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Iron Outlaw: 10 Interesting Facts About Ned Kelly

Image of a wanted poster offering a reward to the capture of the Kelly gang for a blog post covering 10 interesting facts about Ned Kelly.

Did you know that some facts about the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly might surprise even the most knowledgeable history buffs?

Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous outlaw, wasn’t just a simple criminal.

He was a man of many talents and contradictions.

Kelly could speak multiple languages, write passionate letters, and even saved a boy from drowning as a child.

Picture this: a man in homemade metal armor, looking like a medieval knight, facing off against the police in the Australian bush.

That was Ned Kelly in his final showdown.

Was he a cold-blooded villain or a misunderstood hero fighting injustice?

Let’s dive into ten fascinating facts that might change how you see this legendary figure.

The Details: Intriguing Facts About Ned Kelly, Australian Outlaw

Let’s start our journey through Ned Kelly’s life with the first of our ten fascinating facts.

Long before he became Australia’s most famous outlaw, young Ned Kelly was hailed as a hero for a brave act that showed a very different side of his character.

Image of Ned Kelly at age 15 for a blog post about 10 interesting facts about Ned Kelly.
15-year old Ned Kelly, 4 years after saving another boy from drowning

1. Heroic Young Rescuer

Ned Kelly is a famous figure in Australian history, known for being an outlaw in the late 1800s.

But one of the most surprising facts about Ned Kelly is that he was once a heroic young rescuer.

When he was just 11 years old, Kelly saved another boy from drowning in a creek.

This brave act showed a different side of the person who would later become Australia’s most notorious bushranger.

For his courageous deed, young Ned was given a green sash as a reward.

This sash became very important to him.

Years later, when Kelly became an outlaw, he wore this same green sash under his famous metal armor.

It’s interesting to think about how the same person who saved a life as a boy ended up breaking the law as an adult.

This early act of bravery gives us a glimpse into the complex character of Ned Kelly.

2. Prizefighting Outlaw

One of the lesser-known facts about Ned Kelly is that he was a prizefighter in his youth.

In 19th century Australia, prizefighting was like boxing, but without gloves and often illegal.

These bare-knuckle fights were held in secret to avoid trouble with the law.

Young Ned, always looking for ways to earn money, participated in these dangerous matches.

Kelly’s strength and quick moves made him tough to beat in the ring.

Once, he reportedly fought a man twice his age and size, winning despite being the underdog.

This early fighting experience toughened Kelly up for his later outlaw life.

The skills he learned dodging punches came in handy when dodging bullets as a bushranger.

His reputation for being tough and scrappy in the ring followed him into his infamous career breaking the law.

3. Homemade Armor Suits

One of the most fascinating facts about Ned Kelly is that he and his gang created their own suits of armor.

They made these suits to protect themselves from police bullets during their raids and robberies.

The Kelly Gang used materials they found on farms, showing incredible creativity.

They took apart plows and other farm tools to make strong metal plates for their armor.

Each suit of armor was incredibly heavy, weighing about 97 pounds (44 kilograms).

This made it hard for the gang to move quickly.

However, the armor worked well in protecting them from gunfire.

During Kelly’s final battle with the police, his armor kept him alive for hours.

Even though Kelly was eventually caught, his unique armor became famous.

Today, Ned Kelly’s armor is an important symbol in Australian history and culture. You can even see it in museums!

4. Multilingual Bushranger

One of the surprising facts about Ned Kelly is that he could speak some Cantonese.

In 19th century Australia, a bushranger was an outlaw who hid in the bush to avoid capture.

Kelly, Australia’s most famous bushranger, learned Cantonese from Chinese miners in his area.

This skill likely helped him communicate with different groups during his time as an outlaw.

Kelly’s ability to speak Cantonese came in handy during his raids.

He could understand conversations between Chinese workers and sometimes used this to his advantage.

Besides Cantonese, Kelly also spoke English and possibly some Irish Gaelic from his family.

This language skill shows that Kelly was more educated than people might think.

Many imagine bushrangers as rough, uneducated men, but Kelly’s linguistic abilities paint a different picture.

5. Compassionate Hostage-Taker

One of the surprising facts about Ned Kelly is how he treated hostages during the Glenrowan siege.

This siege was Kelly’s final standoff with the police in 1880.

Kelly and his gang took over a small town called Glenrowan, holding many people hostage in the local inn.

But instead of being cruel, Kelly showed an unexpected side.

Kelly allowed about 30 hostages, mostly women and children, to leave the inn.

He even chatted with some hostages and offered them food and drink.

One hostage later said, “He treated us very well and was very considerate.”

This behavior doesn’t fit the usual picture of a violent outlaw.

It shows that Kelly, despite being a criminal, had a compassionate side.

This event adds to the complex story of Ned Kelly, who is seen by some as a villain and by others as a folk hero.

6. Missing Skull Mystery

One of the strangest facts about Ned Kelly involves the mystery of his missing skull.

Kelly was executed in 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol, a famous prison in Australia.

His body was buried in the prison grounds, but his skull was kept separately.

In 1929, the skull was put on display at the prison, which had become a museum. But in 1978, someone stole the skull!

Many theories tried to explain what happened to Kelly’s skull.

Some people thought it was taken by fans or collectors.

Others believed it was a prank. The missing skull became a big story in Australia.

It wasn’t until 2009 that the skull was finally found. Scientists used DNA testing to prove it was really Kelly’s. One newspaper called it “Australia’s most wanted head.”

This strange tale adds to the legend of Ned Kelly, making his story even more mysterious and interesting to people.

7. Outlaw’s Written Manifesto

One of the most intriguing facts about Ned Kelly is that he wrote a 56-page letter called the “Jerilderie Letter.”

Kelly wrote this manifesto in 1879, while he was on the run from the law.

In the letter, he explained why he became an outlaw and criticized the police and government.

Kelly claimed he was forced into crime by unfair treatment and corruption.

The letter was meant to be published in a newspaper, but it wasn’t widely read until much later. Kelly wrote, “I am a widow’s son outlawed, and my orders must be obeyed.”

This shows how he saw himself as a rebel with a cause. The Jerilderie Letter helps us understand Kelly’s side of the story.

It paints a picture of Kelly as more than just a criminal. Instead, it shows him as someone fighting against what he saw as injustice.

This letter is now an important part of Australian history.

8. Limited Lethal Actions

One of the surprising facts about Ned Kelly is that he was directly responsible for only three deaths during his outlaw career.

These deaths occurred during a shootout with police officers who were trying to capture him.

Despite his reputation as a dangerous criminal, Kelly often tried to avoid violence when possible.

He even wrote letters explaining his actions and claiming he was forced into crime by unfair treatment.

This information might change how people see Kelly. Some view him as a cold-blooded killer, while others see him as a victim of circumstances.

In 19th century Australia, tensions between poor settlers and authorities were high.

Kelly once said, “I am a widow’s son outlawed, and my orders must be obeyed.”

This shows he felt pushed into his actions.

The debate about whether Kelly was a villain, or a folk hero continues in Australia today.

While any loss of life is tragic, understanding the full story helps us see the complexity of Kelly’s character.

9. Debated Last Words

One of the most debated facts about Ned Kelly involves his last words before he was hanged in 1880.

Many people believe Kelly’s final statement was “Such is life.”

These words are famous in Australia and often appear on t-shirts and souvenirs. However, some historians argue that Kelly never actually said this.

Other possible last words have been suggested, like “Ah well, I suppose it has come to this.”

Some say Kelly’s final words were “I’m ready,” spoken to the executioner.

The truth is, we can’t be sure what Kelly really said.

Last words are important because they shape how we remember historical figures.

This debate shows how Kelly’s story is still discussed and disputed in Australia.

As one historian put it, “Kelly’s last words, like much of his life, remain shrouded in mystery and legend.”

10. DNA Confirms Remains

One of the most fascinating facts about Ned Kelly came to light in 2011 when scientists confirmed his remains using DNA testing.

Kelly’s bones were found in a mass grave at Pentridge Prison in Melbourne, Australia.

Researchers compared DNA from the bones to samples from Kelly’s living relatives.

This process took years and faced many challenges, including finding the right descendants to provide DNA samples.

The discovery of Kelly’s remains was a big deal for Australian history.

It proved that the stories about Kelly’s burial were true.

A historian said, “This find brings closure to a part of Australia’s history that has captured the public imagination for over 130 years.”

Ned Kelly is an important figure in Australian culture, seen by some as a rebel hero and by others as a criminal.

Finding his remains helped make his story feel more real and less like a legend.

Short Bio: Facts About Ned Kelly

Place of Birth:

Beveridge, Victoria, Australia

Date of Death:

November 11, 1880


Bushranger (an Australian term for an outlaw who hid in the bush)

Major Achievements:

  • Led the Kelly Gang, one of the most famous outlaw groups in Australian history
  • Created innovative armor suits for his gang using repurposed farm equipment
  • Wrote the Jerilderie Letter, a 56-page manifesto explaining his actions and criticizing the authorities
  • Survived longer than most outlaws of his time, evading capture for two years


Ned Kelly’s legacy in Australia is complex and often debated.

He is seen by some as a folk hero who stood up against injustice, while others view him as a violent criminal.

His story has inspired numerous books, films, and artworks.

Kelly has become a symbol of Australian identity and resistance against authority.

His suit of armor is now an iconic image in Australian culture.

The phrase “Such is life,” believed by many to be his last words, has become a well-known Australian saying.

Kelly’s life continues to spark discussions about social justice, law enforcement, and Australian history.

Wrap-up: Facts About Ned Kelly

These fascinating facts about Ned Kelly show us that history isn’t always black and white.

From his multilingual skills to his homemade armor, Kelly was more than just an outlaw.

He was a complex figure who still captures Australia’s imagination today.

Kelly’s story makes us think about justice, rebellion, and how society treats outsiders.

It reminds us that historical figures are often a mix of good and bad. Was Kelly a hero standing up for the little guy, or a criminal who went too far?

There’s no easy answer.

What do you think about Ned Kelly after learning these facts?

For more on other notorious outlaws from history, check out my post 11 Buccaneers: The Most Infamous Pirates in Seafaring History!

FAQs: Facts About Ned Kelly

1. What was Ned Kelly’s family background?

Ned Kelly was born into a poor Irish Catholic family in Victoria, Australia, in 1854.

His parents, John “Red” Kelly and Ellen Quinn, were both Irish immigrants who came to Australia during the gold rush era.

Ned’s father, Red Kelly, had been transported to Tasmania as a convict in 1841 for stealing two pigs in Ireland.

After serving his sentence, Red moved to Victoria where he met and married Ellen.

The Kelly family’s Irish background and their status as poor selectors (small-scale farmers) placed them at odds with the predominantly British colonial authorities and wealthy landowners.

Ned was the third of eight children and grew up in a harsh environment marked by poverty, discrimination against Irish Catholics, and frequent conflicts with the law.

His father’s death in 1866, when Ned was just 12, forced him to become the family’s primary breadwinner.

This challenging upbringing, combined with perceived persecution by the police, is often cited as a key factor in shaping Ned’s eventual path as an outlaw.

The Kelly family’s reputation for lawlessness, whether deserved or not, also contributed to the authorities’ suspicion and harsh treatment of them, setting the stage for Ned’s later confrontations with the law.

2. What was the “Stringybark Creek Incident”?

The Stringybark Creek Incident was a pivotal event in Ned Kelly’s life that occurred on October 26, 1878, in northeastern Victoria, Australia.

It marked the point at which Ned Kelly and his gang transitioned from small-time criminals to notorious outlaws.

The incident began when a party of four policemen – Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas Lonigan, Michael Scanlan, and Thomas McIntyre – set out to capture Ned and Dan Kelly, who were hiding in the Wombat Ranges.

