National Archives of Australia

Ned Kelly the day before he was hanged

Page(s): 1  
Title: Ned Kelly the day before he was hanged
Date: 10 November 1880
Keywords: bushrangers, capital punishment
Record creator: Australian News and Information Bureau, Canberra
Reference: A1200, L81515

Ned Kelly the day before he was hanged, 1880

Learning content

This black-and-white photograph, taken by police photographer Charles Nettleton, shows the outlaw and convicted murderer Ned Kelly on 10 November 1880 in Melbourne Gaol. The head-and-shoulders photographic portrait in an oval mount shows Kelly's elaborately combed hair and full beard, and provides a glimpse of the prison uniform and neck scarf he was wearing. The image was taken from a glass plate negative and measures 50 x 60 millimetres.

Educational value

  • Edward 'Ned' Kelly (1855–80), leader of the Kelly gang, is Australia's most famous bushranger. Kelly contended that he and his family were the victims of police harassment as they struggled against poverty in northeastern Victoria, but at the time the Kellys were also widely suspected of cattle and horse stealing. Members of Kelly's family were brought before the courts some 18 times before 1878, but only half of these appearances resulted in guilty verdicts. This is seen by some as evidence of harassment, but by others as evidence of their bad reputation.
  • Kelly's involvement in more serious crime began when he went into hiding with his brother Dan in October 1878 to escape arrest for the alleged shooting of a trooper named Fitzpatrick. Joined by Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, the Kelly brothers ambushed a four-man police pursuit on 26 October at Stringybark Creek. Kelly took responsibility for killing three of the policemen.
  • Declared outlaws, Kelly and his gang eluded police for 16 months, during which time they carried out robberies at the Euroa and Jerilderie banks. Kelly was captured and the three others died as a result of a shoot-out at Glenrowan, despite all four wearing steel armour. Kelly was tried for murder on 28 and 29 October 1880 in Melbourne, found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence of hanging was carried out 13 days later on 11 November.
  • This police photograph is one of the few fully authenticated images of Australia's most notorious outlaw. It originates from the Central Register of Male Prisoners in Victoria's Public Record Office and shows prisoner number 10926 described as Edward 'Ned' Kelly, age 25. The photograph was taken by Charles Nettleton (1826–1902), a well-known Melbourne photographer who worked on contract as official police photographer for more than 25 years.
  • Police and prison authorities in Victoria were quick to adopt the new technology of photography, and Kelly was photographed several times during his criminal career. From 1873 onwards, it was police practice to photograph a prisoner after transfer from a country lock-up, before release and immediately prior to execution. Accordingly, Kelly was photographed in mid-1873, March 1874 and in full-length and head-and-shoulders before his execution in 1880.
  • Kelly's defiance of authority, his position as an underdog and the imagery of the homemade armour have made him an Australian folk hero. By the early 20th century his image was appearing in cartoons as a type of Robin Hood figure. Since then he has been the subject of at least 10 films, numerous books and a series of paintings by Sir Sidney Nolan. An image of Kelly appeared in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Learning content partnership

This learning content – description and educational value statement – co-created by National Digital Learning Resource Network and National Archives of Australia.

© Education Services Australia Ltd and National Archives of Australia, 2007-10