Skip to content
  • 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission
  • Shop
 - click to view larger image

'I am a Widow's Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed'. With these chilling words bushranger Ned Kelly ended the Jerilderie letter, a detailed written justification of his actions in the year before his death.

Kelly's words, transcribed in the Jerilderie letter, are regarded by some as an early call for an Australian republic.

Bushranger's justification

Ned Kelly (1854–1880) is one of Australia’s best-known historical characters. The convicted murderer and self-confessed stock thief is also the only bushranger known to have left a detailed written justification of his actions.

Kelly attempted to have his ‘manifesto’ published when his gang held up the small New South Wales town of Jerilderie in 1879.

The National Museum holds publican John Hanlon’s transcription of this letter. The original is part of the State Library of Victoria collection.

The National Museum's collection includes a plaster death mask, made soon after Kelly's body was taken down from the gallows, lantern slides showing Kelly scenes, a police report and a ceremonial sword awarded to a police officer after the Glenrowan siege.

Page 1 of a hand-written transcription of Ned Kelly's 56 page letter. - click to view larger image
Page one of publican John Hanlon's transcription of Ned Kelly's Jerilderie letter

Hero or villain?

Ned Kelly was born at Beveridge, Victoria, in about December 1854.

He first came to public notice when, in 1865, he saved seven-year-old Richard Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek at Avenel.

By 1866 his widowed mother had moved her family to north-eastern Victoria.

Ned had become the family breadwinner. He took on general bush labouring work, timber-cutting and even served a brief apprenticeship with bushranger Harry Power.

Kelly's trouble with the law quickly escalated through indecent behaviour, assault and stock theft to police killer.

Black and white photo of Ned Kelly. - click to view larger image
1873 prison portrait of Ned Kelly

Kelly Gang outlawed

Three policemen were shot dead at Stringybark Creek in October 1878.

The Victorian Government responded by outlawing Ned and Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne. This meant they could be shot on sight by anybody at any time.

For two years the gang roamed freely through north-eastern Victoria and the Riverina, robbing banks at Euroa in December 1878 and Jerilderie in February 1879.

Finally, at Glenrowan in June 1880, they donned suits of armour to make a dramatic but doomed stand against the Victorian police.

Dan Kelly, Hart and Byrne were killed and Ned Kelly was taken prisoner. Tried and found guilty for the murder of Constable Lonigan at Stringybark Creek, Ned Kelly was hanged at Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.

Plaster death mask of the head of bushranger Ned Kelly, including the neck and partial right shoulder. - click to view larger image
Ned Kelly's death mask replica, 1930s

Jerilderie letter

Kelly's 'manifesto' is a 56-page document that he tried to have published at Jerilderie in February 1879. It appears to be the final working document of one that was first circulated at Euroa in December 1878.

It reflects the voice of a man who feels he has been deeply wronged. He admits to crimes but claims he was forced into them by a corrupt police force.

Kelly demands that squatters share their property with the poor. The document ends with a violent threat against all who oppose him: 'I am a Widow's Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.'

Copies of the document were made by the police and by publican John Hanlon. Hanlon's transcription of the Jerilderie letter was purchased by the National Museum at auction.

In our collection

Magazine titled 'Australasian Sketcher', 1880Magazine titled 'The Australasian Sketcher / No.101 Vol.VIII / Melbourne / Saturday July 3 1880'. It has 16 pages, with three pages of wood engravings by Thomas Carrington, including the cover illustration, titled - 'NED KELLY AT BAY - from a sketch drawn on the spot by Mr T Carrington'. It contains a five column article titled ...
Not Just Ned: Irish in Australia series
  • Last updated: 2 July 2011
  • 8 programs
Events held in conjunction with the Not Just Ned: A True History of the Irish in Australia exhibition, including the exhibition launch, family history lectures and plenary sessions from the Australasian Irish Studies conference.
Return to Top