Ned Kelly’s Armour
This is the armour worn by Ned Kelly at the siege of Glenrowan in 1880. Today Ned Kelly’s Armour is treated as a significant Australian icon. That was not always the view, after Kelly’s execution, police officials feared another confrontation with Kelly’s numerous sympathisers and many officials argued for this armour to be destroyed.
Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly (1855–1880) was a bushranger of Irish descent and is an Australian folk hero. Kelly was born in the colony of Victoria as the third of eight children to an Irish convict and an Australian mother with Irish parentage. His father died after serving a six-month prison sentence, leaving Kelly, aged 12, as the eldest male of the household. The Kelly’s were poor and saw themselves as downtrodden and as victims of police persecution. Kelly was convicted of stealing horses and imprisoned for three years in 1870. After his release, he was indicted for the attempted murder of a police officer at his family’s home. After fleeing into the bush, he and his gang killed three policemen and they were all proclaimed outlaws.
Kelly the day before his execution in 1880, aged 25
Kelly and his gang gained publicity after committing armed bank robberies in Euroa and Jerilderie and after murdering a friend turned police informer. In a manifesto letter, Kelly denouncing the police, the government and the British Empire and set down his account of the events leading up to him becoming an outlaw. Demanding justice for his family and the rural poor, he threatened those who defied him, he ended with the words:
“I am a widow’s son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.”
Pursued by police, Kelly and his gang, dressed in three self-made suits of metal armour and their bushranger careers ended in a final deadly confrontation with the police at Glenrowan, Victoria in 1880. All were killed except Kelly, who was wounded and captured.
The capture a critically wounded Ned Kelly wearing his armour
Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, Kelly was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Kelly was hung at the Old Melbourne Gaol and his last words are famously reported to have been:
“such is life”.
After Kelly’s execution, some officials wanted to destroy the armour so that it could not be a focal point of further confrontations and to not influence impressionable minds of future generations. Others argued that Kelly’s armour should be exhibited as part of a police museum. In the end, none of the three self-made suits of metal armour made by the Kelly Gang was destroyed. Unfortunately, the individual pieces of the three amour suits became confused and split across different collections and owners. After research on the providence of the pieces and agreed exchanges between divided collections, this suit is now the most complete state of Kelly’s armour since the siege. The other suits worn by Dan Kelly, his brother, and Steve Hart are on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol and the Victoria Police Museum.
Kelly’s armour, Kelly’s Snider Enfield 0,577 calibre Rifle and Kelly’s boot worn at the Siege.
Ned Kelly remains a cultural icon, inspiring countless works in the arts, and is the subject of more biographies than any other Australian.
Among the many historical objects in the State Library of Victoria, the following are some of the highlights:
- A Book of Drawings by Tommy McRae
- “Melbourne from The Falls” by Robert Russell
- Cuneiform Tablet
- Ned Kelly’s Armour
- Ned Kelly’s Death Mask
- “Melbourne from the Botanical Gardens” by Henry C Gritten
Ned Kelly’s Armour
- Title: Ned Kelly’s Armour
- Year: 1880
- Medium: Steel
- Weight: 44kg
- Museum: State Library of Victoria
” Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb
Photo Credits: 1) GM 2) By Australian News and Information Bureau, Canberra (National Archives of Australia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Julian Ashton (State Library of Victoria) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons