State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 84 December 2009


Stephen Gaunson
The Mere Fancy Sketches of Ned Kelly

I never saw any photograph that bore much resemblance to Ned Kelly.
– Constable Thomas McIntyre1
At this moment I noticed a man in a small round tweed hat (Sergeant Steele) stealing up on the left of the figure, and within about 30 paces of it firing two shots in quick succession. The figure was staggered and reeled like a drunken man, and in a few moments afterwards fell near the dead timber. … We all rushed forward to see who and what our ghostly antagonist was. Quicker than I can write we were upon him; the iron mask was torn off, and there, in the broad light of day, were the features of the veritable blood-thirsty Ned Kelly himself.
– Thomas Carrington at the capture of Ned Kelly2
This Article will investigate some of the visual images produced during the Ned Kelly Outbreak (1878–1880). While it will discuss the historic Outbreak, more particularly it will explore how the press imagery commodified Ned Kelly as a certain type of bushranger. By doing this, it will offer some new insights into the production, consumption and reinterpretation of this imagery. Certainly the phenomenon of illustrated newspapers in Australian culture is an element that directed and influenced the popularisation of Ned Kelly as a national symbol. Indeed the ubiquitous presence of Kelly imagery resonated as powerfully in the age of Ned Kelly as it does today.
When the Kelly Outbreak began, the Melbourne Argus described Ned Kelly as ‘21 years of age, 5 feet, 9 inches and a slight build’.3 Yet for the duration of the Outbreak, the identity of Ned Kelly remained a mystery. In 1878, photography was not the frequent and domestic ritual that it would later become and few photographs existed of the bushranger. As the days, months and years of the Outbreak passed, anticipation about Ned's ‘real’ appearance grew to the point of a national obsession. Then in June 1880, the Glenrowan Siege took place. There the police and press finally came face-to-face with the mysterious bushranger. To add further suspense to his masquerade, Ned greeted them in the disguise of an armoured helmet. ‘It's the Bunyip, it's the Devil himself,” one police officer was reported to holler. With the removal of the helmet, the real Ned was uncovered. Still, as the archival photographs, wood-engravings and sketches held by the State Library of Victoria and elsewhere reveal, the Ned Kelly depicted at Glenrowan did little to resemble the actual figure. Shown a sketch of himself whilst in gaol, Ned replied ‘it is a mere fancy sketch of a bushman and no way like me’.4

Fig. 1. Ned Kelly (aged 15), police mug shot taken in 1870.
Fig. 2. Ned Kelly (aged 19), police mug shot taken in 1874.
Both images from PROV VA 1464 Penal and Gaols Branch, Chief Secretary's Department, VPRS 8369/P1
Correspondence, Photographs and History Sheets of Certain Male Criminals and both reproduced with the permission of the Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office, Victoria, Australia.

Mug Shots and Studio Portraits

The Kelly Outbreak officially began on 26 October 1878 when Ned, his brother Dan and two anonymous men (later identified as Steve Hart and Joe Byrne) ambushed and killed Constable Lonigan, Constable Scanlan and Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek. When the dead bodies of the officers were discovered, the police already held two mug shots of Ned Kelly on file. The first (Fig. 1) was produced in 1870 after he was arrested for two charges relating to highway robberies. What this photograph reveals is a cleanly shaven and handsome fifteen-year-old boy, dressed in a cutaway jacket. The second mug shot (Fig. 2) was probably taken in 1874 when Ned was aged 19 and in the last three months of his prison sentence for receiving a ‘stolen mare’.5 Indeed, the phenomenon of mug shots in Australia (or ‘Police Photography’ as they are sometimes called) remains a neglected area of historical research. Davies and Stanbury in The Mechanical Eye in Australia recognise Brussels in 1843 as the first country to photograph prisoners.6 In Australia, mug shots arrived much later. The ‘Justice and Police Museum’ in Sydney's Circular Quay establish their existence in the 1860s. Still, Davies and Stanbury question the regular use of mug shots during this period. They believe that ‘systematic’ mug shots were not in place until the following decade.
At first, police began to circulate their most recent mug shot of Ned Kelly; however, due to the limited technology of the time, newspapers could not publish direct copies of photographs. Instead, they were required to make wood-engravings from the original photograph or sketches produced on the spot. On 23 November 1878 the Australasian Sketcher had a full-cover engraving (Fig. 3) by Alfred May of the Kelly brothers and police officers involved in the Stringybark Creek killings. The image of Dan Kelly was drawn from a James E. Bray studio portrait (Fig. 5) registered in 1876.7 In the original photograph, Dan Kelly sat in a low-seated chair with his hands clasped on a table next to his hat. Ned's depiction was drawn from the 1874 mug shot, with the added detail of a bandit moustache and menacing eyes. This illustration supports claims that Ned was a delinquent ruffian spawned from a crooked family. Shorty after the Stringybark killings, the Argus declared:
The house of the family has been the rendezvous of thieves and criminals for years past, and indeed has been the centre of a system of crime that almost surpasses belief …Edward Kelly is notorious as having been arrested in the year 1870 as an accomplice of the notorious Harry Power.8
Images based on Ned's 1874 mug shot (Fig. 2) began to appear in a variety of locations. An illustration (Fig. 4) in Frearson's Weekly (Adelaide) on 10 January 1879 was one such example.9 Here, Ned is made to look somewhat sinister.

