Cold-blooded killer, or folk hero?
Ned Kelly, June 1854 or 55 - November 1880
Edward "Ned" Kelly was a bushranger. Like Jesse James in America, Ned Kelly was an outlaw who turned into a folk hero in Australia. In both cases, the men were killers, but became iconic for their defiance against authorities, and the "wrongs" done to them in their life.
A bushranger was the term given to runaway convicts in the Australian Penal Colonies in the 1800's. Bushranger seemed to fit these people because of their ability to hide out and survive in the Australian bush, a not very hospitable place to live. The bushrangers seemed to have dwindled after Ned Kelly made his last attempt to defy authorities in Glenrowan, near Victoria, Australia, on June 28, 1880.
Ned Kelly was born in Beveridge, Victoria to an Irish convict, John "Red" Kelly, and Ellen Quinn Kelly. His actual birth date is unknown. According to records, he was born sometime between June 1854 and June 1855. He died on November 11, 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol where he was hanged for the murder of Constable Lonigan.
When Ned was just a boy, he saved the life of Richard Shelton, another boy who would have drowned had Ned not been there to save him. The grateful family of Richard gave Ned a green sash for his bravery. This same green sash was worn by Ned at his final showdown with police years later.
It seems Ned was strongly influenced against authorities because of the way his father, Red, was treated by police and other authorities when he was sentenced to Kilmore Gaol for the theft and killing of a neighbor's calf. The six month sentence caused Red's health to deteriorate badly, which led to his death two days after Christmas in 1866.
The Kelly family was accused of eighteen charges of cattle or horse theft -- only half of these charges resulted in convictions. Even at that time this was an unusually high rate of accusations and arrests. Many people believed that the Kellys were unfairly targeted for personal reasons.
When Ned was only fourteen he was arrested for assaulting a man named Ah Fook, a pig farmer. Fook claimed Ned had robbed him -- while Ned claimed that the farmer and Ned's sister Annie had an argument. Ned was arrested and spent ten days in custody. The charges were dismissed. From that point on, police labeled Ned a bushranger, albeit a juvenile. A year later, Ned was arrested on charges of being an accomplice to Harry Power. Power had been sentenced to 7 years in Australia for stealing a pair of shoes in England. Power was released in 1848. When no evidence of Ned's acquaintance with or charge of accomplice to Power was produced in court, Ned was released after one month in custody.
Ned was again arrested in October 1870. Charges this time were for assaulting Jeremiah McCormack, a hawker -- and for passing on a note written by Ben Gould, a friend of the Kellys, to McCormack's wife. The note was indecent and insulting. Apparently McCormack and Gould had a row over the accusation that Gould used McCormack's horse without asking. Ned was sentenced to six months hard labor.
When Ned was released he returned home to his mother's farm. A man name Isaiah Wright had been staying with the Kellys. Wright's horse had apparently gone missing. When Wright left the farm he borrowed one of the Kelly's horses to return to his home in Mansfield. Ned later found the missing horse and rode it to Wangaratta. On his way back home, Ned was stopped by a police constable and accused of stealing the horse. The attempt to arrest Ned turned into a fight. The constable lost but Ned was later arrested. Ned did not know that the "missing horse" had been stolen by Wright from the Mansfield postmaster. Ned was sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labor on felony charges for receiving a stolen horse. Wright was arrested and sentenced to just eighteen months for stealing the horse.
Getting arrested in September 1877 for drunkeness did not help Ned's reputation any. There was a scuffle, Ned broke free, and the police were unable to subdue him. When Ned later gave himself up to a Justice he was fined. Legends grew from incidents like this about Ned. Lore has it that Ned, after being "black-balled" by a constable, said, "If I ever shoot a man, Lonigan, it'll be you!".
Lore abounds since Ned Kelly's death. He has been built into an icon of mythology and tall tales. He is considered one of Australia's greatest folk heroes.
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