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A Picture from History: The Iron Bushranger

The penal colony of Australia had received a steady supply of convicts, with Irishmen, in particular, taken from their green fields and tossed into the red Australian dirt.

Australia in the 1800s. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In time, the son of one of those Irishmen became known as the symbol of Australia itself.

The Kelly Family

Growing up, the Kelly family was regularly visited by police.

Anyone that came from overseas was viewed as scum and treated as such for the rest of their lives. This mindset gave ample pretext for police harassment.

Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly

Young Ned’s first run-in with the law came while he was only 14.

After a Chinese salesman assaulted his sister, Ned came running to her defense.

He was beaten with a stick, and the salesman accused Ned of assault and theft. Ned spent the next 10 days in jail as a result.

When multiple witnesses proclaimed Ned’s innocence, he was finally released.

As time went on, there were multiple other run-ins with the law – usually related to horse theft – with Ned often imprisoned for brief stints.

He did hard labor despite no witnesses identifying him as a culprit.

Australian bushranger Ned Kelly in a boxing pose after defeating Isaiah “Wild” Wright in a 20-round bare-knuckle boxing match at Beechworth, Victoria.

Life on the Run

Things escalated drastically in 1878 when an officer arrived to arrest Ned’s brother, Dan.

He’d been accused of horse theft, an altercation broke out, and the brothers escaped into the bush.

So began the boys’ lives as “bushrangers” – Australian outlaws.

Unknown to the brothers, though, this spelled trouble for their mother.

Ned Kelly

She was taken to court, where a jury largely comprised of ex-cops found her guilty of assaulting a police officer.

Even though her bail was presented, the judge refused to process it. The judge instead elected to sentence Ned’s mother to three years of hard labor.

When they found out, the Kelly boys felt furious.

Kelly Gang

Officers combed the bush looking for the boys…and walked straight into an ambush.

The brothers told the men to surrender as they held them at gunpoint.

As one cop reached for his gun, Ned shot him. Another cop was taken hostage.

Marching their hostage through the bush, they inadvertently stumbled upon two other officers looking for them.

Ned Kelly Wanted Poster
Ned Kelly Wanted Poster

The officers refused to surrender and were shot as well.

Their hostage escaped, resulting in a bounty placed on their heads.

Two other bushrangers joined the Kelly outfit shortly afterward, and the gang began a series of bank robberies throughout the Outback.

Jerilderie Letter

While robbing the Jerilderie bank, Ned dictated what is known as the Jerilderie Letter to a nearby accountant.

In this 56-page letter, he gave the story of his life, justifications of his actions, and explained how police corruption led him to his current life.

Transcription Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter
Transcription of Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter

The Kelly Gang escaped Jerilderie in one piece, continuing their life of bank robberies and hostage-taking.

But that all came to an end at the town of Glenrowan.

The Hotel at Glenrowan

Ned killed a former friend turned informant. The Kelly Gang was sure the news would cause a significant police force to be sent their way.

Hearing that a special police train was inbound, the gang took over the town of Glenrowan, destroying the nearby railroad.

Digging in and bracing for impact, they used stolen plows to create bulletproof body armor and a helmet. Ned seemed to stand a good chance.

Ned Kelly Armor
Ned Kelly’s armor

A local hotel was taken over, and the 60 occupants were held as hostages.

When one man complained that he had a sick cow to take care of, he and his family were permitted to leave the scene.

This escapee immediately notified local police, though. Officers surrounded the hotel and began their siege.

Ned Kelly Before Execution
Ned Kelly

Hidden from sight by the dawn and early morning fog, Ned and his brace of pistols escaped the hotel, hoping to flank the officers.

Appearing from out of the woods, he opened fire.

Despite getting hit a total of 18 times, his armor stopped every round.

Apparition of Ned Kelly Last Stand
Apparition of Ned Kelly at his last stand.

Aussie newspaper The Age reported, “Many shots hit him, yet he always recovered himself, and tapping his breast laughed derisively, as he coolly returned their fire.”

Eventually, Ned was shot multiple times in his unarmored legs and groin. He fell to the ground and was arrested on the spot.