Special Train Leaves for Beechworth

On Sunday 27 June 1880, word spread around the colony that the Kelly Gang had travelled to Beechworth and shot dead police informer Aaron Sherritt. In an attempt to flood the region with police, a Special Police Train from Spencer Street Station, Melbourne departed that night for Beechworth. Press journalists and illustrators John McWhirter (Age), George Allen (Daily Telegraph), Joe Melvin (Argus) and Thomas Carrington (Australasian Sketcher) were invited to travel with the police. Because of their hefty equipment, photographers were not allowed aboard the locomotive. The decision to invite the press does seem peculiar considering the police were no surer that this trip would draw them any closer to the Gang's whereabouts. Their only certain piece of information was that the Gang had shot dead police informer Aaron Sherritt. Since 1878, the press witnessed the band of outlaws mock and humiliate the police force on every occasion. On 15 April 1878, Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick went to the Kelly homestead to complete the simple task of issuing Dan Kelly with a warrant for horse stealing.10 Later he returned to the Benalla police station without Dan and claiming that Ned had shot him in the wrist. In October, the Kelly Gang killed the officers at Stringybark Creek. Humiliation followed when they raided the National Bank at Euroa (10 December 1878) and Jerilderie's Bank of New South Wales (10 February 1879). At Jerilderie, the bandits bailed up the Police Station, locked the officers in their cells and masqueraded through the streets as law enforcement officers. In his famous

Fig. 3. ‘The Bushranger's Tragedy’, Australasian Sketcher, 23 November 1878, front cover. Pictures Collection, A/S23/11/78/129.

Fig. 4. An image of Ned Kelly based on his 1874 mug shot (Fig. 2) published in Frearson's Weekly (Adelaide), 10 January 1879. State Library of Victoria.

parliamentary speech, Donald Cameron, MLA, openly criticised the Graham Berry government for its terrible handling of the Outbreak.
It would not have bothered Ned Kelly that press agents were aboard the Special Police Train. On many occasions, he had publicly declared his disdain for them. In a letter addressed to Cameron, he scornfully claimed, ‘Had I robbed, plundered, ravished and murdered everything I met, my character could not be painted blacker than it is at present’. Two months later, when Ned composed the ‘Jerilderie letter’, his views towards the press had become more contemptuous.11 He wrote, ‘The police got great credit and praise in the papers for arresting the mother of 12 children, one an infant on her breast’. Still, anxiety levels aboard the Special Police train must have been high. Press illustrator Thomas Carrington claimed that all sorts of rumours were travelling through the carriages. To ensure their safety, Constable Berry, in a bizarre decision, was tied by rope to the front carriage. There he could watch for any ‘suspicious activity’, including the tampering of tracks.12 Questioned on this point by the 1881 Royal Commission Carrington affirmed, ‘Some men on the Benalla Station said, “The lines are taken up, and they are going to shoot you,” and others said, “they have put logs on the line”. One man said positively the lines had been taken up’.13
Less than a kilometre from the Glenrowan station, schoolteacher Thomas Curnow alerted the train by standing on the tracks, waving a red scarf. The Gang had held

Fig. 5. Studio portrait of Dan Kelly taken by James Bray. Pictures Collection, H2001. 161/1.

