Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ned Kelly: Part 15


On 30 October 1880 Ned Kelly had been sentenced to death by Mr Justice Redmond Barry.  On being sentenced, Kelly had responded that he would meet Barry where he was going.

Ned’s execution was scheduled for 11 November 1880,

A massive public movement sought to have Ned reprieved from the gallows.  Public meetings, torch rallies, a deputation to the Governor and a petition of 32,000 signatures failed to have any effect.

The day before his execution Ned was photographed wearing his prison clothes.  Two photographs were taken:

Ned had been kept from his family for fear that they would assist him to cheat the hangman but the night before his execution he was allowed a visit from his mother, herself still an inmate at the same prison, Old Melbourne Gaol.

Her later account of the meeting is poignant:

"I had not seen Ned for two years and I was shocked at the grimness in his face. He was still weak, his face was full of bruises, his hands were bandaged. He could not walk and laid in bed. But those dark, hazel eyes were still the same, still sharp, sparkling, though the lines about them had deepened."

Her last words, on parting from Ned, were “Mind you die like a Kelly, Ned.”

On the morning of 11 November 1880, just before 10.00am, Ned was led onto the scaffold.

A newspaper illustration of the time showed that scene:

His last words were “Ah, well, I suppose it has to come to this.  Such is life.”

The executioner pulled the lever, sending Ned into eternity and Australian legend.

His body was buried in the grounds of Old Melbourne Gaol and later moved to Pentridge Prison Cemetery.

Before being buried his body was shaved so that a death mask could be made.

The mask shows a face that is gentle, at peace in death, a peace never known in life.

Twelve days later, on 23 November 1880, Judge Redmond Barry dropped dead in his chambers from a carbuncle on his neck and congestion on his lungs.
·         Although the Kelly Gang was destroyed in 1880, for the next 7 years there was a real risk of a second outbreak, centered on problems with land settlement and selection.  When the attention of the authorities was brought to this issue, that of land rather than crime, assiatnce was given to small selectors, thereby helping defuse the unrest.

·         After Ned’s death, the Victorian government set up a Royal Commission to enquire into the Kelly Gang affair.  The Commission sat from 1881 to 1883 and neither sanctioned or approved the actions of the Kelly Gang.  It did, however, deliver criticisms of the Victorian police, with a number of police reprimanded, demoted or dismissed.  The Commission’s report also resulted in changes in the nature of policing in Victoria.
·         Ellen Kelly was released from gaol in 1881, the same gail in which her son had been hanged whilst she was an inmate.  Mrs Kelly headed back to her selection and was supported by the newly appointed police officer, Constable Robert Graham.  He was sympathetic to her situation and to the conditions which led to her sons becoming outlaws. In turn, she persuaded  sympathisers to remain calm.  In 1893 she qualified to own property and although she did buy the property upon which she lived, she remained poor for the rest of her life.  Her daughters Maggie and Kate died in the late 1890’s, with the result that she raised three of her grandchildren.  She died in 1923, respected and admired.  Although she never publicly discussed Ned and Dan, in private she declared that she was proud of them.
Ellen Kelly in 1917 at Benalla
·         The £8,000 reward was divided controversially.  Persons who believed that they were entitled to a part thereof were obliged to lodge a formal application.  91 applications were lodged, of which 24 were rejected.  Superintendent Hare received the largest allocation, £800, but such was the public controversy and opposition that he declined to accept it.  He was also suspended for cowardice at Glenrowan.  Go figure.  Thomas Curnow, who alerted the police, received £550.  Sergeant Steele, who had twice been threatened with being shot by police officers, received £290, even the constables who had hidden under the bed at Aaron Sheritt’s house received £42 each.
·         Seven Aboriginal trackers were each awarded £50.  According to a report in The Age in 1881, the board deemed it undesirable to “place any sum of money in the hands of persons unable to use it” and recommended that “the sums set opposite the names of the black trackers be handed to the Queensland and Victorian Governments to be dealt with at their discretion.”
How is Ned Kelly to be regarded?  Murderer, cop killer, armed robber and thief?  Defender of the oppressed and brave folk hero? A combination of both?  Such debate will never go away.  What is fact is that he is a piece of Australia’s history, an Australian icon who has also become part of the Australian language in the phrase “as game as Ned Kelly”.
At the beginning of Part 1 of this series I quoted a statement made by Dame Mabel Brooks in respect of Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.  It is appropriate to close this series with the same quote: “If a cog had slipped in time the Kelly Boys would have been on Gallipoli, one probably a VC winner.”


  1. so good for school, thanks !

  2. gee so interesting really enjoyed reading about ned kelly what a hero

  3. I write a essay about Ned Kelly he was very interesting man in the world I thing i had English essay about ned kelly and i reading his story he was interesting man and i thing he was not a good man he killed a lot of people.

  4. What were the names and details of the Police who were reprimanded, demoted or dismissed.

  5. The text of The Royal Commission's findings, with commentary on police officers involved, can be read at the following link and subsequent pages:

    There are no readily available details of those reprimanded, dismissed or demoted, although:
    Chief Commissioner Standish retired.
    Superintendent Hare retired.
    Superintendent Sadleir was demoted.

    I see that you have posted the same question on a number of websites. Let me know if you get a response.



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