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Kelly, Edward (Ned) (1855–1880)

Much has been written during the last two years about the career and crimes of the bloodthirsty Ned Kelly gang of bushrangers, and it will be with a sense of relief that the public will now read the final chapter of their history. At last the majesty of the law has been vindicated; for, at a few minutes past 10 o'clock yesterday morning Edward (Ned) Kelly, the leader and only survivor of the gang, was executed in the Melbourne Gaol. However weary the public may be of the Kelly affair, it seems proper that, before relating the particulars of the execution, some account should be given of the crimes which brought the condemned man to his miserable end. This we shall relate as briefly as possible.

The gang first attracted public attention about two years ago by the perpetration of a tragedy unparalleled in the history of the colony. It consisted of four men—Ned Kelly, Daniel Kelly, Joseph Byrne, and Stephen Hart—who were known to the police as notorious cattle-stealers. In April, 1878, an attempt was made by Constable Fitzpatrick to arrest Daniel Kelly, for horse-stealing, when that officer was overpowered at the house of the Kellys by the outlaws, their mother, and two men named Williams and Skillian. The constable was shot at and wounded, and the criminals escaped. Mrs. Kelly, Williams, and Skillian were, however, subsequently captured, and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment; but the two Kellys eluded the vigilance of the police, and found hiding-places in the ranges.

After a search of some months' duration, the police ascertained that the gang was hiding in the Wombat Ranges, near Mansfield. Four officers stationed at Mansfield, namely, Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Scanlan, Lonigan, and McIntyre closed in upon the haunt of the criminals in October, 1878; but so far from taking the gang unawares, as they had anticipated, the police were taken by surprise, the outlaws rushed upon them and demanded instant surrender. Almost before the officers had time to realise their position, Constables Lonigan and Scanlan were murdered in the most cold-blooded manner, and Sergeant Kennedy, after fighting bravely, was wounded and captured. Kennedy, when lying wounded, pleaded that his life might be spared for the sake of his wife and children; but Kelly, turning a deaf ear to his entreaties, placed the muzzle of his gun to his breast, shot him dead, and then robbed the body. Constable McIntyre alone escaped to tell the narrative of a tragedy that sent a thrill of horror through the whole colony. From many centres of population in the district search parties went out to assist in the capture of the perpetrators of the dastardly outrage, and the Government despatched reinforcements of police in charge of Superintendent Nicolson. A reward of £8,000 was offered for the capture of the murderers. A measure passed by the Parliament of Victoria declared the marauders outlaws, and rendered all who sympathised with them liable to imprisonment, and other means of encouraging the pursuers of the outlaws and of putting a check upon their sympathisers were adopted. The ranges in which the murderers were hid, however, abounded in almost inaccessible fastnesses, the neighbourhood swarmed with friends and sympathisers of the outlaws, and the gang were able to set the police for a long time at defiance. In December, 1878, they descended on Faithfull's Creek Station, under the shadow of their ranges, bailed up all the hands and many visitors, broke down the telegraph wires, plundered the bank in the neighbouring township of Euroa of £2,000, and made prisoners for a time of all the men, women, and children on the establishment. Returning to their secure hiding-places, the outlaws were again lost sight of for a month or two. In February, 1879, they made their appearance at Jerilderie, New South Wales, taking possession for the second time of a town, reducing a population to a state of helpless terror; plundering at will, and escaping with impunity without a hand being raised or a shot fired against them. More than 12 months elapsed without any fresh outbreak. It was well known to the police that the outlaws had returned to their old haunts; but, owing to the assistance they received from sympathisers and friends, they continued to elude the hands of justice. A party of black trackers, hired from Queensland, had evidently the effect of deterring the gang from showing themselves openly, and as time wore on the police, under Mr. Nicolson, were, unknown to the public, drawing nearer and nearer to the culprits.