The police set up camp at Stringybark Creek, unaware that the Kelly brothers and their associates Joe Byrne and Steve Hart were nearby.

Ned Kelly, upon discovering the police presence, decided to ambush them.

In the ensuing confrontation, three of the policemen – Lonigan, Scanlan, and Kennedy – were killed, while McIntyre managed to escape.

Kelly claimed the killings were in self-defense, but the authorities viewed it as cold-blooded murder.

This event led to the Kelly Gang being officially declared outlaws, with a substantial reward offered for their capture, dead or alive.

The Stringybark Creek Incident escalated the conflict between the Kellys and the law, setting in motion the chain of events that would ultimately lead to Ned Kelly’s capture and execution two years later.

3. Is there a museum dedicated to Ned Kelly?

Yes, there are several museums and exhibits dedicated to Ned Kelly across Australia.

The most prominent is the Ned Kelly Vault, located in Beechworth, Victoria.

This museum houses an extensive collection of Kelly Gang artifacts, including original documents, weapons, and photographs.

Visitors can see Ned’s death mask, the armor of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, and even a table made from the wood of the tree where Ned was captured.

Another significant site is the Old Melbourne Gaol, where Kelly was executed.

It features a “Ned Kelly Experience” that includes his death mask and pistol.

In Glenrowan, the site of Kelly’s last stand, there’s a Ned Kelly Memorial Museum with interactive displays and memorabilia.

The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne also holds important Kelly artifacts, including his famous Jerilderie Letter.

These museums not only preserve Kelly’s historical legacy but also offer insights into the social and political context of his time, allowing visitors to form their own opinions about this controversial figure in Australian history.

References: Facts About Ned Kelly

Australian Geographic. “Ned Kelly Timeline.” Australian Geographic, 1 Sept. 2011, www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2011/09/ned-kelly-timeline/.

Dawson, Stuart E. “Ned Kelly’s Last Words: “Ah, Well, I Suppose.”” Eras, vol. 18, no. 1, 2016, pp. 38–50, research.monash.edu/en/publications/ned-kellys-last-words-ah-well-i-suppose.

“DNA Confirms Ned Kelly’s Remains – Australian Geographic.” Australian Geographic, 2 Sept. 2018, www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2011/09/dna-confirms-ned-kellys-remains/.

National Museum of Australia. “Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter | National Museum of Australia.” Nma.gov.au, 2019, https://www.nma.gov.au/explore/features/ned-kelly-jerilderie-letter.

“Ned Kelly Museum.” Www.katescottageglenrowan.com.au, www.katescottageglenrowan.com.au/ned-kelly-museum/. Accessed 25 June 2024.

“Ned Kelly Saved Our Drowning Dad … The Softer Side of Old Bucket Head.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Aug. 2001, www.smh.com.au/national/ned-kelly-saved-our-drowning-dad-the-softer-side-of-old-bucket-head-20010801-gdfn0j.html.

“Ned Kelly: The Genesis of a National Hero | History Today.” Www.historytoday.com, www.historytoday.com/archive/ned-kelly-genesis-national-hero.

Strahan, Chloe. “Memorial for Police Killed in Kelly Gang Shootout .” ABC News, 10 Dec. 2018, www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-10/policemen-killed-in-kelly-gang-shootout-honoured-at-stringybark/10600870.

“The Bullet-Banged Armour of Australia’s Most Famous Outlaw.” Atlas Obscura, www.atlasobscura.com/places/ned-kellys-armour.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Ned Kelly | Australian Bandit.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 28 May 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Ned-Kelly-Australian-bandit.

“Who Was Ned Kelly?” History Hit, www.historyhit.com/who-was-ned-kelly/.

“Why the Curious Mystery of Ned Kelly’s Skull Remains Unsolved.” Www.abc.net.au, 10 Nov. 2018, www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-11/ned-kelly-skull-location-remains-a-mystery/10476666.