Curnow as a hostage inside the Glenrowan Inn, but allowed him to leave because his wife was ill. Curnow told the train driver that Ned Kelly and Steve Hart had torn up the train tracks 700 metres beyond the Glenrowan station. Everyone aboard the train descended. The press and other non-combatants waited under cover at the Glenrowan station's platform where they watched the armed officers and black trackers make the 200-yard dash towards the Inn. The time was 3 am. A single gunshot that shortly blasted from the Inn confirmed the Gang had not escaped. For all involved, this gunshot marked a most exciting moment: For the very first time since the Outbreak began, the police had the bandits surrounded. At pre-dawn, when daylight began to light the location and the press had enough vision to sketch the scenario into their pads and notebooks, Constable John Kelly confirmed some chilling news: at least one member of the Gang had escaped from the Inn. At this moment, Carrington vividly recalled his memories of Ned's dramatic entrance onto the scene:
…standing on the right hand side of the station, the Beechworth end, suddenly we noticed one or two of the men on the extreme right, with their backs turned to the hotel, firing at something in the bush. Presently we noticed a very tall figure in white, stalking slowly in the direction of the hotel. There was no head visible, and in the dim light of morning, with all the steam rising very heavily from the ground, it looked, for all the world, like the ghost of Hamlet's father with no head, only a very long thick neck.14
To document this momentous episode, Carrington sketched the figure before him. Titled ‘Ned Kelly at Bay’, and printed the following Saturday (3 July) in the Australasian Sketcher, it marked a new era for Ned Kelly representations (Fig. 6). Bearing in mind that Kelly reportage up to this point was based on relayed second-hand information and mug shots, Glenrowan was ‘news breaking’. ‘From a sketch drawn on the spot’, said the caption to Carrington's drawing. Eyewitnesses from the siege, however, detected one fundamental error in Carrington's illustration: Ned Kelly did not wear his pale grey oilskin coat. Rather, it draped over his shoulders like a cloak. This illustration gives the impression that Ned was not wearing his amazing 44kg armour suit. Although Carrington corrected his mistake by depicting Ned Kelly in later Glenrowan works with the coat revealing the armour, ‘Ned Kelly at Bay’ was a beast out of his control. Representations that followed commonly depicted Ned as a physically domineering

Fig. 6. [Thomas Carrington], ‘Ned Kelly at Bay’, Australasian Sketcher, 3 July 1880, p. 145. Pictures Collection, A/S03/07/80/145.

Fig. 7. [Julian Ashton] ‘The Dance at the Glenrowan Inn before the fight’, Australasian Sketcher, 17 July 1880, p. 168.
Pictures Collection, A/S17/07/80/168.

man dressed in his oilskin coat. Julian Ashton's ‘The Dance at the Glenrowan Inn Before the Fight’ (Fig. 7) is a perfect example. Published two weeks after Carrington's image, here the bushranger stands in his coat as a huge and looming presence.
The Glenrowan gun battle certainly took a considerable toll on Ned Kelly's body. Ian Jones claimed that Ned received no less than twenty-eight bullet wounds to his unprotected arms, legs and groin.15 Shortly after the bushranger was captured, Carrington illustrated him resting in the guard's van. Titled ‘Destruction of the Kelly Gang’, (Fig. 8) the Ned Kelly component of the montage exposes Ned's face as nothing less than grotesque. The result of bullets hammering into his helmet was blackened eyes, chopped nose and torn check from the helmet bolt. To give him a more mature and worn appearance, Carrington even added grey to Ned's hair and mangy beard. While these alterations may seem rather peculiar, bushrangers at the time were portrayed as significantly older than Ned's actual age of 26. So, to keep with the standard representation of bushrangers, Ned was drawn as middle-aged. According to art historian Leigh Astbury,
As they struggled to meet their weekly copy deadlines, artists necessarily developed a stock range of images that would serve almost any occasion … the pages of the illustrated papers are filled with drawings of bush types, stockmen rounding up cattle, pioneer selectors and a comparable range of urban subjects.16
Furthermore, exaggerating historical facts was accepted and expected. Astbury writes how ‘it was assumed that the depiction of an incident from this romantic era in

Fig. 8. Thomas Carrington, ‘ Destruction of the Kelly Gang’, Australasian Sketcher, 3 July 1880, p. 153. Pictures Collection, A/S03/07/80/152.

