On 11 November 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged in Old Melbourne Gaol, having been convicted of a host of crimes including the murders of three police officers. In the weeks before his execution, however, around 30,000 people had signed a petition to free him. Seen as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure, he had become popular in Australia.
History Revealed tells the story of Ned Kelly, from his introduction to crime at just 14 to his final gunfight with police and capture, in our November issue – on sale now. Here are five facts about the divisive bushranger…
When Kelly was a boy, he risked his life to save a friend from drowning in a creek near his home in Victoria. The boy’s family were so grateful, they gave him a green sash as a present. Kelly treasured the humble gift his whole life – he was wearing it during his final battle with police just before he was arrested in June 1880.
While on the run, Kelly and the other members of his gang built themselves bulletproof armour. Thick plates of iron – almost a centimetre thick – protected their bodies and shoulders, while helmets with narrow eye slits kept their heads safe. Each set of armour weighed around 44kg. Some of the police officers who faced Kelly clad in his armour later said they were terrified that he was a ghost.
Kelly’s reputation as a hero grew after newspapers published what is known as the ‘Jerilderie letter’. The 8,000-word letter, which Kelly dictated in early 1879, justifies the actions of the gang and attacks the police for unfair treatment and persecution of people all over Australia. The diatribe gained Kelly many sympathisers who came to see the bushranger as embodying a spirit of independence and anti-imperial rebelliousness that they admired.
The day before his execution, Kelly asked for his photograph to be taken. The images (one of which you can see above) were then given to his family, as they didn’t have any other image of Kelly. In a full-body shot, Kelly is seen standing against a wall looking calm, despite the heavy shackles visible on his legs. His calm demeanour lasted right up until he was led to the gallows ¬– when he was told of the time of his execution, he allegedly replied: “Such is life”.
In 2009, a skeleton believed to be Kelly’s was exhumed from a mass grave near where the jail stood. It was confirmed to be his and the Kelly family reburied it in 2013. The skeleton, however, was missing the skull, the location of which is still a matter of speculation. Some reports say it was kept in a police station for a few years and used as a paperweight.