The Kelly Gang

The Kelly Gang of bushrangers was formed in April 1878, following a confrontation at the Kelly family home at Greta, in the north-east of the colony of Victoria. After an argument with Constable Fitzpatrick, in which the policeman was slightly wounded, Edward (Ned) Kelly and his younger brother Dan took off to hide in the nearby Wombat Ranges. The brothers were soon joined by two of their friends, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.

Portrait of Ned Kelly, circa 1860

Portrait of Ned Kelly, 1873
Source: National Museum of Australia

In the following months, police parties continued to pursue the Kelly brothers, not realising that their two companions had joined them. It was a standard police operation, with search parties combing the countryside and suspected friends and collaborators being questioned. Events took a new and dramatic turn, however, on 26 October 1878 when Ned Kelly and his three companions surprised a police party at a campsite near Stringybark Creek and ordered them to ‘bail up’.

In the ensuing gun battle, three policemen – Sergeant Michael Kennedy, and Constables Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan – were killed by the Kellys and their friends. A fourth officer, Constable Thomas McIntyre, managed to hide and later escaped unhurt.

Within days, the four members of what soon became known as ‘the Kelly Gang’ were declared to be outlaws. The police effort to apprehend the Kellys, an uncoordinated endeavour before these killings, was immediately intensified.

The hunt for the Kelly Gang

The hunt for the Kelly Gang was the biggest and most expensive police exercise in the history of the colony of Victoria, but it failed to produce quick results. Before long, with the usual means at its disposal failing, the police came under increasing pressure to adopt new strategies.

They transferred large contingents of extra police to the North-Eastern District of Victoria; forcibly detained Kelly ‘sympathisers’, to help dissuade local support; and activated police informers and spies.

One of the more interesting tactics, although not a new one, was the employment of Aboriginal men from Queensland to track the movement of the fugitives around the surrounding area, particularly in and out of the rugged terrain of the Wombat Ranges.

This use of Queensland Aborigines was not the preferred choice of the Victorian Police. The Chief Commissioner wanted to capture the Kelly Gang without the assistance of outside organisations. But following the Kelly Gang’s daring and successful raid on the town of Jerilderie on 8 February 1879, it was clear that his police force could not cope with the situation and in fact did need such assistance.

Suit of armour

It was while the Gang was hiding out in the Wombat Ranges that they had the idea of making their famous suits of armour. It is not known where the inspiration came from, but it has been suggested that Ned Kelly was familiar with the novel Lorna Doone, in which the outlaw heroes appear in iron armour. The armour may have been modelled on sets imported for a Chinese street parade in 1873, and probably seen by members of the gang in Beechworth.

The spoils of battle: pieces of Kelly armour after their capture at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880

The spoils of battle: pieces of Kelly armour after their capture at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880
Source: Victoria Police Historical Unit

The final showdown

The four suits of armour were used only once — at the final confrontation between the Gang and police at Glenrowan, on 28 June 1880. In the early hours of the morning, the four outlaws stood on the veranda of Mrs Jones’s hotel and fired on the police surrounding the building. Later, Ned Kelly left the hotel wearing his armour and engaged in a final shoot-out with the police. He was captured alive after being brought to the ground with wounds to his legs. The other members of the Gang were killed in the siege. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were dead before a fire consumed the hotel; it is unclear whether they had been shot by police or chose to commit suicide. Joe Byrne had died earlier from a bullet wound to the groin.

Ned Kelly was tried in Melbourne and executed on 11 November 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol. By a strange twist of fate, his mother was being held at the same prison, on a three-year sentence that had resulted from the same affray with Constable Fitzpatrick that had led to her son going into hiding.

After being captured by the police, the four sets of Kelly armour had divergent histories. Joe Byrne’s set was given away a couple of days after the Glenrowan siege. The three remaining sets were initially retained by Victoria Police and were possibly mixed up. One set was transferred to the Trustees of the State Library and went on display at the Aquarium until the mid-1950s. This set is still held by the Library and is now on display at Melbourne Museum. The other remaining sets are also on public display: one at the Old Melbourne Gaol, the other in the Victoria Police Museum.

