By Public Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)
While time progresses and culture changes, the fascination with the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly remains. Ned has, through his trademark iron helmet and his impassioned rhetoric, an extraordinary ability to hold our attention. This exhibition re-tells the story of the hunt for Ned Kelly using original police and government records from 1870 onward.
The Ned Kelly Story
Who in 1880 could have imagined that four men, clad in heavy armour - the Kelly Gang - could challenge the Victorian government and bring change to the structure of the police force? It was an absurdity from the Middle Ages, and a terrible vision for the future.
For two years from 1878, the north-east of Victoria crawled with policemen looking for the Kelly Gang, led by Edward (Ned) Kelly. Ned Kelly, himself, told his story to audiences, willing and unwilling, via several long letters penned during his chase.
The story of the Kelly Gang has been told and re-told, elaborated, and argued over from the time of the Kelly Outbreak to the current day.
A major part of this story has always existed in the collection at Public Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria), in the form of the records of the police hunt, as well as Kelly’s trial and execution. This online exhibition has been produced as a way to share some of the original government archives about Ned Kelly and the hunt for the Kelly Gang.
"The Making of An Outlaw: The Kelly and Quinn Family"
The Kelly family. Photograph taken to celebrate Ellen Kelly's release from prison in 1881.
Born in 1854, Edward (Ned) Kelly was the third of eight children and the eldest son of Ellen and John Kelly.
After the death of his father in 1866, Ned took on the responsibilities of the head of the large and poor Kelly family.
The year after John Kelly’s death, the family moved to Eleven-Mile Creek in the Greta District, north-east Victoria to be closer to Ellen’s family, the Quinns.
In 1869 at the age of fourteen, Ned was arrested for the first time and charged with assault and robbery, but was later discharged.
A photo of Ned Kelly as a young 19 year old charged with horse stealing
Ellen Kelly was Ned's mother and served time in prison for horse stealing. The Kellys had a bad reputation in the north-eastern parts of Victoria. They were part of the Quinn clan who collectively had the distinction of being the most lawless in the Wangaratta district. An official policy of suppressing lawless behaviour led to the Quinn family receiving extra attention by the police, and arrested over any misdemeanour. Tension and arrests happened easily and often, as it can be said that 'selectors' as a class displayed a series of attitudes that the colonial elites found problematic. They were accused of “borrowing” other people's horses for a journey, letting it loose, to be found at the destination. Most of the male members of the Quinn clan spent time in gaol for horse and cattle theft.
Early Victoria and the Irish Catholics
Much of the tension that arose in the northeast of Victoria came from the friction between the established land users (squatters) and the newer social groups (selectors) that were settling in the region. The Kelly family, being Irish immigrants who migrated later to Australia, were selectors.
Squatters were the original settlers of Victoria in the 1830s. The very earliest of these settled on their own initiative appropriating large tracts, often the best land along the rivers, for pasturing sheep or cattle.
After the gold rush of the 1850s had ebbed a little, the Government had a new problem of dealing with the population influx sparked by the rush. The Government's general solution to the problem was the various Land Acts of the 1860s and 1870s.
People applied to select an allotment that they fancied. They paid for half of the allotment on selection (at a price of £1 per acre) and paid rent on the other half.
The life of a selector under these conditions was not easy. Often they had to compete for access to good pastural land that had been occupied by the squatters, and in addition deal with discrimination against them due to religion or country of origin.
In the case of the Kelly's they were Irish Catholics.
Bushranger, Harry Power, standing in front of a brick wall at Pentridge prison, ankles chained.
During the Kellys’ time at Eleven-Mile Creek, Ned became acquainted with the popular bushranger, Harry Powers.
Powers taught Ned the ways of highway robbery and bush-ranging and eventually, Ned joined Harry as his young apprentice.
This ill-fated alliance was to eventually lead to Ned’s second arrest. Ned was charged with two counts of highway robbery.
The initial charges were dismissed and Ned was remanded to Kyneton to face his second charge.
During his three-week stay at Kyneton, Ned met Sergeant James Babington, who was kind enough to pay for Ned’s accommodation in Kyneton.
Upon his release, Ned returned to Greta, near Eleven-Mile Creek, and wrote Sergeant Babington a letter.
This is a letter written by a young Ned Kelly to Seargent Babington as a way of showing his appreciation.
In 1871, while riding a stolen horse through Greta, Ned was summoned by Senior Constable Hall on the pretence of having to sign some papers.
Instead, Hall told Ned that he was arresting him on charges of horse-stealing and a fight between the two erupted. The case came to trial in May and Ned’s original charge of horse-stealing was amended to receiving a stolen horse.
He was imprisoned on these charges for three years.
Released from Pentridge Prison in 1874, Ned returned to his family to find some changes. His mother, Ellen, had remarried an American by the name of George King.
