Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ned Kelly: Part 2


The Early Years

It is a feature of the Ned Kelly story that many of the people who are part of it make more than one appearance, reappearing at intervals as though they are characters in a play.  The story is also marked by a number of prophecies which later come true, reminiscent of Macbeth’s witches.


Ned Kelly’s father was an Irishman by the name of John Kelly, known as Red Kelly because of his red hair.  Hailing from Tipperary, he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1843 for seven years for stealing two pigs.  Ian Jones in his book Ned Kelly – A Short Life, refers to papers in a Crown Witness file in Ireland which reveal Red Kelly to have been an informer, that also accounting for the more lenient penalty given him in comparison to his co-accused.

Kelly’s mother, Ellen Quinn, the oldest of ten children, arrived in Melbourne with her family in 1841 when she was aged 9.  Her family had left Ireland because of the potato famine.  With her father, James Quinn, and her six brothers and sisters, they rented land for dairying, eventually settling on a farm in Wallan, Victoria.
Ellen Kelly in 1874, aged 42

Upon Red Kelly’s release in 1848, he moved to Victoria where he was hired as a labourer.  He had also carried out bush carpentry. Although he was aged 30 and Ellen was 18, they fell in love.  The relationship was opposed by Ellen’s father, who was against his daughter marrying an ex-convict.  They were not daunted, they eloped and married in Melbourne in 1850.  James Quinn relented and accepted his new son in law, perhaps aided by his daughter being six months pregnant at the time.  They lived with Ellen’s father until 1854 when Ellen and Red moved to the nearby area of Beveridge, Red having purchased 21 acres for £70, money raised by gold digging and dealing in horses.
The Kelly cottage at Beveridge as it looks today
The cottage was an Irish style cottage dominated by the bluestone chimney,  originally with two rooms, no ceiling and earthen floors.

Red and Ellen had 8 children.  The first died at birth, Edward “Ned” Kelly was the oldest son, born in December 1854, the same month as the rebellion at the Eureka Stockade.

The Eureka Stockade:

The years 1851-1853 were the byears of the great gold discoveries in NSW and Victoria.

Red Kelly spent time in the goldfields at Bendigo in 1853.

Goldfever gripped the colony, people flocking to the goldfields locally and overseas.  Men left their jobs to seek riches, leaving employers to do the best they could with crops, cattle, sheep and industry.  The government responded with stringent fees and permits, enforced by police who were brutal and often corrupt, in an attempt to drive people back to their regular employment. 

Life in the goldfields was harsh.  The goldfields police had regular licence hunts, with a fine of £5 being imposed for failing to have a licence on one’s person (an understandable offence when you consider that the men were panning or sluicing in water).  Corrupt and despotic magistrates  and goldfields officials also made life hard.  The miners had no representation and no say.  Licences cost 30 shillings (£1.5, or £1/10/- as it was written when I was younger) per month.

By 1854 the miners had had enough. On 11 November 1854 (the date on which Ned would be hanged in 1880) over 10,000 miners and their families gathered at Bakery Hill in Ballarat and adopted a charter which included the words “It is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey.  Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

By 3 December 1854 the discontent, anger and resentment at perceived injustices resulted in outright rebellion.  Miners burned their licences and flew a flag of their own making and design, a flag which significantly omitted the Union Jack.  Led by Peter Lalor they formed a stockade around their flag, determined to resist.  The redcoated soldiers attacked at 3.00am on Sunday morning, when the miners were least expecting an attack and when the stockade was least manned.

The attack by the soldiers
The remains of the original flag, now held in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

Officially 22 diggers and 5 soldiers died from the battle.  More diggers may have died amongst those who fled after being wounded.  In 1855, thirteen of the stockade defenders were brought to trial for treason before Justice Redmond Barry (1813-1880),  an Irish barrister who had come to Australia in 1839 and who was then the senior judge of the colony.
Sir Redmond Barry

Juries refused to convict any of the defendants, despite Judge Redmond Barry's warning, after a thunderstorm, that “the eye of Heaven” was upon them.

Ned’s early years:

Ned grew up in an Irish household that disliked the police and authority. 

The fact that many police were no better than thugs was not confined to the goldfields.  Political and economic power was wielded by the squatters – big landholders, often sheep and cattle barons, who were supported by the police.  (Is it any wonder that Waltzing Matilda –  the tale of the swaggie who resists the “the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred (and) …the troopers one, two, three” – found a receptive audience in the general populace.)
Meetings of the Kellys with friends and relatives ususally included political discussions with hostility towards the police, the squatters, the courts and authority in general, inflamed further by the effect of the Eureka Rebellion and the subsequent trials.
Red Kelly’s house was regularly targeted by the police, some say justifiably, others say unfairly.

In 1860 Red and his family moved to Avenel, 70 kilometres north.

In 1865 Ned, aged 11, rescued local 7 year old child Richard Shelton from a flooded creek.  Richard had been trying to retrieve his hat from the creek, blown there by the wind, when he fell in.  Ned jumped in fully clothed and brought him to the bank, then took him home to his parents at the Royal Mail Hotel, which they owned.  The parents were so grateful that they presented Ned with a 2.2m green sash with gold fringing (deliberately chosen Irish colours) at a school ceremony.  Ned treasured the sash for the rest of his life and wore it on special occasions, including under his armour at the shootout at Glenrowan.  The frayed, blood stained sash remains on public display at the Costume Pioneer Museum in Benalla.

As at Beveridge, the police kept Red and the Kelly home under scrutiny, with regular searches.  There is no doubt that Red was involved in criminal activity, notably horse stealing, equivalent to car stealing today.  There were many who thought that the squatters were fair game for horse stealing and cattle theft, known as cattle duffing.  The police searches were often accompanied by abuse, destruction and intimidation.  Ned Kelly states in his 1879 Jerilderie letter in respect of later searches for him at his mother’s home :  “..they used to rush into the house and upset all the milk dishes, break tins of eggs, empty the flour out of the bags onto the ground, and even the meat out of the cask..”

At the time of Ned’s saving of Richard Shelton, Red Kelly was in jail, having been convicted of a charge of “unlawful possession of a hide”.  A new law at the time required that any person proposing to kill an animal was to notify the police and keep the hide for proof.  The police were tipped off that Red had stolen and killed a neighbour’s calf.  The police found a fresh hide with the brand cut out and although Red was charged both with theft, he was found guilty only of the charge of unlawful possession of the hide.  Red was fined £25, in default 6 months imprisonment.  Not having the funds to pay the fine, he went inside but, having gone in fine and fit, he came out broken in health and spirit, dying less than 12 months after his release.

At the age of 33, Ellen Kelly became a widow with 7 children and no breadwinner.  Ned, aged 11 and the oldest son, left school and stepped into his father’s shoes.


  1. oh, poor ned i feel so sorry for the fella just thinking about the hell he went through makes me want to cry

  2. I Agree, How sad that the so called law was so so corrupt!!! The Police were worse than the crims, No Justice here for Ned Kelly or his Family, What his poor Mum and siblings went through was just DISGUSTING, May they Rest In Peace all of them. xoxoxo


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