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The Kelly Collection

Public Record Office Victoria’s “Kelly Historical Collection” (VPRS 4965 to VPRS 4969) is a product of the special nature of the Kelly story.

Most of the documents in the collection have another place elsewhere in the records that PROV holds, for the most part in the records of the two government agencies known at the time as Crown Law Department and the Police Branch of the Chief Secretary’s Office. They form part of the whole series of correspondence and other sorts of records that the Government of the day made and kept.

However, due to the ongoing fascination with the story over the years, various special files of records relating to Ned Kelly and the Kelly Outbreak have been compiled, either out of interest or because it was thought the records were too valuable to remain with the main collection.

Kelly's letter to Sergeant Babington, writtien when he was 15. VPRS 937, Unit 272 Police Branch, Chief Secretary's Office (page 1)

While there has been an archive for government documents in Victoria for as long as there has been a government, the responsibility for keeping that archive has changed hands a few times. Originally records were held by the government agency that produced them. For a while the State’s archives were held by the State Library of Victoria. When Public Record Office Victoria was formed in 1973, the existing special collection of Kelly records was put together with other Kelly record collections subsequently transferred in from other Government departments to form what was called the “Kelly Historical Collection”.

The marks of the various methods used to keep records in the nineteenth century are visible on the documents presented here. Most of the files have a registry number and a description, usually written in red, by the clerks who were responsible for registering and filing the correspondence and other paper that passed through Government hands at the time. Pin holes and creases where documents have been bound together are visible.

Most of the documents here were filed according to a “top-numbering” system, which was designed to make it easy for correspondence on a particular subject to be dealt with by several different people. Every letter (or memo, or report…) that was received about a particular topic was numbered, and put together in a bundle with other documents on that topic. This meant that the bundle, or file, could be passed to whomever was dealing with the issue and they would have all the facts at hand. To keep track of the file, each new document was given a number and recorded in a register. A summary of the subject of the letter or file was also written in the register. Sometimes an index of all the subjects dealt with was prepared.

Whenever a new communication on that subject was sent or recieved, it was given a new number and the register was updated with the new number and the current location of the file. If correspondence was sent between departments it might have more than one set of numbers appearing on the documents as there was a record kept in each department’s system.

The documents appearing on this site will either be whole files or parts of files which have been kept in this way. In most cases it was thought useful to keep all the documents in a file together because it gave a good sense of how the subject of the documents was being dealt with. In most cases you can get useful information by looking at the annotations to see who looked at the documents, how long they took to pass through the system and so on.


Provenance refers to the history of the document – who created it, who owns it, where it has been kept and so on. As many of the records in the Kelly Historical Collection have been taken out of their original sequences, it is not always easy to determine the original source of the document. You can pick up clues from the numbers and other marks on the document – who it was addressed to, which type of numbering system was used to file it and so on. It is possible using the documents on this site to track the movement of information on the Kelly Outbreak across Victoria and across the government of the day.

For most records in the collection, the documents were created in the agencies listed below.

VPRS 4965 Police Branch, Chief Secretary’s Department

VPRS 4966 Criminal Law Branch, Crown Law Department (largely extracted from sequence in VPRS 30)

VPRS 4967 Chief Secretary’s Department

VPRS 4968 Kelly Reward Board, Chief Secretary’s Department

VPRS 4969 Miscellaneous (records seem to be from all of the areas listed above and others)


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