During most of 1877, Ned and his stepfather, George, operated a successful stock-stealing production with the help of Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherritt, Wild Wright and Brickey Williamson. The police, aware of the operation, issued warrants for the arrest of Ned on numerous charges of horse theft.
Edward Kelly's prison record for horse stealing in 1871
"A shot is fired at Constable Fitzpatrick and the Kelly Gang is formed. April 1878"
Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was a man known to be fond of both drink and women. Sent to Greta to relieve Constable Strahan, Constable Fitzpatrick had just read the Police Gazette and noticed that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Daniel (Dan) Kelly, the younger brother of Ned.
On 15 April 1878, Fitzpatrick decided to ride to the Kelly homestead - without a warrant - to effect an arrest of Dan Kelly.
According to Fitzpatrick, when he arrived at the Kelly homestead he found Ellen Kelly at home with her children, including Dan, who asked if he could finish his meal before being taken back to Greta.
Fitzpatrick also stated that Ned Kelly appeared in the doorway and allegedly fired a shot at him. The Kelly homestead erupted into chaos as Mrs Kelly struck Fitzpatrick with a shovel, leaving an obvious dent in his helmet. A third shot was fired which wounded Fitzpatrick's hand.
According to a deposition produced by Fitzpatrick he was nursed by the Kelly family and his hand bandaged.
Nonetheless, the Kelly family and others, were arrested for attempted murder.
Deposition of Constable Fitzpatrick following the affairs at the Kelly house on 15 April 1878
On 9 October 1878 Ellen Kelly, the Kelly's friend, Brickey Williamson, and their brother-in-law, William Skillion, stood trial at Beechworth before the formidable Judge, Sir Redmond Barry. All three were found guilty of the charges from the incident with Constable Fitzpatrick. Mrs Kelly was sentenced to three years’ hard labour, whilst Skillion and Williamson each received a six-year sentence. Ned Kelly and his gang of cattle rustlers fled into the hills shortly after the incident to escape arrest.
The Kelly Gang Go Into Hiding. October 1878
The four members of the Kelly Gang, as they came to be known, fled to the hills to escape a charge of attempted murder.
They had a lot in common. They were all of Irish Catholic stock, all sons of selectors, and had also served time in prison on charges relating to stock theft. All four were also young and single.
Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, and Joseph Byrne had been friends for many years, while Steve Hart, born in 1869, was to be remembered as predicting he would have ‘a short life but a merry one’ as he rode off on his horse to join the other members.
The four young men became the “Kelly Gang” and went into hiding in the hills of northeastern Victoria.
Joe Byrne, Ned Kelly's most trusted ally in the Kelly Gang who is responsible for penning Ned's most well-known letters.
The police realise that money will be needed to gather information about Ned Kelly and his location in the hills. A reward of 100 pounds is offered for information leading to the arrest of Edward Kelly. This letter details the reason inspector Chomley needs financial support. In short, he does not believe locals will co-operate with the police without financial incentive.
"“...from the number of hiding places Kelly has in the ranges and the assistance he receives from the people in the neighbourhood I think the chances are the police may hunt for him for a long time before they will succeed in arresting him and I do not see much chance of obtaining any information about him unless I can pay for it.”
- Inspector Chomley (to the Chief Commissioner of Police)"
Addressed to Inspector Nicolson of the police department in Melbourne, this letter includes a map of a cave where the Kelly Gang may have hidden. The caves location was described as being between Stringy Bark Creek and Euroa in the Blue ranges.
A search party led by Sergeant Kennedy and consisting of Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre, set up camp at Stringy Bark Creek in order to search the Upper King Country.
Kennedy and Scanlon headed off early on the 25 October 1878 to locate the Kelly Gang. While he and Lonigan remained at camp, McIntyre shot at some parrots, alerting the Kelly Gang to their location. Ned then decided to ambush the police camp at dusk.
At around 5-6 o’clock that evening, the cry of, “Bail up! Hold up your hands” was heard throughout the camp. Ned Kelly fired at Lonigan and killed him instantly, although Kelly claims he fired in self defence. In the distance, the sound of horses approaching could be heard.
The gang separated and hid near the camp to ambush Kennedy and Scanlon as they approached. In the confusion, McIntyre seized the opportunity to make his escape and Sergeant Kennedy was shot dead about a half-mile away from the camp. The gang then rifled through the pockets of the dead police officers, taking their valuable personal possessions, including a ring and watch.
McIntyre and Ned gave different accounts of the incident. McIntyre claimed that he was facing Ned and that he saw him fire at Lonigan. However, as McIntyre had his back to Lonigan, he never actually saw him fall down. Another version of this account has Lonigan under cover behind the logs preparing to shoot at Ned. While the first account portrays the murder as cold-blooded, the latter account provides Ned with a self-defence motive. Click on the image to read a transcription of the report given by Constable McIntyre.
