Ned Kelly (c1854–80) was the last and most controversial Victorian bushranger. Pursued by police for robbery and murder, he was finally captured after a gun fight with police at Glenrowan in 1880. Kelly was later hanged at the Melbourne Gaol.
Kelly was first charged and then acquitted of assault and robbery when he was 14. Over the next ten years, Kelly was in and out of trouble with the police, did two stints in jail and eventually went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges with his brother Dan and friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.
In 1878, Kelly and his gang ambushed a police camp at Stringybark Creek, killing three police officers in the ensuing gunfight. The gang was officially outlawed as a result of these killings, which meant that they could be shot on sight by anyone. The gang carried out two major robberies in late 1878 at Euroa and in early 1879 at Jerilderie.
The armour held by the State Library includes Ned Kelly's helmet, backplate, breastplate and shoulderplate. It is crudely constructed from parts of ploughs, pieces of leather, and iron bolts. It was put together in the year before the Glenrowan raid when the gang were in hiding following their raid on the town of Jerilderie. The prototype for the armour was made for Ned and was tested by firing a stolen police rifle, which left a dent on the breastplate.
From 26 to 28 June 1880, the Kelly gang emerged from hiding, shot a suspected police informer and held the townspeople of Glenrowan hostage in Anne Jones' hotel. Police converged on the hotel and a gun battle ensued. All gang members other than Ned died in the skirmish. Ned was eventually wounded and captured after a shootout with the police.
The sets of armour removed from the Kelly Gang were recorded on the spot. These sets were then taken to various locations around the state by the police. The armour was subsequently dispersed even further, with some pieces finding their way into private hands and others into the collections of institutions. A number of pieces were wrongly identified and, until recently, there was confusion and disagreement about the components of particular sets of armour.