As we turned off the main freeway to head to the town of Glenrowan in the North of Victoria, Australia, I wasn’t really sure what I would find. This town is the site of Australia’s most famous bushranger battle – Ned Kelly’s Last Stand. I remember learning all about Ned Kelly in school, and although he was an outlaw, it was his story that I found most interesting.
Ned Kelly’s story takes us back to the 1800’s, when the country of Australia didn’t even exist yet. Back then, the country was split into several different colonies of the British Empire that now make up the states of Australia. Ned’s parents originated from Ireland, his father (John Kelly) a former convict who moved to Victoria on release met Ned’s mother (Ellen Kelly). The Kellys had seven children, the oldest son being Edward (Ned) Kelly.
Ned was brought up in a tough and unfair environment, surrounded by crime and convictions. His family was suspected of horse and cattle stealing, and his father ended up in prison to serve 6 months for stealing a farmer’s calf. His Irish heritage meant that he was treated poorly in the prison, which ultimately led to his death. This was just the start of Ned’s anger towards the authorities.
What followed was a lot of different charges against the Kelly family, most of which were false and led to the obvious targeting of the family by the police.
Ned Kelly’s bushranging days came about after a police officer (Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick), drunk and against orders, went to the Kelly house to arrest Ned’s brother Dan for horse stealing while Ned was away. He waited at the Kelly house for Dan to return, where he made his arrest. Unable to provide a warrant, Ned’s mother Ellen challenged him, where Fitzpatrick pulled a revolver on them and threatened them all. Dan then managed to corner him and relieve him of his revolver and was sent on his way.
Fitzpatrick then rode onto Benalla where he claimed that he was attacked and shot by Ned, Dan, Ellen, Bricky Williamson and Bill Skillion who he claimed were armed with revolvers. Ned told the police that he was not present at the time of the incident and that Fitzpatrick’s wounds were self inflicted. Police arrested and imprisoned his mother Ellen along with Bricky Williamson and Bill Skillion and a reward was offered for Ned’s arrest.
Furious with the injustice, Ned and Dan went into hiding in the bush where they were joined by their friends, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart who formed the infamous Kelly Gang.
The Kelly Gang was hunted for a couple of years by the police as they continuously robbed banks and stole horses in their rebellion. Ned Kelly’s last stand happened in the town of Glenrowan where they planned on stopping the police train by pulling up some tracks in the town. With the town’s residents as hostages in Ann Jones’ Inn, Ned, Dan, Joe and Steve faced off against the huge police force wearing homemade iron armour suits. Their suits each weighed about 44 kilograms covering their torsos and heads, but leaving their legs unprotected. The weight of the armour heavily limited their movements.
Their attempt to derail the train failed due to a released hostage waving down the train before it got there. The police therefore laid siege against the Kelly Gang inside the inn. It was at dawn on the 28th of June, 1880, when the firing began. Both parties fired on each other throughout the day, with the police receiving reinforcements from nearby stations. Joe Byrne had been shot while drinking whisky at the bar. Amongst the firing, Ned had somehow moved out of the inn to attack the police from the rear, firing upon them with a single revolver while using the surrounding trees as cover, despite being injured. The police charged him, firing upon him heavily without affect due to his armour. When they realised that his legs were unprotected, he was brought down with two shots where he was finally captured. He was brought to the train station where his wounds were treated, six bullet wounds in total.
The siege on the inn continued during this time while Dan Kelly and Steve Hart released the hostages and continued to fire on the police, their armour protecting them. Eventually, the firing stopped and the police set the inn on fire. When Dan and Steve’s burnt bodies were found, it was believed that they had shot each other. It is still unknown whether they were shot during the siege or committed suicide.
Ned Kelly stood trial on the 19th October, 1880, and was hung on the 11th of November at Melbourne Gaol. A petition to spare his life apparently attracted around 30,000 signatures. Ned had a great following of sympathizers.
As I wondered around Glenrowan, it was hard to picture such a bloody battle happening here. I walked across the railway line to where the siege took place, stood at the site of the inn where the gang made their last stand and where Dan, Joe and Steve died. I then walked past the old police station to the spot where Ned had finally been shot down and arrested. I had no idea what to think. Was Ned really a bad person? Sure, he had done some bad things, but his ultimate demise was due to his anger at the injustice towards his family. I imagine that if I was in his shoes back in those days, I would have been just as angry. Ned wasn’t a blood thirsty killer as he was made out to be. He simply wanted a fair go. He simply loved his family.
It was only at the beginning of this very year, nearly 133 years after his death, that Ned Kelly’s remains were finally returned to his family. His last wish was to be buried at the Greta Cemetery with the rest of his family. I went there to pay my respects.
He now rests in an unmarked grave with the rest of his family, along with his mother Ellen and his brother Dan. Finally, he can rest in peace.