"“I started at 6 pm with McIntyre & Constable Alwood and a party of volunteers. We arrived at Stringy Bark Creek at two am this morning found the bodies of Scanlan & Lonigan about 30 yards apart, stopped until day break and made search for Kennedy but could find no trace. Brought the bodies slung on horses seven miles through heavy scrub to Monks Saw mills 14 miles from Mansfield and have just arrived with them at Mansfield – at 6 PM yesterday.”
Written by Sub-Inspector Pewtress in Mansfield. Sent from Benalla and addressed to the Chief Commissioner in Melbourne. The body of Sergeant Kennedy was found a few days later."
Written two days after the Stringy Bark Creek murders, this incomplete 5-page telegram is a copy of the original, written by Sub-Inspector Pewtress in Mansfield. Sent from Benalla and addressed to the Chief Commissioner in Melbourne, the telegram describes the events of the murders committed.
Wombat Ranges where the police were shot. This photograph taken by photographers Burman and Madeley, is one of a series of prints of what came to be known as 'Kelly country', it was used in Kelly’s trial to set the scene at Stringy Bark Creek. Later doubts as to the accuracy of the scene (leading to reconstructions) were perhaps stimulated by a sense that it was a fairly unusual piece of evidence to introduce.
Three days after the incident at Stringy Bark Creek, the Kelly Gang members were officially declared outlaws due to the severity of the crimes. Photographs and descriptions of each gang member were sent through the north-east district,"1st Edward Kelly 23 years of age looks older sallow complexion dark brown hair full beard and moustache of a dirty dark red colour moustache cut square with greenish tint wore dark tweed cloathes & red silk sash dark low crowned hat." With each day that passed the tracks left by the gang slowly disappeared, making the hunt more difficult, even for the native trackers sent down from Queensland.
A day after the murders at Stringy Bark Creek, Inspecting Superintendent Nicolson from the Benalla police station wrote this telegram to distribute among other local police stations.
The telegram states that a reward of 800 pounds is to be offered by the Government for the arrest and conviction of the Kelly Gang outlaws at 200 pounds per outlaw.
"“...I hear from a reliable source that Route the Kelly’s will take is by Mt. Buller Harriettville Running Creek to the Head of Little River then to the Head of the Wombat and on to Mount Gibbo eight days ride thence to head of Upper Murray by Towong where they will remain they do not know the Gippsland route no doubt King is one of the four but Williamson says he is positive that Tom Lloyd is out with them.”
CCP Standish to Superintendant Sadleir"
This telegram was written by Chief Commissioner of Police (CCP) Standish advising Superintendent Sadleir of the proposed route of the Kelly Gang.
According to the telegram, Standish went to see William “Brickey” Williamson, who was serving time in Pentridge for his part in the Fitzpatrick affair, to try to gauge any information as to the whereabouts of the Kellys.
Although Williamson was unable to provide Standish with any new information, Standish did speak to “a reliable source” who informed him of the route that the Kellys were to take.
A New Act is Passed To Help Kill Ned Kelly - 31 October 1878
The Felons Apprehension Act mentioned in this newspaper notice (see right) was hastily passed by Parliament on 31 October 1878 following the Stringy Bark Creek murders five days earlier. The act introduced the concept of outlawry to Australia.
Anyone who had a warrant issued against them (in this case Ned Kelly) under this act had the normal protection of law removed. They could be apprehended or shot by any person at any time, and any person offering assistance to them could be gaoled.
The new act was used to round up a number of people suspected of sympathising with the Kelly Gang. Many Irish Catholics felt the police treated them unfairly and sympathised with the Kelly Gang. The police suspected many of them were withholding information about the Kelly Gang's whereabouts.
The act is generally regarded as a failure, largely aggravating and increasing the support of the Kelly Gang by sympathisers due to the heavy-handed tactics of police.
By January 1879, 20 men were arrested under the Felons Apprehension Act in an attempt to try to put a stop to communication between the outlaws and their sympathisers.
The Kelly's are called on to surrender
"The Kelly Gang Strike Again!"
Younghusband's Station became the scene of a Kelly bail up
On 9 December 1878, the gang who by now were in desperate need of money, decided to stage a bank robbery in the town of Euroa.
Owned by Younghusband and Lyle, Younghusband's Station (also known as Gooram Gooram Gong Wool Station) at Faithful's Creek became the scene of a Kelly bail up.
The Kelly Gang proceeded to bail up everybody present at the station as they returned from their farm duties.
It was noted in newspaper articles at the time that Ned Kelly spoke kindly to the captives and did not harm any of the women or children present at the station. However, on several occasions Ned threatened to shoot any of the men captive if they did not co-operate.
In an interview with Mr McCauley in 1923, the former manager of Younghusband's Station and one of Kelly's hostages recalled that Ned Kelly and his gang members spent the afternoon at Younghusband's Station preparing the robbery of the Euroa National Bank.
