In 1909 the Australian newspaper ‘Adelaide Advertiser’ printed a story about the ancestral home of Australian Folk Hero Ned Kelly in Townsend Street Banbridge, being demolished.
Ned’s family were local ruffians and his father, Red Kelly was deported to Australia for stealing two pigs.
After his deportation Red Kelly went gold prospecting and earned enough money to buy a small freehold in Victoria, where the family gained a reputation for cattle rustling. Ned was born in 1854.
In 1865, Red was jailed for stealing and skinning a calf. He became ill and died soon after his release.
Ned assaulted a Chinese pig farmer called Ah Fook. He wasn’t convicted because Ah Fook was said to be abusing Ned’s sister Annie, When Ned tried to defend her Fook gave him a good beating.
After that Ned had several brushes with the law including the bizarre offense of being accused of riding a policeman like a horse!
Serious trouble occurred In 1878 when constable Alexander Fitzpatrick went to the Kelly homestead to arrest Ned’s younger brother, Dan. Afterwards Fitzpatrick said his wrist had been injured when Ned shot him three times and Ned’s mother, Ellen, hit him on the head with a shovel!
Fitzpatrick was treated by a doctor who said he did not believe the injury was caused by gunshot wounds. Historians think Fitzpatrick was an unreliable witness because three years he lost his job in the police force when he was found guilty of perjury and drunkenness.
Ned and Dan became outlaws and went on the run along with their friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne. As the police closed in the gang attempted to steal weapons from four officers. One of the officers went for his gun and Ned shot him dead. The Kelly gang committed many crimes before taking their last stand against the police,at Glenrowan, where Kelly donned his homemade metal armour which has become a powerful symbol in Australian art
Ned was captured, tried and convicted on three counts of murder. On November 11, 1880 he was led from his cell in Melbourne Gaol at 5am and hung. The hangman, Elija Upjohn worked quickly.
Contemporary accounts say Elija Upjohn was an appallingly ugly man with a huge festering carbuncle on the end of his nose. It was his first execution and he appeared very nervous.
Popular legend records Ned Kelly’s last words as ‘Such is life’, He remains a prominent figure among Australia’s anti heroes being seen by some as a common criminal and by others as symbolizing national Irish-Australian resistance to unfair government.
Ned Kelly’s torso was thrown into a mass grave at the Old Melbourne Jail after his execution. His head was removed and handed to phrenologists so they could study its ‘bumps’ for evidence of criminal activity. (Phrenology was the study of skulls to determine a person’s character and mental ability. It was a pseudo science popular in the Victorian Age.)
Bodies in mass graves are difficult to identify. There’s no means of identifying which set of bones belong to whom. However during the final Glenrowan Ned Kelly boots and sash, which were given to him as a reward for rescuing a drowning teenager, became splattered in his blood. He was buried with his sash and boots on so the bones near the boots were presumed to belong to him. Samples of that blood were used for DNA testing which in 2011 confirmed bones found in a mass grave at Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison belonged to Ned Kelly. (Bodies from the Old Melbourne Jail’s graveyard were re-interned at Pentridge Prisonin 1929.)
Ned’s family constantly campaigned to be allowed to give him a proper burial. His last wish was that his remains should lie beside his mother in the family plot at Gretna. In January 2013 his wish came true. His headless body was given a proper burial. Joanne Griffiths, the great-granddaughter of Kelly’s sister Kate said,
‘We’ve made a real effort to ensure that he’s going to be safe and he’s surrounded by family and friends, which is the way he would have wanted it.’
Now what about the head?
A head, thought to belong to Ned Kelly, was put on display when the old gaol was turned into a museum in 1971, but unfortunately it was stolen. Since then two heads have turned up! Well, I suppose two heads are better than one!
The first was reported on 28th August 2012 in ‘ The New Zealand Herald on Sunday’ that a Kiwi Witch called Anna Hoffman, a 74 year old New Zealand woman, said she had been given Ned’s head by a mysterious uniformed man, who told her ‘to put it in the bottom of our cupboard and wrap it up’ after a family dinner party in 1980. She collected skulls and had more than 20.
Deb Withers, a spokesman for the Victorian Institute of Forensic Science said,
‘There is a chance that it is Ned’s head, although it is a long shot.’
Gina McFarlane, a forensic expert at Auckland University said she thought the wires sticking out of the skull suggested it had been used as a teaching aid which made it unlikely to have belonged to Ned Kelly.
The second head turned up when Tom Baxter, a farmer from the remote town of Derby in Western Australia, gave a skull to the Victorian institute of Forensic Medicine saying he believed it to be Ned Kelly’s. I understand both heads are currently undergoing genetic testing.
Ned Kelly, still has an influence in Australia today. A news item on January 22nd 2013 in Australia’s ‘The Daily Telegraph; described a manhunt by Strike Force Trevana searching for Graeme Smith, who has a distinct tattoo of Ned Kelly at the front of his neck, Graeme got in an argument with with his friend Josh George, shot him in the chest with a riffle and, like Ned Kelly, went on the run.
Today Ned Kelly has no influence in Ireland but it is amazing realize this Australian Folk Hero had ancestors who once lived in Townsend Street, Banbridge