After being kept at bay for upwards of a year, the Kellys turned their attention to those whom they suspected of betraying them, and commenced what was probably intended to be a series of reprisals by that desperate and dastardly act of revenge—the murder of Aaron Sherritt. Sherritt lived, with his wife and mother-in-law, in a hut at Sebastopol. On the night of the 27th of June last a man, who had been made a prisoner by the gang, was taken by them to his door, and compelled to call Sherritt out to show him the way home. No sooner did Sherritt show himself at the door than he was shot dead without a moment's warning. There were four policemen in the hut at the time, but they were unable to stir without a certainty of being also shot down. The gang remained for some time in the vicinity, and attempted to burn the hut down; but in this they failed, and they then hastened off before daylight to Glenrowan, a lonely wayside railway station, for the purpose of wrecking a special train with police which they knew would be sent up to pursue them as soon as the news of the fresh murder was known. They reached Glenrowan next day (Sunday), bailed up all the people there, and imprisoned them in Jones's Hotel, tore up the railway line and awaited the passing of the expected train. They also clad themselves in bullet-proof armour made of plough-moulds and, as their leader stated, they intended visiting the wreck of the train, and shooting down any survivors. As they had anticipated, a special train was despatched. It contained Superintendent Hare and a party of police, Sub-inspector O'Connor and the black trackers, and representatives of the metropolitan press—in all 21 souls. Providentially, however, one of the prisoners of the gang—Mr. Curnow, the local schoolmaster—escaped and stopped the train by a signal before it reached Glenrowan, and thus what would have been the most appalling tragedy of all was averted. The gang were attacked in Jones's Hotel at 3 o'clock in the morning. The fight was commenced by the gang firing a volley on the police as they approached the house. Superintendent Hare was wounded, and had to retire. He continued long in a precarious state, but is now, we are glad to say, out of danger. The fight was continued for three hours in the darkness before police reinforcements arrived, but at 6 o'clock assistance came from Wangaratta and Benalla. At the commencement of the fray the leader of the gang was wounded in the foot and arm, and he retired into the bush. At daylight, however, he returned, attacking the police in the rear, and after a desperate fight, which proved that his armour was bullet proof, he was brought down by firing at his legs. His wretched companions perished in the house. Byrne was shot in the groin whilst in the act of drinking at the bar, and died immediately. It is not known when the other two were killed, but that they were also shot there is little reason to doubt. In the belief that they were still alive, the police set fire to the house to drive them out; but on the building being entered, just before the flames had taken full possession, the three murderers were soon lying dead. Byrne's body was removed, but the other two could not be reached, and they were burned to cinders. Thus perished three of the murderers, two of them at least coming to a horrible end—an end with which they had often threatened others, for they were accustomed to declare that they would roast certain members of the police force. But one, then, remained to be dealt with—the arch offender Ned Kelly. He had been outlawed, but he was allowed a fair trial before his fellow countrymen. The verdict of the jury was, of course, "guilty of wilful murder," and there could not possibly have been any other result. Although he was convicted of but one murder, he was guilty, according to his own admissions, of three; and to his action was due the deaths of no fewer than nine human beings. He murdered Constable Lonigan, Constable Scanlan, and Sergeant Kennedy; he or his gang murdered the man Sherritt; through his illegal proceedings the old man Martin Cherry and the boy Jones were shot; and it was he who led his brother Daniel and the two other outlaws, Hart and Byrne, into the crimes which brought them to their tragic end. It was on behalf of this man that Mr. David Gaunson, M.L.A., and his brother William were fomenting agitations and scandalising the city. The Executive, however, stood firm and directed that the law should take its course.

