The Complete Inner History of the KellyGang and their Pursuers (52)

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So quietly did the Kellys live at their old home that the general opinion of the public and some of the police was that the Kellys had gone to one of the other colonies.  Sergeant Steele held this view right up to the shooting of Aaron Sherritt.  The Kellys wanted more money but the sticking up of the banks was not so easy now, on account of the preparations of defence made by the bank officials.  It was stated that the manager was secured behind a stout wall, which had a porthole in it, and through which he could shoot an intruder without exposing himself to view.

The Kellys decided to get some kind of covering that would resist a bullet at the close range of ten yards.  They had heard that an India rubber coat would do this.  After a trial the rubber coat was declared to be ineffective.  Then they tried sheet iron.  This would resist a revolver, but would not stop a rifle bullet.

The next material to suggest itself was steel.  But where could they get steel in suitable sheets? There was a difficulty about this.  After some discussion it was decided to test the resisting qualities of the mould-board of their own single-furrow plough.  The mould-board stood the test and stopped the bullets of their best rifle at ten yards.  This removed their difficulty.  It was then decided to commandeer twenty mould-boards from their enemies—police agents or spies—and make a suit of armour for each of the four outlaws.  Four mould-boards were required for the body of each armour.  The next difficulty was how to make the mould-board straight; how could they take the twist out of it? This was quickly solved by Dan.  It was decided that as Dan was a handy man with blacksmith’s tools, he and his cousin Tom Lloyd should make the armour. 

They secured a big green log and stripped the bark off.  They then simultaneously heated the mould-boards in a great hot fire, big enough to get all the mould-board red hot.  They then placed each mould-board in turn on the green log and beat it straight.  This was done in a very short space of time.  The green sappy log was necessary, because a dry log would become alight from the red-hot sheets of steel.  One mould-board after another was straightened on the bank of the Eleven-Mile Creek near Skillion’s.  Then the rest of the work was done on the anvil at the old homestead.  Each suit of armour had to be made to measure.  Great care had to be taken with the first suit.  When Ned Kelly had a “try on” it was considered a great success.  The next suit was for Joe Byrne.  This suit did not take nearly as long as Ned’s.  The armour for Steve Hart was easily done, and Dan’s was the last one to be made.  There was only one helmet made, and that was for Ned Kelly. 

The weight of Ned Kelly’s armour complete was 95 lb., and resisted Martini rifles at ten yards.  It is remarkable that the armours were made at Kelly’s homestead, on the Eleven-Mile Creek, while Supt CH Nicolson, having given up active pursuit, was lulling the outlaws into a sense of false security.

It was thought by the police that the armours were made by a Greta blacksmith.  This was only a guess, which was made on the assumption that such work could only be done by a qualified tradesman.  However unintentional, this was quite a compliment to Dan Kelly and his youthful cousin, Tom Lloyd, who assisted him.

Two full-sized mould-boards were required for the front body piece and two equally large mould-boards were required for the back body piece of each suit of armour.  The mould-boards were riveted together down the centre of the front and back.  The shaping of the body pieces was carried out on a small green log.  The back and front body pieces were held together over the shoulders by strong leather straps, and were fastened together at the sides with bolts and straps.  A steel apron protected the thighs in front, and was hung from a bolt in the centre.  This allowed the apron to be easily swung to one side or the other, but could be kept in a fixed position, when required, by a bolt on each side. 

Only one helmet was made, and that was the one worn by Ned Kelly at Glenrowan.  This helmet has been identified by Police-Inspector Pewtress as the one now exhibited at the Aquarium, in the Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne.  All other helmets exhibited are very rough and clumsy imitations of the original.  The helmet made by Dan Kelly and his youthful cousin rested on the shoulders of the armour, and was high enough to protect the top of the head.

A large sized mouldboard was cut to the size required, and an opening was cut out the full width of the face from the eyes down.  The narrow strip passing over the forehead was bolted to the other end of the mouldboard.  A piece of steel was fitted to protect the face and was secured on each side by hinges, leaving a very narrow opening for the eyes.

After the siege at Glenrowan, when raking over the ashes, which was all that remained of Mrs Jones’ hotel, the police failed to discover the three missing helmets, and three imitations were made at a blacksmith’s shop in Collins-street, Melbourne.  It is a matter for regret that these spurious helmets were exhibited to the public and passed off as genuine.  It is alleged that a police official, apparently without authority, gave Ned Kelly’s armour with a bogus helmet to a titled millionaire.  After completing the four suits of armour, all pieces, cuttings, and trimmings left over were very carefully buried alongside the forge, and within 30 feet of the back door of the old homestead.

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