Ned Kelly requested a cheque from Mr McCauley, to present to the accountant at the bank, as a way to gain entry.
McCauley also mentions that during the afternoon four line repairers came along and they too were added to the Kelly's prisoners who were all being held in the Station's storeroom.
The outlaws then proceeded to cut the telegraph wires along the railway line, severing communication.
Ned and Dan Kelly, and Steve Hart changed into new clothes and made their way into town, while Joe Byrne remained at the station to keep watch over the prisoners. (Pictured: Steve Hart, Dan Kelly and Ned Kelly)
Boldly in broad daylight, Ned and Dan Kelly, and Steve Hart stuck up the National Bank at Euroa taking with them cash, gold and the selectors’ mortgage papers that had been kept in the safe but which they were to later destroy.
The bank’s manager, Robert Scott, along with his wife and family and two of the bank’s clerks, were then taken to Younghusband’s station to join the other prisoners.
Armed with the stolen money, the Kelly boys told their captive prisoners that they were not to leave until three hours after the gang’s departure.
These engravings published in The illustrated Australian news document the events which took place at Faithful's Creek Station near Euroa owned by Younghusband and Lyle of Melbourne. The Kelly Gang locked 22 people in the station storeroom, described here as "The Prison", and then went on to rob the Euroa bank.
Ned's First Letter to The Public
Some of the hostages held at Younghusband’s station reported witnessing Joe Byrne, one of the Gang’s members, at work on a long letter.
This letter, once published in part to the media, was Ned’s attempt to tell his side of the story and at the same time vindicate himself in the Fitzpatrick affair, and explain what unfolded before the tragic deaths of three police officers at Stringy Bark Creek.
Not coincidentally, the letter also increased the number of Kelly sympathisers.
The letter seems to have been prompted by the reports of Mr Donald Cameron MLA’s criticisms of the progress of the police hunt for the gang in Parliament on 14 November of that year (1878).
After the robbery two copies of the letter were posted, one to Donald Cameron, the other to Superintendent John Sadleir, the man in charge of the police in the north-east district.
Copy of the Euroa Letter (or Cameron Letter) said to have been scribed by Joe Byrne on behalf of Ned Kelly while at Faithful's Creek. Click on the image to read a transcript of Ned Kelly's letter defending himself against the outstanding charges against him.
"“...No doubt I am now placed in very peculiar circumstances and you might blame me for it but if you knew how I have been wronged and persecuted you would say I cannot be blamed. In April last an information was (which must have come under your notice) sworn against me for shooting trooper Fitzpatrick which was false, and my mother with an infant baby and Brother was taken for aiding and abetting and attempting to murder him, a charge of sir they are as purely innocent as the child unborn."
Euroa Letter dictated by Edward (Ned) Kelly to Superintendent John Sadleir, the man in charge of the police in the north-east district. December 14, 1878."
"The Bank Robbery in Jerilderie and Ned pens another letter."
The Jerilderie police bailed up by the Kelly Gang as imagined by the Illustrated Australian News.
The Kelly gang had their eye on another bank in February 1879, this time the Bank of NSW in Jerilderie. They bailed up the only two constables at the police station and held them prisoner overnight. On Monday morning, 10 February 1879, Ned and Dan, dressed in the uniforms of Constables Richards and Devine, rode into town, accompanied by Constable Richards. They were introduced to inquiring locals as the new constables stationed in the town and then made their way to the Bank of New South Wales. By mid-morning, the gang had bailed up all the occupants of the hotel, including the bank customers. Joe Byrne bailed up the two bank tellers, Mackie and Edwin Living, while Ned went in search of the bank manager, Tarleton, so he could open the bank’s safe. Once again, Ned took selectors’ mortgage papers held by the bank as well as over £2000 in cash.
Edwin Living shared his account of the bank robbery at Jerilderie, where he was the bank teller. Click on the image to read the transcription.
Ned Pens Jerilderie Letter In Vain
The robbery of the bank was not just an exercise to acquire much-needed funds. For Ned, it was an opportunity to express and explain his view of the events that had led him to his current situation.
As the Cameron Letter was never fully published, the new manifesto, known as the Jerilderie Letter, gave Ned the opportunity to explain his side of the story in full.
Unfortunately, Mr Gill, the town printer, had fled Jerilderie as soon as he heard the Kellys were present. Edwin Living, the bank teller, promised Ned he would pass the letter onto Mr Gill and ensure that it was printed.
Having been assured by the teller that the letter was in good hands and that it would be printed, the outlaws rode out of town confident that Living would keep his promise.
Unfortunately for Ned, Edwin Living never kept his promise and once again Ned’s attempt to get his side of the story published and made available to the public were thwarted.
Descriptions of the Jerilderie Letter were published by newspapers at the time based on interviews with Mr Living, but never the full letter.