Ned Kelly Capture
Ned Kelly’s capture

The End of the Run

By the end of the day, all the Kelly Gang – except for Ned – laid dead. Ned would be hung in Melbourne just a few months later before being illegally dissected.

Ned Kelly Scaffold
Ned Kelly on the scaffold prior to his hanging.

Shortly after his death, the Royal Commission investigated the Victorian police force. They found rampant corruption, just Ned Kelly detailed in the Jerilderie Letter.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical; if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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14 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    Thanks Aden Tate. I like the way that you write these events in history. It is really intersting. I like see the picture too, it makes keep reading more.

    October 2, 2021 6:08 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I really enjoyed reading the Ned Kelly story. Keep ‘em coming!

    September 21, 2021 9:39 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Len is certainly refering to exposing the corruption in the agencies we previously trusted.
    I really enjoy the subjects you select, your writing style and the illustrations you share.
    In closing, I mistakenly thought the "Kristallnacht" photo was of a Seattle or Portland "peaceful protest"!

    September 19, 2021 11:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Len Chelius

    The USA sure could use some Ned Kellys about now.

    September 19, 2021 5:39 pm
    • Commenter Avatar


      October 2, 2021 6:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    No phooey to me ‘cause I really enjoyed this Picture from History… thanks!
    Looking forward to your next one.

    September 19, 2021 5:37 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    And somehow nobody thought to include a picture of the 20 foot tall Ned Kelly statue in front of the visitor information centre in Glenrowan?

    September 19, 2021 1:55 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Awesome article! Do more!

    September 19, 2021 5:29 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    David Hamilton

    Love the history, keep it coming.

    September 17, 2021 2:51 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daniel L

    This is a fascinating read. I've never read about these guys before.

    September 17, 2021 1:41 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I really enjoyed this! Why was he dissected?

    September 17, 2021 12:04 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      After his execution Ned Kelly’s head was cut off and the brain removed. The body was dissected by medical students at the Melbourne Hospital for "medical education reasons". What they did not use for some purpose or other was thrown into a pit at the back of the Melbourne Gaol and covered with quick-lime. It was reported that medical students had illegally dissected his body - its from this report that the "illegal" enters into the story, this was derived from a report in the Argus news paper on 14 May 1881.

      During an excavation project in 1929 Ned's skull was discovered buried in a pit at Pentridge prison, the grave site was marked “E. K.” (as in believed to belong to Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly). There were 14 other skeletons in pit with his remains. Several parts of his skeleton were stolen, including his skull.

      It was not until more recent times with DNA testing available that the remains were identified as actually being those of Ned Kelly. Researchers identified a maternal descendant of Ned’s mother and using that DNA were able to identify the remains. The DNA profile of the remains matched perfectly to the descendant of Ned’s mother.

      September 17, 2021 12:52 pm
      • Commenter Avatar


        SUPPOSEDLY: IMMEDIATELY After his execution Ned Kelly’s head was cut off and the brain removed.

        The body was dissected by medical students at the Melbourne Hospital for "medical education reasons". What they did not use for some purpose or other was thrown into a pit at the back of the Melbourne Gaol and covered with quick-lime.

        in the Argus news paper on 14 May 1881 It was reported that medical students had "illegally" dissected his body - its from this report that the "illegal" enters into the story. No one knows if the medical students had actually removed the head or not.

        In 1929 his skeletal remains were discovered, including his skull, during an excavation project in 1929 at Pentridge prison, the grave site was marked “E. K.” (as in believed to belong to Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly). The skull came up missing a short while after the remains were discovered.

        Researchers who later identified those skeletal remains of Ned Kelly noted cut marks on the vertebra indicating the skull had been cut away from the body. No one actually knows for sure if Kelly's head (thus the skull separated from the body) was removed immediately after his death by the medical students or not during their grisly dissection or if the head (skull) was still attached to the skeleton when what remained of the body was put in the pit and covered with quick-lime.

        Between 1842 and its closure in 1929 Melbourne Gaol is where prisoners were executed by hanging. Its where Ned Kelly was hanged.

        September 17, 2021 1:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article! Enjoying the longer format

    September 17, 2021 10:51 am
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