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Ned Kelly collections in Victoria

The Victorian architecture in rural Beechworth is beautiful. Visitors should see the Burke Memorial Museum, opened in 1857 and later named in honour of explorer Robert O’Hara Burke (1821-61). After his death at Coopers Creek in 1861 during the famous Burke & Wills Exp­ed­it­ion, Burke’s bible, inscribed revolver and the saddle­bags used in his tragic expedition were immediately added to the collection. 

The Museum holds 30,000+ individual items, and includes a sig­nif­icant collection of Aboriginal weapons and tools, many C19th native animal and birdlife taxidermy, significant Gold Rush era artefects, and the Street of Shops that is a recreation of Gold Era Beechworth.

Now I am interested in a newer section of the museum, the Ned Kelly Vault, opened in the former Sub Treasury building of the Beechworth Historic and Cultural Precinct in 2014. This collection is the most comprehensive of its type in regional Australia and includes the original death mask of Ned Kelly and many original items relating to the bushranger and his Gang.

Glenrowan Inn

This is one of the most famous parts of rural Victoria. The Siege at Glen­rowan on 28th June 1880, was the result of a plan by the notor­ious Kelly Gang to derail a Police Special Train carry­ing Indig­en­ous trackers into a deep gully next to the railway line. The plan was launched two days earlier with the murder near Beech­worth of police inf­ormant Aaron Sherritt. The idea was to draw the Police Special Train through the town­ship of Glenrowan, an area the local Kelly family knew intimately. After the day ended, the Kelly Gang planned to ride on to Benalla, blow up the under-manned police station and rob some banks. But Ned misjudged.

In the early morning darkness of Monday, June 28th, the Police Spec­ial train pulled into Glenrowan Railway Station, and the police contingent disembarked. The Glenrowan Inn was burnt to the ground by police in their attempt to flush out members of the Kelly Gang, sparking a tragic chain of events for the owner Mrs Ann Jones. Her business was destroyed, and her 13-year-old son was killed in the siege after he was hit in the hip by a police bullet. By afternoon the siege of the Glenrowan Inn ended when three of the Kelly Gang members - Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart – died, and Ned Kelly was captured behind the Inn.

He was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol on 11th Nov 1880. Kelly was, and remains Australia’s best known figure of folk law, partially be­cause of the iconic armour donned by his gang in the Siege at Glen­rowan. The Kelly story became famous because it showed impoverished work­ing class lads standing up against tough authority figures. And in­fam­ous because it focused on an era when guns were allowed in priv­ate hands in Australia.

Now Ashlee Aldridge has written about some precious artefacts salvaged from Ned Kelly's last stand at Glenrowan. The Fire at the Glenrowan Inn in 1880 was a tragic story, and after almost 140 years, surviving items from the blaze now are being dis­play­ed. A small brass box given to the proprietor of the inn, Ann Jones, has been acquired by Beechworth's Burke Museum. Matt Shaw, the founder and co-creator of the Ned Kelly Vault, said "It is handmade, made of brass and would have been an extravagant gift. It has Ann Jones, Glenrowan Inn, Glenrowan 1876 eng­raved on the top. So it was obviously a gift from one of her loved ones, on the com­mencement of this new, exciting business venture."

Kelly Vault, Beechworth

One display cabinet in
the Kelly Vault, Beechworth

The brass box was taken as a souvenir by loc­als the day after the fire. There was no real trace of it until it turned up at an auct­ion in the early 2000s. An antique dealer noticed it was listed in a lot and knowing its significance, bought it and put it on display in Melbourne’s Police Museum. Original objects and documents in the Melbourne collection include Dan Kelly’s and Steve Hart’s armour. 

This programme complements the history of Ned Kelly at the Old Melbourne Gaol. And it complements the State Library of Victoria collection; see the Jer­ilderie letter, Ned’s armour and death mask, family photos, police telegrams and photographs, newspaper reports, letters, minutes from the 1880 Kelly Royal Com­mission and books written about the bushranger.

Also from that horrible moment in history, a bullet-ridden table was salvaged. Burke Museum manager Cameron Auty said "the table was taken out of the inn by the Kelly Gang when their plans didn't go as well as they'd hoped, and police didn't turn up as quickly as they'd liked, so people started to get a bit bored. They decided to have a dance inside the inn, they cleared the table out to make some space. The table has bullet holes and other damage from the siege, so it is amazing to see that still in existence."

The table has been on display at the Ned Kelly Vault since it open­ed and for the next two months, it will form part of an exhibition about Mrs Jones at the Burke Museum. Mr Auty noted that "they're the only two large objects remaining from the siege. There are oth­er small things like scraps and bullets, but no more large objects".

Leather cartridge bag, with two metal buckles and broken straps
taken from Ned Kelly by Sergeant Steele at Glenrowan
Victoria Police Museum

Kelly Gang helmet, with bullet hole

Despite it being 130 years since that siege, interest in the Ned Kel­ly story has continued. Auty added that "the response has been huge, especially in the local community and there has been a lot of media interest. Every­body loves a Ned Kelly story, espec­ial­ly the siege at Glenrowan. It was one of the most significant ev­ents in Austral­ian history. Beechworth has a strong link to the Kelly fam­il­y. Ned grew-up in Greta just around the corner, the Beechworth courthouse hosted 40 trials for the Kelly fam­ily, and Ned and his mother Ellen were in and out of Beechworth Gaol."

And as Benalla is the heart of Kelly country, the Kelly story has emphasis in The Costume and Kelly Museum. In the museum is a transportable cell in which Ned was once imprisoned; it contains Ned's bloodstained sash worn at Glenrowan, his bridle and many letters/documents about Ned's family and Gang.


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