Immediately after sentence of death was passed on Kelly, additional precautions were taken to ensure his safe custody in the Melbourne Gaol. He was placed in one of the cells in the old wing, and irons were riveted upon his legs, leather pads being placed round his ankles to prevent chafing. The cell had two doors—an outer one of solid iron, and an inner one of iron bars. The outer door was always kept open, a lamp was kept burning overhead, and a warder was continually sitting outside watching the prisoner. During the day he was allowed to walk in the adjoining yard for exercise, and on these occasions two warders had him under surveillance. He continued to maintain his indifferent demeanour for a day or two, professing to look forward to his execution without fear but he was then evidently cherishing a hope of reprieve. When he could get anyone to speak to, he indulged in brag, recounting his exploits and boasting of what he could have done when at liberty had he pleased. Latterly, however, his talkativeness ceased, and he became morose and silent. Within the last few days he dictated a number of letters for the Chief Secretary, in most of which he simply repeated his now well-known garbled version of his career and the spurious reasons he assigned for his crimes. He never, however, expressed any sorrow for his crimes; on the contrary, he always attempted to justify them. In his last communication he made a request that his body might be handed over to his friends—an application that was necessarily in vain. On Wednesday he was visited by his relatives and bade them farewell. At his own request his portrait was also taken for circulation amongst his friends. He went to bed at half-past 1 o'clock yesterday morning, and was very restless up to half-past 2, when he fell asleep. At 5 o'clock he awoke and arose, and falling on his knees prayed for 20 minutes, and then lay down again. He rose finally at about 8 o'clock, and at a quarter to 9 a blacksmith was called in to remove his irons. The rivets having been knocked out, and his legs liberated, he was attended by Father Donaghy, the Roman Catholic clergyman of the gaol. Immediately afterwards, he was conducted from his cell in the old wing to the condemned cell alongside the gallows in the new or main building. In being thus removed, he had to walk through the garden which surrounds the hospital ward, and to pass the handcart in which his body was in another hour to be carried back to the dead-house. Making only a single remark about the pretty flowers in the garden, he passed in a jaunty manner from the brilliant sunshine into the sombre walls of the prison. In the condemned cell the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church were administered to him by Father Donaghy and Dean O'Hea. In the meantime a large crowd of persons had commenced to gather in front of the gaol, and the persons who had received cards of admission assembled in the gaol yard. A few minutes before 10 o'clock, the hour fixed for the execution, Colonel Rede, the sheriff, and Mr. Castieau, the governor of the gaol, proceeded to the condemned cell, followed by the persons who had been admitted. The latter numbered about 30, and included Superintendent Winch, Sub-inspector Larner, several constables and detectives, three or four medical men, a number of justices of the peace, and the representatives of the press. The gallows is situated in the centre of the new wing, and consists simply of a beam of timber running across the transept over the first gallery, with rope attached and a trap-door in the gallery floor. Warders were arranged on the side galleries, and the onlookers stood on the basement floor in front of the drop. The convict had yet two minutes to live, but they soon flew away. The sheriff, preceded by the governor of the gaol, then ascended to the cell on the left hand side of the gallows, in which the condemned man had been placed, and demanded the body of Ned Kelly. The governor asked for his warrant, and having received it, in due form bowed in acquiescence. The new hangman, an elderly grey-headed, well-conditioned looking man, named Upjohn, who is at present incarcerated for larceny, made his appearance at this juncture from the cell on the opposite side of the gallows, entered the doomed man's cell with the governor, and proceeded to pinion Kelly. At first Kelly objected to this operation, saying, "There is no need for tying me;" but he had to submit, and his arms were pinioned behind by a strap above the elbows. He was then led out with a white cap on his head. He walked steadily on to the drop; but his face was livid, his jaunty air gone, and there was a frightened look in his eyes as he glanced down on the spectators. It was his intention to make a speech, but his courage evidently failed him, and he merely said, "Ah, well, I suppose it has come to this," as the rope was being placed round his neck. He appeared as in court, with beard and whiskers, never having been shaved. The priests in their robes followed him out of the cell repeating prayers, and another official of the church stood in front of him with a crucifix. The noose having been adjusted, the white cap was pulled over his face, and the hangman stepping to the side quickly drew the bolt, and the wretched man had ceased to live. He had a drop of 8ft., and hung suspended about 4ft. from the basement floor. His neck was dislocated and death was instantaneous; for although muscular twitching continued for a few minutes, he never made a struggle. It was all over by five minutes past 10 o'clock, and was one of the most expeditious executions ever performed in the Melbourne gaol. Half an hour afterwards the body was lowered into the hospital cart, and taken to the dead-house. On removing the cap the face was found to be placid, and without any discolouration, and only a slight mark was left by the rope under the left ear. The eyes were wide open. The outside crowd had increased by 10 o'clock to about 4,000—men, women, and children; but a large proportion of them were larrikin-looking youths, and nearly all were of the lower orders. When the clock struck 10 the concourse raised their eyes simultaneously to the roof of the gaol expecting to see a black flag displayed; but they looked in vain, for no intimation of the execution having taken place was given. One woman, as the hour struck, fell on her knees in front of the entrance, and prayed for the condemned man. As the visitors left the prison the crowd dispersed also, and no disturbance occurred.

An inquest was subsequently held upon the body, and the jury returned a verdict that deceased had been judicially hanged, and that the provisions of the act for the private execution of criminals had been properly carried out. The remains will be interred in the gaol yard this morning.

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Citation details

'Kelly, Edward (Ned) (1855–1880)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/kelly-edward-ned-3933/text24274, accessed 23 October 2017.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2017

Ned Kelly, in shackles, 1880

Ned Kelly, in shackles, 1880

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/5753

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kelly, Ned
Birth

June 1855
Beveridge, Victoria, Australia

Death

11 November 1880
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

executed

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