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Sergeant Arthur Steele's sword

At a glance

  • Decorated ceremonial sword
  • Linked to Ned Kelly's arrest 
  • Presented to a police sergeant following the 1880 siege at Glenrowan
  • Boosts the Museum's Kelly holdings
Sergeant Arthur Steele's sword
Sergeant Arthur Steele's sword. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

A sword with a story

This sword was presented to Sergeant Arthur Steele by grateful pastoralists following the capture of Australia's most famous bushranger, Ned Kelly. During the siege at Glenrowan in June 1880, the Kelly Gang all wore armour to protect themselves. It was Sergeant Steele who found a way around Ned's armour by shooting the bushranger in the legs.

Close up of inscription on the sword.
The sword's inscription reads: 'Presented to Sergeant Steele, Victoria Police by the Moyhu Stock Protection Society as a testimony of the high esteem they entertain of his public services during the recent outbreak. Wangaratta 1880.' Photo: Matthew Higgins.

More than a bushranger's tale

Much more than a simple bushranger story, the Kelly outbreak was part of a land war between small landholders and squatters. One of the weapons used by Kelly and others was the theft of horses and cattle from large landholders. So, once Kelly was finally captured and eventually executed, the members of the Moyhu Stock Protection Society rewarded Sergeant Steele by presenting him the sword.

Although Sergeant Steele was seen as a hero by the squatters, to others he was anything but. During the siege at Ann Jones' Glenrowan Inn, Steele shot at innocent people caught up inside the hotel, including Mrs Reardon and her son Michael, who carried the bullet in his body until he died in his 80s.

Close up of the hilt of the sword. The name 'JW Rosier' is visible.
The sword's hilt. Note the name 'JW Rosier'. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

How do we know the sword is authentic?

The sword is of the type used in the colonies by officers of the Royal Artillery, and was decoratively etched by a leading Melbourne gunsmith, JW Rosier, whose name is on the sword. Rosier had supplied arms to the Victoria Police, including during the campaign against the Kellys.

Some time after Sergeant Steele's death in 1914, the sword was taken to England. It returned to Australia with a private collector in the 1970s and, in 2001–2002, was displayed at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

The sword joins the National Museum's collection of Kelly material which includes:

  • a death mask made after Ned's execution
  • a transcription of the Jerilderie letter; a detailed 'manifesto' written by the bushranger.
Close up of etched decoration.
Etched decoration. Photo: Matthew Higgins.