Kelly's Armour

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This page contains content from people who supported the KellyGang.
The Story of the Kelly Gang 1906.jpg

Before Glenrowan

The story of the armour is one of the most amassing parts of the story of the KellyGang. The KellyGang only wore the armour once, at the siege of Glenrowan.

The idea for the Armour

No one really seems to know where the idea for the armour came from.

Where did the idea for the armour come from? Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. (Herald3/7/80) See also (JJK)

Some have said that the design for the armour is based on a scottish book others have said that it was based upon Chinese armour. Chinese armour had been seen in the colourful parades and festivals in Beechworth from the large Chinese community.

The parts of the suits of Armour

They are made up with a front plate, back plate and helmet. They also had a separate plate that was hung on straps to protect the groin. They were held together with straps and wire. One of the suits had shoulder tips and another had side plates that joined the front and back plates. The helmets have holes and they were probably lined to protect the head. Ned Kelly at least also had a (knitted?) skull cap.

What were the suits of Armour made from

The armours were made from the mould boards of ploughs. The mould board is the metal part of a plough that ripped the ground open and turned the soil over. But you need to remember the importance of the horse and plough to small scale selectors. They were essential to a selector's survival. It meant the difference between being able to plant some wheat or oats and being able to make a living from their land. Ploughs were not cheap. Each of the four suits of armour required at least 6 mould boards. Few ploughs were reported stole. Many the KellyGang's friends and supporters must have given up their equivalent to the farm tractor up to the cause.

There was a report that ploughshares were stolen about Greta there were footprints with very high-heeled boots. (RC5642)

Who made the suits of Armour

It would be great to know who made the suits of armour and how they were made. While some people say that one of the suits was made by a blacksmith and the others by the KellyGang, others suggest that there is a normal development that comes from the makers getting better as they went on. A good example of this is that one of the plates for one of the suits is made from steel from a tank. That sheet has a crack in it. The makers changed to mould boards because they can be shaped more easily. It is however clear that there was a lot of work involved in making the armour and it is very likely that a number of people had a hand in the work. (Argus6/8/80)

Who made my armour; a friend in the Strathbogie Ranges (Herald3/7/80) See also (SMH10/8/80)

Mr Cookson tried to work out an answer to this question in 1911 (BWC) (BWC)

Who helped make the Armour

Over the years various names have been associated with this project.

How Ned Kelly led the boys in doing the job (BWC)

How were they made

It has been suggested that the mould boards were shaped over green logs with a hammer. However practical experience shows that it is very hard to hold a large piece of hot metal over a green log while it is hit by a someone else hitting it with a heavy hammer. Parts of the armour were also made on a blacksmith's forge. Recent research undertaken by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation at Lucas Heights shows that the Armours could have been made in a bush forge.

see [1]


Others have looked at the set of 'buttons' or rivets that hold the front and back body plates together and suggested that the level of strength they provide must have something to do with how the plates were shaped.

One way to shape the plates would be to make a U shaped mould out of clay, build a fire around the mould then put the mould boards on top of the mould with a large green log on top of the mould boards. The green log would need to have been anchored at one end. The other end of the green log could then be lifted and dropped into the curve of the mould like a large hammer. It would seem that this method was used by bush blacksmiths to produce other objects in an age when iron objects were not common and old pieces of metal were being adapted for other purposes. For instance a discarded item of gold mining equipment was seldom left behind. Most of the old equipment was converted to do a new job.

After the basic shape of the main plates were achieved a hammer could be used to shape detail. The Armours show signs that the slots for the straps and other details were cut out with a cold chisel and hammer. The helmets also have a pattern of holes that would have been used to secure some padding. Bray's photograph of some of the pieces of Armour shows Ned Kelly's thick skull cap.

Reports to the police about the

KellyGang making Armour

First reports of mould boards from plough Febuary 1880. (RC746)

While the Diseased Stock Agent told Ass Comm Nicolson in about May 1880 that the KellyGang had armour, other police officers did not believe him. See text of letter 20/5/1880 (RC755)

Sup Hare said that Nicolson gave him no information whatever concerning the Kelly armour, and it was only in conversation with different people-Mr. Sadleir especially-that Hare picked up that, and found that it was supposed that when the Kellys next appeared it would be in armour. (RC1596)

Just before his death Aaron Sherritt heard that the KellyGang was going to do something that would amaze the world. He even went and saw Sup Hare with the same information on 25/6/1880, the day before Aaron Sherritt was murdered and a few days before the Glenrowan Siege.