This 17-page statement is a transcription made of the original Jeriliderie letter. Ned Kelly handed the original to Edwin Living at Jerilderie. Living had promised Kelly that he would pass it on to the town printer Mr. Gill but did not do so. Living eventually made the original available to the Criminal Law Branch of the Office of the Victorian Government Solicitor whilst the Kelly Crown prosecution case was being prepared on condition that only one copy of it was made and the original returned to him.
"“...With regard to the constables in Victoria, he had seen eight or ten who could not take one half-starved larrikin without the aid of a civilian. The Queen should be proud of her force, but he intended to astonish them and the navy, as he would show them what a little stratagem could do. He would advise all those who be-longed to the Cattle-stealing Prevention Society to withdraw their money at once and give it to the poor of Greta, where he had spent many happy days, and would again, fearless, free and bold. The society was only a temptation to policemen to procure false witnesses and lag innocent men. It did not pay the police to lag a guilty man, for if it had not been for cattle duffing and bushranging these police would have to go about begging. What would they have done had it not been for men getting them double pay?”"
An interview with Edwin Living about Ned Kelly's comments in the Jerilderie Letter, The Age, 18 Feb 1879.
Click here to read the full transcript of Edwin Living's account of the Jerilderie Letter in The Age 1879.
Taken from the New South Wales Gazette, 18 February 1879, only 8 days after the hold-up of the Bank of NSW in Jerilderie, this is the proclamation by the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of New South Wales offering a reward of 8,000 pounds for the apprehension of the "Kelly Gang" outlaws.
Secret Agents Deployed By Police
By June 1879 the hunt for the outlaws was proving futile. Standish handed the reins of the hunt to Superintendent Nicolson. Nicolson’s plan to capture the outlaws did not rest solely on the search parties. He also concentrated on building a larger network of local agents in the district. Those of most significance were the Sherritt brothers, Aaron and Jack. Through the Sherritt brothers, Nicolson was able to ascertain that the gang frequently paid visits to the Byrne and Sherritt homes. Whether Aaron was or was not a double agent, the gang’s faith in him was starting to dissolve.
Code names were given to all those agents, and police officers were asked to refer to them only by these names. In the period the Kellys went into hiding, the police employed secret agents and search parties to track down the outlaws.
Aaron Sherritt Accused of Being A Traitor
By June 1879 rumours began to spread that the Kelly's old friend Aaron Sherritt was a police informant. Joe Byrne wrote to Aaron asking him to join the Kelly Gang instead, but the letter was passed onto the police by Aaron's mother.
Aaron Sherritt had been a close friend of Kelly gang members Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne, they had operated a successful stock-stealing production together in 1877.
"“Neddie and I have come to the conclusion to get you to join us” January 1879
Joe Byrne to Aaron Sherritt"
"Dear Aaron I write these few stolen lines to you to let you know that I am still living I am not the least afraid of being captured dear Aaron meet me you and Jack this side of Puzzel ranges Neddie and I has come to the conclusion to get you to join us..." - Joe Byrne to Aaron Sherritt. Click on the image to read the transcription of this letter.
Despite an increase in reward money, the swollen rivers made it difficult for the police to track the Kelly Gang. The above letter, written from the Superintendent’s Office in the Murray District, outlines the difficulty the police search parties were experiencing.
By July of 1879, the Kelly Gang were wanted not only for the police murders at Stringy Bark Creek, but also for the hold up of two banks.
"Mouldboards Go Missing And Ned's Armour Takes Shape"
Click on this image to read the letter to the Chief Commissioner of Police from the Secretary of the Oxley Shire Council requesting that the Police Station at Greta be reopened.
Ned had decided that the gang should wear suits of armour. Over the next few months, four sets of armour were constructed out of plough shares, either donated to them by Kelly sympathisers or stolen.
This letter, to the Chief Commissioner of Police from the Secretary of the Oxley Shire Council, is dated a month before the Glenrowan siege. It is a request that the Police Station at Greta be reopened in light of recent thefts in the town, including mouldboards.
It is interesting to note that mouldboards were used to create the armour worn by the Kelly Gang and that other towns reported thefts of a similar nature. At this stage the police were unaware that the two were connected.
The armour was being made as part of preparations for the Kelly Gang’s next outrage.
"The Kelly Gang Meet Their Match in Glenrowan"
By mid 1880, Sherritt’s conduct had become suspicious enough to the outlaws for them to decide that murder was the only solution to the problem of his disloyalty. It is commonly believed that police framed Sherritt to trap the Kelly Gang.
Aaron Sherritt was at home with his wife, mother-in-law and four policemen, Constables Armstrong, Alexander, Ducross, and Dowling. They had been sent as a protection against the Kelly Gang. It didn't work, Aaron was shot at the front door of his hut by Joe Byrne, and the Kelly Gang held the police captive for 12 hours before escaping to the bush.
