Ned Kelly: The Robin Hood of Australia


Aidan Herklotz

We all know the story of Robin Hood, medieval vigilante from Sherwood Forest who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But this article is about Ned Kelly, or how I like to call him, the Robin Hood of Australia. It’s basically just replacing “Robin Hood” with “Ned Kelly” and “Sherwood Forest” with “the Outback”.

  1. Early Life:

Ned Kelly’s father, John Kelly, was born in Ireland in the year 1820. When he was in his 20’s, he was arrested and convicted for stealing pigs, and sent to Australia to live out his sentence. There he met Ellen Quinn, with whom he had several children, including Ned Kelly (the guy this article is about) and his brothers James and Dan. After John Kelly died, Ned was left as the oldest male of the household – so he was held responsible for the income. This is where Ned’s life of crime begins.


    2. Bushranging:

The definition of a bushranger is an outlaw who lives in the bush (obviously), but in Ned’s case it was just a guy in the outback running from the police, and stealing stuff along the way. Ned was first pulled into this lifestyle by Harry Power (real name Henry Johnson). Most of the “activities” performed with Power included beating up bystanders, robbing random people, and stealing horses. One of these horse-stealing altercations was only a “misunderstanding,” but this “misunderstanding” got him a 3-month prison sentence.

On one Australian afternoon, family friend Isaiah “Wild” Wright rode into town on what was described as a “remarkable chestnut mare”. While he was out of town, Isaiah decided to let Ned borrow his horse for a couple of days. Corresponding with Ned’s bad luck, he was stopped by local law enforcement and was accused of stealing the horse. While Ned didn’t steal the horse, what he didn’t know was that the horse actually was stolen by Isaiah Wright, the man who let him “borrow” the horse in the first place. For this, Kelly was imprisoned for three months, but was released five weeks early.

Next came the Fitzpatrick incident. This is the account of the incident, or at least the Kelly family’s version (just a heads up, Ned wasn’t here for this part). In April 1878, an officer, Alexander Fitzpatrick, entered the Kelly residence on the order of the head constable of the town. His mission was to arrest Ned and Dan Kelly on the suspicion of horse-thieving (yet again). When Mrs. Kelly asked if Fitzpatrick had an arrest warrant, he replied that he did not. So, naturally, Dan Kelly refused to go with him. Fitzpatrick’s response was… less than gentlemanly. He reportedly brandished a gun at Mrs. Kelly and threatened to “blow her brains out if she interfered.” Dan Kelly then tricked Fitzpatrick into giving him his gun, where he then released him unharmed. And then, Fitzpatrick took the next logical step, riding into town to tell everyone that the Kellys had attacked him. Typical.


3. Trial and Raids:

When Kelly arrived back in town, he was arrested for the attack on Officer Fitzpatrick (even though he was apparently 200 miles away when this happened). Fitzpatrick brandished a bullet wound on his arm, proof of his attack. Kelly accused the officer of self-inflicting wounds to convict him. The final verdict of the case was the arrest and conviction of Ellen Kelly (of all people) for attempted murder.

This was the final straw for Ned Kelly. At this point, him and his entire family had been cheated, lied to, and wrongfully convicted for many things, when all they did was steal from the rich and give to the poor (or nothing at all). After the trial, Ned and Dan Kelly were accused of aiding an attempted murder, so they went into hiding. After Ned accidentally killed an officer that was pursuing them, the Kelly boys fled. Months later, after multiple raids on police stations in the Victoria area, Ned Kelly returned to exact vengeance on the police that had harassed him and his family for so long.

Now comes in Kelly’s famous armor. He had reshaped the steel from some farmer’s plows into heavy armor that could stop a bullet. Kelly’s plan was to derail a police train that traveled daily through the town of Glenrowan. After he derailed the train, he’d simply shoot all of the cops that hadn’t died. Before executing his plan, Kelly collected hostages in the local inn, in case his plan went sour. For an outlaw, he treated these hostages with respect (as he had usually done with his previous raids), and they basically just partied all night long while waiting for the train. One of these hostages gained the trust of Ned and was let go. He immediately went to the authorities to warn them about Ned’s plan. The police in the train were notified,and stopped the train right before they reached the spot where the rails had been removed by the Kelly gang, and the cops did the one thing Kelly was afraid of, they surrounded the inn. The siege of Glenrowan had begun. The policed fired on the inn, neglecting the fact that there were many innocent hostages inside, even though they knew about them beforehand. Ned Kelly was the sole survivor of the Kelly gang when the dust cleared, but he had sustained many gunshot injuries. Nonetheless, Kelly was taken into custody.

4. Execution:

Ned Kelly was tried and convicted of several accounts of armed robbery and murder, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Despite the protests of thousands of his supporters, on November 11, 1880, in Melbourne Australia, Ned Kelly was hanged. Geoffrey Serle, a prominent historian, called Ned Kelly and his gang “the last expression of the lawless frontier in what was becoming a highly organised and educated society,” and “the last protest of the mighty bush now tethered with iron rails to Melbourne and the world.” This couldn’t be more true now, when we really need a bit of outlaw in our lives.