The Ned Kelly Gang

Glenrowan, The Ned Kelly Gang

Ned Kelly is an Australian legend. He epitomised many qualities that ordinary Australians admire. He was a larrikin, loyal to his family and ready to sacrifice himself for his mates. An underdog, he represented the struggling classes and thumbed his nose at the establishment. He was inventive, he was fearless and charismatic.

Ned was barely educated, yet his famous letters were poetic and passionate. He killed police officers, was outlawed and could be shot on sight by anyone. Yet when he was sentenced to hang, more than 30,000 people signed a petition asking for a reprieve.

We mustn't forget that there are many sides to the legend of Ned Kelly.

Yes, he was a criminal and had had numerous brushes with the law from a young age. But was he merely following his father and uncles' lead and a product of his environment? In the context of the times, he was a hero to Irish immigrants, who felt they were being persecuted by the establishment. It's claimed that most of the takings from his famous bank robberies went to help his supporters, so many say Ned was an Australian Robin Hood.

He was intensely protective of his family and avenged a police officer's assault on his sister - which is what really set off the troubles. Until the Fitzpatrick incident, Ned had been a petty criminal, involved in horse stealing and assisting at a few holdups on the highway.

However, after the Fitzpatrick incident, Ned and his brother Dan were wanted for attempted murder and went bush. Some claim Ned wasn't even there at the time of the incident, while others say Ned and his mother dressed Fitzpatrick's wound before he left.

While in hiding, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart joined Ned and Dan and the foursome became known as the Kelly Gang. They committed two large-scale bank robberies to support themselves and thus dug the hole deeper. A manhunt was mounted and Ned and his gang confronted a group of four policemen at Stringybark Creek with no intention of murder. In the fracas three policemen were shot dead and thus the price on Ned's head went even higher.

As part of the plans for Glenrowan, Aaron Sherritt was shot dead by his best friend Joe Byrne for being an informer (having begged him to join the gang the year before).

At Glenrowan the plan was to take a large number of people hostage and negotiate the release of Ned's mother Ellen and the two other men who were jailed in connection with the Fitzpatrick incident. Forty-six police arrived, surrounded the Glenrowan Inn, where the gang and hostages were holed up, and fired on the hotel for seven hours. During the siege Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart died. Ned, wearing his trademark homemade armour, came toward the police, shooting, but was shot in the legs and captured.

Ned was held at Melbourne Gaol to recover from his injuries. He was tried in Beechworth Courthouse and in Melbourne by Judge Redmond Barry and sentenced to death by hanging, which occurred on 11 November 1880.

"The day will come when we will all have to go to a bigger court than this." - Ned Kelly to justice Sir Redmond Barry on his sentencing in October 1880.

You can discover the full Ned Kelly Gang Story on the Ned Kelly Touring Route. 

The Kelly Gang

It has been said that the formation of the Kelly Gang was the result of police harassment combined with the rural discontent caused by inequity of land tenure between the poor selectors and rich squatters in the north-east of Victoria and in parts of southern New South Wales.

Whatever the reasons for its creation, the Kelly Gang was involved in bushranging activities, from robbing banks and holding people hostage to exchanging gunfire with police. The point of no return came in 1878 when Ned Kelly shot three police officers who had tried to capture them at Stringybark Creek, near Mansfield in Victoria. Their names were Constables Lonigan and Scanlon, and Sergeant Kennedy. For almost two years after the shootings police, in ever-increasing numbers, tried to capture the infamous band.

Champion of the underdog

Using the evocative language of protest, Ned Kelly tried to tap into the underlying resentment of the day. For many, he was the champion of the underdog - the son of a poor and persecuted Irish family in search of equality for all. To others Kelly was a murderer and a common criminal.

His stand against authority and injustice is part of the larger story of political unrest and protest, which includes the Castle Hill convict rebellion in 1804 and the Eureka Stockade gold protest in 1854.

Depicted in Australian art and stories

Today the spirit of the man, and the power of his defiant faceless armour, still stirs the creativity of some of Australia's best-known artists, writers and musicians.

Sidney Nolan created his well-known Kelly series of paintings, and Peter Carey won a Booker Prize for his novel, The True History of the Kelly Gang.

Several feature films have been made about Kelly, including what is believed to be the world's first feature film (The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906), and a myriad of Ned Kellys paraded at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.