A sketch of Aaron Sherritt's house. Killed as a traitor on the 26 June 1880.
The murder of Aaron Sherritt depicted in The Illustrated Australian News.
Ned Kelly Takes Hostages
Superintendant Hare sent Chief Commissioner Standish a telegram notifying him of the death of Sherritt. Hare also requested a team of native trackers and police be sent by train to Benalla, which was then diverted to Glenrowan in the chase of the Kelly Gang.
Ned Kelly, made aware of the police by his own informers, begans to make a plan to derail the train.
Having reached Glenrowan earlier that day, the Kelly Gang started to bail up some of the locals, including labourers and Mrs Anne Jones, the proprietor of the Glenrowan Inn.
The captors then made their way to the stationmaster’s home. Ned told Mr Stanistreet of his plan to derail the tracks and sought his assistance.
Once the rails were removed, the labourers along with the other prisoners, all went inside Mrs Jones’ hotel. As other patrons started to filter through the hotel, unaware of the situation, they too were made prisoners.
Jones's Hotel also referred to as the Glenrowan Inn
“They stated they would shoot down all those who escaped death from the wrecked train, and that if any civilians were in the train, they should share the same fate as they had no business accompanying the Police. On hearing their intentions I determined that if I could by any means whatever baulk their designs and prevent such a sacrifice of human life, I would do so.” -Thomas Curnow's statement to the police that detailed what happened before the Glenrowan shootout with police.
This witness account by the local teacher, Thomas Curnow, who had managed to convince Ned Kelly to let him and his family go home, proved compelling evidence on what transpired at Glenrowan before the police arrived by train.
Having escaped the Kelly's bail up, Thomas Curnow heard the sound of a train approaching by three am on Monday morning. Knowing it would be the police train, Curnow then went outside to warn the driver by holding up a candle behind a red scarf, that the rail line had been damaged and to stop the train.
Curnow played a significant part in the downfall of the Kelly Gang and his heroic efforts won him both praise and enemies. In fact, he so feared for his life due to the support of Kelly by his sympathisers that he applied for an immediate transfer after the siege.
Curnow holding up a candle behind a red scarf, to warn the pilot train driver, that the rail line had been damaged and to stop the police train.
"Constable Bracken, the local policeman in Glenrowan, was oblivious to what was transpiring in his town. However, later that evening Ned put on his armour and took Constable Bracken hostage, adding him to number of prisoners at the Glenrowan Inn."
The Glenrowan Inn Gun Battle
As the gang were putting on their armour, Constable Bracken took this opportunity to escape. Bracken then went and warned the reinforcements of the approaching police train to the Kelly Gang's tactics.
Once the horses were unloaded from the train, the party of police officers made their way to the inn. The gang waited in anticipation on the veranda of the hotel. By this stage it was early morning and Ned Kelly hid in the bush.
As the police approached, firing began by both sides. Inside the hotel, the cries of the local prisoners were heard and Superintendent Hare ordered a cease-fire. Although some of the prisoners managed to escape, others were caught by the gunfire.
Anne Jones' six children were locked in the hotel and her young son was shot dead during the cross fire, while her daughter, 15, was also shot and later died from her wounds.
Superintendent Hare then left for Benalla to seek medical treatment for the wound he received during the gun battle.
The firing continued as the police surrounded the hotel.
Ned Kelly suddenly emerged from the bushes, and has often been described as an eerie figure, walking through the morning fog in his imposing steel armour.
Ned Kelly in full armour coming out of the bush
"According to Sergeant Steele, the policeman responsible for the shooting of Ned Kelly, Ned confronted the police provoking them to fire at him.
“...I saw a figure about 200 yards to my rear coming towards the hotel he commenced firing at the police and calling out 'I am bullet proof you can't hurt me!' After firing 5 or 6 shots he then sat and crouched down between some trees and commenced reloading his revolver. I ran down towards him and when he stood up and fired at me he then walked out on the open ground & commenced beating his breast with the revolver calling loudly 'come out boys and we will whip the lot of them!'...I immediately fired at him on the outside of his right leg, he staggered and his hand dropped, he again tried to raise the revolver where I again fired at him about 10 yards distant, on the hand and thigh which were in a line, he immediately fell.""
Click on the image to see the full transcript of Steele's account of shooting Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly was captured alive but with three serious bullet wounds to his legs.
The End of the Kelly Gang
The Kelly Gang had finally met their match at the Glenrowan Inn. After hours of ceaseless gunfire, three out of the four gang members were dead.
Ned Kelly was captured by Sergeant Steele.
Ned's faithful scribe Joe Byrne had been shot dead.
The Glenrowan hotel was set alight by police and the charred remains of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were discovered in the hotel after it was burnt down.
Sergeant Superintendent Sadleir allowed the bodies to be claimed by family members of the deceased. Ned, along with Joe’s corpse, was loaded onto a train and taken to Benalla.
