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Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly, from a prison photograph taken when he was 18. Composite image from VPRS 515P Central Register of Male Prisoners.

Ned Kelly: Australia’s Original Iron Man

Outlaw, criminal, victim, hero, he is part of the spirit and character of Australia. ‘As game as Ned Kelly’ used to rank with ‘Has the heart of Phar Lap’ as a way of describing what it was to be Australian and proud.

While time progresses and culture changes, the fascination with the Kelly story remains. Ned has, through his trademark iron helmet and his impassioned rhetoric, an extraordinary ability to hold our attention.

Who in 1880 could ever have imagined four men – the Kelly Gang – clad in heavy armour challenging the Victorian government and police? It was at the same time an absurdity from the Middle Ages, and a terrible vision for the future.

The Kelly story has been told and re-told, elaborated and argued over, from the time of the Kelly Outbreak, to the current day. For two years, from 1878 the north-east of Victoria crawled with policemen looking for the Kelly Gang, whilst Kelly himself told his story to audiences willing and unwilling.

A major part of this story has always existed in the State Archives of Victoria, in the form of the records of the police hunt, and Kelly’s trial and execution. This website has been put together by Public Record Office Victoria (PROV), which keeps the archives, to present some of the official records which tell the Kelly story.

Featured on the site is nearly every word we know Kelly to have written, as well as the words of his friends, victims, pursuers and executioners. The original documents telling these stories are presented with transcripts and some background material to help with further exploration.

Separate to the ‘Kelly collection’, from which the documents presented on this website were selected, are many other records in the holdings of Public Record Office Victoria dealing with the Kelly Gang. Altogether, a wonderful resource exists from which people and events emerge or can be reconstructed. Today’s readers of the documents are challenged by what they read. Human nature being what it is, there is much deceit and skulduggery lurking about in the documents.

Those familiar with the whole Kelly ‘Outbreak’ realise many forces were at work, including areas of police incompetence and government certainty that north-east Victoria was virtually lawless. Poverty certainly was common enough to account for the crime rate which included considerable ‘duffing’ (rustling) of livestock to sell or devour.

The Kelly family was caught up in all of this, and became a prime focus of police interest mostly for horse stealing. It was inevitable that some collision would take place. The documents on this website explain what happened next . . .

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