Irish Legal Heritage: Ned Kelly (Part II)

Irish Legal Heritage: Ned Kelly (Part II)

Ned after defeating Wild Wright
in a 20-round bare-knuckle boxing
match at Beechworth, Victoria
(Aug 1874, John Chidley, Public Domain)

Edward “Ned” Kelly was a famous Irish-Australian bushranger and outlaw who was executed in November 1880. Part I was published last Friday.

The horse that landed 16-year-old Ned with three years of hard labour had actually been stolen – or “borrowed” by a horse-breaker called Isaiah “Wild” Wright.

Wright had failed to inform Ned that the horse was stolen, so when he got out of prison in February 1874, Ned had a bone to pick. In August 1874, the two men faced each other in a twenty-round bare-knuckle boxing match. Ned was victorious, and hailed the boxing champion of the district (Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life (Hachette 2010)).

Ned was able to stay out of harm’s way for the next few years, although it’s believed that he became heavily involved in horse and cattle stealing with his step-father, George King, during what is often described as his “going straight” years.

Ned’s demise started with the Fitzpatrick affair, which involved him shooting a police officer and thereafter going on the run to escape the charge of attempted murder.

Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was an Irish-Australian who had only joined the force in 1877. Fitzpatrick was friendly with the Kelly family, and depending on what version of events you believe, he was a regular visitor at the Kelly home in Greta and was romantically involved with Ned’s younger sister, Kate Kelly.

On 15 April 1878, Fitzpatrick went in search of Dan Kelly, for whom an arrest warrant had been issued. When Fitzpatrick arrived at the Kelly home, he didn’t initially tell the family why he was there, but instead waited for Dan to return for dinner. When Dan did arrive back, Fitzpatrick informed him of the warrant, but agreed to let Dan have a bite to eat before being taken to the police station.

In the meantime, Ned had been informed of Dan’s arrest and came to the house with guns blazing. Ned shot at Fitzpatrick three times, and one of the bullets hit Fitzpatrick’s wrist. It’s claimed that after this, Ned said that if he knew it was Fitzpatrick was the policeman who was there to arrest Dan he would never have fired at him (Dr Doug Morrissey (Author of Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life) on La Trobe University Biography Podcast (September 2017)).

Ned and Dan went on the run, and in their absence, three others who Fitzpatrick claimed had participated in the incident were arrested – including Ned’s mother, Ellen, who had just had a baby. For aiding and abetting the attempted murder of a police officer, Ellen Kelly served three years in prison.

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