Ned Kelly grew up near Glenrowan, Victoria, as one of the rural poor. Kelly had a reputation as a formidable boxer and was quite large for his age. Often persecuted by police and oppressed by wealthy squatters, the Kellys were accused of horse-stealing and cattle duffing. In the early 1870s, while still a teenager, Kelly spent three years in gaol for receiving a stolen horse. In 1878 he went into hiding after he was suspected of shooting a lone police constable who attempted to arrest his brother, Dan. Kelly's mother, Ellen, was sentenced to three year's hard labour for her part and the Kelly brothers formed a gang, beginning two years of lawlessness that saw them kill a group of police and commit several daring robberies.
During this period, Kelly often proclaimed his innocence, arguing that the persecution and oppression suffered by his family forced him to become a bushranger. While in Jerilderie, Joe Byrne took down Kelly's argument, creating what has become known as the Jerilderie Letter. The letter was supposed to be sent to a parliamentarian and a police superintendent, but it was lost until 1930 when it was first published in the Melbourne Age. In June 1880 the Kelly Gang were involved in a siege at Glenrowan. Kelly, clad in armour, was the only survivor. After a short trial, he was hanged in Melbourne gaol on 11 November 1880.
The story of the Kelly Gang has been retold in a number of forms, including poetry, fiction, film, histories, biographies and visual art. Peter Carey drew on the histories and the voice of the Jerilderie Letter in writing his True History of the Kelly Gang (2000). The image of Ned Kelly and the legend of the Kelly Gang continue to have a significant place in Australian culture.
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