Cold blooded killer, or folk hero?
Ned Kelly, June 1854 or 55 - November 1880
In December of 1878, Ned had written a letter to a member of Parliament that outlined his grievances. This letter was not published or even made known to the general public. An attempt to further correspond and make his grievances known was written by Ned with the help of his friend, Joe Byrne. In a lengthy letter that stated his opinion of the treatment his family had received over the years and the ill treatment of Irish Catholics in general, Ned poured out his feelings with 7,391 words.
The now famous Jerilderie Letter, which it had become known as, was also repressed from the general public and not published until 1930, many years after Ned's death. The letter now resides in the State Library of Victoria. It is considered one of Australia's most remarkably written documents.
In June of 1880, things started going downhill fast for the gang. Joe Byrne was a close and long time friend of Ned's. However, Joe had another close friend, Aaron Sherritt, who was the gang's scout, and was also a police informer. When the gang found this out, Dan Kelly and Joe killed Sherritt. Four policemen were in hiding at Sherritt's home and witnessed the murder.
On June 27 the gang once again took hostages, this time at the Glenrowan Inn. Having information that a detachment of police was heading to Glenrowan by train, the gang planned to remove the tracks so the train would derail. They had also made some metal armour for themselves, intending to shoot it out without being shot themselves. The four gang members each had protective helmets.
The plan to derail the train failed. One hostage, who had convinced Ned to let him go, found his way down the tracks far enough to alert the train, which stopped before it reached the torn up tracks. The police then had time to surround and lay siege to the inn the next morning.
A volley of bullets came from both sides. Police and the gang gave it all they had. Although the armour protected Ned's head and body, he was hit several times in the legs and was finally brought down. Joe Byrne was killed in the inn and his body removed. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart supposedly committed suicide in the inn -- their bodies were burned when the police set fire to the building. Joe Byrne's body was displayed for photographers and others to view.
Ned survived his wounds, was tried for the murder of Constable Lonigan, convicted, and sentenced to death. On November 11, 1880, he was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol.
After Kelly's body was given to doctors, it was dissected for study. The head was given to phrenologists (study of the brain) then returned to the police. It is not known where the rest of Kelly's body was buried. The head had mysteriously disappeared. It is not even positive that the "death mask" that is supposed to have been made on Kelly, is in fact Kelly's.
To this day there is no positive evidence that Ned Kelly's remains have been found and identified. In life Kelly was always on the run and very good at not being found. In death it is no different.
Since Kelly's death, songs, poems, lore and legends continue to grow. Folklore is usually born from actual facts and legends and Ned Kelly is one of Australia's most famous.
For your reading pleasure: