Notorious bushranger and national identity Ned Kelly was hanged at Melbourne Gaol in 1880. It was the final act in one of the most colourful, controversial and sometimes violent chapters in Australia's history.

A troublemaker in a lawless outpost

Ned Kelly was born in December 1854, near the town of Beveridge in Victoria. When Ned was 12, his Irish father John 'Red' Kelly, an ex-convict, died of 'dropsy' (Edema), 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 (sheep farmers). Greta was something of a lawless outpost, and the young Kelly soon grew into a troublemaker and progressed to acts of crime.

Police murders spark massive manhunt

Having served a brief apprenticeship with the infamous bushranger Harry Power, Kelly formed his own gang (along with brother Dan Kelly and mates Joe Byrne and Steve Hart) in 1878 and fled to the bush. They became feared outlaws as they perpetrated brazen robberies and assaults, took hostages and stole horses. When the Kelly Gang shot dead three policemen sent to capture them, a 500 pound reward for the capture of each gang member - dead or alive - sparked the biggest manhunt in Australia's history.

The Kelly Gang's last stand

More bank robberies and skirmishes with police followed. Eventually their luck ran out in the town of Glenrowan in north-east Victoria. After holing up the railway station, the Kelly Gang herded the town's citizens into the local inn to prepare for their last stand. It was here that Kelly and other gang members donned homemade iron armour, Ned's weighing around 44 kilograms (97 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. Ned Kelly escaped to the bush, reappearing at sunrise to try to rescue his brother. This time, police shot Kelly where he was most vulnerable, taking out his legs in a volley of bullets that finally brought the dramatic siege to an end.

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 he was executed, Kelly reportedly uttered his famous last words: "Such is life".

A complicated legacy

Was Ned Kelly a hero or villain? Bushrangers of his ilk were often regarded as larrikins who epitomised Australians' anti-establishment attitude. A more contemporary analysis of his deeds, including the murders of serving police officers and violence against ordinary citizens, may paint a different picture.     

As you travel through Victoria's High Country, decide for yourself. Stop at Glenrowan, Benalla or Wangaratta to discover artefacts relating the Kelly Gang. You can also learn more about Australia's most infamous bushranger at the State Library in Melbourne, where you can view the actual armour worn by Ned Kelly during that terrible shootout. 


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