The birth of Ned Kelly

The date of Ned Kelly’s birth is not specifically known, as the records of his baptism have been lost. There are several theories as to the dating of his birth, which have been accepted by different authors. Herein are listed instances of the date of his birth as noted in various publications, the available evidence is weighed, and a conclusion is given.

The months of birth given for Ned Kelly are December 1854, January 1855, and June 1855. The most likely date would appear to be December 1854, a conclusion reached by Ian Jones and Peter FitzSimons, who both wrote books on Edward Kelly and who are experts on the subject. However, January 1855 is also a strong possibility.

Whilst the dates given in books may be of interest, the only information which should be given serious consideration is that of the actual evidence provided.

Dates used in various publications

1854:
“Edward (Ned) Kelly was born at Wallan Wallan, Victoria, in the year 1854”.
James Jerome Kenneally, The Inner History of the Ned Kelly Gang, Moe (Vic.): The Kelly Gang Publishing Company, 1969, p. 20 [first published 1929]

December 1854:
“On an unrecorded day or night in December 1854, almost certainly at the Kelly farm below the Big Hill, Ellen gave birth to a son . . . They called the boy Edward”.
Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, South Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 2002, p. 10 [first published 1995]

“on the hot summer’s day that Ned hits the ground in December of 1854 near the small settlement of Beveridge, just 25 miles north of Melbourne, and not far from Donnybrook”
Peter FitzSimons, Ned Kelly: The Story of Australia’s Most Notorious Legend, North Sydney: William Heinemann, 2013, p. 4

In the endnotes section of his book, Peter FitzSimons says: “There is endless speculation as to Ned’s date of birth, with some experts believing it to be as late as June 1855, and many believing he was born in Wallan Wallan. Referring to a number of other records, I have surmised that the account I give here is the most accurate” (p. 728).

January 1855:
“In early January 1855 that child, a male called Edward, was born.”
John Molony, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, Carlton South (Vic.): Melbourne University Press, 2001, p. 8 [first published by Allen Lane, 1980]

In the endnotes section of his book, John Molony says: “For the birth of Edward Kelly: Notebooks of Inspector G. W. Brown, Education Department of Victoria Library, Melbourne. Death certificate of his father, John Kelly, filed 27 December 1866, district of Avenel, no. 85, Government Statist, Melbourne. Ned was very probably born at his grandfather’s home at Wallan.” (pp. 203-204).

June 1855:
“Edward (Ned) Kelly (1855-1880), bushranger, was born in June 1855 at Beveridge, Victoria, the eldest son of John (Red) Kelly and his wife Ellen, née Quinn.”
John V. Barry, “Kelly, Edward (Ned) (1855–1880)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (published in hardcopy 1974) (accessed 22 June 2014)

“there was born in June 1855, in that humble slab hut, a male child . . . Edward Kelly, straight away to be nicknamed Ned”
Frank Clune, Frank Clune’s Ned Kelly, London; Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1980, p. 3 [first published as Ned Kelly’s Last Stand: The Life and Times of Australia’s Ironclad Outlaw, by Angus and Robertson, 1962]

“Ned Kelly was born in a slab hut at Beveridge, 24 miles from Melbourne, in June, 1855”.
William Joy and Tom Prior, The Bushrangers, Adelaide: Seal Books (Rigby Limited), Adelaide, 1971, p. 67 [first published 1963]

“Ellen Kelly was expecting another child, and he was born in June of 1855 … a first son they named Edward Kelly”.
Keith McMenomy, Ned Kelly: The Authentic Illustrated Story, South Yarra (Vic.): Currey O’Neil Ross, 1984, p. 12 (page 28 has a reproduction of John Kelly’s death certificate, where Edward Kelly’s name is listed as 11 ½)

“Ned Kelly was born in 1855, only about six months after the battle at the Eureka Stockade”.
John Meredith and Bill Scott, Ned Kelly: After a Century of Acrimony, Dee Why West (NSW): Lansdowne Press, 1980, p. 8

“Kelly was born in Beveridge, about twenty-five miles from Melbourne, in June 1855”.
Charles Osborne, Ned Kelly, London: Sphere Books, 1970, p. 9

Weighing the evidence

Ned Kelly was born in either 1854 or 1855.

There is no supporting evidence which indicates that Ned Kelly was born in June 1854, despite that month being used on some internet sites as a date for his birth. Evidence exists which points to his being born in 1854, but in December of that year; there is no historical documentation which suggests that he was born in June of 1854.

1852:
In keeping with the idea that low importance was placed upon birthdays by large families in the bush, it appeared that Ned Kelly, in later years, may not have been too sure of when he was born. A report in The Age, on 29 June 1880, quotes him as saying that he was 28 years old, which would have given him a birth year of 1852.

He further inquired if it was intended to lodge him in the Melbourne Gaol, and Senior-constable Walsh told him that that had been decided upon. At Beveridge, he said to that officer, “Look across there to the left. Do you see a little hill there?” Walsh replied that he did, and the outlaw continued, “That is where I was born, about twenty-eight years ago. Now, I am passing through it, I suppose, to my doom.”