Australia's past not only justified but even called for an amplification or rhetorical flourish that the artist could lend to his portrayal of the subject’.17
This article, so far, has established two important points. Firstly, the use of the jacket over Ned's armour gave a misleading impression that he was physically massive; and secondly, the bruising, battering and swelling, in addition to the thick bushman beard aged Ned well beyond his twenty-six years. For the public who had no idea how Ned Kelly ‘really’ looked, these images presented a ‘definitive’ picture of the Outlaw. To remain in touch, many artists made drastic alterations to their earlier works. Photographer William J. Burman made the most bizarre alteration by painting a beard onto his Kelly photograph (Fig. 9) Yet, as it was later revealed, Burman's work was a complete forgery. Ned's face had been pasted onto a police photograph of James Nesbitt (Fig. 10) who was a member of Captain Moonlite's Gang.18 Close assessment shows the thin line where the head of Kelly adhered to the body of Nesbitt.

Fig. 9. William J. Burman, ‘Portrait of Ned Kelly’, c. 15 July 1880.
Pictures Collection, H96.160/200.

Fig. 10. [James] Nesbitt, ‘The Riverina Bushrangers’, Australasian Sketcher, 22 November 1879. Pictures, Collection, A/S22/11/79/136.

Fig. 11. Oswald Thomas Mosley, ‘A Policeman equipped in Kelly Armour’, c. 5 July 1880. Pictures Collection, H96. 160/177.

Here come the paparazzi

Shortly after Ned's capture, the second Special Police Train pulled into the Glenrowan station. This time, the camera operators were aboard. Keen to make up for lost time, the photographers firstly asked to photograph the armour. To oblige this request, the police laid the breastplates and other items on the ground. But, in their confusion, they incorrectly engraved Ned's right shoulder plate with the initials DK. It was in reference to his younger brother, Dan. Today, Ned's suit housed at the State Library of Victoria displays this considerably faded DK engraving for all to see. Next, the photographers asked to shoot Ned Kelly donned in his suit of armour. If Ned had died, the police more than likely would have granted this request. They had famously allowed the dead body of Joe Byrne to be exhibited outside the Benalla

Fig. 12. William J. Burman, ‘ [Ned] Kelly's Capture’, c. 15 July 1880. Pictures Collection, H96. 160/199.

police station. Nevertheless, the gravely weak state of Ned prevented such a wish. So instead, the police dressed one of their own troopers in the armour. This at least let the photographers comprehend how the suits pieced together. In one photograph (Fig. 11) taken by Oswald Thomas Mosley, the trooper holds Ned's Colt carbine. This anonymous trooper was an appropriate body-double, as he resembled Ned's shape, weight and height. Yet, the central problem with it was the lack of drama that the trooper brought to the scene. Naturally, the photographers craved the excitement of Kelly's dramatic capture. So, from Glenrowan many returned to their Studios where they recreated Ned's last stand with their own body doubles and forged armour. The striking feature about many of these portraits was the physical size and maturity of Ned Kelly. In ‘[Ned] Kelly's Capture’ (Fig. 13), the body double is a burly and mature looking fellow.

More Newspaper Sketches

A sketch by Julian Ashton published in the Illustrated Australian News on 28 August 1880 features Ned Kelly in the Beechworth courthouse dock towering over Sergeant Steele. His full beard, respectable suit and left-hand grasping his jacket lapel, portrays a mature and masculine man. (Fig. 13). Still, not all depictions portrayed Ned favourably or handsomely. Some even represented him as the devil incarnate. One intriguing sketch drapes a body length cape over Ned, while to his side Kelly sympathiser ‘Wild’ Wright holds a jar of poison. Yet, what makes this illustration (Fig. 14) all the more peculiar is

Fig. 13. [Julian Ashton] ‘Ned Kelly in the Dock: a sketch from life’, Illustrated Australian News, 28 August 1880, p. 145. Pictures Collection, IAN28/08/80/145.

Fig. 14. David Gaunson, ‘Ned Kelly in the Dock’, Melbourne Punch, 19 August 1880, p. 74.

the person credited with the authorship. The Melbourne Punch, known for its satirical manner, claimed Ned's own defence lawyer David Gaunson produced this baffling work. Peculiarly, Gaunson never refuted the credit. Surely, this was strange behaviour from someone who was evidently on Ned's side.

