Ned Kelly's Armour
[Red text over a black-and-white photo of Kelly’s armour reads: Ned Kelly’s armour – a virtual reconstruction]
Narrator: At Glenrowan on the morning of the 28th of June 1880, there emerged from the scrub a man dressed in armour, the likes of which police had never seen.
[Sepia photo of a house behind a railway line fades into a sepia photo of the bearded face of Ned Kelly.]
Narrator: It was Edward Kelly, better known as Ned, leader of the infamous Kelly Gang. Gun blazing and yelling in defiance, Kelly marched towards the police.
[Sepia photo of a group of men standing amongst trees, pointing rifles.]
Narrator: Recovering from their initial shock, the police returned fire. Unable to penetrate Kelly’s suit of armour, they shot at his legs, wounding him badly, bringing him to the ground.
[Sepia photo of Ned Kelly, with a bandana around his neck and what appears to be a chain around his legs.]
Narrator: Kelly was captured.
[Four photographs of the members of the Kelly Gang – Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.]
Narrator: Each of the four Kelly Gang members had fought the siege clad in suits of armour made from the mouldboards of ploughs.
[Drawing of Ned Kelly wearing armoured-helmet, long coat and shooting a pistol.]
Narrator: But it was Ned Kelly, standing five foot, ten inches, who made the most impressive sight.
[Photo of Ned Kelly’s armour.]
Narrator: A menacing figure in what appeared to be a tin-can helmet, breast-plate and lappet, back-plate and two shoulder-plates.
[Individual parts of the armour in image separate out. Focus is then given to the back-plate and label text appears beside it. A red box highlights the rivets in the centre.]
Narrator: The back-plate was made from two overlapping mouldboards riveted together down the centre.
[The red box moves to highlight slits at the top of the back-plate and label text appears beside this area.]
Narrator: Slits were cut at the top of the plate on each side near the shoulder to take the raw leather straps. These passed over the shoulders and held the breast- and back-plates together.
[Image rotates the back-plate to show reverse view. Red curved line indicates the focus area and label text appears beside this.]
Narrator: The curved edge of the mouldboard has been used to create the lower edge of the right-hand plate.
[Image rotates anti-clockwise, red square highlights holes at side of amour. Label text accompanies this area.]
Narrator: The back-plate sits quite high up on the shoulders, aligning the small holes at the sides of the breast- and back-plates. The plates may have been held together at the side using sturdy leather hinges secured with bolts.
[Image rotates again to reveal the full front-view of the armour. A red line indicates the area at the top of the breast-plate and label text appears beside it.]
Narrator: The breast-plate was made in the similar fashion of the back-plate, with slits near each shoulder to hold the leather straps. The blacksmith’s first attempt at making the slit on the right side resulted in the metal fracturing,
[Breast-plate rotates for reverse view. Red square highlights marks on surface, label text accompanies.]
Narrator: On the inside of the breast-plate there are marks on the surface made by the blacksmith’s hammer as he fashioned the steel plates. These marks are so distinctive that they can be read like a craftsman’s signature.
[Square indicates another mark higher up on the armour, with label text accompanying.]
Narrator: An indentation high up on the inside of the breast-plate was made by a test shot, proof that the armour would withstand police bullets at close range.
[A red square indicates another area of focus and its contents are magnified in a square beside the armour. There is label text beneath this box.]
Narrator: Informed that the Kelly Gang was making armour from mouldboards, police sought advice from Hugh Lennon, a respected Melbourne plough manufacturer. Lennon said it could not be done but he was later proven wrong when the stamp of the Lennon number two-type plough was found on the inside of the breast-plate.
[Breast-plate rotates back to front view. Label text appears next to the lappet.]
Narrator: At the bottom of the breast-plate is a lappet made of sheet metal joined by a bolt and a metal loop. It is probable that this piece was not part of the armour worn by Ned Kelly at the siege, but was fitted to the breast-plate some time prior to 1894.
[Colour of breast-plate in image fades and the shoulder plates become darker.]
Narrator: Two shoulder-plates protected Kelly’s upper arms.
[The right arm plate rotates horizontally to reveal the curve. This is indicated with a red curved line and accompanying label text.]
Narrator: The plate worn on the right arm is a simple half-cylinder. It provided protection to the vulnerable side of Kelly’s body between the breast- and back-plates.
[Right arm plate returns to original position and the left rotates horizontally, highlighted with red curved line and accompanying label text.]
Narrator: The plate worn on the left arm is from the collection of Museum Victoria. It has a wider and fatter profile than the left [sic] plate with the curve at the lower edge being created by the original shape of the mouldboard.
[Red box indicates stamp in centre of the left arm-plate.]
Narrator: Like the breast-plate, this piece also bears the stamp of a Lennon number two plough.
[Image rotates to reveal the front of the left arm-plate and a red square indicates the holes at the top. Label text accompanies.]
Narrator: Wire looped through each of the holes along the upper edge attached the plate to the straps over Kelly’s shoulders.
[Arm-plate rotates back into place, the colour of the arm-plates fades and the face-plate is highlighted. A red square indicates the holes in the bottom of the face-plate and label text appears beside it.]
Narrator: Two holes on the lower edge of the face-plate were originally used to fit the mouldboard to the plough.
[Image separates the two parts of the face-plate and bolts come out from the sides.]
Narrator: The square face-plate is secured to the helmet by two positioned near the jawline.
[Face-plate is put together again and a red square indicates bullet holes at the top, with accompanying text]
Narrator: A police bullet from a Martini-Henry rifle has made an indentation in the helmet over the forehead.
[Entire image of armour rotates anti-clockwise. New text and a red square appear at the top of the face-plate.]
Narrator: The mouldboard used for the helmet has been cut, wrapped and secured at the forehead with a bolt.
[Image of armour rotates further. Two red squares highlight holes and text accompanies.]
Narrator: Along the upper and lower edges of the helmet, sets of holes have been punched in the metal to secure a protective liner to the inside.
[Image of armour returns to frontal view with all parts back in their original positions and colour returned. Image begins to rotate.]
Narrator: The armour seen here is the most complete configuration since Kelly wore it at the siege of Glenrowan in 1880. It is the result of research undertaken by several experts and has been made possible through the kind cooperation of the Victoria Police and Museum Victoria.
[Image of armour fades.]
'A menacing figure in what appeared to be a tin-can helmet…'
About this video
Ned Kelly armour
Ned Kelly's armour is on display until 20 July 2020 in Velvet, Iron, Ashes – our inaugural, free exhibition in the Victoria Gallery.
Ned Kelly’s armour weighed around 45 kilos but the heavy suit of steel saved his life when he emerged from the bush at Glenrowan, gun blazing, and helped launch the Kelly myth.
Our virtual reconstruction of Kelly’s iconic suit of armour shows how each piece was fashioned from plough metal and put together with bolts and leather. You can also see where the bullet from a policeman’s rifle struck the helmet’s visor.
The virtual tour of the most complete version of Kelly’s armour since it was worn at the 1880 siege of Glenrowan reveals that, ironically, Ned Kelly was captured when police fired at his unprotected legs.