Postscript

A suit of armour belonging to the Kelly gang is on loan from Museum Victoria for display at the State Library of Victoria.

The State Library of Victoria has identified the suit of armour in its collection as including: Ned Kelly’s helmet and breastplate, Steve Hart’s breastplate (hung as a backplate) and unidentified lappet (or apron). This was achieved through the examination of works from The Australasian Sketcher and the study of the gunshot patterns on the armour.

Further Reading

Jones, I. 1995.  Ned Kelly: A Short Life. Melbourne: Lothian Books.

Presland, G. 1998.  For God’s Sake Send the Trackers. Melbourne: Victoria Press.

Comments (34)

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tris 15 September, 2014 10:06
this is so cool i just learnt a hole new bio
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Arthur 25 July, 2014 02:31
Pretty watery advice being offered. Public Record Office Victoria has the vast majority of archival records about the Kelly Gang. University of Melbourne Archives has useful documents also. Ian MacFarlane's "The Kelly Gang Unmasked" questions the Kelly folklore and debunks the Kelly Republic myth. It is probably the only antidote in fifty years to the pro-Kelly propaganda we've all grown used to.
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ned kelly 5 May, 2014 14:54
ay! what u talking bout me for!
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Ettie Hart 17 July, 2014 11:05
Get back in your grave, Ned!
Jack 26 April, 2014 09:31
I am a Year 8 student doing a research project on Ned Kelly. I was wondering whether you had the contact details of anyone I could speak to who knows alot about the Kelly Gang. Jack
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Discovery Centre 26 April, 2014 15:30

Hi Jack,

You could contact the Mansfield Historical Society, as their members share an interest in local history and may be able to talk with you.  Their email and telephone contact details can be found here.

The State Library of Victoria has many Kelly Gang artefacts and resources within their collection.  You can learn more here.

Regina Gilliland 28 March, 2014 18:17
Is there such a thing as a Ned Kelly Historical Soceity similar to the Richard III Soceity? Been searching the net but can't find any. Can you help?
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Hans Joachim Stein 1 November, 2013 12:21
I am a Prof. for Anthropology at Osaka Gakuin University in Japan.Currently I am giving a seminar on outlaws, from Robin Hood, Billy The Kid, Andreas Hofer to the Kelly gang. My students are very interested in hearing more about a possible escape of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart from the hotel in Glenrowan. Their bodys have never been officially examined, their two horses have never been found, and it is said that their coffins when put into their graves contained nothing but rocks. I would be very glad to hear,read more about the various suggested theories of their possible escape: Is there any possibility of truth in those theories? Hans
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Discovery Centre 1 November, 2013 16:10
Hello Hans - Interesting! We'll ask one of our volunteer researchers to have a look, but in the meantime, you might like to also ask the State Library of Victoria, as they have a significant Kelly collection.
kyle hart 1 November, 2013 11:31
they all were australian hero's and steve hart is my great great grat great uncle
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Aimee 30 October, 2013 10:08
Hi, im doing an essay at school about wether ned kelly was a hero or not. Im agreeing and saying he was but i was wondering if you can please give me some good websites or sources where i can find more information. thanks
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josh goodman 25 June, 2013 14:34
i realy like the kelly gang because thay where called herros
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Kim 3 April, 2013 23:18
I have traced my family tree back to Joe Byrne and would like to know more about him. where would you suggest I could get some information on the family
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Discovery Centre 5 April, 2013 12:38

Hi Kim, Thank you for your comment. We would suggest that you contact one of following for primary sources: the National Library of Australia, the State Library of Victoria or the Public Records Office of Victoria. Hope this helps.