A Final Portrait

Charles Nettleton produced Ned Kelly's final photograph. It was taken outside the Melbourne Gaol the day before Ned was hanged. Jack Cato in The Story of the Camera in Australia (1954) described it as the first ‘real’ Kelly photograph.19 For nearly twenty-five years, Nettleton held the government contract for penal department photography. Ten years earlier, Nettleton photographed Ned's former bushranging tutor, Harry Power, at HM Prison Pentridge. In the nineteenth century, it was common for prisoners departing gaol to request their portrait be taken. For his photograph, (Fig. 15) Power dressed in his finest garments: a light jacket and pants, accompanied by his dark waistcoat and scarf. The dining table chair used as a prop adds a degree of domesticity. Still, the heavy chains that clamp his feet are an ominous reminder of the portrait's location.
Despite the 36-year age gap between Harry Power and Ned Kelly, their prison

Fig. 15. Charles Nettleton, ‘Power the Bushranger’, 1 August 1870.
Pictures Collection, H96.160/1578.

Fig. 16. Ned Kelly, shackled and standing against a stone wall. Photograph taken (most likely) by Charles Nettleton, 10 November 1880. UMA/1/5753. Howship, W. J. Collection, University of Melbourne Archives.

photographs do share an eerie likeness. Still, this reveals more about the circumstances of the photographs than Power's youthful appearance. Prison garments worn by inmates were specifically designed so chains could easily cuff around the wrists and ankles. In his uniform, Ned seems portly, or at least heavier than his actual 71 kilograms. Furthermore, Ned looks worn, tired and dishevelled. His injuries had indeed shattered his once athletic body. Describing this photograph, (Fig. 16) Ian Jones wrote: ‘he plants a fist on his hip to disguise a crippled right hand and masks his withered left arm by holding the cord attached to his leg irons’.20
The images discussed in this paper tell a fascinating tale. Yet, what they truly reveal is the story about journalism and the coverage of a media event during this time. Appearing at the moment when capitalism had met mass media, Kelly became the country's first media celebrity. And like all celebrities, Kelly suffered from great distortion and misrepresentation. At the start of the Outbreak, a mug shot depicted him as young and delinquent. Then at Glenrowan, the press chewed up one representation and spat out another. It seems that the ‘real’ Ned was swallowed somewhere in between. While his press images do not and cannot reveal the ‘real’ Ned, they at least document his origins of misrepresentation.


T. McIntyre, ‘A True Narrative of the Kelly Gang’. Unpublished manuscript, written in 1902, MS PA BOX 66, State Library of Victoria.


T. Carrington & I. Jones, Ned Kelly: the last stand. Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Vic: Lothian, 2003 p. 20.


‘The Police Murders’, Argus, 30 October, 1878, p. 5


A Castles, Ned Kelly's Last Days, Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2005, p. 168.


Prisoners were allowed to grow facial hair during the last three months of their prison term. See K. McMenomy, Ned Kelly: the authentic illustrated history. Melbourne: Hardie Grant Publishing, 2001, p. 49.


A. Davies & P. Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye in Australia: photography 1841–1900, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 201.


Dan's studio portrait also appeared as a wood engraving in the Illustrated Australian News, 28 November 1878, p. 196.


Argus, 30 October 1878, p. 6.


E. Hartrick, Consuming Illustrations: the magic lantern in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand 1850–1910, Carlton, Vic: The Australian Centre, The University of Melbourne, 2003, p. 241.


The warrant had been issued by the Chiltern Bench in March 1878. Both Dan Kelly and John Lloyd Jr were said to have been involved.


The original copy of the ‘Jerilderie Letter’ is on display at the State Library of Victoria. It has also been digitized and can be read on-line at


J. Corfield, The Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia., Port Melbourne, Vic: Lothian, 2003, p. 394.


Royal Commission on the Police Force of Victoria, 1881, Melbourne: Heinemann, 1968 p. 143.


T. Carrington, & I. Jones, Ned Kelly: the last stand, p. 19.


Ian Jones, Ned Kelly: a short life, Port Melbourne: Lothian Books, Photo Insert.


Leigh Astbury, City Bushmen: the Heidelberg School and the rural mythology, South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 50.


Ibid, p. 128.


A. Nixon, Stand and Deliver!: 100 Australian bushrangers 1789–1901, Port Melbourne, Vic.: Lothian, 1991, p. 130.


Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, first published in 1954, reprinted, Hong Kong: IAP, 1979, p. 33.


Ian Jones, Ned Kelly, Photo Insert.