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Ned Kelly’s Armour

Ned Kelly’s Armour - State Library of Victoria

Ned Kelly’s Armour

The Australian bushranger Ned Kelly wore this metal armour at the 1880’s siege in country Victoria which was his last stand. Today Ned Kelly’s Armour is regarded as a significant Australian icon. That was not always the view, and 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 twelve, 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 police officers and they were all proclaimed outlaws.

Ned Kelly

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.

Ned Kelly

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 not to 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 in the most complete state of Kelly’s armour since the siege. The other metal suits worn by Dan Kelly, his brother, and Steve Hart are on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol and the Victoria Police Museum.

Ned Kelly’s Armour - State Library of Victoria

Kelly’s armour, Kelly’s Snider Enfield 0,577 calibre Rifle and Kelly’s boot worn at the Siege.

The World’s First Feature Film

Ned Kelly remains a cultural icon, inspiring countless works in the arts, and is the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. A silent film about Ned Kelly was the world’s first feature film. The 1906 movie, “The Story of the Kelly Gang”, was the world’s first full-length feature film. The film ran for more than an hour with a reel length of about 1,200 metres (4,000 ft), making it the longest narrative film yet seen in the world. A commercial and critical success, it is regarded as the origin point of the bushranger drama, a genre that dominated the early years of Australian film production. Since its release, many other films have been made about the Kelly legend.

Its first screening was in 1906 and is alleged to have prompted some children in Ballarat to hold up a group of other schoolchildren at gunpoint. This resulted in the Victorian Chief Secretary banning the film in towns with strong Kelly connections. Australian bushranger Ned Kelly had been executed only twenty-six years before The Story of the Kelly Gang was made, and Ned’s mother Ellen and younger brother Jim were still alive at the time of its release.

The film was considered lost until 1998 when five short segments totalling a few seconds of running time were found. In 1978 another 64 metres of the film was discovered in a collection belonging to a former film exhibitor. In 1980, further footage was found at a rubbish dump. The most extended surviving single sequence was found in the UK in 2006. The National Film and Sound Archive released a new digital restoration which incorporated the new material and recreated some scenes based on existing still photographs. The restoration is now 17 minutes long and includes the critical scene of Kelly’s last stand.

Reflections

  • The World’s First Feature Film was based on a criminal gang.
  • What was the subject of the World’s First Feature Film?

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Ned Kelly’s Armour

  • Title:               Ned Kelly’s Armour
  • Year:               1880
  • Medium:        Steel
  • Weight:           44kg
  • Museum:        State Library of Victoria

Ned Kelly Quotes

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“Ah well, I suppose it has come to this… Such is life.”

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“If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away.”

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“I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a widow’s son outlawed and must be obeyed.”

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“I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life, or that one fault justifies another, but the public in judging a case like mine should remember that the darkest life may have a bright side…”

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“I did not know he had dropped his revolver… I shot him as he slewed around to surrender.”

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“Fitzpatrick left and invented some scheme to say that I shot him, which any man could see was false. Would I have fired in a house full of women and children while I had a pair of arms with a bunch of five on the end of them? Fitzpatrick knew the weight of one of the pair only too well, as it ran against him once in Benalla and he is very subject to fainting.”

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“I have outlived that care that curries public favour or dreads the public frown…let the hand of law strike me down if it will, but I ask that my story be heard and considered.”

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“I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct off a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs orEnglishh landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some call honest gentlemen.”

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Explore Melbourne Museums

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” Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb

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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

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