sam 21 October, 2011 11:00
this is a good website, i like the armour
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larry 2 October, 2011 07:19
This is a terrific site. I'm doing an essay in my 3rd year of my degree at Ulster University on Ned Kelly. I'm hoping to get some primary sources, newspaper articles of the time. Can you assist? I'll contact the police site above for contemporary court details. It's great that Australia promotes all her children, impressed and proud, have family there.
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Discovery Centre 2 October, 2011 09:21
Hi Larry, Thank you for your comment. We would suggest that you contact one of following for primary sources: the National Library of Australia, the State Library of Victoria or the Public Records Office of Victoria. Hope this helps.
matthew 10 August, 2011 19:19
this does not give the names of the kelly gang
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Discovery Centre 20 August, 2011 12:30

Hi Matthew, The names of the "official" members of the Kelly Gang are given above: Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly (Ned's brother), Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. Two others have been reported as "part-time" members of the gang: Tom Lloyd Jr. and Aaron Sherritt. There were also other associates. We hope this is helpful.

Sharon 28 July, 2011 22:30
I have young primary school aged children and they became interested in Ned Kelly after seeing Nolan's series at the National Gallery. However I am struggling to find a young child (5-6yo) friendly account of the Kelly Gang. Any advice on materials, websites, exhibitions would be greatly appreciated.
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Discovery Centre 1 August, 2011 10:32
Hi Sharon, here's a list of resources that might help you. Black snake: the daring of Ned Kelly by Carole Wilkinson; Ned Kelly and the green sash by Mark Greenwood; Ned Kelly - hero or villain?; In search of Ned Kelly education kit from National Museum of Australia; and State Library of Victoria online education resources. We hope that these are useful.
paris 8 July, 2011 16:11
its all really interesting considering i was recently told that i am related to the kelly family, my gandmother and i were looking throught my family history photo's one morning and actually found a picture of Edward kelly and his family before he became such a riot to the town. so its all really exciting for me because im apart of 1 of Australia's most historical memories!
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Tara 21 February, 2011 15:34
Where can I find a copy of the Jerlidine Letter download for free??? Thanks :)
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Discovery Centre 22 February, 2011 13:50
Hi Tara, you can find a copy of the Jerilderie Letter on the State Libray of Victoria's website.
Barb Clayton 28 April, 2010 20:51
Where can I find online the copy written by McIntyre which I saw today in the Police Museum which I highly recommend a visit to.
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Discovery Centre 30 April, 2010 13:15

Hi Barb. We were unable to find any of McIntyre's papers online and we suggest that you contact the Police Museum. The staff there should be able to advise you if you can obtain a copy online or otherwise.

tom 3 April, 2010 01:07
after reading up on the kelly gang is there any truth to the story that a republic could have been declared in their area due to the harsh treatment the second generation irish endured at this time
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Discovery Centre 5 April, 2010 10:48

Hi Tom, you might find that the State Library of Victoria may be able to point you in the the direction of some useful resources.  Also consider contacting the Old Melbourne Gaol, http://www.oldmelbournegaol.com.au/old_melbourne_gaol, and come face to face with Ned Kelly's death mask!

Annonymus 27 July, 2009 10:16
Was there one that didn't get hung, i thought his name was riley or something.
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brie 5 September, 2012 17:29
only one of the four was hung, and that was ned himself they other three dan, joe and steve were shot and burnt
Discovery Centre 29 July, 2009 10:55

The Kelly Gang was made up of the four members discussed above who were either captured or died at Glenrowan. Other associates of the gang seem to have been involved in their activities to some extent, including Tom Lloyd, who some consider was a fifth member of the gang, but was not implicated at Glenrowan. For further information check out some of the many websites devoted to the Kelly Gang!

rizka azharini 12 April, 2009 19:15
i'd like to know more about the Kelly Gang, and specially about Joe Byrne..
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prudence.prue1 15 September, 2014 13:06
i agree with rizka azharini
Discovery Centre 21 April, 2009 11:47
How about trying the State Library of Victoria collection, they have the famous Jerilderie letter available online.
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