation of Ned’s last words to him from the dock.

A week after the hanging the Reward Board met to decide how the reward money should be distributed. Hare was the biggest recipient with 800 pounds. Next was Curnow with 550 pounds but after protesting that he deserved more he received a further 450 pounds in 1882. The rest of the money was largely shared by various police officers. The Queensland black trackers were awarded a paltry 50 pounds each. They never received the money. In 1994, the descendants of two of the black trackers sued the Victorian government for $84 million being interest at 12% from the time of the award, in the Queensland Supreme Court. It failed. The case was appealed with action stayed until further notice. It remains in that Court today unresolved.

On 7th March, 1881, the Governor of Victoria signed an order for the start of the promised Royal Commission into the Kelly matter and the state and organisation of the police force in general. After 66 sittings the findings handed down in October were not exactly complimentary to the police.

Commissioner Standish was censured for “conduct not characterised by good judgement and was the cause of much of the bad feeling amongst officers for lack of impartiality, temper, tact and good judgement in his dealings with subordinates”.

Hare was criticised and accused of cowardice by exaggerating the effect of his injured wrist at Glenrowan and together with Nicholson and Inspector Brooke Smith, was retired from the force. He died in 1892.

Supt. Sadlier was criticised for “injudicious conduct not calculated to raise the police force in the estimation of the Public.” He was demoted to the bottom of the list for promotion of superintendents.

Sgt. Steele was reduced to the ranks for failing to pursue the gang at Wangaratta on 4th November, 1878.

The four constables at the hut of Aaron Sherritt the night he was shot were all dismissed from the force.

The Commission condemned the process of continually remanding the sympathisers without charge at Beechworth but more to the point it was pointed out that the key problem was the sense of grievance of Irish selectors and lack of justice in dealing with their land applications. There was almost total agreement among the denounced police that the untruthful testimony of Const. Fitzpatrick that lead to Ellen’s conviction was to blame for everything that had happened.

It is no coincidence that the incidents of the Eureka Stockade and the Kelly Gang’s brief reign happened in Victoria. When the British came to colonise Australia they brought with them, among other things, the prejudice and persecution of the Irish people. Melbourne became the heart of the Irish in Australia. The police were either directly recruited from England or were descendants of those who were. Persecution took many forms but the treatment of their applications for land was the overriding grievance.

Daniel Gaunson lost his seat of Ararat in 1881 but regained it in 1883. He served as legal advisor to the madame of Melbourne’s most famous brothel, the infamous financier and gambler, John Wren and the Licensed Victuallers Association.

Ned’s sister, Maggie Skillion died at 39 while her husband, Tom Lloyd, was serving time in prison. They had 11 children. Lloyd later married Steve Hart’s sister and had 6 children with her. Kate Kelly married a blacksmith and went to live in Forbes, NSW. She was drowned in the Forbes River in 1898 after giving birth to her 6th child.

Ellen Kelly went to live with her son Jim after she was released from gaol and died in 1923 while son Jim lived until 1946 dying at age 87.

The old Melbourne Gaol stands today in Russel Street, Melbourne, as a tourist attraction and museum.

Glenrowan is still a little town, now by-passed by the Hume Freeway but an interesting diversion with an array of memorabilia of the days when it was famous.

Ned’s suit of armour is now held in the State Library of Victoria. Joe Byrne’s was kept by Hare and is still held by that family. Dan and Steve’s suits are held in the Police Museum.  Despite his record Ned, in particular is held in high esteem by large numbers of the Victorian and Australian public. In more benign or civilised circumstances he may have risen to great heights. He was a natural leader of men. He had high ideals and high principles of fair play and justice but as his last words say; “Such is Life”.

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