Ned Kelly on the Australasian Sketcher cover, 10 July 1880
Gold rush in Victoria
The Port Phillip District of New South Wales separated from the rest of the colony in July 1851, becoming the colony of Victoria, named for the reigning British queen.
Gold was also discovered that year: first at Ophir in New South Wales, and then at Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria. The gold rushes raised the population of Victoria from 80,000 in 1851 to 540,000 in 1861.
This huge influx of migrants was a problem for the colony as there were not enough police to maintain law and order. The small force was held in low esteem by the public, and was widely thought to be corrupt.
Prejudice and the Victorian police
To quickly increase its numbers, the Victorian force recruited police from the United Kingdom, most of whom were Protestant. Many bought with them their homeland’s prejudice against Catholics, which led them to target Irish migrant settlers.
The Catholic Irish were often poor and resented the wealthy squatters, who had seized most of the productive Victorian farmland. These squatters used their money and influence over the police and government to maintain their large estates at the expense of poorer migrants despite legislation meant to improve access to land.
Born to Irish parents, Ned Kelly grew up experiencing firsthand the prejudice of the Victorian police. Ned was born in Beveridge, a small town north of Melbourne, probably in 1854, to Ellen and John ‘Red’ Kelly. Transported to Australia for stealing pigs, Red Kelly had married Ellen, a migrant, at the completion of his sentence.
The Kelly family moved to Avenel where they were implicated in stock and horse theft (often targeted against squatters). Red Kelly died after serving a six-month prison sentence for unlawful possession of a bullock hide.
At age 16 Ned served three years prison with hard labour for his involvement in a horse theft. On his release, along with friends from other poor families in the area, Ned formed the Kelly Gang.
While membership of the gang fluctuated, Ned, his brother Dan and their friends Joseph Byrne and Steve Hart were reputedly the main members. All four had criminal records.
Australia's Most Notorious Outlaw – Ned Kelly
The John Dillinger of the Australian outback, Ned Kelly, was wanted dead or alive with a large bounty placed on his head to attract desperate killers, but they weren’t prepared to find Kelly and his gang rigged out in Iron Man outfits!
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