Edward “Ned” Kelly was an Australian bushranger of Irish descent. His legacy is controversial; some consider him to be a murderous villain, while others view him as a folk hero and Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood. Kelly was born in Victoria to an Irish convict father. The Australian Dictionary of Biography states Kelly was “the eldest son of John (Red) Kelly and his wife Ellen, née Quinn. John Kelly was born in Co Tipperary in 1820 and sentenced in 1841 to seven years’ transportation for stealing two pigs. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1842.”
When Kelly’s attempt to derail and ambush a police train failed, he and his gang, dressed in homemade suits of metal armour, engaged in a final violent confrontation with the Victoria Police at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880. All were killed except Kelly, who was severely wounded by police fire and captured. He was convicted of the willful murder of a Constable and was sentenced to death by hanging by Irish-born judge Justice Sir Redmond Barry. Several unusual exchanges between Kelly and the judge included the judge’s customary words “May God have mercy on your soul”, to which Kelly replied “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” At Kelly’s request, his picture was taken and he was granted farewell interviews with family members. His mother’s last words to him were reported to be “Mind you die like a Kelly.”
Kelly was hanged on 11 November 1880 at the Melbourne Gaol. Kelly’s gaol warden wrote in his diary that when Kelly was prompted to say his last words, the prisoner opened his mouth and mumbled something that he could not hear.
The Argus reported that Mr. Castieau, the governor of the gaol, informed the condemned man that the hour of execution had been fixed at ten o’clock. Kelly simply replied “Such is life.” His leg-irons were removed, and after a short time he was marched out. He was submissive on the way, and when passing the gaol’s flower beds, he remarked “what a nice little garden”, but said nothing further until reaching the Press room, where he remained until the arrival of chaplain Dean Donaghy. The Argus also reported that Kelly intended to make a speech, but he merely said, “Ah, well, I suppose it has come to this”, as the rope was being placed round his neck.
Although the exact number is unknown, it is alleged that a petition for a commutation of sentence attracted over 30,000 signatures.
Mick Jagger played Ned Kelly in the 1970 movie of the same name.
Image: Ned Kelly drawing of the day before his execution, by WhizzieWhizzer