When Ned Kelly, Australia’s most infamous outlaw, went to the gallows at the ripe old age of 25, he had already spent 10 years leading a life of crime and notoriety. Local newspapers reported obsessively on the events of his capture and trial, and recounted his final words: “Such is life.”
The makeshift armour worn by Ned Kelly, fashioned from repurposed metal plow blades, is now part of the collection at the State Library of Victoria, along with his death mask and an 800-word manifesto that helped seal his fate as an unlikely folk hero.
Kelly was born in June of 1855 in Beveridge, Victoria, and was a “Robin Hood” figure to some, a vicious punk to others. One of eight children born to a convict father and a soon-to-be widowed Irish immigrant mother, when his father died after a prison sentence Ned was head of the house at age 12. By age 14, he was a convict himself. Left destitute, the Kelly family were soon well-known outlaws, robbing banks, with Ned eventually killing two policemen.
1880 was the year of the Kelly family’s undoing, at the siege at Glenrowan, which led to Ned’s capture, trial, conviction, and execution. The armour was taken as souvenirs by the police officers, and as a result it took many years for the Library to re-collect and assemble all the missing parts. The full suit can now be seen on display in the Dome Galleries.
Kelly was hanged on the 11th of November, at the gallows in Melbourne Gaol, across the road on Russell Street from the State library that now holds these very artifacts.
Update August 2023: The armor is currently on display on floor 2A.