Ned Kelly’s date of birth plays a key role in determining the location of his birth, so to solve one riddle, we must first solve another.
A search of the records at Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria reveals an Edward Kelly with a father of John Kelly with the birth registered in 1851! But alas, his mother is listed as Jane and the place of birth is Mount Macedon, so this unfortunately is not the Ned Kelly we are looking for.
There is also an Edward Kelly born in Kilmore whose birth was registered in 1873, but his father’s name is Matthew and his mother’s name is Mary. And with the birth being registered only 7 years before Ned Kelly’s death in 1880, it is impossible that this is the Ned Kelly we are looking for.
Of course, similar searches have been performed countless times over the years by eager people hoping that identifying Ned Kelly’s date of birth is a simple task. But his birth does not appear to have been registered and his baptism record has been lost, so such searches are futile. There is, however, other information which exists to determine his date of birth.
Sometime in 1852 or 1853
In The Age Newspaper on 29th June 1880, Ned Kelly himself states that he is about twenty eight years of age. This would place him being born in either 1852 or 1853.
The book They Called me the Wildman: The prison diary of Henricke Nelsen by Robert Hollingsworth1 is based upon Henricke Nelson who lived alone in the bush in the Tallarook ranges. On a charge of vagrancy he was locked up at the Kilmore jail, the same jail as where Ned Kelly’s father served a six month sentence. It states:
“In that Kilmore gaol I began to feel very miserable knowing that this was the same lock up where where Ned Kelly’s poor old father Red was kept in the year 1865… His son Ned was just 12 yrs of age then…”
This would suggest that Ned was born in 1853 given he is mentioned being 12 years of age in 1865.
Sometime in 1854
A true narrative of the Kelly Gang by T.N. McIntyre in 1878 mentions the following:
“twelth year” is actually 11 years of age (where the first year begins after 12 months of age) so Ned being in his tweltfh year in 1865 would mean he was born 1854.
Page 7 of the Second Progress Report of the Royal Commission of Enquiry into the circumstances of the Kelly outbreak in 1881 states:
”Edward Kelly, the leader of the outlaws, was born in 1854”.
Page 82 of the book The last of the bushrangers : an account of the capture of the Kelly gang by Francis Augustus Hare2 in 1894 states:
”Ned Kelly, the leader of the gang was born in 1854”.
Evidence for a December 1854 date of birth exists in an interview3 and in which the interviewees (Paddy and Charlie Griffiths) quoted the recollections of Jim Kelly, Ned’s brother, who had mentioned 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 3rd December 1854.
In 1862 Gilbert Wilson Brown was appointed as a School Inspector with the Board of Education. He recorded information within a notebook which included the names of the students attending the schools he visited, their age and academic results and the condition of buildings and furniture. From 1864 to 1865 Ned attended Avenel Common School and on 30th March 1865. Gilbert when attending the school on one of his inspections recorded that Edward Kelly was 10 years and 3 months old. This would place Ned’s date of birth at January 1855.
On his father’s death certificate in December 1866 Ned Kelly provided the information for the registrar and lists the name and ages of his siblings, in addition to his own. He provides his age as 11½ which would place his date of birth at June 1855.
December 1854, January 1855 and June 1855
Ned’s father, John Kelly on birth certificate of his daughter Catherine (born 12th July, 1863 and birth registered on 15th July, 1863), stated that Edward was 8 years of age. But 8 years is not an exact measurement of age and adding a leeway of up to 6 months to the 8 years of age in July 1863 his date of birth could be one of the following:
December 1854 – 8 years 6 months
January 1855 – 8 years 5 months
June 1855 – 8 years 1 month
Ned’s mother, Ellen Kelly on birth certificate of her son Daniel (born 1st June 1861), stated that Edward was 6 years of age. But 6 years is not an exact measurement of age and adding a leeway of up to 6 months to the 6 years of age in June 1861 his date of birth could be one of the following:
December 1854 – 6 years 6 months
January 1855 – 6 years 5 months
June 1855 – 6 years exactly
Ned’s father John Kelly on birth certificate of his daughter Grace (born 10th August, 1865 but birth not registered until 3rd October 1865), stated that Edward was 10 years of age. But 10 years is not an exact measurement of age and adding a leeway of up to 10 months to the 10 years of age in October 1865 his date of birth could be one of the following:
Assuming ages listed are as at date of birth on 10th August, 1865
December 1854 – 10 years 8 months
January 1855 – 10 years 7 months
June 1855 – 10 years 2 months
Assuming ages listed are as at registration of birth on 3rd October, 1865
December 1854 – 10 years 10 months
January 1855 – 10 years 9 months
June 1855 – 10 years 4 months
Ned’s mother, Ellen Kelly on birth certificate of her daughter Ellen (born 25th March 1870 but birth not registered until 6th July 1870), stated that Edward was 15½ years of age. But 15½ years may not have been an exact measurement of his age and adding a leeway of 1 month to the 15½ years of age in July 1870 his date of birth could be one of the following:
December 1854 – 15 years 7 months
January 1855 – 15½ exactly
For Ned to have been born in June 1855, he would have had to have been 15 years and 1 month of age in July 1870, which is much earlier than the 15½ years of age his mother recorded, and is therefore not a feasible date in this scenario.
Ned Kelly’s prison record, dated 14 March 1873, lists his year of birth as 1856 (without giving the day or month).
Ned Kelly himself states that his is about 28 years of age in 1880 so surely he must have been born in 1852 or 1853? This statement is given by Ned after his capture at Glenrowan and on his train journey to Melbourne when he was in pain and suffering from multiple injuries. Therefore, it is quite possible that he was not in any state of mind to provide any reliable information on his age. 1852 does not coincide with any other information we have gathered but a book states that Ned was 12 years of age in 1865, indicating he was born in 1853 which adds plausibility to an 1853 year of birth. But Ned’s younger sister Anne was born on the 15th November 18534 so it would seem impossible that Ned was born anytime earlier than August 1854. A book written in 1878, a police report in 1881 and another book in 1894 all state that Ned was born in 1854 so this seems quite convincing. But Ned’s prison record also states that he was born in 1856.
Without any month provided for his year of birth or how many months to add to the age given, Ned’s date of birth could vary up to 11 months in either direction – so it impossible to discern an exact date of birth for 1852, 1853 or 1854 with this information. So which one do we believe and where do we go from here?
Fortunately there is strong evidence to narrow down Ned’s date of birth to December 1854, January 1855 or June 1855 and it generally agreed by historians that one of these is his true month and year of birth. Whilst the June 1855 birthdate seems feasible, it is only a contender due to the information Ned provided on his Father’s death certificate, and which can’t be used as an exact measurement.
Instead, there is more compelling information to point to December 1854 or January 1855. Given 1854 is listed as his birth year in the late 1800’s from multiple sources it would seem more likely that Ned Kelly was born in December 1854 (13 months after the birth of his younger sister Anne), and where December 1854 also coincides with information handed down by the Kelly family.
1 Hollingworth, R 2008, They Called me the Wildman: The prison diary of Henricke Nelsen
2 Hare, FA 1894, The last of the bushrangers: an account of the capture of the Kelly gang, Hurst and Blackett, London
3 Jones, I, 1995, Ned Kelly: A Short Life. Thomas C. Lothian, South Melbourne, p. 346
4 St Francis Roman Catholic Church Melbourne Baptism Register 1854-55 – Entry dated January 31st, 1854.
Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria
Second Progress Report of the Royal Commission of Enquiry into the circumstances of the Kelly outbreak