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Ned Kelly

Ned KellyUndated photo of Edward 'Ned' KellyTo many Australians, Ned Kelly is their local version of Robin Hood and he is one of the most famous figures in Australian history. Maybe it is the rebellious streak in Australians who don't like authority too much and value indenpendence, that turned Ned Kelly into some kind of a national hero, even though he was a convicted criminal and has killed three policemen. He was executed aged 25, but only this year, 133 years later, the story has finally come to an end. But let's start with the beginning.

Edward "Ned" Kelly was the oldest son in a family that had 8 children. His father John "Red" Kelly came to Australia as a convict, transported from Ireland to Tasmania in 1841 for stealing two pigs. He served 7 years in a penal colony and after his release in 1848 moved to Victoria and found work on a farm as bush carpenter. During the gold rush he made a small fortune and was able to purchase his own land near Beveridge (Victoria) and married Ellen Quinn.

The first child, a girl born in 1850, died when it was only 6 month old but the second child, again a daughter, was born in 1853 and lived. Eward - called Ned - was the third child and born on his parent's property in Beveridge north of Melbourne. Although his date of birth is not exactly known, it is assumed to be June of either 1854 or 1855.

As a boy he showed great courage when he risked his own life to rescue another boy from drowning. As a reward he received a green sash from the boy's family and he wore it under his armour at the final confrontation with the police that lead to his arrest.

The family moved to Avenel, near Seymour where Ned's father became noted as an expert cattle thief, was convicted for this crime in 1865 and died 27 December 1866, not long after he was released from goal. He was survived by his wife and seven children who bought 80 acres (320,000 km2) of uncultivated farmland in Eleven Mile Creek near the Greta area in Victoria. Today this stretch of land is known as "Kelly Country".

Life was hard and the uncultivated farmland required a lot of work and yielded little in return, so the Kellys took to stealing cattle and horses but apart from the one conviction of John "Red" Kelly evidence was never sufficient for a conviction. Later Ned Kelly is said to have claimed that he had stolen more than 280 horses as a boy.

Ned's first contact with the law occured on 15 October 1869 when he was 14. He was charged with robbery and assault of a Chinese pig and fowl trader who claimed that when he passed near the Kelly's house was beaten and robbed of 10 Shillings by Ned. As a result Ned was arrested but in court claimed that it was infact the trader who had assaulted his sister and beat him until he ran away. As the police was unable to provide an interpreter for the Chinese trader, the charge was dismissed a few days later and Ned released.

A few month later, in March 1870 Ned teamed up with bushranger Harry Power and the two robbed several people but the witness always failed to identify Ned and the charges had to be dropped. His first conviction came in October of the same year, after he had assaulted a man and send a box with calve's testicles and an indecent note to his wife. He had to serve a sentence of 6 months hard labour.

Just released and returned home, he got into trouble again for "feloniously receiving a horse", although he had always claimed that he did not know that the horse was stolen. He resisted being arrested, overpowered the policeman and humiliated him by rising him like a horse. A few days later he was arrested nevertheless and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment with hard labour, which he served in Pentridge Prison until he was released in February 1874.

In April 1878 a constable Fitzpatrick came to the Kelly's house to arrest Ned's brother Dan for horse stealing. He could not produce a warrant and was overpowered by members of the family who later claimed they released him unharmed. Fitzpatrick rode to Benalla and claimed he had been attacked by several members of the Kelly family and that Ned had shot him in the wrist. Despite of a doctor stating that he could not support that the wrist wound was caused by a bullet and on top of that Fitzpatrick had smelled strongly of alcohol, the constable's statement was accepted as proof and Ned's mother and two sibblings were convicted.

Murdered-PolicePortraits of murdered policemen (from 1878?)
Constable Lonigan, Sergeant Kenned and Constable Scanlon
Ned and his brother Dan doubted that they could convince the police of being innocent and took to the bush to hide where they were joined by friends. On 25 October the police learned that they were hiding in the Wombat Ranges and set out with two parties attempting a pincer movement to apprehend the gang. In the course of things Constables Lonigan and Scanlon were shot at the banks of Stringybark Creek and Sergeant Kennedy at Germans Creek. Following the killings the reward was raised to £500 and the Victorian parliament passed the Felons' Apprehension Act which outlawed the gang and made it possible for anyone to shoot them.

After they had gone that far, the gang felt they had nothing to lose and undertook two major bank robberies in Euroa (Victoria) in early December 1878 and Jerilderie (New South Wales) in early February 1879. Shortly after the first robbery the police arrested all known Kelly friends, family members and symphatisers and held them for 3 months without trial. As a result the media condemned the government for this abuse of power and a groundswell of support errupted for the gang that helped them to evade capture for such a long time.

On 25 June 1880, one day before the Felons' Apprehension Act expired, the gang took revenge on Aaron Sherritt who had become a police informer and had approached Ned's sister Kate. They knocked on his door and and shot him immediately. The four policemen that were at Sherritt's house to protect him were kept pinned down inside by the gang that fired serveral shots into the windows and walls, demanding their surrender. The thread to burn down the house however was not carried out and the gang left without harming the policemen.

The gang then rode openly to Glenrowan where they arrived in the morning of the 27 June and, after subduing  the population, sabotaged the railway line to derail any train the police might send after them. They gathered the hostages at the hotel and waited for the police to arrive. This trap to derail the police trains failed because a released hostage was able to warn the approaching trains, so the police arrived unharmed to lay siege to the hotel.

The gang members had equipped themselves with armour that was strong enough to repell a bullet fired from as close as 10 metres. It had been made by a man from the district from ploughs and other tools and each weighed more than 40 kg. While the other gang members defended the besieged hotel, Ned - clad in a grey overcoat over his steel amour - attacked the police from behind. He took several bullets which were repelled by his armour until the police found out his legs were unprotected and they brought him down with two shots and captured him. The other gang members were either shot in the fire fight around the hotel or killed themselves after the police had set the building on fire.

Ned Kelly trialEdward 'Ned' Kelly at his Trial
The Illustrated Australian News, Melbourne, David Syme and Co.
6 November 1880
Ned Kelly's wounds were treated and he survived to stand trial on 19 October 1880 in Melbourne. The trial wasadjurned until the 28th when Ned was convicted for murder of constable Lonigan and sentenced to death by hanging which was carried out at the Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.

The body of Ned Kelly was buried in the "old men's yard", just inside the walls of Old Melbourne Gaol. When the goal was closed for renovation in 1929, the bodies in its graveyard were uncovered and spectators and workers stole some of the remains from a grave marked with E. K. in the belief they belonged to Edward "Ned" Kelly. The foreman retrieved the skull and gave it to the police and reburied the remaining body parts in Pentridge prison.

The skull was first stored at the Victorian Penal Department until tt was then taken to Canberra for research by the first director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy in 1934. For almost two decades it was then considered lost until it was found in an old safe in 1952. It was then given to the National Trust in 1971 and displayed at the Old Melbourne Goal which by this time had been converted to a museum. From there it was stolen in December 1978 and until today has not been found. In 2009 a skull was handed to the police as the one of Kelly but extensive forensic testing revealed that it was not Kelly's.

In August 2011 scientists confirmed that following DNA testing a skeleton missing the skull which was exhumed at Pentridge prison was identified as Kelly's. In 2012 the Victorian Government issued a license for Kelly's bones to be returned to his family which laid the bones to their final rest in consecrated ground at Greta cemetery, near his mother's unmarked grave, on 20 January 2013.

Almost 133 years after his death the bones of Edward "Ned" Kelly have been laid to their final rest. But a part of the skull is still missing.

 

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