[See: 1) “Arrival of Ned Kelly in Melbourne”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 29 June 1880, p. 3
2) “The Kelly Gang”, The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 10 July 1880, p. 56]

December 1854:
The supporting evidence for Ned Kelly’s birth in December 1854 is mainly based upon the recollection of Ned Kelly’s brother; although two other pieces of information, which indicate January 1855 as a possible birth date, could also be used in support of a December 1854 birth date, considering that they only point to January 1855 in a non-specific manner, and therefore the possible leeway could also be used to support the December 1854 theory.

The major piece of evidence for a December 1854 date was that given in an interview conducted by Ian Jones with Paddy and Charlie Griffiths in 1963, who quoted the recollections of Jim Kelly, Ned’s brother, who had related that the Kelly family tradition was that Ned’s birth was “at the time of the Eureka Stockade” (the battle of the Eureka Stockade occurred on 3 December 1854).
[See: Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, South Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 2002 (first published 1995), p. 346]

January 1855:
Ellen Kelly, Ned’s mother, in July 1870, put down Ned’s age as 15 ½, which would place his birth as January 1855; although giving a half-year age is not usually an exact measurement, as it normally includes some leeway, and therefore could refer to a December 1854 birth.
[See: Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, South Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 2002, p. 346]

This evidence is further corroborated by a notation made by G. Wilson Brown, school inspector, in his notebook on 30 March 1865, where he noted that Ned Kelly was 10 years and 3 months old. Presumably the information was provided by Ned’s family.
[See: Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, op. cit., p. 346]

June 1855:
The only evidence given in support for Ned Kelly’s birth being in June 1855 is that of the death certificate of Ned’s father, John Kelly, who died on 27 December 1866. The certificate lists the names and ages (in years only) of John Kelly’s children; Edward Kelly’s age was listed as 11 ½. The document records, in the relevant column, that Edward Kelly provided the information for the registrar.

However, Ian Jones says “Ned confused the issue on 28 December 1866, when he provided the information for his father’s death certificate and gave his own age as 11 ½, suggesting he was born in June 1855. In large, poor families like the Kellys, birthdays were not an issue. It seems most likely that, in registering his father’s death, Ned recalled the last time he had heard his age mentioned, he was 11 ½. That was close enough for him on this traumatic day, even though he had probably just turned 12 (on this same occasion he was a year out with the age of his sister Kate).” [See: Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, op. cit., p. 346]

1856:
Ned Kelly’s prison record, dated 14 March 1873, lists his year of birth as 1856 (without giving the day or month).
[See: “Edward Kelly’s Prison Records”, Public Record Office Victoria (accessed 2 July 1854)]

For the prison staff to arrive at a birth year of 1856, this raises the possibility that Ned Kelly was asked how old he was. If he was born in December 1854 or January 1855, then he would have been 18 in March 1873; if he was born in June 1855, then he would have been 17 at that time. If the prison staff simply subtracted the age given to them, to calculate a birth year of 1856, then it would follow that they were told that his age was 17. If the information giving Ned’s age as 17 was supplied by Ned Kelly himself, then that could be used as a possible corroboration for a June1855 birth (i.e. having turned 17 in June 1872).

Conclusion

Given that the only evidence for June 1855 is information given by a pre-teen Ned Kelly for his father’s death certificate, and bearing in mind the traumatic circumstances in which it was given, it may well have been that Ned was 12 at the time, rather than 11 and a half (especially bearing in mind the inaccurate information he gave in the same document regarding the age of his sister). However, it should be noted that his date of birth in his prison record, given as 1856, could possibly support a June 1855 birth date.

Several government websites have listed Ned Kelly’s birth as being in June 1855, and it would be understandable for them to have adopted that date from the relevant entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography; however, the research of modern scholars, such as Ian Jones and Peter FitzSimons, weigh more in favour of December 1854.

December 1854 appears to be the more likely time of his birth, given that his brother gives a December 1854 event as denoting the family-acknowledged month of his birth, along with written evidence from his mother and the local school inspector which confirm his birth to have been in the time period around December 1854 to January 1855 (which does open up the possibility that he was born in January 1855, although the Eureka reference points towards December 1854).

Ned Kelly’s date of birth seems unlikely to ever be discovered, unless the records of his baptism were to appear (or any similar documentary evidence). In the meantime, the evidence gives credence to December 1854 as being the likely month of his birth.

Comments

  1. Ian McCurley says:

    How could there be a 1963 interview with Jim Kelly if he died in 1946?

  2. Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy; that line was incorrectly worded, as it was referring to an interview by Ian Jones with Paddy and Charlie Griffiths in 1963, in which the interviewees quoted Jim Kelly. In Ned Kelly: A Short Life the relevant endnote gives the source for the Jim Kelly statement as “Paddy and Charlie Griffiths quoting Ned’s brother, Jim, interview, 1963”. The line has been corrected.

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