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Bank teller Donald Sutherland described Kelly as a "powerful man." Photo by: Reuters

“Rifle bullets slide off him,” letter details Ned Kelly’s last stand

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Bank teller Donald Sutherland described Kelly as a "powerful man." Photo by: Reuters

A 133 year old letter describing Australian outlaw Ned Kelly’s last stand as he battled with police has surfaced.

In a letter mailed to his parents in Scotland, bank teller Donald Sutherland describes how he saw Kelly captured and his shoot off with the police. The letter is the first ‘everyman’ description of the Glenrowan Siege, in which police captured Kelly. All other known accounts of the siege come from police officers or members of the Kelly family.

On June 28, 1880, Sutherland rushed to the inn at Glenrowan when he heard that Kelly was there. Kelly’s homemade armor and helmet gave the illusion that bullets slid off him. The Daily Mail reprinted Sutherland’s description, “The police thought he was a fiend, seeing their rifle bullets were sliding off him like hail.” He continues, “The force of the rifle bullets made him stagger when hit but it was only when they got him on the legs and arms that he reluctantly fell, exclaiming as he did so, ‘I am done. I am done.’”

After seeing the wounded Kelly lying on a stretcher, Sutherland wrote, “I was really sorry for him to see him lying pierced by bullets and still showing no signs of pain.” Kelly’s sisters were there and Sutherland said, “Kate was sitting at his head with her arms round his neck while the others were crying in a mournful strain.”

Sutherland described Kelly himself as “a very powerful man, aged about 27, black hair and beard with a soft mild looking face and eyes- his mouth being the only wicked portion of the face.”

England began transporting criminals to Australia near the end of the eighteenth century when the death penalty was perceived as too harsh for some crimes and South Wales was seen as too close a destination. Kelly was born north of Melbourne to Irish convict John Kelly who had moved to Australia in 1848. He came to the police’s attention as a teenager when he was arrested first for assaulting a Chinese pig farmer and then as suspected accomplice to burglary. Both charges were dropped.

After his mother was sentenced to three years for aiding and abetting an attempted murder, the family went into hiding. They hoped to earn money to appeal their mother’s sentence by setting up a whiskey distillery, but the police followed them and after Kelly shot three of them he was officially an outlaw. He robbed two banks before police captured him.

Kelly was captured by the police at Glenrowan and he was convicted on three counts of willful murder. He was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in November 1880 and his last words allegedly were, “such is life.”

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