Ned Kelly – An Australian Legend

WORLD HISTORY | September 19, 2019

Ned Kelly at Bay. Edward "Ned" Kelly (June 1854 to 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger of Irish descent. The Graphic, 1880. Source: (gettyimages-506282709-170667a)

His legacy is controversial; some consider him to be a murderous villain, while others view him as a folk hero and Australia's equivalent of Robin Hood.

Edward Kelly or “Ned” as he was called was a bushranger who was born in 1855 in Beveridge, Victoria, Australia. He was the third son of his father John “Red” Kelly who had been sent to prison for stealing pigs in Ireland back in 1842. There were two groups of people in Australia back then, the squatters and the selectors.

Ned’s family was a selector family which meant they had land given to them from the Crown, which is why they went to Australia. Unfortunately, by the time the Kellys got there, which was around 1850, the squatters had beaten them to it.

Ned’s father was a constant target by police because of his police record. In 1866, he was again arrested and had to do hard labor for having the hide of a bull, which was apparently illegal. Once he was released, he did not last very long after that because he drank himself to death.

Mugshot of Ned Kelly at age 15. Source: (didyouknowdna.com)

After his father’s death, Ned became the one in charge of taking care of the family. Before long, just like other members of his family on both his mother’s side and his father's, he got into criminal activity. His uncles and his father were cattle rustlers and thieves. He got involved with Harry Power, a known outlaw who showed him the ropes until they both got arrested. Getting arrested, however, did not slow him down. As soon as he got out, he was back at it and his brother even joined him. They had to go on the run because the police were after them and his brother ended up shooting an officer who had come to their house looking for them. The two of them were able to elude the officers so they were unable to find them. In fact, Ned shot an officer as well after having ambushed three officers that were searching for them in the forest. As the pursuit continued, they took another officer hostage and killed two more. The one they had as a hostage managed to escape by taking one of the horses of his fellow officers.  

Ned Kelly’s Home That Was Built By His Father. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

The two brothers later hooked up with two of their friends and formed a gang. The friends were Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. They called themselves the Kelly Gang and went around robbing banks as well as a police station of all places. They were very bold. Because of the retaliation of the police department towards the Kelly gang, there were many Australian people that sympathized with them which inevitably caused 23 of them to get arrested as well.

Due to Squattocracy, many of the public at that time were not too happy with the police because they felt the police were mostly protecting the squatters and discriminating against the poor. Squattocracy refers to the squatters who paid a small license fee each year giving them the ability to occupy land in order to graze their livestock. Squatters in Southern Australia were the first settlers in the area and would gain access to the land even though they had no legal claims to it.

There were several incidents where the Kelly gang and the police had run-ins as the police were constantly trying to capture them. They hid out in police camps watching various family members’ homes trying to spot them. Ned had a bullet-proof armor that protected his body all except his legs. 

Ned Kelly’s Armor. Source: (pinterest.com)

Whether it was true or not, the gang was led to believe that one of their friends was a spy for the police. Joe Byrne’s best friend, Aaron Sherritt, was apparently being paid by police to help them. Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne went to Sherritt’s house to kill him. When they did, the officers that were there, who should have protected him, instead hid under the bed.

The gang figured that more police would come by train to try to arrest them so they forced railway workers to tear up the train track and took 70 people as hostages at the hotel. Their plan did not go off as they thought. The policemen that were with Sherritt when he was murdered were too afraid to flee, so they did not report the murder until the next day which delayed the cops arriving at the hotel. With an extra 24 hours to wait at the hotel, the gang was having difficulty controlling the hostages. In the process, they let one of the hostages, who was a school teacher, talk them into letting him and his family go. Before going home, he made a stop by the railway and signaled to the train to stop.

Glenrowan Ned Kelly museum. Source: (beforeitsnews.com)

The police then surrounded the hotel and the final showdown began. The gang all wore their homemade bullet-proof armor so it was a long battle. By the time the seven-hour shootout was over, 15,000 bullets had been fired; they had set fire to the hotel; Joe Byrne, Dan Keely, and Steve Hart were dead; and three of the hostages were dead with several others injured. Ned Kelly, still alive, came out of the hotel shooting until the officers were finally able to hit him in the legs which was the only area that was not protected by his armor. Still alive, he was treated and tried for his crimes. He was sentenced and hung on November 11, 1880.

There are many landmarks today as well as a museum that memorializes Ned Kelly the Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader, and convicted police murderer.  

Tags: australia | Ned Kelly

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