Notorious bushranger, popular icon and national identity, Ned Kelly was hanged at Melbourne Gaol in 1880. It was the final curtain in one of the most colourful and controversial careers in Australia's history.
A 'troublemaker' in a lawless outpost
Kelly was born in December 1854, near the town of Beveridge in Victoria. When he was 12, his Irish father John 'Red' Kelly, an ex-convict, died of dropsy, forcing Kelly to leave school and become the family breadwinner. Soon after, his mother Ellen moved the family to a slab hut in the tiny Victorian community of Greta to be near her own family, the Quinns, who were squatters. Greta was something of a lawless outpost, and the young Kelly soon grew into an accomplished troublemaker.
An outlaw reputation leads to massive manhunt
Having served a brief apprenticeship with the infamous bushranger, Harry Power, Kelly formed a gang (Kelly, his brother Dan and mates Joe Byrne and Steve Hart) in 1878 and fled to the bush, where his outlaw reputation flourished. After roaming the countryside and living off their wits, the Kelly Gang shot dead three policemen who had been sent to capture them, sparking the biggest manhunt in Australia's history.
The Kelly Gang's last stand
More shootouts and skirmishes with police followed. Finally, their luck ran out in the town of Glenrowan in north-east Victoria. After holding up the railway station, the Kelly Gang herded the town's citizens into the local inn, where the gang prepared for its last stand. In a back room, the clanking sounds of Kelly donning his homemade iron armour could be heard. The armour weighed 90 pounds.
Kelly captured: 'Such is life'
Police surrounded the inn and at 3am they opened fire. When the smoke had cleared, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart lay dead. Incredibly, Kelly escaped to the bush, only to reappear at sunrise out of the early morning mist to rescue his brother. This time, the police aimed low, where Kelly was vulnerable, taking out his legs in a volley of bullets. At last, Ned Kelly had been captured.
Kelly's preliminary hearing was held in the Beechworth Courthouse in August 1880. On 11 November, Kelly, aged 25, mounted the gallows inside the Old Melbourne Gaol. Moments before his death, Kelly reportedly uttered his famous last words: 'Such is life'.
Today, Ned Kelly is indelibly stamped on the nation's psyche – part villain, part folk hero, but also a man whose courage and defiance is uniquely Australian.