The remains of Mrs Jones's hotel, the Glenrowan Inn, after it was burned down by police.
One of the burnt bodies of either Dan Kelly or Steve Hart following the fire of the Glenrowan Inn.
Joe Byrne's body propped up against a brick wall of the Benalla Police Station having been transported from the Glenrowan gun battle with Ned Kelly.
"Tension mounts in Benalla during the aftermath of Kelly's capture"
Back in Benalla, the euphoria of the last stand now gave way to feelings of tension as rumours started to circulate about trouble in the district. Threats against police officers and witnesses such as Thomas Curnow were taken seriously, and provisions were made for them to move.
Questions were now starting to emerge over the conduct of the police and their indiscriminate firing at the Glenrowan Inn, which had been filled with women and children.
Constable Bracken took this opportunity to write a report on the death of civilian, Martin Cherry. Cherry's death was a great source of controversy as no one was sure who actually shot him.
Chief Commissioner Standish wrote a letter to the Chief Secretary pushing for a police inquiry into the conduct, management and proceedings of the Kelly pursuit from the start of the outbreak.
This police report dispels the theory that Martin Cherry was shot by Ned Kelly. Brackens report, along with the annotations made overleaf by Inspector Montfort, irrefutably state that Cherrys death was indeed a result of police gunfire.
This brief letter written by Acting Chief Commissioner Nicolson was dispatched less than a month after the siege at Glenrowan. In his letter, Nicolson once again asks for an inquiry to be held in relation to police proceedings in regards to the Kelly Gang On the reverse side of the page are annotations made by Standish, the Chief Commissioner, who referred the matter to the Honourable Chief Secretary, Robert Ramsay.
It was not until April 1881 that the requests of Chief Commissioner Standish and Superintendent Nicolson for a formal inquiry were realised. The inquiry resulted in the retirement of Chief Commissioner Standish and Superintendent Hare and the demotion of Superintendent Sadleir. The Kelly Outbreak and the subsequent Royal Commission was important in regards to police accountability and it provoked examinations into Victoria’s police structure.
"The Trial of Ned Kelly"
"“Ned Kelly in the charge of your men leaves Benalla per train at nine this morning, he will be taken out at North Melbourne station. Have ambulance there to convey him to Melbourne gaol to which he is remanded. Keep this dark so that there may be no crowd or public excitement let it be believed that he will go on to Melbourne...”
29 June 1880 CCP Standish on Ned Kelly's transfer to Melbourne Gaol."
CCP Standish wrote this telegram to Inspector Montfort on 29 June 1880 just a day after the Glenrowan siege. He requests that the details of Ned’s journey from Benalla to Melbourne be kept confidential. To avoid crowds, Ned was taken to North Melbourne and then transferred via ambulance to the Old Melbourne Gaol.
After a night spent in the Benalla lock-up, Ned travelled to Melbourne in the company of Dr Ryan. Thousands of people gathered at Spencer Street station hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous outlaw. The police had anticipated the crowds and Ned was taken off at North Melbourne station and then driven to the Melbourne Gaol.
The capture of Ned Kelly created a flurry of activity in the north-eastern districts of Victoria as the prosecution case for his trial was prepared. Inspector W.B. Montfort of Benalla, seems to have been in charge of collecting statements from those involved in the various Kelly Gang related incidents of the previous two years. In this he was himself directed by the prosecuting attorneys of the Chief Justice in Melbourne.
The result of Montfort’s queries is a large file of reports and statements that was later boiled down to the summoning of witnesses for depositions – sworn statements before a magistrate admissible as evidence. It is in this pile of queries that we begin to see the official Kelly story taking shape.
This story is the counterpoint to Kelly’s own, that he told as a defense and challenge to the official version of events used against him all his life. Montfort’s enquiries ranged beyond the Stringy Bark Creek murders, although most often the point of the questions he forwarded was the same: Did Kelly talk about Stringy Bark Creek in your presence? Did he admit to anything?
Addressed to His Excellency the Governor, 3 November 1880. Ned dictated this seven-page letter to Warden William Buck from his prison cell. The letter is one of three that Ned dictated whilst incarcerated and brings forth his views on various incidents, most notably the Fitzpatrick shooting, the Stringy Bark Creek murders and the discrepancies in McIntyre’s reports. Once the letter was completed it was forwarded to Sheriff Rede by J. B. Castieau the gaol’s governor. The annotations made along the left-hand side of the letter acknowledge that the letter was received after the Executive Council meeting and was then forwarded to the Premier Graham Berry. The letter did little to sway the opinion of the Executive Council, and the date of 11 November was set for his execution.
"Ned's Final Letter
Ned dictated a seven page letter to Warden Buck continuing to claim his innocence against the charge of murder, and signed the letter with a cross.
