The couple that would become the parents of the notorious Ned Kelly, John Kelly and Ellen Quinn, were married on 18 November 1850. At the time of their marriage, the pair lived in Beveridge, near Wallan. Their first child died in infancy and a daughter, named Annie, was born to them in 1853.
The third of eight children and the eldest son, Edward (Ned) Kelly was born in 1854. Ned’s role in the family changed dramatically in 1866, with the death of his father, John. Ned took on the responsibilities of the head of the large, poor Kelly clan from then on.
The year after John’s death, the family moved to Eleven-Mile Creek, in the Greta District, to be closer to Ellen’s family, the Quinns. In 1869, at the age of fourteen, Ned was arrested for the first time and charged with assault and robbery, but was later discharged.
During the Kellys’ time at Eleven-Mile Creek, Ned became acquainted with the popular bushranger, Harry Powers, who taught him the ways of highway robbery and bushranging. Eventually, Ned joined Harry as his young apprentice. This ill-fated alliance was to eventually lead to Ned’s second arrest. Ned was charged with two counts of highway robbery and as an accomplice of Harry Powers. The initial charges were dismissed and Ned was remanded to Kyneton to face his second charge.
During his three-week stay at Kyneton, Ned met Sergeant James Babington, who was kind enough to pay for Ned’s accommodation in Kyneton. Upon his release, Ned returned to Greta, near Eleven-Mile Creek, and wrote Sergeant Babington a letter as a way of showing his appreciation.
In October of that year, Ned was involved in a dispute between two rival hawkers, Ben Gould and the McCormacks. Ned’s involvement in the dispute resulted in his being charged with assault and indecent behaviour. This time, Ned was convicted, and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. He was released in March 1871.
The month after his release, Ned met Isaiah ‘Wild’ Wright, who rode into Greta on a stolen horse to visit Ned’s brother-in-law, Alexander Gunn. Whilst at the Kelly home, the horse strayed, and ‘Wild’ borrowed one of Alexander’s horses, telling both him and Ned that if they found his own horse they could keep it as a straight swap. By this stage, the horse had been reported as missing by its owner in Mansfield. While riding the horse through Greta, Ned was summoned by Senior Constable Hall on the pretence of having to sign some papers. Instead, he told Ned that he was arresting him on charges of horse-stealing and a fight between the two erupted. The case came to trial in May and Ned’s original charge of horse-stealing was amended to receiving a stolen horse. He was imprisoned on these charges for three years.
Released from Pentridge in 1874, Ned returned to his family to find some changes. His mother, Ellen, had remarried an American by the name of George King. Ned’s brother, Jim, was serving a five-year sentence for horse stealing and his sister, Maggie, had married a family friend, William Skillion. Most upsetting was the news that his older sister, Annie, had died shortly after giving birth to an illegitimate daughter, believed to have been fathered by local policeman, Constable Flood, who was stationed at the Greta police station.
Ned soon settled in and found work at a sawmill near Moyhu where the prominent squatter and Oxley Shire counsellor, James Whitty, resided. When one of his bulls went missing, Whitty blamed Ned, who in return was deeply affronted by the accusation. Ned was to resent Whitty and all he represented in the years to come.
During most of 1877, Ned and his stepfather, George, operated a successful stock-stealing production with the help of Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherritt, Wild Wright and Brickey Williamson. The police, aware of the operation, issued warrants for the arrest of Ned on numerous charges of horse theft. A few weeks later, warrants were issued for Ned’s younger brother, Dan, and his cousin, John Lloyd Junior, both on charges of horse theft.