At the siege at Glenrowan


Reports of the armour at the Glenrowan siege


Some say that the 4 suits of armour were taken Jones' Glenrowan Inn in a horse and cart. However Anton Weekes stated in his evidence to Aaron Sherritt's inquest that Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly had a pack horse with them and it is very likely that they had their armour with them. See also (CHC) (SMH30/6/80)

The KellyGang put on their armour in a separate room in the Glenrowan Inn and locked the door. While there are a few differences between the suits it does not appear that they were specifically produced for particular people. Further while there are reports that indicate that some of the members of the KellyGang my have worn their armour at Glenrowan before the battle on the morning of 28/6/1880, it should be remembered that they put the armour on in a small room in the Glenrowan Inn in the dark as the police train was on its way. See also (BWC)

Some chap with red whiskers helped the KellyGang put their armour on. (RC11312)

But it is difficult to say who worn which suit or if each member of the KellyGang had their own suit on at the time of the siege at Glenrowan. The boys Went to put the armour when they heard the train coming towards the platform at Glenrowan. They had been up for over 48 hours, it was in the middle of the night, in the dark, and each of the four members of the KellyGang whould have needed at least two or three people to help them put their armour on; one to hold the fron plate, one to hold the back plate and one to tie it together. 'Hurry boys hurry, the train's coming.' I dont think that they would heve been to concerned about who had wich bit of armour.

Ned Kelly was the first member of the KellyGang to be captured. The authorities got their first good look of his suit of armour at about 7.30 am. After his capture the police cut the straps of his armour, the wires that held it on. (RC10046) (Argus29/6/1880) (Argus11/8/80) (Argus8/7/80)

Carrington drew Ned Kelly while he was lying in the van, and while he was in the station master's house; and I made drawings of the armour on the station. (Argus5/7/80) (RC10046)

Byrne's body was recovered just after the Inn had been set on fire. He had his armour on and his helmet was near by.

Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were found after the fire in a small room. Their armours were near by the bodies. (RC7197) See also (RC7222)

While there are various references to the armours in the contemporary accounts none of them give sufficient detail to positively identify who wore all the particular parts of the various suits of armour. One of the most significant clues to this puzzle is a drawing done by Carrington. There is also photograph of some of the other pieces of armour and Ned Kelly's rifle that was taken at Glenrowan on the day by Mr ' Bray of Beechworth. These contemporary records do however establish that there were four suits of armour. However a number of people have done considerable work to indentify thevarious parts of the armour.

McHugh told Const Phillips about KellyGang in armour when he took Mrs Jones's son from the Inn. (RC11311)

Ned Kelly's

The armour was hit by a number of Martini Henri bullets during the opening encounter and when Ned Kelly was captured.

The armour worn by Ned Kelly consisted of a long breast plate, shoulder plates, back guard, and helmet. (MDTel29/6/80) (Argus 29/6/80) (SMH2/7/80). It was fastened on with bolts and nuts. with 2 inch wide leather straps at the shoulders.(RC8252)

After Ned Kelly had been captured Marsden handed Sgt Steele a knife to cut Ned Kelly's armour off. (RC14011)

When Ned Kelly was brought to the railway platform Dowsett weighed the armour. (RC10946)

Later SConst Johnston about putting the armour on and rushing the Inn (RC7299).

Inspector Pewtress identified Ned Kelly's helmet (JJK)

Ned Kelly's armour was displayed in Beechworth soon after the seige (Argus2/7/82)

Kennearlly said Ned Kelly's armour with a bogus helmet was given away to a titled millionaire. (JJK)

Joe Byrne's

JoeByrne took a pack horse to Sherritt's with the armour (JJK)

The armour worn by Joe Byrne was found on his body. It was not affected by the fire in the Inn and was complete with a helmet, front plate, back plate, two side plates to join the front plate and back plate, and a lappet.

Dan Kelly's

It would appear that Dan and Steve had taken their armours off before the Inn was set on fire.(RC7221)

Steve Hart's

It would appear that Dan and Steve had taken their armours off before the Inn was set on fire.(RC7221)

Early History after Glenrowan

It would seem that the suits were taken by the police from Glenrowan to the police headquarters in Benalla.