“..Fitzpatrick I believe will swear an oath that they came to shoot me not to arrest me, Constable Lonigan in particular bid his friends good bye, several on leaving Violet Town, and he said he might never come back again as Ned Kelly was to be shot, and he was the man that would shoot him...”
Ned Kelly's dictated letter to Warden Buck."
In this statement by Senior Constable Johnston, it is depicted that Ned Kelly understood if he did not shoot Scanlan, he (Ned) would be shot.
"'I said Ned why did you shoot my old mate. Kelly asked, Who is that? I said Scanlan. Kelly replied. If I did not shoot him he would have shot me.'"
- Senior Constable Johnston
This memo states that it includes a copy of the warrant issued by the Chiltern Bench for the arrest of Edward Kelly on charges of horse stealing.
At his committal hearing, Ned was formally charged with the murders of Constables Lonigan and Scanlon. The case was set to be heard on 14 October at the Beechworth Court of Assize. In the following days, witnesses from the Euroa and Jerilderie hold-ups also took the stand and gave their accounts. After the hearing, the prisoner boarded a train back to Melbourne and a summons for a change of venue was granted, as it was felt that the present climate at Beechworth was becoming more dangerous.
Sir Redmond Barry presided over the case, which was heard on 28 and 29 October. The depositions of all those who witnessed the outrages from Stringy Bark Creek to Glenrowan, who were present to tell their story in court, revealed the damaging course of the Kelly outbreak. Witnesses included Constable McIntyre and Bank Manager Tarleton from the Jerilderie hold up.
Constable Kelly, who was present at the ‘Last Stand’, was able to produce the armour used by the gang while telling his account of Glenrowan. The next day, at about 5pm, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty for the murder of Thomas Lonigan, the second case of the murder of Michael Scanlon was never tried. After exchanging words with Sir Redmond Barry, Ned was taken to cell 38, also referred to as the condemned cell. From the moment his sentence was announced, he was allowed to receive visitors.
The execution date was set for 11 November, 1880.
Click on this image to view the numerous pages of the Capital Case File (with full transcriptions by scrolling down the Details section)
Capital Case File: Witness Statement on the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan, Saturday 26 October 1878, by Constable Thomas McIntyre. Capital Case File, Regina v Edward Kelly.
“....at 4.50 P.M. the fire was completed and burning..I turned suddenly around and saw 4 men standing each armed with a gun presented at Lonigan and me - Prisoner (Ned Kelly) was on the right of attacking party and on my left they were partly concealed by the spear grass. Prisoner's gun was in fair line for my chest and I threw my hands out horizontally (shows how) Lonigan was on my left behind - Prisoner moved his rifle from direction of my chest to his right in direction of Lonigan & fired it - I saw by a glance the shot had taken effect on Lonigan for he fell....he (Ned) put his revolver into its case passed his hands under my coat down my trousers, found no arms - I heard Lonigan breathing heavily then, in a short time he ceased to breathe. Prisoner jumped across the log went in the direction where Lonigan's body was lying I was still covered; he (Lonigan) had run some 5 or 6 yards and struggled on the ground. In a few seconds Prisoner came back with Lonigan's Revolver and said “Dear Dear what a pity that man tried to get away - Dan Kelly said ”he was a plucky fellow you saw how he tried to get his revolver - Prisoner went to the tent the 3 others remained with me, lowered their fire arms. Prisoner took the revolver and fowling piece from the tent and came back said to his mates let him go..."
"Ned Kelly Sentenced to Death for the Murder of Thomas Lonigan"
Public Campaign to Save Ned Kelly
A meeting near the gaol was set for 5 December and a campaign to save Ned’s life emerged.
Once the Executive Council had set the date for Ned Kelly’s execution, brothers David and William Gaunson (the latter Kelly’s defence attorney) set about organising a petition to the Governor for a reprieve from the sentence.
The words below were printed at the head of folded broadsheet papers, which were then distributed at watering holes, race meetings and other congregations of people about town.
“PETITION FOR REPRIEVE TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-IN COUNCIL, Your humble PETITIONERS (having carefully considered the circumstances of the case) respectfully pray that the Life of the CONDEMNED man, EDWARD KELLY, may be spared.”
It has been estimated that over 30,000 signatures were collected for the petition, although if this is the case, not all the sheets collected have made it into Public Record Office Victoria's holdings.
The petition was formally tabled before the Governor-in-Council on the 8th of November but the request was not granted.
Ned requested that Charles Nettleton, the gaol photographer, take a couple of photos for his family. Later that afternoon, Ned’s mother, Ellen, came to see her son for the final time.
Ned Kelly the day before he was hanged
After being sentenced to death, Ned Kelly was hanged on 11 November 1880 at Melbourne Gaol where he was believed to utter his infamous final words, "Such is life."
On 11 November 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged. Over twenty officials witnessed his death, while outside the Old Melbourne Gaol, a crowd of over 4,000 had gathered in silence.