The Armour was shown at Beechwoth a few days after the seige. (Argus2/7/80)

They wanted it for the Burke Museum (OMA1/7/80)

Ned Kelly's armour was brought to Melbourne and sent to the Detectives Office.

The armour was at the office of the secretary of the Railway department, in Melbourne. (Herald5/7/80)

In early August Sup Hare wrote to Sup Sadleir wanting Ned Kelly's armour as promised.

Sadleir said no.

In September Com Standish wanted the armours smashed.

In late October Sadlier said that the suits worn by Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were in Benalla and that Joe Byrne's had been sent to the Depot in Richmond.

The three suits were then brought to the Melbourne for Ned Kelly's trial. SConst John Kelly showed Ned Kelly's armour to the court at his trail.

By December all 4 suits were held at the Depot in Richmond.

Soon afterwards Sup Hare had one of the suits in his private possession.

The sympathizers seemed to still want to make armour.

In April 1881 some saws were stolen from Acock's pit saw. They were thin, but the question is whether they could be shaped into armour at all. Insp Montfort was told by a person they could be softened specially to shape them, and then hardened again so as to make them hard, but he did not believe that was the purpose at all. (Argus3/5/81) (RC11011) (RC9870)

Bringing the story up to date

In 1891 a collection of pieces of armour were put together and displayed at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. This suit was at the Aquarium in 1928. At that time two suits were held by the police in the Treasury Buildings.

Ned Kellys armour was on display (SMH31/7/1915)

In 1956, after the Aquarium was damaged by fire, that suit was transferred to the Science Museum of Victoria. In that year the police removed their suits from the police stables in the St Kilda depot. Later it was displayed on a number of occasions including at the police recruiting stand at the Royal Melbourne Show.

In 1964 the suit in the Science Musem was transferred to the State Library of Victoria.

In recent time there has been interest in trying to put the 3 suits of armour that are owned by public institutions into configurations that could have been wore. Various experts have pointed out that some of these suits have been displayed with a mismatch of front and back plates or even two back plates together. There is a tension between the integrity of a display that has been together for a long time and a reconstructed exhibit. Most experts accept that the suit that is privately owned is the most complete suit that is in the condition as it was worn at the Glenrowan siege. The other 3 suits were put back into what is accepted as the correct order on 27/6/2002.

Some pieces of armour were sold by the Stillard in more recent years, to the Victorian Government. They are now displayed with the armour in the State Library of Victoria.

Modern forensic techniques can answer many questions about the armour. A number of projects have been planned to provide further information about how they were made.

see [3]

Where can the Armours be seen

One of the suits is on permanent display in the State Library in Melbourne.


The Police Museum in Melbourne has two suits on display in the police museum in police headquarters. http://[5]/

One of the police suits was on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol http://[6] for some time.

The fourth suit is privately owned. It has been displayed with the other suits on a number of occasions and has been seen at many places including Beechworth and Benalla in the Kelly country, as part of a travelling exhibition with the Nolan Kelly paintings, at the police museum in Sydney and in Mt Isa. It also travelled to the USA for that country's bicentenary. This suit was also the first to return to Glenrowan in 122 years when it arrived on a pack horse during the event to mark the anniversary of the siege on 28 June 2002. It was back there again on 28 June 2003.

That suit of armour and Ned Kelly's rifle with many other interesting links to the KellyGang are part of the National Museum of Australia's major exhibition, Outlawed. The exhibition was seen in Canberra from 28 November 2003- 26 April 2004.

The Outlawed exhibition was seen at the Melbourne Museum from 28 May 2004 to 10 Oct 2004 (http://[7]

The National Museum of Australia has an exact facsimilie of the suit of armour that is owned privately. ( [8])

Lots of people have made replicas of the suits of armour. Very few of these have any real relationship to the original suits of armour

All four suits of armour were on display in the Beechworth Town Hall for the Kelly weekend, 6-8 August 2010

All four suits of armour are together in the exhibition in the National Museum of Australia's exhibition entitled "Not just Ned: A True History of the Irish in Australia." The exhibition runs in Canberra until 31 July 2011